Do we really know Bonifacio?


I know its been more than a week since the day we officially remember and recognize the Great Plebian. However, something came to my attention that has never occured to me before. Do we really know the guy?

The name Bonifacio is one that will stand high among the most important people in history, immortalized by his deeds and what we remember of them during our country’s violent birth. However, what do we really know about the man that sparked a revolution at the Cry of Pugad Lawin?
We of course know from very early schooling all tha basics of the personal history of Bonifacio. He was one of a founder and later the supreme leader of the Katipunan movement which sought the independence of the Philippines from Spanish colonial rule and started the Philippine Revolution. While there are some opinions that are more controversial and not as widely supported. He is considered by a small number of historians as the de facto national hero of the Philippines. Putting into consideration the well documented arguments against the choice of Rizal as being hi-jacked by American colonists and that Andres was in fact the first to move the country towards complete independence. As well as the first president of the Philippines if not for the treachery of powers moving behind the scenes and a series of unfortunate inconsolable misunderstandings within the Katipunan that led to his trial and execution, but he is not officially recognized as such.

In fact according to Spanish historian Jose M. del Castillo, in his 1897 work “El Katipunan” or “El Filibusterismo en Filipinas,” describes the first national elections in the Philippines from which Bonifacio emerged as the President, and Plata, Jacinto, del Rosario, Pantas and Pacheco as cabinet officials. This is corroborated by the February 8, 1897 issue of the international publication “La Ilustracion Espanola y Americana” in its article about the Philippine revolution and which featured an engraved portrait of “Andres Bonifacio, Titulado ‘Presidente’ de la Republica Tagala,” clad in a dark suit and white tie. This was of course not formally recognized and considered null because of ahem ahem.
Almost everything we know about the man can be attributed to the work of historians, most notably Teodoro Agoncillo who wrote the book “Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan” who had this to say about his research and findings:

In dealing with Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan, I have laid more emphasis on the latter than on its founder and organizer, firstly because of the dearth of materials on his life, and secondly, because it is my belief that Bonifacio can best be sen and appreciated against the backdrop of the revolutionary society. He could not have been greater than the Katipunan. Nor could he have risen above it. To understand him, one must understand the Katipunan. He looms great because of the society. He must, therefore, be seen in and through the Katipuanan, and this method of unraveling the thin and scattered threads of his life is valid only because of the lack of materials.
    In examining my sources of information, I have adopted the attitude of friendly hostility. It has been my experience that most of the errors in the difficult task of interpretation–which, after all, is the most important in any book–spring from the scholar’s uncritical attitude. He takes for granted that the fame of an author is sufficient guaranty of reliability and competence. Such mental outlook smacks of hypocrisy and cowardice. I have, therefore, dismissed this line of reasoning as inadequate. In this book, I have subjected my sources to a severe scrutiny, looked for loopholes, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies in order to arrive at a balanced conclusion. Ricarte, for instance, hitherto, regarded as incontrovertible, is, after a careful examination, not always accurate and reliable. So is General Pio del Pilar. So are certain documents on the trial and death of Bonifacio. And so are some of the opinions expressed by the great scholars Epifanio de los Santos and Teodoro M. Kalaw. I shall probably hear loud protests and whispered innuendos, but I invite the potential objectors to my method to read my Notes carefully, for in them I have embodied th reasons for repudiating some of the claims of famous scholars, for dismissing this authority and for accepting that document.
However, a cloud of doubt passed over the name and legacy of the Father of the Katipunan most notably in the book by Glenn Anthony May entitled “Inventing a Hero” wherein he made bold and controversial claims such as:
In effect, Bonifacio has been posthumously re-created. He has been given a new personality and a childhood that may bear little resemblance to his real one….to inform Filipinos about their glorious recent past, to promote national pride, and to do some of that by rescuing Andres Bonifacio from obscurity
He claims, through a close reading of the documents left behind by the man himself after his execution, that he uncovers a history of mythmaking in the service of nationalism. Our contemporary image of Bonifacio is the sum of unreliable personal testimony and dubious, possibly doctored, documents. If the real history of the Philippine Revolution is to be written, historians will have to break through these heroic myths and admit to the limitations of the existing sources.
It comes as no surprise that these claims have come under very heavy criticism, especially since the the author was American.
In an article he defended his stance saying that it [his book] questions whether his correspondence with his fellow revolutionary Emilio Jacinto was, in fact, written by him. This is very important since Emilio Jacinto “the Brains of the Katipunan” remained steadfastly loyal to the Supremo even after his execution, refusing to join Aguinaldos troops. It questions whether existing accounts of what is, arguably, the most crucial event in Bonifacio’s life — the Tejeros Assembly, the meeting at which Bonifacio was replaced by Emilio Aguinaldo as leader of the revolutionary movement — can be credited.
It questions whether prevailing views of Bonifacio’s personality — views that have been shaped by a celebrated book by the celebrated Philippine historian Teodoro Agoncillo — bear any relation to reality.
    My principal argument is that those six men [Manuel Artigas, father and son Epifanio de los Santos, and Jose P. Santos, Artemio Ricarte, Teodoro Agoncillo and Reynaldo Ileto.] posthumously reconstructed Bonifacio, collectively creating the man we find in the textbooks.
    The depicters, wanted to romanticize, idealize, and, to a certain extent, sanitize Bonifacio to promote particular political agenda. All five were, in their days, prominent, outspoken nationalists, interested in freeing the Philippines from all traces of alien rule, influencing other Filipinos to join their cause, and providing young Filipinos with heroic historical models they could look up to and emulate.
    For all five, Bonifacio — or, rather, the version of Bonifacio that emerged from their posthumous re-creation of the man — served as the key symbol of the Philippine nation and a vital element in the creation of a national political identity.
In this vein of argument, it seems that May has a critical and (for the most part) correct point. In terms that it seems that the “re-creation of Bonifacio” (if there ever was such a thing) in order to serve as a national symbol seemed to have succeeded. And there is good reason to at least think (or re-think) the things we know about Bonifacio. For there are in fact things that are commonly accepted about the man that are completely wrong.

