By Rudy D. Liporada
Global Balita January 1, 2015
The movie Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo is a refreshing bold reflection on what was really the role of Andres Bonifacio in the struggle of Filipinos against oppressors. This would be juxtaposed him against Jose Rizal, the so called national hero of the Philippines; and Emilio Aguinaldo who is presumed to have declared Philippine independence.
Questions are: Should Bonifacio not be the national hero; and is Emilio Aguinaldo’s independence declaration real?
We would not want to water down the contributions of Rizal and Aguinaldo in defining the miseries of the Indios at the crossroads of their being liberated from the Spaniards into the clutches of American colonialism in the late 1890’s. We must, however, identify their social positions which define their perspectives at that time and, perhaps, doubt if the accolades for which they are venerated for should really be offered to Bonifacio.
We could peg our doubt on a Renato Constantino reaction where he says: “In the histories of many nations, the national revolution represents a peak of achievement to which the minds of man return time and again in reverence and for a renewal of faith in freedom. For the national revolution is invariably the one period in a nation’s history when the people were most united, most involved, and most decisively active in the fight for freedom. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that almost always the leader of that revolution becomes the principal hero of his people. There is Washington for the United States, Lenin for the Soviet Union, Bolivar for Latin America, Sun Yat Sen, then Mao Tse-Tung for China and Ho Chi Minh for Vietnam. The unity between the venerated mass action and the honored single individual enhances the influence of both.”
All these heroes mentioned by Constantino united their people and raised arms against their oppressors towards liberation.
Rizal, educated and belonging to the landed elite, did not raise arms against the Spaniards. True, he aired the miseries of the indios but he was for reform, wanting for Filipinos to be equals of Spaniards so he could be a representative to the Spanish Cortez, be a part ruler of the indios. In his novels, he criticized those who would take up arms like his character, Simon. He even wrote his Noli and Fili in Spanish which the masses did not understand.
He even admonished Bonifacio when the later offered to help him escape from being imprisoned in Dapitan and warned him against armed rebellion – to the extent of threatening to expose the Katipunan, the revolutionary secret society, to the guardia civil.
As dispensation from his imprisonment, Rizal also applied to become a doctor in Cuba. Unfortunately for him, the revolution broke out while he was living the Philippines. Though he was for reform, the Spaniards judged his writings to be incendiary enough and blamed him for the uprising. He was then executed.
Aguinaldo, on the other hand, also educated and belonging to the landed elite, joined the revolution of Bonifacio when the struggle was already making headways. Ambition to grab the leadership, he contended that the Katipunan should cease to exist because it was a secret organization before the revolution. When the revolution erupted, Aguinaldo contended that the Katipunan was no longer a secret organization and that a new organization should be supplant it. He then called for an election and rigged it with his fellow educated and landed elite loyalist to name him supremo.
Insulted and feeling betrayed, Bonifacio refused to recognize the election. He was then branded a traitor by Aguinaldo, had him arrested and executed.
Lacking the fervor of a true Katipunero, Aguinaldo surrendered the movement at the Pact of Biak-na-Bato and exiled himself to Hong Kong with the money paid to him by the Spaniards.
Later on, Aguinaldo joined the Americans at the outbreak of the Spanish-American war. With the surrender of Spain to the Americans, Aguinaldo declared Philippine Independence of June 12, 1898. The proclamation document was signed by 98 personages who witnessed the phrase therein that included “under the protection of the Mighty and Humane North American nation.” Thus, Aguinaldo placed the so called First Philippine Republic as a mere protectorate of the United States. Moreover, the United States and Spain did not recognize this declaration. No satellite nation of both countries did.
Eventually, sensing that the Americans really wanted to colonize the Philippines, Aguinaldo declared war, but by then, under his leadership, the movement was already dissipated. He was eventually captured leading to his total capitulation and total annihilation of the revolutionary movement.
Compared to Rizal and Aguinaldo, Bonifacio came from the working class. Unlike the two, Bonifacio had no land holdings and was really from the poor oppressed class. His total commitment to the revolution was borne from a situation where he had no comforts to return to should he decide to vacillate in his commitment. Rizal had his landholdings, his profession, and his education. These made him capable of vacillation which he did. Aguinaldo, too, had land holdings, comforts, which led him to accept terms of surrender.
This begs the question: how then did Rizal become the national hero, how then did Aguinaldo prosper in history and Bonifacio relegated to a minor hero? History is written by the victors. As soon as the Americans suppressed the revolutionaries, they controlled the Philippine education with the coming of the Thomasites; and twisting of historical facts was an easy task.
Theodore Friend in his book, Between Two Empires, says that Taft “with other American colonial officials and some conservative Filipinos, chose him (Rizal) as a model hero over other contestants – Aguinaldo too militant, Bonifacio too radical, Mabini unregenerate.” This decision to sponsor Rizal was implemented with the passage of the following Acts of the Philippine Commission: (1) Act No. 137 which organized the politico-military district of Morong and named it the province of Rizal ‘in honor of the most illustrious Filipino and the most illustrious Tagalog the islands had ever known, ‘ (2) Act No.243 which authorized a public subscription for the erection of a monument in honor or Rizal at the Luneta, and (3) Act No. 346 which set aside the anniversary of his death as a day of observance”.
In short, the colonialists wanted the Filipinos to emulate an illustrado who would just advocate reforms, one who is against an armed uprising. It is no wonder that Rizal is depicted in his shrine at Luneta as one who is just standing passive, holding a book, just looking scholarly; not fiery advocating resistance – which the colonialists want every Filipino to just be.
And so it was that through decades of American molded education, Filipinos minds had been engrained with the notion that Bonifacio, a true fierce fighter for freedom, should not be the national hero.
Well, Bonifacio’s resurrection is so much needed now.