Long ago, in the days when Tondo, Manila was a town dotted with rice fields, a poor couple was married in Tondo church. The groom was a short muscular Filipino named Santiago Bonifacio. He was a boatman who rowed people from Taguig, Rizal, to other towns along the Pasig River. The bride, Catalina de Castro, was a mestiza born of a Spanish father and a Filipino-Chinese mother from Zambales. She worked as a maestra, or supervisor, in a cigarette factory in Meisic (“Maintsik”), which today is Manila’s Chinatown.
On November 30, 1863, Catalina gave birth to a baby boy in a small wood-and-nipa hut in Tutuban, a swamp-like part of Tondo. The name Tutuban means the place where they make tuba, an alcoholic drink made from coconuts. The proud parents named the boy Andres, after St. Andrew the Apostle, the patron saint of Manila.
Andres had three brothers and two sisters. Their names were Ciriaco, Procopio, Esperidiona, Troadio, and Maxima.
Young Andres learned to read and write the alphabet in Tagalog and Spanish from a caton, or primer book, given to him by an aunt. Later he went to school in Meisic. His teacher was Guillermo Osmena, a schoolmaster from Cebu.
Tondo had always been a poor man’s town. People from all over the country who came looking for work in Manila made Tondo their first home. In 1877, when Andres was 14 years old, 10,620 Spaniards and their household helpers lived in the walled city of Intramuros. By comparison, 26,266 people lived in Tondo.
Poor families like the Bonifacios had to work very hard just to make ends meet. But the 1870s was a time of great hardship. Outbreaks of cholera and rinderpest disease spread throughout the city. People fell ill and many work animals, such as carabaos and horses, died. Typhoons destroyed a lot of homes and farms. The price of food and other goods soared.
The money Andres’s mother earned in the cigarette factory was not enough to feed a family of sic growing children. By this time Andres’s father was working as a cargador at the busy docks of Binondo. He carried heavy loads of muscovado sugar and bundles of rattan. He had even served as a teniente mayor, or vice-mayor, of Tondo. But now he had caught a deadly disease called tuberculosis. He became too weak to keep his job. At home Santiago made walking canes and paper fans out of rattan. He also sewed other people’s clothes, a trade he learned from his father. Then Andres’s mother caught tuberculosis too. She died in 1881. Andres’s father died a year later.
Andres gave up his studies to work full time. At first he was a bodeguero (warehouse keeper) in a mosaic tile factory in Sta. Mesa in Sampaloc. Later he got a job as a clerk. After that he bought tar and ties as an agent for the English firm of J.M. Fleming & Company in Binondo.
Manila Railway Company
In 1886 the Manila Railway Company had plans to build a railroad line from Manila to Dagupan, Pangasinan. They asked the Fleming company to help build the railroad. The railroad tracks would cut across Tondo. The Fleming company bought many houses, including the Bonifacio house in Tutuban, and knocked them down to make way for the railroad. Today, over a hundred years later, the trains still run through the Tutuban railroad station, near the place where Andres Bonifacio was born.
Andres was an honest and hard worker. He tried his best to feed and care for his brothers and sisters. He helped his two brothers find jobs. Ciriaco became a train conductor and Procopio worked for the Manila Railway Company.
Andres was always trying to find ways to make money for his family. He had beautiful penmanship and made attractive posters for companies such as clothes dealers. He had learned to make rattan walking canes and paper fans from his father. He continued to make them with his brothers and sisters in the evenings. By day their canes and fans were sold in the busy streets of Manila. Andres also wove and sold dozens of bamboo hats. In his free time he acted on stage with his brothers in moro-moero plays in Palomar, Tondo. Moro-moro plays were about the fight between Muslims and Christians.
After five years, Bonifacio left the Fleming company and joined a German firm named Carlos Fressel & Company. He worked there as a bodeguero and supply clerk. He was paid twelve pesos a month. By 1892 he was promoted to sales agent.
Bonifacio took great care to dress neatly and well even though he couldn’t afford to have stylish clothes. According to a close friend, Andres always wore an open coat with a matching necktie and black hat. Rain or shine, he always carried an umbrella.
