detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Saturday, June 04, 2005

: . Why Fell the Supremo? by Nick Joaquin (continued)
Death in the Morning

Eyewitness accounts of the Revolution disappoint because they usually give a stark resumé of the events that leaves out the details. We never know what the people were wearing, what the weather was, what the scene looked like.

A fascinating exception are the unpublished memoirs of Revolutionary Veteran Castor de Jesus, first cousin of Bonifacio’s wife Gregoria. Veterano de Jesus was among the first recruits of the Katipunan, followed the Supremo to Cavite, was in Maragondon during the trial and execution of the Bonifacio brothers; and his memoirs, set down soon after the Revolution, in Tagalog, pack detail so densely that scene after scene is recreated for the reader.

According to the memoirs, the Supremo left for Cavite early in December, at five in the afternoon, carrying with him for expenses only 27 pesos. Accompanying him were his wife, who was pregnant, his secretary Emilio Jacinto, and a few others, all of them on horseback. Left in command of the Katipunan headquarters at the Real de Balara was Julio Nakpil, segundo supremo. Before he rode away, Bonifacio spoke to his men: “Brothers, I must leave you because duty calls, but I feel sad to be separated from you, since we have been together in suffering from the start. If I leave you well, I hope to find you well on my return, like harmonious brothers with one mother. I shall not stay there long: I merely wish to gratify our brothers who are inviting me.”

De Jesus notes that the sky darkened as the Supremo rode away, and that the men left behind felt melancholy: “We worried, as though conscious of some mishap threatening to befall them on their trip.”

Bonifacio and his party entered Cavite through Zapote, had to stop in Bacood because his wife had suffered a miscarriage. To Bacood, to welcome the Supremo to liberated land, went Generals Daniel Tirona, Artemio Ricarte, Mariano and Santiago Alvarez, and Crispulo and Baldomero Aguinaldo.

The Supremo was taken to San Francisco de Malabon, where he was met by a church procession headed by the parish priest, who was a Tirona, and who sang a Te Deum mass in his honor, though he was a Mason. [end of page 101]

Castor de Jesus, who had been left behind in Balara, presently made the perilous journey to Cavite, too, not only to visit the Supremo but to see for himself the trenches and fortifications the Manila Katipuneros had heard so much about. He noticed that troops originally with the Manila Katipunan were now in Cavite, having joined the armies there, and that the Caviteños referred to such outsiders as “alsa balutan.” A fellow outsider told him: “That’s how they call us who come here – alsa balutan – and what they mean is that we have come here only to save our lives; and they have reason to say so, for many of us there are now here.”

De Jesus found the Supremo in San Francisco de Malabon; though at war the town was gaily preparing to celebrate its fiesta as usual. Castor de Jesus most keenly sensed that this was free land when he saw four friars caged in the town jail. But all was not well with the Supremo; he talked of returning to the Real de Balara and muttered that he would rather die than see regionalism reigning in the land.

When De Jesus next visited Cavite, the Supremo was already inflight. De Jesus joined the flight and was captured along with theBonifacios.

His memoirs give an intimate account of the last day in Maragondon. On May 9, Bonifacio’s wife suddenly realized that it was her birthday and began to weep as she recalled how her parents never let the day pass without a celebration. Bonifacio, who was feverish from his wounds (he had been wounded during his capture), tried to console his wife: “Alas, you tied yourself to a troubled life!” She hastened to assure him that she was not lamenting her lot: “It had always been my dream to find as my companion in life a man with a golden love for freedom and for our country. It seems that the fortune you dream of is the fortune you get. And if now these moments of misfortune come to us, what shall we do? They come to us from the Lord.”

According to the memoirs, Colonel Lazaro Makapagal, accompanied by Jose Zulueta, came that night to the house where Bonifacio was kept, and announced that he had orders to fetch the prisoner. The prisoner had to face a brief hearing but would be returned at once. His wife protested that he had been in pain all night and she begged for bandages with which to dress his wounds, which had begun to fester. The colonel explained that his soldiers had brought a hammock in which to carry the prisoner. Because Bonifacio was taken away in the night , a belief arose that he had been executed at midnight.

