BONIFACIO: Slain Again and Again

by Ed Aurelio Reyes
Kampanya para sa Kamalayan sa Kasaysayan

Andres Bonifacio, also known as "May Pag-asa," was executed somewhere in the mountains of Maragondon in Cavite on May 10, 1897. As expected, however, the tenth of May recently came and passed with almost absolute silence on it as the death anniversary of the Gleat Plebeian. Actually, Bonifacio has been slain many times over, in ways not readily realized by the average Filipino. And the near-total silence of May Tenth this year, as in earlier years, is but a manifestation of this repeated killing.

Supremo's Body Executed

Emilio Aguinaldo is generally known to be our first president as a nation. He was actually the second one, as explained in this writer's article "President Andress Bonifacio" in the August 1993 issue of Health Alert. The following excerpt from Aguinaldo's own memoirs, shows why he should unmistakalbe be held responsible for Bonifacio's execution:

"By virtue of my power as head of the revolutionary movement, I ordered Colonel Pedro Lipana, the presiding judge, to ask the military court to relax the penalty on th brothers. My reasons were pity, my desire to preserve the unity of the Filipinos, and above all, because I did not want to shed the blood of other revolutionists. I therefore suggested that the brothers be banished to Pico de Loro, a mountain quite far but still within Cavite.

"Upon learning of my wish, Generals Pio del Pilar and Mariano Noriel rushed back to me.

"'Our dear general,' General Pio del Pilar began, 'the crimes committed by the two brothers, Andres and Procopio, are of common knowledge. If you want to live a little longer and continue the task that you have so nobly begun, and if you wnat peace and order in our Revolutionary Government, do not show them any mercy. (etcetera, etcetera).'

"Besides these two generls, many people, most of them former followers of Andres Bonifacio, came to me to dissuade me from my decision of relaxing the sentence on them. Because of their explanations and requests, plus the strong evidence to prove their criminal acts (sic), I rescinded my order. Thereupon, General Mariano Noriel ordered Major Lazaro Macapagal to bring with him a squad of soldiers to fetch the prisonores and carry out the orders originally imposed by the military court.

"Very early on the morning of May 10, 1897, Major Macapagal and his men took the prisoners to Mount Tala where they were shot."

Bonifacio is said to have been buried in a shallow grave by one of his executioners who must have been conscience-stricken. His bones, later exhumed, eventually wound up being displayed as an exhibit in the Philippine Library and Museum where the Legislative Building cum Executive House cum National Museum now stands at the heart of Manila. That building was completely leveled by boms during World War II, and Bonifacio's remains were lost, remaining unrecovered to this day.

The nation still owes the Great Plebeian a formal funeral ceremony as a human being and as one of two national heroes officially declared by the Philippine government. Almost nobody knows that we have not accorded him the basic honor of an interment ceremony. And almost nobody cares.

The Other Slayings

Andres Bonifacio was slain still another time when his role was drastically diminished in our recorded history. Our American colonizers practically ignored his role, and maligned his memory whenever he was mentioned. Our compatriots have strait-jacketed his role to one fo action and bravery, often contrasted with the intellectual profoundness and pacifist nature of Jose Rizal.

Recently, a high school teacher in Quezon City dismissed the hero as an illiterate. That teacher is obviously ignorant of the historically-established fact that the self-educated Bonifacion was a voracious reader and prolific writer. He was reading volumes upon volumes of books in the foreign language (like The French Revolution, Lives of the Presidents of the United States, Les Miserables, The Wandering Jew, La Solidaridad, and Noli-Fili), and he was even able to write a beautiful Tagalog translation of Rizal's Mi Ultimo Adios. Historian Teodoro Agoncillo asserts that his powerful manifesto, "And Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog," accounts for the rapid geometric expansion of Katipunan membership in early 1896.

There are those who know the list of books in Bonifacio's personal library, but who have ascribed all his knowledge totally to these sources. They have been slaying Bonifacio, the intellectual and philosophical leader, by branding him as a mere translator of foreign and ilustrado writings, or worse, a plagiarist.

