Bonifacio: Myth and Reality
One hundred years ago this month, on the night of July 7, 1892, in a house on Azcarraga (now C.M. Recto) street, a group of men met to discuss the arrest and deportation of Rizal. They set up a secret society that was eventually to take center stage in the first phase of the Philippine revolution against Spain. The group was known as the Kataastaasang Kagalanggalang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan -- the Katipunan, or KKK for short. All this might sound like textbook history, but have you ever wondered how much we really know about the KKK and its ill-fated supremo Andres Bonifacio?
To gauge common knowledge and avoid a long historical treatise or a boring quiz, we merely have to look at the world of art. Filipino artists in the last eighty years have re-presented our history in their drawings, paintings, music, and sculpture and successfully created a stereotyped image of Bonifacio in our consciousness. This representation, however, goes against historical documentation. We actually have two Bonifacios in our consciousness -- one mythical, the other real -- and our problem is that myth is more popular than reality.
For a specific example, let us go back a few years ago when a sculptor submitted studies for a proposed Bonifacio monument to the National Historical Institute. Aside from awkward drawings, the artist revealed the popular Bonifacio stereotype: one weating an open camisa de chino to display a muscled chest and pants rolled up to reveal bare feet. Bonifacio's left hand waved the Katipunan flag, while his right raised a defiant bolo. To complete this physically difficult pose, the artist gave Bonifacio fiery eyes and a silent but suggested rebel yell. The late E. Aguilar Cruz, a senior member of the Institute asked the artist to submit another proposal, commenting that more research was required on the part of the artist.
To the common tao, there is nothing wrong with this image of Bonifacio. It can be seen in full color in the Carlos V. Francisco
mural at the Manila City Hall, or in the different escayola or cement versions in numerous schoolyards and municipal plazas all over the archipelago. Everything seemingly comes from the same mould or idea. I traced the origin of this image to a drawing by Jorge Pineda reproduced on the cover of Renacimiento Filipino of July 14, 1911. From this drawing came the monument by the sculptor Ramon Martinez, which was unveiled on September 3, 1911, in Balintawak (it has since been transferred and now stands in front of Vinzons Hall of U.P. Diliman). This monument, according to press clippings, was the "Ala-ala ng bayang Pilipino sa mga Bayani ng '96," but in time, it became famous as the Bonifacio monument commemorating the Cry of Balintawak. Thus has Bonifacio been remembered, until such an image was challenged by the late National Artist for Sculpture Guillermo Tolentino.
After painstaking research and interviews with people who had known the supremo, Tolentino created a masterpiece in bronze in Caloocan that has become a landmark now known simply as "Monumento." Here, Tolentino represented a different image of Bonifacio: one in a closed barong tagalog, with a handkerchief tied on his neck, and wearing shoes! He stands calm but defiant with a bolo in one hand and a gun on the other. Behind him are Emilio Jacinto and a standard bearer with the Katipunan flag.
When the protests came in, Tolentino countered his critics with his research. The likeness was based not only on a photograph of Bonifacio, but on the bone structure of his sister Espiridiona as well. Interviews of surviving Katipuneros gave an idea of his attire and revealed that, contrary to popular belief, Bonifacio favored in battle his gun over his bolo. One account says that on their way to Caloocan in 1896, many Katipuneros traveled disguised as women to get past the Spanish police and military. To make his baro't saya more convincing, Bonifacio had to leave his bolo behind and take his gun instead. Tolentino left no stone unturned in his research, and he was prepared to show documentation for such minute details as the position of the holster on Bonifacio's belt. Over and above all this, Tolentino even consulted espiritistas to discern the true likeness and character of Bonifacio.
Unlike Rizal whose likeness we do not doubt due to numerous photographs, Bonifacio's true likeness has proven to be elusive. All we have is one faded studio photograph of him. The irony of it all is that despite the image we have of Bonifacio as the barefoot Great Plebeian in his camisa de chino and rolled-up pants, our sole photograph of him shows him wearing a coat! Some people are of the opinion that this photograph was taken on the day of his wedding (the first? or the second to Gregoria de Jesus?), thus explaining his attire. Other maintain the poor-boy-from-Tondo image and speculate that the coat was merely painted over the original photograph to make Bonifacio "look decent." Niretoke lamang para magmukha siyang disente. With only one extant photograph of him, I guess we will never know how he really looked. If we are confused by our Bonifacio stereotype when faced with historical facts, it could only mean that more research and writing need to be done.
