RIZAL CAREFULLY chose the last image his countrymen would see of him; he went to his execution dressed like a European, complete with derby hat—as if to say that he was a citizen of that free republic that knew no boundaries, and thus an equal of the Spaniards who had ordered his death. Bonifacio was not as lucky.
Nobody knows how Bonifacio looked or what he wore when he was killed by members of the revolutionary army he had founded, mere months after launching the revolution. We “see” him today mainly as the sculptor Ramon Martinez immortalized him: his 1911 Balintawak monument portrays a stylized Bonifacio in white camisa and rolled-up red pants, with a bolo in his raised right hand and the Katipunan flag in his left.
If Bonifacio had had a choice, what image would he have chosen?
The National Artist Virgilio Almario suggests what the Supremo would have done without. At Bonifacio’s 149th birthday rites last week, he said that it was “time not just to honor Bonifacio but to build him a new monument in our shrine of valor”—by which he meant recovering an image of Bonifacio that was closer to the truth, or at least shorn of embellishment. Almario zeroed in on the bolo wielding: “laging may hawak na tabak, hindi po siya humawak ng tabak. Meron siyang special na revolver na siyang dala-dala sa kanyang pakikipaglaban.” (Bonifacio is always [thought of as] holding a bolo, [but] he did not hold a bolo. He had a special revolver which he carried in battle.)
We get a glimpse or two of that revolver in the memoirs of a leading revolutionary general, Santiago Alvarez. Angered by the failure of a certain Buenaventura Domingo to keep a Spanish parish priest from escaping, for example, Bonifacio explodes. “‘Worthless brother! Traitorous son of the people!’—and suddenly aimed the revolver he was carrying at him. A good thing the local head Laureano Gonzales stopped him; he mediated and asked forgiveness for the sins of the Katipunero Buenaventura.”
But how did the bolo end up in Bonifacio’s hand?
It’s possible the trail begins at the turn of the 20th century with Isabelo de los Reyes, whose first-ever account of the revolution (based in large part on the recollections of the Katipuneros he met in prison) fatefully mischaracterized the revolutionary organization as wholly plebeian. (How could it have been, when Cavite gentry like Aguinaldo travelled to Tondo to be initiated into the Katipunan under Bonifacio’s eye?)
By the time Martinez worked on his monument, the conventional wisdom, of Bonifacio as a peasant leader, had in all probability gelled; I think of the simplified sculpture as a snapshot of the attitudes of the time.
In the 1920s, the labor movement that had come to embrace the working-class Bonifacio as its own finally succeeded in placing him side by side with Rizal in the national pantheon of heroes; the labor leader Hermenegildo Cruz, for instance, wrote a poignant primer on Bonifacio, “Kartilyang Makabayan,” which nicely captures this transition.
And in 1931, the poet Jose Corazon de Jesus honored Bonifacio with a 24-line ode that cements the revolutionary organizer’s reputation as “the father of arms”—but arms of a specific kind.
The poem, written less than a year before the poet died, and eventually published in Jose P. Santos’ “Si Andres Bonifacio at ang Himagsikan,” apostrophizes a bolo-wielding Supremo.
Kung kaya ba’t kung di namin matanaw ang kamay ng Dios,/ ang kamay mong tanga’y tabak, ang sa amin ay panubos
That is why when we cannot see the hand of God,/your hand holding its bolo is our redeemer
The last eight lines are addressed to the people:
Itaas mo ang kamay mo sa lawak nang kalangitan,/
at baka ang kanyang tabak, ilaglag sa iyong kamay
Raise your hand at the vastness of the heavens/
and perhaps his bolo will fall into your hand
The making of the bolo wielder was complete.
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The excellent essay “Imprinting Andres Bonifacio: The Iconization from Portrait to Peso,” available on malacanang.gov.ph (and likely written by Manolo Quezon), suggests the beginning of an alternative image: the wonderful sculpture in Divisoria in Manila, which shows a primed, pistol-packing Supremo poring over a parchment: “here is the Bonifacio who wrote impassioned manifestos that rallied the masses.” Indeed.
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Bonifacio’s short temper has been the subject of much discussion. Here is a recollection, from Santos’ “Si Apolinario Mabini Laban Kay General Antonio Luna,” which shows Bonifacio as a man of wise equanimity. The anecdote comes from the foreword written in October 1928, by his widow, Gregoria de Jesus; unfortunately, it is at the expense of Mabini, pre-paralysis.
“Naaalaala ko pa ng minsang dumalaw kami sa kaniya na ako, si Andres Bonifacio at Emilio Jacinto ang magkakasama at iba pa. Ng kami ay pauwi na ay narinig kong sinabi ni Emilio Jacinto kay Andres Bonifacio ang ganito: ‘Katwa palang tao iyang si Mabini pati si Rizal ay sinisiraan na di dapat sabihin sa harapan’ na sinagot ni Andres na ‘Siyanga, ngunit ang ibig sabihin ni Mabini ay ipakilala na higit siya kay Rizal’, kaya silang dalawa ay nagtawanan.”
My translation: I still remember that, once, we visited him; I, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto were together, and there were others. When we were on our way home, I heard Emilio Jacinto say to Andres Bonifacio the following: “That Mabini is an amusing man, he badmouthed even Rizal with things best not said in public,” to which Andres answered with: “That’s right, but what Mabini really means is to be recognized that he is better than Rizal,” then the two started laughing.
A laughing Bonifacio. Now that’s an image.