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When Jose Rizal and Antonio Luna Almost Fought to The Death

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.


As much as we venerate and respect the Filipino National Heroes, they are normal humans like any of us. And with that said, expect them to do normal people blunders as well.

The picture of drunken Jose Rizal and company is still fresh in my mind. I only saw it a year ago, but it gave me an eye opener that they are no different than us. He, the national hero with his own shrine in Luneta was caught in a drunken stupor with his friends. In modern times, the scene belongs in pubs and parties, or worst in fail videos. There was even a case in one of our company events where we must restrain a drunken friend before he went into a brawl!

Sure, it’s not a pretty sight and not something you will show to high school students. But again, I see no harm done when you show the human sides of heroes, given that people won’t emulate the nastier sides of their personality. And now that we speak of nastier sides, there was one moment in the lives of our heroes that almost turned disastrous. The two parties involved here are Jose Rizal and Antonio Luna. Both are great heroes in their own rights, and both almost killed each other thanks mostly to alcohol, woman and jealousy.

Jose Rizal, The Ladies' Man

A photo of Jose Rizal.

A photo of Jose Rizal.

It’s no secret among historians that Jose Rizal was a ladies’ man. Aside from his works and contributions to Filipino nationalism, his love stories were also the stuffs of legend.

There were nine women linked to Rizal. Nine women coming from different provinces, and nationalities. He first fell in love in his teenage years, at the age of 16 to a 14-year-old Batanguena Segunda Katigbak whom Rizal described as “short.” Nevertheless, his admiration was bound to end, as the girl was engaged to another man going by the name of Manuel Luz.

And that was just a start.

Who could forget Leonor Rivera, another puppy love and the inspiration of the character Maria Clara in his novels? Then there is another Leonor from Pagsanjan, the tall Leonor Valenzuela. And while boarding in the house of the Beckett at London, the oldest of the Beckett daughters, Gertrude fell in love with him. And in case you are wondering, Gertrude was described as blue eyed and buxom (curvy) and perhaps one of the most beautiful. But somehow Rizal was uninterested and left for Paris to avoid the girl.

And the list goes on.

We got the girl from Brussels Suzanne Jacoby. The daughter of the Samurai Seiko Usui (O-Sei Sa), the Spanish Consuelo Ortiga, and the last love of his life Josephine Bracken. Yet another girl he met while in Spain will cause a rift between him and one of his fellow Ilustrados. Looks like his charm almost caused him his friendship with Antonio Luna.

Antonio Luna, the Hothead

Antonio Luna, at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

Antonio Luna, at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

Antonio Luna wasn’t exactly a calm and cool character. Popular media and a movie painted him as ill-tempered and foul mouthed. And guess what, it was true! Before he was found growling in the battlefields of Filipino-American War, Luna was already at war with anyone whom he perceived as his enemies. Being sensitive and impulsive, he will challenge anyone to a duel when his so-called honor was bruised.

Once in Spain, he crossed path with a Spanish journalist known by his pseudonym Mir Deas. The cause of Luna’s ire was Mir Deas’ snide remarks on his work in La Solidaridad (under the pen name Taga-Ilog), which the man called Ingrate. Worst he wrongfully attributed his work to his brother, Juan. He travelled all the way from Madrid to Barcellona to hunt the man. And once they met, Luna openly insulted Mir Deas, called him mierdas (excrement) and challenged him to a duel. The Spaniard turned down the invitation and Luna consoled himself with the thought that his opponent was a coward.

Nevertheless, the man was brilliant. He got a bachelor’s degree in Arts and went on to study literature, chemistry and pharmacy. His paper Two Fundamental Bodies of Chemistry (Dos Cuerpos Fundamentales de la Quimica) won a prize in University of Santo Tomas. And his studies under Don Martin Cartagena (a Spanish army major) gave him backgrounds in military tactics, marksmanship and swordsmanship. In fact, he and his brother opened a fencing club while in Spain (Sala de Armas).

