On December 20, 1898, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, as head of the Philippine Revolutionary Government, issued a decree proclaiming Dec. 30 of every year a national day of mourning in honor of Dr. Jose Rizal and the other martyrs of the revolution against Spain. This was just two years after the execution of the hero by the Spanish colonial government.
On Feb. 16, 1921, the members of the Philippine Legislature passed Act No. 2496, proclaiming Nov. 30 of every year a legal holiday to commemorate the birth of Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan. This was just 25 years after the launching of the nationalist revolution against Spain by the Kataastaasan Kagalang-galang na Katipunan nang manga Anak nang Bayan (Highest Honorable Association of Children of the Nation), or Katipunan.
Since then, the names of Rizal and Bonifacio have led the parade of illustrious and valorous heroes honored by generations of Filipinos for their contributions to national unity, freedom and social progress.
But since the 1960s, there has arisen a revisionist historical trend questioning the standing of both Rizal and Bonifacio in the vanguard of that parade of heroes.
One school of thought contends that Rizal was not worthy to be considered our foremost national hero because he was “made in USA.”
In an article written in 1970, titled “Veneration Without Understanding,” the historian Renato Constantino referred to Rizal as an “American-sponsored hero.”
This viewpoint was expressed during the period of social and political activism led by students, workers and peasants against the brewing Marcos dictatorship and against the American war on Vietnam as an expression of resurgent US imperialism.
Constantino claimed that US Governor General Howard Taft set up Rizal as a national hero because Rizal was considered a “reformist” and a “pacifist,” while Bonifacio was a revolutionary who resorted to violence to gain national independence.
Since the US colonial rulers naturally wanted to discourage revolution against their regime, they chose Rizal over Bonifacio as the Philippines’ national hero.
The message was interpreted by the activists as reflecting their view that it was Bonifacio who most deserved the title of No. 1 Filipino hero.
The Taft Commission, which functioned as the US colonial administration in the Philippines from 1900 to 1904, passed Act No. 37, creating the Province of Rizal out of the military district of Morong in honor of Dr. Rizal.
The act did not formally declare Rizal a national hero, nor proclaim a national holiday in his honor. Besides, the Taft Commission represented a foreign government that had gained power through force and could not speak for the Filipino people.
General Aguinaldo, acknowledged leader of the de facto Philippine Republic, proclaimed Rizal a national hero ahead of the American colonial administration.
In compliance with his decree of Dec. 20, 1898, the people of Daet, Camarines Norte, immediately started a subscription for the building of a monument for Dr. Rizal at the town’s plaza.
The monument was inaugurated in February 1899, shortly after the outbreak of the Philippine-American War on Feb. 1.
Hence, the proclamation of Rizal as a national hero was an authentic act of the Filipino people even before the United States officially consolidated its rule. By no means can it be said that he was an “American-sponsored” hero.
If at all, in supposedly choosing Rizal as our national hero, Taft was only abiding by the popular sentiment of the Filipino people as already expressed through General Aguinaldo, whose government was then sovereign throughout the entire nation, except in Manila.
The proclamation of Bonifacio as a national hero was made by the Philippine Legislature, composed of duly elected Filipino representatives of the Philippine Legislature, then enjoying self-rule under the American colonial regime.
He, too, should be considered a genuine choice of the Filipinos as a national hero despite the objection of the American administration that he was too much of a revolutionary.
Bonifacio, like Rizal, has also suffered from historical revisionism. The most recent revisionist writing about Bonifacio was that by Bryan C. Paraiso, a senior historical sites development officer of the National Historical Commission.
In Paraiso’s article published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Nov. 30, 2012, on the occasion of Bonifacio’s 149th birth anniversary, the hero reveals fervor in his writings. Paraiso described Bonifacio as an “elusive” historical character.
Paraiso went so far as to favorably quote an American historian, Glenn Anthony May, that “the Bonifacio celebrated in history textbooks and memorialized in statues around the Philippines is in reality something closer to a national myth.”
May, who has written a number of controversial books on Philippine history emphasizing the role of the elite in the Philippine revolution and in the armed resistance against American occupation, is a history professor at the University of Oregon.
Paraiso rejected the judgment of Filipino historians like Epifanio de los Santos, who had tried to vindicate the image of Bonifacio against his detractors.
Paraiso considered the writings of De los Santos and other Filipino historians “subjective” interpretation, implying that the foreigners’ interpretation of Philippine history is “objective.”
In fact, the observations of the American historians on our anticolonial struggles could just as well carry bias to justify the colonial conquests of our country.
