The Supremo’s supreme love
To commemorate the birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, his 157th today, is to reflect on his towering heroism for having spearheaded the Philippine revolution against Spain — “the first against western colonial rule in Asia,” says the National Commission for Culture and the Arts — and to see how far we have come as an independent nation since that uprising of 1896.
The unfortunate power struggle in the Katipunan that led to Bonifacio’s execution by the very revolutionary government he worked so hard to achieve was a tragic end to a life devoted to the pursuit of freedom for his nation.
At the controversial Tejeros Convention on March 22, 1897, called for Bonifacio to mediate between the warring Magdalo and Magdiwang factions of the Katipunan in Cavite, the rebels moved to turn the revolutionary movement into a revolutionary government. Bonifacio, then Supremo or supreme leader of the Katipunan, lost in the subsequent election which installed Emilio Aguinaldo as president and Mariano Trias as vice president. Bonifacio, the object of intrigues by factions opposed to his leadership, was elected “director of the interior,’’ equivalent to today’s interior secretary. Angered by this turn of events, the Supremo refused to acknowledge the results and snapped by drawing his gun as he stormed out of the convention.
Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were sentenced to death for treason and killed on a mountain range in Maragondon, Cavite, on May 10, 1897, on orders of
Aguinaldo, who went on to be recognized as the president of the First Philippine Republic. Yet within the revolutionary forces, there were groups that remained loyal to Bonifacio, whom they recognized as the legitimate president of the “Tagalog Republic.’’
The historic injustice done against the founder of the Katipunan was somewhat made right when, in 1921, 24 years after his execution, US Governor General Francis Burton Harrison signed the Philippine Legislature Act No. 2946 declaring Nov. 30 as Bonifacio Day. The annual commemoration properly honors the preeminent role that Bonifacio played in charting the course of the nation’s history from subjugation to proud independence.
“Unlike other gallant heroes of the country including Jose Rizal, Bonifacio is remembered on his birthday, Nov. 30, 1863, rather than the date of his death, May 10, 1897. This is because he died in the hands of his fellow countrymen and was not killed by foreign colonizers,” according to a Philippine News Agency story last year on the Bonifacio holiday.
Bonifacio’s death in the hands of his fellow Filipinos was a foreshadowing of the existential struggles that would wrack the nation he helped birth, especially in more recent times when stark division and polarization among citizens have seemingly reached a perilous pitch. The country’s freedoms and well-being have been put to severe test by fractious internal elements that would have been familiar to Bonifacio—the tribalism among leaders, the willingness to compromise with foreign oppressors and outside opportunists, the resort to authoritarian methods, the disarray in governance, the fatal inability to set aside self-interest and work for the larger good.
There is no greater love than love for country, Bonifacio said, and this he expressed in the poem “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa,” published in the first issue of Kalayaan, the newspaper of the secret society he founded, in March 1896. The poem, published under the initials A.I.B. (believed to be Bonifacio’s pseudonym Agapito Bagumbayan), begins with a magisterial declaration:
“Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya
sa pagka-dalisay at pagka-dakila
gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa?
Aling pag-ibig pa? Wala na nga, wala.’’
It ends, 28 ardent stanzas later, with a ringing commitment to martyrdom for the motherland:
“Ipaghandog-handog ang buong pag-ibig
hanggang sa mga dugo’y ubusang itigis
kung sa pagtatanggol, buhay ay (mailit)
ito’y kapalaran at tunay na langit.”
The Gospels speak of a similar kind of love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” In Bonifacio’s supreme, steadfast love for his country, he lit the fire of liberty, led the arduous march to liberation, and laid down his life for his countrymen, friends and foes alike. No greater example ought to be accorded the highest emulation.
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