By Junelie Anthony Velonta | Feature Writer
“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” This is one of the more memorable lines of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. However, Caesar is not remembered today as a tyrant, wresting the right to govern from the people, but as a genius, a hero, and a conqueror—victimized by the betrayal of the social elite. Caesar’s atrocities were mostly forgotten.
Generals Antonio Luna and Gregorio del Pilar are perhaps the best examples of this irony. In the case of Luna, he was an intellectual rising to the needs of the Philippine Revolutionary Army. He was a radical. It was Luna, after all, who first enforced standardization and cooperation to an otherwise broken and disorganized armed force. Del Pilar, on the other hand, was a soldier forged and tempered in the raging fires of battle. His youth proved no hindrance to his bravery. In the eyes of many, he is a young, handsome, and charismatic officer—a gentleman even. He made the ultimate sacrifice, giving up his life for the patriotic cause.
However, according to Dr. Vivencio R. Jose, author of The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna and interviewee for Understanding Antonio Luna in Peace and In War, Luna is reduced to an ill-tempered general in most textbooks. Whatever passing mention of his military innovations is just that—passing. Most remember him as a pissed-off and perpetually angry military leader, ready to kill civilians for even the slightest opposition.
Del Pilar is the opposite. Little is revealed of his “teacher’s pet” attitude. The teacher being Emilio Aguinaldo. His alleged torture and killing of the Bernal brothers, former aides-de-camp of Luna, is rarely even known. According to A Question of Heroes by Nick Joaquin, General Jose Alejandrino thought of Del Pilar as a pretentious young man who would rather attend fiestas and dances than present himself to his superior officers.
The death of both men is spaced by seven months. By the fifth of June, Luna was assassinated in Cabanatuan. In the early days of December, del Pilar found himself in Tirad Pass. While seven months may be considered a short time, their deaths marked significant changes in the history of the Philippines.
On June 13, a few days after the death of Luna, the Battle of Zapote River was fought. The conflict in Zapote River is the second largest battle in the whole of the Philippine-American War—trumped only by the Battle of Manila a few months earlier. Around 5,000 Filipinos faced against 1,200 Americans. Despite the numerical advantage, the Americans won the battle and the day. The Filipinos, under Pio del Pilar, abandoned their positions and gave way to the Americans. Heavy casualties were suffered by both sides. The Americans had 14 killed and 61 wounded soldiers. Around 150 deaths and 375 wounded were sustained by the Filipinos.
By the 11th of November, the Battle of San Jacinto was fought between General Manuel Tinio and the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division of the 33rd Infantry Regiment United States Volunteers under General Lloyd Wheaton. Tinio suffered 134 deaths and was forced to retreat. It was perhaps this battle that prevented Tinio from linking with Aguinaldo’s men, further dividing the disorganized Philippine Revolutionary Army.
As a result of both battles, Aguinaldo began to retreat—with the Americans hot on his heels. By the 13th of November, he declared that guerilla warfare would be the primary strategy of the whole Army. Following this, Aguinaldo disbanded many units and gave them orders suiting asymmetrical warfare. According to author and journalist Nick Joaquin, the American pursuit of Aguinaldo ensured that a unified military force would be established. In essence, Aguinaldo “ran to nowhere.”
The death of Luna marked a general and massive retreat of the whole Philippine Revolutionary Army. While this may be coincidental, Luna’s absence in the chain of command did “prophesize” the downfall of the revolutionaries. Del Pilar’s death marked the massive retreat of Aguinaldo into Central and Eastern Luzon—avoiding contact, achieving nothing.
Both men are greats. They stand as heroes; inspiring and leading men of their time and the generations after them. Their deaths were big losses for the people of their time. It must be remembered, however, that both men were human; and their actions, and the actions of those like them, must not be forgotten.