The Andres Bonifacio challenge


The current Manila film festival, which runs until this week, has brought to the screen a simplified retelling of the life of Gat Andres Bonifacio, with a most provocative message: “I gave my life for freedom, what will you do with yours?” It is a question addressed to all Filipinos.

The story is a tragic one. Bonifacio founded and led the Katipunan, which launched the Philippine revolution against Spain in 1896. But he died not in the hands of the Spanish enemy but in the hands of Magdalo, a rival revolutionary faction, led by General Emilio Aguinaldo.

Aguinaldo lived on to become the president of the First Philippine Republic. In 1898, he declared independence from Spain, but the Republic swiftly fell under the colonizing influence of the United States. For generations Bonifacio had to fight for his due from the grand arbiters and interpreters of Philippine history.

The game which some of our academics, historical writers and journalists like to play is to compare Bonifacio with Rizal, and to ask, who was (who is) the greater national hero? I find it rather immature, sophomoric and “small-town.” What need is there to compare when they both belong to the same pantheon? Does one ask who is the holier, Augustine or Ambrose or Aquinas or Dominic or Francis of Assisi? Teresa of Avila or the Little Flower?

Rizal was a man of ideas, Bonifacio a man of action, and the space of national devotion which our race reserves for its heroes is large enough to accommodate both and so many more. In fact, the grossest among our politicians have not hesitated to insert recently into this space their own set of heroes of unknown and unexamined qualifications.

In the Enzo Williams film, the rising of the Katipunan is presented as the real birth of the nation, and Bonifacio as “Ang Unang Pangulo” –“The First President.”This interpretation seeks to amend, for historical purposes, the controversial election at the Tejeros Assembly of March 22, 1897, which elected Aguinaldo as president of the revolutionary government, Mariano Trias as vice president, Artemio Ricarte as general-in-chief, Emiliano R. de Dios as director of war, and Bonifacio as director of the interior.

The night was dark. The election was by acclamation. And it was obviously flawed. In a letter to Emilio Jacinto from his camp in Limbon, a village east of Indang, dated April 24, 1897, Bonifacio complained that, “before the election began, I discovered the underhanded work of some of the Imus crowd who had quietly spread the statement that it was not advisable that they be governed by men from other pueblos, and that they should for this reason strive to elect Captain Emilio as president.”

Although Bonifacio, as head of the Magdiwang faction, was also elected “director of the interior,” the director of finance (Daniel Tirona) of Magdalo questioned this, saying the position required a man of learning, not one of Bonifacio’s humble credentials. Under those standards, there would have been no place for Emiliano Zapata in the Mexican revolution.

Tirona insisted on having Jose del Rosario, a lawyer, acclaimed in the supremo’s place instead. This did not prosper, but Bonifacio walked out, saying he would not recognize the results of the election, and neither would the people.

Not long thereafter, Bonifacio was reported to have started making preparations to topple the Aguinaldo-led government. Reacting to these reports, Aguinaldo ordered Bonifacio and his two brothers, Ciriaco and Procopio, arrested. On April 28, 1897, a platoon of soldiers led by a group of senior officers descended upon the brothers at Limbon. The brothers resisted, and Ciriaco was killed, while Andres suffered a gunshot wound on his left arm and a dagger wound on his neck.

On May 5, 1897, Andres and Procopio were court-martialed for plotting to attack and overthrow the revolutionary government. They were meted the death sentence.

On May 8, 1897, Aguinaldo decided to commute the death sentence into exile to “a separate island.” But Aguinaldo’s generals vehemently opposed this, and convinced the president to change his mind. On May 10, 1897 the brothers were executed by a platoon led by Major Lazaro Makapagal at a mountain near Maragondon.

In his memoirs, published in 1964, Aguinaldo narrates that “very early on the morning of May 10, 1897, Major Makapagal and his men took the prisoners to Mount Tala where they were shot. As I was busy leading the fight against the enemy in Maragondon, I did not learn of the execution of the Bonifacio brothers until days later.” It turned out, however, that the executioners did not even reach Mount Tala. They got as far as Mount Nagpataong only, and there the brothers were killed and buried.

The film does not carry all this documentation. But the narrative shows Bonifacio’s ignominious end. And it packs more than enough punch to awaken your patriotism from its deepest slumber. So when the “first President,” says, “I gave my life for freedom, what will you do for our country?” how do we respond? This was what filled my mind as I sat there thanking the producers for this gift of a film.

More than thirty years ago, the French journalist Jean Wetz of Le Monde described the Philippines as a country that had spent 350 years inside a Spanish convent and 50 years inside Hollywood. The general presumption then was that the past was past, that the imperial presence was no more, and that we had become a free and independent people, determined to carve out our own destiny as a peace-loving Christian nation.