Aside from our textbooks, the standard work remains Teodoro A. Agoncillo's Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan, first published in 1956 after it won a nationwide contest. This book was immediately controversial. No less than Emilio Aguinaldo has asked that its publication be suspended because he thought he did not come out very well in it -- though he had not yet read it. Among the many complaints against the book were that: it was strongly anti-clerical; it advanced the notion that Bonifacio was a greater hero than Rizal; and that the Philippine Revolution of 1896 was commanded and began by the masses. In those hysterical Cold War times, Agoncillo was branded a "communist." Revolt outlived its critics to become a landmark work, one of those precious books that changed the way we looked at our past. By rewriting history from the Filipino viewpoint, Agoncillo challenged colonial historiography and earned the title "nationalist" historian.
One of Agoncillo's major points was the debunking of the Grito de Balintawak tradition. Since the turn of the century, it has been widely believed that the first cry of the revolution took place in Balintawak, Caloocan. Then along came Agoncillo who gave the exact date for the cry as August 23, 1896, and the exact place to be not Balintawak but Pugadlawin. Despite these becoming textbook
facts, the Balintawak tradition continues to thrive. Nick Joaquin still writes in support of Balintawak, and I myself did not think about this very much until I was invited to deliver a paper for the first Annual Bonifacio Lectures in 1989. Reviewing sources on the revolution, I found out that the Balintawak tradition was more popular than that of the Pugadlawin.
This controversy remains unresolved except in our textbooks. What was so surprising was to find out that depending on the book one read, there were five dates for the Cry -- August 20, 23, 24, 25, and 26 -- and five different venues for the first cry: Balintawak, Pugadlawin, Kangkong, Bahay Toro, and Pasong Tamo!
Writing about it did not settle things because readers demanded an exact answer which I was unable to give. So when and where did it actually happen? To this day, I am still confused and stumped, and the only reply I have is that the cry occurred towards the end of August 1896 and that all the places mentioned are in Caloocan, which in those times was a district of Balintawak!
In 1989, after a series of articles on the controversy over Balintawak and Pugadlawin, I received a batch of photocopied manuscripts with an invitation to peruse the originals of what appeared to be the papers of Bonifacio. Knowing that these were transcribed and printed by Agoncillo in two separate books, I did not bother to decipher Bonifacio's fine script. Months later, on a lazy afternoon, I decided to compare the Agoncillo transcriptions with the Bonifacio originals. I was surprised to find discrepancies in the text. While Agoncillo reproduced the "orihinal sa Tagalog," it proved to be slightly different from the manuscripts. I realized immediately that Agoncillo did not have access to the original Bonifacio papers. He merely translated an English translation of the Bonifacio papers, which were themselves translated from Spanish by Epifanio de los Santos who possessed the original Tagalog manuscripts. Agoncillo's so-called "originals" were actually a tertiary or, at least, a second-generation translation! Missing for almost fifty years, the original Katipunan papers were offered for sale and broken up into smaller collections now owned by at least two private collectors and an antique dealer. Fortunately, Bonifacio's papers are made available by the present own-
ers, Mr. Emmanuel Encarnacion of Quezon City and Atty. Jorge de los Santos of Malabon; but the notebooks of Emilio Jacinto continue to be with an antique dealer who would not allow scholarly access unless one was interested in buying them!
If there is so much that is debatable in simple things, like the date and place of Bonifacio's Cry or his attire and weaponry, what more with the general picture of the Katipunan and the Revolution? As materials resurface and new documents and manuscripts both here and abroad are discovered, it becomes necessary to evolve new ways of interpreting the Katipunan, such as that of Reynaldo Ileto in his book, Pasyon and Revolution (1979). Perhaps we need another major book on the Katipunan that will give us a view different from that of Agoncillo's. Instead of focusing on the great men or heroes, maybe we can try to find out about the "underside" of history -- those forgotten men and women who fought under the Katipunan, and their beliefs, motives, and appearances, among other things. Only then can this generation rewrite its own history, separate myth from reality, clarify legend from truth, and thereby gain a new way of seeing into our past and hopefully into our future.
5 July 1992