by Maria Cielito Reyno

      On the night of 7 July 1892, a group of men gathered on Azcarraga Street in Manila to organize a secret society whose aim was to wrest, through armed means, the freedom of the Filipinos from the hands of their oppressors.  Earlier that day the repressive colonial government announced the banishment to Dapitan, of the Filipinos’ foremost campaigner for reforms- Jose Rizal.  To the other campaigners, this setback was but the final nail hammered in the casket of reformist struggle which had been carried out by the Propaganda leaders Rizal, Del Pilar, Lopez Jaena and Ponce.  Four days earlier Rizal had made one last effort for the reformist campaign by organizing the La Liga Filipina, whose ultimate aim was the equalization of rights between Filipino natives and the Spaniards.  Among those who joined Rizal at the La Liga founding was one named Andres Bonifacio, a warehouseman in a foreign-owned firm, a man who lacked the educational attainment or intellectual brilliance of his fellow La Liga organizers but more than made up for it with his driven desire to take part in the campaign to change Philippine society.  But while he joined Rizal in his reformist quest, Rizal whom he had idolized from afar, whose works he had read with a passion and whose teachings he took to heart and tried to live by, Bonifacio knew—knowledge borne by lifelong deprivation– that peaceful struggle and its aim of genuine Philippine assimilation into Spanish society had become untenable.  And Rizal’s banishment on July 7 only confirmed that the eleventh hour had arrived: the goal of assimilation had given way to separation; peaceful ways had given way to armed struggle.  Thus on the night of July 7 1892, Bonifacio along with five other kindred souls gathered to organize the Kataastaasang Kagalanggalang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan –the Highest and Most Respectable Society of the Sons of the People- eventually known simply as the Katipunan, its aim- Philippine independence; its means- revolution.

       Seemingly from out of nowhere Bonifacio appeared on the scene of the struggle for change in Philippine society led by the Propagandists.  He was not of their league for he had attained an education that today according to one historian would be equivalent to only fourth grade.  He joined freemasonry and through it learned of the ideals of equality, brotherhood and liberty among men regardless of color, education or creed.  Among his fellow masons was Deodato Arellano who was his housemate.  Through Arellano he met the latter’s brother-in-law Marcelo del Pilar, stalwart of the Progaganda.  Through the movement he got exposed to La Solidaridad, its mouthpiece, where he read the articles of Jaena, del Pilar, and Rizal.  Thus when Rizal made the call to join a formal organization that would finally bring about change in society, Bonifacio was among those who heeded the call.

       But who would have thought that a man who was not equal to his comrades in terms of wealth, education or old-world sophistication was the man who would take the struggle for social change and was inspired by the love of his fellow Filipino to a higher level.  Bonifacio saw what the others did not see, refused to acknowledge or were resigned to a pervasive sense of despair: that a new world of freedom, where justice, compassion and a meaningful life reigned- was possible.  And that the Filipino despite his ignorance, his destitution, his utter lack of resources- was capable of creating that world with his own hands, with no need of leaders- only courage and hope for a better future that are borne of self-sacrifice and confidence in his fellow Filipino.

        As the reformist movement died out, with its leaders either dying, giving up, arrested or banished, Bonifacio took his nation’s future into his own hands and made his fellow Filipinos see that freedom from hunger, poverty, and injustice was a reality that was not beyond their grasp.  By organizing the Katipunan, he infected them with this vision and thereby planted the seeds of the Revolution.  Despite del Pilar’s last-minute conversion from reformist to revolutionist, or the refusal of the Mabini and other Liga members to join him in the Katipunan, he went ahead and followed his dream.

 And so the Katipunan spread out from Manila to its suburbs and other provinces in Luzon, as far north as the Ilocos region and south as Bicol, and reaching even Panay in the Visayas.  In 1896, four years after organizing the Katipunan, despite Rizal’s warning that it was foolish to launch a revolution without arms or the support of the wealthy, Bonifacio went ahead and issued the call to begin the revolution.  For, the Father of the Revolutiong and the Filipinos knew they had nothing to lose but their shackles.