MANILA -- General Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Republic of the Philippines, has been dead over half a century now, but the debate about him and his role in Philippine history is very much alive, especially after the release of the film "Heneral Luna."
While the film focused on the rise and fall of General Antonio Luna, it also unavoidably amplified the link between Aguinaldo and Luna's death.
Negative reactions to Aguinaldo also rose on social media such that even his great grandson, Transportation Secretary Emilio "Jun" Abaya had to defend him in several interviews.
"I've read enough books, there are other versions. I don't think he was assassinated," said Abaya. "Lahat kami sinasagot 'yun. He is my great grandfather. 'Yung pagiging 'Emilio Aguinaldo,' bahagi na ng pagkatao ko at kailangan ko pangalagaan ang pangalan na 'yun."
De La Salle University professor Xiao Chua noted that there is no solid evidence to support claims that Aguinaldo had Luna killed.
"In the historical record, hindi talaga ma-pinpoint na si Aguinaldo talaga ang nag-utos (ng pagpatay kay Luna)," Chua said in an interview on ANC on Monday.
As to Abaya's claim, the professor admitted that there are various accounts on General Luna's death, including one by Pedro Janolino, Aguinaldo's man from Kawit who was one of the people who killed the general.
"We have here an account by Antonio Abad when he interviewed Pedro Janolino at sinasabi dito na self-defense lang daw 'yung ginawa nila," Chua said, while holding a book by Dr. Vivencio Jose.
"When Antonio Luna was coming down the stairs, nakita niya galit na galit si Antonio, pinagmumura sila. 'Sino ang nagpaputok?'" he added.
Chua said that according to the interview, Janolino was so afraid that Luna might kill him and his men that they killed him first.
"Kasi di ba, Artikulo Uno: papatayin sila 'pag 'di sila sumunod. Natakot daw siya na baka patayin sila inunahan niya na i-hack," he shared.
But the problem, Chua pointed out, is: "Paano mo naman ie-explain 'yung 30 stab and gunshot wounds?"
The professor also explained that the reason why Aguinaldo has always been linked to Luna's death, despite the lack of proof, was because it was his men who killed the general.
"Lahat 'yun tao niya, special guards niya. Pati si Buencamino tao niya," he said.
Aside from Luna, Aguinaldo has also been blamed for the death of Andres Bonifacio -- another reason why there's seems to be much hatred for the Philippines' first president.
"Wala akong duda diyan," Chua said on Aguinaldo's hand in Bonifacio's death. "Merong record, umamin siya."
Chua is referring to a letter by Aguinaldo in 1948 admitting he had Bonifacio killed, "para sa kapakanan ng bayan."
"He had a letter in 1948 on his birthday na siya ay napilitan because of two people who told him, 'kung gusto mong mabuhay pa tayo at mapanatili ang kapanatagan ng pamahalaang mapaghimagsik ay dapat mapatupad mo ang utos ng Konseho de Giyera,'" said Chua.
The story of Bonifacio's death was also adapted in the film "Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo" in 2014.
The Bonifacio and Luna films have seemingly shed a bad light on Aguinaldo, with social media users even calling the former president a traitor.
Chua, however, said it is dangerous to make such conclusions based only on the movies, adding that young Filipinos must revisit the sources before coming up with such conclusions.
"Ang mga bata ngayon, they should read. I hope they read the sources," he said. "Mas okay pa na sabihin mo na traydor si Aguinaldo pagtapos mong basahin lahat ng [sources], kaysa napanood mo lang sa peliklula."
Asked if Aguinaldo should still be considered a hero, given the controversies surrounding his leadership, Chua said it's not easy to dismiss Aguinaldo's role in Philippine history.
"We have to consider that he was 28 or 29 when he became president. He was surrounded by traditional politicians," he said.
"Kung titingnan mo, meron din naman siyang role sa Philippine history: the flag, the anthem... We give him that. But meron din siyang mistakes. And the mistakes must be taught... matututo tayo sa mga mistakes ni Aguinaldo," he explained further.
Chua admitted he does not personally consider Aguinaldo a hero.
"I consider him a great Filipino, not a hero," he said.
On 'Heneral Luna'
It's not just Aguinaldo's role in Philippine history that has been surrounded by controversy. Even General Luna, the hero of the Jerold Tarrog film, had a number of downfalls as a human being
One of them, ironically, is his war record, as historian Teodoro Agoncillo pointed out that Luna never won a battle.
But Chua cautioned that this view may just be half the truth.
"Kasi kailangan natin makita na the battles is not just about winning them e, it's about strategizing," he said.
