detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Friday, June 03, 2005

: . Why Fell the Supremo? by Nick Joaquin (continued)
The Apprentice’s Explosion

Rizal’s fall was the decisive moment in Bonifacio’s life. Up to that moment, we have seen the poor boy from Tondo striving to rise, and rising, until he found himself in dazzling company, side by side, in fact, with his idol, the illustrious Dr. Rizal. The fall of his idol could not but disillusion him. If so rich and learned and famous a man as Rizal was helpless against society, what chance had a poor devil like Bonifacio?

From Madrid, Del Pilar had been urging the formation of a group composed not of the well-to-do and the cultured but the poor and ignorant; and the Katipunan followed Del Pilar’s idea of organizing the masses for revolt. Yet through the next two years, 1892-93, Bonifacio kept a foot in both worlds: the world to which he had aspired and risen, and the world from which he came. On the one hand, he strove to keep alive the ilustrados’ Liga, which was supposed to work for peaceful reforms; and on the other hand, he was propagating the Katipunan as a proletarian society geared for violent upheaval. But he was still so tentative about all this he could during those years still carry on a leisurely courtship. He had married young; his first wife had died a [end of page 95] leper. When pushing 30 he fell in love with an 18-year-old girl, in Caloocan, Gregoria de Jesus. He wooed her for a year; in March, 1893 he married her twice: in church and before the Katipunan.

During this period the Katipunan was, in the words of one historian, Manuel Artigas y Cuerva, “asleep... so as not to prejudice the Liga Filipina, which was still being propagated. “ Two things may have decided Bonifacio to break finally with the world of the well-to-do and cast in his lot with his own kind. One was the rapid, amazing swell in Katipunan ranks (14,000 members in the Manila area alone) and the other was bourgeois disapproval of the secret society. In a group like Liga, Bonifacio could never be more than a second ranker, a hustler, the chap to send out to solicit funds, because he did that so well: the perfect agent. But in the Katipunan, he was, at last, at the top, number one, head of a mammoth organization, with vast powers, setting up and deposing officials.

The break with the ilustrados is dramatized in the story of how he walked out of the Masonic lodge to which he belonged. The story goes that the lodge, which counted with both Spanish and Filipino members, alarmed by rumors that it was being identified with seditious elements, convoked a junta blanca, or informal session, to clear itself of the charge and take a stand against any separatist or revolutionary movement. In the middle of the discussion, which was, of course, in Spanish, Bonifacio is said to have sprung up and roared, in Tagalog: “Iyan ba lang ang pag-uusapan natin? At kakasti-kastila pa kayo diyan! Diyan na kayo! (Is that all we’re going to talk about? And in Spanish yet! Good-bye!)” And he clapped on his hat and walked out.

From the last part of 1893, the Katipunan stood alone, having severed all links with the Liga and freemasonry. Bonifacio had said good-bye to the world in which a poor boy couldn’t become president. If he had been dazzled by it once, he was now bitter against it. Here begins his hate-the-rich campaign, that rather sinister plot to implicate in the schemes of the Katipunan the rich folk who had snubbed the society. Bonifacio had approached the wealthy Don Francisco Roxas, and the don had snapped that he didn’t care to listen to “tonterias.” Bonifacio had approached Antonio Luna, and that suave cosmopolite had said no with a quip: “If Napoleon was Napoleon, it was because he had heart, intelligence and above all, money.” All these rich folk who said no to the Katipunan got their names listed down as active or passive members and contributors to the cause, and landed in jail and the torture chambers when the revolt exploded and the Katipunan papers fell into the hand of the authorities. Bonifacio did spare his idol Rizal, though Rizal also said no; but Rizal’s name was [end of page 96] already so involved in the Katipunan he might just as well have been among those falsely listed as adherents; and the hero was destroyed by the very society that revered him as its spiritual caudillo and honorary president.
Rizal and company had said no to the Katipunan, no to the Revolution, because, as they kept saying, the time was not ripe, the people were not ready, and there wasn’t enough arms or funds or leaders.

They were still saying that when their sorcerer’s caldron blew up in their faces, and in the face of the apprentice too.
Within a week, Bonifacio’s Revolution, the revolt of the proletariat, had collapsed. He was a good agent, an excellent organizer, but he just wasn’t a military leader. Perhaps, if the Revolution had been fought out on the streets of Manila, at street barricades, he might have done better. He knew the terrain, he knew the people, and they would have been fighting on home ground. But out in the wilds of Caloocan, and even more in Cavite, Bonifacio was on strange ground, a city boy trying to impose himself on provincial folk.

