Why Fell the Supremo?
Ilustrado means, literally, illuminated, and implies, as in medieval Europe, an esoteric group (for example, the illuminati) lifted above the mass of the people by a special intelligence. Even in our day of mass culture, illuminati exist: we have kept the legend of the mad scientist, who is our equivalent of the mad saint. Nevertheless, we can no longer comprehend a time when anybody who had gone beyond book lore and folklore was regarded as more than just a wise man, was deemed to be reading the world in the light of a supernatural illumination, and was feared as a sorcerer. The early philosopher-scientists of medieval Europe -- Roger Bacon, Petrus Peregrinus, Albert Magnus -- were popularly believed to be magicians and to have had traffic with the Devil; they were seers and sorcerers who could read the secrets of the earth and divine the future, and they gave rise to the Faust legend.
This tradition of the sage as seer haunts our use of the term ilustrado, for the ilustrado arose among us when the Philippines was emerging from its own Middle Ages. Rizal was a prophet not only in his own family, who saw him as a dreamer of dreams foretelling the future. To
the common folk his skill in the sciences indicated possession of magical powers; and this view of Rizal as magus survives in the cult of that strange sect in Laguna which worships him as a kind of supernatural being: the god of Mount Makiling. A similar mysterious light envelops, in popular mythology, the figures of Burgos, Mabini, Aglipay and Aguinaldo. Ilocano peasants used to say of Bishop Aglipay that he had only to put his hands to his head to make his white hair turn black; and there’s a legend in Kawit that the General tamed the cafre that haunted the Kawit seashore and put it to guarding the bridge beside his house.
The Filipino ilustrado, who represented the highest reach of the rising bourgeoisie of the 19th century, may thus be said to have worn the conic cap of the sorcerer; and the Revolution can be told as the tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Of the various embroiderings of that tale, one version has the sorcerer laying out the ingredients for a mighty experiment and then going to sleep until the propitious time for his brew, having bidden his apprentice to keep the caldron boiling; but while he slept the apprentice decided to brew the ingredients himself, tossed them all into the caldron, and began stirring the mixture, whereupon there was a terrific explosion; and the sorcerer awoke to find his cave on fire, and rushed to the caldron, to save what he could of his brew, but in vain, because the time for it had not yet come.
Of the many comments made on the Revolution, that is the one that is never dared made: that it was premature, that it was untimely, that the hour for it , as the ilustrados had been saying all along, had not yet struck. Even from just the practical point of view, the Revolution was inopportune because it cost the lives of the very men who could have made a true Filipino nation work: Rizal, and a whole host of the most brilliant minds of the country, as well as Bonifacio, the sorcerer’s apprentice, himself.
It must be granted that Bonifacio could well have seen the time as propitious, with Cuba in revolt and the home government in Spain in the confused coils of a regency and on the brink of war; but Rizal, who had a cooler eye, cast it not across the sea at Spain but across the street at his own countrymen and judged them not yet ready to revolt. History has vindicated him. Being premature, the Revolution proved abortive. We boast that ours was the first revolution in Asia; we fail to add that the other revolutions, though they came later, were more successful, presumably because the time was ripe for them. The Americans didn’t really interrupt our revolution; it had already flopped before Dewey steamed into Manila Bay; and but for Dewey, Aguinaldo and his colleagues might have spent the rest of their lives
in exile, frittering away the time in one vain conspiracy after another, or being used, as Ricarte was used, by some power that coveted the Philippines. That explosion in the sorcerer’s cave delayed instead of hastening the sorcerer’s work; for the Filipino ilustrado had a revolution in progress that got stymied by Bonifacio’s explosion.
The fashionable view of the Revolution today is that it was a proletarian uprising that the bourgeois "captured." At first it was said that the capture was effected at the Malolos Congress, some two years after the Revolution started. The date has apparently been advanced, since it’s now being said that the capture was made at the Tejeros Convention, six months after Balintawak. We may expect some future theorist to advance the date still further and declare that the capture was accomplished right in Balintawak. All this sounds like an egghead effort to make Marxist boots out of Philippine bakya.
What’s evident is that, soon after the Revolution started, there was a power struggle in Cavite between Manileños and Caviteños. The question to ask is: Who captured which? Was it the Caviteños who, driven from their province by the Spanish forces, fled to Manila and there tried to take over the successful revolution of the Manileños? Or was it the Manileños who fled to Cavite and there tried to capture the successful revolution of the Caviteños? And the geography of the struggle is answer enough.
What becomes clearer all the time is that were two distinct but simultaneous revolutions in 1896. Both had the same impetus, the Katipunan, but that was the only link between them, and it was dissolved within six months. The first revolt, the Manileños’, actually lasted only a week, the last week of August 1896. It ended, to all intents and purposes, with the failure to seize the powder house in San Juan, and the failure to enter Manila, or at least put it under siege. The second revolt, the Caviteños’, lasted about five years from the last week of August, 1896, to Aguinaldo’s capture in Palanan in 1901. When we speak of the "Unfinished Revolution," we should ask: Which one? The one Bonifacio failed to finish, or the one the Americans at first backed and then tracked down to the wilds of Palanan?
But from a larger view there was only one revolution in 1896 -- and it was not Bonifacio’s, though he tried to ride it. (He got thrown off almost at once.) This larger view compels us to see the entire period from the Propaganda Movement to the Philippine-American War as a single event: the Revolution of the Ilustrados.
Those much-maligned folk are now pictured as timorous, self-seeking and too finicky to be anything but ineffectual angels. But they were the
angel (to use the word in its show business sense) of the Revolution, because they provided it with its capital of ideas and ideals. It’s not true that they were anti-revolution, or would have preferred a gradual evolution into nationhood; but it’s true that they wanted a revolution that didn’t require the firing of a single shot -- and the idea is not as preposterous as it sounds, since history has shown it’s possible. We have only to look over our shoulder at Australia, which revolted against the mother country and became a nation without waging war. The Filipino ilustrados were propounding in the 1800’s what Gandhi would preach half a century later in a purer form. They themselves conducted their revolution mostly on paper; and who will say that their paper war was timorous, self-seeking, finicky and ineffective?
