There's not much hoopla surrounding Bonifacio Day, to be honest. Some people celebrate it by visiting a Bonifacio monument or two, but that's about it. Still, for those of you who are curious about the significance of this holiday, here's what you need to know about the Supremo — as well as the events that shaped him into a man to be remembered by the Filipino people.
During the Middle Ages, the world was fought over by European powers, two of which were Portugal and Spain. To avoid the violence which inevitably comes with such disputes, these Iberian countries signed the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the world as such: All lands to the east go to Portugal, while all the lands to the west go to Spain.
Based on the treaty, the Philippine Islands technically belonged to Portugal. However, when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered the islands in the name of King Charles I (also known as "Carlos I") of Spain in 1521, the king decided to take the islands for himself. Nonetheless, it wasn't until Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in 1565 that the Philippines officially became a Spanish colony.
Of course, this colonization didn't always go so smoothly. When Magellan tried to negotiate with the natives of Mactan Island (located south of what is now known as Cebu) led by Lapu-Lapu, the former was killed in the skirmish that followed. And because the Spaniards often treated the natives so poorly, they would see more violent rebellions throughout the 333 years of their stay in the Philippines. None of those rebellions, however, would even come close to succeeding on a national scale.
That is, until Andres Bonifacio came along.
A Brief Bio of the Supremo
Born on November 30, 1863, Andres Bonifacio was the eldest son of Santiago Bonifacio and Catalina de Castro. He grew up in Tondo, Manila, where he spent the first years of his life being taught by his mother's sister, before being enrolled in a private school under Guillermo Osmeña. However, when his parents died, he dropped out of school at the tender age of 14 to support his five younger siblings.
To do that, he handcrafted paper fans, which he sold and expanded into a family business. He also worked for foreign firms like the British "Fleming and Company," and the German "Fressell and Company." While juggling these jobs, he managed to find time to voraciously consume books like the ones about the French Revolution, the Presidents of the United States, and — most notably — Jose Rizal's notorious novels "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo."
Both novels were banned by the Spanish administration due to their subversive content. In "Noli Me Tangere," for example, the protagonist is a young man named Crisostomo Ibarra. Fresh from a European education, Ibarra comes back to the Philippines, hoping to establish a school in his home country. Unfortunately, he gets blocked at every turn by the machinations of corrupt friars, and loses his loved ones in the process.
Embittered by these experiences, Ibarra resurfaces as the morally bankrupt jeweler Simoun in "El Filibusterismo," where he attempts to launch a violent revolution to overthrow the government. Clearly, Bonifacio took plenty of inspiration from this novel (though it should be noted that Simoun not only fails with the revolution, but also dies at the end).
At first, Bonifacio was a member of "La Liga Filipina," an organization founded by Rizal which sought reforms from the government. But when Rizal was arrested and exiled to Dapitan shortly after the organization was established, Bonifacio took the reins for himself — along with other notable Filipinos like Apolinario Mabini.
Eventually, he would found the "Kataas-taasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan" ("Highest and Most Respected Society of the Nation's Children") or Katipunan ("Society") for short. The organization — the members of which are pictured above — kept their existence secret through an elaborate system of codes and passwords. Presumably, Bonifacio learned this system from his time as a member of the Freemasons.
Through word-of-mouth, and through a publication called "Kalayaan" ("Freedom") penned by Bonifacio under the pseudonym "Agapito Bagumbayan," the Katipunan eventually spread from Manila to Luzon, Visayas and even Mindanao.
Naturally, an organization of that size couldn't be kept secret for long. When the Spanish authorities began to arrest suspected Katipunan members in 1896, and executed Jose Rizal as a supposed instigator of the revolution, Bonifacio rallied his troops to a place in Caloocan. There, they tore apart their "cedulas" (community tax certificates) to signal the start of the revolution.
The Katipunan moved fast. First, they launched a coordinated attack against Manila, the capital. They also attacked other places in what would now be known as the Mega Manila area — most notably Cavite, Bulacan and Morong. For a moment, it seemed the revolution would succeed.
Unfortunately, politics got in the way. In Cavite, where the Katipunan rebellion was most successful, the organization was split into two factions: the Magdalo, led by allies of Emilio Aguinaldo (who would later become the Philippines' first official president) and the Magdiwang, led by Bonifacio's allies. Historians still debate about the exact nature of the split, so we won't get into too much detail about that.
At any rate, Bonifacio was arrested and found guilty of treason by Aguinaldo and his allies. Along with his brother Procopio, the Supremo of the Katipunan was executed in the mountains of Maragondon on May 10, 1897. Bonifacio was only 33 years old.
In spite (or because of) the controversies surrounding him, Bonifacio remains an important figure in Philippine history to this day. He is, more than anything else, a symbol of the Filipino spirit at its most courageous. By commemorating the date of his birth, we hope to rekindle — even for just a day — that same fire which drove the Supremo to change the country's history forever.