And while in Spain, Luna fell in love with a certain girl that almost caused him to kill Jose Rizal.

Nellie Boustead, Subject of the Men’s Affection

A photo of Nellie Boustead, which made me understand why the men fought over her.

A photo of Nellie Boustead, which made me understand why the men fought over her.

While in Spain with his fellow Ilustrados, Luna was courting a girl named Nellie Boustead. She was a Filipina-European girl, and one of the two pretty daughters of a wealthy businessman Eduardo Boustead. The problem was Luna had a serious competition. Rizal already knew the Bousteads since 1889, and after he lost Leonor Rivera to Henry Kipping, he developed a romantic relationship with the educated, athletic, cheerful and beautiful Nellie. Nellie was quite popular among the Filipino propagandist, and Tomas Arejola once said that:

“since last year I have heard a number of times here about this young lady…who is also a Filipina. I am told she is to be recommended because of her excellent upbringing, her most attractive moral and physical qualities and, in addition, because she is a Filipina.”

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Luna was aware that he and Rizal were after the same girl. Having an ill-tempered rival with a fondness for swordfights should be a major concern for Rizal. But Luna acted like a gentleman, and addressed Rizal in a letter:

“We have no reason to be cold to each other for many times I asked you if you felt love for Nelly and you told me no. Consequently I was already sure of you, certain you are my friend…therefore chico, we ought to continue as friends as I thought we never ceased to be.”

Unfortunately for the poor Luna, Nellie favored Rizal over him. Eventually one night, Luna lost his temper which almost lead to an incident that could cause us one of our national heroes.

The Duel Challenge

Antonio Luna with the students in the fencing club.

Antonio Luna with the students in the fencing club.

Alcohol could cause one to behave erratically. It had been doing that since before Biblical times, and our National Heroes are not exempted to the ill effects of too much drinks.

In the summer of 1890, both men attended a reunion of Filipino exiles in Madrid. Unfortunately, Luna drank too much and the effects of alcohol basically doubled his aggression. The drunken Luna made snide remarks about Nellie and Rizal, which Rizal never took too lightly. After some arguments, it leads to a challenge of duel. It was still not clear who made the challenge, and thankfully cooler heads intervened, and Luna was sent home. His older brother Juan gave the younger Luna a scolding and apologized to Rizal for Antonio’s behavior. Eventually upon sobering up, Antonio Luna apologized himself, and even told his friend to tie him in a chair the next time he got drunk.

To be short, the duel was never pushed through, which was good for both friends. Rizal was a martial arts practitioner, and a better marksman. But Luna is a better fencer. The duel will end in tragedy for either parties, be it with pistols or swords. History will be very different if the duel ever happened.

Luna later came to accept how hopeless he was on Nellie. For a sensitive and impulsive man like him, it’s amazing how he chose friendship over a woman. Unfortunately for Nellie, her love for Rizal won’t push through either. Rizal broke up with her when Nellie insisted, he converts to Protestantism.

It’s amazing how this little love triangle almost altered the course of history. Sudden burst of emotions is an everyday problem for most Filipinos today, and it was already a problem back then in the time of Rizal and Luna. Hopefully guys, we could learn a lot from their story. That real life lacks the melodramatic romance of TV shows, and proper judgement matters.


1."Rizal, the Romantic". Jose

2. Guerrero, L. (1963). The First Filipino, A Biography of Jose Rizal. National Heroes Commission.

3. Ocampo, A. (2015). Antonio Luna and his temper.


Mamerto Adan (author) from Cabuyao on January 23, 2020:

Thanks Rafael!

Rafael O. Borre on January 23, 2020:

Hope you dig more in our unrecorded Philippine history to enlighted our new generation.

Mamerto Adan (author) from Cabuyao on January 01, 2020:

Thanks Heherson for the lovely feedback!

Heherson on January 01, 2020:

Well written. Vividly written. The suspense is immense. Such a good writer. Write some more, Señor, about our heroes. Looking forward to your literary piece, again. Thank you!

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