This year we are celebrating the 101st Bonifacio Day.
According to the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), the country commemorates Katipunan founder Andres Bonifacio’s birthday every Nov. 30.
Enshrining this a national holiday was initiated by Senator Lope K. Santos, whose bill to designating November 30 as a national heroes day was approved in February 1921.
A separate National Heroes’ Day was created through another law in 1931, and a law separating Heroes’ Day from Bonifacio Day was passed in 1952.
Andres Bonifacio is regarded as a national hero for founding the Katipunan and initiating the Philippine Revolution in 1896 against the Spanish empire, whose grip over the archipelago lasted for nearly 400 years.
Despite Bonifacio’s contributions to overthrowing the colonizer, he died at the hands of his countrymen.
This is why his day is celebrated on his birth date and not his death date, as in the case of Jose Rizal, who was executed by the Spanish colonial government for the crime of rebellion.
Rizal was not aligned with Bonifacio and his group, but his writings were incendiary and sparked a wave of feeling against the colonizers.
The Katipunan, founded in 1892, spawned an aggressive movement that saw members ripping their cedulas and fighting against the Spanish.
According to historian Ambeth Ocampo, Bonifacio’s death is still controversial because “his death raises painful questions. Bonifacio was killed by the very revolution he started. Colonizers are the villains in our history, but Bonifacio’s death points to Filipino villais.”
In one of his columns, Ocampo cites a Philippines Free Press news item from Dec. 1, 1928 that focuses on the account of a soldier named Lazaro Makapagal.
His story puts him in the very center of the killing of the brothers Andres and Procopio Bonifacio.
Makapagal said he received orders from General Mariano Noriel to take the Bonifacios from Maragondon, Cavite where they were detained, to Tala hill in that area.
Makapagal complied, taking with him four soldiers.
At Tala, he broke open a sealed packet of orders that Noriel had handed him. “But I already had a presentiment of the order contained within the parcel,” Makapagal recounted.
“It was an order for the execution of the brothers.”
Makapagal gave orders for Procopio to be shot.
Andres, some distance away, begged for forgiveness and attempted to escape.
Citing his “military duty,” Makapagal ordered him shot as well.
Andres was fired upon in the back as he tried to flee into the shrubbery. As Makapagal said, the brothers were not bound.
A grave was dug and Andres buried in it.
Other sources state that Noriel was president of the Council of War that tried the Bonifacio brothers in Naic and Maragondon.
They were convicted of sedition and treason and sentenced to death, but General Emilio Aguinaldo, president of the Revolutionary Government, commuted the sentence to banishment to the Pico de Loro mountain in Maragondon.
However, many senior military officers and prominent citizens, including Noriel himself, warned that the Revolution was in danger if the Bonifacios were allowed to live.
Why was Bonifacio charged with these crimes?
The Library of Congress states that: “Following the execution of Rizal in 1896, Bonifacio proclaimed Filipino independence on August 23, 1896.
This time, the Spaniards moved against him, forcing his flight to the Marikina mountains, while other forces headed by Emilio Aguinaldo were more successful and won control over some towns.
“When Bonifacio tried to rein him in, Aguinaldo ordered him arrested and charged with treason and sedition. He was tried and convicted by his enemies and executed on May 10, 1897.”
This was a dark incident during those difficult days, but Bonifacio’s role seems pretty clear. According to the NHCP, Bonifacio was the “lighting guide of the revolution.
His courage and determination was undeniable and the struggle for freedom started by him and his Katipuneros became the flame of inspiration of other revolutionary groups to continue the fight for freedom.”
May today and our other heroes’ days lead us to recall the sacrifices of our forebears who fought and died for our country’s freedom and for democracy—and may we not waste their efforts.
(Dr. Ortuoste is a board member of PEN Philippines, member of the Manila Critics Circle, and judge of the National Book Awards. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO )