BONIFACIO’S MILITANT LEGACY
by: Peter Jaynul V. Uckung
A revolution is never gentle. Most often, it destroys the intended target of forceful change. It also devours its instigators in the following power struggle which eventually comes with it. With such dire eventualities, a revolution is still a cherished solution to most social problems polarized into immobility by the legal control of whoever is in power. Because a revolution brings about a promise of immediate relief to unbearable socio-economic problems, the perceived losses to its occurrence is always considered a small price to pay.
In the Philippines, the face of Revolution is undeniably that of Andres Bonifacio’s. Mention his name and a timbre of militant agitation suddenly colors any kind of conversation. For that was the intention of the organization he (and Ladislao Diwa, Teodoro Plata and Deodato Arellano) founded – the Katipunan – on the night of July 7, 1892: to usher in social alleviation to the flight of his countrymen by revolution. Bonifacio and his friends decided to militarily confront the inflexible colonial authorities who were so seemingly impervious to any thought of reforms called upon by the Filipino intelligentsia.
During that time, the call for reforms did well in Western Europe where authorities and governments, too afraid to confront social issues through the test of force, enter into compromise with the people calling for change. Europe had just gone through the Age of Enlightenment – the popularization of social progress, rational, scientific knowledge and above all, the liberation of the will from superstitious bondage encouraged by religion. The social and political reforms that were effected in Europe became an illuminating beacon of hope and blueprint for Filipinos wanting change without bloodshed and sudden shift of status quo.
But reform-calling propagandists lacked the convincing factor of force, economic or armed. And Filipino reformists themselves were easily dealt with by force. They were arrested, imprisoned, deported, harassed and their economic privileges were curtailed. The only thing that was so convincingly shown by the call for reforms was its futility. Meanwhile, the masses continued suffering. The abuses went on relentlessly. And righteous men, at the end of their forbearance, began to plan the revolution. It is an accepted fact that the revolution succeeded in one of its original intentions – that of deposing a tyrannical and decadent government with the declaration of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898.
There was tremendous rush of political adrenalin during the formation of the Malolos Congress in 1898. The revolution opened up the floodgates barring democratic ideas. The Congress of the First Philippine Republic became the crucible of the Philippines’ finest minds in nation building. But Bonifacio, the man who breathed fire into the heart of the Katipunan was no longer around. He was executed on May 10, 1898 on orders by men he himself had inducted into the revolutionary organization. His executioners said he was a traitor. But his killing bore the indelible mark of a power struggle.
The memory of Bonifacio, nevertheless, became synonymous with social change so popular with the masses, who in the wake of the revolution (and American intervention) found themselves still tilling the lands they could not own, or working backbreaking jobs for endless hours without just compensation. The Americans vastly improved our educational system, the national health, human rights, and freedom of speech but subordinated the country’s economic interest to theirs.
A number of pre-war enacted laws animating tariffs, duties, free trade privileges designed to protect U.S. economic interest would attest to this.
There were Filipinos who believed that real sovereignty resided with the Philippines having a sound economy not dependent on that of the US.
Some of Filipinos then began to introduce revolutionary ideas well within the margins of legal procedures to remedy the centuries-old problem of economic inequity suffered by Filipino workers. It was, rightly perceived by Isabelo de los Reyes (He founded the Iglesia Filipina Independiente [Aglipay Church]) that the first step to a healthy national economy was a healthy, contented labor force. So he established the first labor union in the Philippines, whose power to win labor disputes by strikes and demonstrations became the bane of abusive business establishments. It was not strange to see the strikers and demonstrators carry the red standard of militant solidarity, which was reminiscent of Bonifacio’s original Katipunan banner.
Bonifacio impregnated the Filipino minds with the idea of militancy against legalized oppression. He taught us to hate oppression and gave us the most effective means to confront it.
It was his greatest gift.