Col. Makapagal’s account is that he fetched Andres and Procopio Bonifacio on the morning of May 10, with orders to take them up to Mount Tala and there open and read to them the sealed letter he had been given. [end of page 102] During a rest in the ascent, Bonifacio, who had been carried up in a hammock, begged Makapagal to open and read the letter though they had not yet reached Mount Tala. Makapagal consented; the letter was an order to shoot the prisoners, in accordance with the sentence imposed by the court martial, the order of pardon having been withdrawn by Aguinaldo.

According to Makapagal, Bonifacio crawled on his knees toward him, flung out his arms and begged to be forgiven. Shots rang out; Procopio, who had been led away some distance, had been executed. Bonifacio found the strength to stagger up to his feet and to flee toward a promontory encircled by a stream. The soldiers caught up with him near the stream and shot him there. Then they buried him on the promontory.

Bonifacistas object to this story and argue that a man of Bonifacio’s character would never have crawled on his knees to beg for his life. What happened in the Maragondon mountains that morning of May 10, 1897, will probably never be ascertained since no other eyewitness account has appeared to corroborate or disprove Makapagal’s statement.

The Supremo was not yet 34 when he died, only eight months after his Katipunan rose in revolt.

Apprentice Versus Sorcerer

To the popular mind, Bonifacio always means the Bonifacio of the first period, from Tondo to San Juan: the father of the Katipunan, the initiator of the revolt. The Bonifacio of the second period, the anticlimactic Bonifacio in Cavite, hardly exists for us, save as a shadowy figure whose end is a mystery; most people still have a vague idea that he was killed so that leadership might be seized from him. But in the struggle between him and Aguinaldo, it was Bonifacio who was trying to seize power. Leadership already belonged to Aguinaldo, first by popular acclaim, because of his victories in the field, and then by official act, in the Tejeros Convention.

Bonifacio’s tragedy was that he assumed, when he came to Cavite, that he was the leader of the Revolution there too. When he found he was not, he tried to seize leadership, first by using the Magdiwang against the Magdalo, and then by using the Batangueños against the Caviteños. The first effort almost wrecked the Revolution; the second effort cost him his life. In Manila, his aim had always been to unite the people; but in Cavite his aggrieved, resentful policy [end of page 103] became ever to divide, divide, divide.

The fatal error that Bonifacio made in assuming that his Katipunan and the Revolution in Cavite were one and the same thing is still being made today. A theory currently in vogue is that the Philippine Revolution was a proletarian movement that was, when already successful, captured by the middle class. It’s an ingenious reading of history, but demonstrably wide of the mark. The Revolution sprang from the Katipunan – but what the Katipunan was, the Revolution was not. The Katipunan was plebeian and it failed at once as an uprising; the Revolution was bourgeois from the start and it succeeded up to a point.

No question at all that the Katipunan was proletarian, that Bonifacio, Jacinto and the other Sons of the People were proletarian, and that their uprising in the outskirts of Manila was, therefore, a proletarian movement, a revolt of the masses. But the same terms can be applied to the Revolution in Cavite only if the revolt there was of the peasants. Were Edilberto Evangelista, Artemio Ricarte, Jose del Rosario, Emilio Riego de Dios, the Triases, the Tironas, the Alvarezes and the Aguinaldos peasants? Yet it was men such as these who organized the Katipunan in Cavite – a Katipunan that must, therefore, have been very different in tone, temper and style from the society in Manila – and it was this Cavite movement of engineers, lawyers, schoolmasters, poets, town mayors, businessmen and small landowners that became the Revolution. What need had the burghers to capture a revolution they themselves had launched? On the contrary, it was the Manila proletariat, in the person of Bonifacio in Cavite, which tried to capture the successful revolution of the bourgeois, its own having flopped.

