Antonio Luna: Infamous General, All- Around Badass, Hero

General Antonio Luna (not Juan Luna, he’s his brother, and Juan’s the painter) is undoubtedly
one of the most admired Philippine heroes (probably due to the popular biofilm “Heneral Luna”
released in 2015). He is a soldier, a chemist, a war strategist, a journalist, a pharmacists, and a
hot-headed General.

Unfortunately for Luna, the Philippines' first president – the ruthless Emilio Aguinaldo – perceived
him as a threat. As a result, Antonio Luna died not on the battlefields of the Philippine/American
War, but on the streets of Cabanatuan.

But if there’s one thing that General Antonio Luna is most famous for other than his
assassination, that would be his temper.

Antonio Luna’s Early Life

Antonio Luna de San Pedro y Novicio-Ancheta was born on October 29, 1866 in the Binondo
district of Manila. He was the seventh child of Laureana Novicio-Ancheta, a Spanish mestiza,
and Joaquin Luna de San Pedro, a traveling salesman.

Antonio was a gifted student, who studied with a teacher called Maestro Intong from the age of
six. He received a Bachelor of Arts from the Ateneo Municipal de Manila in 1881, and continued
his studies in chemistry, music, and literature at the University of Santo Tomas, also in Manila.
In addition to his academic subjects, Antonio Luna studied fencing, sharpshooting, and military
tactics at the university.

Antonio and Juan in Madrid

In 1890, Antonio traveled to Spain to join his brother Juan, who was studying painting in Madrid.
There, Antonio earned a licentiate in pharmacy at the Universidad de Barcelona, followed by a
doctorate from the Universidad Central de Madrid. He went on to study bacteriology and
histology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, continuing on to Belgium. While in Spain, Luna had
published a well-received paper on malaria, so in 1894 the Spanish government appointed him
to a post as a specialist in communicable and tropical diseases.

The Revolution that Brought Antonio Home

Later in 1894, Antonio Luna returned to the Philippines, where he became the chief chemist of
the Municipal Laboratory in Manila. He and his brother Juan established a fencing society
called the Sala de Armas in the capital.

Antonio and Juan Luna were approached about joining the Katipunan, a revolutionary
organization founded by Andres Bonifacio in response to the 1892 banishment of Jose Rizal,
but both Luna brothers refused to participate. At that stage, they believed in gradual reform of
the system, rather than violent revolution against Spanish colonial rule.
Although they were not members of Katipunan, Antonio, Juan, and their brother Jose were all
arrested and imprisoned in August 1896, when the Spanish learned that the organization
existed. His brothers were interrogated and released, but Antonio was sentenced to exile, sent
to Spain, and imprisoned in the Carcel Modelo de Madrid. Juan, by this time a famed painter,
used his connections with the Spanish royal family to secure Antonio's release in 1897.

After his exile and imprisonment, understandably, Antonio Luna's attitude toward Spanish
colonial rule had shifted. Due to the arbitrary treatment of himself and his brothers, and the
execution of his friend Jose Rizal the previous December, Luna was ready to take up arms
against Spain. In his typically academic fashion, Luna decided to study guerrilla warfare tactics,
military organization, and field fortification under the famous Belgian military educator, Gerard
Leman. Next, Antonio Luna sailed to Hong Kong, where he met with the revolutionary leader-in-
exile, Emilio Aguinaldo. In July of 1898, Luna returned to the Philippines to take up the fight.

Rise of the General Antonio Luna

As the Spanish-American War came to a close, and the defeated Spanish prepared to withdraw
from the Philippines, Filipino revolutionary troops surrounded the capital city of Manila. The
newly-arrived officer Antonio Luna urged the other commanders to send troops into the city to
ensure a joint occupation when the Americans arrived, but Emilio Aguinaldo refused, believing
US naval officers stationed in Manila Bay who assured him that the Americans would hand over
power to the Filipinos in due course. Luna complained bitterly about this strategic blunder, as
well as the disorderly conduct of American troops once they landed in Manila in mid-August of

To placate Luna, Aguinaldo promoted him to the rank of Brigadier General on September 26,
1898, and named him Chief of War Operations. General Luna continued to campaign for better
military discipline and organization, and for a more aggressive approach to the Americans, who
were now setting themselves up as the new colonial rulers, rather than granting the Philippines
its independence. Along with Apolinario Mabini, Antonio Luna warned Aguinaldo that the
Americans did not seem inclined to free the Philippines. Aguinaldo still hoped that the US would
honor its earlier pledges, however.

General Luna felt the need for a military academy to properly train the Filipino troops, who were
eager and in many cases experienced in guerrilla warfare, but had little formal military training.
In October of 1898, Luna founded what is now the Philippine Military Academy. The Academy
operated for less than half a year, however, before the Philippine/American War broke out in
February of 1899, and classes were suspended so that staff and students could join the war

The General in the Philippine-American War

General Luna led three companies of soldiers to attack the Americans at La Loma, who
responded with ground forces and with naval artillery fire from the fleet in Manila Bay. The
Filipinos suffered heavy casualties. A Filipino counterattack on February 23 gained some
ground, but collapsed when troops from Cavite refused to take orders from General Luna,
stating that they would obey only Aguinaldo himself. Furious, Luna disarmed the recalcitrant
soldiers, but was forced to fall back.

After several additional bad experiences with the undisciplined and clannish Filipino forces, and
after Aguinaldo had rearmed the disobedient Cavite troops as his personal Presidential Guard,
a thoroughly frustrated General Luna submitted his resignation to Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo
reluctantly accepted. With the war going very badly for the Philippines over the next three
weeks, however, Aguinaldo persuaded Luna to return and made him Commander-in-Chief.

