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WHERE TRUE HEROES LIE | Revisiting how we honor Andres Bonifacio on the ground where he fell

Detail from sculpture at the Museo ng Pinaglitisan.
The online news portal of TV5

MARAGONDON, Cavite – Once hidden in the forests near the foot of Mt. Nagpatong in this rustic town south of Metro Manila, the original marker identifying the site where the great plebe Andres Bonifacio was executed has been overshadowed in the newly developed three-hectare memorial shrine.

Original marker of the Bonifacio tomb

After being neglected for decades, the shrine was erected by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) in the late 1990s, or a century after Bonifacio – the Supremo led the 1896 Revolution that eventually ended over three centuries of Spanish colonial rule in the country.

As one of our two national heroes, along with Dr. Jose Rizal, Bonifacio is being honored with a special holiday on November 30, through the Philippine Legislature Act 2946 as early as 1921.

Yet unlike Dr. Rizal who is being honored every December 30 - the day he was executed in Bagumbayan (now the Rizal Park) we celebrate the Supremo's heroism during his birth anniversary.

Despite his humble beginnings, Bonifacio who would have been 153 years old this year founded the secret society Katipunan on July 7, 1892, the very day of Rizal’s banishment.

After having followed Rizal in the La Liga Filipina and the reformist movement, he wanted the Katipunan “to unite all Filipinos in terms of a single ideology and to create an independent nation by means of revolution.”

Although Bonifacio was immortalized for his patriotic acts that triggered the Philippines’ first independence and him being honored as its first revolutionary president, there are still glaring traces of how in life and in death, he had not really been properly honored, even if the Supremo had undoubtedly earned a rightful place in the people’s history.

A look at his ‘graveyard’
True, there were countless testimonies of Bonifacio’s role in our struggle for freedom, and historians even documented them as part of an “unfinished revolution.”

But a look at his “grave” shows he has not been honored enough. A huge monument of Bonifacio and his brother Procopio stands at a “heroes complex” honoring the Katipunan, but it is a nearly rundown memorial hall which had been painted pale pink, and the joke is that it has faded into old rose.

Even Maragondon's incumbent Mayor Reynaldo Rillo, who inherited the task of caring for the shrine, wondered aloud what prompted the Department of Tourism to build a big, but hollow single-level type of hall with two swimming pools that have not been used since the Department of Tourism and the NHCP turned it over to the municipal government in 2010.

Power was also cut off since then, thanks to local burglars who allegedly ran away with the electric cables.

The municipal government can only afford to maintain two government workers who were hired on “job order” status to look after the place.

It also turned out that the 3-hectare land was merely donated to the municipal government by a real property developer who had acquired a big chunk of the mountain area.

The Trial House
Worse, the house where the Bonifacio brothers were tried and meted out the death penalty at the town proper can only be leased from the new private owners by the NHCP.

The heirs of the original owner reportedly sold the land to two US-based retirees, who later agreed to lease to the national government the 300-square meter house which has been declared a National Heritage Site until 2024.

Fortunately, Mayor Rillo said that the Trial House was included in the “modernization “ program of then NHCP Chair Ma. Serena Diokno in 2014, resulting in the restoration of the two-story building as a museum, complete with audio-visual presentation room and a diorama of the trial setting.

Life-size diorama depicting the fateful trial

The museum’s curator said the old documents that used to be displayed in the trial house had been turned over to the national archives. Now, visitors can only take a glimpse of their reproductions.

New Look
Still, with its “new look,” the museum reportedly drew 3,000 to 4,000 visitors monthly, or a 104 percent increase during the past two years. 

The visitors were mostly students brought there by professional tour groups that have found good business by organizing educational tours of the Trial House and shrine as part of their historical tourism programs.

But Rillo, who said he merely inherited the management of the Bonifacio shrine after being elected mayor in 2013, said they are now doing everything to correct the problem, now that they have intensified the campaign touting the town for its “heritage and culture.”

For one, he asked the private owner a real property developer to donate another five hectares needed for further development of the shrine, which will now include an eco-tourism park where picnics and camping are allowed.

The municipal government also intends to pave the road. Right now, visitors need to pass through two private gates before they can reach the shrine. There was talk that there were already plans by the private owner to develop the pasture areas around the subdivisions.

