What Kind of Man was Bonifacio?
Miguel A. Bernad S.J.
Many years ago an article was submitted to our editorial office, a critique of the Tagalog translation of Rizal's Adios, said to be by Bonifacio. We were of course happy to get such an article, competently written by a professor from another university. But I had a doubt which I proposed to the writer of the article: "How do we know that this Tagalog translation of Rizal's poem was by Bonifacio?"
He replied that it was included in Teodoro Agoncillo's compilation of Bonifacio's writings.
That reply was sufficient for editorial purposes, and in due course we published the article. But in my mind the doubt remained: How did Agoncillo know that Bonifacio wrote that translation?
The reason for the doubt was twofold: first, the time element; second, the ability of Bonifacio to translate a poem intricately written in good Spanish.
The Time Element
On the day before his execution, 29 December 1896, Rizal gave a small oil lamp to his sister, whispering in English, "There is something inside." The death of Rizal the following day and the grief over it occupied
the family's thoughts and feelings, and it was not until some time later that the sister remembered what Rizal had said about the lamp. With difficulty they were able to extricate from it a manuscript folded into a small pellet: the Adios (later retitled Ultimo Adios). This was early January 1897.
Copies of the poem must have been made, laboriously, by hand, and since it is a long poem, each copy must have taken time to make. It is possible that by late January 1897 or by February, a copy may have been brought to Cavite, possibly by Josephine Bracken, Rizal's widow. Bonifacio was in Cavite at the time, as a guest of the Magdiwang faction. It is possible that he saw a copy.
That possibility must be conceded. It was possible. Was it probable?
But even granting that Bonifacio saw or even obtained a copy, where would he get the time and leisure to translate such a long poem in Spanish? Cavite was then at war. The Spanish counterattack was in full swing. We are told that Bonifacio was active in Cavite and Batangas. In March the Tejeros meeting brought out into the open the hostility between Bonifacio and the Aguinaldo faction. By May Bonifacio was dead. Where would he have the time and leisure to translate such a long poem?
There was also the question of ability. The translation shows ability to write good Tagalog; it also implies a good grasp of the Spanish language since Rizal's poem is in Spanish. But according to the popular image
of Bonifacio, he was a "poor half-educated plebeian" who had no more than an elementary education. How then could he have acquired such a good grasp of Spanish as to be able to translate Rizal's sophisticated poem?
True, according to the popular image, Bonifacio had a library of books in Spanish, and (we are told) he was an assiduous reader. That means that he could read and understand Spanish. But to read Spanish is one thing, to know it so well as to be able to translate a poem is another.
Even granting (and this is a very big concession) that Bonifacio had the time and leisure amid all that fighting to translate a long Spanish poem, did he have the ab1llty to do so?
If he did, then the popular picture of Bonifacio as ignorant and half-educated is false.
That was the way the matter seemed to me: Either Bonifacio really did write this translation of Rizal's poem -- in which case the popular image of him is false -- or if the popular image is true that he was ignorant, then he could not have done this translation. It must be spurious.
That was my problem with regard to the Tagalog translation of Rizal's Adios, attributed to Bonifacio. I had doubts of its authenticity. At that time I did not know that others shared this doubt. I thought I was alone in entertaining it, and so I kept silent.
The Burgos Papers
There was another thing that served to strengthen my doubt, and it was my earlier experience with forged
documents. The story is as follows.
Sometime in the late 1950s, the well-known collector, Luis Ma. Araneta, acquired from a dealer a number of manuscripts that bore the name of Father Jose Burgos. Happy with his acquisition, Don Luis invited Father Pedro de Achutegui and myself to edit the manuscripts. Father Achutegui and I were at that time engaged in writing our 4-volume history of the Aglipayan movement, and Mr. Araneta thought that we might also be interested in the works of Burgos.
We were. It was agreed that Achutegui and I publish the Spanish text and an English translation of the Burgos writings.
As a first step I suggested to Luis Araneta that he should write an article cataloguing the manuscripts. This was published in the quarterly Philippine Studies, of which I was editor at the time.
I then took charge of the manuscripts and began to study them. And here I got a jolt. There were two things wrong with them. First, the Spanish was bad. Second, the erudition seemed shallow.
This was a jolt. Don Jose Burgos, a graduate of two Dominican institutions, Letran and Santo Tomas; with doctoral degrees; the able defender of the rights of the Filipino secular clergy against the domination of the friars -- was it possible that this man was after all an ignoramus and a poor writer?
To be honest, I must say that I did not then draw the obvious conclusion, that the manuscripts were forged. That idea never occurred to me. My thoughts were (to my shame) more parochial. I compared these manuscripts with the writings of others, and I said to myself "Those who studied at the Ateneo (like Rizal, Paterno, Fernando
Ma. Guerrero, Recto, and others) learned to write good Spanish; whereas, if Burgos was typical, then it would seem that those who studied at Letran and Santo Tomas did not learn to write good Spanish."
But those parochial thoughts were soon shattered when I considered that Mabini and others who had gone to Santo Tomas or Letran also wrote good Spanish. Was Burgos then only an exception?
In any case, I said to myself, "If we publish Burgos's works, we would be exposing a national hero to the obloquy of being called a poor writer and an ignoramus." So I told both Father Achutegui and Don Luis Araneta that I was dropping out of the Burgos project. They could go ahead if they wanted to but without me.
William Henry Scott
Some years later, the American Episcopalian missionary who was also a good scholar, William Henry Scott, came to visit me. He asked me about that article in Philippine Studies concerning the works of Burgos. "Did you write that article?" he asked. I said, No, I did not write it. I had invited Luis Araneta to write it, and I helped him with it, and I published it, but the article was his.
Then, Scott said, "Why did you not go ahead with your project to edit the Spanish text and an English translation of the Burgos works?"
I explained my reason (as above). Then he said, "Did it not occur to you that the manuscripts were forgeries?"
"To be honest, no, that did not occur to me," I said.
"Well," said Scott, "they are probably forgeries." Scott had previously exposed as forgeries two well-known "sources" of Philippine history, namely the "Code of Kalantiaw" and the "Pavon Manuscript". Those had been brought to the National Library by a man named Jose Marco. Scott surmised that the so-called Burgos writings also must have come from the same source.
Several years later, Father Schumacher wrote an article exposing the so-called Burgos writings as forgeries. But William Henry Scott had noted that fact earlier.
When therefore, in the early 1980s, an article was submitted to the Kinaadman editorial office on the Tagalog translation of Rizal's Ultimo Adios, purportedly written by Bonifacio, I had this earlier experience to strengthen my doubts about the translation's authenticity. "The translation of Rizal's Adios," I said to myself, "must have been done in the 20th century, not in 1897, and by a good Tagalista who also knew Spanish well, not by Andres Bonifacio."
That conclusion I kept to myself, not knowing at the time that others were also arriving at the same conclusion.
That was my position before I read Dr. May's book: Either, or. If the popular picture of Bonifacio is true, then the translation of Rizal's poem is not his. On the other hand, if the translation is really his, then the popular picture of Bonifacio is false. Either, or. Not both.
But Dr. May's book goes much farther: BOTH the popular picture of Bonifacio AND the writings attributed to him may be bogus.
If Dr. May's conclusion is correct, how then did the popular picture of Bonifacio come to be made? And how did the writings come to be attributed to him? That process is the subject of his book. It is entitled Inventing a Hero: The Re-Creation of Andres Bonifacio (New Day Publishers, Quezon City 1997, xx, 200 p.). The author, Glenn Anthony May, is a professor of history at the University of Oregon, and the author of several books on the Philippines.
Professor May had not originally intended to write a book on Bonifacio. His original intention was to do research concerning the Philippine Revolution of 1896, of which the centenary was approaching. With that aim in mind he came to the Philippines in 1989 and (as he says in the Introduction) "made his way through archives and libraries" and spent "hundreds of dollars in xerox copies." Back in the United States, studying this material over the next three years, two developments occurred. First, his focus of interest shifted from the Revolution itself to the "leader of the secret society that had launched the uprising." Second, he found that he could not write about Bonifacio because the sources were unsatisfactory and conflicting. In 1993 he returned to Manila principally to look at the "originals" of the letters attributed to Bonifacio. He studied photocopies of them and came to doubt their authenticity. Thus, gradually, developed the idea of writing, not about Bonifacio, but about the sources on which the biographies of Bonifacio have been based.
