Da Coconut Repablik

A Chronicle of the Da Pinoys and Da Coconut Repablik of Da Pilipins

Da Pinoy Chronicle: On The Common Misconceptions Surrounding Andres Bonifacio

When you hear the name Andres Bonifacio, what first comes to your mind? Poor, barefoot, bolo wielding, wearing camisa de chino, a straw hat, dirty and his cohorts are wearing and fighting the same as him. He was often portrayed as hot headed, impulsive and personally lead his army of ragtag rebels to battle armed with nothing but bolos and pikes.

These misconceptions about Bonifacio were in fact promoted by the ‘official’ Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo. Militant groups from the both ends of the spectrum used him as the champion of the ordinary masses. In fact this day, numerous Leftist and Nationalist organisations are staging protests.

Their activism ranges from the RH Bill to the nullification of the Visiting Forces Agreement. I found most of these activism as pompous and ridiculous, except the RH Bill, the FOI Bill and the Sin Tax Bill. Their outdated ideologies were already dead and had died with the ashes 3 decades ago except on the minds of few lunatics.

Before we begin, it is important to debunk a few indoctrinations we have been accustomed to, most importantly that Filipino is a race and secondarily that the idea of nation was already there since the time before Jesus Christ.  The idea of nationhood was only born during the French Revolution and it did not rise until the early 1900’s that led to the First World War.

The world was indeed changing during the 1800’s due to the Industrial Revolution.  The mindset of people were changing from monarchy to nationalism, of course not without a fight.

These were the times of unrest between reactionaries and liberals, monarchists and republicans, empires and provinces who wanted a country of their own.  Americans were no different from the British by race or language but wanted a country of their own.

In the same way, the Filipinos were no different from the Peninsular Spaniards or Latin Americans by race or language but the Tagalogs, Ilocanos and those who rose in revolt wanted a country of their own.  The Spanish Empire had become too large to be a single nation. Another misconception:

Contrary to popular belief, the Philippines had experienced rapid economic growth since its opening to world trade in 1834 as well as the reforms done by Basco. The Filipino society became rich overnight with various provinces experiencing rapid growth.

The opening of the Suez Canal had further stimulated the growth of the country. The ideals of the French and the American Revolutions became more and more available than before. Voltaire, Rousseau, Paine, Jefferson and other prominent thinkers of the Enlightenment had already penetrated the minds of the local elite and the masses as well.

For 2 centuries the local elite and the Creoles had ruled the Philippines with significant autonomy from the Spanish crown. The Latin American wars of independence had crushed the Spanish Empire to its knees, which was recovering from Napoleon’s invasion when these disasters had knocked out the once great European power. The opening of Suez Canal had lead to the flocking of the frailes and the Peninsulares to the islands.

Not wanting to lose power, the old frailes allied with the new frailes to preserve their authority. The Peninsulares had begun to take over government positions and they were known for their incompetence. This had caused the locals to establish movements which aimed against these new policies.

Rizal had mocked the Peninsulares on both of his novels. Bonifacio was living at a time of rapid change and progress that at any moment, the elite may secede from Spain. The elites were now enlightened and the ideals of the Enlightenment had also already penetrated the minds of the ordinary Filipino masses.

Bonifacio was the son of Santiago Bonifacio and Catalina de Castro in Tondo, Manila, and was the eldest of five children. Contrary to popular belief, Bonifacio was not poor. His father was a teniennte mayor of Tondo and his mother was a supervisor working in a cigarette factory. His family have  descended from a long line of merchants since the 1600’s.

Bonifacio’s normal schooling was cut short when he dropped out to support his siblings after both their parents died of illness. He sold canes and paper fans he made himself and made posters for business firms.

In his late teens, he worked as a mandatory for the British trading firm Fleming and Company, where he rose to become a corregidor of tar, rattan and other goods. He later transferred to Fressell and Company, a German trading firm, where he worked as a bodeguero (storehouse worker). Bonifacio was also a part-time actor who performed in moro-moro plays.

Not finishing his normal education, Bonifacio was self-educated. He read books about the French Revolution, biographies of the Presidents of the United States, books about contemporary Philippine penal and civil codes, and novels such as Victor Hugo‘s Les MisérablesEugène Sue‘s Le Juif errant and José Rizal‘s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.  Aside from Tagalog and Spanish, he could speak a little English, learnt from his working for J.M. Fleming and Co.