Although he never finished high school, Andres Bonifacio was very smart. He knew Spanish and spoke a little English, which he learned while working for the Fleming company. He read foreign novels, as well as books about the French revolution, politics, law, and religion. Books opened his mind to new worlds. Andres learned that common people had rights and that freedom was a valuable thing to have. The Philippines had been a colony ruled by Spain since the sixteenth century. But the Filipino people did not have the same rights as the Spaniards. Inspired by new ideas, Andres began to dream that a better life was possible for his fellow Filipinos.
La Liga Filipina
On July 3, 1892, a man named Jose Rizal started a group called La Liga Filipina. The group was made up mostly of Filipinos from the middle class. The educated middle class believed that Spain would grant much needed reforms if the Philippines were made a province of Spain and Filipinos became Spanish citizens.
Bonifacio admired Rizal. He had read his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Andres joined La Liga Filipina and worked hard to spread its teachings of charity and brotherhood.
La Liga Filipina was a peaceful group that did not believe in violence. But the Spanish government thought it was dangerous. They had Rizal secretly arrested and set away, or exiled, to Dapitan, a lonely island in the South.
When Bonifacio learned that Rizal had been exiled, he knew in his heart that the days of peaceful reform were over. He believed it would take no less than an armed revolution to free the Philippines from Spanish rule. Unlike Rizal and other people in the reform movement, Bonifacio believed that the Philippines should be totally separated from Spain.
In his essay “What the Filipinos Should Know,” Bonifacio wrote in Tagalog: “Reason tells us that we cannot expect anything but more sufferings, more treachery, more insults, and more slavery. Reason tells us not to fritter away time for the promised prosperity that will never come….Reason teaches us to rely on ourselves and not to depend on others for our living. Reason tells us to be united…that we may have the strength to combat the evils in our country.”
Bonifacio also wrote about how the Filipinos were tortured by the Spaniards. They were bound, kicked, and hit with gun butts. They were electrocuted and hung upside down like cattle. He said that Filipino prisoners were “thrown into the sea…shot, poisoned….”
For Bonifacio, it was time to take action.
On the night of July 7, 1892 – the same day he heard that Rizal had been exiled – Bonifacio met secretly with his friends at a house on Azcarraga Street (now Claro M. Recto) in Tondo. Together with his two friends Ladislao Diwa and Teodoro Plata, he formed the first triangle of a secret society which bore the initials K.K.K. The three letters stood for Kataastaasan Kagalang-galang na Katipunan ng mga Anak nang Bayan, or Katipunan, for short.
The name Katipunan shows how Bonifacio was influenced by Rizal. Instead of using the old Spanish spelling of the letter “c,” Bonifacio used the Tagalog spelling of “k.” Rizal had suggested the change in an article published two years earlier in the newspaper La Solidaridad. The “k,” pronouched ka, was based on the ancient Tagalog script (I). Since the Katipunan was an underground society, its members used secret codes and passwords to communicate with each other.
The Katipunan had three aims. First, it wanted to free the Philippines from Spain, by force of arms if necessary. Its members, called Katipuneros, were taught to make and use weapons. Next came the moral, or spiritual, aim. The Katipunan saw all men, rich or poor, as equals. Third, the Katipuneros were taught to care for one another in times of sickness and need. The society took care of its sick. If a member died, the Katipunan helped to pay the cost of a simple funeral.
The people who joined the Katipunan came mostly from the poor working class, although some members, such as Dr. Pio Valenzuela and Mariano Alvarez, belonged to the middle class. The membership of the Katipunan grew to the thousands.
To keep the Katipunan from being discovered by the Spaniards, new members were enlisted through the triangle method. This is how it worked. A recruiter would ask two members to join. That recruiter would know the names of the two members, but the recruits themselves would not know each other. Thus a member’s knowledge about the group was limited and controlled. But the triangle method was slow. After October 1892, all Katipuneros could recruit as many members as they could.