Bonifacio Before the Revolution
The book is divided into six chapters, of which the first is about the pre-revolutionary Bonifacio. An examination of what has been written about Bonifacio has led Dr. May to the conclusion that everything that we are told about the man can be traced to three sources: the writings of "three long-dead pioneers of the Philippine historical profession," namely, Manuel Artigas, Epifanio de los Santos, and the latter's son, Jose P. Santos.
Manuel Artigas y Cuerva published in 1911 a book entitled Andres Bonifacio y el Katipunan. Don Manuel Artigas had edited a periodical in Spain, but by 1911, back in Manila, he was employed in the Filipiniana Division of what was later to be called the National Library, of which he eventually became librarian. Epifanio de los Santos (the man after whom the circumferential road in Manila -- EDSA -- is named) was described by Rafael Palma as the foremost Filipino scholar of his time. A lawyer, he became provincial governor of Bulacan, provincial fiscal in Bataan, and eventually director of the National Library. It was in 1917 that his article "Andres Bonifacio" appeared in Spanish, and in English translation the following year. Jose P. Santos, Don Epifanio's son, wrote several items in Tagalog in the mid-1930s, the most important of which was a book entitled Si Bonifacio at ang Himagsikan (1935). Twelve years later he wrote a monograph which has remained in manuscript, entitled Si Bonifacio at ang Katipunan. It was intended as an entry in the same contest in which the prize had been awarded to Agoncillo's The Revolt of the Masses. The contributions of these three men are described by May:
The broad outlines of Bonifacio's youth were drawn by Artigas, who cited no sources to document his assertions. De los Santos fleshed out the sketch with new details and published texts that were supposedly written by the supremo, but he was either silent or vague about how and where he discovered all of that. [Jose P.] Santos added still more data, produced still more Bonifacio texts, and was similarly elusive on the matter of sources. (p. 47)Consequently, Dr. May concludes, "very little of the traditional account of Bonifacio's' life before the revolution is supported by reliable evidence." There are, however, a few biographical facts that can be verified. He enumerates them:
We can be certain about the date of his birth, the names of his parents and possibly that of his siblings, his membership in the Liga Filipina, his marriage to Gregoria de Jesus, and even some aspects of his involvement with the Katipunan, but beyond these scant particularities, the historical record is extremely unclear. (pp. 47-48)Dr. May's conclusion is that most of what has been claimed about the pre-revolutionary Bonifacio "may have been extracted from the oral tradition, or invented." (p. 48)
In an earlier page of his book Dr. May had expressed that same conclusion even more forcefully: "Like the young George Washington or Abraham Lincoln found in the older popular histories, the young Bonifacio may have been a figment of the mythmakers' imagination." (p. 35)
An Alternative Conclusion
That conclusion may be valid. But we would prefer to put the matter somewhat differently. Accepting Dr. May's findings, we might perhaps propose the following alternative conclusion:
1. With the exception of those few biographical data that Dr. May considers certain, the rest of the information concerning the pre-revolutionary Bonifacio cannot be proven to be true.
2. On the other hand, neither can they be proven to be definitely false.
3. It is therefore possible that the traditional picture, as contained in the three sources (Artigas, de los Santos and Santos) may be authentic in its broad outlines; even though some details may be false or doubtful.
Such a more nuanced (and possibly more accurate) conclusion will prevent us from throwing up our hands and making Dr. May's further conclusion, that we have "absolutely no idea of what the young Bonifacio was like." The oral tradition, if that is the main source of the traditional picture, may have exaggerated (and probably did), but it could not have been totally wrong.
We shall have more to say about this matter later in this article.
