Andres Bonifacio and the revolutionary legacy

"The Revolution devours its own children."
(Jacques Mallet du Pan, 1749-1800)

It is widely accepted that one of the founders of the Kataastaasan, Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (or Katipunan), Andres Bonifacio, was executed somewhere in the Maragondon Range, Cavite on May 10, 1897. This year would be the 120th death anniversary of Andres Bonfacio and his brother, Procopio Bonifacio. In a March 2011 Social Weather Stations survey on the "genuine Filipino hero," Jose Rizal ranked first with 75%, while Bonifacio is in distant second with 34%. Completing the top ten, they are followed by Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. (20%), Corazon "Cory" Aquino (14%), Apolinario Mabini (14%), Emilio Aguinaldo (11%), Ferdinand Marcos (5%), Ramon Magsaysay (4%), Manuel Quezon (4%), and Lapu-Lapu (4%). Observing this survey, surely Bonifacio is known enough. He has enough recognition to match Ninoy and Cory combined (as they are now in the new generation 500 peso bill). However, when compared to his contemporary Rizal, it would seem that Bonifacio has not achieved that much recognition among the people. What do we know about Bonifacio anyway that many of our people do not know him?

The only photograph of Andres Bonifacio
Photo courtesy of Presidential Museum
Bonifacio's background
Two years younger than Rizal, Andres Bonifacio was born to Santiago Bonifacio (1842-1883) and Catalina de Castro (1845-1882) on November 30, 1863 at Tondo, Manila. His 150th birth anniversary was commemorated in 2013. Contrary to popular belief, the Bonifacio family were not exactly poor economically. In Pampanga alone, at least ten Bonifacios held political positions from 1731 to 1911. Santiago himself, who initially worked as a boatman on a ferry servicing the Pasig River, was teniente mayor (chief lieutenant), one of the four aides of the gobernadorcillo (municipal mayor). Meanwhile, the de Castro family also had a number of members holding political positions, prominently cabezas (barangay captains). Catalina was a Chinese mestiza (half-Chinese) who worked as a supervisor in a cigar factory in Manila. In fact, Bonifacio was first enrolled in a private school, where he learned from a certain Guillermo Osmeña from Cebu. Despite this good start, Bonifacio was said to have only four years of formal education.

Wood print portraying a clerk
The misfortune of the Bonifacio family most likely begun when both his parents died of tuberculosis. At a relatively young age of 19, Bonifacio had to work for the betterment of the family. He had five more siblings (Ciriaco, Procopio, Troadio, Espiridiona, Maxima) and he was the eldest among them. Since his life prior to the Philippine Revolution was not exactly written, one may even think that his work experience at this stage can be speculation. For instance, his entrepreneurial venture of selling canes and fans. The jobs he took thereafter may have better chances of being verified, as company papers may prove helpful for verification. He was a clerk, then a purchasing manager, for the British company J. M. Fleming and Co. Following this, he was a bodegero (warehouse man), a clerk, and then a sales agent, for the German mosaic tile company Fressel and Co. In both foreign companies, it seemed Bonifacio was promoted, and learned other languages. He also tried to earn a few more bucks by making posters for companies and as a theater actor. Bonifacio the artist? As an actor, it was said his favorite character to perform was Bernardo Carpio, the legendary "king of the Tagalogs" who is supposedly the land's savior from oppression. This fascination with the legendary king would figure later on in the revolutionary phase of Bonifacio's life, as he would have established the "Haring Bayang Katagalugan" (Sovereign Tagalog Nation). In his spare time, he managed to taught himself by reading books. According to Pio Valenzuela (who seemed to be quite an unreliable source), among the books Bonifacio read were Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Wandering Jew by Eugene Sue, The Ruins (Meditations on the Revolutions of Empires) by Constantin Francois de Volney, Lives of the Presidents of the United States by John S. C. Abbott and Russell H. Conwell, The French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle, the Bible, and of course, Rizal's two novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. A peek in Bonifacio's library would make it quite obvious how his ideas of revolution came about.

