Historical Gossip

Graciano Lopez-Jaena (Source: wikipedia.org), Antonio Luna (Source: Vibal Foundation) and Juan Luna (Source: wikipedia.org)

Graciano Lopez-Jaena (Source: wikipedia.org), Antonio Luna (Source: Vibal Foundation) and Juan Luna (Source: wikipedia.org)

The most loquacious – and interesting – among my egroups has been cracklin’ with postings recently because someone wisely started a thread on historical gossip, triggering a flurry of comments and questions even from those who are traditional egroup lurkers. It doesn’t take much to draw people out apparently, especially those like me whose knowledge of Philippine history was dulled by the rote memorization of facts that we were required to do in school.

What piqued our interest were the stories of love affairs and scandals that some of our well-known heroes were party to in the late 1800s and early 1900s. From the postings of those more knowledgeable about the lives of these storybook individuals who have been portrayed as grim and determined nationalists and anti-colonialists who valiantly laid down their lives for our country’s freedom, we found out that some of them were actually tormented, tempestuous, often undisciplined people who suffered from the same insecurities and excesses as anyone else.

Take Graciano Lopez Jaena, for example. We know him to be one of the leading lights of the Propaganda Movement (against Spain) whose writings and fiery speeches were the stuff of legend. Privately he was a drunkard with sloppy manners who could only write when intoxicated, but his intensely patriotic prose roused his readers to action; his passionate speeches (even on topics he knew nothing about) delivered with such skill and confidence, left his audience breathless.

The most interesting postings were about the Luna brothers – Juan and Antonio, both famous for their exceptional talents and their volatile tempers.

Antonio Luna, the famous general of the Katipunan, was a master swordsman, a chemist by profession, a good guitar player and an acknowledged writer who became the editor of the newspaper of the Philippine Revolution, La Independencia. Because of his bad temper, however, he incurred many enemies even among his fellow revolutionaries. Emilio Aguinaldo, who later became the president of the first Philippine Republic of 1898, was reportedly very threatened by Luna’s military and political acumen. One day he ordered Luna to attend a purported meeting in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija where the latter was assassinated by soldiers who had axes to grind against the temperamental general. Pro-Luna historians say his execution was masterminded by Aguinaldo while those who are pro-Aguinaldo say it was Luna’s fiery temper that angered the men who did him in.

The more juicy story about Antonio Luna, who was also the Katipunan’s treasurer, concerns his girlfriend from Tarlac, a Chinese mestiza with whom he allegedly left the organizational funds for safekeeping when he went to Cabanatuan and met his fate. Apparently, no one among Luna’s comrades knew of her so, with him dead, no one knew where the money went. The woman named Ysidra eventually emerged as the matriarch of the Cojuangcos of Tarlac, from whom emanated the clan’s great wealth. Did the Cojuangco money originate from the Katipunan? There’s no way to prove it but it’s certainly fodder for good historical chismis.

Antonio’s notoriety however paled in comparison to his brother, Juan Luna, the extremely talented and famous painter, arguably one of the greatest the Philippines has ever produced. Juan not only shared his brother’s political passion but also his unbridled temper. Married to Paz Pardo de Tavera, the sister of his good friend Trinidad (also a stalwart of the Propaganda Movement), Juan was known to be a violent wife abuser given to fits of jealousy and rage especially after the death of their daughter which he blamed on his wife.

In 1892, Juan Luna shot his wife and mother-in-law dead in their house in the ritzy section of Paris. Speculations abound as to why he snapped at that particular moment; some say he became jealous when he discovered that Paz was seeing a Frenchman named Dussaq whom he challenged to a duel and was refused. Other reports said that he was enraged when he found out that Paz was leaving him for good with the help of her mother and two brothers.

Even the reports of the actual shooting scenario are muddled: some said the women were killed while hiding in the bathroom when Luna was trying to shoot the door open; another account which historian Ambeth Ocampo gathered from Mamita Pardo de Tavera was that the women were going down the stairs to leave the house when Luna saw them and flew into a rage.

However it happened, Luna owned up to the crime and was put on trial for murder. He was deemed guilty but was given an exceptionally light penalty – 40 francs (about $5 in current money) for documentary stamps. How he escaped a heavier sentence was again a subject of speculation: it could be because in France at that time, a crime of passion was considered a defense of one’s honor, or it could be because the queen of Spain, a big fan of the brilliant artist, sent lawyers to help with the case.

What is confirmed however is that the Pardo de Taveras burnt all the Luna paintings and the family photos with him in it, and to this day, the heirs still speak with disdain of the in-law from hell and are still so protective of Paz’s reputation that, a few years ago, they even threatened to sue the creators of Spoliarium, the opera, if they so much as insinuate that she was an adulterer.

Needless to say, our egroup’s cyber-conversations have been enriched by these stories that have in turn triggered a new interest in our history. With the unmasking of our heroes as human beings with feet of clay, who can stop us ordinary mortals from attempting to be heroes as well?

First published in Filipinas Magazine, Oct. 2006

Gemma Nemenzo

Editor, Positively Filipino