General Santiago Alvarez recounts in his memoirs that in early April 1897 Andres Bonifacio transferred his headquarters from the friar estate house in Naic to the barrio of Limbon, some twenty kilometers to the south in the municipality of Indang. He was accompanied "not only by his troops, but also by followers, men and women, old and young alike."1 Since late February, the Spaniards had been waging a successful counter-offensive against the insurgent forces in Cavite and by now had already recaptured several towns. Bonifacio’s personal authority as the leader of the Katipunan, meanwhile, had been devastatingly challenged by the momentous assembly held in Tejeros on March 22, at which a new revolutionary government had been created and Emilio Aguinaldo had been elected President. When Bonifacio moved to Limbon, says Alvarez, he was already planning finally to leave Cavite and journey north to the mountains above San Mateo, closer to Manila. For a while, though, Bonifacio and his followers set up a small fortified encampment in Limbon, and he remained there until his arrest by Aguinaldo’s soldiers on April 28. As is well known, he and his brother Procopio were then put on trial for plotting to assassinate Aguinaldo and overthrow the government. Found guilty, they were executed on May 10.
Transcribed below (in the original Tagalog, followed by an English translation) is a previously unpublished letter that Bonifacio wrote to Julio Nakpil on April 24, just four days before his arrest. Nakpil, a piano teacher prior to the revolution, had been appointed by Bonifacio as president of the Katipunan government in the "Northern District", the region to the north and east of the capital. He worked in tandem with Emilio Jacinto, the commander of KKK military forces in the Northern District, and it seems both men moved back and forth (sometimes together, sometimes separately) in the early months of 1897 between the seat of their civil administration ("Mataas na Sangunian") in Pasig and their military encampments in the Sierra Madre, including the base near San Mateo to which Bonifacio reportedly intended to head.2
Many readers of this website will be familiar with Glenn May’s Inventing a Hero, which amongst other things doubts the authenticity of various "Bonifacio letters" dated 1897 that have been published in different forms and translations since 1917.3 After Inventing a Hero had gone to press, Adrian Cristobal included facsimiles of three of these letters in his book The Tragedy of the Revolution, gratefully acknowledging their owner, the collector Emmanuel Encarnacion.4 The three letters reproduced by Cristobal are all addressed to Emilio Jacinto, and one bears exactly the same address and date -- Limbon, April 24, 1897 -- as the letter below from Bonifacio to Nakpil. This enables the disputed Jacinto letters and the Nakpil letter to be closely compared, and beneath the texts that follow I note a number of similarities that markedly strengthen the case for at least some of the letters to Jacinto being accepted as authentic.
This piece is part of a larger "work in progress" that I intend to submit for publication in due course, and any corrections or comments will be most welcome.
The original Tagalog text of this letter bears accents in accordance with the conventions of the time, but these have been omitted here due to the difficulties of rendering them in electronic format. Words that are difficult to decipher are followed by a question mark in square brackets –- [?] –- and the round brackets are as found in the original –- (Laguna) –- as are the underlinings.
The text is as follows:
Sinaguto itoThis text might be freely rendered in English as follows:
ng ika 30 ng Abril 18975
P. ng K.6 Kapulungan
M.7 Julio N. Nakpil, Giliw,
M. na P.8 ng Sangunian sa dakong Hilagaan
Minamahal na Kapatid: buhat sa sunodsunod na pagka-agaw ng Kastila sa mga bayan ng Silang, Dasmarinas, Imus, Bakood, Kawit, Noveleta, Salinas, Malabon at Tanza ay siyang kadahilanan ng di ko pag sulat dian sa inyo.
Tungkol sa mailigpit ninyong salapi ay inyong tipunin dian at di nararapat na inyong ipagkaloob sa kangino pa man, sapagka’t tayo ang nagpadala ng Poder sa Hong Kong ay tayo ang siyang mapapahiya kung walang maibigay tayong salapi, sapagka’t ang salaping nailigpit dito ay halos ubos na sa kagugugol ng mga Pinuno dito sa kanilang pagkakailangan at Panghihimagsik.
Ang mga kapsulang vacio at mga tanso na inyong natitipon dian ay inyong itagong mabuti at kasama ka na darating dian ang mga mangagawa ng kapsula at kanon.
Tungkol sa taung inyong ipinahatid dito na nagngangalan Benito de Guzman ay hindi ko nalaman ang kanyang pagkawala at kun sa akala ninyo na iyan ay masama ay inyong dakpin.
Ako at sampu ng mga kawal na nararito sa Tangway na may dalawangpung Remington at Mauser at mga dalawangpung de piston gayon din ang may mga isang libong sandatahan ay handa sa pag uwi [?] dian na na sa sa labas na ng bayan ng Indang at tanging inaantabayanan ang inutusan ko dian si M. Antonino Guevarra na makikipagyari sa inio rian tungkol sa binabalak namin pagsalakay sa dakong Silangan (Laguna); kaya’t marapatin ninyong pabalikin agad dito upang magawa sa madaling panahon ang nararapat.
Tungkol sa pagtitipon ng salapi ito’y kung mapasok tayo ng bayan ay madali na ang pag hingi o pag samsam sa manga mayayaman.
Kinakailangan kayo’y sumirkular sa mga bayan ng Bulakan at Nueva Ecija na ipakilala ninyo [?] ang kapangyarihan tungkol sa pamaguitan ng Nombramiento na aking ipinadala sa inyo tuloy gisingin ang kanilang kalooban sa pag galaw at huag ikasira ng loob ang pagkapasok ng Kastila nitong mga bayan ng Tangway, sapagka’t ang Revolucion sa nangyaring ito ay lalong lumaganap at lumaki sapagka’t tumawid sa mga bayan ng Batangan at Silangan at marahil tumawid pa ng Tayabas, Mindoro at Camarines, bukod dito’y dapat ikatira ang pagkakaayon sa Kastila ng ilang mga kababayan, sapagka’t sila ang doo’y gagawa ng paraan papagtananin ang mga sundalong tagalog,…gaya ng nangyayari ngayon sunodsunod na pag tatanan.
Kalakip nito na inyong tatangapin ang isang sulat na kasagutan na ipinadala dito ni M. Lucrecio Bachiller, Mataginting sa ipinadala dito na mangyaring inyong ipahatid sa madaling panahon upang magawa nito ang kinakailangan pag aayos sa kanyang mga kawal.
Gayondin naman ipinahatid ko dian sa inyo sa pamamagitan ni M. Antonino Guevarra ang mga nombramiento ninyo ng inyong Kalihim at ng kay Gral. Emilio.
Tangapin ninyo ang mahigpit na yakap.
Limbon (Indan), 24 Abril 1897
Ang Plo. Ng H. B.9
Ang hukbo ng kapatid na si M. Lucrecio Taginting na dapat mapailalim sa inyong pangangasiwa ay kinakailangang inyong pagsadiain at pagsiyasatin ang mga kinakailangan nila.
Gayon din kung kayo’y may labis na polvora ay sila’y [?] inyong bigyan upang sa paraang ito ay huag na lumayo sa atin.
Kalakip na inyong tatangapin ang mga limbag na tula ni M. Rizal at ang Cartilla ay saka na magpapalimbag kami.
Pres. of the Sup. Congress
Mr Julio N. Nakpil, Giliw12
Exalted President of the Council in the Northern District
Dear Brother: The successive capture of the towns of Silang, Dasmarinas, Imus, Bakood, Kawit, Noveleta, Salinas, Malabon and Tanza by the Spaniards has meant that I have not been able to write to you there.
Regarding the money you are keeping, gather it together yourself; you must not entrust it to anyone else at all, because we were the ones authorized to send it to Hong Kong and we are the ones who will be embarrassed if we have no money to hand over, because the funds held here have almost all been spent by the chiefs here on their necessities and the Revolution.
The empty cartridge shells and coppers13 you are collecting there must be well hidden by you, and you should personally accompany the cartridge and cannon workers when they go to that place.
Regarding the person you sent here named Benito de Guzman, I don’t know about his disappearance, and if your opinion about him is bad, you should have him arrested.
Myself and ten soldiers here in Cavite have twenty Remingtons and Mausers and about twenty percussion rifles; we also have about a thousand volunteer troops ready to return home there who are now outside the town of Indang and are only waiting upon what was decided between my emissary Mr Antonino Guevarra and yourself in relation to our planned attack in the Southern District (Laguna), so you must send him back immediately in order that we can take the necessary action as soon as possible.14
Regarding the collection of funds here, when we enter the towns it is easy to solicit or sequester from the wealthy.
You need to make your authority known around the towns of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija, using the appointments I have sent you; awaken their resolve to be active and don’t let their spirit be broken by the Spanish advances here in the towns of Cavite, because the Revolution here is spreading and getting much stronger due to the towns of Batangas and Laguna crossing over, and perhaps Tayabas, Mindoro and Camarines will cross over also; this aside, it is necessary to counter the agreement the Spaniards have made with a few compatriots, because they are the ones who will find ways to make the Tagalog soldiers desert…like the succession of desertions that is happening now.
Together with this you will receive a letter which is a reply sent here by Mr Lucrecio Bachiller, Mataginting15, which you need to act and convey your instructions upon quickly in order that the requirements of his soldiers can be organized.
Likewise, I have also sent you there, through Mr Antonino Guevarra, your appointment and those of your Secretary and Gral. Emilio.16
Receive a firm embrace.
Limbon (Indan), 24 Abril 1897
The President of the Sovereign People
The army of brother Mr Lucrecio Taginting must be under your authority and you must be the one who investigates and takes care of their needs.
Likewise, if you have a surplus of powder, please give it to them in order that by this means they do not become distant from us.
Together with this, you will receive the printed copies of Mr Rizal’s poem, and we will also be printing the Cartilla.
The key similarities between this letter to Nakpil and the facsimile letters to Jacinto inserted in Cristobal’s book are as follows:
Stationery: The notepaper on which the letter to Nakpil is written looks to be the same size, and to have the same printed letterhead, as the facsimile letter dated March 8, 1897. The letterhead has the name "ANDRES BONIFACIO" written in a shallow arch above his Katipunan name, "MAYPAGASA" and his title, "P. ng K. Kapulungan" –- Pangulo ng Kataastaasang Kapulungan, or President of the Supreme Congress.17
Seal: The seal on the letter to Nakpil, stamped to the left of the signature, looks to be the same as on the facsimile letters dated April 16 and 24, 1897. At the centre is the Katipunan symbol, the letter "K" in the prehispanic baybayin script, from which rays shine out in all directions to the inner circle of the border. Around the border, between the inner and outer circles, are the words "HARING BAYAN KATAGALUGAN * KATAASTAASANG KAPULUNGAN" – "Sovereign People of Katagalugan* Supreme Congress".
Signature: The signature and its accompaniments look the same as on the facsimile letter dated April 24, 1897. Above the name is the abbreviated title "Ang Plo ng H. B." –- "The President of the Sovereign People". The name is written in a strikingly distinctive, almost ornate style. The "A", "n" and "d" of the forename are written in a regular script, but then there is a triangle of dots, and the "r", "e" and "s" follow in a much smaller superscript. A line from the final "o" of Bonifacio swoops back leftwards beneath the signature and underlines the appended KKK name "Maypagasa".
Handwriting: Perhaps, one day, the paper, ink, language and handwriting of these letters will be subjected to detailed professional analysis. I am not qualified in any of these areas, and the decisions about submitting the documents for analysis are obviously not mine to take. To a strictly amateur eye, however, the penmanship on the two letters dated April 24 (and the letters to Jacinto dated March 8 and April 16) does look like it could come from the same hand. At first sight, it is true, the overall appearance of the two April 24 letters is quite dissimilar. On the letter addressed to Jacinto, the writing is neater and more densely packed on the page. It is a much longer letter, contains more detail and was written with greater care. The letter to Nakpil, by comparison, is a hasty note. But beyond the variations in penmanship that may have resulted from speed, posture or whatever, there are distinct commonalities in the forward slant of the writing and the shaping of the characters. Bonifacio liked calligraphy, and traces of his practiced elegance survived in his handwriting even when he rushed, as for instance in the flourishes that adorn his capital "I"s , "P"s and "T"s.
Content: In terms of content, there are several parallels between the letter to Nakpil and the facsimile letter that bears the same date of April 24, 1897. Most notably:
• Both letters refer to the Spanish attacks on the Cavite towns of Silang, Dasmarinas, Imus, Bakood, Kawit, Noveleta, Salinas, Malabon and Tanza, and with just one exception (the inversion of Salinas and Malabon) they both list these nine towns in that order.
• Both letters report on the military forces and weaponry at the writer’s immediate disposal in Indang, and tally them almost identically –- about 20 breech-loading rifles (specified as Remingtons in the Jacinto letter, Remingtons and Mausers in the Nakpil letter), about 20 older rifles, 10 soldiers ("kawal") and about 1,000 volunteers ("sandatahan").
• Both letters state that the sandatahan are ready to return there ("pag uwi dian", meaning to the north) and are waiting only for the writer’s orders, which will in turn depend on him hearing the outcome of discussions Jacinto and Nakpil are supposed to have had with Antonino Guevarra, who had been entrusted by Bonifacio to deliver other communications to them in the recent past.
