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Looking Back

The mystery of Bonifacio’s bones

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On Nov. 30, 1863, a boy was born in Tondo to Santiago Bonifacio and Catalina de Castro. In the church calendar the day 30 is marked as the feast of St. Andrew, so the child was christened Andres Bonifacio. During the Spanish period Nov. 30 was celebrated in Spanish Manila because San Andres was considered one of the heavenly protectors of the Walled City. It is still a holiday in our times because the nation honors Andres Bonifacio, one of our many national heroes, the Supremo of the Katipunan.

Some people make the mistake of declaring that Bonifacio is the “Hero of Manila.” That title rightfully belongs to Soliman who defended but lost Maynila, which was enclosed by wooden palisades, to the Spaniards in the 16th century.

Our history can often be confused and confusing because we keep changing the titles of our heroes, just as quickly as we encounter changes in our street names. Epifanio de los Santos Avenue or Edsa has been with us for a while, its name “sanctified by usage,” its name recorded in history as the site of  People Power I and II. Now a well-meaning lawmaker, without complete staff work, proposes to rename Edsa to CCAA or Corazon C. Aquino   Avenue. To complicate matters further, Cory happens to be the sainted mother of the incumbent President.

We know that Jose Rizal is buried under the Rizal Monument in Luneta, Emilio Aguinaldo behind his mansion in Kawit,  Apolinario Mabini in Batangas,  and Juan Luna in a  crypt at San Agustin Church in Intramuros. Gregoria de Jesus is joined by many other historical people in the Manila North Cemetery. But where is Bonifacio buried? The Supremo has not been accorded a proper burial because we do not know where his remains are.

Some bones exhumed in Maragondon, Cavite, in 1918 were said to be Bonifacio’s. I never believed these to be authentic because history tells us that Andres and Procopio Bonifacio were executed in Maragondon on May 10, 1897. A revolutionary court found them guilty of treason and sentenced them both to death. The brothers Bonifacio were buried in the same grave, yet only one set of bones was exhumed in 1918. If these are indeed the remains of Andres Bonifacio, where are the remains of Procopio? If these are the bones of Procopio, then where are the bones of Andres?

It is widely believed that the so-called Bonifacio bones exhumed in 1918 were deposited in the National Library and Museum, where they were lost or destroyed during the Battle for Manila in 1945.

There is another story that says these bones were interred at the base of the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan, the masterpiece by Guillermo Tolentino that has given its name to the place everyone knows today as “Monumento.” A certain Dr. Servando de los Angeles claimed that after the bones were examined and “authenticated” by Dr. Sixto de los Angeles (the relation between the two is not known), they were cremated and deposited under the Bonifacio Monument, which was completed in 1933.

Guillermo Masangkay claimed that the bones were kept and later destroyed in the Legislative Building in 1945.

If we follow the bones, as reported in the newspapers, these were exposed for veneration by the public in the Temple of the Legionarios del Trabajo at the junction of Azcarraga and Soler in downtown Manila, until Manuel Quezon caused them to be transferred to the National Museum where they were destroyed during the World War II.

Then there was an item in The Independent of March 6, 1926, entitled “Desaparicion de los restos del gran plebeyo?” that stated:

“The most salient note of the week is the mysterious disappearance of the remains, supposed or authentic, of Andres Bonifacio which were deposited in the Templo de Jerusalem de los Legionario del Trabajo after it arrived in Manila from Maragondon, Cavite, where they were exhumed three months ago (sic).”

“No one knows for sure where the thief brought the remains of the Great Plebian, but we remember the discussion and conflicts that were exchanged upon the transfer of the remains to Manila. While the Veteranos de la Revolucion maintain that these remains are not Bonifacio’s, others affirm, among them the bibliographer Epifanio de los Santos, that they are authentic. The police are engaged in the corresponding investigation.”

I believe these controversial “Bonifacio bones” disappeared because they would not have withstood closer scrutiny. The last time they were seen was in 1926 in the Temple of the Legionarios del Trabajo. Where are they now should not matter because the Bonifacio brothers lie somewhere in the Maragondon mountain range waiting to be found and exhumed. Only then can the Bonifacio brothers be given a proper burial with full state honors.

When we make floral offerings and speeches at the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan or the Bonifacio Shrine in Manila, we commemorate a hero before empty graves.

* * *

This Saturday, Dec. 3, I will deliver my last “History Comes Alive” lecture for 2011 on the Rizal Monument, entitled “Doble Kara:  Rizal in Art and Monuments,” at the Ayala Museum at 3 p.m. The public is invited. Lecture comes with museum admission.

Comments are welcome in my Facebook Fan Page.


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  • bong64

    frankly, i don’t care where bonifacio’s remains lie from an ideological point of view. But it may matter for a lot of people. For me, however, the remains and where they lie does not matter. No, it is rather the inspiration and the teachings of Bonifacio that really matters. And he epitomized the yearnings for freedom and liberty for his people. That is what Bonifacio meant, freedom and liberty. Never mind the bones.



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