But is it necessary and helpful for Filipinos to pit their heroes against each other, endlessly debating who are more deserving of popular adoration?
Every hero plays his own unique role in history, which is that to defend and promote the interests of the nation at any particular time of national crisis, sacrificing his or her own life and self-interest.
George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are both American primary heroes performing different roles at different times in their country’s historical development. They, too, had their critics.
Rizal consciously planted and nourished the seed of nationalism. In his novels, essays and proclamations he promoted the idea of freedom and the eventuality of national independence.
At first Rizal advocated reforms. But when the plea for reforms failed, he advocated independence, even through revolution. This is evident in his novel “Noli Me Tangere,” which emphasized reforms, and its sequel, “El Filibusterismo,” which preached revolution.
Rizal’s principal essays, “The Indolence of the Filipinos,” and “The Philippines a Century Hence,” argued for an end to colonialism, by reforms if possible, and, if not, through revolution.
Bonifacio read the novels of Rizal and possibly his two nationalistic essays that were published by La Solidaridad, the periodical of reformist Filipino emigres in Madrid, which Rizal had joined but which he later left when he finally realized that their agitation for reforms were falling on the deaf ears. It was then that Rizal wrote the “Fili.”
La Liga Filipina
It was Rizal’s writings and his growing reputation as a leader of Filipino nationalism that led Bonifacio in 1892 to join Rizal’s La Liga Filpina, an organization that was in essence a shadow government for an independent nation.
The organization of the Liga by Rizal was cited in the indictment against him as one of the acts of treason he allegedly had committed against the Spanish regime.
The stated aims of the Liga, including, “To unite the whole archipelago into one compact, vigorous and homogenous body,” were correctly interpreted by the Spanish authorities as an attempt at separatism. This led the Spanish government to exile Rizal to the fastnesses of Mindanao. He was eventually executed upon conviction of treason.
In his memoirs of the Philippine Revolution, Apolinario Mabini recalled that he met Bonifacio at the organization of the Liga. After Rizal’s banishment on July 6, 1892, Bonifacio and a handful of other members of the Liga tried to keep it alive by continuing to solicit contributions for La Solidaridad.
Mabini, was elected secretary of the Supreme Council of the Liga after Rizal’s arrest. He later became president of the Cabinet of President Aguinaldo and secretary of foreign affairs in the first Philippine Republic that fought the United States for independence.
The late former Sen. Claro M. Recto, the greatest Filipino nationalist of our time, in a speech in 1960 to a civic convention in Baguio City, identified “Rizal, the poet, thinker, realist; Bonifacio, the idealist man of action; and Mabini, the statesman,” as “three of the greatest nationalists this country has produced.”
When the Liga finally dissolved because of disagreements among its officers, Bonifacio formed the Katipunan, which was totally dedicated to the objective of overthrowing the Spanish colonial government through armed revolution.
Bonifacio had come to the conclusion that the period for petitions had ended, and that revolution had become an imperative.
The Katipunan was therefore a direct outgrowth of the Liga Filipina. Bonifacio used the name of “Jose Rizal” as one of the passwords for the members of the secret society. It was an acknowledgment by Bonifacio that Rizal was his mentor and inspiration, if not his leader.
All revolutions start out with petitions for reforms. Thus it was with the French, Russian and American revolutions. The US Declaration of Independence states: “In every state of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”
The rejection of the petitions for reforms by the La Solidaridad propagandists, including representation in the Spanish parliament, paved the way for the bloody Katipunan revolution for separatism.
In his seminal essay, “The Philippines A Century Hence,” published by La Solidaridad from Sept. 30, 1898, to Feb. 1, 1890, Rizal wrote that if the reforms were not granted, “the Philippines one day will declare herself inevitably and unmistakably independent …. Necessity is the strongest god the world knows, and necessity is the result of physical laws put into action by moral forces.”
Rizal planted the seed of revolution, and Bonifacio watered it. They were the twins of historical necessity. The dynamic of history brought them together, each to fulfill fated roles in the struggle of our people for nation-building and independence.
That their legacies should be made to compete against each other goes against the law of history, which mandates that each historical figure, like every generation, has a definite role to play in the destiny of a nation.
Divide and rule
Revisionists are employing the time-honored colonial tactic of “divide and rule” to impose and perpetuate their dominance over conquered peoples.
Those who play this game, pitting our heroes against each other, and planting seeds of suspicion about their worth, are playing the game of our former colonial masters.
As Recto said in the same speech, “A firm belief in the genius of our race and in the capacity of the people for advancement toward the attainment of their destiny is another basic component of nationalism.” Destroy that nationalism and you destroy the nation.
