By Ed Aurelio C. Reyes
Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers
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HE SEARING OF THE MID-AFTERNOON SUN bleached the town square of Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija that fateful fifth day of June, and the pool of blood officer's uniform began to clot and cake in the scorching heat. The man faced the sky, his fists clenched, and his eyes were closed. Probably his face was wet with manly tears shed not out of physical pain or fear of death -- for he had known and bravely faced much of such pain and danger in his colorful and controversial life -- and not even out of self-pity. Perhaps, the man wept away his last gasps of breath over what he must by then have projected as the fate of his beloved country.
It was at the height of the Philippine-American War and he was one of the best military officers the Filipinos had ever had. But what was bitterly ironic about his death from no less than thirty gunshot and bolo-hack wounds was that his end came not at the hands of the American invasion forces that he was up to then fighting so fiercely and well. He was killed by fellow-Filipino soldiers. He was a brother betrayed.
The people of Cabanatuan are not at all to be blamed for this infamous but historical incident, for they took no part in the despicable act. But if the rest of the Filipino people of today are almost totally unaware of this event in 1899, we have reason to hope some Novo Ecijanos of that city have a clear retrospect of that death, the passing away of Philippine Revolutionary General Antonio Luna.
No more than a few hours before meeting his end, Luna entered Cabanatuan in high spirits and with high expectations. And this can only be understood if we comprehend the context, as explained to us by Vivencio Jose in his biographical work, The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna (Quezon City: University of the Philippines,1972; also republished under the Renato Constantino Filipiniana Reprints Series).
At that time, there was a bitter conflict among the leaders of the Revolution, especially those who surrounded and tried to influence President Emilio Aguinaldo. Felipe Buencamino and Pedro Paterno constituted one side of the conflict. Appalled by a series of victories of the American invasion forces, the immediate members of the "Paterno-Buencamino clique" wavered and grew hopeless. They constituted the autonomists and annexationists, those who were open to ideas of Philippine statehood in the USA or to the "autonomy" option proposed by the Americans. On the other hand, people like Apolinario Mabini and Luna would have no such thing and were single-minded about having a Philippine republic completely independent of foreign domination.
Aguinaldo's Cabinet was then headed by Paterno. Luna was thinking of proposing, through the La Independencia newspaper of which he was editor, the formation of a new Cabinet whose policies would be more attuned to struggle and war. Only along that direction, Luna believed, would lie the salvation and happiness of the Motherland.
On May 31, 1889 or shortly after this date, Luna received in his headquarters in Bayambang two telegrams. From Cabanatuan, he received communication seeking his help in the planned counterattack to be made against the Americans in San Fernandando (Pampanga). And from Angeles (also in Pampanga) he got a telegram, bearing the signature of Emilio Aguinaldo, ordering him to come to Aguinaldo's headquarters in Cabanatuan to head a new Cabinet. Luna was understandably overjoyed-- a new Cabinet at last! With him as Premier and Secretary of War, Luna thought, everything would be much organized and more disciplined now.
Shortly before Luna's scheduled arrival in Cabanatuan, Aguinaldo called all the men in that town and in San Isidro to come over to his residence. According to Manuel Luis Quezon, who was a young member of the force at that time, Aguinaldo asked them without explanation to swear that they would fight by his side "against all comers." It was in this gathering that Aguinaldo reportedly ordered Gen. Gregorio del Pilar to effect the capture, dead or alive, of Antonio Luna who was "accused of high treason."
They then departed, with Aguinaldo dressed "in his military uniform with his insignia as full general." Quezon wrote later (in his The Good Fight), "I asked him if he just smiled and said nothing." Then Aguinaldo secretly and hastily transferred his headquarters to Angeles.
Vivencio Jose tells us: "Jose de los Reyes, chief of staff of del Pilar's Brigade received from an aide-de-camp of Aguinaldo identical orders as those given to his immdiate chief." De los Reyes complied and moved to seek out Luna: he disarmed two or three companies of Luna's Ilocano followers, but did not find his main quarry.
