Remembering Bonifacio

Remembering Bonifacio

Ten days from today, the Philippines will celebrate – virtually, chances are because of the pandemic – the 157th anniversary of the birth of Katipunan’s supreme leader Andres Bonifacio, with focus once more on what used to be called Monumento in Caloocan City.

This refers to the welcoming monument of Bonifacio, the 45-foot pylon and figures cast in bronze at the intersections of Samson Road, MacArthur Highway, Rizal Avenue and Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (Edsa), heretofore known as Highway 54.

Bonifacio (born Nov. 30, 1863, Manila, died May 10, 1897, Mt. Buntis, Maragondon, Cavite), was the founder and leader of the nationalist and secret Katipunan society, and the bolo-wielding patriot who instigated the revolt of August 1896 against the Spanish which laid the groundwork for the first Philippine Republic.

The stone monument years back before the pandemic was given a facelift, with history observers pointing to the three steps leading to the monument as representing the three centuries of Spanish rule (333 years).

In 21st century Metro Manila, the place has become the start of the line for the Light Railway Transit that begins at the Monumento Station on the north end of Edsa and leads all the way up to the Baclaran Station in Pasay City on the southside.

With the North Luzon Expressway now a major highway for travelers from the north since the 1960s, not as many as decades back have been given the opportunity to wake up from their speeding buses to see the silhouette of the monument of Bonifacio, the Filipino nationalist and revolutionary.

Bonifacio is often called “the great plebeian,” “father of the Philippine Revolution,” and “father of the Katipunan.”

He was a founder and later “supreme leader” of the Katipunan movement which sought the independence of the Philippines from Spanish colonial rule and started the Philippine Revolution.

Some historians consider him a de facto national hero of the Philippines, colonized by Spain for nearly 400 years while others describe him as the first President, although he is not officially recognized as such.

Some critics find it ironic the monument of Bonifacio in Caloocan is better known than the one in Tondo, his birthplace—in front of Tutuban Center mall on C.M. Recto Avenue or the old Azcarraga in the waterfront district of Manila.

Bonifacio is depicted in the usual – but false – bolo and trousers outfit, with historical critics suggesting Bonifacio was not stupid enough to wear red trousers and be an easy target of his Spanish enemies.

Students of history have learned for decades the Caloocan City “Monumento” – now a major landmark of the city – was designed and completed in 1933 by the country’s National Artist for the Visual Arts (Sculpture) in 1973, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino.

The octagonal base with the eight rays of the sun from the Philippine flag symbolizes the eight key provinces (as written on the surrounding pavement) where Martial Law was first declared by the Spanish governor-general.

It was also the place when the Katipunan held major uprisings there against the Spanish authorities—the very location of the monument actually depicting the place of the first such encounter by Bonifacio and the Katipunan with the Spanish colonial army on Aug. 30, 1896.

Some historians theorize the Bonifacio Monument must have been placed in Caloocan – the third most populous city in the country with a population of nearly 1.5 million, according to the 2010 census – because the area was the center of activities for the Katipunan, the secret militant society that launched the Philippine Revolution during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines.

They say it was in a house in Caloocan where secret meetings were held by Bonifacio and his men, and it was within the city’s perimeters where the very first armed encounter took place between the Katipunan and the Spaniards.

Today, Caloocan, one of the cities and municipalities that comprise the Metro Manila region (National Capital Region) in the Philippines, has become a major residential area inside Metro Manila.

The word Caloocan comes from the Tagalog root word “lo-ok;” “kalook-lookan” (or kaloob-looban) means “innermost area.”

The city borders many other cities such as Quezon City, Manila, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela and San Jose del Monte Bulacan in the north.

On the wall of Pamitinan Cave in Rodriguez, Rizal, where a reburial of his bones was done years back, was the line Bonifacio wrote in May 1896: “Sumapit dito ang mga anak ng bayan. Humahanap ng kalayaan.” [The sons of the Country came here, searching for freedom.”]

Historians say that when the Katipuneros launched the revolution on Aug. 24, 1896, Bonifacio said to his fellow Katipuneros: “Kalayaan o kamatayan? Mga kapatid! Ang Kalayaan ay kinukuha sa dulo ng patalim! [Freedom or Death? Brothers, freedom is secured by force!”]

But enemies of the revolution denied Bonifacio the opportunity to fulfill his vision for the country. They killed him in early 1897.

A few years after his death, his kin and friends began to honor Bonifacio and observed his death anniversary on April 23, 1901, at his birthplace in Meisic, Tondo, Manila.

On this occasion, the poet laureate Cecilio Apostol delivered his poem “Un Heroe del Pueblo,” extolling Bonifacio as one of the true heroes of the Filipino people. This annual celebration of Bonifacio’s death anniversary was capped by the launching of a fund-raising campaign to erect a monument in his honor.

Today, Bonifacio’s monument in Caloocan, now known as “Monumento” has become a historical treasure, after its inauguration in 1929 attended by Mrs. Aurora Aragon Quezon as guest of honor.

Today, many remember what Bonifacio declared: “Mapalad ang bayang linitawan ng mga bayani, sapagka’t ang bayang iya’y walang kamatayan (Fortunate is the country where heroes emerge because that country will live on).”

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