Andres Bonifacio

Who is Andres Bonifacio?

A Filipino revolutionary hero who founded the Katipunan, a secret society which spearheaded the uprising against Spain and laid the groundwork for the first Philippine Republic.

Andres Bonifacio, was given the distinct honor of being the architect and the father of the first nationalist revolution in Asia, the Filipino Revolution of 1896. He authored the uprising against Spain who set into motion the emancipation of a people who had been colonized and abused for over 300 years.

Andres Bonifacio was born to a working class family on November 30, 1863, to his hard-working parents: his father, Santiago Bonifacio (a tailor) and his mother, Catalina de Castro (a cigarette factory worker).

By birth he was already identified with the plight of the masses. He grew up in the slums of Tondo, a district of the city of Manila outside the walled City of Intramuros (inhabited by those in power – the friars and the high government officials). Tondo was a dynamic community of workers, stevedores, small entrepreneurs, and merchants. This land of the poor, the underprivileged and the oppressed was a melting pot to all in search of a new life. From practical experience, he knew the actual conditions of the class struggle in his society.

The death of his parents forced him to take over the support of his 3 brothers and 2 sisters at age 14; he was forced to drop out of school and had an urgent task to care for his family.

A life of poverty and hard work strengthened his capacity for sacrifices and his tolerance for difficult challenges, but did not dampen his spirit.

Tondo, circa 1875 -  1877; The Bonifacios lived in a simple nipa hut much like the ones shown here.

Tondo, circa 1875 – 1877; The Bonifacios lived in a simple nipa hut much like the ones shown here.

This did not allow him to lose sight of the bigger issues and concerns enveloping the country at large.

He initially earned a living by making bamboo canes and paper fans which he himself peddled. But the meager income from handcrafting was hardly sufficient for his family’s marginal existence. Despite limited skills and the lack of formal education, he landed a job as a messenger at a British firm called Fleming and Company and later as a warehouse keeper at a foreign trading firm, Fressel & Company.

To someone, naturally self-reliant and eager to learn and absorb new things, this new environment gave him the opportunity to learn the Spanish language by listening to Spanish conversations to expand his vocabulary and improve his facility in the medium.

It gave him access to a wealth of literature available in Spanish and the bigger world of writers and philosophers. He was an avid reader, absorbing the teachings of classic nationalism from the works of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew, books on the French revolution, the lives of the Presidents of the United States which reinforced his exposure to liberal thoughts and his passion for liberty and equality.

Most discernable influence in the shaping and conduct of Bonifacio was Rizal’s graphic portrayal of the miserable conditions of the time in his two novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Rizal’s novels were more than literary masterpieces for Bonifacio, they were a portrait of a society in agony, a mirror of his own sense of oppression, but more than this it placed a sharper focus on the tragic state of a forsaken people. In those days how could anybody who has read these novels and have been a victim of injustice not have a heightened awareness?

Rizal’s works intensified Bonifacio’s revolutionary spirit, absorbing every thought, internalizing every message. In such a situation, one ceases to be a passive reader, one becomes a witness to a force of an idea.

This led him to join the Liga Filipina, organized by Rizal in 1892 for the purpose of uniting and intensifying the nationalist movement for reforms. But the Liga was dissolved upon the arrest and the banishment of Rizal in 1892.

Bonifacio then formed an underground secret society through the use of secret codes and passwords called the Katipunan in 1892. The Kataas-taasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Supreme and Venerable Society of the Children of the Nation) provided the rallying point for the people’s agitation for freedom, independence and equality.


Bonifacio Cry of Pugadlawin 1896

The Katipunan patterned its initiation rites after the Freemasonry, which Bonifacio was a Freemason. The organization had its own structure, law system and system of government. Symbols, crypto logic languages, clandestine rituals marked the Katipunan’s operations.

From the society’s inception, Bonifacio was one of the Chief Officers and in 1895, he became the Presidente Supremo.

Katipunan seal with Andres Bonifacio's signature

Katipunan seal with Andres Bonifacio’s signature

The Katipunan quickly grew in popularity and by 1896 had more than 30,000 members. It was on this same year that the Spanish colonial authorities discovered the existence of the secret society and were considering steps to eradicate it.

