Posted on my Facebook Fan Page is a faded photograph showing the exhibits relating to Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan in the prewar National Library. One can discern a portrait of Bonifacio, a handful of rifles, a busted drum, a lounging chair or “butaca” with cane back, and a glass box that appears to contain Bonifacio’s bolo or one of the many that are alleged to be his. It is unfortunate that many of these historical relics did not survive the Battle for Manila in 1945, and it is doubly unfortunate that the photographer who took “installation shots” of the exhibit did not complete the documentation by taking clear pictures of every important item in that landmark exhibition. Those lost relics could have been displayed to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Bonifacio this coming Nov. 30.
For over a decade now, there have been calls to give Bonifacio a state funeral, but that has not materialized because unlike Rizal who is buried under the monument in Luneta; or Emilio Aguinaldo who is buried at the back of his Kawit mansion; or Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora who were interred in Paco cemetery, Bonifacio’s bones cannot be located to this day. It is sensible to make a floral offering and provide military honors in front of a tomb of a hero, but the Bonifacio monuments in Manila and Caloocan have only historical memory but no human remains. To make matters worse, the celebration of “Bonifacio 150” has been been toned down in deference to the victims of the recent earthquake in Bohol and of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in Leyte and Samar.
People need relics to remind them of the past, of the deeds of great men and women in their history. That is why it is important to display objects that relate to the birth of the nation: the original manuscripts of Rizal’s novels, the Declaration of Independence read on June 12, 1898, the Malolos Constitution, the 1935 Constitution, the 1986 People Power Constitution. That is why we regret that the original flags of the Katipunan, raised in revolt, have not been preserved. That is why we regret that the garrote that killed Gomez, Burgos and Zamora is not extant anymore. These objects make history come alive.
Fortunately, we have other odds and ends scattered in various museums and shrines: Apolinario Mabini’s wheelchair and eyeglasses are extant, Gregorio del Pilar’s whistle is extant, Emilio Aguinaldo’s pickled appendix is extant, and I have been informed that the noose that was used to execute Yamashita has turned up in a National Museum bodega. With proper display and expert curatorial sense, all these objects assembled together can give us a narrative of how we have tried and sometimes fail to be the nation we want to be.
Aside from a handful of letters signed by Bonifacio now in private hands, what historical objects do our cultural agencies have that can be traced directly and conclusively to the “Supremo”? Over the years my interest in historical relics has led to traces of Bonifacio, but I have yet to see the actual objects I have read about.
In October 1939, Pio Valenzuela, a close associate of the supremo, donated two relics to the National Library: a rusty 38-caliber revolver allegedly carried by the supremo in Pugad Lawin, Pasong Tamo, Caloocan, on Aug. 23, 1896; and a fading and damaged purse or kalupi (macuta) likewise associated with the supremo and the Philippine Revolution. These relics were received by Eulogio Rodriguez, acting library director, who was told that Valenzuela owned not one but two historical revolvers: one he gave to Rizal, the other to Bonifacio.
Unfortunately, Guillermo Masangkay threw a wet blanket over the donation by crying “Fake!” Masangkay explained that the revolver donated by Valenzuela was a Colt-type unknown in the Philippines in 1896. He added that Colt-type revolvers were only used in the Philippines after the arrival of the Americans in 1898. Katipuneros, according to Masangkay, used homemade revolvers known as “de palito.” For the record, said Masangkay, Bonifacio had not one but two guns: a homemade de palito (a gift from Roman Ramos and Tito Miguel, employees of the maestranza española), and a factory-manufactured gun from the firm of Adolfo Richter. Aside from casting doubt on the authenticity of the relics donated by Valenzuela to the National Library, Masangkay’s real intention was to erode the credibility of Valenzuela. Masangkay asked aloud, how did Valenzuela come across the gun of Bonifacio when he surrendered to the Spanish authorities during the revolution? Valenzuela was exiled to Spain and only returned to the Philippines in 1899.
Masangkay then proceeded to question the date and place the Philippine Revolution began. Valenzuela maintained it started on Aug. 23, 1896 at Pugad Lawin. Masangkay insisted, as did many others, that the correct site was Balintawak. Despite the official recognition of Pugad Lawin by the National Historical Commission, the debate on Pugad Lawin and Balintawak continues to rage in books published by Arturo Valenzuela and Soledad Borromeo-Buehler. The two stoked the flames lit by their grandfathers in the 1930s, keeping them alive till the late 1990s.
If you think Bonifacio’s two revolvers is a puzzle for historians, that is nothing compared to the half-a-dozen bolos all said to have been wielded by Bonifacio.
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