Mothers and their sons
After receiving 30 wounds from guns, bolos and daggers, Antonio Luna breathed his last, expiring with an expletive on his lips. As his assassins stood around his bloodied corpse, a woman’s voice from the convent house of Cabanatuan broke the silence with the question: “Nagalaw pa ba iyan?” It was Trinidad Famy—or Kapitana Teneng, Emilio Aguinaldo’s mother—who wanted confirmation that the threat to her son’s life and hold on power was dead. One unreliable source quotes the kapitana as shouting: “Hoy! Bad men! Don’t you recognize General Luna?” A review of the different sources on the death of Luna shows one that lays the blame for his death, not on Aguinaldo, but on a woman who sat in on important meetings, a woman Aguinaldo could not refuse.
All the interest generated by the film “Heneral Luna” helps us see that history is composed of many narratives, some conflicting. It also gives us a chance to reflect on the role of mothers in history. Teodora Alonso, Jose Rizal’s mother, is said to have climbed the staircase of Malacañang in 1896 to intercede for the life of her son. An hour before his life was snuffed out by a bullet in the field of Bagumbayan, Rizal left a note that reads: “To my very beloved mother Sra. Doña Teodora Alonso, At six o’clock in the morning of 30 December 1896. Jose Rizal.” It leaves little to the historian, but much to a grieving mother.
Nothing can be more tragic than for a mother to bury her child, worse when it comes in threes, as it did for Laureana Novicio vda. de Luna in 1899: First she buried her daughter Numeriana, then her son Antonio was murdered in Cabanatuan in June, then another son Juan died in Hong Kong in December. Antonio’s murderers were never brought to justice, and Juan, we all know, died of a heart attack on Dec. 7, 1899, as stated coldly in the death certificate: Juan Luna, 42 years old, painter, passed away in 2 Lower Castle Terrace, due to angina pectoris, literally translated to “pain in the chest,” or a heart attack. His death was registered the next day by a certain A. Martin and PPJ Wodehouse, nephew of the British author P.G. Wodehouse.
Our story should end with Juan Luna’s death certificate, but I have always been interested in a lead given me by E. Aguilar Cruz and Teodoro A. Agoncillo, senior members of the National Historical Institute, who suggested that the painter might not have died of natural reasons, and was probably poisoned by someone hired by his brother-in-law, Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera. Revenge was suggested as the motive since Juan Luna had murdered Pardo de Tavera’s mother Juliana Gorricho and sister Paz in a fit of jealousy in Paris in 1892.
Long after Agoncillo and Cruz passed away, I found sources to support what they suspected. On April 14, 1900, the Luna brothers’ mother wrote to Tomas Arejola and the members of the Comite Republicano Filipino in Madrid expressing her gratitude for the honor given her sons Antonio and Juan. The letter reads:
“In the midst of misfortune and overwhelming solitude, I am consoled to know you have risen above base and petty calumnies by doing justice to the tragic death of my Antonio. Believe me that in the near future, history, being above vile and crude passions, will trace in gold the name of he who was a victim of duty, if not the envy of his detractors.
“I have no ambition of making the names of my sons, Juan and Antonio, appear side by side with that of Rizal, I only wish that posterity would do them justice and that their memory would cause a tear to fall from the bottom of people’s hearts.
“With this, I will die in peace, perhaps pardoning in my last moments their murderers. This is the most that an afflicted mother can say to reciprocate the loving words with which you honor her sons.”
That Laureana Novicio vda. de Luna believed her two sons were murdered is one thing. That her son and grandson also believed this is shown in two articles by Alfonso T. Ongpin, published in the Spanish-language Voz de Manila and Nueva Era in 1949. A part reads:
“I used to frequent the residence of the brother [of Juan Luna] Don Pepe (Jose Luna), reputable toxicologist who on one occasion told me verbally that his brother Juan died treacherously poisoned in Hong Kong by a compatriot of ours. This was also confirmed by his only son Andres Luna de San Pedro, creator of notable buildings and magnificent mansions that are now standing in this capital and in the provinces.”
While I have yet to find the so-called smoking gun, I have looked at Juan Luna’s handwritten apology to Pardo de Tavera dated Jan. 19, 1897, and preserved in the Lopez Museum, that reads:
“I have reconciled with God through the holy sacrament of confession—since I wish to reconcile myself likewise with men, as a good Christian Catholic should. I ask you, as representative of your whole family, to pardon me of anything that has caused offense. I offer this simple and just reparation—for the very sad misfortunes that occurred in another time between both [our] families—These lines are sealed in peace because I wish that we can be united as good and resigned Christians. Your sure servant who kisses your hand. J. Luna.”
History is fascinating because it opens us to many alternative stories, some more engaging than what we have in our textbooks.
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