We now say that Rizal’s novels created the conscience of a race. The writings of Burgos, Del Pilar and Lopez Jaena so inflamed the national temper a revolution of some sort became inevitable. If the Katipunan could speak of restoring a prehispanic paradise, it was because of research done by the ilustrados and propagated by them to revive national pride. Bonifacio, their ardent student and apprentice, followed their words so closely it’s even said he took the idea of storming the powder house in San Juan and then advancing down Sta. Mesa into Manila from El Filibusterismo, where Simoun had a similar plan of entering Manila by way of Sta. Mesa.
Using only their pens, the ilustrados created a situation that made it impossible for the old order to continue in the Philippines; sooner or later, it must fall. Even when they advocated full incorporation into the Spanish state, they did so knowing that this, too, would sooner or later result in separatism and full nationhood; for the Philippines as a Spanish province would enjoy a more autonomous government, more liberties, more access to progressive ideas, more opportunities for education; and these things would in turn so elevate and unite and strengthen the people they must finally break away and stand on their own. It was only a matter of time. The Propaganda had opened the eyes of the people, was educating them, would push them to assert the right to self-determination.
The Sorcerer had assembled all the ingredients, was just waiting for the ripe time to set the brew a-boiling. Then the Apprentice blew up the cave with his explosion. The Katipunan Revolution in Manila was that powerful but brief explosion. In the Cavite Revolution, the Sorcerer is back at work, is trying to save what he can of his brew, and almost succeeding. But into the picture now enters another sorcerer, a foreign one of more potent magic, to wrest away the wand of the Ilustrado, who can no longer finish his work, having become just
a creature of the foreign sorcerer. So, our hope lies with the Apprentice, who went back to serving his apprenticeship, but is on the way to becoming a magus himself.
That is why, in spite of that bungled explosion, we honor Bonifacio and look forward to, not back at, him, because he is, for us, the masses that are now, in the words of a contemporary ilustrado, serving out their apprenticeship. The first explosion was premature and abortive, and we call it the "Unfinished Revolution." The next explosion should be more illuminating.
The Caldron of the Sorcerer
The Katipunan was of Manila, but the Revolution was of Cavite. After the cry of revolt in August, 1896, and the Battle of San Juan, the Katipunan fades away into the hills of Balara, and the Revolution emerges in Cavite. The greatest drama in our history was to have had Manila for its stage but didn’t. Its place names are all provincial: Imus, Binakayan, Tejeros, Maragondon, Biak-na-bato, Kawit and Malolos. What was conceived in the city never saw the city.
Manila’s Katipunan failed in the Battle of San Juan -- failed to take the city, failed to take the suburbs failed to become an army. But the Revolution in Cavite had a baptism of triumph. Only a couple of days after the San Juan fiasco, the first three towns in Cavite to revolt -- San Francisco de Malabon (now General Trias), Noveleta and Kawit -- were in the hands of the rebels. And these rebels belonged, from the start, not to one army, the Katipunan, but to two: the Magdiwang and the Magdalo. The daughter councils of the Katipunan had completely outgrown their parent.
Bonifacio’s Katipunan was never more than a band of guerrilleros, disorganized and ineffectual -- swooping down from the hills to sack a town, only to be driven out the next day. But before the end of ‘96, the revolution in Cavite had taken almost the entire province and had turned it into a formal front. Bonifacio’s men, bottled up in Balara, were awed to hear that the Caviteños had built a system of trenches and fortifications, had an organized army led by generals, had a hierarchy of officers in uniform. The telling fact here is that Spain’s military attempts to crush the rebellion were directed, not against the Katipuneros in the Balara hills, but against the insurrectos in Cavite. No great armies were sent against Bonifacio; the Spanish expeditionary troops
were hurled against Aguinaldo.
Bypassed and ignored, Bonifacio gravitated toward the heart of the revolt: it drew him; he could not draw it to himself. When he went to Cavite in December, 1896, it was ostensibly to mediate between the Magdiwang and the Magdalo, and he felt flattered that his authority as Supremo was still recognized in Cavite; though the truth is, only one faction, the Magdiwang, had invited him to mediate. But the moment he set foot in Cavite, already free land, he realized he had no authority at all there. He spotted in Imus an officer he believed responsible for the San Juan fiasco; but when he ordered the officer arrested, nobody obeyed him.
To the Caviteños, even the Supremo, the founder of the Katipunan, was but an outsider, was but one more in the stream of refugees from Manila for whom the Caviteños of the time coined a contemptuous term: "alsa balutan." The outsiders were suspected of having come to Cavite merely to save their skins; but having saved their skins, they would now capture the victorious revolution of the Caviteños, the uprising in Manila having flopped.
If there was anything in which the Magdiwang and the Magdalo were united, it was in this hostility to outsiders. The refrain in the meetings between the two camps was ever "We, the rebels of Cavite," or simply "We of Cavite"; and the refrain voiced the Caviteños’ refusal to have their war directed, or themselves ruled, by people "from other pueblos." The officials of the first revolutionary government elected in Tejeros were all Caviteños, save for Ricarte (who was, however, though born in the Ilocos, considered a Caviteno because he had long resided in the province and had married there) and Bonifacio -- and the objection to Bonifacio’s election as secretary of the interior was, as one Caviteño put it at the convention, that "we have in our province a lawyer, Jose del Rosario," more apt for the post.
Bonifacio thought the Magdiwang his ally; but when it came to choosing between Bonifacio and Cavite, the Magdiwang chose Cavite. The convention in Tejeros, though Magdiwang-packed, discarded the Supremo, an outsider, in favor of Aguinaldo the Caviteño, though Aguinaldo belonged to the hated faction of the Magdalo. And when Bonifacio had fallen, the Magdiwang made no move to save him. The revolutionaries had closed ranks behind Aguinaldo, and the price of unity was Bonifacio’s blood. That’s the kindest explanation for the fact that Bonifacio’s own men turned against him, testified against him, and allowed him to be killed.
