The Tragedy of Andres Bonifacio

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The Tragedy Of Andres Bonifacio

Philippine Daily Inquirer

November 27, 2005

Isagani A. Cruz

Let me express these non-historian's thoughts about a patriot of our land whose birth anniversary we shall celebrate this coming Wednesday. It is an official holiday declared by law in his honor as Bonifacio Day.

Andres Bonifacio was the unknown indio who organized and led the Katipunan that was to ignite the Philippine Revolution of 1896 and ultimately free this country from Spanish rule after more than three centuries of oppression. That enslavement might have continued indefinitely (probably up to now, considering the tribulation we patiently endured during the ordeal of martial law), if he had not chosen to defy the alien tyrant in his impregnable citadel.

Bonifacio was not known as a civic leader and did not belong to the principalia of middle-class educated natives that included among its members Jose Rizal and other propagandists. He joined the Liga Filipina but was not prominently active in it. He was a private person with a secret dream and consuming passion: to form the Kataastaasan at Kagalanggalang na Katipunan ng manga Anak ng Bayan. It was a task in which he excelled and succeeded as an efficient organizer and a dedicated plotter.

I think it was the historian Teodoro Agoncillo who disagreed with the popular notion that as between Bonifacio and Rizal, it was the former who was the realist and the latter the idealist. Agoncillo held the opposite view, with which I humbly concur.

Bonifacio was the idealist because he believed the Katipuneros would win despite their limited resources because they were fired by the spirit of liberty. Rizal, who was more practical, argued that an appeal to reason and justice was sharper than the Filipinos' rusted bolos against the Spanish artillery that he challenged with the Noli and the Fili.

Both of them, to their everlasting credit, died for their convictions. It is regrettable, though, that while Rizal's execution inspired the nation to great sacrifices in their fight for freedom, Bonifacio's death did not attract similar sentiments. He was killed in a secluded place away from the now hallowed field where Rizal was felled. And to deepen Bonifacio's tragedy, it created little interest among the people he had died to help make free.

It is a sad but unavoidable assessment that for all his achievements in forming the Katipunan that began with a small group of patriots until it swelled into an avenging nation, Bonifacio was less successful as a soldier on the field of battle. Let us note, but not derisively, that his military record was less than impressive, unlike that of the former school teacher from Kawit who became a better general.

Emilio Aguinaldo's skirmishes against the Spanish forces catapulted him to national prominence and potential leadership in the fight for independence. Soon people were comparing him with, and even against, the Supremo of the Katipunan. The man who shouted the historic Cry of Pugad Lawin on Aug. 26, 1896, was now facing a formidable rival for the leadership of the Revolution. Bonifacio was to lose that final fight.

To the military shortcomings of Bonifacio must be added his lack of political acumen. This was demonstrated when he agreed to go to Cavite for what turned out to be a showdown between him and Aguinaldo. Bonifacio might have proposed that the meeting be held in his native Manila, which was after all the capital of the country, or if this was impractical, at least a neutral place. Instead he willingly went to his rival's bailiwick, where his followers were outnumbered by Aguinaldo's comprovincianos.

Aguinaldo was elected president of the new government to replace the Katipunan, and Bonifacio, the erstwhile acknowledged leader of the Revolution, was demoted to a mere member of the Cabinet. Outwitted and outflanked, Bonifacio refused to recognize the election and angrily marched away with his followers. His...
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