The Revolutionary Period
So much for the pre-revolutionary Bonifacio. What about the Bonifacio of the revolutionary period? Dr. May says:
The principal point made thus far about historians' representation of the young Bonifacio -- that the seemingly rock-hard details of his life are unsubstantiated -- applies approximately equal force Bonifacio's life after the inauguration of the Katipunan. Dates committed to memory by generations of schoolchildren turn to be based on hazy after-the-fact guesses of aging revolutionaries. Some well-known details of supposedly important events in the history of the secret society seem to be the inventions of individuals who not only were not there, but who were not on especially close terms to anyone who was. (p. 36)In a footnote Dr. May poses a question that he leaves to future researchers: "One important question that needs be addressed is whether the Katipunan was from outset a revolutionary organization. The evidence suggesting that it was strikes me as both thin and unreliable." (p. 176, note 48)
The "Bonifacio Writings"
Attributed to Bonifacio are six letters and nine other writings. Prescinding for the moment from the letters (to which we shall return later) the nine other items are as follows: a newspaper article entitled "Ang dapat mabatid ng mga Tagalog" (What Tagalogs should be aware of); a decalogue; a translation into Tagalog of Rizal's "Adios"; two proclamations (one of 1897 and another dated 28 August 1896); and four poems. These nine items came to be known to the public gradually. Dr. May identifies six sources in the process.
The Six Sources
The first source was Wenceslao Retana who in 1897 published in Spain a compilation of various documents relative to the revolutionary period. Among them were Spanish translations of items that had appeared in the Tagalog newspaper Kalayaan. One of these was an article of which the translated title was "Lo que deben saber y entender los indios" (What the natives should know and understand). The piece was signed with the pseudonym "Agapito Bagumbayan." Who this person was, Retana did not say.
Retana also mentioned (although he did not publish the text or its translation) another item that appeared in Kalayaan, namely a poem entitled "Pag-ibig ng tinuboang bayan" (Love of one's native land) whose author signed it with the initials "AIB."
The second source was Manuel Artigas's book of 1911, in which it is said that Bonifacio contributed writings to Kalayaan, under the penname Agapito Bagumbayan. Artigas did not indicate where he got that information. But if he is correct in his assertion, it would seem that the newspaper article translated by Retana and signed "Agapito Bagumbayan" must have been written by Bonifacio.
The third source were the memoirs of Pio Valenzuela, written sometime around 1914, some 18 years after the events described. He said that the newspaper Kalayaan, which he says he helped to edit, contained in its first (and only) issue contributions by Bonifacio under the penname "Agapito Laong Laan." One of these, he says, was a poem about the native land.
Was the "Agapito Laong Laan" a slip of memory for "Agapito Bagumbayan"? (Dr. May says the Valenzuela
memoirs had many such slips.)
The fourth source was the article (previously mentioned) by Epifanio de los Santos, published first in Spanish then in English translation. Included in it were translations of three texts said to be by Bonifacio. One was the article on what the Tagalogs should know -- the same that had also been published in Spanish translation by Retana, except (as Dr. May points out) that the translations in Retana and in de los Santos are "substantially different." A second text translated was a poem on love of native land -- presumably the same that Retana had mentioned but had not published. A third text translated was a decalogue.
Where did Epifanio de los Santos obtain the originals of these texts, and how did he know they were by Bonifacio? No satisfactory explanation, says Dr. May, is given.
The fifth source was Jose P. Santos's 1935 book, Si Bonifacio at ang Himagsikan. In it eight writings are mentioned as being by Bonifacio. These include the three already published in translation by Santos's father and five new ones. The eight items thus attributed to Bonifacio were:
1. The article on what Tagalogs should know;
2. A poem on love of native land;
3. A decalogue;
4. A Tagalog translation of Rizal's "Adios";
5. A proclamation issued sometime in 1897;
6, 7, 8. Three other poems.
The Rizal translation (no. 4 above) had already been published previously by others. As for the three additional poems (nos. 6, 7, 8 above) Santos said that they were found among the papers of Mariano Ponce and were
said to be by Bonifacio. Of the other documents, no satisfactory explanation is given of how Santos was certain that they were Bonifacio's.
The sixth source was the compilation of The Writings and Trial of Andres Bonifacio, edited by Teodoro Agoncillo with the collaboration of S. V. Epistola, and published in 1963 by the Manila Bonifacio Centennial Commission and the University of the Philippines. This book reproduces the eight texts already published by Jose P. Santos, and adds one additional document. This was the proclamation dated 28 August 1896.
