Looking Back

Bonifacio under oath

Teodoro M. Kalaw is the name of a busy Manila street where the National Library of the Philippines is located. The naming of this street is quite appropriate because Kalaw served as director of the prewar National Library and published compilations of primary-source documents that have been mined by historians for decades. He published: the correspondence of Jose Rizal, five volumes in six books, as the “Epistolario Rizalino,” two volumes of Apolinario Mabini’s writings under the title “La Revolucion Filipina,” and Mariano Ponce’s letters as “Cartas sobre la revolucion.”

What is not well-known is that Kalaw made his own transcription and translation of the Bonifacio trial, then preserved in the archives of the Bureau of Insular Affairs in Washington, DC. This was translated into English by Paz Policarpio Mendez and published in 1926. It makes for very painful reading today because on its pages we see the wounded and disgraced Supremo of the Katipunan being tried for treason against a government he did not recognize, and by a court he did not recognize even if he did not put this on record. This week I step back, allowing readers to form their own conclusions from the primary-source text.


Remember that a historian has claimed that Bonifacio was killed in Limbon on April 23, 1897, despite the fact that Bonifacio gave witness to and signed a sworn statement on May 4, 1897, that reads:

“Andres Bonifacio, 33 years of age, married, born in Tondo, Manila, initiator of the Revolution and head of the Katipunan, appeared before the Judge and the Secretary on this day for examination. Asked if he knew of the existence of [the] revolutionary government in that province. He replied that he did not know.


“Asked if he knew of the existence of an army here in Tanguay [Cavite]. He replied that he knew and that the officers were Generals Santiago [Alvarez], Emilio [Aguinaldo], Pio [del Pilar] and [Artemio] Ricarte.

“Questioned if he held any legal powers in the government of this province. He replied that he did not know if he occupied any position or not because he did not even know of the existence of such a government.

“Asked if he had any permit from the government to stay in Limbon, Yndang. He replied that the officials of Magdiwang knew of his leaving Yndang en route to Manila, but because no one could show them the way, they were forced to stop at Limbon.

“Asked if he had any government permit to enlist soldiers with guns and swords in Limbon. He replied that, as he had said before, he did not know that there was another government. For this reason, he failed to advise the proper authorities that he was reassembling his soldiers whom he had sent to them as a reinforcement. However, the provincial council of Magdiwang, through its president, returned the soldiers to him.

“Asked the number of guns he had in Limbon. He replied that he had sent as succor about 50 guns, but he had brought with him to Limbon only about 17 Remingtons and some others of different make.

“Asked if among the guns there was the mark ‘Magdalo’. He replied that he did not know exactly the signs, but he was fully confident that they were all his, because the men who had them had testified to that effect.

“Asked who took charge of rubbing out the signs on the guns. He replied that there was nobody.


“Asked if he knew Pedro Giron, Benito Torres, Pio del Pilar, and Modesto Ritual. He replied that he knew all of them.

“Asked if he recalled having written to those men inducing them to transfer to his army and to take their guns with them. He replied that he had never written to anybody on the subject asked him.

“Asked if during his stay in Limbon, he held meetings, and who were present in the meetings. He replied that he did not recall holding a meeting with anybody save with his companions.

“Asked if he remembered how many times he held conference with Pedro Giron on the subject of killing the President of the government. He replied that he never talked to the person alluded to on the subject he was being questioned.

“Asked if he remembered that in Naic he had given money to the army officers so that they might transfer their soldiers’ Pith guns to his side. He replied that the Secretary of the Treasury, Diego Mojica, and Secretary of War Agustin Villanueva, had promised to give some reward to the army officials who had aided in the Noveleta and Malabon battles, that in the name of ‘Magdiwang’ and in fulfillment of the mentioned promises, he had rewarded said army and that of Balara, with two hundred pesos in the presence of a big audience, with instructions to the officers to distribute the money among their men and to notify General Emilio of it. Aside from this, he had never given any money to anybody, much less to the officers mentioned in the question asked him.

“Asked if Diego Mojica, Ariston Villanueva and Silvestre Domingo, and one named Santos often held meetings with the witness and his brothers in Limbon. He replied that Silvestre Domingo, Santos, and Diego Mojica, as he remembered, passed there on their way to Buenavista, but he never talked to them except a few words common among acquaintances, and the words were exchanged in the presence of the owner of the house and some natives of the place.”

More on Friday.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: andres bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, Bonifacio Trial, Jose Rizal, La Revolucion Filipina, mariano ponce, Philippine history, Teodoro M. Kalaw
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