Andres Bonifacio was not “masa”

That was what National Artist Rio Almario declared, once upon a Bonifacio commemoration organized by the Manila City Hall when Alfredo S. Lim was Mayor. His seemingly heretical pronouncement shocked us all; jaws dropped; eyebrows arched; teachers and barangay officials gasped audibly. But that morning Mr. Almario was irrepressible: Bonifacio never held a gulok, bolo or tabak, contrary to what we see in most paintings and monuments.  Bonifacio used a pistola, a hand gun.  Coincidentally, we were gathered at the foot of the eye-catching “Bantayog ni Bonifacio” designed and executed by sculptor Eduardo Castrillo. Bonifacio with outstretched arms calls Filipinos to battle; in one hand he brandishes a rather over-sized bladed weapon. National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco was more prudent, in his spectacular mural (commissioned by Mayor Antonio Villegas in 1963), he painted Bonifacio with both gulok and pistola.

Mr. Almario divulged more discomfiting revelations.  He wondered why Bonifacio has always been wrongly depicted as a “gusgusin” which means bedraggled and disheveled. That stereotype must have developed in the post – WWII years and reached its apotheosis after historian Teodoro Agoncillo published, Revolt of the Masses (1956), Philippine history written from a nationalist’s point of view, as seen by us natives. There are only a few chapters (3, I think) dedicated to Spain’s 333 years of colonial rule, and the rest is about the Katipunan and the anti-colonial struggle for independence.

Mr. Almario added that it is incorrect to even think that Bonifacio was an ignorant man.   He had home-schooling as a child but could not afford a college education, so he was an auto-didact who read on his own to keep abreast of what was happening around him and the world.  He worked as a foreman (not a “cargador”) at  Fressel & Company, which we now call a multinational firm.  Perhaps, Rio Almario’s greatest revelation was that Bonifacio learned how to speak English while working there. There should be no doubt that he knew enough Spanish to make a beautiful Tagalog translation of Rizal’s “Ultimo Adios”. The poem had no title, it was Bonifacio who gave it one. He left us his own poem in Spanish, “Mi Abanico”, inspired by his siblings who crafted fans out of delicate papel de Japon.

Though the Katipunan (KKK) opted for armed revolution, it was unquestionably the heir of Rizal’s La Liga Filipina, affirmed historian John Schumacher, S J, “it took its origins within the framework of La Liga, and at least in its beginnings shared many of its members with the parent organization.  It would seem in fact that the popular councils of the Liga which Bonifacio was so active and successful in organizing in 1893, were actually the Katipunan.” (Unitas, Sept 1971)

British historian, Jim Richardson, went to the Archivo General Militar in Madrid where he mined the documents captured by the Guardia Civil Veterana and Cuerpo de Vigilancia. In a riveting book, Light of Liberty, he said that the founders and members of the Katipunan were aware that their anti-colonial movement was part of a transnational uprising against despotism, religious dogmatism, injustice and poverty. They empathized with Cuban revolutionaries and were inspired by the patriotic actions of Propagandists like Marcelo del Pilar and Jose Rizal. Andres Bonifacio was welcomed to La Liga Filipina.

Mr. Richardson affirms that no primary sources substantiate claims that Bonifacio and the Katipuneros were, inchoate or not, “utopian socialists”, much less Marxists who secretly aimed to establish a kind of “communist republic”.  Richardson must have come across books of Filipino historians who in the name of “class struggle” have squeezed the Katipunan into a Marxist mold and made ilustrados and Katipuneros inveterate enemies.  Richardson maintains that to the Katipunan equality and the end of exploitation did not imply the redistribution of wealth, but they demanded rights before the law and the obligation to live an honorable life. Inequality was the essence of colonial authority, it had to be exposed and destroyed.

So, Andres Bonifacio, Ladislaw Diwa, et al, were members of the short-lived Liga and his founding the Katipunan when Rizal was banished to Dapitan may seem to be a hothead’s reaction to what happened to a leader he admired.   In truth, that was not the case, Richardson found out that the Katipunan was already in motion as early as January 1892, if not earlier.  The movement had drafted rules and regulations, formed councils and branches headed by elected officers who had specific duties and responsibilities. Even if Bonifacio was not “masa” the Katipunan he founded was a bottom-to-top- organization where consultation was an important method to achieve consensus. That was what   Emilio Aguinaldo, who was not “masa” either, did not want to understand.