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The Bonifacio Mural (1964) painted by Carlos “Botong” V. Francisco, Philippine National Artist for Visual Arts. Photograph from

Did Bonifacio really call himself ‘Supremo’?

What’s in a title? In the case of Andres Bonifacio, a lot, according to historian Xiao Chua.
Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua | Nov 30 2018

Based on one of the historical documents up for auction this 1 December 2018, the Acta de Tejeros in which he reinforced his leadership of the revolutionary government after the Tejeros Convention of 22 March 1897, it was once thought that the word Haring Bayan was written with Andres Bonifacio Maypagasa’s signature. Reading Emilio Aguinaldo’s “Mga Gunita ng Himagsikan,” he refers to Bonifacio as Haring Bayan, “The King of the Nation.”  This prompted one historian to say in an FHM interview, “He wanted to be called ‘Haring Bayan’ and had aspirations toward monarchy.”

In one social media repost of the 2014 petition for Andres Bonifacio to be recognized as one of the presidents of the Philippines, one person from Cagayan de Oro commented, “You know Bonifacio Day is near when petitions like this and Bonifacio fanbois come out and whine about how he should be President, despite not being elected as such and holds the monarch title of ‘Supremo,’ which he alone, and no one else (and/or will ever) possess”

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Post-revolution literature

In Santiago Alvarez’s memoirs of the revolution, he referred to Andres Bonifacio as Supremo. Post-revolution newspapers and publications referred to him as “Supremo del KKK.”  When Bonifacio called himself “Supremo”—highest, did he mean he wanted to be King?


Rarely the Supremo

While working on the Andres Bonifacio petition, I actually wanted to know what Bonifacio’s real title was and I came to the conclusion that he did not call himself “Supremo.”

Speaking to Jim Richardson, the British expert on the matter of the Katipunan documents and author of the book The Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies on the Katipunan, 1892-1897, I was told that there were only two Katipunan official documents that refer to Andres Bonifacio as Supremo.

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Acta de Tejeros first page Supremo written by another person.

One of them is the document to be auctioned, the Acta de Tejeros. One of the lines in the text said, “maguinoong Andres Bonifasio (sic) Maypag asa, Marangal na Supremo.”  But one notices that a secretary wrote this and not Bonifacio, and that he just signed on it. Also, upon inspection of the manuscript at Leon Gallery, I verified that the word “Haring Bayan” was part of the text and was not signed by Bonifacio, although he signed directly under it.

In another supposed letter to Mariano Alvarez dated 27 April 1897, he ended with “Ang inyong supremo.”  But this was only printed in Teodoro A. Agoncillo’s The Writings and Trial of Andres Bonifacio. However we cannot locate the actual manuscript or even just a photo of this document.

So as far as we can know, through extant documents, it can be seen that Bonifacio rarely, if ever, signed himself as “Supremo.” Because in his letters found at the Archivo General de Madrid and his last letters which used to be in the possession of the family of Epifanio delos Santos (later in the custody of Emmanuel Encarnacion), he signed himself as either “Kataas-taasang Pangulo,” as president of the Katipunan before August 1896, or beyond that as “Pangulo ng Kataas-taasang Kapulungan” or “Pangulo ng Haring Bayan” during the time of the revolutionary government.

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Bonifacio signing himself as Pangulo ng Kataas-taasang Kapulungan

But was he called “Kataas-taasang Pangulo” because he felt superior?  If one will look closely at the organizational set-up of the Katipunan organization in an 1892 coded document called “Kasaysayan,” the highest council is called “Kataas-taasang Sanggunian” which was like the Executive Board governing over the Sangguniang Bayans, who in turn govern the Sangguniang Balangays not under any Sangguniang Bayan. The head of each Sanggunian is a Pangulo.  So as to distinguish the Pangulo ng Sangguniang Balangay, or the Pangulo ng Sangguniang Bayan to the “Pangulo,” they added the modifier “Kataas-taasang.” 

Bonifacio was also not the highest decision-maker because above the Kataas-taasang Sanggunian was the Kataas-taasang Kapisanan or the Highest Assembly which is composed of the presidents of the Sangguniang Bayans and the Sangguniang Balangays not under any Sangguaniang Bayan.

So the term “Supremo,” I assume, was how the Hispanic speaking individuals, especially the Caviteños like the Alvarezes, referred to him, coming from the Spanish “Presidente Supremo,” and not the  actual title of Andres Bonifacio as head of the Katipunan and the subsequent revolutionary government.

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Acta de Tejeros signature page

Haring Bayan!

If you look at the Acta de Tejeros document, the word that was first written at the end of the text was “Hari ng Bayan.” You will see a long line that connects the “i” and the “n.” I believe that this is indicative that even inside the Katipunan, Bonifacio struggled to make people understand his concept of the Haring Bayan not as an individual or a King, but as something else.  Bonifacio was cited by General Santiago Alvarez in his memoirs when he defined the entire Katipunan leadership as:  “…na mula sa Ktt. Pamunuan ng Katipunan, hanggan sa kababa-babaan, ay nagkakaisang gumagalang sa pagkakapatiran at pagkakapantay-pantay; namumuhunan ng dugo at buhay laban sa Hari, upang makapagtatag ng sarili at malayang Pamahalaan, na sa makatwid, ay mamahala ang Bayan sa Bayan, at hindi ang isa o dalawang tao lamang.”

Haring Bayan really meant the King, or the power is the people (Haring Bayan) which is basically “The Sovereign Nation.”

In his letterhead, he was Pangulo ng Haring Bayang Katagalugan. Did he intend to lead only the Tagalogs? In the printed version of the Kartilya ng Katipunan by Emilio Jacinto, given to new members, he wrote, “Sa salitang tagalog katutura’y ang lahat nang tumubo sa Sangkapuluang ito; samakatuwid, bisayà man, iloko man, kapangpangan man, etc., ay tagalog din.”

Click on the image below for slideshow

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Letterhead of Andres Bonifacio, appointment of Emilio Jacinto, 15 April 1897 

Letterhead of Andres Bonifacio, detail

Bonifacio signing himself in Katipunan code as Kataas-taasang Pangulo 

Bonifacio signing himself as Kataas-taasang Pangulo 

Detail of Bonifacio sugnature, Acta de Tejeros 

Post-revolution literature 

Casaysayan document of January 1892 intention to govern the Nation fragment 

Casaysayan document of January 1892 intention to govern the Nation fragment 

Recognizing the maritime roots of the nation, he called his nation Katagalugan from “taga-ilog.”  So when he signed himself as Pangulo ng Haring Bayan past 24 August 1896, that means he intended to be president of national revolutionary government which aimed to be a democracy. As early as January 1892 in a newly discovered document from the Archivo, the aim of the Katipunan was to eventually govern the nation: “Isinasaysay na ang mga Capuloang ito ay jumijiwalay sa Espanya mag bujat sa arao na ito at ulang quiniquilala at quiquilanlin pang Puno at macapangyayare cung di itong Cataastaasang Catipunan.”

More than clarifying his title, we have clarified that he did have a concept of the Filipino Nation.