As in Shakespeare, the tragedy was of the hero’s making. Though already only a Supremo in name when he went to Cavite, Bonifacio could still
have become, in reality, the leader of the Revolution by proving himself forceful enough and politic enough to unite the feuding factions. Instead, he played one against the other.
Though the Magdalo had not invited him to mediate, it seems to have been willing enough to wait and see what the Supremo could do; and there was, consequently, during that December of 1896 -- the moment when unity could have meant the triumph of the Revolution -- a chance for him to win over the Magdalo just by showing he had no other desire but to fuse the rival armies against the government’s crumbling troops. Instead, he antagonized the Magdalo by acting, when he arrived in Cavite, "like a king."
In Cavite, he could have accomplished what he failed to do in San Juan: lead the Revolution into Manila. But to be able to lead the Caviteños, he had to fire them with an enthusiasm larger than their local pride, and to symbolize this larger spirit himself by rising above both the Magdiwang and the Magdalo. Instead, he became as pettily factional as they were.
He was already suspect to the Caviteños in general because he was an outsider, and to the Magdalo in particular because he was related, through his wife, to the chieftain of the Magdiwang; and he should, therefore, have been exquisite in his carefulness not to lean toward any one faction, to quench the suspicion that he had come, not as a disinterested mediator, but as an interested meddler scheming to make Cavite’s success his own. Instead, in the fatal Imus Assembly, he openly snubbed the Magdalo, openly favored the Magdiwang.
The rift he should have healed, he rent into a chasm. And into the chasm he had created, he himself fell. Five months after Imus, he lay dead on a hillside in Maragondon.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Of our heroes, Andres Bonifacio has had, like an uncouth guest at a swanky party, the most trouble getting seated at the table of honor -- if all that talk about his being "downgraded" has any meaning. The ilustrados are partly blamed for this; but the fact is, it was an ilustrado group, headed by Don Fernando Maria Guerrero of El Renacimiento, that started the Bonifacio cult back in the early 1900’s, when the Supremo was all but forgotten, and Aguinaldo and Rizal were getting all the attention. The argument that he was "down-
graded’ in American days because he was a revolutionary doesn’t hold water. Didn’t Aguinaldo lead a revolution; aren’t Rizal’s writings dangerous and inflammatory? Or maybe we were being snobbish and couldn’t stomach Bonifacio because he was lowborn. But we had no trouble placing Mabini the peasant, though Mabini’s origins were miserable.
Since Bonifacio’s place in our pantheon is now secure, it’s time we faced up to the reasons we have not been so ready to exult over him as over Rizal -- and the reasons go back to racial memory, back to the attitudes of the men who knew Bonifacio. He was not charming, he was not likeable; he had a rough temper; he was impatient, rash and domineering, he had the insecurity of the poor, the touchiness of the upstart. Pio Valenzuela is said to have described him as "algo despota" -- rather despotic. There’s the story that when a brother-in-law he had appointed minister of war demurred on the ground that he knew nothing of military science, Bonifacio screamed. "Do as you’re told, because I’ll shoot you if you don’t!" Such stories may be apocryphal, but they indicate the contemporary view of him. Not apocryphal at all are the stories of his behavior in Cavite, which turned Caviteno feeling against him and ultimately led to his killing.
Freud has a theory that Jews bear a burden of guilt because they murdered their leader Moses, a man reputed to have had a violent temper and domineering ways. Isn’t it possible that our ambivalent attitude toward Bonifacio -- a reluctance to "accept" him at the same time that we insist he should be placed higher than or equal with Rizal -- a product of similar racial guilt feelings? Bonifacio, like Moses, undertook to lead his people out of Egypt into the Promised Land; but, unable to bear his temper and his harshness, we did away with him; and haven’t we borne a feeling of guilt in regard to Bonifacio ever since? He is such an uncomfortable hero. About Rizal we can say righteously: "The Spaniards, they killed him." But about Bonifacio, we cannot be so smug. We know who killed him. It was our hands that pulled the trigger, our hands that swung the blade. It was we who decreed, on that mountain in Maragondon, that he was not to finish the Revolution. We don’t call him martyr -- because who was the butcher?
The man who fell in Maragondon was so much of his native city that, when uprooted from its streets by the Revolution, virtue seemed to have gone out of him: he lost authority and direction. The Bonifacio in Cavite is a displaced person, a being out of its element, a lost wraith blowing this way and that. Happier then to dwell on the Bonifacio of Manila, on the boy born in the city on the day of its patron saint, Andrew the Apostle, whose name he
He was of Tondo, born in Tutuban, on a street that’s now the railroad station’s plaza.
There were six children in the family, four boys and two girls; the mother died soon after the birth of the younger girl. Andres studied under Maestro Guillermo Osmeña; early acquired a command of Spanish and fine penmanship. When he was 14, his father died. He became the head of the family, and he supported it by making and peddling paper fans and bamboo canes. On the side, he drew ads for business firms.
His first outside job seems to have been as bodeguero for a mosaic tile factory in Sta. Mesa, owned by the Preysler family. The Spanish patrona, Doña Elvira Preysler, is said to have recalled later that the young Bonifacio was a voracious reader; she noticed that he had a book propped open in front of him even while he was eating lunch. Sometimes he would approach her and ask what this word or that phrase meant. She also found that he took careful note of how she, a Spanish-born lady, spoke. Once he asked her why she pronounced it virtu when it was written virtud; she explained that the Spanish-born omitted terminal d’s. It was more colloquial and smart to say uste than usted.
Her young learner was clearly the poor little boy with an eye for that room on the top. In a freer society, he might have replayed the Horatio Alger story and ended up a successful industrialist with a penchant for dropping his d’s. In the Philippines of the last half of the 19th century, he found his drive to rise blocked; and the frustration may explain the souring of temper, the rage to pull down a society in which he could not climb. Of the books listed as his favorite reading when young, the significant one is not Dumas or Sue but "Lives of the Presidents of the United States." In America, a poor boy could become president; in the Philippines, a poor boy could feel he was condemned to be a bodeguero all his life.