The Bonifacio of Manila ends with the fiasco of San Juan. Leadership had already passed from his hands when, late in 1896, he, too, made his way to Cavite. Group after group of his men had been melting away from his ranks and were later found enlisted in the armies of Cavite, where the Revolution of the Bourgeois was having far more success.

In the struggle there between Manila and Cavite, the last word belongs to a Caviteño, Santiago Alvarez, at the convention in Tejeros, where the two revolutions had their climactic confrontation:

“If you wish to establish any other kind of government more suited to your fancy, retire to your province and conquer territory from the Spanish government as we have done here, and establish there whatever government you like, and no one will interfere with you. We Caviteños do not need anyone of your caliber as an instructor.”

Rather a crushing answer to modern theories that the Caviteños or the ilustrados or the bourgeois “captured” the Revolution of Bonifacio and the proletariat, and that the government established by Cavite’s triumphant Revolution should have been this or that or the other and not what it actually was. The Alvarez retort moreover proves that, even then, the Caviteños already knew that their Revolution was a completely original and autonomous movement, different and distinct from the Bonifacio uprising, if only because that uprising was such a flop. By failing to “conquer territory from the Spanish government,” the Manila proletariat failed to gain the right to establish a government “more suited to their fancy.” Nothing was captured from them because they had cap- [end pf page 97] tured nothing in the first place.

Imus to Maragondon

The five months from Imus to Maragondon were the five acts of the hero’s tragedy. The first act ends with the Imus Assembly, where the Magdalo made a most significant observation: that the Katipunan had become superfluous. This was the first avowal of the fact that the Katipunan of Manila and the Revolution of Cavite were two different things, and that the latter was independent of the former. But Bonifacio had yet to learn the distinction, and he had, as chieftain and co-founder of the Katipunan, automatically taken the presiding chair at the Imus Assembly, to the mingled bafflement, scorn and amusement of the Magdalo, who saw him merely as an outsider, an alsa balutan, the Manila chieftain whose uprising had so dismally failed. In Magdiwang territory, he had heard himself hailed as “the ruler of the Philippines,” and though, like Caesar, he had refused the crown, he seems to have accepted the title. Ambition and arrogance were read into his actions, and it must be said that he went out of his way to offend the people he should have conciliated.

Act two displays the failure of Bonifacio’s mission. Having aggravated instead of mending the breach between two factions, he must take the blame for the demoralization in both camps, for the presence of the belligerent outsider in Magdiwang ranks led to panicky rumors: that he was an agent of the government, that he was a tool of the friars, that he had come to make money and to subvert the Revolution in Cavite. With both camps hysterically suspicious of the other, it sometimes happened that neither would go to the other’s help in the field, and the result was that the government troops began to advance in Cavite. By March, they were threatening Imus.

Act three is the Tejeros Convention, the archetype of Philippine polls, for in this, our first election, all the familiar ingredients already appear: the bodyguard, the drawn gun, the ballots prepared by one hand, the violent protests, the attempt to annul the voters’ will. Though Bonifacio’s Magdiwang dominated the convention, the Supremo lost. The Magdiwang elected its leaders into office but chose Aguinaldo of the Magdalo for their president. In a way, Bonifacio had united the two factions just by pushing the idea that he, an outsider, should head the revolutionary government in Cavite. The two factions fused against him, and the government they formed supplanted the Katipunan. End of page 98] The Supremo had fallen. He left the convention hall crying that the election, over which he himself had presided, was irregular and invalid.

Act four finds the hero plunging to his doom. He separates himself from the Cavite revolt, rejects Aguinaldo’s plea for cooperation, issues an order for the recruiting – by force, if necessary – of a rival revolutionary army, defies Aguinaldo’s authority by arresting Magdalo officers and declaring void Aguinaldo’s appointments – all this at a time when the Revolution in Cavite was being pushed back by government troops. In Naic, he was surprised by Aguinaldo himself in the act of plotting with Mariano Noriel and Pio del Pilar, two generals of Aguinaldo’s army. Bonifacio and his two brothers fled from Naic and tried to make their way to Batangas, where a rival government had been set up for him to head. Aguinaldo ordered his arrest. On April 27, 1897, the three Bonifacio brothers were captured in Indang; Ciriaco was killed during the skirmish, Andres and Procopio were taken to Naic for trial.