(1) It is highly unlikely that Bonifacio ever wore a red kerchief with a bright white shirt into battle. This is important because this costume has been a staple for anyone who has ever depicted or portrayed Bonifacio in film, television, photographs and paintings. The reason this might be wrong is that whoever would wear this while engaging in guerilla style skirmishes and battles would become any marksmans dream, he would stick out in every kind of imaginable terrain (except say absolute darkness).

(2) It is widely accepted that Bonifacios weapon of choice is a bolo. This is wrong. Much like everyone else he preferred a pistol.

And he calls to question some aspects of the Bonifacio story that may be suspect. If Bonifacio really was an uneducated layman that counted himself amongst the class of the impoverished how did he find himself in the company of the illustrados that ran the La Liga? How did he gain membership into the Freemasons?

There could be less controversial explanations than what May forwards. It could really just be hard work and determination that allowed the young Andres to move up in life but I doubt we’ll ever be sure.
However, it seems that though Mays work has been by and large rejected, by the reviewers of the Ateneo de Manila University Press stating that the book failed to “employ methodology and truthful/factual knowledge about the Philippines and its language(s) and culture(s) in the scholarship efforts of foreigners and Filipinos alike. it seems it has caused a spark to open a door of inquiry into the matter.
“Glenn May has subjected to painstaking scrutiny the primary sources that have been used to write the history of Bonifacio and the Philippine Revolution of 1896, as well as the principal secondary works dependent on them. Though the results will dismay some, and I would question or nuance certain points, no historian who has used these sources— including myself—can fail to go back and check his work against May’s findings on the reliability of these primary documents.” —John N. Schumacher, S.J., Ateneo de Manila University.
So who was Andres Bonifacio? Was he really a man that represented the masses in a time when social classes were considered concrete walls that divided society as absolutely as the caste system? Or was he a man completely different from the one we all know to have learned about since our earliest memories?
Whichever the case, there is one indisputable truth. Andres Bonifacio, whatever his former circumstances may be, was a man who saw injustice in a society and a country he called his home and was one of many who heeded the call to gather whatever courage they could afford to become a hero.

Isang Tugon to “Do we really know Bonifacio?”

  1. it help a lot! Thanks. 🙂

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