Andres Bonifacio: The great plebeian and freedom champion

Published November 30, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin


Andres Bonifacio shares with Jose Rizal the distinction of being honored on a non-working holiday for his contribution to the shaping of a national identity among Filipinos. While Rizal is honored on the date of his martyrdom, the Bonifacio commemoration coincides with his birthday. Born and raised in Tondo, Manila, he is especially recognized in the capital city where a major public park, Liwasang Bonifacio has been named after him.

While Rizal is more widely known as an intellectual and pacifist hero, Bonifacio is typically portrayed as a revolutionary leader who advocated armed struggle to depose Spanish colonial rule. His iconic statue depicts him while leading the Cry of Pugad Lawin. According to historical accounts, he led about a thousand Katipuneros in tearing up their cedula or residence certificate that was a symbol of slavery to the Spaniards. This defiant call to armed struggle was punctuated by patriotic shouting of the battlecry, Viva La Independencia Filipina! (Long Live Philippine Independence).

Bonifacio had followed in Rizal’s footsteps. He was known as one of the members of La Liga Filipina, shortly before Rizal was arrested and exiled to Dapitan and after its disbandment, he organized the Katipunan that later grew into an armed revolutionary movement that spread from Manila to several provinces. The ultimate objective was to bring about the separation of the Spanish empire and the establishment of a self-governing nation called the Republic of the Philippines.

The dynamics of the revolutionary movement bred intrigue and factionalism. He became embroiled in a power struggle that led to his capture by forces identified with his rival Emilio Aguinaldo who was later elected as the first President of the Republic by the Malolos Congress.

Yet, through time, Bonifacio has earned a more preeminent place in the pantheon of Filipino heroes, perhaps next only to Rizal – primarily because his advocacy of armed struggle to win the cause of Philippine independence catalyzed the eclipse of Spanish colonial rule. Bonifacio is also viewed in a more benign light by historians owing to the major role he played in creating a distinct Filipino consciousness and stoking the nascent stirrings of nationalism.

Worth recalling, too, is his working class background. He interrupted his early schooling to earn a living as a craftsman, then as a messenger-clerk, storekeeper and agent of foreign commercial firms in Manila. The Katipunan movement that he founded “exalted work as the source of all value.” Thus did he become too, an exponent of the dignity of labor and the need to overthrow by force those who had trampled upon the basic rights of the working masses.

Aside from being remembered as the supremo of the Katipunan, Bonifacio earned the distinction of being called the Great Plebeian. Born of humble means, he immersed himself in the daily struggles of the working classes and exemplified the aspirations to nationhood and freedom of the nation’s poor. Although he is not known for scholarship and erudition like Rizal, he is admired and emulated for embodying the Filipinos’ bravery and deep love of country.