Bonifacio on the other hand together with his other members were planning how best to revolt against the Spanish. On August 23, 1896, Bonifacio and his fellow Katipuneros tore their cedulas (residence certificate) which was marked as the historic “Cry of Balintawak” which actually occurred in Pugadlawin. Thus, it is also called “Sigaw ng Pugadlawin”. This marked the beginning of the Philippine revolution.

But the Katipuneros suffered a major defeat when they met the firepower of the Spaniards. They realized they badly needed guns and ammunitions. It was obvious that the initial battles of the Katipunan were tactical blunders

On the other hand, another group of revolutionaries, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, were able to resist the Spanish and were able to control over some towns, so Bonifacio attempted to recruit Aguinaldo as part of the group.

However, conflict split the rebels into 2 groups, the Magdiwang (under Bonifacio) and Magdalo (under Aguinaldo) So, theTejeros Covention (also known as Tejeros Assembly or Tejeros Congress) was held, this was a meeting held between the Magdiwang and Magdalo factions of the Katipunan on March 22, 1897. The convention was called to discuss the defense of Cavite against Spaniards during the Philippine revolution, instead the convention became an election to decide the leaders of the revolutionary movement, bypassing the Supreme Council, headed by Bonifacio.

Aguinaldo was elected as President and Bonifacio was elected Director of Interior. Aguinaldo took his oath of office together with the other elected officers with the exception of Bonifacio after which Aguinaldo had him arrested and charged with treason.

At Limbon, a barrio of Indang, Cavite, the soldiers of Aguinaldo attacked Bonifacio and his party. Bonifacio was wounded and his brother Ciriaco was killed. With him too, were his wife, Gregoria de Jesus and another brother Procopio.

A court martial was immediately ordered by Aguinaldo upon the arrest of Bonifacio and his brother. It was presided over by Gen Mariano Noriel. The trial was for high crimes of treason and sedition.

It was obvious from the start that Bonifacio could not obtain justice from the military court of Aguinaldo. Bonifacio was convicted by his enemies and in 1897 was executed. It is ironic that Bonifacio died in the hands of Filipino rebels.

Bonifacio’s death was in the nature of martyrdom. He was sacrificed in the name of political expediency.

Today he is remembered for his contribution to Philippine Independence and his role in starting the Philippine revolution.

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History of Katipunan

The word “katipunan” literally means “association”, and comes from the root tagalog word “tipon” meaning “gather together” or loosely “society”.

Before the Katipunan, Bonifacio had subscribed to the idea that meaningful changes could still be gained through peaceful means, thus he was one of those who responded to Rizal’s call to form the La Liga Filipina, a reformist organization, which gave Bonifacio valuable insights into the dynamics of fighting for a cause.

But on July 7, 1892, upon learning that Rizal was arrested and to be deported, a secret council was convened where Andres Bonifacio, Teodoro Plata (brother-in-law), Ladislao Diwa, Valentin Diaz, Deodato Arellano, Jose Dizon and a few other members of La Liga Filipina, came to the agreement that a revolutionary secret society must be founded, thus the virtual death of the La Liga Filipina gave birth to the Katipunan on the same day, the Kataas-taasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Supreme and Venerable Society of the Children of the Nation) was born. Bonifacio arrived at a radical conclusion that it was pointless to ask Spain for reforms.

The objectives of the Katipunan as brotherhood were threefold: political, moral and civic. They advocated for freedom from Spain to be achieved through armed struggle. They also saw it as their responsibility to help the poor and the oppressed, teach them good manners, hygiene and morality.

This secret brotherhood organization thrived as an underground society through the use of secret codes and passwords. Symbols, cryptologic languages, and clandestine rituals marked the Katipunan’s operations. These necessary tools ensured that the Spanish remained unaware of their plans. The organization had its own structure, law system and system of government. The Katipunan was dedicated to the development of its surrounding community; it established mutual aid societies, and forms of education for those who would not have been previously able to afford it.

Most of the Katipunan’s founders were freemasons. The Katipunan patterned its initiation rites after the Masonry, but its ideological principles was derived from the French revolution and can be judged radical in its materialistic-historical orientation. It also had a hierarchy of rank that was similar to that of freemasonry. It directed attention to the unjust class structure of the colonial system, the increased exploitation of the indigenous population and collective need to affirm the strength of the working masses.

