Katipunan manuscripts, lessons for the digital age | Inquirer News

Katipunan manuscripts, lessons for the digital age

/ 05:10 AM November 30, 2018

Two significant Katipunan documents, rare because they form part of a handful signed by Andres Bonifacio, go on the block tomorrow afternoon.

Yellowed by time, the Acta de Tejeros and the Acta de Naik, are old-fashioned, written with quill and ink, in a florid penmanship Jurassic to a generation that texts, yet these documents contain unlearned lesson for Filipinos in the digital age.

These articulate the way our founding fathers conducted themselves during the painful birthing of nation. These record the election that established a revolutionary government on the remains of the Katipunan, and illustrating the rise of Emilio Aguinaldo and the decline of Andres Bonifacio. If we could rewrite history, the founding fathers would act differently from leaders in our time, but alas, these are probably the first significant electoral protests in Philippine history.


On March 22, 1897, the Magdiwang and Magdalo factions of the Katipunan in Cavite met in the friar estate house in Tejeros to settle differences. They decided on a snap election with Andres Bonifacio, as Katipunan Supremo, presiding. Magdalo were wary as they did not expect fairness from Bonifacio, whose wife, Gregoria de Jesus, was related to the Alvarezes of Cavite, prominent Magdiwang.


Aguinaldo as President

Elections were held in Magdiwang territory, with Magdiwang clearly having the numbers. But to Bonifacio’s surprise, Aguinaldo, a Magdalo, who wasn’t even physically present was elected president. Bonifacio kept his disappointment in check as the rest of the slate was easily delivered to Magdiwang and he was elected interior minister, a clear and painful demotion from being Supremo of the Katipunan.

Then, Daniel Tirona challenged Bonifacio’s election, casting doubt on his academic qualifications. Bonifacio had attended formal schooling and had the equivalent of a Grade 5 education today. Tirona went so far as proposing a Cavite lawyer in his stead, prompting Bonifacio to draw his gun, and declare the elections void before storming out of the hall with his loyalists.

Bonifacio’s behavior in Tejeros is often oversimplified in textbooks as bad temper,  sweeping the more important parts of the story under the rug—election irregularities that we know too well in our time. Losers don’t accept defeat in the Philippines, they protest.

So the Acta de Tejeros was drawn up and signed by 45 Magdiwang on the day after the elections. In it are claims that: almost all ballots were written in one hand; ballots cast by ineligible voters were counted against their faction; and electors from outside Cavite were not present.

Loyalties were split


Nevertheless, Emilio Aguinaldo took his oath in Tanza, creating a division more serious than what existed only days earlier. Loyalties were split between Bonifacio and Aguinaldo; between the Katipunan and the Revolutionary Government.

On April 19, 1897, the Acta de Naik was drawn up and signed, ratifying the Acta de Tejeros, and accusing the Magdalo of treason for creating disunity in the Katipunan, and, it was said, Aguinaldo was selling the revolution by negotiating with the enemy for peace.

Two disillusioned ranking  Magdalo generals, Pio del Pilar and Mariano Noriel, defected to Bonifacio’s side and Del Pilar was rewarded with appointment as head of the Magdiwang forces. Signatories to the Acta de Naik, swore their allegiance to Bonifacio and vowed not to recognize another leader nor commit treason, their signatures and Katipunan aliases boldly signed with flourishes, a solemn oath, before God and the land of their birth, not to betray the leadership unto the grave.

According to Aguinaldo, when he found out about a secret meeting called by Bonifacio, he went to the well-guarded friar estate house in Naik and entered unchallenged by sentries. He ascended the stairs and listened to the proceedings from a closed door. He heard Bonifacio reading a document alleging that Aguinaldo was selling the revolution to the enemy. But Procopio Bonifacio caught Aguinaldo eavesdropping and opened the door, surprising both parties.

3 Magdalo generals

Bonifacio changed tack and calmy invited Aguinaldo to join the meeting. Aguinaldo took his leave politely with thanks adding: “If you needed me, you would have invited me to this meeting.” What shocked Aguinaldo was catching three of his officers in the hall: Artemio Ricarte, his minister of war, and Magdalo generals Mariano Noriel and Pio del Pilar. He took leave of the meeting and went round the estate house in the dark, sometimes lighted with matches, to rescue Magdalo detained by Magdiwang.

As he was doing this, Bonifacio called Aguinaldo again with another invitation to participate in the meeting but Aguinaldo repeated his previous reply: “Kung ako’y inyong kailangan, disin sana ay inanyayahan ninyo ako.” Both parties then left in peace. The above Magdalo, unfortunately, is not validated by any primary source from Magdiwang.

Twenty-seven days it took from the Acta de Tejeros to the Acta de Naik and in this time loyalties and allegiances shifted between the Bonifacio and Aguinaldo camps. Long before Ricarte, Del Pilar and Noriel were elevated to the pantheon of Filipino heroes they were turncoats, “balimbing” who favored the hand that fed them.

Bonifacio court martial

When convenient, Noriel and Del Pilar left Bonifacio and apologized to Aguinaldo for their disloyalty. They were not punished, and when the tide turned and Bonifacio was captured, it was Noriel who sat in judgment in the court martial that found Bonifacio guilty of treason, and condemned him to death by musketry. When Aguinaldo commuted Bonifacio’s death sentence to banishment, Noriel and Ricarte were the loudest in the chorus that advised that Aguinaldo approve the death sentence.

It is unfortunate that Aguinaldo is unfairly and solely blamed for the death of Bonifacio when there are others who are also answerable. Significant historical documents collected by the historian Epifanio de los Santos, whose memory is disgraced by the gridlocked avenue named after him, are painful reminders of the long and winding road to nationhood. We often look to history for celebration, inspiration or edification and shun it when it delivers admonition—a rebuke to us who have not learned from it.

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TAGS: digital age, Philippines

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