A gun, not a bolo
Thirteen artists submitted designs for the proposed Bonifacio Monument before the deadline on July 15, 1930, and, after two periods of deliberation, the board of judges—composed of Andres Luna de San Pedro, Vicente Francisco and Tomas Mapua—chose the entry of “Batang Elias,” the pseudonym of Guillermo E. Tolentino, as the first-prize winner.
I am hopeful that an album of the photographs and concept papers will turn up one day from the papers of Alfonso T. Ongpin or the National Library to enrich Philippine art history. An album on the Rizal monument compiled by Ongpin is conserved at the National Historical Commission. So far, the program of the inauguration held on Nov. 30, 1933, is in the National Library and has been made available online in the Malacañang website. Unfortunately, the detailed program could be more useful with more pictures, but the texts were considered so important that a note, in Tagalog, advised people to keep the program for the information it contained.
Aside from the P3,000 prize money, Tolentino was given the commission to execute his winning design. The cost of the monument at the time was P125,000, composed of funds earmarked by the government and P26,041.76 raised by public subscription.
Tolentino, with the help of assistants, modeled the figures that were then executed in bronze in Italy under the supervision of Ricardo Monti, an Italian sculptor based in Manila. Andres Luna supervised the construction of the column and the base made of imported Carrara marble.
In the 1980s Tolentino’s widow, Paz Raymundo, was spring-cleaning and asked if I would be interested in a block of marble left from the Bonifacio Monument that formed part of the litter in her home. When I readily accepted she laughed and told me I would not be able to lift it. So I said I would call someone to help. And she warned that whoever would attempt to lift the slab would get a hernia: “Maluluslusan kung sino man yun.”
True enough, the slab was so heavy we could not bring it into my parents’ home, and for many years it lay in our garden until the property was sold and my sister took it to her home and used it for what is now a rather historical foyer table.
It is said that to capture Bonifacio’s likeness, Tolentino had to supplement the only known photograph of the Supremo of the Katipunan by using the bone structure of his only surviving sister, Espiridiona Bonifacio. Not content with this, Tolentino consulted the spirits of the figures in the Philippine Revolution of 1896 through seances. It is not well known that aside from sculpture, Tolentino was one of the founding members of the Union Espiritista Cristiana de Filipinas.
The monument’s height refers to the number of years the Philippines was under Spain. The 23 bronze figures that include Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto and Gomburza, the martyrs of 1872, rest on an octagonal base that refers to the eight provinces placed under martial law at the outbreak of the revolution; these are the same provinces that are commemorated in the eight rays of our flag. The obelisk crowned by a representation of the “Winged Victory” is divided into five parts, to refer to the five tenets of the Katipunan. The pools of water that adorn the monument refer to a passage from Rizal that says water can be clear and calm but when heated turns to steam power. These now-forgotten details underscore the research Tolentino made in the course of the commission.
Tolentino’s depiction of Bonifacio was not without controversy. The figure is not wearing the white shirt and red pants made iconic by an earlier monument built in Balintawak to honor the heroes of the revolution. He depicted the Supremo with shoes and a beautiful embroidered barong Tagalog. And unlike the Balintawak monument, which has the figure raising a bolo and the Katipunan flag, Tolentino put the flag in the hands of a flag bearer, a bolo in Bonifacio’s right hand, and a revolver in his left.
Tolentino had to explain to critics that based on his interviews with veterans of the revolution, Bonifacio’s preferred weapon was a gun, not a bolo. Today, his Bonifacio has become iconic, too, and forms part of Filipino consciousness and history.
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