Act five, the trial and execution of Andres Bonifacio, begins in Naic and ends in Maragondon, for Naic fell to the Spanish forces during the trial and Aguinaldo had to move his government to Maragondon. On May 6, the court-martial found Andres and Procopio Bonifacio guilty of trying to overthrow the government and asked for the death penalty. Instead of confirming the proposed penalty, Aguinaldo changed it to “indefinite banishment,” which amounted to an order of pardon, but was persuaded by a group – which included ex-henchmen and fellow conspirators of Bonifacio – to withdraw the order of pardon and allow the execution of the prisoners. On the morning of May 10, 1897, while the Spanish forces were advancing on Maragondon, Bonifacio and his brother were taken up to the mountains and shot.

His death has been used against Aguinaldo, but Aguinaldo comes off admirably in this case. Whether the later Aguinaldo was as power-drunk as Mabini charged, the early Aguinaldo certainly was not, but rather showed himself to be forbearing and magnanimous, and obsessed not with personal glory but with the success of the Revolution. He was a mere bystander though already a famous general at the Imus Assembly, when the newly arrived Bonifacio took the presiding chair as though it were his by right; and from that moment Aguinaldo knew he could not support the presumptuous Manileño as the leader of the revolution. Yet Aguinaldo did not see himself as the leader, considering himself not educated enough. He had his own candidate: Edilberto Evangelista, the European-educated engineer who had built the fortifications of the Revolution in Cavite.

It’s tantalizing to ponder that, but for an enemy bullet, the leader of the [end of page 99] Revolution might have been, neither Bonifacio nor Aguinaldo, but Evangelista, who combined the qualities of the man of thought and the man of action. Would the Revolution have had a different history if it had been directed by a technical man like Evangelista rather than a soldier like Aguinaldo who was himself doubtful of his intellectual competence, or a thinker like Mabini whose intellect lay captive in a crippled body?

But a bullet felled Evangelista in the Battle of Zapote, on February 16, 1897; and after that, there was no longer any doubt that Aguinaldo would become caudillo. Yet he became president through no political exertion of his own. When elected by the Tejeros Convention, he was not even in the Convention hall; while Bonifacio was battling with the electors, Aguinaldo was battling the enemy at the front. Summoned to take his oath as president, he refused to leave his post. It was explained that his election could mean the unification of the Magdiwang and the Magdalo. He replied bitterly that unity had come too late; unity in December, 1896, might have brought the Revolution to the enemy’s strongholds; disunity had brought the enemy to the citadels of the Revolution.

Having agreed to assume the presidency, his first concern was to try to placate the raging Bonifacio; his peace overtures were rebuffed. Nowhere was Aguinaldo’s magnanimity more manifest than on the day he surprised Bonifacio plotting with Generals Mariano Noriel and Pio del Pilar to set up a counter-revolutionary army. Nobody would have blamed Aguinaldo if he had had the three men shot on the spot (his men surrounded the place); yet Aguinaldo allowed Bonifacio to escape, and all he did to Generals Noriel and Del Pilar was order them to return to their posts. He still did not issue any order for Bonifacio’s arrest; only when the plot in Batangas became notorious and the fleeing Bonifacio, headed for Batangas, made mock of the Revolutionary government, by declaring its acts null and void, did Aguinaldo finally decide that the Revolution was not to be destroyed from within by the man who was its parent but had become its grimmest foe. Bonifacio had to be removed, if the Revolution against Spain was not to degenerate into a squabble between Bonifacio’s men and Aguinaldo’s.

But to the end Aguinaldo hesitated to punish his adversary. No one can accuse him of vindictiveness. The death penalty was instantly commuted, the order of pardon released; and his act seems even more impressive when one notes that the very men who had, only the month before, been plotting with Bonifacio – Generals Noriel and Del Pilar – were now the loudest in protesting the pardon and in clamoring for Bonifacio’s execution, as though they would [end of page 100] wash away their sin with the blood of the man who had led them to sin. So the Katipunan of Manila perished in Cavite, where it had found itself a stranger, an outsider, a superfluity and an obstruction.
Joaquin, Nick. “Why Fell the Supremo?” A Question of Heroes. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing Inc., 2005 [1977]. 86-108. Read the full chapter here.

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