Fact or allegation, this wouldn’t be a surprise given the economic situation of the Philippines during Andres’ time, which had become among the most affluent societies in the Far East overnight due to economic reforms.

Bonifacio was married twice, first to a certain Monica who died of leprosy. He then married Gregoria de Jesús of Caloocan in 1893. They had one son named Andrés who died in infancy.

In 1892 he joined Rizal’s La Liga Filipina, an organisation which called for political reform in the colonial government of the Philippines. However, La Liga disbanded after only one meeting as Rizal was arrested and deported to Dapitan in Mindanao.

Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini and others revived La Liga in Rizal’s absence and Bonifacio was active at organising local chapters in Manila. La Liga Filipina had contributed moral and financial support to Propaganda Movement Filipino reformists in Spain.

In July 1892, Bonifacio’s faction which were composed of more radical factions of the Liga had founded the Katipunan or the Los Hijos Del Pais. Rather than establishing a new organisation, Bonifacio had only revived the long forgotten group that the early Filipino nationalists such as Luis Rodriguez Varela had created.

It was also widely believed that Marcelo Del Pilar had some influence over its establishment because of his position in the Freemasonry. In fact in 1896, he was preparing to leave for the Philippines to start a revolution and to link with Bonifacio.

The movement was influenced by Freemasonry practices to initiate new members. Unlike the previous group which was merely an association of intellectuals, they had a system of government with Bonifacio as the Supremo since his election in 1895 and he was even recognised as the de facto President of the Philippines. The group had expanded in just 3 years across several local chapters and had reached as far as Mindanao.

Bonifacio had begun his preparations for a revolution at mid 1894. His group had begun to smuggle Remington single shot rifles from arms dealers, they had sent a delegation to Japan for support and they even consulted Jose Rizal using Pio Valenzuela.

Rizal had insisted that a revolution was too premature. He advised Bonifacio to solicit the support of the local wealthy Filipinos sympathetic to their cause. He had also stressed the need of a foreign ally. He also recommended Antonio Luna to lead the army in case of war.

Bonifacio was successful at persuading several members of the local elite into his side but he cannot find a foreign ally. Discussions and debates were held from April to August 1896. In August 1896, in order to prevent further divisions, Bonifacio had forced to reveal the existence of the organisation to the Spanish and to the world.

The story of a certain Katipunero was said to be untrue, but it was still taught at schools. The statement that Bonifacio had intended to reveal it in order to prevent further divisions was told by the former Katipuneros interviewed in the 1920’s.

Bonifacio had gathered his supporters for a general assembly at Pugad Lawin. There, the delegates of the local chapters had voted to start a war of independence against the Spanish Empire. Contrary to popular belief, the cry did not happened but it was a very important meeting of the leaders of the Revolution.

The Supreme Council of the Katipunan declared a nationwide armed revolution against Spain and called for a simultaneous coordinated attack on the capital Manila on 29 August. Bonifacio appointed generals to lead the rebel forces to Manila. Other Katipunan councils were also informed of their plans.

Before hostilities erupted, Bonifacio reorganised the Katipunan into an open de facto revolutionary government, with him as President and commander-in-chief (or generalissimo) of the rebel army and the Supreme Council as his cabinet. On 28 August, Bonifacio issued the following general proclamation:

This manifesto is for all of you. It is absolutely necessary for us to stop at the earliest possible time the nameless oppositions being perpetrated on the sons of the country who are now suffering the brutal punishment and tortures in jails, and because of this please let all the brethren know that on Saturday, the 29th of the current month, the revolution shall commence according to our agreement. For this purpose, it is necessary for all towns to rise simultaneously and attack Manila at the same time. Anybody who obstructs this sacred ideal of the people will be considered a traitor and an enemy, except if he is ill; or is not physically fit, in which case he shall be tried according to the regulations we have put in force.

Mount of Liberty, 28 August 1896 – ANDRÉS BONIFACIO

The battles of the Philippine Revolution had resembled an early prototype of the First World War. The most prevalent fighting method at time time was digging trenches and erecting sandbags, then both sides will charge openly. In the early days of the revolution, a Katipunero soldier was armed with a Remington single shot rifle and a bolo, if a Katipunero had no rifle, they were issued with revolvers.

The early battles of the war were won by the fire power of the Spanish troops, who were armed with the top of the line Mauser bolt action rifles, which was also the main factor of the high casualty figures of the American troops at San Juan Hill two years later.