"'Yung grand plan ni Antonio Luna ay habang hinahabol tayo ng mga Amerikano... dadalhin niya tayo sa Cordillera para doon tayo mag-guerrilla warfare," he explained further.
According to Chua, Luna could have won the Battle of Caloocan and Manila had the men of Kawit arrived to reinforce their troops. "Yun 'yung pinakamatinding kasalanan ni Capt. Janolino kay Antonio Luna," he said.
The other "flaw" of Luna was his opposition to the revolution during the Spanish era, as pointed out again by Agoncillo.
"Jose Rizal wanted Antonio Luna to become the general of the revolution. Sabi niya kay Pio Valenzuela, 'Kunin niyong heneral si Antonio Luna, he knows military warfare,'" Chua shared.
"Ang nangyari inalok siya. Sabi ni Antonio Luna, ''Di ako sasama diyan.' So ang ginawa ng Katipunan, tinuro siya [sa kaaway]. Hinuli si Antonio Luna, sa asar niya pati si Jose Rizal tinuro niya, pati mga Katipunero tinuro niya," he added.
The argument was this: Luna can't be considered a hero because he revealed those behind the revolution to the Spanish.
"Professor Agoncillo said in an interview with Ambeth Ocampo na taksil si Antonio Luna sa rebolusyong Filipino kasi nagtuturo siya at 'yung pinagtuturo niya, namatay ang mga iyon," he said.
However, Chua said Luna tried to redeem himself after his betrayal to the revolution. And this, he said, proves that Luna also makes mistakes as a human being.
"Noong makawala siya sa prison pumunta siya sa Europa, nag-aral siya lalo ng military tactics. Pagdating niya sa Pilipinas, sinamahan niya 'yung army," he said.
"'Yung tao nadadapa e. Pero 'yung pinakita ni Antonio Luna e bumawi siya sa bayan," he added.
This part of Luna's life wasn't included in the film, per direction of the producers. But Chua said it was never hidden whenever the team promoted the movie.
Asked why Luna opposed the revolution against the Spaniards, but led the Filipinos against Americans later on, Chua said one only has to look at the background of the general, who is an ilustrado.
"During the time of the Spaniards there were actually two Spains: The Spain in the Philippines was corrupt, backward, repressive. But when they went to Spain, iba pala sa Spain, they have liberty," he explained.
Chua said Luna's belief that reforms in the government are needed might be the reason why he chose not to join the Katipunan.
Meanwhile, the situation when the Americans came to the Philippines, as Chua pointed out, was entirely different.
"Let's put the context of Philippine independence. We declared already the independence through General Emilio Aguinaldo on June 12, 1898. Malaya na tayo from Spain. W'ere trying to establish a Philippine government," he said.
"In my reading of Antonio Luna, he wanted to give a chance for that government to flourish. And since may threat na naman ng American occupation in the country, how can that flourish?" he added.
There were also rumors that Luna wanted to replace Aguinaldo as the president of the Philippines. Chua, however, said there is no proof to back this up.
"Sa mga nababasa natin sa mga aklat, there is, in a way, a consensus that he never wanted to do that," he said. "If he wanted to do that, puwede na niyang ikudeta ang gobyerno with his men without telling them. Pero ang ginawa niya, pumunta siya... tatlo sila... pumunta sila sa Cabantuan at wala silang dalang ibang tao."
There were even rumors that Luna gave the wealth from the revolution to his girlfriend, Ysidra Cojuangco. However, Chua said there still no evidence to back these rumors up.
'Saysay' in 'kasaysayan'
Chua believes that the film "Heneral Luna" wasn't able to "perfectly recreate the past," but he said that wasn't really the point of the film.
"You cannot perfectly recreate the past. Ang pinakaimportante in recreating the past is to tell the 'meat'... 'yung saysay noong istorya," he said, pointing out that the movie is fiction based on facts.
In fact in "Heneral Luna," Chua said, the general was talking to a journalist named Joven, which means "youth." "He is talking to us, the new generation," Chua explained.
Chua hopes that "Heneral Luna" can inspire today's generation to read more, and learn about the Philippines and its rich history.
"It tells something about ourselves. Sana mapukaw tayo na magbasa, balikan natin 'yung mga sources natin. Tingnan natin, ano ba ang mga sinabi nina Aguinaldo, Luna, Rizal, Mabini tungkol sa ating bayan. At pagkanalaman natin 'yun at nagkaroon tayo ng buong appreciation ng kuwento natin kilala na natin 'yung bayan natin, mas mamahalin natin siya," he said.