National Heroes Who Weren't Really Nice People

Every hero is also part villain.

Filipino movies and teleseryes have raised us to believe that heroes are infallible (and, in some cases, bulletproof). In real life, however, it’s not so black-and-white. Our national heroes were flesh and blood who made mistakes just like any other Filipino during their time.

The Luna brothers had a violent streak. 

While Juan Luna is known for his award-winning and haunting "Spoliarium," history books often forget to tell us that he killed his wife. Yes, the country’s most famous painter and hero murdered his wife (and his mother-in-law!) in a fit of jealous rage. And there is also evidence that suggests his family used their connections so that he would get preferential treatment while in prison


Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

His brother Antonio was no better. The hot-headed general almost killed their friend, Jose Rizal. Once, again it was jealousy that drove Antonio to almost duel to the death with Rizal. 



Luna refers to the moon, which is often associated with madness. Could this just be a coincidence? 

Rizal and Goyo were known womanizers. 

One of the first things we learn about Jose Rizal is that he was linked to a lot of women during his lifetime. In fact, almost everywhere he would go, he would find a suitable paramour. When his heart finally settled on the Irish beauty, Josephine Bracken, he had already earned a reputation of being a ladies’ man. (Initially, Bracken’s adoptive father was against the union of the 18-year-old girl and the doctor who was in his 30s.) 


Despite this, Rizal was very strict with his sisters, especially with the boys they date. In a letter to Soledad, he scolds her for not introducing her “sweetheart” to their family. Now before we accuse Rizal of being anti-feminist, let’s not forget that the hero also supported women’s right to proper education, as he had written down in his letters to the Women of Malolos

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Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Another hero who broke many hearts was Gregorio del Pilar, one of the youngest generals in Philippine history. One of his love interests was Emilio Aguinaldo’s very own sister, Felicidad. Some even say that the term “na-Goyo” (fooled) was in fact derived from his name. 

Unfortunately, some believe that the young general was too busy chasing skirts instead of preparing for war. 

Aside from his often public exploits with women, some accounts portrayed Goyo to be ruthless in battle. He had no qualms about shooting priests and fellow Filipinos who stood in his way. In fact, he is credited to be the killer of the Bernal brothers who were loyal to Antonio Luna. 

Quezon was a bit vain and shut down his critics.

Manuel Quezon was your typical charismatic politician whose mestizo looks captured the heart of a nation. It seems as though he was aware of this and he made the effort of having his sleek flat-top hairstyle groomed to perfection for his public appearances. Some even say that he had a personal barber. His efforts were not in vain (pun intended) because even at 5’6” he managed to impress almost everyone he met. A foreigner even said that he was “as handsome as a Roman god.” 

Photo by Jacob Ira Vijandre via the Presidential Museum and Library. 

This vanity, however, proved to be his heroic flaw. While history credits Quezon for being the “Ama ng Wikang Pambansa” and praises him for his open-door policy for Jewish refugees during WWII, there is also a dark chapter in this hero’s life. 

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The movie Quezon's Game depicted him as a puppet of the U.S. government and the ruling class. During his time in government, big businesses and landowners were favored over workers and farmers.  

This depiction was not far-fetched. In fact, one of the most harrowing episodes during his governance was the Cabuyao Massacre. The Constabulary opened fired at Sakdalistas, a faction of government critics led no less than by Quezon's former ally. What made it worse was that this massacre happened in a church. 

(The Sakdalistas later splintered into two groups. One group partnered with the Japanese and eventually became the Makapilis. The other group formed the Hukbalahap, which was later accused of killing Quezon’s wife, Doña Aurora.)


Aguinaldo ordered the killing of the Bonifacio brothers, was implicated in the murder of Antonio Luna and his followers, and pretty much sold the country. 

Emilio Aguinaldo was more of a politician than a hero. Though we cannot deny his contribution during the Philippine-Spanish War, we also cannot avoid the dark deeds that made historians openly call him a traitor.  

The start of his infamy in the history of the Philippines was at the Tejeros Convention. Though he wasn’t physically present, it was said that he conspired with his allies to corner Andres Bonifacio. 

By giving the Supremo a meager role in the revolutionary government (nothing more than the equivalent of a treasurer), he angered Magdiwang, the Tagalog faction of the Katipunan. This is what further stirred animosity between Magdalo and Magdiwang. 

Of course, it was revealed that he was the mastermind behind the murder of the Bonifacio brothers and General Antonio Luna, all of whom did not share his point of view in governance and also posed as threats to his leadership. 

In his letters that were auctioned off to private buyers in 2019, he admitted to the murder of the Supremo. In his own words, he stated, “I had to yield,” which was said to be his concession to the advice of his allies that Bonifacio was more trouble than he’s worth. 

Regarding Antonio Luna, his hit biopic depicted Aguinaldo as the mastermind behind the general’s gruesome death. Whatever really happened, many historians assume that it couldn’t have happened without Aguinaldo’s knowledge. Because of this, he was partly responsible for Luna’s death and of his aide, Paco Roman. (Luna’s loyal followers were also later tracked down and killed.)  


The biggest betrayal of all, however, was the fact the Aguinaldo simply gave up the Philippines after all the lives that were lost for its freedom. When Cavite fell, his revolutionary government capitulated to Spain and accepted P1,700,000 as payment (he later said this was used to buy arms to take back the country, we can never really trust this). How’s that for a betrayal? 

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About The Author
Nicai de Guzman
Nicai de Guzman is the Head of Marketing of Rising Tide, one of the fastest-growing mobile and digital advertising technology companies in the Philippines. She also writes for SPOT.ph and Entrepreneur.com.ph.
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