Bonifacio was a rational and an intelligent leader. He was a natural born bureaucrat, as well as an average military commander. His military skill was only outranked by Aguinaldo, who had gained popularity due to his victories in Cavite. Bonifacio was able to reorganise several bases east of Manila.

His forces had controlled most of eastern Manila and had turned Manila into a no man’s land. His forces were constantly ambushing convoys in order to weaken the power of the Spanish Army in Manila.

In Balara, Bonifacio commissioned Julio Nakpil to compose a national anthem. Nakpil produced a hymn called Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan (“Honorable Hymn of the Tagalogs”). However, it was rejected years later in favour of the Marcha Nacional Filipina commissioned by Emilio Aguinaldo.

From August 1896 to May 1897, Bonifacio had already established himself as the President of the Philippine/Tagalog Republic. Bonifacio had appointed Emilio Jacinto, a Spanish speaking Ilustrado as his Secretary of State. Jacinto had also written the Cartilla de Katipunan, which was translated into several regional languages.

During his friendship with Aguinaldo, the members of the Katipunan even planned to save Jose Rizal from execution. Most of the leaders voted in favour of the rescue operation, but Rizal’s brother Paciano opposed it, on the grounds that had Rizal was saved, the life of the famed hero will be more in great danger than ever.

Due to the success of Aguinaldo at Binakayan and the following battles in Cavite, he had gained the popularity of the Cavitenos and the Katipuneros began to fight among themselves. Aguinaldo had falsely accused him of being acting like a King. In order to settle disputes between the factions, the Supreme Council had decided that elections will be held at May 1897.

In May 1897, elections were held and some historians even said that the Tejeros Convention was the first instance of electoral fraud in the Philippines. Bonifacio was defeated in each position except the Director of the Interior.

Daniel Tirona had disputed his success which had forced Bonifacio to pull his gun and walked out.  Aguinaldo, the newly elected El Presidente of the new Revolutionary Government had ordered the arrest of Bonifacio. They were tried at a military tribunal with no defence and they were found guilty of high treason.

Aguinaldo had intended to lower the sentence to exile but his generals inisisted because Bonifacio might use the Visayas region to instigate a civil war. Bonifacio was executed together with his brother Procopio at Maragondon, Cavite.

These series of events in Luzon had caused the revolutionaries of Visayas to lose trust to the new government. They still recognised Bonifacio as the Supremo and not Aguinaldo. The Visayans were more successful than the revolutionaries of Luzon because of a unified chain of command.

They even planned to establish the Republic of Visayas which will become a part of a Confederation of the Philippines or Federation. Aguinaldo instead had sent 750 men to Iloilo to represent his authority. This had further angered the Visayan leaders and some even sided with the Americans.

Contrary to popular belief, the Philippine Republican Army (Ejercito Revolucionario Filipino) resembled the modern armies of Europe.

It had infantry, cavalry, artillery and a limited number of Maxim guns, an early form of machine gun. It was also filled with officers of the former Spanish Army. In fact the Spanish prisoners of war mostly joined the Ejercito Revolucionario Filipino. They had a uniform called the rayadillo designed by Juan Luna. They had the Academia Militar headed by a certain Colonel Sityar.

This is very contrary to the belief that the Katipuneros and then later the Ejercito Revolucionario Filipino were composed of hysterical peasants shouting war cries and armed with pikes, bolos and a few improvised firearms.

You may probably think that these soldiers marched in columns, you are right. If you had seen films about the Napoleonic Wars, that was the early tactic used by most of our generals: artillery bombardment, fixed bayonet charges, volley fire, cavalry charges and digging trenches.

On the other hand, General Antonio Luna had proposed to withdraw the bulk of the army to the Cordillera Mountains where he anticipated the building of several guerrilla camps and food farms. He was the main architect of the Luna Defence Line, which had made the advance of the Americans very difficult, but unfortunately the full stages of his plan were rejected by the High Command because the leaders were still busy squabbling for power.

It had lead to an overall lack of a unified chain of command, as various armies were loyal to their political cliques. By the start of the war, the Filipinos were even lacking commanders to lead the men to battle. The problem of the Army at that time was its incompetent general staff.

In the early stages of the war against the Americans, the Filipinos had the numerical advantage, but as we can see in early battles, the Filipinos had foolishly marched in the sound of gunfire, only to be annihilated by Gatling guns.