Luna developed and implemented a plan to contain the Americans long enough to construct a
guerrilla base in the mountains. The plan consisted of a network of bamboo trenches, complete
with spiked man-traps and pits full of poisonous snakes, that spanned the jungle from village to
village. Filipino troops could fire on the Americans from this Luna Defense Line, and then melt
away into the jungle without exposing themselves to American fire.
Late in May, Antonio Luna's brother Joaquin (a colonel in the revolutionary army) warned him
that a number of the other officers were conspiring to kill him. General Luna had disciplined,
arrested, or disarmed many of these officers, who bitterly resented his rigid, authoritarian style.

Antonio made light of his brother's warning, and reassured him that President Aguinaldo would
not allow anyone to assassinate the army's Commander-in-Chief.
General Luna received two telegrams on June 2, 1899. One telegram asked him to join a
counterattack against the Americans at San Fernando, Pampanga. The second was from
Aguinaldo, ordering Luna to the new capital, Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, about 120 kilometers
due north of Manila, where the Philippines' revolutionary government was forming a new
cabinet. Ever ambitious, and hopeful of being named Prime Minister, Luna decided to go to
Nueva Ecija with a cavalry escort of 25 men. However, due to transportation difficulties, Luna
arrived in Nueva Ecija accompanied only by two other officers, Colonel Roman and Captain
Rusca – the troops had been left behind.

On June 5, Luna went alone to the government headquarters to speak with President
Aguinaldo. He met one of his old enemies there, a man he had once disarmed for cowardice,
who informed him that the meeting was cancelled and Aguinaldo was out of town. Furious,
Luna had started to walk back down the stairs when a rifle shot went off outside. Luna ran
down the stairs, where he met one of the Cavite officers he had dismissed for insubordination.

The officer struck Luna on the head with his bolo; soon Cavite troops swarmed the injured
general, stabbing him. Luna drew his revolver and fired, but missed his attackers. He fought
his way out to the plaza, where Roman and Rusca ran to help him, but Roman was shot to
death and Rusca was severely injured. Luna sank, bleeding, to the cobblestones of the plaza.
His last words were, "Cowards! Assassins!" He was 32 years old.
As Aguinaldo's guards assassinated his most able general, the president himself was laying
siege to the headquarters of General Venancio Concepcion, an ally of the murdered general.

Aguinaldo dismissed Luna's officers and men from the Filipino Army. For the Americans, this
internecine fighting was a gift. General James F. Bell noted that Luna "was the only general the
Filipino army had," and Aguinaldo's forces suffered disastrous defeat after disastrous defeat in
the wake of Antonio Luna's murder. Aguinaldo spent most of the next 18 months in retreat,
before being captured by the Americans on March 23, 1901.

Did you know that Antonio Luna also denounced the Katipunan?

A two-paragraph section in Jose Alejandrino’s memoir (published in 1933 and translated into
English in 1949,) “The Price of Freedom” and titled “Antonio Luna in the year 1896” makes for
an interesting reading:

“It appears in official documents that in this period Luna committed the greatest error of his life
in denouncing the existence of the Katipunan and in revealing, during his imprisonment after the
first outbreak of the rebellion, the names of some of his friends affiliated with the Society. Later,
he explained however to me his aforesaid acts by saying that with the physical and moral
tortures which he suffered during his imprisonment, and upon being assured by the Spaniards
that he had been squealed upon by his own friends, denouncing him as an accomplice in the
rebellion, his violent character made him lose his better judgment. And having fallen for the
scheme woven by the Spaniards, he declared that those who had denounced him were more
guilty than he.

“The events of 1896 separated us from each other, he having been prosecuted and later on
sentenced to suffer imprisonment in Spain, while I left the country for China and Japan [on
official missions for Emilio Aguinaldo to procure arms for the revolution]. We were able to see
each [other] again in Kabite toward the month of July, 1898. He was returning home after having
served his sentence in the Model Prison of Madrid, and he brought with him in his baggage
books on military strategy and tactics and treatises on field fortifications. Above all, he brought
with him a desire to atone for his past mistakes.”

Like Jose Rizal and Apolinario Mabini, Luna did not support the first phase of the Philippine
Revolution (from the Cry of Balintawak until the Pact of Biak-na-Bato). Like Katipunan member
Pio Valenzuela, Luna was subjected to Spanish torture, and cracked under severe pressure.
But like Mabini, he joined the second phase of the revolution (from Aguinaldo’s return from exile
in Hong Kong in May 1898 until the outbreak of hostilities with the Americans in February 1899).
And like Mabini, he served with distinction in the third phase, the war against the
Americans—until his death in June 1899 at the hands of Aguinaldo’s presidential guards.

But there is more to General Luna than mere blood and gut:

“Antonio became also a member of [the Malolos] Congress …. Eloquent speeches from each
group were pronounced but there never was a voting because both groups were afraid of the
result of the balloting. Luna broke the situation with one of those tricks peculiar to his character
and which made him famous later. He assembled all those delegates of the radical faction who
had confidence in him advising them to keep away from the sessions of the Congress but
requesting them to remain within call at a moment’s notice. With the radicals absent, the
Conservatives constituted a majority during the sessions. Having made a careful counting and
thinking themselves sure of victory, the Conservatives asked for a vote while the few radicals
present registered a token opposition. The motion to call a vote was carried. Then at the precise
moment of balloting, Luna immediately called all his advisers to enter the session hall en masse
to the surprise of the confident Conservatives. The voting was taken and we won, if I remember
right, by one or two votes. [In fact, they won by one vote.] In this manner [the] provision in our
Constitution for the separation of the Church and State was secured.”

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