SOME Filipinos have begun to call Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan, the “First President of the Philippines.” That title removes the honor from another great Filipino, Emilio Aguinaldo. But Bonifacio does have a claim to the title, not only because he came to be elected president of the “Tagalog Republic”—which some Katipuneros organized formally as a government parallel to the Katipunan.
Andres Bonifacio was born on Nov. 30, 1863 (which is why today is a national holiday) in Tondo, Manila. Santiago Bonifacio, his father, was once a tailor and a sailor who ran the ferry on his hometown’s river and who a later became a local politician. His mother, Catalina de Castro, worked in a factory that rolled tobacco into cigarettes. They worked very hard to support Andres and his five younger brothers and sisters. In 1881, Catalina contracted TB and in 1882 died. Andres’ father was also stricken with TB and died in 1883.
Andres was 19 years old when he had to forgo his dreams of attaining college education because he had to work and earn the income to support his siblings and be their mother and father.
He worked for a British trading company, J.M. Fleming & Co., as the purchasing manager for raw materials. Later he moved to the German company, Fressell & Co., to work as the warehouseman.
Tragedy seemed to dog him. His first wife died not too long after their marriage – of leprosy. He married again, to Gregoria de Jesus, who survived him and is known to us a historical figure for being Andres Bonifacio’s widow. Andres died without any surviving children, for their only child died in infancy.
Founder of KKK
Bonifacio joined Jose Rizal’s La Liga Filipina, which Rizal formed in 1892—soon after he was allowed to return to Manila from exile—to promote reforms in the Spanish colonial administration and improve the lives of the Filipinos. But the Spanish colonial authorities suspected Rizal of aiming for rebellion, revolution and then independence, and promptly arrested Rizal after the Liga held its only meeting.
Just four days after Rizal’s arrest, Andres Bonifacio and others revived La Liga—to continue pressuring the Spanish colonial rulers to grant the Filipinos autonomy and enjoy human rights. At the same time, Bonifacio and his patriot friends, Ladislao Diwa and Teodoro Plata, also formed the Katipunan—or the Kataastaasang Kagalanggalang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan. (The “Highest Most Respected Society of the Children of the Nation.”) Its aims were to obtain freedom and self-rule through persuasion and struggle—including armed struggle if necessary.
Though the founders, like Andres Bonifacio himself, were well-read on history and revolution, most of the members of the Katipunan were less schooled people from the lower middle and working classes. These were people for whom turning their society into a revolutionary army was not a difficult decision.
Bonifacio and his fellow patriots were soon establishing regional chapters not just in Luzon but also in the Visayas. He was elected Supremo of the Katipunan in 1895. They published the newspaper Kalayaan and wrote stirring essays for it.
Under Bonifacio’s leadership, Katipunan in 1986 grew from only about 300 members to more than 30,000 in July. It had become a organization that could credibly fight a revolution for freedom and independence from Spain.
Bonifacio launched the revolution on Aug. 23, 1896, in a speech (The Cry at Pugad Lawin) calling on the Filipinos to rise in revolt and claim their freedom and independence. He led his followers in tearing up their “cedulas” (community tax certificates) as a symbol of releasing themselves from the rule of Spain.