General Mateo Noriel Luga is an Ibanag revolutionary, was named one of the 100 prominent natives of Cebu. He was not a Cebuano but an Ibanag from Isabela province who came to Cebu to help the Cebuanos in their struggle against Spain and the United States. General Mateo Luga was a native of Tumauini, Isabela province. He responded to the call-to-arms against the Spaniards towards the end of the 19th century.
Luga left home in 1896, joined the Katipuneros in Bulacan, Manila, Laguna, and Cavite, and he fought the Spanish forces in Balinta, Antipolo, Montalban, San Pedro de Makate, Palipanan, Monting Lupa, Kalo-okan, and other areas until early 1899. During this period, Mateo Luga gained the necessary skills and experience to lead men in combat.
Between the summer of 1898 and mid-1899, the province of Cebu witnessed a so-called "war within a war." At the time, the armed insurrection against Spain was at its peak. In December 1898, the Spanish Governor Adolfo Montero abandoned the province of Cebu and sought refuge in Zamboanga. As a consequence, Juan Faller Climaco and Arcadio Molero Maxilom established a revolutionary government in Cebu. Climaco had served as a Kapitan Municipal of Toledo, and Maxilom was a member of the Katipunan. The two Cebuanos were appointed chief of staff and councilor of peace and internal order, respectively. With the unexpected arrival of the American occupation forces in Cebu, armed hostilities broke out between the American occupying forces and the fledgling Cebuano revolutionary force in February 1899.
In April 1899, General Emilio Aguinaldo and Secretary of War General Antonio Luna handpicked Mateo Luga as the Katipunan's personal adviser to the Cebu revolutionary government. With his two bodyguards, Manalo Luga and another Luga cousin, Mateo proceeded to Cebu disguised as a sailor on board the cargo ship Butuan. On the way to Cebu, the group passed through Iloilo where Mateo Luga met his future wife, Ruperta Valdez, a comely Ilongga of Spanish descent. He proceeded to Cebu where he was arrested by the local revolutionaries upon arrival, having been suspected as a Spanish spy. He was brought before General Climaco, who freed him upon ascertaining that he was indeed sent by General Aguinaldo and General Luna to Cebu, based on a letter written by the former. The Cebu revolutionary government divided Cebu into three operational sectors: the north under General Maxilom, the south under General Troadio Galicano, and the central zone under General Luga. From then on, the combat exploits of Mateo Luga in the Visayas began. He was the only non-Visayan in the Cebu revolutionary force.
The first encounter between the forces of General Luga and the Americans was in Mahayahay. Raids, assaults, ambushes, and frontal confrontations between the forces were carried out from 1899 to the latter part of 1901. General Luga's fiercest battle was at Sudlon, the Revolutionary redoubt of the Katipuneros. The confrontation lasted for nine days, until January 8, 1900. The Americans assaulted the Kota defenses of General Luga, only to turn back, leaving their dead and wounded behind. Despite the superior armaments of the Americans, it was the Katipuneros' knowledge of the terrain, their fighting acumen, and their willingness to sacrifice that gave them an edge over the Americans.
In the ensuing months, forays were made into American territory. On one occasion, General Luga and his force almost captured General Henry W. Lawton at Pardo. The Americans were having a party when General Luga conducted a raid, which surprised the Americans. General Lawton, who was present, escaped by running to the seashore, boarding a launch, and remaining on board while the raid was in progress. Other bloody battles were those in San Nicolas, Bulusan, Guadalope, Mabolo, Talamban, and the city itself. General Luga was a wanted man, and his wife and children were imprisoned by the Americans to force him to surrender. Instead of succumbing to their pressure, he slipped into the city and rescued his family.
General Mateo Luga was a worthy opponent against the Americans. Cunning and elusive, he earned such monikers as Alimokon (a species of wild dove which is difficult to capture), Agta (the black giant of Cebuano folklore); and Tagolilong (a mysterious being which can make itself invisible at will).
Before me lies Luga's accolade, written by an American officer who saw much service in the Philippines: "In Mateo Luga, you saw a man to remember as long as you live."
One by one, the revolutionary leaders surrendered after General Maxilom laid down his arms on October 27, 1901. General Luga and his troops surrendered to Captain Frank McIntyre of the 19th U.S. Infantry on the same day.
After the Surrender
General Luga believed that the surrender was not the end of his fighting career. He accepted the commission to become an officer of the constabulary organized by the Americans to maintain peace and order in the locality. Despite his mistrust of the Americans, he accepted the commission they offered, hoping that he could help bring peace back to the countryside. He joined the constabulary force along with a few men, including General Rafael Crame. His exploits as a peace officer reached all the way to Samar and Leyte, running after a bandit group known as the Pulahanes. He was tasked to make Cebu clean and bandit-free. The year 1908 found Luga completely in control. He had risen to the rank of captain in the constabulary, where he was known as one of the most capable and valiant officers.
Life after the Military
Upon his resignation in 1914, he was employed by the Philippine Refining Company, an American firm that was the predecessor of Unilever Philippines. After this, he worked for the Public Lands Commission, where he was assigned the task of giving away homesteads to deserving applicants. On his own, he was able to acquire 24 hectares in Sagay, Negros Occidental where he retired into a simple country life with his wife, Ruperta, and their children, Maria, Jose, Pilar and twins Emilio and Antonio, who were named after General Emilio Aguinaldo and General Antonio Luna.
On January 23, 1924 (the 25th Anniversary of the establishment of the First Philippine Republic held at the Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan), General Luga was interviewed by Celestino T. Alfafara of the Cebuano periodical Bag-ong Kusog. When General Luga was asked what he wished for the Filipino people, he replied:
"We the veterans, are already old, but before we die, there is only one wish that I am asking from God. Even though we have no money to leave behind because we are poor, we do wish that before we go to our final resting ground, we can see that you who are left behind can enjoy the fruits of the freedom we have been hoping for."
On his way back home to Negros from a visit to his hometown in Isabela, General Mateo Noriel Luga was found to be stricken with cancer. He died in Manila in 1935. His funeral was a reunion of his comrades-in-arms, including General Aguinaldo and the remaining Katipuneros.