Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Love story of Ysidra and Antonio Luna - Part One: Seeking the Holy Grail on Good Friday

Finally I met him, this wonderful writer-researcher-computer hack, with the mischief of Shakespeare's Puck, the prankish antics of an Irish leprechaun, and physical size to match, whose book Some Are Smarter Than Others and pamphlet Coco-dile File played a crucial role in the election of Fidel V. Ramos as President, and whose latest Wrong Number provided the final coffin nail to the PLDT monopoly.

Finally I met him after a year of the two of us searching for each other's address and phone number, and missing each other like Evangeline's ships in the night. I met him on Good Friday when he showed up in my house in Dasmarińas Village in the company of Ka Luis Taruc (former Huk Supremo), armed with three questions: Now that you stopped writing your columns, whom shall I quote in my future works (my articles infest his bibliographies!)? Was there ever any admission on the part of the Cojuangco family that the source of their original wealth is the hero Antonio Luna? Whatever happened to the alleged love-child born of Ysidra Cojuangco and Antonio Luna?

The first question is answered by this series of articles which Ric Manapat helped research on and which he now calls The Story of the Century, all ready to be further elaborated on and researched by him as he did my past articles. The second and third questions are answered in the body of this series.

Finally there is one credible witness who quotes Ysidra Cojuangco herself admitting that Antonio Luna used to bring her gold, not once but regularly during the Philippine American War and our First Republic, almost till the day he died.

And incredibly, we have found ample evidence to conclude that the love child of Ysidra and Luna might have survived, adopted by her brother Melecio, and may be one of the four sons of Melecio: either Jose, father of ex-President Corazon Aquino; Juan, the twice-married, childless one; Antonio, the father of Ramon and the grandfather of PLDT's president; or Eduardo, the father of presidential candidate Danding Cojuangco. Which one? Well, read the rest of this series to find out.

Holy Week in the past has always been the time of terrible accidents in my family, and I hesitated to join Ric Manapat when he suggested “tracing 30 pieces of silver on a Good Friday.” But the roads were clear of traffic, and Manapat is such a good driver that I even sat in the “death seat” near to the air conditioner without a seat belt, as he negotiated the distance to Kawit, Cavite, in 20 minutes instead of the usual two hours.

Ric, Ka Luis and myself were joined by Dr. Steve Latorre, brilliant UP professor and ex-Opus Dei priest now working in Malacańang as my executive assistant, as we set out to find Ka Luis' friend Ka Alfredo Saulo, ex-political detainee, historian and biographer, now curator of the Aguinaldo Museum in Kawit, who is the nephew of Eulalio Saulo. Eulalio with his brothers (under General Martin Tinio) supervised, in Ka Fred Saulo's words, “the convoy of carts loaded with a huge amount of Spanish gold and silver coins seized from local treasuries in the Ilocos region, leading this convoy through forested areas up to the final destination in Paniqui, Tarlac, in the house of Ysidra Cojuangco, girlfriend of General Antonio Luna.”

We were hoping for some old letters, some documentary evidence in the hands of Ka Fred Saulo. No such luck, but Ka Fred told us of a cousin, Encarnacion Saulo-Padilla, favorite daughter of Eulalio, almost 93 years of age, who as a young girl was a good friend and confidante of Ysidra Cojuangco herself (who died in the 1960).

A little background here. There was an earlier account recounted by historian Carlos Quirino in an unpublished book commissioned by Danding Cojuangco, about a shipment of gold vessels commandeered by General Antonio Luna from churches in Pampanga, collected for him by Tiburcio Hilario, Pampanga governor, brought to Paniqui and entrusted to Ysidra for safekeeping before Luna left for Cabanatuan to meet Aguinaldo, only to be assassinated there. Aha, so gold was brought by Luna from both the Ilocos (through Saulo) and Central Luzon (through Hilario) to Ysidra!

With the First Republic on the run and the Americans inquiring about the gold, Ysidra dumped the gold into a well, retrieved it later and used it to build the Cojuangco fortune. I jokingly suggested in the presence of Cory Aquino, in a birthday party of Joker Arroyo, that the Cojuangco fortune is subject to sequestration by the PCGG. It was also jokingly pointed out that in this case the statute of limitations defining a prescription period for the prosecution of past crimes, is in force. But apparently no one, not even Cory, read her own 1987 Constitution, Article 11, section 15, which stipulates: “The right of the State to recover properties unlawfully acquired by public officials or employees, from them or from their nominees or transferees, shall not be barred by prescriptions, laches or estoppel.

Our irreverent foursome, joined by Ka Fred Saulo, who would pursue their Holy Grail on Good Friday, drove to Heroes Hill, Quezon City, to see Encarnacion Saulo-Padilla. Bed-ridden but sound of mind, she was irrepressible, regaling us with stories of Dońa Ysidra, her neighbor in Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija, whom she met when she was 10 years old, and who was going to be her godmother, ninang sa casal, were it not for the distance and difficulty of travel. We recorded her saying that Ysidra admitted that Luna was indeed her very close friend, and that Luna left her valuables, not once but regularly on many occasions. When asked how much value was involved, Encarnacion replied that while she is not sure of the exact value, it was certainly in huge quantities since several huge caskets were involved. Manapat asked her if she knew that there were more than one shipment. She emphatically said yes, the shipments were a regular thing!! Not only was Encarnacion a friend and confidant of Dońa Ysidra, she is also the daughter of Eulalio Saulo who confirmed to her the story as one of the military escorts of the gold shipment to Ysidra. As far as we know this is the first direct evidence of a Cojuangco (and Ysidra at that) admitting what many Luna contemporaries long alleged, that the source of the Cojuangco fortune was the gold commandeered by Luna and regularly turned over to Ysidra.

The combined assets controlled by the Cojuangcos total about P200 billion. To recover such wealth under Article 11, section 15 of the 1987 Constitution, one must go to court, and pay a filing fee of half a percent of the amount to be recovered, or P1 billion unrefundable win or lose. Who has that kind of money to risk? Ric Manapat suggests that the three wealthy branches be sued for P1 each. Once the case is won, then the rest of the P200 billion may be sued for. Or alternatively, Manapat suggests that the PCGG pursue the matter with funds appropriated by Congress, the funds merely transferred from one government pocket to another.

Oh what the heck, he is probably joking, and this Good Friday caper may just be a mere exercise in the quest for historical truth. The last question of Ric Manapat as to whatever happened to the love-child of Ysidra Cojuangco and General Antonio Luna, is answered after a quest akin to that of Sir Galahad for the Holy Grail, taking us through interesting by-ways, dead-ends, winding trails, backtracking mazes, and finally to El Camino Real, the road of destiny of the Filipino people, of General Aguinaldo, of Ysidra and Luna, and of the four sons of Melecio Cojuangco.

Related stories :

Part Two: Which Cojuangco is the love-child of Luna?

Part Three: Is Tonyboy C. the great grandson of Luna?


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