Why then is it that, over a hundred years after we had left the “Spanish convent,” and nearly 70 years after “Hollywood,” the state cannot even guarantee our people an election better than the rigged Tejeros election? Why is it that all we see are political hustlers determined to seize power at all costs, without any sense of the country’s deepest need nor any sign that they would risk their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to put an end to any of its problems?

Aside from my five-year-old grandson who wants to become president in 35 years because he would like to fix the traffic, we have not heard of anyone among those dying to present themselves as presidential timber, who would like to do anything concrete for anyone at all other than themselves and their political dynasties.

Not one of them has had the courage to say they would never get involved in an illegal and illegitimate election conducted by a foreign company called Smartmatic, or by a rotten Commission on Elections, using a voting machine that has been divested of all its safety features and accuracy mechanisms, contrary to law.

They all simply want to perpetuate the system of electoral fraud because they believe that, with all their money and venal connections, they could end up controlling the system—and to hell with all of us, Filipinos.

In one short conversation in the film between Rizal and Bonifacio (before the former is arrested for his subversive novels), Bonifacio asks Rizal why is it that in his two novels (Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo), armed struggle does not win? Rizal answers that the struggle must first be won in the minds and the hearts of the people, and the Filipinos must first recover the weapons of the mind and of the heart, which the Spaniards have taken away from them.

The alien colonial forces are no more. Or supposed to have gone. But they have been replaced by native surrogates eager to impose a more wretched colonialism that seeks to dominate not only our political and economic system but also our culture. Colonialism has simply worn a new dress, and we cannot say our burden is much lighter than that of our forebears. Should we now turn to Bonifacio to resolve our problems?

How ironic, indeed, that after over a hundred years of nationhood, we should turn to one who has long gone before us to teach us how to carry on. But where else are we to turn? As Victor Hugo once said, honoring Voltaire, when night alone issues from the thrones, we must seek our light from the tombs.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. Let us make the pages of RP history more interesting…vote BRENDA for president in 2016. She is the current version of GAT ANDRES…matapang walang kinakatakutan at may pinag-aralan. and POE for VP…we will create a different RP in the eyes of the world. The start of a new beginning vote BRENDA POE in 2016.

  2. aquino, jose allen on

    Did we allow too that power consumers, like Bonifacio will suffer hardship in the hands of foreigners and Filipino cohorts? Are we part of it? Do you know whom are those who turned traitors as legislators allowing to pass the EPIRA LAW? Why all government leaders tend to privatized public utilities, opposite trends compared to developed countries.

  3. Allan Anthony Villar on

    Would it interest you to know that Emilio Aguinaldo’s last name was really “Handog” and not Aguinaldo? Would you not wonder why his family made their last name Spanish sounding Aguinaldo, rather than bakya sounding “Handog”? Send investigators to Binakayan, Kawit, Cavite and find out the truth. Also, find out the truth about Filipino elites and Ilustrados joining FreeMasonry in Europe and Hong Kong, and the Filipino Indios joining the fraternity in Manila. Most of Filipino heroes in Philippine history were Masons.

    Discrimination, rivalry and diabolical politics are not a monopoly of foreign invaders in foreign lands. Evil machinations is more common among natives because natives belong to their land. Foreigners know their time is limited, and that the land is temporary. Their agenda is shorter than the natives.The questions that need answers are: Whose agenda was served in killing a Filipino revolutionary? Why change your native name to that of the foreign invader? Was there hostility and discrimination between foreign and local raised Masons? Is there a prescription period in finding out the truth about the murder of a real Filipino?

  4. The Filipinos were taken for a ride by the Spanish for 350 years, the Americans for about 40 years, the Japanese for about 4 years, now it is the Filipinos in the form of politicians for about 70 years in counting. The next oppressor will be China and it is just around the corner.

  5. P. on

    During my last visit to the country, I had the opportunity to go around Cavite tracing the activities of the KKK, visiting the historical buildings where they had meetings up to the where the trial of the Bonifacio brothers took place. From there we travelled to the hills of Maragondon where they were killed..

    From what I learned in school and my visit to the above historical places, I believe that Andres Bonifacio deserved a lot more than what he is being accorded. As a true Philippine hero, he didn’t deserve to die the way he was killed. He was a victim of ‘modern’ politics.

  6. Well, Bonifacio’s sacrifices were not forgotten. His name is more revered now than that of Aguinaldo – being considered a traitor (?).

