Antonio Luna y Novicio (October 29, 1866 - June 5, 1899) was a Filipino pharmacist and general who fought in the Philippine-American War. He was also the founder of the Philippines's first military academy.
Antonio Luna was born in Urbiztondo, Binondo, Manila. He was the youngest of seven children of Joaquín Luna, from Badoc, Ilocos Norte, and Spanish mestiza Laureana Novicio, from Luna, La Union. His father was a traveling salesman of the products of government monopolies. His older brother, Juan, was an accomplished painter who studied in the Madrid Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. Another brother, Jose, became a doctor.
At the age of six, Antonio learned reading, writing, and arithmetic from a teacher known as Maestro Intong. He memorized the Doctrina Cristiana (catechism), the first book printed in the Philippines.
His early schooling was at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1881. He went on to study literature and chemistry at the University of Santo Tomas, where he won first prize for a paper in chemistry titled Two Fundamental Bodies of Chemistry. He also studied pharmacy, swordsmanship, fencing, military tactics, and became a sharpshooter. On the invitation of his brother Juan, Antonio was sent by his doting parents to Spain, to acquire a licentiate and doctorate in Pharmacy.
He obtained the degree of Licentiate in Pharmacy from the University of Barcelona. He pursued further studies and in 1890 obtained the degree of Doctor of Pharmacy from the Universidad Central de Madrid.
In Spain, he became one of the Filipino expatriates who mounted the “Propaganda Movement” and wrote for La Solidaridad, published by the reformist movement of the elite Filipino students in Spain. He wrote a piece titled Impressions which dealt with Spanish customs and idiosyncrasies under the pen-name "Taga-ilog".
Luna was active as researcher in the scientific community in Spain, and wrote a scientific treatise on malaria titled El Hematozoario del Paludismo (Malaria), which was favorably received in the scientific community. He then went to Belgium and France, and worked as assistant to Dr. Latteaux and Dr. Laffen. In recognition of his ability, he was appointed commissioner by the Spanish government to study tropical and communicable diseases.
In 1894, he went back to the Philippines where he took the competitive examination for chief chemist of the Municipal Laboratory of Manila, came in first and won the position. He also opened a sala de armas, a fencing club, and learned of the underground societies that were planning a revolution, and was asked to join. Like other leaders, he was in favor of reforms rather than independence as goal to be attained. Nevertheless, after the Katipunan's existence was leaked in August 1896, the Luna brothers were arrested and jailed in Fort Santiago for their participation in the reform movement. Months later José and Juan were freed, but Antonio was exiled to Spain in 1897, where he was imprisoned at the Cárcel Modelo in Madrid.
His more famous and controversial brother Juan, who had been pardoned by the Spanish Queen Regent herself, left for Spain to use his prestige to intercede for Antonio. With Juan's influence working, Antonio's case was dismissed by the Military Supreme Court and was released.
Antonio prepared himself for the revolutionary war he had decided to join. First, he went to Madrid and other cities in Germany and Belgium, studied field fortifications, guerrilla warfare, organization, and other aspects of military science. He studied military tactics and strategy under Gerard Leman in Belgium.
In Hong Kong, he was given a letter of recommendation to Emilio Aguinaldo by the Filipino revolutionaries. He returned to the Philippines in July 1898, wary of American treachery.
Luna first saw action in Manila on August 13, 1898. Since June, Manila had been completely surrounded by the revolutionary army. Luciano San Miguel occupied Mandaluyong; Pio del Pilar, Makati; Mariano Noriel, Parañaque; Pacheco, Navotas, Tambobong, and Caloocan. Gregorio Del Pilar marched through Sampaloc, taking Tondo, Divisoria, and Azcarraga; Noriel cleared Singalong and Paco, held Ermita and Malate. Luna thought the Filipinos should just walk in and enter Intramuros. But Aguinaldo, heeding the advice of General Merritt and Commodore Dewey, whose fleet had moored in Manila Bay, sent Luna to the trenches where he ordered his troops to fire on the Americans. After the disastrous farce of the American Occupation, Luna tried to complain to US officers at a meeting in Ermita about the disorder, the looting, rape, mayhem by US troops.
