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‘The Great Plebeian’

/ 12:05 AM December 02, 2014

He never talked much about it, but my guess is that my father was a fan of Andres Bonifacio.

Else, why would he choose to name a private college he helped found in Alaminos, Pangasinan the “Great Plebeian College”?

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“Great Plebeian,” we were told, was one of the titles bestowed on Bonifacio, founder and leader of the Katipunan. And the decision to adopt Bonifacio’s title for the institution was, so relatives tell us, designed to emphasize that the college was to serve the children of the poorest, most disadvantaged families in Alaminos and environs. Shortly after moving his family to my mother’s hometown, joining my other maternal relatives who repaired to the ancestral home after being scattered around the country before and during World War II, my father Ernesto felt the urgent need to set up a college in the town, since most young folk could not afford to study in Manila, or even in Baguio, Lingayen or Dagupan.

My cousin Lulu Garcia, who now heads the college, tells that after Great Plebeian was founded, with money raised from among my mother Narni Braganza’s siblings and other relatives, my father went around the various towns of Western Pangasinan recruiting future students and drumming up interest in the new educational institution.

Though they were part of the first faculty of Great Plebeian, my parents eventually left Alaminos after my father, an army captain, was assigned to teach at the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio.

But later in life, after a stroke necessitated a move from Manila to Alaminos for a slower pace of life, Papa returned to Great Plebeian, teaching both high school and college classes. In fact, my two youngest sisters, Joni and Charo, came under my father’s tutelage, being carefully and caringly trained for declamation contests which they invariably topped.

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These memories of Great Plebeian were triggered by Sunday’s observance of Bonifacio Day last Sunday, to mark the 151st birth anniversary of a man remembered not just for founding the KKK (Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan or the Supreme, Most Esteemed Company of the Nation’s Children) but for embodying the aspirations to freedom and nationhood of the country’s poor.

Bonifacio was himself born of humble means, largely self-educated, but he must have been imbued with much charisma, raising a small army among the poor, the middle-class and even elite (especially outside Manila) who contested Spanish rule over the islands. Much has been made of a “contest” between Bonifacio and Jose Rizal—the two embodying class distinctions in these islands—and even differing goals and beliefs. The popular notion is that Bonifacio favored an armed uprising to end Spanish rule, while Rizal championed reform, agitating for a greater voice for Filipinos in the Spanish parliament.

But both men, it seems to me, had a goal in common: eventual independence. They may have had their differences in approach, but historians believe Bonifacio was “inspired” by Rizal’s writings and nationalist tracts, and in fact even sent emissaries offering him the leadership of the revolution. Rizal’s execution, it is believed, even spurred the first Katipunan uprisings.

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Bonifacio was a tragic figure, however much today’s activists hold him up for veneration.

We all know how he came to an ignominious end: spurned by a rival faction in the Katipunan, drummed out of office, arrested on orders of Emilio Aguinaldo who took over the reins of leadership, and then executed in the wilderness, his burial site undetermined to this day.

The adage of how revolution devours its children could not have held truer for Bonifacio.

Ordinary Filipinos have scant access to documents that could give us a deeper insight into Bonifacio’s thoughts, beliefs, ideology and feelings. While Rizal left behind a rich legacy of letters, novels, essays and tracts that historians to this day mine for the insights they provide on the life and times (and heart) of the national hero, we have little by way of writings or testimonies on The Great Plebeian.

Instead, we are left with instant images: his face, all sharp angles and keen cheekbones; his supposed stance and garb at the Cry of Balintawak, clad in an undershirt, red pants rolled up to the knees, holding a flag of the Katipunan, fists clenched in protest; and a poem of his translated into a haunting song.

And for my family, a legacy of education inspired by the life and heroism of a son of the poor.

* * *

Want to send money to relatives or friends as a Christmas gift or to augment their Christmas budgets? Starting yesterday till the end of the year (Dec. 31), the Philippine Postal Corp. (PhilPost) allows the public to avail of the cheapest rate for domestic money transfers, launching its “Pamaskong Handog Piso Padala” promo on electronic postal money orders.

For a flat rate of P1 for every P1,000 sent, anyone can visit a participating post office to send money anywhere in the country. But those availing of the promo rate are limited to only two “send” transactions a day, per sender, per beneficiary. At the end of the promo period, regular rates will apply.

With its vast network of postal branches nationwide, PhilPost promises to deliver the “fastest, most affordable and hassle-free electronic money order transaction.”

“This Christmas promo is one way of creating awareness of our product,” says Postmaster General Josie Dela Cruz. The service, she adds, gives an opportunity to the public, especially the kasambahay(domestic help) to send money to their loved ones without too much strain on their budgets.

The list of participating post offices can be viewed at www.phlpost.gov.ph.

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TAGS: andres bonifacio, Bonifacio Day, Christmas, Great Plebeian College, Katipunan, remittance
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