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Questions about Juan Luna

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Questions about Juan Luna

By Ambeth Ocampo
First Posted 01:43:00 10/19/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Next week, we hope people will join the National Historical Institute, the City of Manila and the Province of Ilocos Norte in celebrating or at least remembering the patriot and painter Juan Luna on his 150th birthday. I presume that everything will run smoothly, from the commemorative programs, to lectures, painting contests for children and an exhibit by members of the Art Association of the Philippines who will embark on a pilgrimage to Badoc town, paint on the spot and exhibit their work in the reconstructed birthplace of Luna.

Badoc was recently in the news because of some cowboy movie-like shootout in that sleepy town inspired by local politics. There was one fatality, a bodyguard of the vice mayor, which was not good for local tourism, but then Ilocos Norte tourism officer Rene Guatlo commented dryly that guns and mayhem are nothing new in the history of the Ilocos region.

The recent shooting was quite appropriate because textbooks tend to forget that Luna shot and killed his wife Paz Pardo de Tavera, and his mother-in-law Juliana Gorricho in a jealous rage in Paris in 1892. Furthermore, because he survived becoming a Paris crime statistic in 1892, few people know that Felix Paz Pardo de Tavera was also shot by Luna during that bloody day when he tried to come to the aid of his mother and sister who had locked themselves in a bathroom and screamed for help from the third floor window.

When they returned home after years of living in Europe, Juan and his younger brother Antonio opened a “sala de armas,” or fencing school, in what was then Calle Alix in Sampaloc, Manila.

When all the festivities were being planned, I insisted on having two floral offerings in Manila, first at the foot of the statue of Juan Luna that stands on an island as you enter the Walled City today through Puerta Real [Royal Gate]; and second, in the crypt of San Agustin where Luna’s remains rest in niche No. 87. The tombstone was the source of much confusion because the text, as translated from the original Spanish, reads: “Juan Luna y Novicio. Painter. Patriot. Born in Badoc, Ilocos Norte 23 October 1857. Died in Victoria, Hongkong December 7, 1899.”

The problem was that for over a decade the National Historical Institute (NHI) had celebrated the anniversary of his birth on Oct. 24. A check with the pioneering and much cited biography of Luna by Carlos E. Da Silva revealed that when it was first published in mimeograph form in 1957, Luna’s birthday was Oct. 23. However when the NHI decided to publish the biography by Da Silva, the birthday suddenly became Oct. 24. This posed a problem because a tombstone should normally be infallible.

To be sure that the Oct. 24 date followed by the NHI for over two decades was not a typographical error, verification was undertaken. Pending new research, the compromise was that there would be two commemorations on two separate days: Oct. 23 in Ilocos, Oct. 24 in Manila. The Augustinians of San Agustin insisted on Oct. 23, following the date on the tombstone. Then, like an answered prayer the National Archives faxed the NHI a copy of Luna’s baptismal certificate issued by Fray Ricardo Alonso, OSA, parish priest of Badoc, Ilocos Norte, on Jan. 19, 1898. We do not know why this document was made and for whom, but the good friar certified that on page 215 of the 8th volume of their Record of Baptisms, the following text reads:

“On October 27, 1857 Fr. Sebastian Diez, parish priest of Sinait with the license from the parish priest of Badoc solemnly baptized Juan Luna de San Pedro, a three-day old boy, legitimate son of Don Joaquin Luna y San Pedro and Doña Laureana Novicio. The godfather was Juan de la Fuente a Spaniard who commanded the Spanish Infantry in both Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.”

The name of Luna’s “ninang” [godmother] is not recorded. Why? We will never know. Therefore, if Luna was baptized on Oct. 27, and he was three days old at the time, then his birthday is Oct. 24 not Oct. 23. The source for the wrong date must have been Luna’s daughter-in-law, Grace Luna, an American married to Luna’s son Andres who grew up to become one of the pioneering Filipino architects. After a memorial service in Hong Kong, following his death of a heart attack on Dec. 7, 1899, Luna’s body was cremated and Andres, according to the late Antonio Sindiong, kept the urn containing his father’s ashes all his life. Sindiong said that Luna’s remains were kept in a pail under the bed of Andres. It was only after Andres’ death did Juan Luna’s ashes find a final resting place in San Agustin.

This obscure and almost trivial bit of information only goes to show that there is much more to Juan Luna that remains to be researched and published so that we can come to terms with the artist of the violent and depressing “Spoliarium,” both as a painter and, more importantly, as a Filipino patriot. Why is he great? Because of his art? Because of his friendship with Rizal? Perhaps it is connected to being General Luna’s kuya or even his service as Philippine diplomatic representative of the Emilio Aguinaldo government in Europe?

There are many old questions about Luna that await new answers. Old questions that will generate new questions and push our knowledge further.

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 29 September 2010 08:58 )