When we say that the Revolution had, in its initial phase, no support from the middle class, what we’re actually referring to is the very wealthy class, the upper middle-class, the aristocracy. But the Revolution itself, the successful Revolution of Cavite, was middle class, was of the petite bourgeoisie , which is, after all, what has pre-eminently been regarded as the middle class since Flaubert undressed it for our scorn. Wedged between aristocracy and proletariat, sometimes longing to rise, oftener fearing to fall, this class for which the epithet is small – small businessman, small landowner, small professional – has been much reviled, but from it have ever come the intellectuals, the artists, the technicians, the innovators – and the rebels, for the class that’s mocked for its prudence regularly produces iconoclasts. Snubbed by those above and nervously snubbing those below – that’s the history of the shabby-genteel; and it’s the history of the first part of the Philippine Revolution, a bourgeois manifestation. [end of page 104]

It’s in this light that the dropping of Bonifacio in Cavite should be read. He felt himself a stranger in Cavite, and quite rightly; to the movement there he was a foreign body that had to be expelled. He was simply out of place among the bourgeois. He was self-taught, they were school-educated, and could, from their own ranks, assemble an entire government, as they did in Tejeros, having enough legal, technical and military talent. He thought of revolution in terms of motherland and patriotism and liberty and courage; they thought of it in terms of trenches, fortifications, guns, funds and generals.

The difference in outlook had been expressed even before the Revolution, by Rizal and the ilustrados, in the reasons they gave for not wanting a revolution. If the masses rose in revolt, they would be but a mob, disorganized and ineffectual; a revolution could not succeed without educated leaders and arms. We now laugh at those qualms; we mock Rizal and the ilustrados for their excessive prudence; and we claim that Bonifacio proved all the learned men wrong by hacking down the might of Spain with no arms save bolos. But the glaring evidence of 1896 is that Rizal and the ilustrados were proved right, absolutely right, by the event.

The last part of 1896 was a kind of laboratory in which two experiments were being conducted at the same time to test the correctness of the ilustrado warning.

On one side, in the environs of Manila, was a revolt of the masses, a movement of bolos. It was very heroic, picturesque and dramatic – but it got nowhere. It failed in San Juan, it failed in San Mateo, if failed in Balara; and similar bolo movements it inspired in nearby provinces as quickly crumbled . The Katipunan depended chiefly on numbers, gauged success by the multitudes that flocked to its standard; but these multitudes didn’t harden into an army and dismally proved that, with all the zeal in the world you can’t win a war with bolos. If the Katipunan uprising, so swiftly checked, had been all there was to 1896, it wouldn’t be a special year in our history; the uprising would be but one more on the long list of our abortive revolts against Spain, and Bonifacio but another name to place beside Diego Silang’s and Francisco Dagohoy’s.

But simultaneous with the Katipunan uprising outside Manila was the Revolution in Cavite, which had educated leaders who knew just what to do. In every town where they rose, the first places seized are always the courthouse and the garrison, and both places always yielded stocks of arms. The rebels thus had, from the start, arms with which to face the troops sent against them, and got more arms by defeating the troops. Trenches and fortifications were then built, a hierarchy of officers was established, and Cavite thus had an orga [end of page 105] nized army within four months after the first outbreak of rebellion in August, 1896. Within that period – during which Bonifacio’s men were still brandishing bolos in futile hit-and-run raids on the towns around the Balara hills – the Caviteños had gained control of their province, were carrying the war outside its borders, were already talking of organizing a government, but never lost sight of the fact that, as the ilustrados had said, a war could be won only with an organized army, trained leaders, and arms. Arms were seized, bought, hoarded, and jealously nursed. (Two charges against Bonifacio were that he appropriated government guns and tried to induce soldiers to join him bringing their arms.) Aguinaldo was willing even to interrupt the war, just so he could get a chance to buy more arms: the reason behind the Pact of Biak-na-Bato.

