Andres Bonifacio was born a hundred and forty-nine years ago today—this is the first touchstone in an oft-celebrated life. The biographies of the man who would found the Katipunan trace his thirty-three years in a short, terse, faithful rote: A man of humble beginnings who wanted more from life—this, unfortunately, in a rigid society that frowned upon such audacious ambition. The story follows in telegraphic detail: Bonifacio the hard worker who wished to rise up the ranks; self-taught, with a desire to be a great thinker, to be ilustrado in spirit—he read the great French novels, we learned; admired Rizal; and would himself pen stirring manifestos and rousing nationalist poetry.
More importantly, we are told, his ambition did not end with himself. Disgruntled by the status quo—of the seeming futility of simply desiring more under Spanish rule, with its insistence on class divides and the superiority of the foreign race—Bonifacio formed and led the Katipunan, a secret society whose sole aim was to overthrow three-centuries of subjugation to Spain.
The man many know as the Supremo, however, was in fact never formally recognized as thus. Andres Bonifacio was the President of the Supreme Council of the Katipunan—he was Andres Bonifacio, Pangulo Nang Haring-Bayang Katagalugan.
The Katipunan, for Bonifacio, was something that the country direly needed; for the Katipunan was action. It was to be more than the stirrings of dissatisfaction, more than mere grumbling; it was more than mere response, more than the willingness to risk life and limb because of the cause. The Katipunan was committing one’s self fully to the cause. For Bonifacio, the Katipunan was going to do something that would liberate the people, proudly reclaim what was truly ours, and—consciously for its founder or otherwise—in the process build a nation.
Our history books catalog the doings of this Bonifacio spurred into action—as do countless historical markers, and monuments cradled in town centers, as do the postcards every grade school student is required to include in a scrapbook of Philippine history. The President of the Supreme Council at the head of a defiant crowd in the then-wilderness of Caloocan, leading the tearing of the sacred cedula—the diminutive piece of paper that proved that one was a subject of Spain. And then here we have Bonifacio with his bolo thrust forward—what could be nobler than a revolution equipped with nothing more than crude blades and the frenzied thirst for freedom?—leading the charge. Here, too, is the Bonifacio painted vividly, even luridly, in the national memory: The red pantaloons of the Katipunan gleaming in the night skirmishes, the indio face scorned by the conquerors forever frozen in the battle-cry for liberty.
Our collective memory has successfully immortalized this boy from Tondo: Bonifacio the noble, Bonifacio the indignant, Bonifacio the defiant: Bonifacio, ever the proud Pangulo Nang Haring-Bayang Katagalugan, even in his final days, toppled from power, scorned by his own compatriots. And, undoubtedly, Bonifacio of the unshakeable legacy. We are aware, however, of how our history is peopled with figures who have become detached from fact and in the process become pawns in the national rigodon of precedence and ideological fashion in our national mythos. And so, despite the resources that have been made available to us, despite the face recalled by portraits, the features cast in bronze, the question must be asked: How well do we know Andres Bonifacio?
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Our attempts to answer that question begin today. Like many that have come before us, and in keeping with a tradition that we are certain will live on in the many years to come: This November 30th, and until November 30 next year, the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office commemorates the life and work of Andres Bonifacio. We will rebuild this life as told in books—we have published a biographical timeline of the Supremo—and we take part in what we hope will be an engaging—and engaged—national conversation on the man—come Monday, we will publish an elaboration of how Bonifacio’s face as we have come to know it has evaded even certainty—as we catalog his role in the nation’s making.
However, the PCDSPO—in partnership with local government units, with historical and cultural agencies and institutions, and with individuals whose life work has been dedicated to rekindling the past for new generations—looks to 2013 as not only a year-long celebration of Bonifacio’s life, but as the year of the Philippine Revolution—that penultimate formative period to achieving Philippine Independence—as Andres Bonifacio helped make it. For the question “How well do we know Andres Bonifacio?” must lead us to asking that perennial yet perpetually relevant question—how well do we know ourselves? For if the past is to be more than a static display of embalmed facts, then it must be become a subject engrossing—and relevant enough—to invite discussion, reinterpretation, and reappreciation by a new generation, as the torch of identity is passed from sesquicentennial to bicentennial, fifty years hence. •
For Bonifacio 2013: The Andres Bonifacio Sesquicentennial, the PCDSPO will be publishing online features, all of which will be housed in the dedicated special page on Official Gazette. Bonifacio 2013 is likewise on Facebook and on Twitter, and will be covered by the Presidential Museum and Library on this website and on Tumblr.