Philippine Historical Figure: Andrés Bonifacio

Andrés Bonifacio, The Father of the Philippine Revolution (November 30, 1863 – May 10, 1897) was a Filipino nationalist and revolutionary. He was a founder and leader of the Katipunan movement which sought the independence of the Philippines from Spanish colonial rule and started the Philippine Revolution. He is considered a de facto national hero of the Philippines. Bonifacio is also considered by some Filipino historians to be the first president of the Philippines.

Early Life

Andrés Bonifacio was born in Tondo, Manila, the oldest of four brothers and two sisters of Santiago BOnifacio and Catalina de Castro. Orphaned at an early age, he and his siblings made canes and paper fans and sold them to make a living. With only elementary school level education due to poverty, Bonifacio was employed as a clerk-messenger in Fleming and Co. a British commercial firm where he learned rudiments of the English language. Later, he worked at Fresell and Co., a German Commercial firm. To educate himself, he bought and avidly read books deep in the night under the flickering light of a lamp. He read Rizal’s Noli and Fili. He had seen and heard enough of the sufferings of the poor and the abuses of the Spanish authorities. He read Les Miserables, The Ruins of Palmyras, and the History of the French Revolution.

To improve his Tagalog, he joined the dramatic society in Tondo, and took part in moro-moro. He and his friends founded the El Teatro Porvenir.

KKK (Katipunan)

No, it’s not that KKK that may come to mind. KKK stands for Kataastaasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (“Highest and Most Respected Society of the Sons of the Country”) or Katipunan for short, which is a secret society that began with the commoners recruited by Bonifacio from his home districts of Tondo and Trozo. The secret society sought independence from Spain through armed revolt. It was influenced by Freemasonry through its rituals and organization, and several members aside from Bonifacio were also Freemasons. Within the society Bonifacio used the pseudonym May pag-asa(“There is Hope”).

From the beginning, Bonifacio was one of the chief Katipunan officers, though he did not become its Supremo (supreme leader) or Presidente Supremo (Supreme President) until 1895. Bonifacio was the third head of the Katipunan after Deodato Arellano and Román Basa. Prior to this, he served as the society’s comptroller and then its fiscal. The society had its own laws, bureaucratic structure and elective leadership. For each province it involved, the Katipunan Supreme Council coordinated provincial councils in charge of public administration and military affairs and local councils in charge of affairs on the district or barrio level. Bonifacio was a member and eventually head of the Katipunan Supreme Council.

Within the society, Bonifacio developed a strong friendship with Emilio Jacinto who served as his adviser and confidant, as well as a member of the Supreme Council. Bonifacio adopted Jacinto’s Kartilla primer as the official teachings of the society in place of his own Decalogue which he judged as inferior. Bonifacio, Jacinto and Pio Valenzuela collaborated on the society’s organ Kalayaan (Freedom), which had only one printed issue. Bonifacio wrote several pieces for the paper, including the poem Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupà (roughly, “Love for the homeland) under the pseudonym Agapito Bagumbayan. The publication of Kalayaan in March 1896 led to a great increase in membership. The Katipunan spread throughout Luzon, toPanay in the Visayas and even as far as Mindanao. From less than 300 members in January 1896, it had about 30,000 to 400,000 by August.

The rapid increase of Katipunan activity drew the suspicion of the Spanish authorities. By early 1896, Spanish intelligence was aware of the existence of a seditious secret society. Suspects were kept under surveillance and arrests were made. On May 3, Bonifacio held a general assembly of Katipunan leaders in Pasig where they debated when to start their revolt. While Bonifacio wanted to revolt as soon as possible, Emilio Aguinaldo of Cavite expressed reservations due to their lack of firearms. The consensus was to consult José Rizal in Dapitan before launching their revolt. Bonifacio sent Pio Valenzuela to Rizal, who was against a premature revolution and recommended prior preparation.

Philippine Revolution

Bonifacio was a great organizer and a firebrand, but he had no military training. The Spanish infantry, cavalry, and navy were formidable with their superior firepower to the Katipuneros who only had bolos, daggers, bamboo spears, wooden clubs, and some revolvers and shot guns. August 29-30 marked Bonifacio’s fading out. The rest of his story was anti-climatic until his death on May 10, 1897, a fatal consequence of a politcal struggle for leadership against Emilio Aguinaldo in Cavite when intense battles were taking place against the advancing Spanish forces. For these reasons, this will be the first and last time where I mention Emilio Aguinaldo’s name as I’m not a huge fan of the first President of the Philippines for ordering the execution of Bonifacio. The spirit of the Katipunan continued to live long after Bonifacio’s death. The Americans thought that the capture of Aguinaldo in Palanan on March 23, 1901 marked the end of the Filipino resistance. This is incorrect because guerrilla warfare continued until 1906 through the spirit of Bonifacio’s Katipunan that refused to die.

References:
Andres Bonifacio: 1863-1897. United States Library of Congress.
Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog
The Records of the Court Martial of Andres and Procopio Bonifacio
Bernardo, Fernando A. 2000. Silent storms: inspiring lives of 101 great Filipinos
Zaide, Gregorio F. Great Filipinos in History. Manila: Verde Bookstore, 1965
Villareal, Hector K. et al. Eminent Filipinos: Manila: National Historical Commission, 1965

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