To quiet him, Aguinaldo appointed Luna as Chief of War Operations on September 26, 1898 and assigned the rank of Brigadier General. In quick succession, he was made the Director of War and Supreme Chief of the Army, arousing the envy of the other generals. Luna felt that bureaucratic placebos were being thrown his way, when all he wanted was to organize and discipline the enthusiastic, ill-fed and ill-trained young troops into a real army.
Luna saw the need for a military school, so that he established a military academy at Malolos the 'Academia Militar' (October, 1898- March, 1899), the precursor of the present Philippine Military Academy. He appointed (former Guardia Civil) Captain Manuel Bernal Sityar, a mestizo, as superintendent. He recruited other mestizos and Spaniards who had fought in the Spanish army in the 1896 revolution for training.
A score of veteran officers became the teachers at his military school. He devised two courses of instruction, planned the reorganization, with a battalion of tiradores and a cavalry squadron, set up an inventory of guns and ammunition, arsenals, using convents and town halls, quartermasters, lookouts and communication systems. He even asked his brother Juan to design the uniforms, and insisted on strict discipline over and above clan and clique loyalties.
Luna proved to be a strict disciplinarian and thereby alienated many in the ranks of the soldiers. An example of this occurred during the "Fall of Calumpit" wherein Luna ordered Tomás Mascardo to send troops to bolster his defences. However, Mascardo ignored orders; an angry Luna left the frontlines to confront Mascardo. Upon returning to the field, the Americans had broken through his defenses at the Bagbag River, forcing him to withdraw.
Luna fought gallantly at battles in Bulacan, Pampanga, and Nueva Ecija against the better equipped US forces. In the battle at Caloocan, the Kawit Battalion from Cavite refused to attack when given the order. Because of this, he disarmed them and relieved them of duties.
Knowing that the Revolution and the infant republic were a contest for the minds of Filipinos, Antonio Luna turned to journalism to strengthen Filipino minds with the ideas of nationhood and the need to fight a new imperialist enemy. He decided to publish a newspaper, “La Independencia.” Manned by the best writers, the four-page daily was filled with articles, short stories, patriotic songs and poems. The staff was installed in one of the coaches of the train that ran from Manila to Pangasinan. The paper came out in September 1898, and was an instant success, a movable feast of information, humor and good writing printing 4,000 copies, many more than all the other newspapers put together.
When the Treaty of Paris (where Spain ceded the Philippines to the US) was made public in December 1898, Luna quickly realized that only decisive military action could save the republic. His strategy was to bottle up the Americans in Manila before more of their troops could land, execute surprise attacks while building up strength in the north and, should the enemy pierce his lines, wage a series of delaying battles and prepare a fortress in the northern highlands of Luzon. This was turned down by the High Command.
The Americans gained the time and the opportunity to start hostilities with the Filipinos at the place and time of their choice. On the night of February 4, 1899, a weekend when they knew most of the Filipino generals were on furlough in Bulacan, the Americans staged an incident along the concrete blockhouses in Sta. Mesa near the San Juan del Monte bridge. An American patrol fired on Filipino troops, claimed afterwards that the Filipinos had started shooting first (thus ensuring that the US Congress would vote for annexation) and the whole Filipino line from Pasay to Caloocan returned fire and the first battle of the Filipino-American War broke out. It had become a war of conquest, occupation and annexation which Luna, Mabini, among others, had predicted and repeatedly warned Aguinado and his generals against.
Luna was at the front line, leading three companies to La Loma, to engage General Arthur MacArthur's forces. Fighting went on at Marikina, Caloocan, Sta. Ana, and Paco. The Filipinos were subjected to a carefully planned attack with naval artillery, with the Dewey's US fleet firing from the Manila Bay. Filipino casualties were horrific; Luna personally had to carry wounded officers and men to safety.
On February 7, Luna issued detailed orders with five specific objects to the field officers of the territorial militia. It began “By virtue of the barbarous attack upon our army on February 4,” and ended with “War without quarter to false Americans who wish to enslave us. Independence or death!” Since the outbreak of war the US forces had continued bombardment of the towns around Manila, burning and looting whole districts.
