Monday, September 19, 2005

Biedzynski, James. Review of Inventing A Hero: The Postumous Re-Creation ofAndres Bonifacio, by Glenn Anthony May. Crossroads 11.2 (June 1998): 142-4.


Inventing A Hero: The Postumous Re-Creation ofAndres Bonifacio, by Glenn Anthony May. Madison:Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin, 1996. 200pp., $40.00, cloth; $19.95, paper.

Andres Bonifacio occupies a hallowed [sic] in the pantheon of Filipino national heroes. Indeed, he is revered by Filipino nationalists as the virtual father of the nation and his image has been uplifted [sic] by Filipino nationalists eager to engage in nation-building. Nonetheless, there are relatively few biographies written about him. One reason for this is because there is very little source material on Bonifacio. In fairness, we ought to note that this occurs in many nations, particularly those whose existence has been of a short duration. Nation building is fine, but if its building blocks are defective or flawed, that can cause problems further down the road. What May objects to, and I think this is valid, is building national images around myths which have no historical foundation. Eventually, the truth comes out and what does one do when one learns one's history books are not accurate?

Glenn May, a historian at the University of Oregon, has carefully sifted the sources and historiography on Bonifacio and found both wanting. He has concluded after exhaustive research that many of the writings attributed to Bonifacio may well be forgeries and that all Bonifacio scholarship is based on severely flawed, if not useless, sources. May further maintains the image many Filipinos have about Bonifacio is an illusion and we know next to nothing about the actual man.


May examines several Filipino historians whose work has dealt with Bonifacio. He sees the same flawed sources passed from generation to generation without critical examination. Manuel Artigas, a journalist and sometime government official, tried to keep Bonifacio's memory alive during the early twentieth century via his writing. Epifanio de los Santos and Jose Santos were father and son and historical writers. Epifanio de los Santos obtained the Bonifacio manuscripts in 1904 and used them in his writing. His son also used the same material in his own writing. May suggests the Santoses either knew or suspected the manuscripts were forgeries, but chose not to reveal that fact. This was due to their desire to assist in nation-building and Jose Santos' desire to protect his father's reputation. One must ask why it has taken so long for this to be revealed and also why no one raised the issue that only the Santoses actually saw the original Bonifacio manuscripts until 1948. These are questions that remain in Philippine historiography's attic. The fact that they have been up there so long is deeply troubling. They are also questions that deserve to see the light of day.

May has critical comments of Artemio Ricarte's memoir, which contains material on Bonifacio. May maintains we should look at the Filipino founding fathers of 1896 as accomplished political operatives just as many Filipino politicians are today. Once that is accepted, it becomes much easier to recognize there was a power struggle within the Philippine Revolution during 1897: Bonifacio was on the losing side, and he paid for it with his life.

One unfortunate result of the Philippine "national-hero cult" has been the near deification or in some instances denigration of many major historical figures across the panaroma of Philippine history. Thus, Jose Rizal has been made into the model Filipino or the lackey of Western Imperialism. Emilio Aguinaldo can be viewed as a dedicated freedom fighter for his country or as a crafty politician who cut a deal with the Americans for personal gain. Manuel Quezon is alternately the champion of Filipino nationalism or the man who tried to derail Philippine independence. Perhaps if we attempt to look between these two extremes, we might find the real Rizal, Aguinaldo, and Quezon.

Teodoro Agoncillo published Revolt of The Masses (University of the Philippines Press) in 1956. A highly influential work, it chronicled the 1896-97 revolution and Bonifacio's controversial career. Agoncillo popularized the notion that the Revolution was mass-based and betrayed by the upper classes. May disputes


Agoncillo's portrayal of Bonifacio. Agoncillo was noted for his careful use of sources but May states this failed him in dealing with Bonifacio. Agoncillo states this failed him in dealing with Bonifacio [sic]. Agoncillo interviewed several elderly revolutionaries, including Aguinaldo and Dr. Pio Valenzuela, for this book and May states Agoncillo trusted his interviewees too much. Rafael Ileto [sic], on the other hand, is a brilliant Filipino historian teaching in Australia. His Pasyon and Philippine Revolution [sic] (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1979) is a landmark work in Philippine history. Heto tried to place Bonifacio in the midst of agrarian ferment, while noting the source material on the Katipunan Supremo was flawed. May clearly admires Ileto and his scholarship. His criticism is merely that Ileto used flawed sources which weakened his book. In the end, it comes down to which English translation of the Tagalog sources is the most accurate. Thus the problem of Bonifacio image-making persisted into the 1970s.

Inventing A Hero is a book that every Filipino ought to read. May now argues that we must try to find out who the real Andres Bonifacio was and acknowledge how little we actually know about the Philippine Revolution. Hopefully, in the years to come, a more realistic Bonifacio and a more real Philippine Revolution of 1896-1902 will emerge.

James Biedzynski
Ocean County College