The coup that never was? Antonio Luna and the First Republic

   On September 9, exactly fifty days before the 149th birth anniversary of Antonio Luna and a whole year in advance of his sesquicentennial, a film about him (Heneral Luna) will be shown in theaters in the Philippines. Such is the hype for the upcoming film that, as of the publishing of this article, its official Facebook page has more than 69,000 likes. That is, in comparison with Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo's more than 40,500 likes and El Presidente's more than 5,500. While it has been hoped that the film shall raise awareness of the people on the Filipino general, Luna is hounded by rumors and speculation that tend to wreck his profile up to the present. One of them was the Youtube video on the Aquino-Cojuangco family uploaded in 2011. Another would be this, the coup that never was.


Mutiny is a situation in which a group of people (such as sailors or soldiers) refuse to obey orders and try to take control away from the person who commands them (See Merriam-Webster definition of mutiny). Related words include insurgency, insurrection, rebellion, coup and coup d'état. In the Philippines, there is no shortage of mutinies and coups that may be tackled. This series is dedicated to that matter.

See the third part of this series by clicking here (Andres Novales and his attempt at empire).


"Tell them to go to hell! I am fed up with hearing so many people who desire to fight but not do so when the occasion presents itself!"
- Antonio Luna after the loss at the Battle of Caloocan, February 1899

Antonio Luna
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Antonio Luna was acclaimed for his military career during the opening months of the Philippine-American War, despite the valid argument of critics that he never won a single battle. It is best exemplified by Teodoro Agoncillo's remark: "Luna was a great general who didn't win any battles!" Then again, neither did Andres Bonifacio. As President of the Malolos Republic, neither did Emilio Aguinaldo. Think of it. Nevertheless, the following would be some of the statements of (supposedly) renowned people on Luna:

American side:
  • [The] ablest and most aggressive leader of the Filipino Republic. (Major General Frederick "Fearless Freddie" Funston, Medal of Honor recipient)
  • [He] was the only general the Filipino army had. (Major General James Franklin Bell, Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross recipient)
  • [...] with the death of General Luna, the Filipino army lost the only General it had. (Major General Robert P. Hughes)
Filipino side:
  • If he was sometimes hasty and even cruel in his resolution, it was because the army had been brought to a desperate situation by the demoralization of the soldiers and the lack of ammunitions: nothing but action of rash courage and extraordinary energy could hinder its dissolution. (Apolinario Mabini, Prime Minister and Secretary of Foreign Affairs)
  • The loss of Luna was, of course, a very heavy blow to our armed efforts. (President Emilio Aguinaldo)
  • In the face of these reasons and seeing that he himself was really the first in giving examples of sacrifice and self-denial, I could not help but find his conduct justified. (Senator Jose Alejandrino, Chief of the Engineers of the Army)
  • We are in darkness here, since hardly does any news reach us; however, we are confident because we know that you lead our soldiers. (A. Cuevas, Regiment of Territorial Militia in Nueva Caceres, Camarines)
Yes, he is recognized as a capable military commander. However, Luna was rumored to have been planning a coup to overthrow Aguinaldo and make himself dictator. Were his organizational skills, witnessed in all the battles he headed during the war, that overrated? Read an excerpt from Felipe Buencamino's draft in June 1899 on explaining the details on Luna's death:
    Those acts show in an evident manner a deliberate intention to usurp power, as against our Honorable President, an intention which has lately been confirmed by the arbitrary orders to arrest the President of the Council and some Secretaries of the Government, for the purpose of putting others in their places, as shown by his act of writing to various persons offering them cabinet portfolios, and by publishing in the newspaper called "La Independencia" of which he is a part owner and editor, that he was called to power to take the place of the present Government.
While Buencamino is known to have been against Luna, Mabini's statement on March 6, 1899 lays credence to this claim: "If the General does not understand his powers, what more one who is not?" Thus, without fear of being unfair to Luna, it is to be inferred that while his intentions were good, the reception it received and the implementation of his orders and proclamations were not as good. His nickname as "General Articulo Uno" is not without basis. Is it possible that Luna, by issuing general orders that covered areas beyond his current jurisdiction (He was Chief of War Operations but not of all war operations), was showing the government and its leaders how it should be done during war? It is not to say that Mabini had not presented a valid argument. He was only concerned of the civilian population. However, Luna must have seen that desperate situations require desperate measures. War is not won easily, and definitely that war in particular is far from easy to win. Luna himself had this to say: "It seems that you ignore the fact that war is not carried on by saliva and sugar-plums, but by blood, tears and sacrifices, and that the life and welfare of a few are insignificant things when the salvation of the country is involved."