A Filipino counter-attack began at dawn on February 23. The plan was a pincer movement, using the battalions from the North and South, with the sharpshooters (the only professionally trained troops) at crucial points. It was only partly successful because at a moment of extreme peril, with some companies already bereft of ammunition, the battalion from Kawit, Cavite refused to move, saying they had orders to obey only instructions directly from Aguinaldo.
That kind of insubordination had been plaguing the Filipino forces. Most of the troops owed their loyalty to the officers from their provinces, towns or districts and not to the central command. The hostility of the Caviteños towards the Manileños was an old wound. The Manileño ilustrado, Antonio Luna, was resented by companies or battalions commanded by warlords and landlords from other provinces. At one point, Luna had to be restrained from shooting a Caviteño colonel.
Nevertheless, despite their superior firepower and more newly arrived reinforcements, the Americans were so compromised that General Lawton, still in Colombo in Ceylon with his troops, received a cabled SOS, “Situation critical in Manila. Your early arrival great importance.”
And so it went, battle after battle, incident after incident until Luna proferred his resignation, which Aguinaldo hesitantly accepted. Luna was absent from the field for three weeks, during which the Filipino forces suffered several defeats and setbacks. Swallowing his pride, Luna went to Aguinaldo and asked to be reinstated, begging for more powers over all the military chiefs, and Aguinaldo agreed.
At the end of May, Colonel Joaquín Luna, Antonio’s brother, warned him about a plot concocted by “old elements’ of the Revolution (who were bent on accepting autonomy under American sovereignty to stop the terror of “the American rampage” that was ravaging the country) and a clique of army officers whom Luna had disarmed, arrested, or insulted. Luna shrugged off all these threats and continued building defenses at Pangasinan where the Americans planned a landing.
On June 2, 1899 he received two telegrams. One asked for help in a counter-attack in San Fernando, and the other, “purportedly” signed by Aguinaldo, ordering him to come to headquarters, a convent at Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, to form a new cabinet. Having high hopes that he would be promoted as Premier and Secretary of War, Luna set off; first by train, then on horseback and eventually in three carriages to Nueva Ecija with his aides. Two of the carriages broke down and he proceeded in the only one left, with Colonel Francisco Román and Captain Eduardo Rusca, having earlier shed his cavalry escort. Upon arriving at Cabanatuan on June 5, Luna proceeded to the convent, alone. As he went up the stairs, he ran into an officer whom he had previously disarmed for cowardice, and an old enemy, whom he had once threatened with arrest, a hated “autonomist,” and was told that Aguinaldo had left for San Isidro, Tarlac in Tarlac. Enraged, Luna asked why he had not been told the meeting was canceled.
As he was about to depart, a single shot from a rifle on the plaza rang out. Outraged, and furious, he rushed down the stairs and met Captain Pedro Janolino, accompanied by some of the Kawit troops he had previously dismissed for insubordination. Janolino swung his bolo at Luna, wounding him at the temple. Janolino's cahoots fired at Luna, others started stabbing him, even as he tried to bring his revolver to bear. He staggered out to the plaza where Román and Rusca were rushing to his aid, but they too were set upon and shot. As he laid dying, blood gushing from multiple wounds, Luna uttered his last words: “Cowards! Assassins!” He was hurriedly buried in the churchyard, after which Aguinaldo relieved Luna's officers and men from the field.
The demise of Luna, the most brilliant and capable of the Filipino generals, was a decisive factor in the fight against the American forces. Even the Americans developed an astonished admiration for him. One of them, General Hughes, said of his death, probably relishing the irony, “The Filipinos had only one general, and they have killed him.”
Subsequently, Aguinaldo suffered successive, disastrous losses in the field, retreating towards northern Luzon. In less than two years, he was captured in Palanan, Isabela by American forces, led by General Frederick Funston and their Kapampangan allies, the Macabebe mercenaries. Aguinaldo was later brought to Manila, and made to pledge allegiance to the United States.
|Commanding General of the Philippine Army
23 January 1899 - 05 June 1899
José de los Reyes