Bonifacio showed his drive to rise by ceasing to be a bodeguero. He wasn’t out of his teens yet when he became an escribiente, or clerk, for Fleming and Co. Presently, he was something even more exalted: a sales agent for Fressel and Co. He dabbled in dramatics (it was fashionable to be an aficionado of the teatro) and read the latest French novels as well as those daring writings of the Propagandists (they were becoming the rage among the educated classes). In the style of the young bucks of the period, he joined the Masons. Every Filipino who went to Europe to study came back a member of some Spanish lodge or other -- but that was an ultimate distinction that the sales agent of Fressel and Co. could not hope for.
The Bonifacio of this period eyes us coolly and stylishly from the only authentic photo we have of him, taken, it is said, on his second wedding; and it jars with our picture of him as the Great Proletarian, in camisachino and kundiman trousers. This wedding-day Bonifacio is certainly groomed to the ears. The hair is slick; the brow is polished; and he looks resplendent in wing collar, cravat, vest and morning coat -- very dandy. It’s as if the poor boy from Tondo were showing all those rich boys in Binondo and Sta. Cruz that he, too, knew how the best people dressed. Ironic that the best-known Bonifacio portrait mocks the tag we have put on him.
By 1892, the Fressel agent had become prominent enough to join the gatherings of the ilustrados. When Rizal founded the Liga, Bonifacio was present, was elected treasurer of a society in which, according to Retana, only the well-to-do or the cultured ("las clases acomodadas o ilustradas") could become members. The Liga never really functioned. Three days after it was organized, Rizal was arrested and banished to Dapitan. The following night -- July 7, 1892, a Thursday -- Bonifacio joined the small ilustrado group that, at No. 64 Azcarraga, founded the Katipunan.
The Apprentice’s Explosion
Rizal’s fall was the decisive moment in Bonifacio’s life. Up to that moment, we have seen the poor boy from Tondo striving to rise, and rising, until he found himself in dazzling company, side by side, in fact, with his idol, the illustrious Dr. Rizal. The fall of his idol could not but disillusion him. If so rich and learned and famous a man as Rizal was helpless against society, what chance had a poor devil like Bonifacio?
From Madrid, Del Pilar had been urging the formation of a group composed not of the well-to-do and the cultured but the poor and ignorant; and the Katipunan followed Del Pilar’s idea of organizing the masses for revolt. Yet through the next two years, 1892-93, Bonifacio kept a foot in both worlds: the world to which he had aspired and risen, and the world from which he came. On the one hand, he strove to keep alive the ilustrados’ Liga, which was supposed to work for peaceful reforms; and on the other hand, he was propagating the Katipunan as a proletarian society geared for violent upheaval. But he was still so tentative about all this he could during those years still carry on a leisurely courtship. He had married young; his first wife had died a
leper. When pushing 30 he fell in love with an 18-year-old girl, in Caloocan, Gregoria de Jesus. He wooed her for a year; in March, 1893 he married her twice: in church and before the Katipunan.
During this period the Katipunan was, in the words of one historian, Manuel Artigas y Cuerva, "asleep... so as not to prejudice the Liga Filipina, which was still being propagated. " Two things may have decided Bonifacio to break finally with the world of the well-to-do and cast in his lot with his own kind. One was the rapid, amazing swell in Katipunan ranks (14,000 members in the Manila area alone) and the other was bourgeois disapproval of the secret society. In a group like Liga, Bonifacio could never be more than a second ranker, a hustler, the chap to send out to solicit funds, because he did that so well: the perfect agent. But in the Katipunan, he was, at last, at the top, number one, head of a mammoth organization, with vast powers, setting up and deposing officials.
The break with the ilustrados is dramatized in the story of how he walked out of the Masonic lodge to which he belonged. The story goes that the lodge, which counted with both Spanish and Filipino members, alarmed by rumors that it was being identified with seditious elements, convoked a junta blanca, or informal session, to clear itself of the charge and take a stand against any separatist or revolutionary movement. In the middle of the discussion, which was, of course, in Spanish, Bonifacio is said to have sprung up and roared, in Tagalog: "Iyan ba lang ang pag-uusapan natin? At kakasti-kastila pa kayo diyan! Diyan na kayo! (Is that all we’re going to talk about? And in Spanish yet! Good-bye!)" And he clapped on his hat and walked out.
From the last part of 1893, the Katipunan stood alone, having severed all links with the Liga and freemasonry. Bonifacio had said good-bye to the world in which a poor boy couldn’t become president. If he had been dazzled by it once, he was now bitter against it. Here begins his hate-the-rich campaign, that rather sinister plot to implicate in the schemes of the Katipunan the rich folk who had snubbed the society. Bonifacio had approached the wealthy Don Francisco Roxas, and the don had snapped that he didn’t care to listen to "tonterias." Bonifacio had approached Antonio Luna, and that suave cosmopolite had said no with a quip: "If Napoleon was Napoleon, it was because he had heart, intelligence and above all, money." All these rich folk who said no to the Katipunan got their names listed down as active or passive members and contributors to the cause, and landed in jail and the torture chambers when the revolt exploded and the Katipunan papers fell into the hand of the authorities. Bonifacio did spare his idol Rizal, though Rizal also said no; but Rizal’s name was
already so involved in the Katipunan he might just as well have been among those falsely listed as adherents; and the hero was destroyed by the very society that revered him as its spiritual caudillo and honorary president.
Rizal and company had said no to the Katipunan, no to the Revolution, because, as they kept saying, the time was not ripe, the people were not ready, and there wasn’t enough arms or funds or leaders.
They were still saying that when their sorcerer’s caldron blew up in their faces, and in the face of the apprentice too.
Within a week, Bonifacio’s Revolution, the revolt of the proletariat, had collapsed. He was a good agent, an excellent organizer, but he just wasn’t a military leader. Perhaps, if the Revolution had been fought out on the streets of Manila, at street barricades, he might have done better. He knew the terrain, he knew the people, and they would have been fighting on home ground. But out in the wilds of Caloocan, and even more in Cavite, Bonifacio was on strange ground, a city boy trying to impose himself on provincial folk.