Julius Caesar was dumbfounded by the details
presented by economist Caius Preposterus.
An excerpt from Obelix and Co.,
the 23rd volume of Asterix.
Photo courtesy of Albert Uderzo
While it is apparent that he had aspirations of garnering a higher position, it seemed to be only for leading the Republican army better. From the beginning of the war, the government did not enthusiastically support Luna's plans. For example, in the Second Battle of Caloocan, Luna did not receive confirmation of sending the Tinio Brigade, composed of more than 1,900 battle-hardened troops under General Manuel Tinio, from northern Luzon to the front. This could have had bolstered the 5,000 troops that were already in the front and the battle could have gone either way. The significance of the battle was such that Mabini urged Aguinaldo to provide in every way for the preparations: "If we do not win and we have very heavy losses it will be difficult to arouse the hearts of the people again and this would mark the beginning of our fall." Truly prophetic, the battle was lost and the initiative began to shift to the Americans. While the official American report gave 39 casualties on their side and 500 on the Filipino side. However, Jose Joven noted that the Americans lost some 300 men. Still, assuming that the 500 figure is nearly correct, then 10% of the Filipino forces were casualties.

In addition, the construction of a military encampment in the Mountain Province was not fulfilled. The Luna Defense Line was incomplete. The Department of Finance had not provided enough funding to support Luna. The reinforcements he asked from Ilocos and Cagayan (1,000 soldiers) did not arrive. These setbacks must have taken a toll on Luna's planning as it was clear that not all of his requests will be granted. Of course, Luna himself had misgivings. Mabini, on April 8, 1899, noted that: "We do not expect him to consult with the Government so far as plans and dispositions are concerned." How can you trust a man who cannot entrust you his plans? It is possible, however, that Luna had conferred with the government of his plans and yet had not laid them out of detail. Perhaps, Luna was convinced that he is the only one with a background on military science among the generals of the army (Aguinaldo himself was Captain General), and therefore did not bother troubling them with the details. If this is the situation, then Luna must be aware that the government ought to be concerned of more things than war. However, this very deed became one of the reasons the government had not regarded Luna well. It is also possible that the government had suspected Luna of building up troops from his own region, since Luna was indeed Ilocano, and thus reinforced the argument of those who claim that Luna would launch a coup. This mindset, however, was evidently based on the prevailing practice of regionalism, clan armies, and commander loyalties. While Luna tried to break these problems that divide the nation and the war effort, they remained even after his death.

