Luna’s slapping of Buencamino
Hair-splitting is a historian’s pastime. I saw this firsthand many years ago, in 1988, during a forum that set out to settle the issue on the site of “First Cry of the Philippine Revolution of 1896.” Was it Balintawak as traditionally held, or was it Pugad Lawin as proposed by Teodoro Agoncillo?
Nothing was settled because each historian argued his point with documents that only added new sites to the pot: Bahay Toro, Pacpac Lawin, Pasong Tamo, Kangkong and, in jest, Pugad Baboy! The forum was supposed to choose between Aug. 23 and Aug. 26 of 1896 as the date when this historic event occurred. But as the historians argued, the list of dates grew longer to include: Aug. 20, 24, 25, and even Sept. 5! That early I realized that there are as many histories as there are historians.
Everywhere I go these days, people ask for my opinion on the film “Heneral Luna,” and almost everyone wants to know how close or far it is from historical truth. Often I have to explain that the film, as stated in the opening disclaimer, is a “work of fiction based on fact.” I always explain to anyone who cares to listen that “Heneral Luna” is a film, not a doctoral dissertation. Jerrold Tarog, the director, is at liberty to give his point of view.
Unfortunately, people naturally leave the cinema with a bias against Emilio Aguinaldo and Felipe Buencamino who are portrayed in the film as the villains who foil the hero Luna. It is significant that the Filipino word for hero “bida” comes from the Spanish word for life “vida,” and the villain or “kontrabida” is literally against life or “contra vida.” Remember that “salbabida,” our word for inflatable lifesavers, comes from the Spanish “salva[r] vida.”
When I was invited to the preview of “Heneral Luna,” I looked out for two scenes: the general’s assassination, and the slap across Buencamino’s face. The former did not disappoint, for its blood, gore and the blocking that resembled the dead gladiators in Juan Luna’s iconic “Spoliarium.” I waited in vain for the slapping scene that I remember vividly from Agoncillo’s classic, “Malolos: Crisis of the Republic” (1960): A Cabinet meeting had reached a heated discussion on autonomy proposed by the US secretary of state, wherein the United States government appoints a governor general for the Philippines, and the Filipinos elect an advisory council. Buencamino was in favor of the proposal, Luna opposed it.
From Agoncillo’s account: “[T]his attitude drew the ire of Luna who accused Buencamino of being a traitor and an autonomist. A heated exchange of words followed. Buencamino, stung by Luna’s pointed accusation, in turn accused Luna of having been responsible for the debacle at Bagbag. Mention of this debacle and his responsibility for it infuriated Luna. He lunged at Buencamino and slapped him across the face, knocking him down. Luna would have continued his attack on Buencamino had not Aguinaldo intervened.”
The scene is missing from “Heneral Luna” because they used Vivencio Jose’s version of the event in his “Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna” (1972): “In the course of their arguments Luna cast a murderous look at Buencamino, the most passionate and incorrigible defender of the autonomy policy of the government. Luna could not conceal his hatred of this autonomist who, he believed, was selling the country to the Americans. Turning to his side, Luna spoke loud enough to be heard in the room: ‘There is another traitor whom we should be permitted to eliminate!’ Stung to the quick, Buencamino fumed: ‘I deny your accusation; as for me, if there is any traitor among all those who form the government and army of the Republic, it is you because if you had not taken the one thousand soldiers armed with Mauser guns from Calumpit in order to subdue General Masardo without permission of the Captain General, until now the American Army would be surrounded at Malolos (sic). This accusation of yours is as false as that denounced by you to Captain General Aguinaldo in relation to my deceased son!’ Upon hearing the Bagbag debacle mentioned, Luna rightly raged. He lunged swiftly at Buencamino. Severino de las Alas, then Secretary of the Interior, caught Luna by the arm and led him away.”
Agoncillo and Jose have two different versions of the same event. How do we decide which is closer to the truth? To the historians, Agoncillo and Jose are “secondary sources” so they seek out the “primary sources” written by participants in or eyewitnesses to the event or an account written closer to the actual event.
In the memoirs of Victor Buencamino, son of Felipe Sr., he said: “Luna stood up to hit my father. Aguinaldo interceded, reminding Luna that he was in the presence of the President of the Philippines, and the incident ended there.”
Emilio Aguinaldo in a number of interviews on the incident repeated that it was he, not De las Alas, who prevented Luna from slapping Buencamino. Aguinaldo’s word should be enough to settle the issue.
But to complicate matters, in his book “A Second Look at America,” published in the United States in 1957 and co-authored by Vicente Albano Pacis, Aguinaldo claims that Luna “violently slapped Buencamino knocking him down. He was about to attack the others as well when I stopped him.”
Unfortunately, there was no slapping. Agoncillo used a tainted source later disowned by Aguinaldo as an unauthorized “autobiography.”
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