• Both letters refer to the financial straits of the revolution, and describe the problem in almost identical terms. Funds, says the letter addressed to Jacinto, are "halos naubos na sa kagugugol ng mga Pinuno sa kailangan nila at Panghihimagsik". Funds, says the letter to Nakpil, are "halos ubos na sa kagugugol nga mga Pinuno dito sa kanilang pagkakailangan at Panghihimagsik".
• Both letters suggest that the best way of raising money is to get it from the rich, a process which they describe in almost identical terms. When we enter the towns, says the letter to Jacinto, we should "humingi o sumamsam sa kanino pa mang mayaman". Upon entering the towns, says the letter to Nakpil, "madali na ang pag hingi o pag samsam sa manga mayayaman".
• Both letters allude to money Nakpil had collected (for the purchase of arms and ammunition from Hong Kong), and emphasize the writer’s concern that this money should not be handed over to someone else –- to anyone else in the letter to Nakpil; specifically to Mamerto Natividad in the letter to Jacinto.
Cumulatively, these resemblances of style and substance are so strong that it seems only two verdicts on (at least some of) the disputed letters to Jacinto are now sustainable. Either they were fabricated by someone who had access to other, genuine Bonifacio letters from this time or, and this seems much more likely, they are indeed authentic.
Further tending to corroborate the authenticity of the letter to Jacinto dated April 16, 1897 is Bonifacio’s reference in the postscript of his April 24 letter to Nakpil to "the appointment of Gral. Emilio" that he had recently sent through Antonino Guevara. In all probability, this was the appointment dated April 15, 1897 of Jacinto as Commander of the Army in the Northern District ("Pangulong hukbo sa dakong Hilagaan ng Maynila"), a photograph of which appears on p.186 of Agoncillo’s Revolt of the Masses. For access to this document, Agoncillo acknowledges the "courtesy of Jose P. Santos". If Santos owned the original of this appointment document, the likelihood obviously increases that he also owned the original of a letter that Antonino Guevarra was asked to take north at the same time, i.e. the letter from Bonifacio to Jacinto dated April 16 which was later sold by Santos’s daughter and is now in the collection of Emmanuel Encarnacion.
When making his case that the letters to Jacinto were "probably forgeries", it may be noted, Glenn May does not argue that their content is spurious. He observes that some of the information they contain is "not corroborated" by other sources, but he mentions nothing in them that is fatally contradicted by other sources. The letters, he writes, "are not riddled with striking anachronisms, fantastic details, obviously forged signatures and the like."18 His case, rather, is based on the letters’ provenance, their obscure history and the many divergences between different versions. If some, maybe all, of the letters to Jacinto owned by Encarnacion are now to be accepted as authentic, some of the questions raised by May still need to be answered.
Non-obsessives may wish to skip these final three paragraphs! The most problematic of the issues raised by May is the existence of different Tagalog versions of the letters. Though not greatly different in meaning, specifically, there are several variations in language between (i) the Tagalog versions included in an unpublished work written by Jose P. Santos in 194819 and (ii) the Tagalog versions published by Teodoro Agoncillo in 196320, and more numerous and substantial differences in language between these two versions and (iii) the letters owned by Encarnacion as reproduced in facsimile form by Cristobal.
How can this be explained? One hypothesis would be that the historian Epifanio de los Santos did, as his son Jose P. Santos later maintained, purchase at some time in the 1900s the letters now owned by Encarnacion. De los Santos published the letters in Spanish translation in 1917, and English translations appeared early in 1918.21 However, this hypothesis continues, when Jose P. Santos came to write his manuscript on Bonifacio in 1948, he did not for some reason have the Tagalog originals he had inherited from his father to hand, and he therefore reconstituted (or asked someone else to reconstitute) Tagalog versions from the Spanish or English translations, more or less retaining the meaning but inevitably creating texts quite different from the originals. Teodoro Agoncillo then based his Tagalog versions heavily on those of Santos, but made a few stylistic changes. Some years later, after the death of Santos, his daughter, Teresita Pangan, sorted out his collection prior to selling it, and the original Tagalog letters resurfaced. They were acquired first by Severina de Asis, and subsequently by Emmanuel Encarnacion.