Group showing General Manuel Tinio (seated, center), 
General Benito Natividad (seated, 2nd from right), 
General Jose Alejandrino (seated, 2nd from left) 
and their aides-de-camp
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
His enforcement of discipline was both applauded and abhorred during his time. His face contorted whenever he breaks into anger, and thus earning him the nickname "Cafre." He was known to have slapped soldiers, which Filipinos consider an insult at the time. His methods might have been effective in European armies, but apparently not in a ragtag Filipino army that lacked the necessary equipment and supplies. While discipline was definitely needed within the army, the way is was implemented did not suit the Filipinos. Also, as mentioned earlier, it might even be seen that Luna was converting soldiers through his methods and thus making them loyal to him. Thus, this made him dangerous. However, this is also ignorance of the fact that many of the generals in the army had their own armies loyal to them. Are they not dangerous as well? While the government, Aguinaldo included, began to believe their perception of Luna launching a coup, Luna himself was confident of the President, up to the point of saying that "there was nothing to fear about." On another note, it is not only the Filipino side that got wind of this issue. The Americans, early in June 1899, were beginning to learn of and circulate news that Luna:
  • assumed control of affairs.
  • declared himself as dictator.
  • was the new commander.
  • had succeeded Aguinaldo.
Luna's methods on disciplining the army must have been as such for even the Americans to believe that he was already "dictator." In this, Mabini can lay credence: "If he is unfit to command an army the more he is in an office, because he is a despot." Thinking of it, had not Aguinaldo also assumed dictatorial powers in June 1898? However, this would be a different story. However, Mabini would continue: "He is brilliant as a chemist and understands something about trenches, but he is not interested in politics and the laws." Indeed, had Luna been planning to become President, he should have simply won the hearts of the people by touching their soft spots. Instead, he was bent on clenching his iron fist to take on the task at hand. Mabini was correct in his observation that Luna did not know politics. While he did present a Cabinet in La Independencia, it is of anticipation of his appointment as Prime Minister after the resignation of Mabini in May 1899 since he believed that as the war continued, the government needed to maintain a strong cabinet. His anticipation is not without basis. He was a member of the Malolos Congress, and was only defeated as President of the Congress by a single vote. Thus, it is not to be said that Luna lacked the qualifications to succeed Mabini. It is nowhere mentioned that the Cabinet he presented was in preparation for his ascendancy as President, or even as dictator. Apparently, he saw how the people united under Aguinaldo and saw him as a necessity to unite the nation against the Americans. If so, he is not alone in this perception. General Arthur MacArthur confessed on June 17, 1899: "I have been reluctantly compelled to believe that the Filipino masses are loyal to Aguinaldo and the government which he leads!" Being bent to unite the nation, Luna must have been the least suspect in usurping power.

Also, with his death, the coup was never launched, even if he did plan for it. It would be difficult speculating if Luna could have done it otherwise since it was never done. It is to be noted, however, that he had a month to deal with the government after the resignation of Mabini. Was he unable to launch it, assuming that he did plan a coup, or he did not have a coup in mind at all? A coup would require involvement of other people, but even Luna's aides did not know that a coup was in the offing, if ever there was any. Take note of Alejandrino's statement to Aguinaldo: "Even in intimate conversations I have not heard him speak about usurping your high position!" As we come to consider and study Luna's life once more as Heneral Luna goes nationwide, let us also consider this coup that never was.

"I confess that I would die gladly for my country, for our independence, without however seeking death."
- Antonio Luna in his last will and testament, March 1899


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The coup that never was? Antonio Luna and the First Republic The coup that never was? Antonio Luna and the First Republic Reviewed by Al Raposas on Saturday, September 05, 2015 Rating: 5


  1. The Luna story still exist and we will not learn because we do not want discipline. We want everything but discipline and thats one of our down falls, next to that is jealousy and crab mentality. We are our worst enemy

    1. Thank you for the comment. Kindly read the other articles that might interest you as well.

    2. Absoutely, Pres. Marcos was even right to make a movement with that principle. "Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, DISPILINA ANG KAILANGAN". it remains to be true till this present day.

  2. Luna is now in our year. . . sa mga nangyayari ngayon ang Filipino ay natuto sa mga pag kakamali ng mga nakaraan. . . marunong na silang umunawa at makadama hindi pwedeng awa ang pinapadama kailangan nating maging productive sa lahat ng bagay kung kailangan ng pagbabago bakit hindi natin kailangan umpisahan. . ngayon na. . kung nabubuhay si Luna sa panahon natin. . . maganda, maayos at disiplinado ang tao. . . pero sa lahat ng aspeto na to nakikita ko ngaun sa pangulo natin. . . marunong mag masid, umunawa at makiramdam. . . Since Ferdinand Marcos ngaun lang ako nagtiwala sa ISANG PANGULO NA MAKABAYAN at hindi lang pansarili ang inaatupag!!!

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  3. It seems that we are reenacting the past. Filipinos remain divided and run by many politicians who kept on enriching themselves at the expense of the Filipino nation.

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  4. I think our history need to be scrutinized and validated as it has been muddled by later history commentators and movie scriptwriters. Particularly, the version of American historians should be reviewed based on our own perspective.

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