Recruitment into the Katipunan
Any man who wanted to join the Katipunan had to pass first a number of tests to prove his courage and sincerity. Wearing a black robe, the new recruit was led blindfolded into a darkly lit room. He was told to answer these questions: (1) “In what condition did the Spaniards find the Filipino people when they came?”; (2) “In what condition do they find themselves now?”; and (3) What hope do the Filipino people have for the future?”
This was followed by other tests for the would-be-Katipunero. The final test was the sandugoBlood compact). The recruit was asked to make a small cut on his left forearm with a sharp knife. He then signed the Katipunan oat in his own blood. Afterwards, the new member chose a symbolic name for himself. For example, Bonifacio was called “Maypag-asa” (Hopeful).
Women who joined the Katipunan were limited to the wives, daughters, or close relatives of the Katipuneros. The women’s chapter of the Katipunan was formed in July 1893. Only about thirty females were known to have joined this secret society. The women did not have to seal their membership with a blood compact. During Katipunan meetings, they wore green masks, and white sashes with green borders. Sometimes they carried revolvers or daggers. They usually served as lookouts in the outer sala (living room) while the men held their secret meetings in the backroom.
There were two important women in Bonifacio’s life. His first wife – a neighbor from Palomar named Monica – died of leprosy. He met his second wife when he was a 29-year old widower. Her name was Gregoria de Jesus.
Gregoria was a beautiful girl of 18 from Kalookan. Like Andres, she was the oldest child and a bright student who stopped studying to take care of her family. Gregoria looked after her younger sister and the family farm. On Sunday mornings she paid the workers. At home she sewed and wove cloth on the loom or helped her mother work around the house.
Andres and Gregoria were married twice. Their first wedding was held in Binondo Church in March 1894. They were married again a week later in a house in Sta. Cruz. The ceremony was attended by members of the Katipunan. That evening Gregoria de Jesus became a member of the women’s chapter of the Katipunan. Her code name was “Lakangbini” (Goddess or Muse).
Andres and Gregoria had a baby boy. They named him Andres and he was their only child. On Holy Week of 1896, a fire destroyed their nipa-roofed house in Sta. Cruz. Homeless, the couple and their baby were forced to live in one house after another. The loss of their home was followed by an even greater loss, when young Andres died of smallpox.
On August 19, 1896, the Katipunan was found out. Father Mariano Gil, the Augustinian parish priest of Tondo, learned about it from Teodoro Patino, an unhappy member of the Katipunan. The Spanish police moved quickly to stop the revolution. Many Filipinos were arrested, jailed, and shot. Andres and Gregoria went into hiding.
The Katipunan was discovered before the rebels were ready for a fully armed struggle. But Bonifacio knew that the die had been cast. There was no turning back. The time had come for the Filipino people to engage the enemy in battle.
Bonifacio met with other Katipunan leaders in a place called Pugadlawin, on August 23, 1896. They tore up their cedulas (residence tax papers) and cried “Long Live the Philippines!” They vowed to fight the Spaniards down to the last man.
On August 30, Andres Bonifacio and his best friend, Emilio Jacinto, fought the first battle of the Philippine Revolution. Leading an army of eight hundred men, they attacked a gunpowder storehouse in San Juan del Monte (now San Juan, Metro Manila). Today the place is called Pinaglabanan, meaning battlefield. The storehouse was an important military post for the Spanish army, but it was defended by only a hundred men. Outnumbered, the Spaniards retreated to El Deposito, the place where the Spaniards stored the water supply for the city of Intramuros.
Encouraged by the Spaniards’ retreat, Bonifacio and his rebels advanced towards Manila. They were met by an army of soldiers sent by Ramon Blanco, the Spanish governor-general. Bonifacio’s men were driven back to Mandaluyong by the Spaniards. More than a hundred-fifty Katipuneros died. Another two hundred were captured. Some of them were shot at Bagumbayan Field, which is today called Luneta Park.
In the area of Manila, the battle of Pinaglabanan and fighting in Kalookan sparked other small battles north and south of the Pasig River, in places such as Marikina, San Mateo, Pasig, Pateros and Taguig. That same day Governor-General Blanco declared a state of war in eight provinces: Manila, Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, and Tarlac. The Spanish government did not want the revolt to spread to other provinces. It was determined to punish the rebels and all who helped them.
