The killing of General Luna: The facts remain

"That a known historian would spend several paragraphs on what I wrote elated me a bit - and amused me a lot."



Last weekend, a friend handed me a page from another broadsheet with the article of historian Ambeth Ocampo entitled, “The Luna Telegram: Not so ‘Deadly’ After All”. I was told that I must read it, and so I did. After all, I have been reading Ambeth for years and even have a collection of his books. I even attended some of his lectures at the Ayala Museum.

I was surprised because although unnamed, this particular Ocampo piece made a swipe at me for calling for the authentication of the controversial telegram that was recently auctioned by the Leon Gallery. This telegram, as soon as it surfaced, was immediately and readily referred to by several anti-Aguinaldo write-ups as the one some history books allege to have been sent by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo to Gen. Antonio Luna summoning him to the Cabanatuan presidential headquarters. Luna went there on June 5, 1899, and met his tragic death from the hands of the presidential guards whom he had earlier disarmed and punished.

I made the call for authentication in my piece, ‘The Killing of Gen. Antonio Luna’ that may be read here

That a known historian such as Ocampo would spend several paragraphs on what I wrote elated me a bit, and amused me a lot. One, because I repeatedly say that I am but an ardent (but passionate) student of history and he is what he is. Despite this, at least he read this one piece of mine. And second, because I seemed to have irked him enough to turn the usually cool historian to an irate Ambeth Ocampo.

He wrote under the subheading Columnist’s ignorance, “Most hilarious was a newspaper columnist who established her credentials as transcriber of Aguinaldo’s unpublished handwritten notes—only to expose her IGNORANCE by calling for forensic examination to determine the telegram’s authenticity. How could it be, she asks, if it is not in Aguinaldo’s handwriting? (emphasis mine)

She could be the only person in the universe who does not know that telegrams are never in the hand of the sender.

Jim Richardson, historian of the revolutionary period spoiled everyone’s fun by posting photos of the pertinent page of the telegraph operator’s message log book taken from a microfilm of the Philippine Insurgent Records.”

Ocampo then put forward this transcription of the telegram’s text as the correct one, “Felipe Buencamino is detained without ordering the formation of the case. I am waiting your reply to my previous telegram where I request the basis for your accusation.” He then concluded that, “The “deadly” telegram is not as deadly as it is said to be, nor is it the “smoking gun” historians have been looking for all this time.”

Compare this with what I wrote a week earlier. My piece on Gen. Luna’s death was clearly in reaction to the article “Aguinaldo’s deadly telegram to Heneral Luna emerges in auction” by Amierielle Anne Bulan. This piece was the first of several write-ups that immediately concluded that the said telegram was the “smoking gun” Ocampo was referring to. Without batting an eyelash, Bulan said, “…It’s the telegram historians have been looking for for more than a century…”

I was questioning the writer for immediately labeling the telegram without the benefit of authentication. I then called on the Aguinaldo descendants to demand for authentication of the telegram. In fact, many others on Facebook also called for authentication.

My exact words were, “IF THE TELEGRAM WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE HANDWRITING OF GEN. MIONG, IT CAN EASILY BE ASCERTAINED IF THE PENMANSHIP WAS HIS. While I am no expert, I am quite familiar with Gen. Miong’s handwriting because I have been transcribing some of his unpublished notes. The one on the telegram attributed to him is very different from his existing self-written records during the period.

Moreover, even if the telegram is authentic, IT COULD HAVE BEEN SENT BY ANYBODY, especially Luna’s enemies (and he had many) without the knowledge of Aguinaldo to make sure that Luna would go to Cabanauan. (emphases mine)”

I am amused that Ocampo decontextualized my piece. It was a reaction to Bulan’s piece, as already explained. Also, I am happy to be in the company of other history students who also called for authentication and did not just swallow the propaganda around the telegram. So, I am not alone in the universe and if ignorance results in more thorough study, and better reading and analysis of history, I would rather be ignorant than pretend to know it all.

However, I would suggest for Ocampo to re-read the sentence, “IF THE TELEGRAM WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE HANDWRITING OF GEN. MIONG, IT CAN EASILY BE ASCERTAINED IF THE PENMANSHIP WAS HIS”. I said “IF” and “supposed to be” precisely because I am aware of how telegrams are sent but even with the benefit of the doubt that it should be in the sender’s penmanship, authenticity could easily be determined.

True, I said that I have been transcribing some of Gen. Aguinaldo’s unpublished notes but I am NOT an official transcriber. I do this because of my passion for “no hate history” and I have access to interesting materials on and by the General. I do not earn from being passionate about history. I said that I am no expert but have grown to be quite familiar with Aguinaldo’s penmanship. I was establishing that familiarity, not my credentials because otherwise, I would not have plainly said that I am not an expert.

I do not understand why Ocampo reacted very strongly to what I wrote when in fact, we reached the same conclusion that what were peddled as truths about the telegram were all lies and propaganda. Why was he not irate at those who propagated those fake news to further destroy Aguinaldo’s image?

Noticeable in Ocampo’s piece is his restraint from calling the telegram “the Aguinaldo telegram” unlike many others who wrote about this before him. The fact is, even if the telegram was authentic, it could have been sent by anybody. Ocampo knows that it would be very hard to prove that Aguinaldo was its sender.

But then, he put forward a scenario, purely speculative, he called it, about Luna’s ill-fated trip to Cabanatuan. While no one can prevent people from speculating, I like looking at ALL possible explanation for things. It seemed to me that there are good references that Ocampo may not have considered in the formulation of this particular scenario. These are the various primary and secondary sources on Aguinaldo. I say this because nowhere in his scenario did he make mention of the other side of the coin, so to speak.

I have read many accounts on Gen. Luna’s death, both pro- and anti-Aguinaldo. I have also written about Gen. Aguinaldo’s words on this tragedy, even his unpublished notes where he asserted that he did not send Luna a telegram but it was the other way around. He also further explained his decision to leave Cabanatuan to break Luna’s command. The scenario that I and other students of history are building on Luna’s death consider all these sources. We analyze, discuss, follow leads, compare and check what could be checked, before formulating and forwarding our opinions.

Like Ocampo, we like discovering new materials and “new” facts that provide new answers. This makes history more exciting.

When he described the Luna telegram as not so “deadly” after all, I could only say amen. Really, it did not prove anything against Gen. Aguinaldo despite the fake news about it. It also did not prove that Aguinaldo sent Luna a telegram that others claim to have caused his death.

The established facts on the killing of Gen. Luna remain. Gen. Miong was out of the picture.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Ambeth Ocampo , Antonio Luna , The Luna Telegram: Not so ‘Deadly’ After All

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