Andres Bonifacio, The Great Plebian
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Today, Nov. 30 is Bonifacio Day
Many Filipino nationalists think Andres Bonifacio, the Father of the Philippine Revolution, is a greater national hero than the intellectual, physician, poet, essayist and novelist Jose Rizal. An auto-didact, Bonifacio founded the Katipunan and was its Supremo. He started the revolution against Spain, against the advice of Rizal who wanted the revolutionaries to be better trained and armed.
Bonifacio launched a nationwide revolution anyway. He called for mobilization and simultaneous raids on Spanish installations. He declared the transformation of the Katipunan into a revolutionary government, with himself as president and commander in chief of the army. He formed a Cabinet. He appointed the Katipunan military leaders as generals.
Bonifacio won battles and lost some. Until the point when there were three major centers of revolt.
Cavite was under the upper-class, educated Katipunero, Emilio Aguinaldo. Bulacan was under Mariano Llanera of the skull flag. And Morong was under Andres Bonifacio.
Morong consisted of the present Rizal province and most of the present Metro Manila (except the Walled City and the present city of Manila).
To the careless observer, the revolt appeared to be most successful in Cavite, because the province had virtually fallen under the control of Aguinaldo’s forces. But this happened only because the colonial government had withdrawn the Spanish soldiers from Cavite and other provinces to defend Manila from Bonifacio and his mostly bolo-wielding Katipunan army. Still, the Cavite revolutionaries looked like better soldiers led by better commanders.
All the provinces, including Cavite, accepted Bonifacio as the supreme leader. But every time he lost a battle, Bonifacio’s reputation fell and Aguinaldo’s star rose.
Magdiwang vs. Magdalo
In Cavite rebels loyal to Bonifacio belonged to the Magdiwang faction. Its chief was Mariano Alvarez, an uncle of Bonifacio’s wife, the heroine Gregoria de Jesus.
Emilio Aguinaldo’s brother, Baldomero, led the rival faction, the Magdalo.
To divide and weaken the revolutionary forces, the Spaniards made a show of being more impressed with Aguinaldo. They tried to initiate peace talks with him. This was of course insulting to Bonifacio.
As Emilio Aguinaldo won victory after victory, in relatively smaller battles than those that Bonifacio fought in Manila and Morong, the enmity between the Magdalo and Magdiwang grew.
The rivals did not help each other in their military campaigns. The clash so heated up as to require the Supremo to go to Cavite to mediate between the two factions.
With only a few troops, Bonifacio entered Cavite province with his wife, his brothers Procopio and Ciriaco. Aguinaldo’s superior attitude irked the Supremo. The Magdalo men were so disrespectful, in anger he nearly shot one of them, Daniel Tirona.
But Aguinaldo also resented Bonifacio for acting as if he were a king.
The meeting to end the rivalry between the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions was held in Imus. The Magdalo people spoke of rumors, unfounded allegations and the leadership of the Katipunan itself. Soon Bonifacio found himself having to prove that he was not running the revolutionary government like a monarch, that his government was republican and democratic. He told his detractors each Katipunero, no matter how lowly his rank, had a vote equal to that of any other man.
Political trap he did not see
Bonifacio was in a political trap he did not recognize. He agreed to resolve the Magdalo-Magdiwang rivalry and the leadership issue through an election in Tejeros, Cavite. Despite the arrogance and rudeness of Aguinaldo’s men, despite his realization that the election was not proper because there were no Katipunan members from the other provinces, despite warnings that the balloting would be rigged, the Supremo remained so confident of winning. Before voting began, he solemnly asked everyone to respect the election results gracefully. Then he presided over the election.
Of course, Bonifacio lost to Emilio Aguinaldo, who was not even there. Someone suggested that Bonifacio be made the vice president. No one seconded the motion.
The election for lesser offices continued. Mariano Trias, who was supposed to be a Magdiwang and therefore pro-Bonifacio, was elected vice president. Position by position, other officers of the revolutionary government were elected, until Bonifacio was chosen director of the Interior. Before he could be proclaimed in that position, Daniel Tirona, the man Bonifacio had almost shot days, spoke up. He said the position could not possibly be held by a non-lawyer. He then nominated a prominent lawyer for the position.
Bonifacio demanded an apology from Tirona, who turned his back to the leave the hall. Bonifacio drew his gun and was about to shot Tirona but Artemio Ricarte, another Magdiwang man, who had been elected Captain-General, stopped the ousted Supremo.
People were walking out of the hall as Bonifacio cried out: I am the president of this assembly and as president of the Supreme Council of the Katipunan, as all of you do not deny, I declare this assembly dissolved, and I annul all that has been approved and resolved.
That next day, President Aguinaldo took his oath of office.
The tragedy of the revolution
Bonifacio and his supporters wrote the Acta de Tejeros, denouncing the election for being fraudulent. They accused Aguinaldo of treason because he was negotiating with the Spaniards. (Aguinaldo wasn’t).
President Aguinaldo had Bonifacio arrested, tried and executed.
Read Adrian Cristobal’s book, The Tragedy of the Revolution. It’s an artistic analysis of the life and meaning of Andres Bonifacio. It will make you wish the Supremo had listened to Jose Rizal.