Artist's impression of Bonifacio and the Katipunan
Photo courtesy of Bayani Art
Bonifacio and the Katipunan
Whether or not Rizal and Bonifacio did meet, the former evidently had a great impact on the latter. As to where that influence begins or ends, it remains to be seen. When Rizal returned to the Philippines in 1892 (the fight is not abroad, but at home), he quickly organized a civic organization called La Liga Filipina (The Philippine League) in Tondo, Manila. Of course, there are more recent studies suggesting that the Katipunan was organized long before July 1892, especially through the insistence of more radical reformers such as Marcelo H. del Pilar. Then again, similar to Rizal's prospective influence to this formative years, it remains to be seen how much has been achieved during this time. Among its members were, of course, Bonifacio. However, the Spanish highly suspected Rizal, and on July 6 of the same year, he was exiled to Dapitan in Mindanao. The day after, on July 7, Bonifacio, along with Teodoro Plata, Ladislao Diwa, Jose Dizon, Valentin Diaz, and Deodato Arellano, founded the Katipunan. Looking at Bonifacio's company, it can be noticed that they were all Masons. Since the secret society does not accept economically poor members, Bonifacio being a Mason as well shows the core group of the Katipunan being quite the middle class type. Look at the core group's line up. Arellano was a military clerk, and was elected secretary of La Liga. Diaz was a gobernadorcillo. Dizon was an engraver in the mint at Manila. Diwa finished law and was a court clerk. Plata also took law and was also a clerk. Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief, Bonifacio was not the Katipunan's first leader. The first president was Deodato Arellano, who held the position until 1893. Following him is Roman Basa, who was then working in the Marines (Comandancia de Marina), who served for two years. Why did Bonifacio only assume the top position in 1895? Did he prefer to assume a "behind the scenes" role as the organization's comptroller (chief financial officer)?

It seemed that even a society like Katipunan preferred educated people to lead the organization. The presidency of the Katipunan was an election by acclamation of the members available. This means one can see who anyone else would be voting for. If Bonifacio did really control the Katipunan from the roots, why not have himself elected from the start? At this point of the organization's development, another prominent Bonifacio trait is becoming apparent. In retrospect, one may see Bonifacio's actions as that of someone who is hasty and impulsive. For example, in order to have Basa not stand for reelection, Bonifacio deprived the organization of necessary funds for members. The problem became more personal when Basa refused his son Lucio to be inducted in the Katipunan. This conflict with Bonifacio may have crippled the organization for a time, and as for Basa, the better path is to concede. Then again, Bonifacio's vengeance on Basa did not end. Later on, Bonifacio lists Basa as one of the revolution's traitors. Whether or not this had factual basis, Bonifacio was comptroller (later fiscal, overlapping the comptroller position), after all. His control of the Katipunan's money seemed unquestionable. In addition, he must have been furious to see that in the past three years, the organization has grown only to a mere 300. Initially, a triangle system was used for recruitment. That is, one member must recruit two more, and the cycle goes on. As for Bonifacio, his first triangle was composed of Plata and Diwa. The system was replaced with a recruitment method modeled from Masons. By 1896, Katipunan membership grew to around 15,000 to 50,000.

Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City
Photo courtesy of
Bonifacio and the Revolution
Membership took a quicker pace, but so did the imminent Revolution. As the Katipunan grew, so did the suspicions of the Spanish colonial government. As early as May 1896, the Spanish governor general, Ramon Blanco (1833-1906), was receiving reports of an existing "secret society" which implies the Katipunan. One can at least give credit to the former Katipunan presidents, Arellano and Basa, for keeping the organization intact, growing little by little, opening chapters in the provinces, and doing it all with a low profile. However, with the slow pace they are taking, perhaps it was Bonifacio's credit to actually launch the Revolution. Bonifacio may have been a great recruiter (his artistic skills may have been of good use for propaganda materials), but his organization skills remain to be evaluated. Even if he was a good organizer, a sudden increase in membership may prove difficult to handle. Mere months after Bonifacio becomes president, and the Katipunan was already in trouble. It is in a situation bad enough for it to conduct meetings not in a suburban house like that of La Liga, but in a cave now known as Pamitinan (in Rodriguez, Rizal). Of course, Bonifacio knew what was happening, and he was convinced that the Katipunan should move first. However, members like Emilio Aguinaldo protested to a "premature" launch of the revolution. The people's hearts may be ready, but the arms are not. It was during this meeting where the consultation of Rizal was approved, a merit to Aguinaldo's cautiousness. When he learned of Rizal's views, Bonifacio was clearly furious, to the point of even cursing the man (and if we are to believe Valenzuela, he cursed him a thousand times). Was not the revolution ready yet? Would we let the Spanish make the first move and nip the organization from the bud, as what happened with La Liga? Bonifacio was known for his planning skills, but did Rizal see something off with the Katipunan, or was he simply disinterested to be caught up in such affairs? Despite their differences, Bonifacio was willing to make Rizal as Katipunan's honorary president, with Rizal's photograph present in every major meeting, while he himself assumed a new role. Bonifacio by August 1896 was the Katipunan's Supremo (supreme leader).