The Bonifacio of Manila ends with the fiasco of San Juan. Leadership had already passed from his hands when, late in 1896, he, too, made his way to Cavite. Group after group of his men had been melting away from his ranks and were later found enlisted in the armies of Cavite, where the Revolution of the Bourgeois was having far more success.
In the struggle there between Manila and Cavite, the last word belongs to a Caviteño, Santiago Alvarez, at the convention in Tejeros, where the two revolutions had their climactic confrontation:
"If you wish to establish any other kind of government more suited to your fancy, retire to your province and conquer territory from the Spanish government as we have done here, and establish there whatever government you like, and no one will interfere with you. We Caviteños do not need anyone of your caliber as an instructor."
Rather a crushing answer to modern theories that the Caviteños or the ilustrados or the bourgeois "captured" the Revolution of Bonifacio and the proletariat, and that the government established by Cavite’s triumphant Revolution should have been this or that or the other and not what it actually was. The Alvarez retort moreover proves that, even then, the Caviteños already knew that their Revolution was a completely original and autonomous movement, different and distinct from the Bonifacio uprising, if only because that uprising was such a flop. By failing to "conquer territory from the Spanish government," the Manila proletariat failed to gain the right to establish a government "more suited to their fancy." Nothing was captured from them because they had cap-
tured nothing in the first place.
Imus to Maragondon
The five months from Imus to Maragondon were the five acts of the hero’s tragedy. The first act ends with the Imus Assembly, where the Magdalo made a most significant observation: that the Katipunan had become superfluous. This was the first avowal of the fact that the Katipunan of Manila and the Revolution of Cavite were two different things, and that the latter was independent of the former. But Bonifacio had yet to learn the distinction, and he had, as chieftain and co-founder of the Katipunan, automatically taken the presiding chair at the Imus Assembly, to the mingled bafflement, scorn and amusement of the Magdalo, who saw him merely as an outsider, an alsa balutan, the Manila chieftain whose uprising had so dismally failed. In Magdiwang territory, he had heard himself hailed as "the ruler of the Philippines," and though, like Caesar, he had refused the crown, he seems to have accepted the title. Ambition and arrogance were read into his actions, and it must be said that he went out of his way to offend the people he should have conciliated.
Act two displays the failure of Bonifacio’s mission. Having aggravated instead of mending the breach between two factions, he must take the blame for the demoralization in both camps, for the presence of the belligerent outsider in Magdiwang ranks led to panicky rumors: that he was an agent of the government, that he was a tool of the friars, that he had come to make money and to subvert the Revolution in Cavite. With both camps hysterically suspicious of the other, it sometimes happened that neither would go to the other’s help in the field, and the result was that the government troops began to advance in Cavite. By March, they were threatening Imus.
Act three is the Tejeros Convention, the archetype of Philippine polls, for in this, our first election, all the familiar ingredients already appear: the bodyguard, the drawn gun, the ballots prepared by one hand, the violent protests, the attempt to annul the voters’ will. Though Bonifacio’s Magdiwang dominated the convention, the Supremo lost. The Magdiwang elected its leaders into office but chose Aguinaldo of the Magdalo for their president. In a way, Bonifacio had united the two factions just by pushing the idea that he, an outsider, should head the revolutionary government in Cavite. The two factions fused against him, and the government they formed supplanted the Katipunan.
The Supremo had fallen. He left the convention hall crying that the election, over which he himself had presided, was irregular and invalid.
Act four finds the hero plunging to his doom. He separates himself from the Cavite revolt, rejects Aguinaldo’s plea for cooperation, issues an order for the recruiting -- by force, if necessary -- of a rival revolutionary army, defies Aguinaldo’s authority by arresting Magdalo officers and declaring void Aguinaldo’s appointments -- all this at a time when the Revolution in Cavite was being pushed back by government troops. In Naic, he was surprised by Aguinaldo himself in the act of plotting with Mariano Noriel and Pio del Pilar, two generals of Aguinaldo’s army. Bonifacio and his two brothers fled from Naic and tried to make their way to Batangas, where a rival government had been set up for him to head. Aguinaldo ordered his arrest. On April 27, 1897, the three Bonifacio brothers were captured in Indang; Ciriaco was killed during the skirmish, Andres and Procopio were taken to Naic for trial.
Act five, the trial and execution of Andres Bonifacio, begins in Naic and ends in Maragondon, for Naic fell to the Spanish forces during the trial and Aguinaldo had to move his government to Maragondon. On May 6, the court-martial found Andres and Procopio Bonifacio guilty of trying to overthrow the government and asked for the death penalty. Instead of confirming the proposed penalty, Aguinaldo changed it to "indefinite banishment," which amounted to an order of pardon, but was persuaded by a group -- which included ex-henchmen and fellow conspirators of Bonifacio -- to withdraw the order of pardon and allow the execution of the prisoners. On the morning of May 10, 1897, while the Spanish forces were advancing on Maragondon, Bonifacio and his brother were taken up to the mountains and shot.
His death has been used against Aguinaldo, but Aguinaldo comes off admirably in this case. Whether the later Aguinaldo was as power-drunk as Mabini charged, the early Aguinaldo certainly was not, but rather showed himself to be forbearing and magnanimous, and obsessed not with personal glory but with the success of the Revolution. He was a mere bystander though already a famous general at the Imus Assembly, when the newly arrived Bonifacio took the presiding chair as though it were his by right; and from that moment Aguinaldo knew he could not support the presumptuous Manileño as the leader of the revolution. Yet Aguinaldo did not see himself as the leader, considering himself not educated enough. He had his own candidate: Edilberto Evangelista, the European-educated engineer who had built the fortifications of the Revolution in Cavite.
It’s tantalizing to ponder that, but for an enemy bullet, the leader of the
Revolution might have been, neither Bonifacio nor Aguinaldo, but Evangelista, who combined the qualities of the man of thought and the man of action. Would the Revolution have had a different history if it had been directed by a technical man like Evangelista rather than a soldier like Aguinaldo who was himself doubtful of his intellectual competence, or a thinker like Mabini whose intellect lay captive in a crippled body?
