Despite being one of the main figures of Philippine history, revolutionary leader and patriot Andrés Bonifacio remains an incomplete picture for modern Filipinos.
November 30 this year marks Bonifacio’s 160th birth anniversary.
Bonifacio was among the founders of the Kataastaasan, Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (KKK or Katipunan for short), the movement that started the revolution against Spanish rule.
Yet to this day, none of his belongings have been recovered.
Bonifacio’s only existing and official photograph is the headshot where he is seen wearing a black coat and tie; thus no one really knows his built, height, and other features.
Statues and paintings that portray Bonifacio are more of a romantic portrayal of an ordinary Katipunero, wearing white camisa chino with a screaming red handkerchief around the neck and folded red pajamas, said Christian Melendez, curator at Museo ng Katipunan in San Juan City.
The lack of Bonifacio artifacts is also the reason why there is no museum focused on the hero, apart from the Katipunan museum.
“’Yong mga gamit na sinasabing sa kanya eh hindi pa napu-prove na sa kanya. And ‘yong mga allegedly na sa kanya, tulad ng mga buto niya, eh hindi pa natin masasabi kung sa kanya talaga kasi nawala nga during World War II,” Melendez said.
Melendez said other accounts also suggested that Bonifacio’s house in Tondo, Manila was razed by fire and no belongings saved.
LOVE AND TRAGEDIES
Bonifacio had painful losses.
Born in 1863, Bonifacio found himself an orphan when both his parents – Tondo teniente mayor and boatman Santiago Bonifacio and Spanish mestiza Catalina De Castro -- died when he was 14, according to a biography at the Museo ng Katipunan.
As the eldest son, he had to stop schooling to take care of his five siblings – Ciriaco and Procopio (both died as Katipuneros together with him), Troadio (who went on exile after Andrés’ execution), Esperidiona (a Katipunera, married to Teodoro Plata), and Maxima (believed to have died at a young age).
Bonifacio found his first love in his childhood friend and neighbor in Tondo— Monika of Palomar.
She died early due to leprosy and they did not have a child.
At the age of 29, Andrés found his second love in 18-year-old Gregoria “Oriang/Oryang” De Jesus, whom he met through his brother-in-law, Teodoro Plata.
They tied the knot ar a religious Catholic ceremony in Binondo Church. They also attended another wedding ceremony with Katipunan rites on the same day.
Bonifacio suffered another tragedy when his only son Andrés Jr. died of smallpox as an infant sometime in 1896, while he and his wife were already leading the revolution against Spain.
“Natatamo ‘yong kaginhawaan kung nagmamahalan ang mga Pilipino,” said historian Xiao Chua.
“Walang rebolusyon, hindi ka puwedeng lumaban kung hindi ka umiibig sa Diyos, sa bayan, at sa kapwa. ‘Yan ang itinuro niya. Laging sinasabi na si Andres Bonifacio ay atapang atao, pero akalimutan natin na tinuruan niya rin tayong umibig.”
Bonifacio was the Kataastaasang Pangulo or Supreme President — often shortened by contemporaries and historians to Supremo — of the Katipunan.
However, this did not mean he was the first president of the Philippines, clarified Emmanuel Calairo, chairman of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
“’Pag sinabi nating Pilipinas, ito ay Republika ng Pilipinas. Wala pa naman tayong republika noong panahon ng Katipunan. So, masasabi natin na si Andrés Bonifacio ay pangulo ng Katipunan na isang sikretong samahan,” Calairo said.
While an online petition and a House resolution have sought to formally recognize Bonifacio as the Philippines’ first president, nothing has flourished so far.
The country recognizes as its first president Emilio Aguinaldo, who established a government after declaring independence in 1898.
Historian Chua, however, said there have been documents recovered in Spain to prove that the Katipunan did not stay a revolutionary group.
Chua said Katipunan leaders actually organized themselves into a revolutionary government called Haring Bayang Katagalugan and openly declared an armed revolution led by Bonifacio.
“Magmula no’ng August 24, 1896, nag-transform ‘yong Katipunan. Hindi na siya isang secret organization kung 'di isang pamahalaang mapanghimagsik,” the historian added.
Calairo nonetheless recognized the Katipunan’s crucial role in fight for independence.
“’Yong Katipunan, ‘yan ang naging ugat ng ating republika. Sa kampanya ng independensya natin, hindi puwedeng alisin si Andrés Bonifacio bilang bahagi nito,” he said.
Up to now, there is no definitive account of Bonifacio’s death, with several historians contesting the details of his supposed execution in Maragondon, Cavite.
Aside from his role in the Katipunan, Bonifacio was also a craftsman and visual artist.
He was able to produce canes and paper fans, which he and his siblings sold in front of churches.
He also made campaign posters for business firms as sources of income after his parents died.
Bonifacio worked as a company messenger, and was later on promoted as a broker agent of rattan and other goods.
He eventually transferred to a German-owned firm to work as a warehouse man until 1896.
Bonifacio was a theater actor who appeared in several moro-moro plays together with Macario Sakay and Aurelio Tolentino.
“Puwede siyang maging idol ng mga breadwinners ngayon. Magsikap tayo, huwag tayong susuko, gayahin natin si Andrés Bonifacio bilang breadwinner at naitaguyod niya ang kanyang mga nakababatang kapatid,” Melendez said.