• Rizal vs. Bonifacio debates: silly, irrelevant, nasty

    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    The silliest debates in the Philippine context have lives longer than Abraham’s. They are totally unnecessary, they are divisive, they pollute and not enrich the national conversation. Yet, there is almost always a season when they are taken up with real intensity, and in some cases, with real vehemence.

    The debate on who should be the national hero—Rizal or Bonifacio—is all of these: silly, irrelevant and nasty. The issue of who is the greater hero should find no place in our debates as there has been a special pedestal where we have brought the two, along with the de facto status of Bonifacio as the other national hero.

    To the proletariat, the class to which I belong, Bonifacio is the greater hero. The consecration of Bonifacio comes naturally. The greatest hero is the one identified with praxis, the melding of theory and practice. Bonifacio laid down the seminal writings on what a free country would look like and was in many ways the thinker and chief ideologue of the Katipunan.

    Also, he was fearless in battle, the charging brown warrior, the one who fought to slay the dragons of the colonization and the damning subservience. You can’t imagine Bonifacio as Rizal, the hero with the overcoat. He will always be the hero with the sleeves rolled up—always ready to do battle with the enemy.

    That he was regarded with awe and respect by the intellectuals, professionals and commoners s that joined him in the Katipunan leadership was testament to Bonifacio’s supreme ability to lead—the supremo who was without equal. In that time and place, the most selfless and fearless, and the most committed to the cause, was the natural leader and Bonifacio was the most selfless, the most fearless and the most dedicated.

    That he was slain by a rival group that led the Katipunan to blunders, vacillation and compromises was probably the greatest tragedy of the Philippine Revolution.

    The collective hearts of Filipinos, those classified as the Filipino Everyman, have mostly voted Bonifacio as the greater hero, greater than Rizal and greater than everybody else.

    Asia’s Renaissance Man
    Yet, we cannot deny one thing. Rizal should be the hero of this millennium, the 21st century personification of what the national hero should be. It can only be Rizal.

    Rizal, as Anwar Ibrahim said, is Asia’s Renaissance Man . He was a scholar, writer, inventor, a seeker of enlightenment. Occasionally, we overlook the fact that he trained as a doctor. The curiosity and openness, the sense of adventure and his inquisitiveness about other civilizations and cultures, was amazing given the parochiality of his upbringing.

    Rizal crossed borders and was the personification of a global citizen many centuries before books on the borderless world and the world is flat memes have been written. The friendships he had struck in foreign places, the novel ideas about science and governments that he had imbibed, was amazing given what was to be his insular and narrow predisposition. Rizal was our first great expat.

    Most members of the Filipino elite who travelled to foreign places—Europe especially—during Rizal’s time had a very limited sense of purpose. To study. To forget the second class citizenship in their own country. To pose as rebellious exiles. Not Rizal. The inquisitive, open and curious mind of Rizal made him the Filipino pioneer on multi-tasking, from writing the two greatest Filipino novels to organizing the fractious Filipino community across Europe.

    Oh, the women in his life. They say that women can often distinguish great men from the rest of us and the life and times of Dr. Jose Rizal established a narrative of many loves and multiple affairs. Can you awe women with ordinariness? No and never.

    Oh, the trail of letters and correspondences he had with people close to him, or people touched by his great but peripatetic life. Those files alone demonstrated his deep understanding of his milieu and the societies around him.

    The determination of Rizal to effect change in increments, which was doubted by Bonifacio as the way to nationhood, may have been caused by his dim view on how organized and how prepared the Katipunan was. The fire and the spirit was there and perhaps Rizal had only the deepest admiration for Bonifacio, who, records say, also admired Rizal deeply.

    But Rizal the reformer faced the firing squad with the same dream Bonifacio had—the dawn of light and the air of freedom breaking through their manacled country.

    Two great heroes with one dream—freedom.

    Bonifacio is in our hearts the country’s greatest hero.

    In our minds, and for the purposes of the 21st century, it is Rizal. In a global context called flat and borderless, we have to summon the inquisitive, exploring and adventurous mind of Jose Rizal, truly a Renaissance Man.

    Undermining one to promote the other is silly, divisive and vehemently un-Filipino.


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    1. In a free society discussions like these should be welcome. We need Bonifacio and Rizal. Like a coin with 2 sides one can not be without the other. Beyond the status of their birth both exemplified what is true and good in us. We are the sons and daughters of our forefathers. I would not have it any other way. To have a plan & forseight we have Rizal. To be decisive and have mass appeal we have Bonifacio. One can not be the other.

    2. silly, irrelevant, nasty? then why have a commnetary about it? then it is a silly, irrelevant, nasty opinion after all! it only provokes divisiveness among the followers of these two diffrent heroes!