Of this last-mentioned item, Dr. May says, "Why Agoncillo included it is puzzling, since, according to Santos's book on which he relied extensively, that proclamation was actually written by a person named Sinforoso San Pedro with the assistance of Florencio Inocentes. (Typically, Santos did not indicate how he knew that.)" Dr. May believes that Agoncillo's compilation is no more trustworthy than that of Jose P. Santos on which it depended:
Since the value of Agoncillo's collection depended ultimately on the scholarly judgment of (Jose P.) Santos, and since Santos's judgments were, as we have seen, far from trustworthy, we would be justified in considering that this source too like the other five discussed here, is of doubtful reliability. As far as I can determine, not a single one of the nine texts attributed by Agoncillo to Bonifacio can be conclusively shown to have been composed by him. Indeed, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that everyone [sic] of them was written by someone else. (p. 43)Dr. May's conclusion is as follows:
And so we must conclude that Andres Bonifacio the literary master, the unschooled genius, the creator of
timeless Tagalog prose, and the gifted poet whose poems have been anthologized and explicated by scholars and memorized by millions of schoolchildren, may have been a myth. We do not nor will probably ever know exactly how all the writings allegedly composed by Bonifacio came to be attributed to him. We will probably never know for sure whether any of these writings were authored by him. What we do know is that the two key players in the process of creating the image of the literary Andres Bonifacio were the historians, de los Santos and Santos, father and son... (p. 43)On this conclusion, also, we shall offer a comment later in this article.
Six letters are attributed to Bonifacio: two addressed to Mariano Alvarez, four to Emilio Jacinto. These last are said to have been written from Cavite in February and March 1897.
These letters first came to public attention in Epifanio de los Santos's article of 1917, in which translations of the Bonifacio-Jacinto correspondence were included. In those translations, Tagalog words were inserted which have been found puzzling and for which various explanations have been offered.
Two decades later, the Tagalog texts of the letters were included by Epifanio's son, Jose P. Santos, in his manuscript "Si Bonifacio at ang Himagsikan."
Finally, in 1963 Tagalog texts of the letters were included in Teodoro Agoncillo's compilation of The Writings and Trial of Andres Bonifacio.
Where did these letters come from? How did they come to the possession of the Santos family? Two totally
different versions are given.
According to Agoncillo, Epifanio de los Santos found the Bonifacio papers hidden in a hen's nest in Bataan. Jose P. Santos tells a different story. In 1904 a meeting of concerned citizens, including his father, met to discuss the writing of a history of the Revolution, and it was agreed that a first necessary step was to gather documentation. Accordingly Don Epifanio made efforts to obtain documents, asking the aid of Bonifacio's widow, Gregoria de Jesus, and others. Eventually someone from Tondo came, claiming that he had the Bonifacio papers, which Don Epifanio bought at a considerable price.
Where did those Bonifacio papers come from? According to that vendor, they had been in the possession of Emilio Jacinto, who hid them in a vase and buried them deep in the ground, thereby insuring their preservation despite fires and other catastrophes that occurred.
Dr. May seems right in saying that both versions of the story contain elements of the fantastic, like the miraculous stories contained in brochures sold at religious shrines.
Apart from the fantastic tales of provenance, there are other things that raise suspicion. First, the letters described events differently from other known sources. Second, the Tagalog text transcribed by Jose P. Santos "from the originals" varies notably from the translated versions in his father's article -- even the Tagalog words quoted by his father differ from that same passage as found in Jose P. Santos's transcription. Third, the Tagalog text of Santos differs from the Tagalog text of Agoncillo.
Dr. May's conclusion is that none of these various
versions and transcriptions is reliable. But another scholar whom Dr. May cites, Ambeth Ocampo, gave a different conclusion in a lecture delivered at the University of the Philippines. Ambeth Ocampo had seen photocopies of the "originals" and had noted discrepancies with Agoncillo's text. Therefore, he felt that Agoncillo's claim to be transcribing from the originals must be discounted, and Agoncillo was probably merely retranslating into Tagalog from the Spanish version of Epifanio de los Santos.
What about the "originals"; are they reliable? The "originals" that had passed from Don Epifanio to his son Jose were eventually sold by the latter's daughter to a collector. Dr. May was able to examine photocopies of these, and he noted that the handwriting in one letter was different from that in the others. What does that mean? Does it mean merely that Bonifacio had dictated the letters to different scribes? Or does it have a more sinister meaning?
