The true date of Bonifacio’s death
Pockets of controversy quietly rage in academic circles over when and where Andres Bonifacio tore up his cedula and delivered the inspiring yell that marked the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution. Officially, and since 1962, it has been celebrated on Aug. 23, 1896, in Pugad Lawin. Traditionally, before 1962, it was commemorated on Aug. 26, 1896, in Balintawak. On this matter tradition dies hard.
Despite documentary evidence presented for each side, it seems we may never come to a satisfactory resolution. With historians insisting on the validity of their particular date and place, we end up more confused than when we started because aside from a series of August dates, we now have Sept. 5, 1896, too. Aside from Pugad Lawin and Balintawak, we now have to consider: Bahay Toro, Pacpac Lawin, Pasong Tamo, Kangkong and, in jest, even Pugad Baboy! But despite the heated discussion over the details, the general outline of the story remains the same and without question: Somewhere in Caloocan, sometime in August 1896, the Katipunan Supremo changed the course of our history and charted our journey to nationhood.
As though the Pugad Lawin vs. Balintawak controversy were not enough, we now have the president of the Philippine Historical Association, Luis Dery, arguing that Andres Bonifacio was not executed in the Maragondon range on May 10, 1897, as we all know and think it to be. Dery is acknowledged by his colleagues for having spent countless hours going through books, manuscripts, periodicals, and microfilm in search of material that has since been shared in academic conferences and in his many books. While leafing through copies of the prewar periodical El Renacimiento, he came across a report in the April 23, 1903, issue regarding a commemoration of Bonifacio’s death on Reina Regente street attended by veterans of the revolution like Jose Turiano Santiago and Guillermo Masangkay. On this occasion, the poet Cecilio Apostol recited “Un heroe del pueblo,” where he declared that “after Rizal, sage and martyr, the next greatest patriot is Bonifacio.”
Intrigued by this reference, Dery continued his research and came across the article “Hinggil sa Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas” by Gonzalo Cue Malay in “Muling Pagsilang” of Nov. 2, 1906, that says Bonifacio was killed by Agapito Bonson and company in Limbon, Cavite, at 5 p.m. on April 23, 1897. Furthermore, Dery cites Emilio Aguinaldo, who is quoted by Manuel Artigas y Cuerva in his work, “Glorias nacionales: Andres Bonifacio y el Katipunan” (Libreria Manila Filatelica, 1911), as saying that Bonifacio had been sentenced to death for treason and that “this decision was implemented in Maragondon on April 23, 1897.” Aguinaldo’s memory failed him on this, or he was not quoted accurately by Artigas, because Bonifacio was in Limbon, not Maragondon, on April 23, 1897!
Both Aguinaldo and Artigas were unreliable, or at least inconsistent, because further on in the book Artigas cites a letter that Bonifacio wrote Emilio Jacinto dated April 24, 1897. Haven’t we been told that dead men tell no tales? That dead men cannot write letters? Elsewhere in the same monograph and using another informant, Artigas says that Bonifacio was wounded in the left rib and that he was carried to the site of his execution in a hammock as he could not walk due to his wounds. Here, Artigas says Bonifacio died on April 26!
Artigas was so inconsistent that he cannot be relied on for this matter. However, on the site on Mount Nagpatong where Bonifacio and his brother Procopio allegedly met their end, there are two historical markers: an official one in bronze installed by the Philippines Historical Committee in 1953 stating that Bonifacio was executed and died on May 10, 1897, and an earlier one in marble installed by the Legionarios del Trabajo that erected the original monument “to perpetuate until future generations that on
April 26, 1897 was interred in this site, the cadaver of Andres Bonifacio.”
The problem with all of these is that the presentation of four secondary sources to refute a mountain of primary-source documents and eyewitness and contemporary accounts is not good historical method.
In the Bonifacio trial documents we can clearly see the Supremo’s signature made on May 4, 1897. Dery claims this signature is a forgery, it being slightly different from those in other documents. But remember, Bonifacio had a gunshot wound in his left side and a stab wound in the neck that were not attended to and were festering during his trial. One of his brothers was killed during the arrest, another was beaten witless, and his wife Gregoria de Jesus was sexually abused. He was wearing the same torn and bloody clothes he wore during his arrest in Limbon on April 23, 1897, such that his wife begged the court to allow her to cover his body with a blanket she had brought to the proceedings. Bonifacio was undergoing a trial by a government and court he did not recognize. He knew he would get a death sentence. Surely, all these affected his signature that day. How can that final signature be questioned?
Dery will have to present more to convince us to change a fact that we all know and hold true. Pending that, let us cast aside the debates over the details just for tomorrow, May 10, in order to honor a hero whose life and tragic end contributed to the birth of the Filipino nation.
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