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Resurrecting Bonifacio

/ 10:12 PM November 28, 2013

I have two announcements today so I will feature one now, at the beginning, and save the other for the end of the column. The first is related to the rehab efforts in the Visayas in the aftermath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”  Dr. Lourdes Ignacio e-mailed me to say that her book, “Ginhawa,” dealing with psychosocial support for disaster survivors, will be available for free as an e-book from www.flipreads.com. It is an anthology that includes contributions from psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, with many useful insights for disaster response. What’s most useful about the book is that it is based on Philippine situations, with many references to local concepts of health and wellness, as well as malaise and illness. Its title takes off from a Tagalog core concept of wellness, but the articles are in English.

Let’s move on to Andres Bonifacio, whose 150th birth anniversary we will mark tomorrow. We had a conference last week at the University of the Philippines Diliman, with the history department taking the lead role, to focus on this almost-mysterious hero.

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Well, many of our national heroes are actually quite mysterious because the teaching of history has been so devalued in our schools. Even Rizal, whose life and works are a required course in universities, is stereotyped in those statues in town plazas as a distant intellectual holding a book. Bonifacio, on the other hand, is almost always depicted as an angry man wielding a bolo, looking like a war freak.

The UP conference, which people are now referring to as “Boni 150,” was a major contribution toward resurrecting Bonifacio for our times.

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It was amazing how many papers were read about Bonifacio’s life and times. It was a time as well to honor other neglected heroes who were close to Bonifacio, mainly Emilio Jacinto. One of the best-attended parallel sessions was one on the Katipuneras, including Bonifacio’s wife, Gregoria de Jesus, who figures prominently in an ongoing teleseries. I intend to write about that Katipunera session later, but for now I will refer readers to a “Tula ni Oriang,” of which I was not aware until this conference. It is one of the most beautiful love poems I’ve ever read, “love” here including Oriang’s lamentation and grieving for her husband, as well as her striving to be strong out of love of country. Look it up in Google; you will find several sites where this inspiring poem has been uploaded.

There were many other important themes in the conference which need more discussions in future conferences and, more importantly, in history classes. One of those issues is the power struggle between the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions, often used by Filipinos to put down Filipinos with comments like “See? We were already killing each other in our first revolution.” The first plenary paper in the conference, delivered by history professor Dr. Mila Guerrero, went a long way in correcting that oversimplification.

What I did want to highlight for today’s column is the need to go back to cultural basics as we try to resurrect Bonifacio and make him more relevant to our times. And by basics I’m referring to the need to make more Filipinos feel that Bonifacio belongs to the nation.

Beyond Tondo

There’s been a tendency to think of Bonifacio as “taga-Tondo” (Tundo in his time), of working-class origins, and that already sets limits to the way Filipinos can identify with him. At the conference. Prof. Nancy Kimuell-Gabriel delivered a paper titled “Ang Tundo ni Bonifacio, Si Bonifacio sa Tundo” to “place” the hero. Yes, Kimuell-Gabriel explained, Bonifacio might have been born in Tundo, but his work, both before and during the revolutionary period, brought him around both Tundo and Binondo. Actually, there was a wider province of Tundo that covered what is now Tondo and Binondo, and the area was a commercial and manufacturing hub that provided fertile ground for revolutionary ideas.

I would add that this province was a social and cultural hub as well. Binondo Church was central, and it was there where the young Andres and Oriang were married.

Fast forward to Bonifacio’s Katipunan days, and we think of him mainly in Central Luzon, particularly Cavite, where he organized, and fought, and died. A paper by Prof. Florentino Iniego should be must reading in Quezon City schools: “Ang Pagkilos ng mga Katipunero sa Balara at Krus na Ligas.” Drawing on interviews Iniego conducted several years back with elderly residents in the area, he was able to highlight a crucial period of intense revolutionary activity between Aug. 26 (the Cry of Balintawak) and Nov. 13, 1896, when Balara and Krus na Ligas, now part of Quezon City, were barrios of Marikina. Yes, Oriang came to visit as well.

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Bonifacio will be better appreciated if our history classes refer to the many connections between him and the Katipunan and different parts of the country, beyond Luzon. Boni 150 featured papers referring to how the Katipunan inspired revolutionaries in the Visayas and Mindanao, transcending ethnicity and class.

We’re going to see more of this rediscovery of Bonifacio. Pampanga, through the work of the Kapampangan Studies unit at Holy Angels University, is already laying claim to Bonifacio by pointing out that his parents were born in Masantol, Pampanga, and that the town still has many Bonifacio families.

Boni 150 was well attended by teachers, including many who handle classes at the elementary and secondary levels. Much applauded were the teachers from UP Tacloban as well as the University of Eastern Visayas. There was a palpable hunger for more information, more teaching materials.

‘Conference-performance’

I told UP Diliman’s history department that it had raised the bar for conferences with Boni 150, which was dubbed a “kumperensiya-pagtatanghal” (conference-performance), with many interactive sessions. Registered conference participants not only listened to paper readers but were also treated to a play, “Teatro Porvenir,” about Bonifacio, Macario Sakay and Aurelio Tolentino.

The conference was also an occasion to launch an exhibit at the Asian Center of the works of noted social-realist artists Nunelucio Alvarado, Pablo Baens Santos, Antipas Delotavo, Leonilo Doloricon, Edgar Talusan Fernandez, Renato Habulan and Edgardo Roxas.

On the last day of Boni 150 I received a letter from Rizalee Ibarra, wife of sculptor Toym Imao, inquiring if my college could host a piece called “Head of State”—two headless figures, presumably Filipino, each holding a ballot box with Bonifacio’s portrait. Rizalee and Toym regretted not having been aware of Boni 150 or they would have sent the sculpture earlier, but better late than never.

Now to the second announcement: an invitation to readers to schedule a day at UP Diliman when they can visit the Asian Center to view the art exhibit, then go over to Palma Hall (AS building) for “Teatro Porvenir,” and then sit/pose by “Head of State.” All these treats will be there until Dec. 8.

Boni does remain relevant, more so in these difficult times when leadership is often wanting, or absent.

E-mail: [email protected]

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TAGS: andres bonifacio, column, Emilio Jacinto, gregoria de jesus, History, Katipunan, life and imes, Michael L. Tan, National Heroes
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