But a bullet felled Evangelista in the Battle of Zapote, on February 16, 1897; and after that, there was no longer any doubt that Aguinaldo would become caudillo. Yet he became president through no political exertion of his own. When elected by the Tejeros Convention, he was not even in the Convention hall; while Bonifacio was battling with the electors, Aguinaldo was battling the enemy at the front. Summoned to take his oath as president, he refused to leave his post. It was explained that his election could mean the unification of the Magdiwang and the Magdalo. He replied bitterly that unity had come too late; unity in December, 1896, might have brought the Revolution to the enemy’s strongholds; disunity had brought the enemy to the citadels of the Revolution.
Having agreed to assume the presidency, his first concern was to try to placate the raging Bonifacio; his peace overtures were rebuffed. Nowhere was Aguinaldo’s magnanimity more manifest than on the day he surprised Bonifacio plotting with Generals Mariano Noriel and Pio del Pilar to set up a counter-revolutionary army. Nobody would have blamed Aguinaldo if he had had the three men shot on the spot (his men surrounded the place); yet Aguinaldo allowed Bonifacio to escape, and all he did to Generals Noriel and Del Pilar was order them to return to their posts. He still did not issue any order for Bonifacio’s arrest; only when the plot in Batangas became notorious and the fleeing Bonifacio, headed for Batangas, made mock of the Revolutionary government, by declaring its acts null and void, did Aguinaldo finally decide that the Revolution was not to be destroyed from within by the man who was its parent but had become its grimmest foe. Bonifacio had to be removed, if the Revolution against Spain was not to degenerate into a squabble between Bonifacio’s men and Aguinaldo’s.
But to the end Aguinaldo hesitated to punish his adversary. No one can accuse him of vindictiveness. The death penalty was instantly commuted, the order of pardon released; and his act seems even more impressive when one notes that the very men who had, only the month before, been plotting with Bonifacio -- Generals Noriel and Del Pilar -- were now the loudest in protesting the pardon and in clamoring for Bonifacio’s execution, as though they would
wash away their sin with the blood of the man who had led them to sin. So the Katipunan of Manila perished in Cavite, where it had found itself a stranger, an outsider, a superfluity and an obstruction.
Death in the Morning
Eyewitness accounts of the Revolution disappoint because they usually give a stark resumé of the events that leaves out the details. We never know what the people were wearing, what the weather was, what the scene looked like.
A fascinating exception are the unpublished memoirs of Revolutionary Veteran Castor de Jesus, first cousin of Bonifacio’s wife Gregoria. Veterano de Jesus was among the first recruits of the Katipunan, followed the Supremo to Cavite, was in Maragondon during the trial and execution of the Bonifacio brothers; and his memoirs, set down soon after the Revolution, in Tagalog, pack detail so densely that scene after scene is recreated for the reader.
According to the memoirs, the Supremo left for Cavite early in December, at five in the afternoon, carrying with him for expenses only 27 pesos. Accompanying him were his wife, who was pregnant, his secretary Emilio Jacinto, and a few others, all of them on horseback. Left in command of the Katipunan headquarters at the Real de Balara was Julio Nakpil, segundo supremo. Before he rode away, Bonifacio spoke to his men: "Brothers, I must leave you because duty calls, but I feel sad to be separated from you, since we have been together in suffering from the start. If I leave you well, I hope to find you well on my return, like harmonious brothers with one mother. I shall not stay there long: I merely wish to gratify our brothers who are inviting me."
De Jesus notes that the sky darkened as the Supremo rode away, and that the men left behind felt melancholy: "We worried, as though conscious of some mishap threatening to befall them on their trip."
Bonifacio and his party entered Cavite through Zapote, had to stop in Bacood because his wife had suffered a miscarriage. To Bacood, to welcome the Supremo to liberated land, went Generals Daniel Tirona, Artemio Ricarte, Mariano and Santiago Alvarez, and Crispulo and Baldomero Aguinaldo.
The Supremo was taken to San Francisco de Malabon, where he was met by a church procession headed by the parish priest, who was a Tirona, and who sang a Te Deum mass in his honor, though he was a Mason.
Castor de Jesus, who had been left behind in Balara, presently made the perilous journey to Cavite, too, not only to visit the Supremo but to see for himself the trenches and fortifications the Manila Katipuneros had heard so much about. He noticed that troops originally with the Manila Katipunan were now in Cavite, having joined the armies there, and that the Caviteños referred to such outsiders as "alsa balutan." A fellow outsider told him: "That’s how they call us who come here -- alsa balutan -- and what they mean is that we have come here only to save our lives; and they have reason to say so, for many of us there are now here."
De Jesus found the Supremo in San Francisco de Malabon; though at war the town was gaily preparing to celebrate its fiesta as usual. Castor de Jesus most keenly sensed that this was free land when he saw four friars caged in the town jail. But all was not well with the Supremo; he talked of returning to the Real de Balara and muttered that he would rather die than see regionalism reigning in the land.
When De Jesus next visited Cavite, the Supremo was already inflight. De Jesus joined the flight and was captured along with theBonifacios.
His memoirs give an intimate account of the last day in Maragondon. On May 9, Bonifacio’s wife suddenly realized that it was her birthday and began to weep as she recalled how her parents never let the day pass without a celebration. Bonifacio, who was feverish from his wounds (he had been wounded during his capture), tried to console his wife: "Alas, you tied yourself to a troubled life!" She hastened to assure him that she was not lamenting her lot: "It had always been my dream to find as my companion in life a man with a golden love for freedom and for our country. It seems that the fortune you dream of is the fortune you get. And if now these moments of misfortune come to us, what shall we do? They come to us from the Lord."
According to the memoirs, Colonel Lazaro Makapagal, accompanied by Jose Zulueta, came that night to the house where Bonifacio was kept, and announced that he had orders to fetch the prisoner. The prisoner had to face a brief hearing but would be returned at once. His wife protested that he had been in pain all night and she begged for bandages with which to dress his wounds, which had begun to fester. The colonel explained that his soldiers had brought a hammock in which to carry the prisoner. Because Bonifacio was taken away in the night, a belief arose that he had been executed at midnight.
