Bonifacio’s death: An eyewitness account
Lazaro Makapagal, no relation to Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, would be a forgotten footnote in Philippine history, except that he led the pack that executed Andres Bonifacio, on orders of the Council of War that imposed the death sentence on the brothers Andres and Procopio Bonifacio. The brothers were found guilty of treason against the newly formed Revolutionary Government that had replaced the Katipunan.
So much has been written about the execution of Bonifacio; some say he was shot, others say he was hacked to death.
On the other hand, in the emotional and contentious matter of Emilio Aguinaldo’s hand in the death of his rival Bonifacio, one believes what one wants to believe despite Makapagal’s two public statements—first to the Philippines Free Press in 1928; second in a detailed letter to historian Jose P. Santos dated June 27, 1929. Biased or inaccurate, Makapagal may be in making these declarations three decades after the fact, but he remains the only eyewitness to Bonifacio’s last moments.
Other sources, like Generals Santiago Alvarez and Artemio Ricarte, are not eyewitnesses. Their information was lifted from Makapagal, with Ricarte identifying, wrongly, that the executioners were Colonels Agapito Bonson and Jose Ignacio Paua. A certain Guillermo Masangkay, who concocted and propagated the hacked-to-death story, claimed firsthand information about the May 10, 1897, death of Bonifacio. In a 1967 news article, Masangkay was billed as: “He witnessed Andres Bonifacio’s court martial and murder.” However, archival records consulted by the late historian Isagani Medina state that Masangkay had been imprisoned in Bilibid from Sept. 26, 1896, to at least May 29, 1897.
Makapagal’s controversial handwritten document, previously available to historians in pictures or photocopies, has finally surfaced and will be on the block next weekend, together with Emilio Aguinaldo’s handwritten account of the death of Bonifacio dated March 22, 1948—his 79th birthday! Is it a coincidence that these documents, highlighted by auction house hype as “extremely important and exceedingly rare,” have come to light on the 150th anniversary of Aguinaldo’s birth?
Auction house PR Lisa Guerrero Nakpil waxes poetic in an article on the coming auction, describing the historical documents as revelations of “pure hearts.” She insinuates “shocking secrets,” though they are not so, because all the documents have been previously reproduced in various books. I am relieved that she has stopped using “explosive” to describe these documents because, in my opinion, that adjective is best deployed to portray a bad case of diarrhea.
Using Makapagal’s two accounts of the execution when I drove to Maragondon two decades ago, I had some difficulty finding the place where the group stopped to rest: “It had a small mountain, somewhat round, near the bamboos [Cawayanan]; the other riverbank, facing north, we could see the town of Maragondon with the sunrise on our right, behind us was Mount Buntis.” While seated at the foot of the small round mountain, near the water and the bamboo, Andres said: “Since we are nearing Mt. Tala [our destination], why don’t you open the envelope so we will know where you will leave us.”
The document was read, and at the words “shoot the brothers,” Procopio jumped and exclaimed, “Naku kuyang!”
“Andres fell to his knees and was to embrace me, shouting ‘Kapatid, patawarin mo ako,’” wrote Makapagal.
Makapagal moved back, his eyes on Procopio who was the stronger of the two, fearful he might get the upper hand. Scared the brothers would resist or escape and hide in the forest, Makapagal ordered his men to prepare for the execution, with a mix of pity for the brothers and fear of what would happen if he did not accomplish the grim task entrusted to him. At this point, the brothers fell silent.
He first led Procopio to the edge of the forest, far from Andres’ sight, and shot him there. When he returned, Andres fell to his knees again and wailed: “Kapatid, patawarin mo ako!” He replied, “Wala akong magagawa.”
Andres bolted into the forest and was caught at the end of a small river, where they shot him. The soldiers didn’t have shovels to dig a proper grave, but did the best they could with bayonets. The Bonifacio brothers’ bodies have never been found. One wonders what price will be paid for this heartrending bit of Philippine history.
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