In December 1896, Bonicaio was invited by the Katipuneros of Cavite to come to the town of Imus. Thanks to a string of victories led by Emilio Aguinald, the rebels now controlled most of the province. Bonifacio, as the highest officer, or Supremo, of the Katipunan, was asked to settle a dispute.
There were two rival Katipunan councils in Cavite. One council was the Magdalo, of which Aguinaldo was a member. The other was the Magdiwang council, headed by Mariano Alvarez, a relative of Bonifacio’s wife.
Bonifacio’s decision to come to Cavite proved to be the beginning of his downfall. There was a time when the two men – Aguinaldo and Bonifacao – respected and valued each other. The Supremo himself had admitted Aguinaldo into the Katipunan in his house in Binondo. Aguinaldo recalled this historic moment in his biography when he wrote, “That was the beginning of my acquaintance and friendship with Andres Bonifacio.” And when news of Bonifacio’s defeat in the battle of Pinaglabanan reached the Katipuneros in Cavite, Aguinaldo, worried for the Supremo’s safety, sent his men to look for Bonifacio in the forests of Kalookan and Malabon.
But the friendship between the two men soured. Bonifacio and his army had suffered a number of defeats at the hands of the enemy. In contrast, Aguinaldo and his rebels had managed to boot the Spaniards out of most of Cavite. The feeling of regionalism between the Tondo native and the young man from Kawit, Cavite was very strong. Also, the two leaders differed in their political ideas.
Aguinaldo and the Magdalo group believed it was time to form a new kind of government. Aguinaldo had already suggested that the Katipunan government be changed to a revolutionary form of government modeled after the American system. Although he was only a Magdalo flag lieutenant at the time, his bold ideas challenged the power of the Supremo.
Bonifacio and the Magdiwang men believed that the Katipunan government was still useful. It could still answer the Filipino’s need for change. It had its own constitution and bylaws. In other words, at this point in our history there were two leaders with two different views on how to run the government.
The Rivalry and the Unraveling
The rivalry between the two groups weakened the rebels’ hold on Cavite. Aguinald’s Magdalo soldiers did not want to help defend the towns held by Magdiwang soldiers when they were attacked by the Spaniards. Bonifacio’s Magdiwang soldiers did not help the Magdalo rebels when the enemy attacked their towns. The result was that almost all the towns once held by the Katipuneros easily fell one by one to the Spaniards.
The rivalry worsened during the Tejeros convention held on March 22, 1897. The aim of the convention was to form a central revolutionary government that would unite the two councils. An election of officers was held in Tejeros. Although he was away fighting the Spaniards in Dasmarinas, Cavite, Emilio Aguinaldo was elected president of the new revolutionary government. Bonifacio was nominated for the position of director of the interior, but Daniel Tirona of Kawit stood up and questioned his ability to hold that job. Tirona said that the position needed someone with a law degree.
Bonifacio took Tirona’s words as an insult. He declared that, as the leader of the Katipunan, all the acts of the Tejeros convention were unlawful. Hurt and angry, he left with his wife, his two brothers, and some trusted bodygurads.
A day later Emilio Aguinaldo became president of the new revolutionary government. He was sworn into office along with other elected officials, most of whom were Cavitenos. Bonifacio was not present.
Bonifacio refused to recognize Aguinaldo’s government. He thought he was still the Supremo of the Katipunan government. In fact, he formed a new government wholly separate and independent from the one formed at the Tejeros convention. The following month he drafted a military agreement in Naic, Cavite. It was signed by about forty men.
Bonifacio and his men left Naic for barrio Limbon in the nearby town of Indang. On April 26, 1897, Bonifacio was arrested by two loyal officers of Aguinaldo – Colonel Agapito Bonzon and Aguinaldo’s brother-in-law Major Jose Ignacio Paua. Bonifacio and his men put up a fight. Andres’s brother Ciriaco was killed. The Supremo himself was shot in his left arm. Major Paua jumped at Bonifacio and stabbed the left side of his neck with a dagger.
