Today, in many towns from south to north, Filipinos, anxious over the claws of coronavirus 2019 and challenged by a new variant discovered in South Africa, will stand up virtually to pay tribute to Andres Bonifacio, considered by some historians as the first president of the country.
They say Bonifacio (November 30, 1863 — May 10, 1897) was a leader of the Philippine Revolution and the president of the Tagalog Republic, a short-lived government in the Philippine islands. Through his work, Bonifacio helped the Philippines break free from Spanish colonial rule.
Bonifacio goes by so many titles of distinctions: Supremo of the Katipunan, The Great Plebeian, the Unofficial First President of the Independent Philippines, and the Father of the Philippine Revolution.
Most likely, focus on the celebration – virtual, given the health restrictions imposed by the pandemic – would be the Bonifacio monument in Caloocan City, touched on the north end by the 23.8-km EDSA, previously known as Highway 54, the main thoroughfare in the national metropolis.
For many years the Bonifacio Monument – inaugurated in 1929 – was called by thousands as Monumento, a euphemism for the 45-foot pylon and figures cast in bronze at the intersections of Samson Road, MacArthur Highway, Rizal Avenue and EDSA.
Each year, in the run up to Bonifacio Say, the stone monument is given a facelift. 2021 is not an exception despite COVID-19.
Road travelers in the 50s and 60s from the Ilocos, Baguio, Cagayan Valley, the Central Luzon provinces of Bulacan, Bataan, Zambales, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, and Pangasinan – the last now a part of the Ilocos Region – always hit the MacArthur Highway which snakes through the country’s far northwest and were always welcomed by the Monumento.
In 21st century Metro Manila, the place has also become the start of the line for the Light Railway Transit that begins at the Monumento Station on the north end of EDSA and leads all the way up to the Baclaran Station in Pasay City on the southside.
With the North Luzon Expressway now a major highway for travelers from the north since the 1960s, not as many as decades back have been given the opportunity to wake up from their speeding buses to see the silhouette of the monument of Bonifacio, the Filipino nationalist and revolutionary.
But who was Bonifacio in the country’s history?
He was a founder and later “supreme leader” of the Katipunan movement which sought the independence of the Philippines from Spanish colonial rule and started the Philippine Revolution.
Some historians consider him a de facto national hero of the Philippines, colonized by Spain for nearly 400 years while others describe him as the first President, although he is not officially recognized as such.
Some critics find it ironic the monument of Bonifacio in Caloocan is better known than the one in Tondo, his birthplace – in front of Tutuban Center mall on C.M. Recto Avenue or the old Azcarraga in the waterfront district of Manila.
Bonifacio is depicted in the usual – but false – bolo and trousers outfit, with historical critics suggesting Bonifacio was not stupid enough to wear red trousers and be an easy target of his Spanish enemies.
Students of history have learned for decades the Caloocan City “Monumento” – now a major landmark of the city – was designed and completed in 1933 by the country’s National Artist for the Visual Arts (Sculpture) in 1973, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino.
Historical critics say the three steps leading to the monument represents the three centuries of Spanish rule (333 years).
The octagonal base with the eight rays of the sun from the Philippine flag symbolizes the eight key provinces (as written on the surrounding pavement) where Martial Law was first declared by the Spanish governor-general.
It was also the place when the Katipunan held major uprisings there against the Spanish authorities – the very location of the monument actually depicting the place of the first such encounter by Bonifacio and the Katipunan with the Spanish colonial army on Aug. 30, 1896.
Some historians theorize the Bonifacio Monument must have been placed in Caloocan – the third most populous city in the country with a population of nearly 1.5 million, according to the 2010 census – because the area was the center of activities for the Katipunan, the secret militant society that launched the Philippine Revolution during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines.
They say it was in a house in Caloocan where secret meetings were held by Bonifacio and his men, and it was within the city’s perimeters where the very first armed encounter took place between the Katipunan and the Spaniards.
Today, Caloocan, one of the cities and municipalities that comprise the Metro Manila region in the Philippines, has become a major residential area inside Metro Manila.
The word Caloocan comes from the Tagalog root word “lo-ok;” “kalook-lookan” (or kaloob-looban) means “innermost area.”
The city borders many other cities such as Quezon City, Manila, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela and San Jose del Monte Bulacan in the north.
Twenty-four years after Bonifacio’s death at the age of 33, the Philippine Legislature enacted Act 2946, making November 30 of each year a national holiday to commemorate his birth.
Others have called him “Father of the Filipino nation,” and national hero, great plebeian, and self-taught orphan.
Another historical vignette is the line on the wall of Pamitinan Cave in Rodriguez, Rizal, where a reburial of his bones was done years back before the millennium rollover, written by Bonifacio in May 1896:
“Sumapit dito ang mga anak ng bayan. Humahanap ng kalayaan.” [The sons of the Country came here, searching for freedom.”]
Historians say that when the Katipuneros launched the revolution on Aug. 24, 1896, Bonifacio said to his fellow Katipuneros: “Kalayaan o kamatayan? Mga kapatid! Ang Kalayaan ay kinukuha sa dulo ng patalim! [Freedom or Death? Brothers, freedom is secured by force!”]
But enemies of the revolution denied Bonifacio the opportunity to fulfill his vision for the country. They killed him in early 1897.
A few years after his death, his kin and friends began to honor Bonifacio and observed his death anniversary on April 23, 1901, at his birthplace in Meisic, Tondo, Manila.
On this occasion, the poet laureate Cecilio Apostol delivered his poem “Un Heroe del Pueblo,” extolling Bonifacio as one of the true heroes of the Filipino people.
This annual celebration of Bonifacio’s death anniversary was capped by the launching of a fund-raising campaign to erect a monument in his honor.
Today, many remember what Bonifacio declared: “Mapalad ang bayang linitawan ng mga bayani, sapagka’t ang bayang iya’y walang kamatayan (Fortunate is the country where heroes emerge because that country will live on).”