With the expose in the Diario de Manila, the Katipunan was forced to be on the move. Was Bonifacio happy to see that a trigger was finally set off to begin the revolution? Nevertheless, even at this late stage, Bonifacio still met opposition to his plan to launch the revolution at that time. Besides, it was just the planting season. Food will soon become scarce and the fields may not produce enough. To silence his critics, Bonifacio had a plan to strike hard and finish the revolution as soon as possible. Bonifacio's plan involved a three-pronged assault that would be launched and coordinated with uprisings in the neighboring provinces (where rebels numbered by the thousands). The forces under General Aguedo del Rosario would rush into Tondo from the north. The forces under General Vincente Fernandez would attack from San Marcelino, south of Tondo, and shut down the lights. The forces under General Ramon Bernardo would rush from Sampaloc, east of Tondo. Bonifacio's main force of 800 revolutionaries, meanwhile, would attack the polvorin (gunpowder depository) in San Juan, and threaten to cut off the water supply from the Balara filter station, which gets water from the Marikina River. Bonifacio also had "insiders" to help them, composed of discontented elements of the 70th Regiment (Regimiento de Magallanes), the only regiment assigned in Luzon. The rest of the Spanish forces were then assigned to Visayas (1) and Mindanao (2). The plan again involved the government forces fighting in multiple fronts.

While Bonifacio's sense of timing was impeccable, and his military brilliance apparent, coordination became a major problem. As in Rizal's novels, the rebels did not get to launch a simultaneous attack because the supposed signal was not received. Fernandez failed to provide the signal to the provinces, and the full strength of the Spanish forces were launched against Bonifacio. Therefore, while Bonifacio was able to capture the polvorin in San Juan, he was forced to give it up and retreat to the provinces. Also, if the signal was intended for the revolutionaries in the nearby provinces, would have they not been too late to participate anyway even when the signal was given? At any rate, Bonifacio would later have Fernandez arrested for this blunder. Aguinaldo, meanwhile, would plead for Fernandez. A good opportunity was lost. Manila was the seat of power and its fall would have been a resounding victory. Bonifacio would never come so close to launch an offensive against Manila again, but perhaps the unforeseen consequence may be the shift of the revolutionary center from Manila to Cavite.

