Editorial: Supremo Andres Bonifacio revisited

Today, Nov. 30, is Andres Bonifacio’s birthday, a national holiday. Another national holiday is on Dec. 30—Rizal Day. This date is not Jose Rizal’s birthday, but the date of his execution at the hands of Spanish colonial authorities.

Bonifacio’s death was also via execution on May 10, 1897, but not at the hands of a foreign power. The Katipunan Supremo and his brother were executed by fellow Filipino revolutionaries for “treason” at the height of the 1896 Philippine Revolution. The soldiers who executed the Bonifacio brothers belonged to the Magdalo wing of the Katipunan loyal to Emilio Aguinaldo. Katipunan was the secret society founded by Andres Bonifacio.

Most, if not all, classroom history lessons on Filipino patriots who fought colonial powers are about their heroic traits, their virtues. Some students would find history a boring subject as there is nothing new about it—teachers make them memorize dates of the heroes’ birth and death, the books the heroes read, the heroes’ romances, the heroes’ sojourns in other countries, among others.

The Filipino vs. the Filipino narrative in the Philippine Revolution can be read not in textbooks, but in history books written by historians or writers who have dug deep into the past.

National Artist Nick Joaquin did dig into the past, including the heroes’ flaws. Joaquin wrote a book, “Question of Heroes,” which examines the humanity and flaws of Filipino heroes. One of the essays in the book is titled, “Why Fell the Supremo?” It narrates the events leading to Bonifacio’s demise and the hero’s flaws.

He wrote that Bonifacio went to Cavite in December 1896 after the Battle of San Juan. The Manila Katipuneros led by Bonifacio had failed to make any breakthrough in the battle. The revolution in Cavite, Joaquin wrote, had “a baptism of triumph” as Aguinaldo and the rest of the Cavite Katipuneros had been able to capture three towns in the southern Luzon province from Spanish forces. Bonifacio traveled to Cavite to “ostensibly mediate between the Magdiwang and Magdalo” factions, but he was only invited by the Magdiwang led by the relative of Bonifacio’s wife. The Supremo reportedly arrived in the province “like a king.”

“In Cavite, (Bonifacio) could have accomplished what he failed to do in San Juan: lead the Revolution to Manila. But to be able to lead the Caviteños, he had to fire them with an enthusiasm larger than their local pride, and to symbolize this larger spirit himself by rising above both the Magdiwang and the Magdalo. Instead, he became as pettily factional as they were,” Joaquin wrote.

Talking about the Filipino heroes’ flaws is not a mockery. Talking about their flaws makes them human, thus making them relatable. Looking into the heroes’ flaws could be guideposts for Filipino citizens and current and future leaders.

The story about Bonifacio’s demise and the factionalism within the Katipunan could be related to modern Philippine politics, especially during the election season: Political alliances are as fragile as a cup of glass and betrayals could happen as fast as lightning.