Born on November 30, 1863, in Tondo, Manila, Andrés Bonifacio is a man whose name is well-known throughout the Philippines, but just how many actually know who the man was? Marking what would have been his 152nd birthday, today sees a celebration of Filipino pride, and recognition of someone who many historians consider to be the first unofficial President of the nation and the man who made the Philippine Republic possible.
National hero, revolutionary, and Supreme Leader of the Katipunan (Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayanor), the secret group that fought for and won independence from the Spanish, Bonifacio eventually died on May 10, 1897, at the age of just 34. Having grown up in the slum areas of Tondo as an orphan – during which time he was able to get a firm grasp on the injustices of the class system of the time – he found solace in the works of José Rizal, Victor Hugo, and Eugène Sue, and maintained a keen interest in the French Revolution, as well as those who had served as President of the United States up until that point. Clearly, this shaped a mind that would veer towards politics and leadership, which, when coupled with a strong sense of nationalism, paved the way for the story that we now tell of his life.
In 1892, José Rizal formed the Liga Filipina with the intention of organizing a unified movement towards national reform. Bonifacio soon became a member of this group prior to its dissolution when Rizal was arrested and subsequently banished. It was then that Bonifacio formed the Katipunan, allowing the Filipino people to reach upwards for the freedom and equality that they had longed for for so many years; a history of colonial imposition and exploitation of the local people fuelled a fierce desire that ultimately led to a collective effort of the working class to take back their lives and their lands.
On August 19, 1896, the 10,000-member strong Katipunan was revealed to both the general public and the Spanish ruling forces, and four days later Bonifacio and the other members of his group rallied towards Balintawak, and the armed struggle for independence began in earnest. Within 48 hours, the first blood was spilled, after which a Spanish onslaught ensued and the agony of a nation realized en masse.
Charged with treason and sedition by General Emilio Aguinaldo, Bonifacio – along with his brother Procopio – was executed by bolo on May 10, 1897, by an execution team led by Lazaro Macapagal on Mount Maragondon, but today his memory stands tall in the annals of Philippine history, as it well should.