Image of Bonifacio in a Spanish paper
Photo courtesy of Presidential Museum
Death comes to Bonifacio
While his offensive tactics seemed to fail, his defensive tactics were working quite well. The reales, or temporary strongholds also serving as resupplying points, all around Manila's suburbs and the neighboring provinces proved adequate to facilitate Bonifacio's encounters from the Spanish. However, victory was more evident elsewhere, particularly in Cavite. Aguinaldo, in contrast with Bonifacio's defensive tactics, utilized trench warfare. While ahead of its time, and particularly surprised the Spanish, Aguinaldo himself did not always see the trenches in good light, admitting it to be dangerous to be waiting for the enemy at the trenches. With the Spanish main force chasing Bonifacio, the provinces had little to worry about until reinforcements (cazadores) began to arrive in October 1896. By December 1896, an assembly at Imus began to surface questions to Bonifacio's leadership, who they begin to see as having designs for monarchy (his opponents calling him Hari ng Bayan or the nation's king). Two factions began to emerge, the Magdiwang being pro-Bonifacio, and the Magdalo being pro-Aguinaldo. With the Revolution in full swing, the Cavite leaders thought it would be good to reorganize the governing body. Of course, Bonifacio was convinced that the Katipunan was the governing body, and there was no need to replace it. Nevertheless, the political infighting continued. To make matters worse, the new Spanish governor general, Camilo de Polavieja (1838-1914), renewed offensives in the provinces, mainly in Cavite, which he regarded as the center. By February 1897, many of the Revolution's gains were gone and Cavite was in trouble. Still, political matters trumped all issues with the Tejeros Convention on March 22, 1897. As history goes, Bonifacio lost the election for president, or "lost the count" as some may claim because the election was held in Cavite, and thus, most of the voters may well be biased towards their province mate. However, one may recall the past Katipunan elections, when the first two presidents were college graduates. Was Aguinaldo's education, which was three years more than Bonifacio's, influential in their choice? In addition, despite Polavieja's reverses, Aguinaldo remains quite popular for his past military victories, while Bonifacio seemed to be barely holding off the Spanish at Morong (now Rizal). His temper can again be questioned with his threat to shoot Daniel Tirona, who questioned time and time again Bonifacio's qualifications to hold political office. Of course, at least Bonifacio did not lose his cool initially, but what if he really had temperamental issues? If Bonifacio did not take the issues at heart and harbor them, should he have gracefully left Cavite and rejoined with allies elsewhere who are willing to recognize his leadership? This way, a graceful act of patience may have helped Bonifacio lived longer.

Maragondon Mountain Range
Photo courtesy of akvividphotography
Bonifacio himself was not convinced of the election results, and thus called to nullify them. He was the election's presiding officer, after all, as he was the Supremo, but with the new officials inducted, it seemed that his voice is no longer considered in the Tejeros government. Thus, in April, against good advice of allies to resume leadership in Morong, Bonifacio established a separate government at Naic. This time, Aguinaldo's allies tried to persuade the new president of Bonifacio's threat. To be fair to Aguinaldo, he did not want to harm Bonifacio, and so he recommended only exile. Besides, once he is out of Cavite, the threat would dissipate. However, just like the Spanish releasing an edited image of Bonifacio in their newspapers (to make him look more Castila than Chinese), Aguinaldo's allies tried to cast another image of Bonifacio as a divider, not a uniter. Soon enough, Bonifacio was in trial by a military court presided by his erstwhile comrade, Mariano Noriel. Looking back, it seemed a mere formality to Bonifacio's impending verdict, the death sentence. However, why the haste of bringing down the hammer on Bonifacio? Was it because of the Spanish offensive gaining steam, and they want to rid of the perceived Bonifacio threat already? At the time, the Spanish regained Dasmariñas in March, and Naic (the site of Bonifacio's final days) was, as Aguinaldo put it, the "last defense." Then, why not set aside the Bonifacio case while taking their attention to the Spanish offensive first? Evidently, after the Bonifacio execution, Aguinaldo would be seen retreating to Bulacan, utilizing what was left of Bonifacio's reales.

The only primary source for Bonifacio's death was Lazaro Macapagal, Noriel's subordinate and the one who carried the death sentence, but even his account seemed unreliable. He actually has two versions of the story, and to this day, the Bonifacio remains cannot be found in the Maragondon Range. Did he really kill Bonifacio? Was it by bolo or by bullet? Who would have the nerve to kill the Supremo? If he did not, it can explain why he cannot exactly pinpoint the graves in the number of mountains the range has. Had Bonifacio died of exhaustion instead, for he was severely wounded throughout the trial anyway? Or perhaps the extraordinary - it was Spanish fire which dealt him the death blow! Maragondon was attacked and taken by the Spanish on May 10, 1897 - the same date of Bonifacio's death. Far-fetched? Who knows? In sum, we may not know how Bonifacio died, but he remains recognized as a Filipino hero, and his actions defined him more than his best intentions. The Revolution goes on for another year without its architect Bonifacio, but the ultimate goal of independence was not yet within reach. See the references here.

"Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya
Sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila
Gaya ng pag-ibig sa Tinubuang lupa?
Aling pag-ibig pa? Wala na nga, wala.
(Andres Bonifacio)

Andres Bonifacio and the revolutionary legacy Andres Bonifacio and the revolutionary legacy Reviewed by Al Raposas on Friday, May 12, 2017 Rating: 5

No comments