The mayor confirmed that he was already promised P150 million from the national coffers for the rehabilitation of the entire area. This would include the concreting of the dusty road leading to the shrine and the construction of a bridge at the river where the remains of the Bonfacio brothers were allegedly dumped by their executioners.

Cavite Governor Jesus Crispin Remulla has also tagged Maragondon as a premier destination for the historical tourism program of the province. 

Mayor Rillo, a retired immigration officer, admitted he was able to visit the place only after he was sworn in office, although he was born in Maragondon, considered a third class municipality in Cavite.

He was also candid in saying it is truly unfortunate that the historical tourism that the municipal government was promoting has not been as popular to the local residents. The town itself has been focusing on ecotourism, with its lush landscape and mountain that includes the Pico de Loro, the highest and most popular among its 38 peaks.

Facade of the Museo ng Pinaglitisan

The historical tourism has not yet been highlighted as much as it should, even if Maragondon was an old enclave of the Magdiwang, the Katipunan faction that sided with Bonifacio against the Magdalo faction of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.

The rift between the Magdiwang and the Magdalo factions is highlighted in the museum. The Bonifacio brothers' trial was properly presented in an informative audio documentation, but it was obvious that there was a careful handling of the execution of the Bonifacio brothers.

How, indeed, does one even begin to chronicle that tragic chapter where the revolution's leaders were made to pay with their lives by their own people after beginning the great final push to freedom?

Bust of Bonifacio with Gegoria de Jesus in backdrop

Ignorant of the past?
Twenty years ago, when I first visited the place with two other journalist-friends, we had to walk though a mountain trail in the forests of Mt Nagpatong to reach the original shrine, which was built by the Masons, the fraternity where Bonifacio was a member even before he founded the Kataas-taasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga anak ng Bayan (KKK).

We even lost our way back to the road leading to town proper shortly before dusk, even if the mayor then, Teddy Ramirez, accompanied us in the trek to locate the marker. Ramirez was then complaining  that despite the historic importance of the place, it was hardly appreciated, as shown by the national government’s apparent neglect. 

But incumbent Mayor Rillo also had his own explanation for why it took a long time to honor the memory of the Revolution's father: “Hindi siya (Bonifacio) pwedeng maghari-harian dito nung panahong ‘yan sa Cavite [Bonifacio could not be regarded llike a king in Cavite],” given that the rival faction of Aguinaldo was a true Caviteño unlike the Tondo-born Bonifacio.

The mayor, who heads the Masons' local lodge, believed that this was how most of their townmates and possibly the old residents of Cavite had perceived it.

But then, this isn’t surprising for a people who would link their cultural past with pride over their ethnocentric tendencies.

According to the late historian and educator Onofre Corpuz, the “events and his love for the Katipunan and the Revolution, overtook Bonifacio’s intentions of November 1896, when he had planned on a short Cavite visit and on not interfering in local affairs.”

Corpuz continued how Bonifacio's original plan took a different path, from just a short visit, that ended in tragedy: “Fate pushed him [Bonifacio] to join his life to the Caviteños. Proud men who had won back their province from the enemy, to whom he had confessed that he had not taken a single town.”

The rift
At that time, tense relations between Aguinaldo and Bonifacio progressively deteriorated against the backdrop of the loss of territory for both the Magdiwang and Magdalo factions.

And as Corpuz put it, “their perception of events began to be more and more critical to each other. But it was due to their humanity and sense of responsibility to the Revolution, not evil motive.”

Aguinaldo had claimed that he had gone to Bonifacio three times in late December, in January and again in February to ask for more troops from the Magdiwang against Spanish Gov. Gen. Camilio Polavieja’s offensive, but Bonfiacio refused. He needed his own men.

After the fall of Imus, a Magdalo capital, the leaders of all factions convened at Tejeros in San Francisco de Malabon a Magdiwang enclave on March 22, 1897, but without Aguinaldo who was reported to have been busy fighting at the Pasong Santol front.  It was also his 28th birthday.

The meeting, which Bonifacio convened, was supposed to discuss the strengthening of the defense of the Magdiwang territory, in view of the fall of so many Magdalo towns to the enemy.

But after debates, the assembly nevertheless declared the “Republica Filipina” as cited in Santiago V. Alvarez’ memoirs, with the election of officers for the new government.

Bonifacio proposed that the will of the majority be recognized, including those who would be elected if “he was not a traitor to the motherland.” As they adopted the rule there were shouts of “that is how things should be – Equality for all! Love of country should prevail.”

