The present nationalist movement can be heard chanting Bonifacio’s name and battlecry: “Rebolusyon ni Bonifacio, Isulong mo, Bagong Tipo” [Bonifacio’s Revolution, Push for it Anew!. There are also groups calling for the declaration of Andres Bonifacio as the legitimate National Hero of the country. Indeed, there is much controversy revolving around the persona of Andres Bonifacio.
But who is he? What’s his legacy? Is he really the country’s ultimate national hero?
Bonifacio’s Birth and Early Life
Born on 30 November 1863, Andres is the son to Santiago, a tailor, a local politician, and a boatman, and to Catalina de Castro, a worker at the cigarrera (cigar factory). The couple worked extremely hard to support Andres and his five younger siblings, but in 1881 Catalina caught tuberculosis (“consumption”) and died. The following year, Santiago also became ill and passed away.
At the age of 19, Andres Bonifacio was forced to give up plans for higher education and begin working full-time to support his orphaned younger siblings. He worked for the British trading company J.M. Fleming & Co. as a broker or corredor for local raw materials such as tar and rattan. He later moved to the German firm Fressell & Co., where he worked as a bodeguero or grocer
Love, Family, Tragedy
Andres Bonifacio’s tragic family history during his youth seems to have followed him into his adulthood. Bonifacio was married twice (you may think, Andres is a womanizer, but no, he married twice for a different reason).
He was married first to a certain Monica of Palomar. She was Bonifacio’s neighbor in Tondo. Monica died of leprosy and they had no recorded children.
In 1892 Bonifacio, a 29-year-old widower, met the 18-year-old Gregoria de Jesús, through his friend Teodoro Plata who was her cousin. Gregoria, also called Oriang, was the daughter of a prominent citizen and landowner from Caloocan. Gregoria’s parents did not agree at first to their relationship as Andrés was a freemason and freemasons were then considered enemies of the Catholic church. Her parents eventually gave in and Andrés and Gregoria were married through a Catholic ceremony in Binondo Church in March 1893 or 1894. The couple also were married through Katipunan rites in a friend’s house in Sta. Cruz, Manila on the same day of their church wedding.
They had one son named Andrés, Jr., born on early 1896, who died of smallpox in infancy.
The Supremo Before the Katipunan
Before founding Katipunan, Andres was one of the founding members of José Rizal’s La Liga Filipina, an organization which called for political reforms in Spain’s 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 organizing local chapters in Manila. He would become the chief propagandist of the revived Liga.
La Liga was founded in 1982. La Liga Filipina contributed moral and financial support to the Propaganda Movement of Filipino reformists in Spain.
Andrés Bonifacio was also a member of Freemasonry with the lodge Taliba headed by Jose Dizon; and his pseudonym was Sinukuan, possibly taken from a Philippine mythological character Maria Sinukuan.
The Supremo and the Katipunan
On the night of July 7, 1892, the day after Rizal’s deportation was announced, Bonifacio and others officially “founded” the Katipunan, or in full, Kataastaasang Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (“Highest and Most Respected Society of the Country’s Children;” Bayan can also denote community, people, and nation). The secret society sought independence from Spain through armed revolt. It was influenced by Freemasonry through its rituals and organization, and several members including Bonifacio were also Freemasons. Within the society Bonifacio used the pseudonym May pag-asa (“There is Hope”).
For a time, Bonifacio worked with both the Katipunan and La Liga Filipina. La Liga eventually split because some members like Bonifacio lost hope for peaceful reform and stopped their monetary aid. The more conservative members, mostly wealthy members, who still believed in peaceful reforms set up the Cuerpo de Compromisarios, which pledged continued support to the reformists in Spain. The radicals were subsumed into the Katipunan.
From Manila, the Katipunan expanded to several provinces, including Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, and Nueva Ecija. Most of its members, called Katipuneros, came from the lower and middle classes, and many of its local leaders were prominent figures in their municipalities. At first exclusively male, membership was later extended to females, with Bonifacio’s wife Gregoria de Jesús as a leading member.
From the beginning, Bonifacio was one of the chief Katipunan officers, although he did not become its Supremo (supreme leader) or Presidente Supremo (Supreme President) until 1895. He 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 as its fiscal. The society had its own laws, bureaucratic structure and elective leadership. For each province involved, the Katipunan Supreme Council coordinated with provincial councils in charge of public administration and military affairs, and with local councils in charge of affairs on the district or barrio level.
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 Kartilya primer as the official teachings of the society in place of his own Decalogue, which he judged as inferior. Bonifacio, Jacinto and Pío 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 Tinubúang Lupà (approx. “Love for One’s Homeland) under the pseudonym Agapito Bagumbayan. The publication of Kalayaan in March 1896 led to a great increase in the society’s membership. The Katipunan movement spread throughout Luzon, to Panay in the Visayas and even as far as Mindanao. From less than 300 members in January 1896, it had 30,000 to 40,000 by August 1896.
The rapid increase in Katipunan activity drew the suspicion of the Spanish authorities. By early 1896, Spanish intelligence was aware of the existence of a seditious secret society, and suspects were kept under surveillance and arrests were made. On 3 May, Bonifacio held a general assembly of Katipunan leaders in Pasig, where they debated when to start the revolution. While some officers, especially Bonifacio, believed a revolution was inevitable, some members, especially Santiago Alvarez and Emilio Aguinaldo both of Cavite, expressed reservations and disagreement regarding the planned revolt due to lack of firearms. The consensus was to consult José Rizal in Dapitan before launching armed action, so Bonifacio sent Pío Valenzuela to Rizal. Rizal turned out to be against the revolution, believing it to be premature. He recommended more preparation, but suggested that, in the event the revolution did break out, they should seek the leadership of Antonio Luna, who was widely regarded as a brilliant military leader.