Putting all the above together, Dr. May the came to the conclusion that the letters are forgeries.
A Climate of Forgery
The possibility that the Bonifacio letters and the other writings attributed to him are all forgeries should really not surprise us, knowing as we do that many documents -- accepted for decades as authentic -- have been proven to be forgeries.
That "man from Tondo" who sold the "Bonifacio papers" to Epifanio de los Santos for a "considerable amount" -- papers found "hidden in a vase buried in the ground in Tondo" or "in a hen's nest in Bataan"
-- was he connected with the same group that had produced the "Code of Kalantiaw" or the "Pavon Manuscript" or the "Burgos papers"?
Consider the situation. It was widely known that Don Epifanio de los Santos was looking for documents relative to Andres Bonifacio; he had asked the hero's widow and others to help in the search. There was therefore a ready market for such documents. And lo! the documents appear, previously "hidden in the ground" or "in a hen's nest."
In that context, given the internal and external evidence that casts doubt on their authenticity, it is not difficult to believe that some -- if not all -- of the "Bonifacio writings" are indeed forgeries.
Dr. May devotes one chapter each to three writers who have written about Bonifacio: Artemio Ricarte, Teodoro Agoncillo and Reynaldo Ileto.
Ricarte's memoirs, written over a decade after the event, seem to Dr. May unreliable in the treatment of the incident at Tejeros in March 1897. The information Ricarte gives differs notably from that in other sources, and seems to be self-serving as if intended to enhance his own public image. Although Dr. May does not mention it, perhaps we should remark that that image -- of the uncompromising patriot who chose permanent exile rather than swear allegiance to the American invaders -- was unfortunately tarnished during the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. While hundreds of Filipinos were suffering imprisonment, torture, death, and confiscation of their properties by the Japanese invaders,
Ricarte came as a propagandist for those invaders, urging his countrymen to accept them as liberators.
Teodoro Agoncillo's portrait of Aguinaldo also seems to Dr. May to be suspect, colored by the author's personal and nationalist preoccupations. Our own view of the Agoncillo book is that its main thesis (reflected in the title "The Revolt of the Masses") flies in the face of obvious facts.
Reynaldo Ileto's book, Pasyon and Revolution, Popular Movements in the Philippines (1979) attempts to portray the Revolution not so much as a political movement but rather as millenarian and religious in inspiration.
Dr. May examines the evidence in favor of that view and finds it unconvincing. Our own view of Ileto's thesis, as regards the Revolution of 1896, is somewhat more nuanced. There is undoubtedly an element of the religious in practically all Philippine uprisings, though not necessarily traceable to the Christian "Pasyon" since even the pre-Christian tribal uprisings seem to have been influenced by shamanism. On the other hand, while not denying this element in the 1896 Revolution, we should caution against exaggerating it. It will not do to concoct a theory and marshall [sic] the facts accordingly. Theory must be deduced from a study of the facts.
What Kind of Person was Bonifacio?
What kind of a person was Andres Bonifacio? To be more accurate, what are we TOLD about Bonifacio's life before the outbreak of the Revolution? Dr. May has summarized the data found in the sources:
Andres Bonifacio was born on November 30, 1863, in the Tondo district of Manila. His parents were Santiago Bonifacio, a tailor, and Catalina de Castro, generally described as a housewife. He had three brothers (Ciriaco, Procopio, and Troadio) and two sisters (Espiridiona and Maxima). For a while, young Andres attended a school run by Guillermo Osmeña, a native of Cebu, but, at the age of fourteen, he lost both his parents and was obliged to enter the world of work in order to support his siblings. Initially, Bonifacio made and sold walking canes and paper fans; he also produced posters for various commercial firms in Manila. Before he had reached the age of twenty, he found employment as a "clerk-messenger" in the Manila-based, foreign-owned business firm of Fleming and Company. In time, he became an "agent" of the company, selling rattan, tar, and other products, and then he switched to another commercial house, Fressell and Company, where he also served as an agent. Bonifacio married twice. His first wife, a neighbor named Monica, died after a year of wedlock. In 1893, he married Gregoria de Jesus, the daughter of a local official of the town of Caloocan.That is an admirable summary of what the sources tell us about Bonifacio's earlier life. What is to be said about that picture? Our view may be stated in four sections:
Despite his limited formal education, the young Bonifacio evidently had a love of learning. "The little leisure that he had was employed in self-study," wrote Agoncillo and Guerrero in History of the Filipino People. "He read books by the lamplight at home." Included in his library were two novels of Jose Rizal, Les miserables by Victor Hugo, Eugene Sue's The Wandering Jew, and books on the French Revolution, international law, the penal and civil codes, and the presidents of the United States...
