Thursday, April 03, 2008
Andres Bonifacio, a central figure in the Katipunan, was born into a lower middle class family. This was one of the reasons why Katipunan attracted many from the ranks of the masses: people from under the social strata identified with Bonifacio who was one of their own.
While he was so poor that he did not go beyond second year high school, he was a voracious reader especially on the subject of revolution. Among the books found in his home when it was searched by authorities included copies of Rizal's novels, Les Miserables, The Wandering Jew, La Solidaridad, masonic papers and revolutionary speeches.Bonifacio was not a barbaric person who put up an armed struggle because of his violent nature as what some textbooks produce. His fascination with hundreds of foreign novels, books about the French revolution, politics, law, and religion prove the sophisticated individual that he was. The books that he consumed became his instrument to realize that freedom is the most significant element of a sovereign nation. He knew that it mattered to be free from the bonds of a foreign ruler. He interrogated the unfair rights given to the Filipinos, while the Spaniards, who were the real foreigners in the country, were given all the privileges.
Bonifacio was one of the founders of La Liga Filipina, the reformist society organized by Jose Rizal. While it was relatively harmless, the Spanish authorities believed it attracted people who desired drastic social changes and had Rizal arrested and deported to Dapitan. While the league was a brainchild of an ilustrado, Bonifacio reorganized the league until its split into factions strengthened the secret society called Katipunan. This proved Bonifacio’s capacity to synthesize the middle class and the masses. After all, theirs was a common struggle that defied class and racial structures: the experience of colonialism which had to end. What started as a movement for peaceful assimilation shifted to radical separation.
In the beginning, the early leadership of the Katipunan fell into the hands of the middle class, but its composition and subsequent leadership belonged to the masses. As mentioned, the synthesis of the ilustrados and the masses was made possible by Bonifacio, an implication of his popular leadership. The Katipunan itself was able to recruit workers, peasants, soldiers, government officials, employees, merchants, teachers and priests. Bonifacio’s charisma suited him as a leader of the numerous cross-sections.
When the Katipunan was discovered prematurely, Bonifacio and other Katipunan leaders went to Balintawak where they met the masses at the yard of Melchora Aquino to convince the movement to start the revolution. They tore their cedulas in a symbolic gesture of breaking the ties from Spain. The Katipuneros, led by Bonifacio, had to prepare for the inevitable: the struggle for colonial independence.
When the revolt spread, Bonifacio set up camp in the mountains of Montalban where Katipuneros joined them daily. Their gained strength enabled them to attack the Spanish troops in San Mateo and to take over the town. But since Bonifacio had no military training, Bonifacio suffered numerous defeats in the heightened campaign of the Spanish government. His reputation dwindled at the moment Emilio Aguinaldo, his colleague and rival at the Katipunan, was earning prestige in the Cavite rebellion. However, Bonifacio could be said to be a lot different from Aguinaldo in that he had that single-minded motive of seeing his country independent from any colonial power. His lack of martial training, he compensated for his sincere desire to fight to the end for Philippine freedom.
The rivalry between Bonifacio and Aguinaldo led the latter to wage a campaign to replace the former as leader of the Katipunan. When the Tejeros convention yielded the presidency of Biak-na-Bato Republic to middle-class Aguinaldo, the mass-led Revolution by Bonifacio was superseded by a pact made between the Spaniards and the revolutionaries for the revolt to end in exchange for the people's revolutionary demands. The day Aguinaldo assumed leadership of the revolutionary government, the cause of the common people as believed by Bonifacio had already died.
The defeat of Bonifacio at Tejeros was the signal of the masses’ surrender of the Revolution to the ilustrados. Bonifacio believed he was still the Katipunan's Supremo so he founded a new government apart from the one formed in Tejeros. When he refused to submit to Aguinaldo's authority owing to the rigged election that stole the leadership from him, Bonifacio was charged with sedition. He was tried but in fact, Aguinaldo only wanted to eliminate him so Aguinaldo can take charge of the Revolution. Bonifacio had to die to stabilize Aguinaldo's leadership.
His trial was rather unfair, for Bonifacio was not even allowed a good chance to give self-defense. Bonifacio was eventually sentenced to death, because an alive Bonifacio would just cause threat and division in the revolutionary movement. It was allegedly in the best interest of the revolution to do away with Bonifacio.
One of the significant heroes during our country’s armed quest for independence, Andres Bonifacio may not have lived to see this ambition being fulfilled to reality, but he is one of the main reasons why the Philippines gained freedom. Bonifacio is known as the “Father of the Philippine Revolution.”
Constantino, Renato. The Philippines: A Past Revisited. Quezon City: Constantino, 1998, 166.