As it happened, Aguinaldo won in the balloting over Bonifacio. Mariano Trias won the balloting as vice president, again over Bonifacio.

When Bonifacio was voted director of interior, Aguinaldo’s political lieutenant Gen. Daniel Tirona contested the election on the ground that the Supremo was not a lawyer, deepening the Supremo's humiliation.

Bonfiacio fumed, demanding that Tirona retract and apologize, and recognize the decision. When Tirona slunk into the crowd, Bonifacio drew his revolver and tried to shoot him.

Gen. Artemio Ricarte, the elected captain-general, stopped Bonifacio, prompting the fallen leader to declare the assembly dissolved. He also ruled to declare the election null and void, before walking out with his men.

The fallout
By the end of April the new government formalized  the “Pamahalaan ng Sangkatagalugan” and with it Bonfacio was “deemed isolated.”

Bonifacio gathered his loyal followers, and with his wife Gregoria de Jesus and two brothers, retired to Halang and then Limbon, barrios of Indang, although they already had plans to proceed to Silangan hills in San Mateo, Morong.

But Bonifacio and his followers stayed too long in Limbon, and when they ran short of food, he ordered his men to go to the “poblacion” but were reportedly driven away.

Bonifacio’s detractors alleged that the Supremo felt betrayed and shouted: ‘Burn the town! Spare no one!”

When the said “order” reached Aguinaldo, the latter directed Col. Agapito Bonzon, Felix Topacio and Jose Ignacio Pawa to arrest  Bonifacio and bring him to Naic on April 27.

In Corpuz's account: “There was a fire fight with the government trios in Limbon early the next morning. Ciriaco Bonifacio died and Procopio was wounded, Bonzon fired at Bonifacio and hit his left arm. Pawa stabbed him at the right side of the neck, but was prevented from killing him.”

The trial
Bonifacio was brought to Naic as a prisoner of the government of the revolution. A pre-trial was conducted by the board under Col. Pantaleon Garcia, and after receiving the testimony of Bonifacio and his wife on May 4, the board found cause for trial.

The court was convened the same day under the chairmanship of Gen. Mariano Noriel, this time in a small nipa hut in nearby Maragondon since Naic was about to fall to the enemy.

In the following day’s session Jose Elises, the prosecutor, asked for the death penalty. Bonifacio’s counsel Placido Martinez asked for clemency. Teodoro Gonzales, Procopio’s counsel, asked for acquittal.

Two days later, a verdict was issued: death for the Bonifacio brothers.

The decision went to Aguinaldo on May 7. Baldomero Aguinaldo, as military assessor, endorsed the verdict, but left the final decision to Aguinaldo as commander in chief.

Aguinaldo approved the court-martial findings but commuted the penalty to indefinite exile "(destierong walang taning) to an isolated place with the prisoners under guard and incommunicado to each other and all other persons.”

The decision was issued on May 8 under the letterhead  of the “Office of the President of the Sangguniang Katagalugan and Commander-in-chief of the Army.”

The execution
Two days later the brothers were executed in the woods of Mt. Nagpatong. Major Lazaro Makapagal, the leader of the detail, later claimed that Andres pleaded for his life. Bonifacio's followers, however, insisted that the Supremo could never plead for his life.

Unfortunately, it was only Makapagal who had a documented account of Bonifacio’s execution and he had claimed that they left the Supremo near a river, which could have swept away his remains. 

In the end, Corpuz noted, Bonifacio lost his life “when his allies joined their old rivals.”

Here's Corpuz's take on the tragic conclusion of this storm that swept away the revolution's leaders: “Divided by their successes, the Caviteños were reunited by their losses. Bonifacio was caught in the crisis that every revolution reaches, when there has to be contest for leadership – not for military preeminence, which is won through victory in the field, but for primacy in the politics of the revolution, wherein strength, shrewdness, and one’s stars must settle the conflicting claims.”

In the end, none of what happened in the Revolution's dark chapter in Cavite can diminish what Bonifacio did for country. His heroism is beyond question, and this is why it's his birth anniversary that has been used for National Heroes' Day. At a time when so much debate about where to bury true and fake heroes is splitting the nation, no doubt should hold us back from honoring to the fullest the man who led the final push for freedom - by at least fixing the memorial at the ground where he fell.