The insistence of the generals to implement the strategy of Luna had lead to the disasters at the battles of Caloocan, Calumpit, Malolos, San Fernando and Quingua. Aguinaldo had even Luna assassinated using the former soldiers of the Kawit Battalion. Interestingly, on the very same day that Luna died, Gen. Venancio Concepcion , then in Angeles, received a telegram from President Aguinaldo. It was sent from the Cabanatuan telegraph office; the transmission time  approximated the time of Luna’s assassination.

Aguinaldo informed General Concepcion that he (Aguinaldo), had taken charge of the military operations in Central Luzon in place of General Luna. The President further informed Concepcion that he was on his way to Bamban;  it was going to be Aguinaldo’s temporary executive and military general headquarters.

After Luna’s death, Aguinaldo ordered all chiefs of brigades under Luna arrested.  Some were killed like Major Manuel Bernal who was tortured first and his brother Captain Jose Bernal who was released but was later assassinated at Candaba, Pampanga Province, on June 16, 1899. Aguinaldo also ordered the disarming of two companies suspected of being pro-Luna.

The death of Luna had even shocked the Americans as they had said that Luna was the only general that the Republic had. Aguinaldo had in turn suffered successive defeats in battles, first losing Pampanga then Pangasinan.

In fact during the battle of Dagupan, Aguinaldo and his battered army of  2,500 men ran like bandits in the Cordilera Province. Gregorio Del Pilar had mounted a delaying action at Tirad Pass.

It was not two years later that Aguinaldo was captured in Isabela in 1901, thus ending the dream of the Supremo for an independent republic for 40 years. It was not until 1946, after the brief Japanese occupation that the Philippines had achieved its true Independencia.

It is said that history is written by those who have hanged heroes and education designed by the same murderers. In this contemporary world of democracy, freedom of speech and media, history tends to be a mirror of the people’s sentiments.

Because of this, many are dumb founded by the actions of our national heroes born a century before them from Jose Rizal’s disapproval of the revolution to Andres Bonifacio naming his new nation as Katagalugan, referring only to a single Filipino group.

Journalists and political analysts would justify this as Bonifacio honouring the indios and that in the constitution of the Katipunan, the Supremo wrote that Tagalogs referred to all the natives of the islands.

Yet his Katipunan consisted not merely of indios but also and in fact led by many mestizos such as Pantaleon Garcia, Edilberto Evangelista, Deodato Arellano and Andres Bonifacio himself.

Maybe in the future generation, these questions surrounding the famed Supremo of the Katipunan will be answered. But I firmly believe that we need to correct our history in order for the future generations to know the truth. We need to reform our education system and adopt the cultures of the other nations. In fact, the Propagandistas wanted the islands to be Hispanised.

We need to learn from these lessons in order to learn from these mistakes and move forward. This is my main point of writing this article, to inform the ordinary Filipinos about the truth. We need to move forward or else we will continue to live in failure and become indios forever.

Nick Joaquin’s A Question of Heroes is available in most Power Books and National Bookstore outlets. Parts of the article were lifted from Jose Mario Avinante and Wikimedia Commons.

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4 comments on “Da Pinoy Chronicle: On The Common Misconceptions Surrounding Andres Bonifacio

  1. Joshua Cuyos
    November 30, 2012

    Somehow, I’m having the impulse to become a high school teacher in AP due to some of the things I’ve been learning which were contrary to what I’ve learned in my high school days.

    And say, do you know of any other sources which would justify your claims about Bonifacio in this article?

  2. Joshua Cuyos
    November 30, 2012

    So the Philippines indeed became prosperous when we opened up our markets to world trade, right? But the question is that did that the local Filipinos benefited from it?

  3. Joshua Cuyos
    November 30, 2012

    I also wonder: why the hell would Teodoro Agoncillo promote such misconceptions about Bonifcaio?

  4. Queenie Habana
    May 13, 2013

    No … the first thing that comes in to my mind when I hear the name andres Bonifacio is ” isa siyang tunay na Pilipino sa isip , sa salita at SA gawa at isa siyang Tao na may malaking pagmamahal SA bansa ” ……. Why would a great historian like Agoncillo say such a thing 😦 …… Bonifacio is one of the greatest Philippine hero . His works inspired so many people ( including me ) …. if you ask me to describe Bonifacio it would take me so many years just to answer your question beacause Bonifacio is an amazing person that describing him in just one word or sentence is not enough …. if everyone in our country would be like Bonifacio I bet we would be the greatest country in the WORLD . Bonifacio is truly great and amazing 🙂 …. MABUHAY SI ANDRES CASTRO BONIFACIO !!!!

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