The following excerpts from various authors, as compiled by Ferndando Villarca Cao of the University of the Philippines, show how the Katipunan under Bonifacio was condescended upon by the most nationalistic of present-day historians, and how the Great Plebeian was in effect maligned as an ignorant plagiarist:

"The Katipunan ideology was an articulation of a people just discovering themselves. It was an inchoate ideology of a people who had just become a nation ..." [From Renato Constantino, Philippines: A Past Revisited.]

"Rizal is acknowledged by Ileto to have been the source of the historical content of Bonifacio's manifesto. In his annotations to the Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas of Morga, and in his major essay "Sobre la indolencia del Filipino", Rizal sketches the pre-Hispanic past of the Filipinos, contrasting their happy state with the present degradation to which they have been submitted in the name of Spain and Catholicism. The content of Bonifacio's manifesto in its picture of the past and the present has scarcely a phrase that cannot be found in Spanish ..." [From Schumacher, The Making of a Nation.]

"the Philippine Revolution of 1896 was a national-democratic revolution of the old type. Though Bonifacio came from the wroking class, he was not in possession of proletarian ideology. The guiding ideology of the revolution was that of the liberal bourgoisie. Its classic model was the French Revolution and Bonifacio himself was inspired mainly by its ideas. At any rate, the revolution asserted the sovereignity of the Filipino people, the protection and promotion of civil liberties, the confiscation of the friar estates and the elimination of friar rule." [From "Amado Guerrero" (Jose M. Sison), Philippine Society and Revolution.]

A closer reading of the texts of the writings of Bonifacio along with those of Rizal and other authors, is needed to enlighten the latter-day inadvertent executioners about the real underpinnings of the teachings of the Great Plebeian and the Katipunan. For example, the blood compact which Bonifacio highlighted in the early part of his powerful manifesto and in the design of the Katipunan initiation rites is not to be found in Rizal's writings or in the Masonic ceremonies from which this was supposedly copied. Present-day groups around Mt. Banahaw, who trace their lineage to the spirit of the Katipunan are keeping alive a tradition that cannot be traced to European origins. One must first read Reynaldo Ileto's Ateneo-published Pasyon and Revolution before attempting to make any judgement on them or on Bonifacio's philosophy. But of course, it is more convenient to echo the ignorant teacher's perception and quickly shift our attention to other topics.

Contemporary Filipino writer Virgilio Almario recently discussed another killing of Bonifacio: the slaying of this hero as a literary writer. In his Panitikan ng Rebolusyon (1896), published by the Cultural Center of the Philippines last year, Almario points out that the Katipunan writings of Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto actually stand as a major milestone in the development of Philippine literary writing from the time of Francisco Balagtas to the present. Almario laments that Bonifacio has been boxed-in within very narrow mental frames in evaluating him as a literary writer, with some ignoring him completely, otehrs denying that his writings were literary, and still others saying his pen was mediocre.

August 1896 Centennial Ignored

With the advent of the centennial of the Philippine Revolution of 1896, the Philippine government has created centennial commissions to be funded with millions of pesos in taxpayers' money. That is the good part. The bad part is that the centennial commemoration of August 1896 is almost completely ignored by these bodies.

The Philippine Centennial Commission, chared by former Vice President Salvador Laurel, has proposed six projects, five of which pertain to the centennial of the June 12, 1898 Kawit Declaration, and only one for 1996, an International Conference on the Philippine Revolution. An international conference is not likely to encourage widespread grassroots activities that the commemoration of historic August 1896 deserves. A second commission has recently been formed by President Ramos to handle the commemoration of the centennial of Rizal's martyrdom in December 1996. For the August 1996 celebration, the people will have to rely on private efforts and private funds.

This pattern of official government preparations for the centennials of this decade obviously belittles the significance of Bonifacio and the Katipunan, and focuses the spotlights and the funds on Aguinaldo and his Declaration of supposed independence (actually of a protectorate "under the protection of the Mighty and Humane North American nation"). This is another ongoing killing of Bonifacio and the ideal of real independence that he stood and fought for.

Bonifacio's body was killed on May 10, 97 years ago. But his stature, his memory and his spirit have all been killed again and again by our nation due to widespread ignorance and apathy. May he rest in peace even so.


This essay originally appeared in Health Alert Issue 158, May 1994. Produced by the Health Action Information Network, Quezon City. Reprinted with permission.

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