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Controversies over Bonifacio’s death

Teresa De Jesus, saint and doctor of the Church, is quoted to have said that “more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.” It is a warning about being careful what we ask for, or perhaps being open to the fact that God sometimes sees fit to give us what we need rather than what we want. Teresa de Jesus came to mind when I received an invitation to a memorial service for Andres Bonifacio at the church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Maragondon, Cavite. For many years now, some of Bonifacio’s descendants have been requesting the government to organize a state funeral for the Supremo of the Katipunan, he who began the Philippine Revolution against Spain in 1896. Now that they will get the recognition they asked for, on a smaller scale they will also reap a whirlwind because the memorial service is like opening Pandora’s Box. There is much in the life and tragic end of the Supremo that we as a people have to come to terms with.

Jose Rizal was accorded an elaborate funeral in 1912 that included a solemn procession from the family home in Binondo to the Marble Hall in Intramuros where his mortal remains lay in state before these were deposited at the base of his monument along Roxas Boulevard. With the exception of a piece of Rizal’s backbone, chipped where the bullet struck and snuffed out his life, all of his bones now rest under the monument.

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On the other hand, we do not have Bonifacio’s bones. In my book “Bones of Contention” (2001), I argued that the so-called remains of the Supremo excavated in Maragondon in 1918 are fake. I believe that Bonifacio’s remains and those of his brother Procopio remain somewhere in the Maragondon range and have yet to be found and given a proper burial. During the discussion on the pomp that would accompany a state funeral for Bonifacio in the City of Manila, I suggested that in the absence of mortal remains a handful of earth from the execution site be placed in an urn to serve as the focus of a memorial service. How can we have a state funeral—or any funeral, for that matter—with an empty coffin? I was then trying to convince myself that a “symbolic” state funeral was possible.

The Rizal monument has become the site of our Philippine Independence Day celebration. It is the monument where a succession of Philippine presidents, foreign dignitaries and heads of state have laid countless wreaths. The Rizal monument is actually a tomb; his remains are buried underneath it. In contrast, the Bonifacio monument in Caloocan is just a monument even if it has become a familiar landmark in a place now known as “Monumento.”

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This situation has led some people to ask: Who is greater then, Rizal or Bonifacio? It is an ideological rather than historical question that finds no resolution, which is why I have always maintained that we should stop comparing and measuring heroes against each other because it is not a boxing match where one emerges the victor, leaving a nation divided. Instead of choosing between Rizal or Bonifacio, we should embrace both as National Heroes for they both figured in the emergence of the nation.

The memorial service this week in Maragondon makes us look into the way the two heroes lived and died: Rizal was executed by the enemy while Bonifacio was executed by fellow Filipinos. Bonifacio was killed by the very revolution he started. Andres and Procopio Bonifacio were tried for treason in an ancestral home now preserved by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines as the “Bonifacio Trial House.”

The brothers were found guilty and sentenced to death; the sentence was later carried out, textbook history says, by a company of men under Lazaro Makapagal on May 10, 1897. I learned in school that the site of their execution was Mount Buntis, but when I did some field research in 1997 I was surprised to learn that the actual site is known as Nagpatong. It did not escape my green mind to see that some of the place names in the area could be arranged in order to suggest the sex act: Nagpatong, Pumutok, Buntis, and Hulog.

To add to the many controversial issues surrounding Bonifacio’s death—the legality of the court martial and sentence, the role of Emilio Aguinaldo in the approval of the death sentence, whether Bonifacio ran or begged for his life, whether he was shot or hacked to death, etc.—we now have the suggestion that Bonifacio was not killed in Maragondon on May 10, 1897, but, rather, in his camp in Limbon on April 23, 1897!

When I first heard about this new “controversy,” I reviewed the transcript of the trial of Bonifacio now preserved in the National Library of the Philippines, which has made it available online. On one page of the trial documents you can clearly see Bonifacio’s famous signature with a flourish, as well as his Katipunan name “Maypagasa” (There is hope). How can anyone even suggest that Bonifacio was killed during his capture in Limbon in April when he signed one of the pages in the trial document in May?

Well, now it seems that the authenticity of the trial documents and all the other primary sources that have led all Filipino historians to accept May 10, 1897, as Bonifacio’s date of death is now in question. (Concluded on Friday)

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: “Bonifacio Trial House”, andres bonifacio, Bonifacio, Cavite, Jose Rizal, Maragondon, National Historical Commission of the Philippines, National Library of the Philippines, Our Lady of the Assumption, Philippine Revolution, Procopio Bonifacio, Rizal Monument, Supremo of the Katipunan, Teresa de Jesus
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