A question of heroes: Aguinaldo vs Bonifacio
The romantic side of a revolution is always irresistible, particularly if one has read a colorfully worded story like Wilfrido Nolledo’s “Rice Wine.” But whether it is the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution or the Cultural Revolution, any revolution truly eats its own children.
People tend to forget the down-and-dirty, the internal political conflicts. Who is the hero, who the heel? The textbooks have conflicting accounts and what schoolchildren usually get is the official story.
A vivid example is the fatal political struggle between Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo, which climaxed in one of the most tragic (in the classical sense) incidents of the Philippine Revolution. It has polarized the nation since.
(In the light-and-sound show at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite province, in celebration of Independence Day on June 12, there was only one image of El Supremo. That’s understandable as this was the political bailiwick of El Presidente, and it was his mansion.)
Expedition to Cavite
It started with an invitation. Bonifacio was invited by Cavite leaders ostensibly to mediate the rivalry between two provincial chapters of the Katipunan, the Magdalo and the Magdiwang factions.
Bonifacio was partial to the latter as it recognized his authority more. The former was chiefly composed of the Cavite elite, its name the nom de guerre of Aguinaldo, derived from Mary Magdalene, patroness of Aguinaldo’s hometown Kawit, whom he considered the patroness of the revolution.
Bonifacio’s secretary and right-hand man, Emilio Jacinto, had advised him against this expedition to Cavite. The firebrand that he was, Bonifacio went, anyway, with wife Gregoria, his brothers Procopio and Ciriaco, Jacinto and some troops.
Aguinaldo met him in Zapote. Later in his memoirs, Aguinaldo wrote he was irritated with Bonifacio because he acted “as if he were a king.”
The two disputed military strategies and, more seriously, Aguinaldo’s alleged negotiations with the Spaniards, which could compromise the revolution.
(Bonifacio had no record of political compromises. Aguinaldo, an astute politician, most certainly had, from the Spanish to the Americans to the Japanese.)
Also, Aguinaldo had issued a manifesto proclaiming a provisional revolutionary government, in effect denying the existence of the Katipunan government, which had a constitution, laws and local governments.
The Tejeros Convention on March 22, 1897, was meant to resolve issues over who should lead the revolution. It started reasonably enough, until it descended to the usual politicking.
The pro-Aguinaldo faction argued he had led a string of victories in Cavite, mostly turning points in the revolution, whereas Bonifacio met mostly defeats in Manila and environs. The pro-Bonifacio faction countered that major Spanish forces were concentrated in Manila, while Cavite’s battles were no more than skirmishes with the constabulary in streets and alleys.
There was the classic political mudslinging. Rumors were spread Bonifacio had stolen Katipunan funds and his sister was a priest’s mistress. Most fantastic was the rumor he was an “agent provocateur paid by the friars to foment unrest.”
There was that disease of regionalism, one historian calls Cavitismo. Aguinaldo’s adviser Apolinario Mabini noted later: “All the electors were friends of Don Emilio Aguinaldo and Don Mariano Trias, who were united, while Bonifacio, although he had established his integrity, was looked upon with distrust only because he was not a native of the province.”
And there was the prototype of “dagdag-bawas,” the rigged ballot boxes, as testified to by some.
Aguinaldo won the elections, of course.
But after a violent incident with the insulting Daniel Tirona, Bonifacio, being Presidente Supremo of the Katipunan Supreme Council, declared the results null and void and dissolved the assembly.
The following day, Aguinaldo was said to have “surreptitiously” taken his oath of office as president in a chapel officiated by a priest (contradicting the Mason affiliation of the Katipunan). And this despite his Captain-General Artemio Ricarte’s declaration that he found the elections “dirty or shady” and “not in conformity with the true will of the people.”
On their way out of Cavite, Bonifacio reportedly burned down a village in Indang and tried to burn its church when the townsfolk refused to feed them.
Aguinaldo ordered him arrested. He was stabbed in the neck by Maj. Jose Paua; brother Ciriaco was shot dead; and wife Gregoria was said to have been raped by Col. Agapito Bonzon.
Bonifacio and brother Procopio were charged with sedition, treason and conspiracy to assassinate Aguinaldo. They were taken for trial to Naic, Aguinaldo’s headquarters. When his men tried to rescue them, they were taken to the remoter town of Maragondon.
In the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Maragondon, a small door in the apse at right of the high altar led to the sacristy with a dank, airless side room that served as the cell where Bonifacio and Procopio were incarcerated during the trial. His bed is still there (though only the legs are original).
Trial and death
It was a mock trial held in the house of Teodorico Reyes (now a museum). All those in the jury were Aguinaldo’s men. All pieces of evidence were flimsy. And Bonifacio was not allowed to face his accusers. Sentence: death.
Aguinaldo commuted the sentence to banishment to the mountain of Pico de Loro. Apparently he was prevailed upon by his generals, Mariano Noriel and Pio del Pilar, to withdraw the commutation, to preserve unity.
On May 10, 1897, ostensibly on the way to exile, while in a sugarcane field about 4 kilometers from the poblacion, Procopio was shot, or bayoneted (as one account says).
The “half-starved and wounded” Andres, carried prone on a hammock, allegedly tried to escape, and was stabbed and hacked to death by five men, led by Gen. Lazaro Macapagal, on the foothills of Mount Nagpatong, where now stands the Bonifacio Shrine and Monument, one of the town’s major tourist destinations.
The official story says the brothers died by firing squad and were buried in shallow graves marked by twigs. Some claim they were left unburied.
Many consider the incident villainous, a handiwork of the Cavite elite. Mabini considered the execution an assassination—“the first victory of personal ambition over true patriotism.”
Twist of destiny
The sordid affair cost Aguinaldo the votes when he ran against Manuel L. Quezon for the presidency in the 1935 Commonwealth elections.
Had Bonifacio moved out of Cavite on time, there would have been a twist in the course of our history. As Supremo Presidente of the Katipunan government, he could have turned the tables on Aguinaldo, prosecuted him for treason, and called for him to stand on trial.
The political rivalry is often interpreted by some as the classic class struggle between the elite and the masses.
Aguinaldo, whose family belonged to the Cavite “principalia,” represented the upper class. Bonifacio, whose father was a tailor who served as “teniente mayor” of Tondo and his mother a cigarette factory supervisor, belonged to the lower middle class.
Most historians seem to sympathize with Bonifacio, as obviously do most Filipinos. For decades now we have been celebrating a Bonifacio Day (Nov. 30), but we don’t recall any Aguinaldo Day.
Inviting Bonifacio to Cavite and entrapping him there recalls Macbeth inviting his king to his home and killing him while asleep.
Whatever his virtues and despite the significance of his role in our history, apologists for Aguinaldo cannot live down this narrative—just like the apologists for Ferdinand Marcos cannot live down the story of martial law because it is already embedded in racial memory.
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