Katipunan Initiation Rites
The arrest and exile of Jose Rizal convinced many Filipinos of the need for more radical measures to attain equality with, if not independence from, Spain. Andres Bonifacio, an admirer of Rizal and a member of La Liga Filipina (the Philippine League), proceeded to organize a secret society named Kataastaasan Kagalanggalang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (The Highest and Most Venerable Association of the Sons and Daughters of the Nation). The Katipunan, as the KKK was commonly referred to, was a small confraternity, numbering only three hundred from 1892 to 1895. It drew its inspiration from European Freemasonry as well as from confraternities or sodalities approved by the Catholic Church.
Bonifacio was a native of Tondo, a warehouseman, apart-time actor in vernacular dramas or komedya. Although proficient enough in reading Spanish, he wrote and spoke Tagalog almost exclusively. In his writings, he spoke of history and revolution in terms that the common people could understand. This is evident in his manifesto, Ang Dapat Mabatid ng Mga Tagalog (What the Tagalogs Should Know).
Bonifacio pictured the pre-colonial past as one of great abundance and prosperity. Everyone -- men and women, young and old -- Could read and write in their own language. Good relations were maintained with Japan and other neighboring lands. But the Spaniards came and seduced the natives into becoming their allies.
The relationship with Spain was sealed by means of a pact which, Bonifacio wrote, "consisted of taking blood from each other's veins, mixing and drinking it as a sign of genuine and wholehearted sincerity in pledging not to be traitorous to their agreement. This was called the 'Blood Compact' of King Sikatuna and Legazpi, the representative of the King of Spain." This pact marked the beginning of the "fall" from an age of pre-Spanish wholeness into a dark age of oppression.
Bonifacio spoke of the people's duty to redeem the country in order to bring forth a condition called kalayaan. While routinely translated as "independence," the meaning of kalayaan runs deeper: it stems from the word layaw, meaning childhood bliss, bodily pleasure, and the satisfaction of necessities. The revolutionists coined the term kalayaan to define independence not just in terms of political autonomy from Spain but also as a general condition of well-being, abundance, and happiness -- a return of the golden age.
This proved to bean attractive appeal to the working classes of Manila and its environs. After Bonifacio's manifesto and similar writings appeared in the newspaper Kalayaan in mid-1896, the Katipunan's membership rose sharply to 30,000, and by early 1897 this had grown to hundreds of thousands.
The Katipunan's ideology was brought home to each member through the society's initiation ritual, an adaptation of the Catholic Easter Vigil ceremony enhanced by Masonic symbols. In a dark room with only a single point of illumination (patterned after the Easter candle), the neophyte was made to answer a series of questions, like those asked in baptismal ceremonies. However, instead of repudiating the devil in order to be reborn in the Catholic Church, the new Katipunero had to repudiate the dark age of friar domination in order to be reborn in a new community of the children of the Motherland (Inang Bayan).
The final step of the ritual was the signing of membership papers with the Katipunero's own blood. This signified not just his or her willingness to shed blood, or even to die, in freeing the Motherland but also the repudiation of the original blood compact between Sikatuna and Legazpi. The new blood compact would unite the sons and daughters of the Motherland who would call each other kadugo, "of the same blood."
While effective in ensuring commitment to the cause owing to its underlying themes of death and rebirth, the Katipunan initiation rite was too cumbersome and time-consuming as mass mobilization went fully underway in 1897. It was soon replaced by a simple oath-taking ceremony.
Aguinaldo abandoned the secret society mode of organization altogether when he formed a revolutionary government. Nevertheless, the Katipunan form of organization with its associated rituals survived in many areas under little-known leaders, sometimes assuming the characteristics of religio-political sects. And during the difficult guerrilla war with the United States, Aguinaldo himself would attempt to revive the Katipunan in order to keep the spirit of resistance alive among the lower classes.
The Revolution Against Spain Begins
The Manila Katipunan was composed of workers, servants, petty clerks and traders, militiamen, and even seamen in cargo ships who spread the society's message to other parts of the archipelago. Some Filipino workers returning from abroad joined as well.
Candido Iban and Francisco del Castillo, who worked as seamen and divers in Australia, were lucky enough to win in the Australian lottery and brought their winnings back to Manila. Joining the Katipunan in 1895, they donated four hundred pesos of their prize of one thousand pesos for the purchase of a printing press, which was used to print the newspaper Kalayaan, They then returned to Capiz to organize the Katipunan among their province mates.
Most wealthy and prominent Filipinos stayed away from the Katipunan. They saw it as a movement of the lower-middle class and gentes ordinarias (commoners) that lacked the armaments and skills to overcome Spanish state power. Bonifacio, however, managed to implicate the "better classes" in various ways in order to secure their financial and professional help. Even after Rizal refused to join, for example, his name and portrait were incorporated in Katipunan ceremonies.
