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Looking Back

Oryang fought for Bonifacio

/ 12:46 AM November 25, 2015

Teachers often lament the fact that their students are more engaged at the mere hint of the relationship between Jose Rizal and Josephine Bracken than they are when it comes to the nationalistic teachings in Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.” Students swoon when they learn about Andres Bonifacio and Gregoria de Jesus, supremo (leader) and lakambini (muse) of the Katipunan, respectively. With Rizal, we have letters to give us a sense of the relationship; we are not as lucky with Bonifacio, who did not leave historians with much documentation compared with the 25 volumes that have spawned a vibrant Rizal industry. Women rarely speak in Philippine history because it is largely based on primary-source documents written by men, on men and for men. Fortunately, Gregoria de Jesus, or Oryang, left us with a short autobiography written before World War II. The Tagalog original is titled “Mga tala ng aking buhay” and gives us a woman’s perspective on Bonifacio:

“When I was about eighteen years old, young men began to call at our house and among them was Andres Bonifacio, who came in company with Ladislao Diwa and my cousin Teodoro Plata, then clerk of court, but none of them talked to me of love, since parents in those days were extremely careful and girls did not want people to know that they already had admirers.”

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Then and now, parents guarded their daughters more than they did their sons, making it difficult for men to court the women they fancied. In those days one needed to win the approval not just of the beloved but her family as well. On this Oryang wrote:

“The truth, however, was that Andres Bonifacio had already informed my parents of his intentions and for nearly a year had been trying to win their approval, although I knew nothing about it. Three months more elapsed before I learned that my father was against Bonifacio’s suit because he was a freemason. The freemasons then were considered bad men by our elders because of the teachings of the friars, and precisely by that time I was beginning to like him a little.”

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Was freemasonry the real basis for parental objection to Bonifacio, or was it because the parents felt he would not be able to give Oryang the lifestyle in which she had grown up? Contrary to popular belief, our hero from Tondo was not as poor as he is made out to be. Masons would not admit poor, illiterate men into the society. Would Bonifacio, who, we are told, eked out a living vending fans and canes, have become a mason? Oryang does not give us an answer, but she tells us that the couple managed to reverse her parents’ objections to her marrying Bonifacio:

“Six months later I had earnestly fallen in love with him, and my father, though opposed at first, in the end gave his consent because of his love for me and because I told him frankly of our love for each other. In deference to my parents, we were married in the Catholic Church of Binondo, in March 1893, with Restituto Javier and his wife Benita de Javier as sponsors, but the week following, we were married again in the house of our sponsors on what was called Oroquieta street before all the Katipuneros at their request, since they did not recognize as valid our marriage in the Catholic Church.”

Much of the archival records in Binondo Church was destroyed during the Battle for Manila in 1945, but by some stroke of luck those of 1894 survived and these marriage books were made available to me in the late 1990s by the then parish priest, Fr. Moises Andrade. There is no record of the marriage between Andres Bonifacio and Gregoria de Jesus in it. I went through the records twice, and what struck me was an entry for a certain “Andres Cipriano” and “Gregoria de la Cruz” that, I suspect, stood for Andres and Oryang, who was then below the age of consent for marriage.

What is not in Oryang’s autobiography nor in any of the standard biographies of Bonifacio is the fact that she was physically taken from Caloocan and imprisoned in a house in Binondo to separate her from Bonifacio. What we do know, from documents in the National Archives, is that Oryang was made of sterner stuff and managed to scribble a hasty note to the gobernadorcillo of Binondo dated Oct. 6, 1893, and stating:

“I am Gregoria de Jesus from Caloocan, a dalagang Tagalog, a minor. I wish to contract marriage with my boyfriend (nobio) Andres Bonifacio if 11E Sagunto Street, Tondo. When my parents found out of my good intentions I was brought here, to Binondo and placed in 28D Madrid Street. I am truly a prisoner here. I have no liberty at all. I appeal to your power to mediate and give me justice. Take me from here, summon my boyfriend, fulfill the necessary government requirements so that we can get married. I ask justice from you and hope that you listen because this appeal is addressed to anyone with a kind heart.”

Remember that by the time Bonifacio and Oryang grew serious enough to consider marriage in 1893 Bonifacio was almost 30 years old while Oryang was only 18. Being a minor, Oryang needed parental consent to marry Bonifacio. From the documents it is obvious that Oryang’s parents did not give their consent, and if they did so later, it was due to Oryang’s persistence. It is not enough to fall in or out of love; one must fight for it.

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TAGS: andres bonifacio, gregoria de jesus, Jose Rizal, Josephine Bracken
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