President Benigno Aquino III extolled national hero Andres Bonifacio for sparking the Philippine revolution for independence from Spain in 1896 despite seeming “insurmountable obstacles.”
Mr. Aquino led celebrations at Pinaglabanan Shrine in San Juan City for the 149th birth anniversary of Bonifacio, Supremo, or supreme commander of the Philippine revolutionary army, the Katipunan.
In his speech, Mr. Aquino threw jabs at China, which is aggressively claiming Philippine territories, parts of the South China Sea known as West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines claims sovereignty over Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) and some islets, reefs and cays in the Spratly islands in the West Philippine Sea.
On Thursday, China announced that its coastguardsmen will board and expel foreign vessels that enter disputed waters in the South China Sea.
“Now, we are a free nation—no foreign invaders, no shackles of Spain. We have proven to those who had attempted to enslave our race that we would not be intimidated, and we are ready to fight for what is truly ours,” Mr. Aquino said.
But he did not expressly mention China in his speech, delivered in Filipino.
Mr. Aquino repeatedly called on Filipinos to remember and emulate the sacrifices of Bonifacio and those who died fighting for the country’s emancipation from foreign subjugation.
He said Filipinos had a “simple responsibility” today.
“We all have a role to play in shaping our country. Let us not be enslaved by our own limitations. Let us not be enslaved by fear and doubt that serve as the deep scar of our history. Let us not be enslaved by those attempting to restore the oppression of the past,” he said.
“We must always remember: We have a heroes’ lineage. We will never run out of Bonifacios. We will never run out of (Jose) Rizals. We will never run out of Ninoys (his late father, Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.). We will never run out of Filipinos who are ready to answer the call of flag and country,” he said.
The President then segued into his anticorruption campaign, saying “corruption and poverty” had shackled the country during the last decade.
“However, because of our unity and concern for others, these chains are being loosened as we (tread) the straight path,” he said.
Mr. Aquino devoted much of his speech to lauding the virtues of Bonifacio, praising the hero’s sacrifices and dogged determination to free the Philippines from more than 300 years of Spanish rule.
He recalled that on Aug. 30, 1896, Bonifacio led hundreds of members of the secret society, “Katipunan,” in attacking a Spanish arsenal and gunpowder plant in San Juan del Monte (former name of San Juan).
“The Pinaglabanan battle is recognized as the first direct attack launched by Filipinos to reclaim their freedom from Spain. This happened a week after the historic Cry of Pugadlawin, where the revolutionaries tore their cedulas (community tax certificates), and this aspiration to be free reverberated in every corner of the country,” Mr. Aquino said.
The Pinaglabanan battle may have been lost because the Spanish troops had superior weapons, but the “heroism exhibited by the Katipuneros here in Pinaglabanan stoked the fires of unrest in various provinces,” he said.
Drawing parallelism to the uprising, Mr. Aquino said the uncertainty of victory did not always lead to defeat.
“This (lesson) is seared in the Filipino consciousness: Victory is possible; leading an honorable life in one’s own country is possible; freedom is possible—but we must fight for it,” Mr. Aquino said.
The President urged the entire country to remember and celebrate Bonifacio’s legacy and realize that his ideals remain alive in so many Filipinos today, here and abroad, seeking and working for a better Philippines.
Mr. Aquino said the 149th birth anniversary of Bonifacio was a fitting occasion to launch his “sesquicentennial anniversary in 2013.”
Before his speech, Mr. Aquino, assisted by a descendant of Bonifacio, Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Undersecretary Manolo Quezon III, San Juan Mayor Guia Gomez and her son, Rep. JV Ejercito, unveiled the “Bonifacio@150” logo.
The logo depicts an image of Bonifacio charging ahead with a clenched left fist. Its unveiling kicked off yearlong activities that would culminate on Nov. 30 next year.
According to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, the activities would be a “yearlong commemoration of the life, works and achievements of Andres Bonifacio, culminating in the sesquicentennial of his birth.”
Spearheaded by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, numerous activities, publications and events are lined up for Filipinos to remember and celebrate Bonifacio.
The Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO), a member of the National Committee for the Bonifacio Sesquicentennial, will publish online a series of feature articles about Bonifacio, the Katipunan, and the Philippine Revolution of 1896.
Betrayal of history
Mr. Aquino said Bonifacio’s life was an open book. Orphaned early, he had to take on odd jobs to raise his siblings. He was largely self-educated.
These hardships, coupled with the experiences he and his contemporaries suffered in the hands of Spanish colonizers, helped him develop strength of character and principles that put others’ interests above oneself.
But Mr. Aquino said, there are instances when “history becomes a traitor.”
In a nutshell, the President acknowledged that Bonifacio had been unfairly maligned in history books produced under the tutelage of the West.
Contrary to the belief that he epitomized “violence and impulse” because he was a revolutionary, Bonifacio had a flair for writing, Mr. Aquino said.
Through his writings, “Dekalogo ng Katipunan” (The Katipunan Decalogue) and “Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog,” (What the Tagalogs Should Know) Bonifacio’s “voice of calm and reason” could be clearly deduced, Mr. Aquino said, explaining that Bonifacio also advocated the pursuit of good intentions through “restraint, patience and reason.”
Although in the attacks he led, not once did Bonifacio prevail, “but for every small setback, every life snuffed out, every drop of blood shed … watered the land [that was thirsting] for freedom,” Mr. Aquino said
“He may have fallen several times, but these (defeats) did not alter Bonifacio’s resolve: ‘We will fight until independence is achieved.’ He was focused on his goal: ‘We may lose in small battles, but it won’t take long before we could claim victory in battle; we will achieve true independence,’” the President said, quoting Bonifacio’s mantra.
New face of heroism
Mr. Aquino spoke about Bonifacio’s dogged determination to achieve his noble goal as worthy of emulation.
The President encouraged Filipinos to help bring about change in the land, learn to rise from every setback, believe in their abilities to excel, and sacrifice for the common good.
“This is the new face of heroism; this is the face of the new patriots; this is the idea being handed down by this sacred meeting place: Then, now and in the future, there are Filipinos who are ready to respond to the call of the time, and wholeheartedly join the fight, so that we can all direct our nation toward a righteous and straight path,” he said.