After the secret society was exposed on August 19, 1896, Manila and other major towns became the scene of a massive manhunt in which about five hundred prominent Filipinos were arrested and tried for conspiracy and sedition before a special court. Spain's overreaction to the Katipunan's discovery lost her the allegiance of many among the indio and mestizo elite and their families who were unjustly persecuted.
The Katipunan's numerical strength lay in the suburbs of San Francisco Neri (today's Mandaluyong), San Juan de los Montes, and the barrios beyond, where the predominantly farming population had been recruited into the society. In one such stronghold, Balintawak, Bonifacio secretly gathered his men for the inevitable confrontation with the Spanish Army.
One of Bonifacio's close associates at Balintawak was an old remontado (rebel) named Laong, who wore a salacot (gourd) hat ornamented with silver, with a knob of the same metal. The missionaries labeled remontados those indios who had abandoned the towns and the Christian faith to live outside the control of Spain. Laong is said to have "attracted, catechized and initiated out-of-hand" many peasants in the fields surrounding Balintawak. He was one of those privileged to carry a revolver, of which the Katipunan had precious few. Laong led a group of remontados and peasant fanners in an attack on the Chinese and their stores in Caloocan and other places in the vicinity.
Propertied Filipinos, including most ilustrados, would certainly have frowned upon such actions perpetrated by the "rabble," as Bonifacio's motley followers were sometimes called.
At Balintawak, the Katipunan code, which had been deciphered by the Spanish authorities, was changed. From there, the Katipuneros moved to Barrio Kangkong and eventually to Barrio Pugadlawin. At Pugadlawin, Bonifacio asked his men whether they were prepared to fight to the end. They all responded in the affirmative. Bonifacio then urged everyone to tear up his or her tax certificate (the infamous cedula personal), a symbolic gesture signifying the end of servitude to Spain. They did so amidst cries of "Long live the Philippines! Long live the Katipunan!" The gatherings at Balintawak and Pugadlawin were also occasions for communal meals, which brought the "children of the Motherland" together prior to battle.
As the Pugadlawin scene clearly shows, the Katipuneros were armed mostly with bolos and knives. Despite the defection of a few native militiamen with their arms, the Katipunan was no match for the Spanish forces. After a major defeat in Pinaglabanan, Bonifacio retreated to the hills of Morong province (now Rizal). Montalban was of special significance to him because it was in the cave of Pamitinan, abode of the legendary King Bernardo Carpio, that he and his associates had solemnly declared the independence of the country in April 1895. Perhaps it was the example of the remontado Laong that inspired Bonifacio to admit that in the case the Katipunan failed, he would remain an outlaw and never return to the Spanish fold.
The Execution of Jose Rizal
Jose Rizal had been exiled to Dapitan in Mindanao because of suspicions that he was a revolutionary. But when he applied to serve as a volunteer physician in Cuba, the application was approved. His plan was to sail for Spain and go from there to Cuba. Before he could reach Spain, however, orders reached the ship's captain that Rizal was to be arrested and sent back to the Philippines.
When Rizal was thrown into prison in November 1896, one of the first things he did was to design and send to his family a little sketch of "The Agony in the Garden," beneath which he wrote, "This is but the first Station." With him in his cell were a Bible and a copy of Tomas a Kempis's On the Imitation of Christ. By sending his family the Biblically-inspired sketch and note which would later come to the attention of more and more people together with his poem Mi Ultimo Adios, Rizal was obviously patterning his final days upon the familiar story of Christ's passion and death.
The publicized trial was a farce, but it fitted the scenario perfectly. The prosecutor called Rizal "the soul of this rebellion" whose countrymen render him "liege homage and look up to him as a superior being whose sovereign commands are obeyed without question." The Office of the Governor General submitted a document to the court that described Rizal as "the great agitator of the Philippines who is not only personally convinced that he is called to be the chosen vessel of a kind of redemption of his race, but who is considered by the masses of the native population to be a superhuman being."
Faced with such charges, Rizal could only plead that he had nothing to do with political affairs from July 1892 to June of that year and that he was opposed to the armed conspiracy. But the Judge Advocate General refused to allow publication of Rizal's manifesto condemning the uprising because, in effect it "said in substance: 'Let us subject ourselves now, for later I shall lead to the Promised Land.'" At the trial's end, news of Rizal's impending execution quickly "spread everywhere, producing a deep impression."
Rizal refused to be brought to the execution site in a military wagon, as was customary. He preferred to walk instead. Whether he intended it or not, everything about
his final hour was public, subject to rumor and interpretation. Entering the square formed by a company of soldiers who were his executioners, Rizal maintained an "amazing serenity," taking firm steps as if on a stroll. A Spanish doctor, wondering at his calmness, took his pulse and found it perfectly normal.
Despite his objections, Rizal had his back to the firing squad, but he was prepared with his special stance and suddenly twisted around in death, to fall face upwards. And sure enough, after uttering loud and clear his last words, "Consummatum est!" which was followed by a barrage of musket fire, Rizal lay dead facing the breaking dawn.
Rizal's mode of death, publicized in the Spanish and vernacular newspapers and repeated by word of mouth, was an event that could be comprehended at least by all Christian Filipinos. It enabled a greater number of people, regardless of regional, linguistic, and class differences, to discover a common identity by empathizing with Rizal and even following his example. It sparked the rapid growth of the Katipunan and religio-political sects in Luzon and the Visayas during the early months of 1897. A common feature of these diverse movements was their rallying cry, "Viva Rizal!"
The 1898 Republican government further encouraged the interpretation of Rizal as a national martyr. Toward the end of 1898 and in January 1899, the revolutionary newspapers La Independencia and El Heraldo de la Revolucion carried descriptions of the commemoration of Rizal's death in various towns.
Rizal himself had said, "the day the Spanish inflict martyrdom... farewell, pro-friar government, and perhaps farewell, Spanish government."
Court Martial of Andres Bonifacio
The Katipunan uprising began in Manila and was fairly quickly suppressed, but in the surrounding provinces, events progressed in different ways, depending on the specific characteristics of each locale. The Katipunan leaders in Cavite tended to come from merchant and landowning families that had come to dominate municipal politics. Most had a Spanish education and the mayors (gobernadorcillos), in particular, could boast of some experience in warfare through leading their local police forces against bandit gangs. They were better situated to win battles against Spanish forces and liberate some towns, while Bonifacio was suffering one setback after another in the vicinity of Manila.
As Santiago Alvarez of San Francisco de Malabon writes of the experience of independence during the latter days of September 1896: "The people were truly happy, free to enjoy life in all sorts of ways. Food was plentiful; all things were cheap; there were no perversities, no robberies, no thefts, no pickpockets. Everyone had love for his fellow men, and in every place the Katipunan's teaching of brotherly love held sway." Rumors of the victories of Emilio Aguinaldo, a former mayor of Kawit, soon spread to other locales. A foreign journalist described people from Manila, Pasay, and Morong towns, "thousands of them, men and women, young and old, carrying their possessions, hurrying to place themselves under the Little Republic of Cavite." Early in December, Bonifacio, whose wife Gregoria de Jesus had relatives in Cavite, accepted an invitation to transfer his operations there.
Upon arriving with his wife, his brothers, and twenty men, Bonifacio found himself caught in the crossfire between two rival Katipunan factions, the Magdalo and the Magdiwang, and became
identified with the latter. The Tejeros convention, held on March 22, 1897, was an attempt to solve these internal problems. A revolutionary government replaced the Katipunan society, and Aguinaldo, the head of the Magdalo, (in fact Magdalo, or Magdalene, was his nom de guerre) was elected president. The new government took over the house that served as the Magdiwang headquarters and placed a trooper at Bonifacio's door to curtail the Supremo's activities.
Andres Bonifacio's defeat at the Tejeros election was facilitated by comments of the opposition that he lacked education, could not handle Spanish, and was not truly a republican because people in the streets hailed him as "Hari ng Katagalugan" (King of the Tagalogs), not to mention his use of the controversial title "Supremo." Some went to the extent of calling him a leader of bandits called "Katipungoles" and derided his alleged claim that the mythical Bernardo Carpio would come down from Mount Tapusi to help his struggling forces.
All of these criticisms actually point to Bonifacio's ability to render the struggle meaningful to the common people and the disdain with which many members of the "better classes" regarded such behavior. One criticism seems valid though: Bonifacio was a poor military strategist compared to the likes of Aguinaldo.
Perhaps owing to the unfair and insulting manner in which the Magdalo leaders treated him, Bonifacio refused to accept the results of the Tejeros election. He gathered his loyal followers and left with his wife and two brothers, intending to return to his hideouts in Morong. Aguinaldo, interpreting this as insubordination and a cause of disunity in the revolutionary camp, ordered the arrest of the Bonifacio brothers. In the skirmish that ensued, one of Bonifacio's brothers, Ciriaco, was killed and the other brother, Procopio, wounded. Andres was brought back to Naic, a prisoner of the revolutionary government. He and Procopio were court-martialed, found guilty of sedition, and sentenced to death.
The final decision was left to Aguinaldo, and there is a document proving that Aguinaldo commuted the penalty to indefinite exile. But perhaps his fellow commanders overruled him. Andres and Procopio Bonifacio were executed by a platoon of soldiers under Major Lazaro Macapagal's command in Mount Buntis, Maragondon, on May 10, 1897. The question of ultimate responsibility for this act, which demoralized a great number of Katipuneros, still remains unresolved.