The Death of Bonifacio
From Indang, a half-starved and wounded Bonifacio was carried by hammock to Naic, which had become President Aguinaldo’s headquarters.
Andres Bonifacio was tried by the military court in Maragondon, Cavite. He was charged with treason and trying to overthrow the new president and his government. One witness even swore that he was paid ten pesos by Bonifacio to kill Aguinaldo. By some accounts Andres was not given a fair chance to defend himself.
On May 8, 1897, Andres and Procopio Bonifacio were sentenced to death. However, according to Aguinaldo, he changed their sentence and asked for them to be exiled instead. But Aguinaldo was advised by his generals to go ahead with the death sentence. They reasoned that Bonifacio’s death was necessary to protect the best interests of the revolution. Alive, Bonifacio would only threaten and divide the revolutionary forces.
On the early morning of May 10, 1897, a group of soldiers led by General Lazaro Makapagal brought Andres and Procopio from the Maragondon jail. This was the order of General Mariano Noriel, president of the council of war that tried the Bonifacio brothers. Makapagal had been handed a sealed letter, with strict orders to read it after reaching Mt. Nagpatong in the Maragondon mountains. Only four soldiers were selected by the general to accompany him on this mission.
When the soldiers and their two prisoners reached Mt. Nagpatong, Makapagal opened the sealed letter. It was an order from General Noriel to execute Andres and Procopio. Makapagal immediately carried out the general’s command and the Bonifacio brothers were shot. Using their bayonets and bolos (long knives), the soldiers dug a shallow grave for the two men. After covering the bodies with twigs and weeds, they hurriedly left to escape the Spanish troops who were combing the mountains of Maragondon.
The Bonifacio brothers were killed on Monday, May 10, 1897. Andres was only 34 years old.
Father of the Philippine Revolution
Some twenty years passed. On March 17, 1918, Lazaro Makapagal came back to Cavite. He was accompanied by a group of government officials, two former Cavite generals, and former soldiers of the Philippine Revolution. They went to a lonely spot on a sugarcane field in the Maragondon mountains to find Andres Bonifacio’s grave. The place had changed a lot. An old and loyal servant of Bonifacio showed them the way and identified his master’s remains.
Bonifacio’s bones were placed in an urn and kept in the Legislative Building (now the National Museum). Bonifacio’s papers and personal belongings, including his revolver and bolo, were also kept here. In February 1945, during the battle to free Manila from the Japanese, the building and the remains of Andres Bonifacio were destroyed in a fire.
Today the Filipino nation honors Andres Bonifacio as the “Father of the Philippine Revolution.” He was a leader who believed that the common could be organized and put into action. Indeed he was not disappointed for he found good patriots among them. Many were even willing to die for their country. Despite his poverty and lack of education, Bonifacio went beyond the steps taken by the educated and moneyed class of Filipinos pushing for peaceful change. Eventually even reformers such as Apolinario Mabini and Marcelo H. del Pilar realized that freedom could not be won from Spain without use of force.
To this day historians argue whether Bonifacio or Rizal was right. In June 1896 Bonifacio sent his aide Dr. Pio Valenzuela to Dapitan to meet with Rizal. On learning about the Katipunan, Rizal opposed the revolutionary aims of the society. It was not because he did not believe in the revolution. As a student of history, Rizal honestly believed that the Filipino people were not yet ready for an armed struggle in 1896. They still lacked weapons and funds for war.
Had Bonifacio listened to Rizal, there probably would have been no revolution. In the end, the people’s cry for freedom and justice brought down the walls of colonial power. The outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in August 1896 was the beginning of the end of three-and-a-half centuries of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines.
About The Author
Dr. Isagani R. Medina has won numerous awards and citations for his work as one of the most prolific writers of history in the country. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in library science and a Ph.D. in history from the University of the Philippines, as well as a masters degree from the University of Michigan.
Dr. Medina is co-author of History of the Filipino People (Eighth Edition, 1990) by Teodoro A. Agoncillo, the Streets of Manila, and The Complete Works of Claro M. Recto.
He is currently professor of history at the University of the Philippines, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, in Diliman, Quezon City. He is from Corregidor, Cavite.