Philippine HiStory Today: The death of a Hero
Hello! What a sweltering month we’re having here in the Philippines! Talking about the weather has got me thinking about one Filipino hero who was unfortunately caught in hot water during the turn of the century… just when the nation needed him most.
Sadly, this led to his death. But more controversial is the reason why he was betrayed by his own brothers-in-arms. I’m talking about Andres Bonifacio: the Supremo of Katipunan and the ‘Hero of the Masses.’
The date in focus is 10 May 1897 — the death of Bonifacio.
Sit back and read as we unfurl the mystery.
Four years after the Katipunan, the anti-Spanish rebel group, was founded in 1892 and barely a few months into the Philippine Revolution in August 1896, the brotherhood was faced with an internal conflict of epic proportions.
If you were ever part of an organisation, you’ll understand that there are always factions and bickering among people whose ideas are at odds with each other. Think about your nasty boss or an annoying colleague, for example. The Katipunan was not immune to these sorts of internal conflicts. The difference was that they were fighting with each other while an enemy was threatening to kill them in the background.
Now let’s focus one specific faction war within the Katipunan: the case of the Magdalo and Magdiwang chapters.
The two chapters were based in Cavite. But instead of fighting alongside each other, they gradually fought with each other because of clashing ideals… and because of power too. Here are just some reasons why they so disliked each other:
- Magdalo was composed mostly of the elite and educated people of Cavite who aimed to lead a revolutionary movement separate from Magdiwang and Katipunan
- Magdalo wanted to have a revolutionary-style government patterned after America. But Magdiwang believed their current constitution and government (headed by Bonifacio) was already effective.
- Clashing ideals led both Magdalo and Magdiwang to ignore each other even when attacked. This only deepened the members’ dislike of the opposite faction.
- Which was the better chapter? In the beginning, Magdiwang controlled most of Cavite. But this changed after Magdalo won a series of battles against Spain while Magdiwang suffered one defeat after another. This led to the question of…
- Who should have more jurisdiction and authority in Cavite? To settle the dispute, the factions invited Supremo Bonifacio to preside over an assembly in an estate in Tejeros, San Francisco de Malabon, Cavite.
The Tejeros Convention
The convention in Tejeros on 22 March 1897 was not what Bonifacio expected. It wasn’t only a meeting to settle the disagreement between Magdiwang and Magdalo. As it went on, members of the meeting began to question what Katipunan really stood for… was it a proper government or a bandit group?
Pretty soon, people were challenging Katipunan (and Bonifacio’s) sense of democracy and called for snap elections to change leadership. Being the model leader that he was, Bonifacio agreed… to his downfall.
By the end of the elections (which was fraught with cheating and a classic case of dagdag-bawas), the Katipunan’s leadership had been overturned and its Supremo booted to the least important position:
- President — Emilio Aguinaldo (who was absent because he was gallantly fighting the Spanish major offensive in the Battle of Perez Dasmariñas… on his birthday!)
- Vice President — Mariano Trias
- Captain General — Artemio Ricarte
- Director of War — Emiliano Riego de Dios
- Director of the Interior — Andres Bonifacio
But that wasn’t all. The Tejeros Convention became scandalous after the election when Magdalo led member and Bonifacio critic Daniel Tirona shouted his opposition to Bonifacio’s nomination. He said that the position Director of the Interior was important and must only be filled by a lawyer. He argued that Bonifacio must be opposed because ‘[siya ay] walang anumang katibayan ng pinag-aralan.’
Bonifacio was furious. He could accept the mutiny, the betrayal of his members and his being stripped of the title Supremo. But he would not accept an insult. As a result, he asked Tirona to take back his words at gunpoint.
Fortunately, nothing worse happened. Bonifacio instead voided the election results and stormed off. However, the Magdalos still honoured the convention and the new officers swore in. To them, the revolutionary government was now headed by Aguinaldo even though many contended with the legality of the convention… Bonifacio most of all.
The death of a hero
On 26 April 1897, Bonifacio was arrested as decided upon by the Aguinaldo government’s Council of War. Some say that he was stabbed and shot during his arrest. But history was clear to mention that his brother Ciriaco was killed during the scuffle. During this rough period in Bonifacio’s life, rumour has it that Aguinaldo’s men even raped Gregoria de Jesus, the hero’s wife, in a bid to shame him further.
In the court in Maragondon, Cavite, without being given fair trial and betrayed by his own defence lawyer, Bonifacio was charged with treason and conspiracy to overthrow Aguinaldo and his government. We can never know the truth behind this charge. But Bonifacio remained a threat to the Aguinaldo government’s right to leadership as long as he was alive.
Bonifacio’s sentence was death. Some say he and his other brother Procopio were shot in the slopes of Mt Nagpatong in Maragondon. Others say he was hacked to death because ‘they did not want to waste precious ammunition.’ Whatever happened that fateful day in 10 May 1897, the Katipunan and its ideals officially died with Bonifacio.
With Bonifacio out of the way, Aguinaldo was free to deal with Spain in whatever way he wanted. As opposed to Katipunan, Aguinaldo went for compromises instead of full-out revolution, as proved by his 1897 pact Biak-na-Bato.
But the goals of the pact were never met — a few months later, America entered into the picture in the Spanish-American war, leading to Spain’s eventual surrender. It was a great victory for Aguinaldo, not knowing that the Americans had other plans in mind.
The controversy surrounding Bonifacio’s death brings to mind the modern argument of whether or not he is the real first president of our country and the question of Aguinaldo’s legitimacy. That there are still people who find these issues important today is actually heartwarming for me as a historian because it means many people still care.
This year we are celebrating Bonifacio’s 150th birth anniversary. It is valuable to remember his contributions to our society because they make up a huge chapter of what the Philippines is as a nation today. It is also important to remember him not simply as a man who headed a rebel group but a man who loved his country and was willing to die for it.
At a time when Filipinos are readily disillusioned by selfish politicians, the likes of Bonifacio are who we should strive to be.