The main trouble with this hypothesis is that the Spanish and English translations that appeared in 1917 and 1918 contain a scattering of Tagalog words and phrases in parentheses, and in the case of one letter –- the undated letter from Bonifacio to Jacinto that is not included in facsimile form in Cristobal’s book –- these Tagalog words and phrases also got altered in the Tagalog texts which were included in his son’s unpublished manuscript of 1948 and were later published by Agoncillo.22 Santos or whoever else retranslated this particular letter into Tagalog, in other words, decided to amend the small portions of the text before them that were already in the Tagalog of the originals. It seems bizarre.
(1) Santiago V. Alvarez, The Katipunan and the Revolution: the memoirs of a general, translated by Paula Carolina S. Malay (Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1992), p.95.
(2) Julio Nakpil, Julio Nakpil and the Philippine Revolution, edited and translated by Encarnacion Alzona (Quezon City: Academic Publishing, 1997), p.47.
(3) Glenn A. May, Inventing a Hero: the posthumous re-creation of Andres Bonifacio (Madison: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1996), pp.53-81.
(4) Adrian E. Cristobal, The Tragedy of the Revolution (Makati City: Studio 5 Publishing Inc., 1997) pp.146-7. Photographs of at least one or two of the letters to Jacinto had appeared previously, for example in Carlos Ronquillo, Ilang talata tungkol sa paghihimagsik nang 1896-1897, edited by Isagani R. Medina, (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1996), p.43.
(5) This note is written at the top of the letter in a different hand, presumably that of Nakpil or his secretary. By the date the reply was despatched, Bonifacio had already been arrested and brought before the military court in Maragondon.
(6) Abbreviation of "Pangulo ng Kataastaasang".
(7) Abbreviation of "Maginoo".
(8) Abbreviation of "Mataas na Pangulo".
(9) Abbreviation of "Ang Pangulo ng Haring Bayan".
(10) Abbreviation of "Huling Lagda".
(11) Bonifacio’s Katipunan name, meaning Hopeful.
(12) Nakpil’s Katipunan name, meaning Love.
(13) "Coppers" in this context probably means the copper boxes in which gunpowder was transported.
(14) In his brief memoir, which he dedicates to Emilio Aguinaldo, Guevarra (or Guevara) mentions neither this particular mission nor, in fact, the names of Bonifacio, Jacinto and Nakpil at all, a silence which, as O.D. Corpuz sadly notes, "reflects one of the tragedies of the Revolution". On April 24, the day that Bonifacio wrote to Nakpil from Indang saying he was anxiously awaiting the outcome of the critical discussions Guevarra was supposed to have in the north, Guevarra, according to his chronology, was actually in or around Indang himself, and had been there for two days. Even if he was not in the immediate vicinity of Bonifacio’s headquarters, he could surely have sent a messenger to convey his crucial news, and Bonifacio and his thousand men could then have decided to move off either northwards to the provinces of Manila and Morong or eastwards into Laguna. Instead, they waited a while longer, and for Bonifacio those additional days waiting were to mean death. It is possible, of course, that Guevarra never even went to see Jacinto and Nakpil, and asked someone else to deliver their letters. Antonino Guevara y Mendoza, History of One of the Initiators of the Filipino Revolution, translated from the Spanish by O.D. Corpuz (Manila: National Historical Institute, 1988), pp. ii; 7-8.
(15) Bachiller’s Katipunan name, meaning Vibrant or Sonorous.
(16) Emilio Jacinto. Emilio Aguinaldo is referred to in the letter to Jacinto dated April 24 as the lower ranked "Capitan Emilio". The purpose of the appointment document may have been to change Jacinto’s official designation rather than his responsibilities, because he had already been using the title Head of the Army ("Punong Hukbo").
(17) Prior to the revolution, the Katipunan’s highest body had been known as the Kataastaasang Sangunian. It is not known precisely when or where the Kataastaasang Kapulungan was constituted in its stead.
(18) May, Inventing a Hero, p.79.
(19) Jose P. Santos, "Si Andres Bonifacio at ang Katipunan", unpublished ms (1948).
(20) The Writings and Trial of Andres Bonifacio, translated by Teodoro A. Agoncillo with the collaboration of S. V. Epistola (Manila: Antonio J. Villegas; Manila Bonifacio Centennial Commission; University of the Philippines, 1963), pp.82-91.
(21) Epifanio de los Santos, "Andres Bonifacio" [in Spanish], Revista Filipina, 2 (November 1917), pp.59-82, which was translated into English by Gregorio Nieva and published in Philippine Review, 3 (January-February 1918), pp.34-58.
(22) Agoncillo, The Revolt of the Masses, pp.399-402.