Col. Makapagal’s account is that he fetched Andres and Procopio Bonifacio on the morning of May 10, with orders to take them up to Mount Tala and there open and read to them the sealed letter he had been given.
During a rest in the ascent, Bonifacio, who had been carried up in a hammock, begged Makapagal to open and read the letter though they had not yet reached Mount Tala. Makapagal consented; the letter was an order to shoot the prisoners, in accordance with the sentence imposed by the court martial, the order of pardon having been withdrawn by Aguinaldo.
According to Makapagal, Bonifacio crawled on his knees toward him, flung out his arms and begged to be forgiven. Shots rang out; Procopio, who had been led away some distance, had been executed. Bonifacio found the strength to stagger up to his feet and to flee toward a promontory encircled by a stream. The soldiers caught up with him near the stream and shot him there. Then they buried him on the promontory.
Bonifacistas object to this story and argue that a man of Bonifacio’s character would never have crawled on his knees to beg for his life. What happened in the Maragondon mountains that morning of May 10, 1897, will probably never be ascertained since no other eyewitness account has appeared to corroborate or disprove Makapagal’s statement.
The Supremo was not yet 34 when he died, only eight months after his Katipunan rose in revolt.
Apprentice Versus Sorcerer
To the popular mind, Bonifacio always means the Bonifacio of the first period, from Tondo to San Juan: the father of the Katipunan, the initiator of the revolt. The Bonifacio of the second period, the anticlimactic Bonifacio in Cavite, hardly exists for us, save as a shadowy figure whose end is a mystery; most people still have a vague idea that he was killed so that leadership might be seized from him. But in the struggle between him and Aguinaldo, it was Bonifacio who was trying to seize power. Leadership already belonged to Aguinaldo, first by popular acclaim, because of his victories in the field, and then by official act, in the Tejeros Convention.
Bonifacio’s tragedy was that he assumed, when he came to Cavite, that he was the leader of the Revolution there too. When he found he was not, he tried to seize leadership, first by using the Magdiwang against the Magdalo, and then by using the Batangueños against the Caviteños. The first effort almost wrecked the Revolution; the second effort cost him his life. In Manila, his aim had always been to unite the people; but in Cavite his aggrieved, resentful policy
became ever to divide, divide, divide.
The fatal error that Bonifacio made in assuming that his Katipunan and the Revolution in Cavite were one and the same thing is still being made today. A theory currently in vogue is that the Philippine Revolution was a proletarian movement that was, when already successful, captured by the middle class. It’s an ingenious reading of history, but demonstrably wide of the mark. The Revolution sprang from the Katipunan -- but what the Katipunan was, the Revolution was not. The Katipunan was plebeian and it failed at once as an uprising; the Revolution was bourgeois from the start and it succeeded up to a point.
No question at all that the Katipunan was proletarian, that Bonifacio, Jacinto and the other Sons of the People were proletarian, and that their uprising in the outskirts of Manila was, therefore, a proletarian movement, a revolt of the masses. But the same terms can be applied to the Revolution in Cavite only if the revolt there was of the peasants. Were Edilberto Evangelista, Artemio Ricarte, Jose del Rosario, Emilio Riego de Dios, the Triases, the Tironas, the Alvarezes and the Aguinaldos peasants? Yet it was men such as these who organized the Katipunan in Cavite -- a Katipunan that must, therefore, have been very different in tone, temper and style from the society in Manila -- and it was this Cavite movement of engineers, lawyers, schoolmasters, poets, town mayors, businessmen and small landowners that became the Revolution. What need had the burghers to capture a revolution they themselves had launched? On the contrary, it was the Manila proletariat, in the person of Bonifacio in Cavite, which tried to capture the successful revolution of the bourgeois, its own having flopped.
When we say that the Revolution had, in its initial phase, no support from the middle class, what we’re actually referring to is the very wealthy class, the upper middle-class, the aristocracy. But the Revolution itself, the successful Revolution of Cavite, was middle class, was of the petite bourgeoisie , which is, after all, what has pre-eminently been regarded as the middle class since Flaubert undressed it for our scorn. Wedged between aristocracy and proletariat, sometimes longing to rise, oftener fearing to fall, this class for which the epithet is small -- small businessman, small landowner, small professional -- has been much reviled, but from it have ever come the intellectuals, the artists, the technicians, the innovators -- and the rebels, for the class that’s mocked for its prudence regularly produces iconoclasts. Snubbed by those above and nervously snubbing those below -- that’s the history of the shabby-genteel; and it’s the history of the first part of the Philippine Revolution, a bourgeois manifestation.
It’s in this light that the dropping of Bonifacio in Cavite should be read. He felt himself a stranger in Cavite, and quite rightly; to the movement there he was a foreign body that had to be expelled. He was simply out of place among the bourgeois. He was self-taught, they were school-educated, and could, from their own ranks, assemble an entire government, as they did in Tejeros, having enough legal, technical and military talent. He thought of revolution in terms of motherland and patriotism and liberty and courage; they thought of it in terms of trenches, fortifications, guns, funds and generals.
The difference in outlook had been expressed even before the Revolution, by Rizal and the ilustrados, in the reasons they gave for not wanting a revolution. If the masses rose in revolt, they would be but a mob, disorganized and ineffectual; a revolution could not succeed without educated leaders and arms. We now laugh at those qualms; we mock Rizal and the ilustrados for their excessive prudence; and we claim that Bonifacio proved all the learned men wrong by hacking down the might of Spain with no arms save bolos. But the glaring evidence of 1896 is that Rizal and the ilustrados were proved right, absolutely right, by the event.
The last part of 1896 was a kind of laboratory in which two experiments were being conducted at the same time to test the correctness of the ilustrado warning.