  7. Vicente Penetrante on

    Do be a Bonifacio and have a heart-to-heart talk with Brilliantes of the Comelec. Try to break his sweetheart deal with Smartmatic.

  8. Amnata Pundit on

    “When tyranny becomes the rule, resistance becomes duty.” One should ask himself if he is against this BS of a president only, or against the entire yellow regime? If BS is replaced by another yellow president which will only ensure the continuation of the present anti-poor policies imposed by foreign interests through the present regime, is that the right path of resistance, or just another game of misdirection by the yellow powers that be?

  9. During rallies against Marcos, at the onset we were very few who participated. A disgusted participant cried: ” the problem with us filipinos is, we are any of the three Ts’: TANGGA, TUTTA, TAKKUT.”. A break came after sometime to lead the so-called peoples’ power. like what Kemmet Roosvelt introduced to dethrone the Sha of Iran..

  10. Bakit nagmamadali si Comm Brillantes na maapprobahan ang smartmatic deal gayong paalis na siya sa puwesto. Bakit? Bakit? Bakit? Kayo na ang maghaka-haka?

  11. Kit, I don’t always agree with you, but on this article of yours on Bonifacio, I tip my hat to you. Excellent and insightful.

  12. Gloria M. Kuizon on

    With God on our side, we should give our lives to save the Republic whose institutions the Aquino administration, the rotten Comelec-Smartmatic-PCOS machine system, the conscript Congress and media have reduced to nothingness.

    • There would be One God…. but this is not the entire picture. People stand in the way to the One God. There are various organizations/ churches/sects /chains-of-command who claim being Sole Path to the One God. Example — there is the Iglesia ni Kristo versus Jesus-is-Lord. There are Sunnis versus Shias, there are Mormons versus Episcopalians, there are Catholics of Jesuits and Catholics of Salesians….. oh, yeah, in addition to Mormonsand the Mormon-like Iglesia ni Kristo, thre is Pilipinas Independent Church Aglipay of Andres Bonifacio .

  13. Again, you are very correct Mr. Tatad. But as I’ve said we Filipinos are a lost soul. Let me pose a question: what single trait unifies us today? Nothing, except a boxing win by Pacquiao. Very sad. In the meantime, I say that the person who will lead us all is yet unborn.

  14. Bonifacio nangyayari din ngayon ang ganito,baka mas talamak pa!!
    Isa lang ang dahilan bakit pinatay si bonifacio ng mga kapwa niya!
    Dahil wala siyang pinag-aralan at walang kayamanan! Ikinahihiya siya ng mga elitista at mga mayayaman na may pinag-aralan,ang pagdusta sa kanya,ng mga elitista,hindi siya kapantay ng mga ito na nakapag-aral, ang mga katulad niya ay walang puwang sa kanila!!
    Ganitong-ganito ang nangyayari ngayon,kahit anong buti at tapat mow kung artista Ka o walang natapos at hindi ka nakapag-aral sa katolikong paaralan! Ikaw yaw basura sa paningin ng mga mayayamang elitista!!

    Nagtataka pa ang mga nagsusulat, kuno!!

    • sonny dela cruz on

      Mga artisrta at ngayon ay naka-sakdal ng plunder. Walang magawang mabuti sa tao at bayan kundi mangurakot ng kaban ng bayan.

  15. … and then, there was Ferdinand Marcos. And then the future promises…. ahem… Bise Binay. Ahemmmmm! The heavens play games with Pilipinas, the predominantly Christian country of Asia.

  16. sonny dela cruz on

    This is a very interesting article by Mr. Tiglao that I myself is also interested to be more Filipino in mind than to be told to do so by other foreign authors in Philippine history. The Philippines is very lucky to loose only our names unlike the South Americans who lost their names and their language. Right now Filipinos has no name identity. Outside the Philippines when somebody’s name appeared to be spanish, you’ll never know if he is a Filipino or not unless your last name is “Dimaculangan, dimagiba, Dimalanta and others in Filipino words. Why no one cares about developing the identity of the Filipinos by names. Once, we could and change Philippines to FILIPINAS then we could be proud as a nation.

    • victor m. hernandez on

      Si Dimaculangan, auditor. Si Dimagiba, architect. Si Dimalanta, florist. Si Dimacuha, virgin. Yan ang tunay. Cheers.

  17. I cannot help but admire this great piece of writing. Very eloquent. The Tatad gift of eloquent literary writing has not faded through the years. Many of us in the very small population of Philets-UST are no doubt proud and glad that you are still around and fighting. Happy new year to you and your grandson. May you still be around to see the dawning of a new era of Filipinos from the light of the tombs.