While Antonio Luna and the manner of his death may already be well-known at this point by Filipinos, the same cannot be said for the demise of his brother—the painter Juan Luna. After all, J. Luna’s cause of death—heart attack—can happen to anyone at any time, right?
Just like his brother’s death, Juan’s own untimely end is also steeped in controversy. Was his heart attack at the age of 42 really natural? Or was he the victim of a nefarious plot by his own countrymen?
That he died of poisoning is not a far-fetched premise, since his own friends noted the suddenness of his death and how healthy he looked before he died. According to a letter written by Mariano Ponce to Ferdinand Blumentritt, Luna arrived in Hong Kong on December 3 “in good health” to live with him before making his way back to the Philippines.
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Two days later, on December 5, Luna suddenly fell ill which he attributed to a cold, and took some medicine. A day later, Ponce noted how Luna seemed to be recovering from his illness. As fate would have it, however, Luna’s condition took a turn for the worse on December 7, culminating in his heart attack at 7 PM in the evening. His death was officially registered as due to angina pectoris.
No less than the Luna matriarch Laureana Novicio believed that her beloved Juan was the victim of poisoning. In a letter she wrote to members of the Comite Republicano Filipino in Madrid on April 14, 1900, Mrs. Luna thanked them for honoring their sons while hoped she may find it someday in her heart to forgive her sons’ murderers.
“I have no ambition of making the names of my sons, Juan and Antonio, appear side by side with that of Rizal. I only wish that posterity would do them justice and that their memory would cause a tear to fall from the bottom of people’s hearts,” she wrote. “With this, I will die in peace, perhaps pardoning in my last moments their murderers. This is the most that an afflicted mother can say to reciprocate the loving words with which you honor her sons.”
Lastly, in a 1949 newspaper article, art patron Alfonso Ongpin recounted how Juan’s toxicologist Jose (Don Pepe) Luna related to him his belief that his sibling was killed via poisoning:
“I used to frequent the residence of the brother, Don Pepe, a reputable toxicologist who on one occasion told me verbally that his brother Juan died, treacherously poisoned in Hong Kong by a compatriot of ours,” he wrote.
So, was Juan Luna really poisoned? And if so, who did it? Was it the vengeful family of his wife whom he killed out of jealousy? Or was his death somehow also connected to the murder of his brother Antonio?
Flores, W. (2003). Glittering Governor’s Ball in Ilocos. philSTAR.com. Retrieved 9 October 2015, from http://goo.gl/rP4TDz
Ocampo, A. (2012). Death by poison?. Inquirer.net. Retrieved 9 October 2015, from http://goo.gl/GRbDeT
Ocampo, A. (2015). Mothers and their sons. Inquirer.net. Retrieved 9 October 2015, from http://goo.gl/sFP5K2