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.

History of Katipunan

In the Gallery