    3. wilmer andrada on

      Rizal was historically and traditionally named as the national hero. Bonifacio should be officially proclaimed as the Father of the Revolution and should make his birthday as a National Holiday.My question is about Emilio Aguinaldo, how will historians treat his legacy ? Is it true that he masterminded the killing of Bonifacio?

    4. According to Mr. Tiglao in his last week’s column, Manny Paquio is the national hero. I jest of course, but he did suggest it.
      Why do we have to pick just one. Dr. Jose Rizal and “The supremo” Andres Bonifacio both worked for freedom of the Filipino people from the Spanish conquestadores. they should be both national heroes. Rushmore mountain has the bust of the U.S. presidents immortalized to remind the people of their contribution to the country. None is bigger or less significant than the other. Why would we want to pit our heroes against each other. We should not consider how many lives they took or battles they fought for freedom, instead we should consider that they willing gave their singular life so that we now can walk proudly as a free nation. To ask who is the true hero is like asking “who is the true parent”. The answer should always be “both of them”, for a child can never become with only the man or the woman. Like a pair parents, Dr. Rizal and Andres Bonifacio both nurtured the Filipino mind and encourage them to take that first step to freedom. Their works while different in approach is not less significant than the other.

    5. As KGOR of the Knights of Rizal, obviously I will go for Rizal as a national hero. Usually, heroes are those who died in battle or assassinated. Rizal was executed by the enraged colonizers, his enemies. Bonifacio was executed by supposedly comrades in arms.(Crab mentality is still common among expats in the diaspora) Both died early.

      During the early occupation by the Americans, a commission was created by Gov. Gen. Wm. Howard Taft to search for a national hero and one of the members was a Pardo de Tavera and other Filipinos. Expected was that Rizal was an intellectual and level headed versus opposite Bonifacio. At that time, nobody knew how long the Americans would stay until they enacted the Tydings-McDuffie Law promising the archipelago, independence after ten years. It was also embodied in the Jones Law. President William McKinley wanted a foothold in Asia for the products of the industrial revolution and to evangelize the Filipinos for his Methodist faith. Rizal’s “My Last Farewell” read in Congress by Rep. Henry Cooper saved the Filipinos from being called barbarians.

      During the Tejeros Convention in Cavite whereby Emilio Aguinaldo was elected president and the apparent trump up convention was able to elect Bonifacio minister of the interior which was even questioned by the assembly for his lack of education to carry out the duties of that office. That allegedly enraged Bonifacio to even drew his revolver.

      According to Sonia Zaide, Bonifacio lost more battles that Aguinaldo. Thus, he lost also popularity after the Cry of Balintawak(sometimes called Pugad Lawin). Have you seen that movie Viva Zapata, about the revolutionary Emiliano but could not govern and had also bothered by rivalry with Pancho Villa? It took unknown Francisco Madero to become president. A similarity?

      Anyway, while Bonifacio was elected by the Katipunan as Pangulo ng Haring Bayang Katagalugan(President of the Tagalog Empire), Rizal united the Filipino nation under the La Liga Filipina and even added foreigners like Dr. Sun Yat Sen. By the way, Rizal sided step the founding of a New York branch because of the treatment of the Negroes there and instead established it in Toronto, according to a book written by Galicano Apacible, a confidant of Rizal. Rizal could have stayed in the U.S. and maybe, he should have been an early Martin Luther King.

      Again(maybe due distance and communication problems), separate revolts of Leon(Kilat) Villegas of Cebu, Juan Araneta of Negros and earlier by Francisco Dagohoy of Bohol and Heneral Paua of Bicol were not marshaled into one. We can write about the revolts of generals and even in Luzon, they were not untied. Gen. Francisco Makabulos of Tarlac was already knocking at the door of Manila at La Loma, the reinforcement soldiers from Aguinaldo of Cavite and Cailles of Laguna did not arrive.

      Back to Rizal: Being a traveled intellectual,( aside from his acquire education abroad because of the indifference to him by the Dominicans in UST), he knew that the country was not ready for revolution as the bolo(machete) would not pair with the Gatling guns of the Spaniards. Logical?. His friendship with knowledgeable people like Jose Marti of Cuba gave him an idea of how difficult to rise against the powerful forces. I am sure he read about generals Simon Bolivar and San Martin of South America and the travails of the feat was difficult.

      I know the controversy of picking a national hero is difficult. But if we change Rizal by Bonifacio will it do good to improve the country’s economy now? Bonifacio is always equated as a hardliner to use revolution for change, especially by those militants who want to overthrow the government. The civil war in America created more dead Americans than WWII. Do we want bloodshed then? Voters should do that by not selling their votes or to vote those good looking persons thinking that they are clean. Cooperation of all from the grassroots to the top is needed. Restore the death penalty for those saboteurs of the economy would be appropriate. Rabid criminals too.

      I know it is difficult to solve the problems of the Philippines, especially with the burgeoning population. Maybe we should start from there. No amount of PNoy can solve the problems in six years. He start though. We should have had it when Ramon Magsaysay was president. We need a Lee Kwan Yew in the Philippines but Singapore has only three million people at at time. We elected GMA and I rooted for her being a far moret educated that the Da King. But what happened? She opened the floodgates of corruption and disregard for the general good, including cheating in elections She is now charged in court and held in a hospital.

      Back to Bonifacio: He was a great admirer of Dr. Rizal. I read that he offered Rizal to be president. I also doubted if he really sent Emilio Jacinto to Singapore disguised as seaman to help Rizal jump ship. Sculptor Jose Sison Luzadas of Toronto wrote that Bonifacio was nowhere near Bagumbayan to grab his idol from the Spaniards. Was he in Pugad Lawin or the big caves of Montalban where inscriptions asf his seat of power was seen and even used by the Japanese in 1945. By the way, President Diosdado Macapagal who changed the Philippine Independence Day from July 4th(same date as in the U.S.) created a commission composed of then Sec. Alejandro(Anding) Roces and others like Serafin Quiazon of the national library to select the date of Philippine Independence Day and although they considered Bonifacio’s declaration versus the formality of Aguinaldo’s waving of the Filipino flag in Kawit on June 12, 1898 and recognized by other countries. My question, again, is why the Americans bought the islands for $20 million at the Treaty of Paris on Dec. 10, 1898 when it declared its independence on June 12?

      At a sidelight, Rizal said: “You can not expect a good government out of the rotten society” And who are the guardians of morality in the society? President Manuel L. Quezon also said ” I want to see a Philippines run like hell by Filipinos than like heaven by the Americans.” Are they turning in their graves?

      (Ben Ongoco was a correspondent of the pre-Martial Law Manila times and still writing for the Manila Headline in Houston)

    6. Re Mr Ronquillo’s “Rizal vs. Bonifacio debates: silly, irrelevant, nasty.”
      Wonderful article, full of wisdom and intellectual depth.
      Let me just add a thought that is very important to nation building and any work to lift the 50 to 60 percent of our population from poverty.
      Both Rizal and Bonifacio were believers in God.
      They would not agree with the Culture of Death and secular, anti-religion, anti-Church, anti-prayer mentality of those who control power in the mass media and even the government and the Congress.

      Eddie de Leon

    7. There should be a debate as to who is Numero Uno coz it is a given that it is the Americans (not the pinoys) who chooses or imposed Rizal as Numero Uno. May I repeat that history books and writings were unanimous that Bonifacio started the Revolution while Rizal was elsewhere. Rizals intellect and writings are good readings but its substance were not understood by the past and present intellectuals who ruled our political and economic life to Perdition. Even the Damasos who were severely ridiculed in the 2 Novels (Noli and Fili) came out unscathed and are immensely rich and tax free.

    8. Rizal belonged to the borgeouse or burgis, while Bonifacio belonged to the masses and even without education he oranized and lead the KKK. How much more if he was educated. Yes Bonifacio should be the national hero. the elite maintained Rizal due to their burgis mentality, looking down at Bonifacio. But in the hearts and minds of the grass roots and the masses it is still Bonifacio.

    9. Bonifacio B. Claudio on

      You emphasized, Sir, and I quote: “Bonifacio is in our hearts the country’s greatest hero.In our minds, and for the purposes of the 21st century, it is Rizal.”

      But, Sir, how could you have come to roam around the world in the 21st century as “free men” without having attained INDEPENDENCE in the first place?! Have you come to imagine what 21st century Philippines you could have come to if ONLY REFORMS were fought for?!

      Have you come to think of “Viva ZAPATA” of Mexico?! Of Braveheart Wallace of Scotland?! … Yes, Sir, FREEDOM !!! FREEDOM !!! FREEDOM !!! But if you say “reforms under colonial rule”, I hope for you that your stand withstand the test of time.

    10. Bonifacio B. Claudio on

      You emphasized, Sir, and I quote: “Bonifacio is in our hearts the country’s greatest hero.In our minds, and for the purposes of the 21st century, it is Rizal.”

      But, Sir, how could you have come to roam around the world in the 21st century as “free men” without having attained INDEPENDENCE in the first place?! Have you come to imagine what 21st century Philippines you could have come to if ONLY REFORMS were fought for?!

      Have you come to think of “Viva ZAPATA” of Mexico?! Of Braveheart Wallace of Scotland?! … Yes, Sir, FREEDOM !!! FREEDOM !!! FREEDOM !!! But if you say “reforms under colonial rule”, I hope for you that your stand withstand the test of time.