Napoleon Bonaparte once defined history as “the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” If such is the case, then there may well be solid basis to the never-ending debate on the life, death and legacy of Andres Bonifacio, dubbed the “Father of the Philippine Revolution,” and supposedly the Philippines’ rightful National Hero.
As the country celebrates Bonifacio Day anew on November 30, The Sunday Times Magazine decided to recall the life and times of Andres Bonifacio outside history books, by visiting the Museo ng Katipunan (Katipunan Museum) in San Juan City.
Touted as “the first and only museum built to showcase the contributions of the Kataastaasang Kagalang-galang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (officially translated as the “Highest and Most Honorable Society of the Children of the Nation”), the modest two-storey building indeed offers new insights to the revolutionary movement founded by Bonifacio in 1892 to fight the Spaniards.
The visit took place on a Wednesday morning, as a group of school children were we
ll into their tour of the museum. It turned out that the sizeable cluster was only a fraction of the museum’s expected guests for the day.
“We accommodate up to 40 buses from different schools daily,” Kathleen Evangelista, a museum guide of Museo ng Katipunan related. “November is one of our busiest months because it is also a popular month for school field trips.”
A favorite choice for school field trips because of its accessibility and free admission, the Katipunan Museum was inaugurated on August 27, 2013 by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP)—the same government body that built and administers museums such as Fort Santiago, Mabini Museum in PUP-Sta. Mesa, Manuel Quezon Museum in Quezon City Circle, and 17 other museums all-over the country, farthest of which is in Dapitan, where de facto National Hero Jose Rizal was exiled.
Evangelista revealed that there had been a previous museum that paid homage to the Katipuneros, the Museo ng Rebolusyon, inaugurated on August 30, 1996. Built to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Battle of Pinaglabanan—considered “the first real battle of the Philippine Revolution”—the more compact museum was demolished in 2006 to give way to a new larger building that is now the Musueo ng Katipunan.
The Katipunan Museum is first and foremost a museum dedicated to the historical revolutionary movement with original relics and replicas used by the Katipuneros during their time.
Christian Melendez, the Shrine Curator at Katipunan Museum, informed The Sunday Times Magazine that the main goal of the museum is to raise awareness among Filipinos on the plight of these freedom fighters.
“First, we want to highlight the heroism of Andres Bonifacio and his fellow Katipuneros; second, to correct and to update visitors on information about them; and finally, to establish the museum and the shrine as a historical site and a tourist spot.”
Exhibited all over the museum are bolos, medallions, documents such as the Kartilya (Primer) and Dekalogo ng Katipunan (Ten Commandments), anting-anting (amulets), and more importantly, replications of the Archivo General Militar de Madrid (AGMM) or “Katipunan Documents” seized by Spanish authorities during the Philippine Revolution.
These records show, among others, inaccuracies in history books as meticulous as the fact that the second “K” in “KKK” stands for “Kagalang-galang” as opposed to “Kagalanggalangan,” which saw print.
Katipunan Museum also offers updated sections such as interactive displays where visitors can watch and hear Bonifacio reciting his poem Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa, or a war simulation feature, complete with bombs exploding in the background.
Moreover, the museum takes pride in successfully gathering 1,928 names out of the estimated 3,000 members of the Katipunan from extensive research.
But besides paying homage to the Katipunan, the museum dutifully seeks to impart more information about Bonifacio beyond his textbook persona.
“As a museum per se, we want to be an alternative place for learning. As a historical museum, we would like to at least expose visitors in the study of history. And since we are a museum about the Katipunan and Bonifacio, we would like to re-introduce to them Bonifacio and the Katipunan,” Melendez expounded.
“As a former student, I know that there are many misconceptions about him that society taught us. And so in this museum, we would like to correct those [false]notions by discussing many topics that are not brought up in a classroom setting here.”
Apparently the books got the following right: Bonifacio was born on November 30, 1863 in Tondo, Manila (where the Katipunan was also founded). He was the eldest among six siblings so that when both his parents died of tuberculosis, he had discontinue his studies and assume their roles. To earn a living, the young Bonifacio began with selling wood, eventually learning to create wooden canes and paper fans. He first married a woman named Monica who eventually died of leprosy; and later, married Greogria “Oriang” de Jesus who gave birth to their son Andres Jr. before the latter’s death during infancy.
But what textbooks failed to mention—much more emphasize—is that Bonifacio was not illiterate.
“Bonifacio actually went to school before his parents died and in fact finished what would today equate to fifth grade,” Envagelista told The Sunday Times Magazine. “He had written his own poems [see sidebar "Pag-ibig Sa Tinubuang Lupa”]and essays in English, developed a penchant for memoirs of American presidents, as well as the love for reading about the French Revolution, Les Miserables, and Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere, which inspired him to great extent.”
Bonifacio was also a theater actor and in fact built Teatro Porvenir (Theater of Tomorrow) where he staged moro-moros and similarly took roles. The theater later became a source of funds for his family.
What is most certainly vague in history books, which has long led to largely heated debates, is the execution and death of Bonifacio. The Sunday Times Magazine dared inquire after Evangelista’s position on the issue, and she categorically stated that President Aguinaldo effectively signed off on Bonifacio’s execution the moment he undersigned the letter ordering his arrest.
Bonifacio was tried for 12 days under military court in Maragon¬don, Cavite for his attempt to overthrow Aguinaldo. In textbooks, Bonifacio, together with his brother Procopio were sentenced to death on May 8, 1897. Two day later, on May 10, General Lazaro Makapagal carried out the sentence and executed the brothers using gunfire. Such was the account of the hero’s was until historians propagated, based to narratives of witnesses, that Aguinaldo was brutally killed with bolos.
All the same, brutally executed or not, Bonifacio is a hero integral to the freedom Filipinos enjoy today.
Another lingering debate involving Bonifacio is the emboldened question whether he is rightfully the Philippines’ “National Hero” instead of Rizal.
Tackling the issue, Melendez listed the comparisons between the two heroes accordingly, “Bonifacio is a man full of potential but with limited opportunity. Unlike Rizal who was able to maximize his strength, Bonifacio met hardships in life so that he was not able to show his abilities and capabilities.
“Rizal was well supported by his family. Bonifacio had to stand up and provide for his younger siblings. As such, as a young man taking all the responsibilities, he did not have the luxury to take care of himself.
“To negate partisanship and biases, I do not recommend Bonifacio to be regarded higher than anyone else. And I have to say the same for Rizal, Ninoy Aquino, and all of this nation’s heroes.
“All of them must be equally recognized and appreciated because all of them responded to the call to fight and protect our country, though in different ways.
“Rizal asked for reforms. Bonifacio staged a revolution. Mabini fought against the Americans with his legalese mind. All of them—everything they did—contributed to the freedoms our countrymen enjoy today, so they must all be respected equally.”