USA: Bonifacio Day – Recounting the heinous execution of a hero

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By Dionesio C. Grava
First posted in

In her welcome address during a program marking the November 30 birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, Consul General Hellen Barber-De La Vega said: “This observance of Bonifacio Day is important because next year we will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of our hero’s birth. I am, therefore, happy to see among us young Filipino-Americans, because this is also a good opportunity for us to educate them, especially those born and raised in the United States, on the significance of the life and works of Andres Bonifacio in the history of the Filipino people.”

Unfortunately that aspect of history has remained murky more than 115 years after Andres Bonifacio was executed at the height of the Filipino rebellion against the oppressive Spanish colonizers. In an audio-visual presentation during that consulate event, Deputy Congen Daniel R. Espiritu brought into focus that very contentious issue surrounding the death of the Philippine hero.

Now is a most opportune time to point out inaccuracies in our historical narrative especially because the homeland is presently headed by a president who is also considered a history buff. During a speech in connection with the 40th anniversary of the proclamation of martial law last September, President Benigno Aquino III informed about a directive he issued to the National Historical Commission “to ensure that the source of information in students’ books will be the truth, not falsehoods pieced together by the propagandists, and not bits of deception by the revisionists.”

Although the president was referring to attempts by some misguided segment of Philippine society to make the 15-year-long martial rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos look good, the same revisionism is true in the case of Bonifacio’s death considering that the main culprit was no other than his rival in the Katipunan leadership who subsequently became the first president of the Philippine republic. Emilio Aguinaldo undoubtedly had the motive and influence to make that sordid episode of our history inaccurate (sanitized?) as taught in the classrooms and in its retelling to the people.

The execution of Bonifacio

In a document historian Teodoro Agoncillo affirmed a signed statement of Aguinaldo dated March 22, 1948 accepting responsibility for ordering the execution of the Bonifacio brothers, Andres and Procopio. However, Aguinaldo also asserted that he commuted those death sentences but was prevailed by members of the Council of War Generals Mariano Noriel and Pio del Pilar to  proceed with the execution otherwise they supposedly risked the disintegration of the revolutionary government as well as their own lives.

The following is an excerpt from The Autobiography of Gregoria de Jesus translated by Leandro H. Fernandez published in The Philippine Magazine dated June 1930: “They fired a volley at my husband, and when he fell they stabbed him and struck him with the butts of their guns. My brother-in-law Ciriaco was seized by two and shot to death. Procopio they tied and beat, with a revolver. They then placed the wounded in hammocks, and those they had bound, and took them to the pueblo. When they saw me come out of the place where I had been hiding, the officers of the detachment ran towards me and tried to compel me to say where the money of Cavite or of the treasury was kept; they also took by force my revolver and even what little expense money we had. Then they hastened to tie me to a tree, attempting to force me to tell them the whereabouts of the money which they said we had collected.” Gregoria, whose Katipunan nom de guerre was Lakambini, was the wife of Andres Bonifacio.

Filipino revolutionist, musician and composer Julio Nakpil fled Manila to fully embrace Bonifacio’s Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (KKK). In 1896 he was commissioned by Bonifacio to compose the national anthem Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan. However, General Aguinaldo did not declare it the official anthem preferring the composition of Julian Felipe, a fellow Caviteno. The following is an exerpt from Nakpil’s Apuntes Sobre la Revolucion Filipina (Notes on the Philippine Revolution) about the arrest of Andres and Procopio Bonifacio:

“Then the Bonifacio brothers, unaware of what was going to happen to them, continued eating, their firearms being far from the reach of their hands. Aguinaldo’s men thereupon began to seize the firearms of the Bonifacio men and when they became aware of what was happening they were already disarmed. Nevertheless, there was, a struggle, but very unequal. According to the eyewitnesses, the one who stabbed A. Bonifacio in the neck was Lazaro Makapagal… It was an act of banditry: The jewels and money of the families of the murdered men were confiscated like war booty.”

The killing of the Bonifacios brought condemnation on his rival, General Aguinaldo, who took over as president of the revolution after the Tejeros convention. In La Revolucion Filipina (The Philippine Revolution), translated into Tagalog by Leon Ma. Guerrero, Apolinario Mabini, also known as the Brain of the Revolution and Aguinaldo’s chief adviser, described as unreasonable and merciless the manner Mr. Aguinaldo caused the execution of Bonifacio. “The execution of Bonifacio,” Mabini states, “was a repulsive and shameless act by Aguinaldo, the triumph of self-interest over that of heroism.”

Mabini went on to declare that such act of hatred caused the loss of morale among many of those involved in the revolutionary movement which soon after withered and was defeated. Aguinaldo’s government didn’t last long and officials went into hiding in the dense forest of Biak-na-Bato mountain. Aguinaldo agreed later on to be exiled after calling on his fellow revolutionaries to surrender to Spanish authorities in exchange of 400,000 pesos in bribe money.

Mabini also accused Aguinaldo of having masterminded the assassination of another rebel leader, Gen. Antonio Luna. “With Luna its firmest support, the revolution fell, and the ignominy of the fall, weighing entirely upon Aguinaldo, caused his moral death, a thousand times bitterer than the physical one; then Aguinaldo ruined himself, condemned by his own actions. That is the way Providence punishes the great crimes,” Mabini wrote.

Julio Nakpil agreed on Mabini’s assertion. “They slandered him (Antonio Luna) of wishing to wrest the presidency from Emilio Aguinaldo, and for that purpose they invited him to enter the rattrap of Kabanatuan to enable the very ones whom he (Luna) had disarmed for cowardice in different war actions to deal him the deathblow. Do not lose sight of the fact that the one who invited him (i.e. Emilio Aguinaldo) to a conference absented himself, which was a cowardly stratagem. When General A. Luna was dastardly assassinated on the stairs of the Convent of Kabanatuan and already fallen on the ground, the mother of Emilio Aguinaldo looked out the window and asked: “Ano, humihinga pa ba?” (Is he still breathing?)

The way Luna was lured to the place of his execution eerily echoes the manner Bonifacio was enticed to leave Manila and visit Aguinaldo’s turf in Cavite. In his memoirs first published by the National Heroes Commission in 1963, Gen. Artemio Ricarte wrote: “the latter (Aguinaldo’s Magdiwang faction) frequently communicated with him, EACH TIME INSISTING MORE AND MORE ON THE INVITATION WHICH IT EXTENDED THREE TIMES… On the third invitation, Bonifacio acceded to the petition of the Magdiwang government and came to Cavite province in December 1896, before the Christmas season.” When he arrived Aguinaldo was also nowhere around.

General Ricarte continued: “While the government of the Philippine Republic was established in Buntis, one of the most wooded and rocky mountain between Maragondon and Looc, Emilio Aguinaldo, to get rid of his fallen rival, who was covered with wounds which were almost in a state of putrefaction for lack of medicine and attention, ordered the execution, first of Procopio Bonifacio and then of Andres, who, because of his wounds, was carried in a hammock to the place where his brother Procopio, two hours before, had been executed by Colonels Bonson and Paua. These two, it will be remembered were those who captured the Bonifacios in Limbon, Indang. Thus ended the life of the man, who, scorning dangers, had established the K.K.K. nang mga Anak nang Bayan; the man who had taught the Filipino people the true way to shake off the Spanish yoke.”

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