On one side, in the environs of Manila, was a revolt of the masses, a movement of bolos. It was very heroic, picturesque and dramatic -- but it got nowhere. It failed in San Juan, it failed in San Mateo, if failed in Balara; and similar bolo movements it inspired in nearby provinces as quickly crumbled. The Katipunan depended chiefly on numbers, gauged success by the multitudes that flocked to its standard; but these multitudes didn’t harden into an army and dismally proved that, with all the zeal in the world you can’t win a war with bolos. If the Katipunan uprising, so swiftly checked, had been all there was to 1896, it wouldn’t be a special year in our history; the uprising would be but one more on the long list of our abortive revolts against Spain, and Bonifacio but another name to place beside Diego Silang’s and Francisco Dagohoy’s.
But simultaneous with the Katipunan uprising outside Manila was the Revolution in Cavite, which had educated leaders who knew just what to do. In every town where they rose, the first places seized are always the courthouse and the garrison, and both places always yielded stocks of arms. The rebels thus had, from the start, arms with which to face the troops sent against them, and got more arms by defeating the troops. Trenches and fortifications were then built, a hierarchy of officers was established, and Cavite thus had an orga-
nized army within four months after the first outbreak of rebellion in August, 1896. Within that period -- during which Bonifacio’s men were still brandishing bolos in futile hit-and-run raids on the towns around the Balara hills -- the Caviteños had gained control of their province, were carrying the war outside its borders, were already talking of organizing a government, but never lost sight of the fact that, as the ilustrados had said, a war could be won only with an organized army, trained leaders, and arms. Arms were seized, bought, hoarded, and jealously nursed. (Two charges against Bonifacio were that he appropriated government guns and tried to induce soldiers to join him bringing their arms.) Aguinaldo was willing even to interrupt the war, just so he could get a chance to buy more arms: the reason behind the Pact of Biak-na-Bato.
What we see, then, in 1896 are two parallel but distinct movements, two rebellions that could not be more unlike each other. One was plebeian, instinctive, and in vain; the other, bourgeois, sophisticated, and effective. The first never even got close to its objective -- the attack on and capture of Manila -- and frittered away the rest of the year captive and impotent in the Balara hills. The second enjoyed one triumph after another, amassed territory, and pushed forward, not only in the field of battle but also of politics, advancing from the Convention in Tejeros to the Republic in Kawit to the Congress in Malolos. Since this revolution was, from the first moment, controlled by the bourgeois, its ideas and ideals were necessarily those of the men who directed it; and it’s perverse to accuse those men -- or, rather, the class to which they belonged -- of "betraying" the ideals of the Katipunan. These men did not "capture" the Katipunan; they very pointedly abolished it. If the Revolution ended up bourgeois, it was because it started as bourgeois, in the first place, was bourgeois from the first battle of San Francisco de Malabon and right through the Congress in Malolos, which was the inevitable, the logical result of this movement of professionals and landowners.
The Manila Katipunan could be captured and its ideals betrayed only if its uprising had been successful, had become the Revolution, in which case it would have had the right to impose its ideas on the entire country, the burghers in Cavite included. But the Katipunan uprising floundered; Cavite’s Revolution flourished -- and how can the defeated impose themselves on the victorious? That, in fact, was what Bonifacio tried to do Cavite, and what he was not allowed to. The Congress in Malolos could have been of the proletariat only if the revolt of the masses, Bonifacio’s revolt, had succeeded. It didn’t; the Revolution of the Bourgeois did. So, the Malolos Congress was of the bourgeois. From this point of view, the Katipunan was a failure,
Bonifacio was a failure. Nobody betrayed him or his revolution; he destroyed both it and himself.
For the pity of it is that, when he went to Cavite, he could have got the means to make his revolution succeed. Behind him in Balara and Montalban and Marikina was a rabble whose bolos had been proved futile; but in Cavite stood an organization -- a professional army (the soldiers were sometimes paid) and the technical talent he was so sorely in need of. With tact and a show of modesty, he could have won over this organization and used it to establish the supremacy of the Katipunan. His name still had magic in Cavite; eminent gentlemen like Edilberto Evangelista humbly stood in the reception committee to welcome the laborer from Tondo. But by choosing to give an impression of arrogance, "as though he were a king," he kindled the prejudices against him and stiffened clan and class opposition to his leadership.
In the first place, he should not have assumed that he was the Supremo of the Caviteños, if only because his military record could not bear comparison with theirs. If his armies had taken, say, the whole province of Morong and were still holding it at the sane time he went to Cavite, he might have strutted there with reason. But since he had won no ground worth the winning and what troops he had still hid in the hills, his lordly manner could not but make him a figure of fun in the eyes of the Caviteños, who naturally began to circulate malicious stories about the fiasco in San Juan.
But perhaps he could not help the arrogance, for our poor Andres was a Mañileno. From time immemorial, the Manila boy who goes to the provinces has felt himself a king compared to the rustics, though he may, back in the city, have but a hovel for a home. The Manileño’s innate sense of superiority may explain Bonifacio’s behavior in Cavite, a behavior that had disastrous consequences, for it intensified Caviteño clannishness. In the end, Bonifacio found himself left out, as an outsider, even by the clan he had espoused. Manileño pride had crashed against provincial togetherness.
He was an outsider in an even deeper sense, for in Cavite he found himself in the midst of a class to which he did not belong. A little modesty, a little humility might have won him its sympathy, might have persuaded the burghers to overlook his low origins and lack of education; but as he provoked provincial clannishness, so he provoked bourgeois snobbery and, by seeming to be pushing and presumptuous, antagonized people into regarding him as an upstart. The climax here was the gibe in Tejeros that maddened him almost to the point of killing, a gibe that implied a man as ignorant and lowborn as he had no place in a government of the educated and the genteel. The
incident -- which led to his declaring the Tejeros election invalid and to his defiance of the government and to his death -- floodlights the Caviteños’ awareness of the difference in social level between their revolution and Bonifacio’s Katipunan.
Snobbery was one of the killers of the Supremo; but it and the other forces that destroyed him, he himself had provoked. The death in Maragondon was a tragedy, because the tragedy sprang irresistibly from the character of the hero.