By 1892, Bonifacio began to manifest a strong interest in political matters. He joined the Liga Filipina, founded by Rizal in early July 1892. Furthermore, at virtually the same time, Bonifacio and a handful of other men inaugurated the Katipunan, which appeared to have somewhat more "radical" objectives. "The Katipunan
had two aims," wrote Gregorio Zaide, "namely, (1) to unite the Filipinos into one solid nation and (2) to win Philippine independence by means of revolution." Initially, Deodato Arellano served as supremo of the secret society. He was succeeded by Roman Basa in 1893, and sometime later Bonifacio was elevated to that position. Under his leadership, the organization launched a newspaper called Kalayaan, which was intended to sow revolutionary seeds.
Although Bonifacio played a prominent role in organizing the Katipunan, the principal theoretician of the organization and author of its most important texts was his close associate Emilio Jacinto, a graduate of the prestigious secondary school the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, who at the time he joined the secret society, was attending the University of Santo Tomas. Even so, Bonifacio produced several literary contributions of consequence before the outbreak of the revolution, all of them written in Tagalog -- a number of poems; a translation into Tagalog of one of Jose Rizal's poems; a text entitled "Katungkulang Gagawin ng mga Z. Ll. B." ("The Duties of the Sons of the Country"), a list of rules for the members of the Katipunan, which has often been referred to as Bonifacio's decalogue; and "Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog" ("What the Tagalogs Should be Aware Of"), a short contribution to Kalayaan. (pp. 19-20)
Admitting the validity of Dr. May's findings -- namely that most of the above data is not supported by any evidence other than the assertion of the sources -- it
does not necessarily follow that the picture presented is totally false. As we said earlier, although the picture cannot be proven to be true, neither can all of it be proven to be false. Probably a moderate view would be to say that the picture as presented is true in its general outline, although some details might be false or doubtful. Oral tradition, though often exaggerated, is also often substantially true.
Although the entire picture cannot be proven to be false, the possibility exists that it might in fact be false. That is to say, that most of the data have been invented. As Dr. May puts it, the picture might be "a figment of the mythmakers' imagination." If so, it is unlikely that the inventing was done by either Manuel Artigas or Epifanio de los Santos. Those were men of known integrity, and although not scientifically trained like modern scholars they were genuinely scholarly. Unfortunately, they were (like many scholars in the past) uncritical, and they may have accepted information on good faith which had been invented by others.
This seems to be particularly true in the case of the letters and other writings purchased by Don Epifanio. He may have been uncritical in accepting as genuine what in fact were forgeries.
Regarding the writings attributed to Bonifacio, our view may also be nuanced. We agree with Dr. May in doubting the authenticity of the letters and of most
of the other writings. But there are two pieces that seem to us might be safely accepted as genuinely Bonifacio's. These are: (1) the article "Ang dapat mabatid ng mga Tagalog" and (2) the "Pag-ibig ng tinuboang bayan." The reason: a convergence of probabilities.
The convergence of probabilities is as follows: (1) Retana identifies those two items as having been published in Kalayaan. (2) He also indicates that the article was signed "Agapito Bagongbayan" the poem with the initials "AIB". (These latter initials -- as Dr. May remarks would probably mean "Agap-ito Bagumbayan.") (3) Pio Valenzuela, who had helped edit the newspaper Kalayaan, says that Bonifacio contributed items to that periodical under the penname "Agapito Laong Laan." As Dr. May points out, that (written 18 years after the events) could have been a slip of memory for "Agapito Bagongbayan." (4) Valenzuela identifies one of Bonifacio's contributions to Kalayaan as a poem on love of country. (5) Manuel Artigas asserts that Bonifacio wrote under the pseudonym "Agapito Bagumbayan." (6) The initial letters (A, B) of "Agapito Bagumbayan" are (as Dr. May indicates) identical with those of the name Andres Bonifacio. (7) Epifanio de los Santos published a translation of three pieces that he said were by Bonifacio, two of them being the article and the poem noted above. True, Don Epifanio did not mention his source, but it does not mean that he had none. These seven points form a convergence of probabilities that would suggest that those two pieces were in fact written by Bonifacio.