The Philippines Uprising
Over the summer of 1896, the Spanish colonial government began to realize that the Philippines was on the verge of revolt. On August 19, the authorities tried to preempt the uprising by arresting hundreds of people and jailing them under charges of treason – some of those swept up were genuinely involved in the movement, but many were not.
Among those arrested was Jose Rizal, who was on a ship in Manila Bay waiting to ship out for service as a military doctor in Cuba (this was part of his plea bargain with the Spanish government, in exchange for his release from prison in Mindanao). Bonifacio and two friends dressed up like sailors and made their way onto the ship and tried to convince Rizal to escape with them, but he refused; he was later put on trial in a Spanish kangaroo court and executed.
Bonifacio kicked off the revolt by leading thousands of his followers to tear up their community tax certificates or cedulas. This signaled their refusal to pay any more taxes to the Spanish colonial regime. Bonifacio named himself President and commander-in-chief of the Philippines revolutionary government, declaring the nation’s independence from Spain on August 23. He issued a manifesto, dated August 28, 1896, calling for “all towns to rise simultaneously and attack Manila,” and sent generals to lead the rebel forces in this offensive.
Attack on San Juan del Monte
Andres Bonifacio himself led an attack on the town of San Juan del Monte, intent on capturing Manila’s metro water station and the powder magazine from the Spanish garrison. Although they were vastly outnumbered, the Spanish troops inside managed to hold off Bonifacio’s forces until reinforcements arrived.
Bonifacio was forced to withdraw to Marikina, Montalban, and San Mateo; his group suffered heavy casualties. Elsewhere, other Katipunan groups attacked Spanish troops all around Manila. By early September, the revolution was spreading across the country.
The Fighting Intensifies
As Spain pulled all its resources back to defend the capital at Manila, rebel groups in other areas began to sweep up the token Spanish resistance left behind. The group in Cavite (a peninsula south of the capital, jutting into Manila Bay), had the greatest success in driving the Spanish out. Cavite’s rebels were led by an upper-class politician called Emilio Aguinaldo. By October of 1896, Aguinaldo’s forces held most of the peninsula.
Bonifacio led a separate faction from Morong, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) to the east of Manila. A third group under Mariano Llanera was based in Bulacan, north of the capital. Bonifacio appointed generals to establish bases in the mountains all over Luzon island.
Despite his earlier military reverses, Bonifacio personally led an attack on Marikina, Montalban, and San Mateo. Although he initially succeeded in driving the Spanish out of those towns, they soon recaptured the cities, nearly killing Bonifacio when a bullet went through his collar.
Budding Rivalry with Aguinaldo
Aguinaldo’s faction in Cavite was in competition with a second rebel group headed by an uncle of Gregoria de Jesus, Bonifacio’s wife. As a more successful military leader and a member of a much wealthier, more influential family, Emilio Aguinaldo felt justified in formed his own rebel government in opposition to Bonifacio’s. On March 22, 1897, Aguinaldo rigged an election at the rebels’ Tejeros Convention to show that he was the proper president of the revolutionary government.
To Bonifacio’s shame, he not only lost the presidency to Aguinaldo, but was appointed to the lowly post of Secretary of the Interior. When Daniel Tirona questioned his fitness even for that job, based on Bonifacio’s lack of a university education, the humiliated former president pulled a gun and would have killed Tirona if a bystander had not stopped him.
Sham Trial and Execution
After Emilio Aguinaldo “won” the rigged election at Tejeros, Andres Bonifacio refused to recognize the new rebel government. Aguinaldo sent a group to arrest Bonifacio; the opposition leader did not realize that they were there with ill intent, and allowed them into his camp. They shot down his brother Ciriaco, seriously beat his brother Procopio, and some reports say that they also raped his young wife Gregoria.
Aguinaldo had Bonifacio and Procopio tried for treason and sedition. After a one-day sham trial, in which the defense lawyer averred their guilt rather than defending them, both Bonifacios were convicted and sentenced to death.
Aguinaldo commuted the death sentence on May 8, but then reinstated it. On May 10, 1897, both Procopio and Andres Bonifacio likely were shot dead by a firing squad on Nagpatong Mountain. Some accounts say that Andres was too weak to stand, due to untreated battle wounds, and was actually hacked to death in his stretcher instead. Andres was just 34 years old.
The Supremo’s Legacy
As the first self-declared President of the independent Philippines, as well as the first leader of the Philippine Revolution, Andres Bonifacio is a crucial figure in that nation’s history. However, his exact legacy is the subject of dispute among Filipino scholars and citizens.
Jose Rizal is the most widely recognized “national hero of the Philippines,” although he advocated a more pacifist approach of reforming Spanish colonial rule rather than overthrowing it by force. Aguinaldo is generally cited as the first president of the Philippines, even though Bonifacio took on that title before Aguinaldo did. Some historians feel that Bonifacio has gotten short shrift, and should be set beside Rizal on the national pedestal.
Andres Bonifacio has been honored with a national holiday on his birthday, however, just like Rizal. November 30 is Bonifacio Day in the Philippines.
Bonifacio, Andres. The Writings and Trial of Andres Bonifacio, Manila: University of the Philippines, 1963.
Constantino, Letizia. The Philippines: A Past Revisited, Manila: Tala Publishing Services, 1975.
Ileta, Reynaldo Clemena. Filipinos and their Revolution: Event, Discourse, and Historiography, Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1998.