What we see, then, in 1896 are two parallel but distinct movements, two rebellions that could not be more unlike each other. One was plebeian, instinctive, and in vain; the other, bourgeois, sophisticated, and effective. The first never even got close to its objective – the attack on and capture of Manila – and frittered away the rest of the year captive and impotent in the Balara hills. The second enjoyed one triumph after another, amassed territory, and pushed forward, not only in the field of battle but also of politics, advancing from the Convention in Tejeros to the Republic in Kawit to the Congress in Malolos. Since this revolution was, from the first moment, controlled by the bourgeois, its ideas and ideals were necessarily those of the men who directed it; and it’s perverse to accuse those men – or, rather, the class to which they belonged – of “betraying” the ideals of the Katipunan. These men did not “capture” the Katipunan; they very pointedly abolished it. If the Revolution ended up bourgeois, it was because it started as bourgeois, in the first place, was bourgeois from the first battle of San Francisco de Malabon and right through the Congress in Malolos, which was the inevitable, the logical result of this movement of professionals and landowners.

The Manila Katipunan could be captured and its ideals betrayed only if its uprising had been successful, had become the Revolution, in which case it would have had the right to impose its ideas on the entire country, the burghers in Cavite included. But the Katipunan uprising floundered; Cavite’s Revolution flourished – and how can the defeated impose themselves on the victorious? That, in fact, was what Bonifacio tried to do Cavite, and what he was not allowed to. The Congress in Malolos could have been of the proletariat only if the revolt of the masses, Bonifacio’s revolt, had succeeded. It didn’t; the Revolution of the Bourgeois did. So, the Malolos Congress was of the bourgeois. From this point of view, the Katipunan was a failure, [end of page 106] Bonifacio was a failure. Nobody betrayed him or his revolution; he destroyed both it and himself.

For the pity of it is that, when he went to Cavite, he could have got the means to make his revolution succeed. Behind him in Balara and Montalban and Marikina was a rabble whose bolos had been proved futile; but in Cavite stood an organization – a professional army (the soldiers were sometimes paid) and the technical talent he was so sorely in need of. With tact and a show of modesty, he could have won over this organization and used it to establish the supremacy of the Katipunan. His name still had magic in Cavite; eminent gentlemen like Edilberto Evangelista humbly stood in the reception committee to welcome the laborer from Tondo. But by choosing to give an impression of arrogance, “as though he were a king,” he kindled the prejudices against him and stiffened clan and class opposition to his leadership.

In the first place, he should not have assumed that he was the Supremo of the Caviteños, if only because his military record could not bear comparison with theirs. If his armies had taken, say, the whole province of Morong and were still holding it at the sane time he went to Cavite, he might have strutted there with reason. But since he had won no ground worth the winning and what troops he had still hid in the hills, his lordly manner could not but make him a figure of fun in the eyes of the Caviteños, who naturally began to circulate malicious stories about the fiasco in San Juan.

But perhaps he could not help the arrogance, for our poor Andres was a Mañileno. From time immemorial, the Manila boy who goes to the provinces has felt himself a king compared to the rustics, though he may, back in the city, have but a hovel for a home. The Manileño’s innate sense of superiority may explain Bonifacio’s behavior in Cavite, a behavior that had disastrous consequences, for it intensified Caviteño clannishness. In the end, Bonifacio found himself left out, as an outsider, even by the clan he had espoused. Manileño pride had crashed against provincial togetherness.
He was an outsider in an even deeper sense, for in Cavite he found himself in the midst of a class to which he did not belong. A little modesty, a little humility might have won him its sympathy, might have persuaded the burghers to overlook his low origins and lack of education; but as he provoked provincial clannishness, so he provoked bourgeois snobbery and, by seeming to be pushing and presumptuous, antagonized people into regarding him as an upstart. The climax here was the gibe in Tejeros that maddened him almost to the point of killing, a gibe that implied a man as ignorant and lowborn as he had no place in a government of the educated and the genteel. The [end of page 107] incident – which led to his declaring the Tejeros election invalid and to his defiance of the government and to his death – floodlights the Caviteños’ awareness of the difference in social level between their revolution and Bonifacio’s Katipunan.

Snobbery was one of the killers of the Supremo; but it and the other forces that destroyed him, he himself had provoked. The death in Maragondon was a tragedy, because the tragedy sprang irresistibly from the character of the hero.
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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