After all, colonialism does not end in the mere overthrow of the colonial power. Colonial institutions are left behind, especially after 400 years of foreign domination (350 by the Spaniards and 50 by the Americans).
There are leftovers of colonialism that must be swept away completely before the colonial subjects can be totally free, especially when they are embedded in the habits of the mind.
The destruction of the characters of national heroes are tantamount to sabotage of the nation’s strength and noble purposes.
Continued efforts to annihilate the message of Rizal by preaching that he had retracted his writings is a subterfuge to destroy nationalism.
The same goes with efforts to mythologize the persona of Rizal’s partner in nationalism and revolution, Bonifacio.
Bertolt Brecht, European poet and playwright, in his play, “Galileo,” has written, “Unhappy the land that needs heroes.”
The Philippines is an unhappy land of misery, poverty and underdevelopment. It needs heroes. Why destroy them?
Paraiso denigrated Bonifacio even on the occasion of his death anniversary, which the nation reverently observed.
Paraiso said, “Fate has been unkind to Bonifacio. His mystery-shrouded life ended in ignominious death.”
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, “ignominious” means “marked by shame or disgrace: dishonorable.”
It is bad enough that this honorable and courageous “son of the people” (anak ng bayan) should be called a “myth” by an obscure American historian, and his death should be called shameful or disgraceful by an employee of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
The courage of Bonifacio
It is true that Bonifacio was executed by an order of Aguinaldo in a struggle for power within the revolutionary movement. But Bonifacio faced his fate bravely, with the same invincible courage that he had mustered in building the revolutionary movement from a handful of patriots to thousands of poorly armed zealous partisans eager to lay down their lives for freedom and independence.
Bonifacio did this through four long years of painstaking recruitment in secret rites in darkened rooms under the very noses of the increasingly nervous colonial and clerical authorities, with every moment fraught with the danger of discovery, torture and death.
And finally, when the movement was inadvertently discovered, he launched the revolution armed only with a revolver, assaulting a military arsenal, igniting the revolutionary war that vindicated and upheld the honor and manhood of generations of Filipinos who had been chained in colonial thrall for three and a half centuries.
Following disagreements in the ranks of the revolutionaries, Bonifacio was shot and wounded as he resisted capture by soldiers he considered renegades to the revolution.
His captor, Col. Lazaro Makapagal, claimed that Bonifacio shed “bitter tears” when, together with his brother, he faced certain death, but he did not beg for his life, and the tears he shed were certainly due to his frustration that the revolutionary movement that he led to fruition was in danger of disaster.
Bonifacio’s background showed that whatever his faults, lack of courage was not one of them.
As the quintessential revolutionary, Mao Zedong said, “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; …. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.” It is not so orderly like romantic fiction.
Ratified by the people
Yes, Bonifacio’s death was a personal tragedy. But it was not “ignominious.”
Even as he considered himself a victim of injustice by some of his fellow revolutionaries, he did not abandon the revolution.
He decided to leave Cavite, the province of his factional adversaries, to continue to fight the revolution elsewhere.
“Heroes are those who have a concept of nation and therefore aspire and struggle for the nation’s freedom,” said the technical committee of the National Heroes Commission in a report to President Fidel V. Ramos on June 3, 1993.
Rizal and Bonifacio met that standard completely. They are, so far, the only heroes who have been honored by decree and law with national holidays. The rest are equally honored with special holidays.
The members of the committee who drafted the criteria for heroes were recognized historians and writers: Dr. Onofre D. Corpuz, Samuel K. Tan, Marcelino Foronda, Alfredo Lagmay, Bernardito R. Churchill, Serafin D. Quiason, Ambeth Ocampo (then known as the monk Dom Ignacio Maria), Prof. Minerva Gonzales and Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil.
Other historical figures
The committee recommended nine other historical figures to be recognized as national heroes in a report to the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (Decs) in a report on Nov. 22, 1995.
But the Decs took no action on the recommendation for fear that it would stir controversy.
Rizal and Bonifacio, who had already been declared national heroes by acts of Congress, led the list of heroes made by the committee.
The choice of Rizal and Bonifacio as the foremost national heroes has been ratified by the Filipino people through many generations as evidenced by the statues erected spontaneously in their honor in towns and cities throughout the archipelago.
Historical revisionism, for whatever reason, will not erase this heartfelt veneration in concrete and stone by all Filipinos nationwide.
(Editor’s Note: The author, Manuel F. Almario, is a veteran journalist, freelance writer and spokesperson of the Movement for Truth in History [Rizal’s MOTH]. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)