The Katipunan had four major aims, namely:

  • To develop a strong alliance with each and every Katipunero
  • To unite Filipinos into one solid nation
  • To win Philippine independence by means of an armed conflict (revolution)
  • To establish a republic after independence

It was the original plan of Bonifacio to increase its membership by employing the Sistemang Patatsulok or Triangle system, a system of enlistment wherein a recruiter would ask only two members to join, this was to ensure that growth would be discreet. Only the recruiter would know the names of both recruits while the recruits would not know each other. Thus the organization is encapsulated into three-man units. Bonifacio formed his first triangle with his two comrades, Teodoro Plata and Ladislao Diwa.


Katipunan Structure

But the triangle method provided for slow growth so around October 1892, it was decided that members would be allowed to recruit as many persons as they could.

The organizational structure of the Katipunan entailed three ranks of membership, starting out as Katipon (member), then, moving up to Kawal (soldier), and eventually to Bayani (patriot). Members were to pay an entrance fee and a membership fee.

They formed small branches called Sangguniang Balangay and these small branches would form larger provincial councils, governed by the Sangguniang Bayan. All these would be overseen by the Kataastaasang Sanggunian (Supreme Council) which was composed of the Pangulo (president), Kalihim(secretary), Tagausig (fiscal), Tagaingat Yaman (treasurer) and six Kasanguni (councilors).

The legislative body of the Katipunan was known as the Katipunan Assembly, and it was composed of the members of the Supreme Council, along with the presidents of the popular and provincial councils.

Judicial power rested in the Sangguniang Hukuman which were provincial courts that decided on internal matters, however, judgement on grave matters (such as betraying the Katipunan or committing acts penalized by the organization’s laws were meted by the “Secret Chamber”, composed of Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto, and Pio Valenzuela.

Although Bonifacio was one of the prominent members of the Katipunan, he was not its first Supremo or President of the Supreme Council. The first President was Deodato Arellano elected on July 15, 1892. It was not until January 5, 1894 when Bonifacio would become the Supremo, and was the Supremo at the outbreak of the 1896 revolution.

It was also in 1894 when a young law student from the University of Santo Tomas by the name of Emilio Jacinto joined the Katipunan. He intellectualized the society’s aims and formulated the principles of the society as embodied in its primer, called Kartilla. It was written in tagalog and every recruit would commit to it by heart. Jacinto would later be called the “Brains of the Katipunan”.

The Katipunan also had its official organ called Kalayaan (Freedom), which was edited by Jacinto but only one edition of the paper was issued, the second was prepared but was never printed due to the discovery of the society.

The women also rendered valuable services to the Katipunan. At first, it was purely a patriotic society for men but due to the growing suspicion of the women regarding the nocturnal absences of their husbands and the reduction of their monthly earnings and “long hours of work”, Bonifacio had to bring them into the realm of the KKK. To become admitted one must be a wife, a daughter or a sister of a Katipunero. They guarded the secret papers and documents of the society. They also served as distractions for the civil guards when the Katipuneros were having their meetings as if they were only having harmless social parties.



Over the next four years, the Katipunan founders would recruit new members. By the time the society was uncovered, historian, Teodoro Agoncillo estimated the members to have increased to around 30,000 in 1896, the Ilocano writer, Isabelo de los Reyes estimated membership from 15,000 to 50,000.

Aside from Manila, the Katipunan had sizable chapters in Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija and smaller chapters in Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan and the Bicol region.

In planning the revolution, Bonifacio contacted Rizal for his full-fledged support for the Katipunan in exchange for a promise of rescuing Rizal from his detainment but Rizal refused the offer and did not want to have anything to do with the revolution.

On May 1896, a delegation was sent to the Emperor of Japan to solicit funds and military arms.

Rumors about the secret revolutionary society had been in circulation but no evidence could be found to support them. The big break for the Spanish authorities came when on August 19, 1896, a KKK member, Teodoro Patino told his sister Honoria about the existence of the Katipunan, who was then living with the nuns in a Mandaluyong orphanage. Patinio was a worker in the printing press of Diario de Manila.

The information upset Honoria that she told the orphanage’s Mother Superior, Sor Teresa de Jesus, so they went to see and told Fr. Mariano Gil, the parish priest of Tondo, who in turn accompanied the Guardia Civil to the printing press of Diario de Manila. They searched the premises and found evidence of the Katipunan’s existence. The printing press was padlocked and hundreds of suspected KKK members were arrested.

On August 23, 1896, Bonifacio and his fellow Katipuneros tore their cedulas (residence certificate) and shouted: “Long Live the Philippines”which marked the beginning of the revolution. This was called the “Cry of Balintawak” which actually occurred in Pugad Lawin. This is also called “ Sigaw ng Pugad Lawin”.

The Katipunan Organizational Structure

The organizational structure of the Katipunan entailed three ranks of membership, with new members starting out as “katipon,” then moving up to “kawal” and eventually to “bayani.” Members were to pay an entrance fee of one real fuerte, a unit of currency equal to 1/8 of a silver real peso, as well as monthly dues and other fees paid exclusively to the Benefit Fund and collected at every session or meeting.


It was generally believed that they formed small branches, governed by the sangguniang balangay, and these small branches would form larger provincial councils, governed by the sangguniang bayan. All these would be overseen by the Supreme Council of the Katipunan (Kataastasang Sanggunian), which was composed of a president (pangulo), secretary (kalihim), fiscal (tagausig), treasurer (tagaingat yaman), and six councilors (kasanguni).


Katipunan Org Structure

Recruitment methods:

[Hasik:] “triangle” method

Members were to recruit two new adherents (who would not know each other but only the original member who took him in), thus building a network of “triangles.” This was to ensure that growth would be discreeet, while at the same time ensure that the new recurits would closely adhere to the principles of the Katipunan.

Two-tier sanggunian structure

The triangle methold provided for slow growth. Aound October 1892, it was decided that members would be allowed to recruit as many persons as they could.

New recruits to the secret society underwent a rigorous initiation process, similar to Masonic practices.

A neophyte, dressed in black and accompanied by his sponsor, was brought to a small room decorated with patriotic posters in front of a cabinet draped in black.

An admonition was posted at the entrance of the room:

“if you have strength and valor, you can proceed, if what brought you here is only curiosity, retire. If you cannot control your passions, retire. Never shall the doors of the Supreme and Venerable Society of te Sons of the People be opened to you.”


He was then seated at a dimly-lit table, on which rested a bolo, a revolver, and a set of questions which he must answer to the satisfaction of the members assembled

  • What was the condition of the Philippines in the early times?
  • What is the condition today?
  • What will be the condition in the future?

The candidate was expected to respond that the Filipinos were once independent, and that the Spaniard colonizers had not improved the conditions of the Philippines, but that soon the Philippines would be free once more.

The master of ceremonies would once more try to discourage him by telling him to back down if he does not have enough courage; should he persist, he is led blindfolded into another room for a physical test.

The final test was the sandugo (blood compact). The recruit was asked to make a small cut on his left forearm with a sharp knife, and then sign the Katipunan oath in his own blood. Afterwards, the new member chose a symbolic name for himself. For example, Bonifacio was called “May pag-asa” (Hopeful).

The Kartilya ng Katipunan (Primer of the Katipunan) served as the guidebook for new members of the organization, which laid out the group’s rules and principles. The first edition of the Kartilya was written by Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto will later pen a revised Decalogue.

(Tunay na Pamagat: “Sa May Nasang Makisanib sa Katipunang Ito”)

Ang kabuhayang hindi ginugugol sa isang malaki at banal na kadahilanan ay kahoy na walang lilim, kundi damong makamandag.

Ang gawang magaling na nagbubuhat sa pagpipita sa sarili, at hindi talagang nasang gumawa ng kagalingan, ay di kabaitan.

Ang tunay na kabanalan ay ang pagkakawang gawa, ang pagibig sa kapua at ang isukat ang bawat kilos, gawa’t pangungusap sa talagang katuiran.

Maitim man at maputi ang kulay ng balat, lahat ng tao’y magkakapantay: mangyayaring ang isa’y higtan sa dunong, sa yaman, sa ganda…, ngunit di mahihigtan sa pagkatao.

Ang may mataas na kalooban inuuna ang puri sa pagpipita sa sarili; ang may hamak na kalooban, inuuna ang pagpipita sa sarili sa puri.

Sa taong may hiya, salita’y panunumpa.

Huwag mong sayangin ang panahun: ang yamang nawala’y mangyayaring magbalik; ngunit panahung nagdaan na’y di na muli pang magdadaan.

Ipagtanggol mo ang inaapi; kabakahin ang umaapi.

Ang taong matalino’y ang may pagiingat sa bawat sasabihin, at matutong ipaglihim ang dapat ipaglihim.

Sa daang matinik ng kabuhayan, lalaki ay siyang patugot ng asawa’t mga anak: kung ang umaakay ay tungo sa sama, ang pagtutunguhan ng inaakay ay kasamaan din.

Ang babai ay huwag mong tignang isang bagay na libangan lamang, kun di isang katuang at karamay sa mga kahirapan nitong kabuhayan; gamitan mo ng boong pagpipitagan ang kaniyang kahinaan, at alalahanin ang inang pinagbuhatan at nagiwi sa iyong kasanggulan.

Ang di mo ibig na gawin sa asawa mo, anak at kapatid, ay huag mong gagawin sa asawa, anak at kapatid ng iba.

Ang kamahalan ng tao’y wala sa pagkahari, wala sa tangus ng ilong at puti ng mukha, wala sa pagkaparing kahalili ng Dios, wala sa mataas na kalagayan sa balat ng lupa: wagas at tunay na mahal na tao, kahit laking gubat at walang nababatid kun di ang sariling wika, yaon may magandang asal, may isang pangungusap, may dangal at puri; yaon di nagpapaapi’t di nakikiapi; yaong marunong magdamdam at marunong lumingap sa bayang tinubuan.

Paglagalap ng mga aral na ito at maningning na sumikat ang araw ng mahal na Kalayaan dito sa kaabaabang Sangkapuluan, at sabugan ng matamis niyang liwanag ang nangagkaisang magkakalahi’t magkakapatid na ligayang walang katapusan, ang mga ginugol na buhay, pagud, at mga tiniis na kahirapa’y labis nang natumbasan.

  1. A life that is not dedicated to a noble and divine cause is like a tree without a shade, if not, a poisonous weed.
  2. A deed that is motivated by self-interest or self-pity and done without sincerity lacks nobility.
  3. True piety is the act of being charitable, loving one’s fellowmen, and being judicious in behavior, speech and deed.
  4. We are all equal, regardless of the color of their skin; while one could have more education, wealth or beauty than the other, none of them can overpass one’s identity.
  5. A person with a noble character values honor above self-interest, while a person with a base character values self-interest above honor.
  6. To a person that respects, his/her word is a pledge.
  7. Do not waste your time; lost wealth can be retrieved, but time lost is lost forever.
  8. Defend the oppressed and fight the oppressor.
  9. A wise man is someone who is careful in all that he says; learn to keep the things that need to be kept secret.
  10. In the thorny path of life, the man leads the way and his wife and children follow; If the leader goes the way of evil, so do the followers.
  11. Never regard a woman as an object for you to trifle with; rather you should consider her as a partner and a friend in times of need; Give proper considerations to a woman’s frailty and never forget that your own mother, who brought you forth and nurtured you from infancy, is herself such a person.
  12. Do not do to the wife, children and brothers and sisters of others what you do not want others to do to your wife, children and brothers and sisters.
  13. A (person’s) worth is not measured by his/her status in life, neither by the length of his nose nor the fairness of skin, and certainly not by whether he is a priest claiming to be God’s deputy. Even if he is a tribesman/tribeswoman from the hills and speaks only his/her own tongue, a (person) is honorable if he/she possesses a good character, is true to his/her word, has fine perceptions and is loyal to his/her native land.
  14. When these teachings shall have been propagated and the glorious sun of freedom begins to shine on these poor islands to enlighten a united race and people, then all the loves lost, all the struggle and sacrifices shall not have been in vain.
Katipunan seal with Andres Bonifacio's signature

Katipunan seal with Andres Bonifacio’s signature

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