FFE Magazine

PH HiStory Today – Supremo: The Hero of the Masses

History Mascot Kuya Rogelio var 3Good day! We will focus on a hero today; a man who has left one of the most enduring and controversial legacies in our history.


This man is as great as Jose Rizal, but has often been relegated to the background until recent years. In popular culture he is often depicted barefooted, wearing a camisa de chino (thin shirt), red trousers and a red scarf around his neck. A bolo (machete) is never absent from one of his hands, and in another, the battered red flag of the supreme revolutionary brotherhood KKK.


This is how we know this man through the history lessons we took in school:


Part of National Artist Botong Francisco’s mural ‘Filipino Struggles through History’

Part of National Artist Botong Francisco’s mural ‘Filipino Struggles through History’


Let me tell you though, by the end of this hiStory-telling session I’m sure you’ll start to see this man in a very different way.


He is Andres Bonifacio, the proletariat hero, the champion of the masses and the Supremo (supreme leader) of the revolution. We’re celebrating his 150th birth anniversary this 30 November 2013.


Now, these are all very big titles in my opinion. But let us talk about how he earned these titles and why he still matters 116 years after he died. I’ll also be letting you in on a few juicy stories I picked up about him along the way, so find a good chair, settle in and get ready for another tale!


30 November 1863


Andres Bonifacio y de Castro was the eldest son of tailor and teniente mayor (roughly equivalent to vice mayor) Santiago Bonifacio and cigarette factory supervisor Catalina de Castro in Tondo. He was named after St Andrew the Apostle. He can be considered a Spanish mestizo since his maternal grandfather was Spanish. He also has Chinese blood since her maternal grandmother was Filipino-Chinese. He also had five other siblings: Ciriaco, Procopio, Troadio, Esperidiona and Maxima.


Although he is considered as the hero of the masses, Andres did not grow up in a poor family. Andres had been home schooled as a child by a private tutor. But when their parents died because of illness, Andres had to assume the role of guardian for his siblings. One historian claimed he only finished the equivalent of Grade 4. But Andres was not helpless.


For one thing, he loved to read books. This enabled him to open his eyes on to very revolutionary ideas at a young age. He picked up books like ‘The History of the French Revolution,’ Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’ and Eugene Sue’s ‘The Wandering Jew.’ He even read Rizal’s ‘Noli’ and ‘El Fili’ later on. He was a self-educated man for the greater part of his life.


As for work, he had plenty! At first he sold paper fans and canes he made himself and created posters for businesses. Later, he worked as a messenger then a supervisor under a British company. Andres then transferred to a German trading company and worked as warehouse inventory manager or bodeguero. He was earning more than teachers were during that time. These were all white-collar jobs.


The facts I have so far mentioned extinguishes the popular myths that say Andres was a poor, illiterate Indio who was barely able to make ends meet. On the contrary, he was very much the opposite. Another surprising tidbit about this man is that he was an active theatre actor who performed alongside another revolutionary hero: Macario Sakay (who was his kababata).


In Philippine myth, Bernardo Carpio is said to be the reason earthquakes happen. He was Andres favourite character to play in theatre. Little did he know he would cause earthquakes himself later in his life!


Many people know that Gregoria de Jesus was Andres’ wife whom he married way before the revolution began. However, not everyone knows that Andres was already married once to a woman whom history only names as Monica, who later died of leprosy. Andres also had a son with Gregoria, but the boy died of smallpox.


Gregoria de Jesus, vice president of Katipunan women’s chapter

Gregoria de Jesus, vice president of Katipunan women’s chapter




The story of Andres Bonifacio wouldn’t be complete without us touching upon KKK: Kataas-taasang Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan or the Supreme and Venerable Society of the Sons of the Nation. KKK or Katipunan was a secret society of revolutionaries who wanted to kick the colonising Spaniards out of the country for good. You can find a short summary of the flags they used in this short bit about the evolution of the Philippine flag.


Katipunan was inspired by the first reformers in the progressive group La Liga Filipina. Andres was actually a member, and he clung to the ideals of the Liga so vehemently he revived it along with Apolinario Mabini when the Liga died following the arrest of Jose Rizal.


When it became obvious that Spain could stamp out the peaceful reformation groups like the Liga, Andres, along with like-minded Liga members, founded Katipunan to take matters into his own hands.


Katipunan became a success. But how it did is reserved for another hiStory-telling afternoon.  Let me tell you though that the Katipunan’s most important secrets were soon betrayed to Spanish authorities which, one by one, eliminated its members.


Andres is a hero because of his huge role as the Katipunan’s founder and Supremo. When the Spanish authorities tightened their reins on the educated reformers, the rest of the middle class was ready to keep quiet and settle for the status quo. For Andres, however, the death of the Liga and the propaganda movement served as kindle to the growing fire of anger toward the colonisers.


The voice of the masses


Unlike the Ilustrados or the educated class of the propaganda movement, who settled for reforms in the legislative level (which would have taken them years to win), Andres called for action and led by example by jumping into the fray. By arming himself with a revolver (not really a bolo, mind you) and seeking out comrades in arms, Andres forced the colonisers to deliver what the Filipinos wanted right there and then: freedom.


Andres is the mascot of the masses because he gave voice to what everybody else was afraid of saying. He claimed a big responsibility and took a huge risk by assuming the role of Supremo to the Katipunan… I don’t doubt he realised he could die for it. Would you be willing to risk your life for that same cause? This is a million-dollar question, but I know many Filipinos, whether known or anonymous, have been faced with this same dilemma in real life — and have chosen an answer they will forever live by.

The only known surviving photo of Andres Bonifacio

The only known surviving photo of Andres Bonifacio


I said that because, like Andres, whose life has been full of myths, we also have the power to make anything possible. Andres fought against the prevailing powers then. He may not have succeeded personally, since he died way before the Philippines finally won its independence, but the spirit he inspired became a rallying call for the revolutionary heroes of the past century.


In our case, we can also be a hero for the masses. Today, our government is in the brink of change: a modern revolution. The seeds of corruption like the pork barrel fund are under investigation, the masterminds of shady government dealings are slowly being forced to a corner. The president himself is getting flak and is trying to act more carefully than his predecessors. We are not afraid anymore; we are not satisfied with complacency.


Let our smallest actions serve, like Andres’, to shake the foundations of our ruling system. Let us voice out our concerns and act upon them now that the time is ripe for change.

How do we start? Why, we can by sharing our thoughts below! What do you think about Andres now that much of the myths surrounding his life have been disproven by historians and research? What other aspects of Andres’ life can we emulate to pave a way for a better Philippines?




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