True, probability does not mean certainty. But we cannot reject pieces as spurious just because they cannot be "definitively" and "conclusively" proven to be genuine. In the case of many writings in the past, all we have
is a convergence of probabilities -- not excluding Shakespeare.
We come to our final point. Whether the biodata that we have about Bonifacio are true or false, they are the only ones we have -- and they do not support the popular image of him as a poor semi-illiterate plebian.
Let us take four items in the biodata: (a) that Bonifacio was a member of Rizal's Liga Filipina; (b) that he was the "supremo" of the Katipunan, closely associated with the other two members of the triumvirate, Emilio Jacinto and Pio Valenzuela; (c) that he was employed successively in two foreign-owned firms in Manila in the character of clerk and "agent"; (d) the letters attributed to him. What do those four items tell us?
(a) Membership in the Liga. -- The Liga Filipina was proposed, discussed and its officers elected during the few days in late June and early July 1892 when Rizal was in Manila, prior to his exile to Dapitan. These discussions took place at dinners held in the houses of well-to-do persons. After Rizal was sent into exile, the Liga died -- "still-born" as Rizal called it. If Bonifacio were a janitor or manual laborer or otherwise of very lowly station, would he have been invited to those dinners and to membership in the Liga?
Bonifacio was not an ilustrado -- that is, he was not a graduate of either a university or of a college of secondary education, but he seems to have been accepted in the company of ilustrados. Would this have been the case if he were a "poor semi-illiterate proletarian"?
(b) Katipunan Supremo. -- The Katipunan (contrary
to Agoncillo's assertions that it included only the masses and none from the upper classes) in fact included ilustrados and well-to-do landowners. Its first head was Deodato Arellano. Eventually it was ruled by a triumvirate consisting of Bonifacio, Valenzuela and Jacinto. Pio Valenzuela was a physician. Emilio Jacinto, a graduate of Letran, was a law student at Santo Tomas. Is it likely that these men -- men of education and social standing -- would accept as their "supremo" a poor semi-illiterate plebeian?
Would well-to-do landowners like the Alvarez clan of Cavite have accepted Bonifacio with honor (even after his defeats in combat) if he had been no more than a poor ill-educated plebeian?
(c) Employment. -- We are told that, after humble beginnings, Bonifacio was employed successively by two foreign firms in the capacity of "agent." Does that fit in with the picture of a poor ill-educated plebeian?
(d) The letters. The letters said to have been written by Bonifacio (whether they are genuine or fake) were written on good stationery with a printed personal letterhead, with his name (Andres Bonifacio), his nom-de-guerre (Maypag-asa), and his position as president of the Katipunan. Do poor ill-educated plebeians write their letters on stationery with a printed personal letterhead?
In short, the picture of a "poor ill-educated plebeian" does not conform to the data given by the sources -- regardless of whether those data are true or not. The picture given by the sources is rather that of a person
of good family of the lower middle class, with the beginning of a good education cut short by family reverses, but eventually achieving a position where he was accepted in the company of people of higher education and social standing.
Perhaps the best description is that given by Jonathan Fast and Jim Richardson in their book, Roots of Dependency: Political and Economic Revolution in 19th Century Philippines (Quezon City 1979). A passage from that book cited by Dr. May (pp. 49-50) puts the matter well:
The foregoing discussion is not meant to imply that Bonifacio belonged to the same social stratum as men like Rizal. Educationally he was excluded from true ilustrado status by his unfinished schooling, and financially he was probably the least affluent of the original Liga members. But the relative modesty of Bonifacio's circumstances in this company should not disguise the fact that he occupied a position closer to the center of the social pyramid than to its base, closer to the petty bourgeoisie than to the proletarian.