In Cabanatuan, Col Ladislao Jose received from the office of the Chief of the General Staff an order the day before Luna's expected arrival: "In case General Luna punishes or disarms you or your soldiers, you can disobey him. If he resorts to force, you can answer him with force until he is killed."
When Luna arrived in Cabanatuan, he left behind his only escort and proceeded to enter the convent where he expected Aguinaldo to be maintaining headquarters. But his president was one step ahead and had already set up office in Angeles. The guard, upon seeing Luna enter, was so tense that he did not know what to do. Luna enter asked this soldier whether he knew what he was doing. Getting no answer, Luna slapped him and hurried upstairs.
Instead of Aguinaldo with whom he had expected to discuss the forming of a new Cabinet under his leadership, he saw, of all persons, his political adversary Felipe Buencamino. He was exchanging hot words with Buencamino when, apparently on a prearranged signal, a rifle shot rang out outside. Luna stopped talking with Buencamino in order to inquire about the disturbance. He asked the first soldier he met on the way down, Capt. Pedro Janolino, but the latter was terrified at Luna's seething rage. Thinking Luna would attack him, he got his bolo and hacked the general on the temple above the ear. The Kawit soldiers then joined the fray, firing and stabbing at the hapless general.
Vivencio Jose continues:
"In spite of his wounds, the surprised Luna managed to pull out his revolver and, withdrawing to the streets, tried to press its trigger. Pain and loss of blood were slowly blurring his vision and he missed whn he fired. in that instant, something was fast dawning clearly in his mind like this June clarity. Why was Aguinaldo not around while Buencamino was here, seemingly free? Did he not order Buencamino's arrest and imprisonment together with the whole bunch of his ilk? Why were the Presidential Guards, known for their hostility to him, kept here when Aguinaldo, whom they are supposed to guard and escort, left?
"The other soldiers in ambush formation had in the meanwhile waited and kept themselves well entrenched behind the concrete walls. Luna this time reached the plaza, his fist in a ball, shouting his challenge to his enemies. He tried to fire once more but failed to return their shots effectively. At the center of the fire of the treacherous men, Luna was now totally helpless."
He fell right thera at the plaza, fists clenched teeth gritting in rage. But before he finally breathed his last, he turned to one side. "So great must have been the soldiers' fear of Luna," Jose tells us, "that when they thought that he would stand up in that last gasp of breath, those in the front line hastily stepped backward pushing those behind them who fell down!"
For about an hour, the bodies of Luna and his lone escort Paco Roman lay where they fell under the withering sun. Then, for no apparent reason, the soldiers returned and began hacking Luna's body again in sadistic glee. Some took off the uniform and among themselves divided the loot of money and jewels.
After bloody incident, the chief of the general staff sent a telegram to Aguinaldo: "General Luna and his aide Colonel Francisco Roman have been killed. what shall I do?" Instead of inquiring about the cause of their deaths, Aguinaldo ordered that the bodies be buried with fully military honors a befit the ead officers' respective ranks.
Afterwards, forces led by Aguinaldo suffered successive defeats, retreated until the American invaders captured him in Palanan, Isabela.
These accounts from Vivencio Jose's book would make us laugh at the "theory' that Antonio Luna's hot temper, as shown in his slapping the dumbfounded guard at the convent, was the real reason behind his "mysterious" death.
General Antonio Luna was a brother betrayed. Even though, as history popularizer Ambeth Ocampo tells us, he started off as a "villain" in the biography of Jose Rizal and as a "traitor" to the cause of the earlier-day Katipuneros, he more than redeemed himself in the eyes of the Motherland. His beloved Filipinas fell to the American occupation forces and has since suffered various forms of continuing foreign subjugation, including the type of "autonomy" which he and Mabini had detested so much.
(Kamalaysayan Media Service)
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