Courage and betrayal-A A +A
Wrapped in Grey
Friday, September 27, 2013
BURIED deep in our collective psyche as a nation is the gruesome death of Andres Bonifacio, contender to the throne of national hero, allegedly the first president of the nation, and regarded as a proletarian revolutionary leader. He was shot in an altercation with rival factions of the Katipunan. While in his wounded state lying on a hammock, he was reportedly hacked to death in the mountains of Cavite in May 1897.
Bonifacio's execution and that of two of his brothers were done under the orders of rival Emilio Aguinaldo in what historians consider to be an act of betrayal by the elitist faction that the general from Cavite headed.
For this to happen to Bonifacio at the moment of birth of the Filipino nation speaks much about our roots and history as a people. Bonifacio was the leader who founded the KKK or the Katipunan, the first group who posed a formidable armed resistance that was national in character to thethree hundred years of Spanish rule. If Rizal inspired Filipinos to finally stand up to colonial abuse and seek sovereignty with his novels, Bonifacio provided the organizational platform for the emerging nationalist consciousness and resistance with his Katipunan. As the first Supremo and president of the group, he deserves to be regarded as the first President of the Republic, a title which is now officially accorded to the one who betrayed him and had him executed.
These matters reveal an interesting facet to our narrative as a people. On the one hand, Bonifacio stands tall among the long line of courageous Filipinos who sought independence and sovereignty in the context of colonial rule. But his gruesome fate also tells of the long history of betrayal committed by our elite against the Filipino masses.
For instance, amid the social and economic pressures of colonialism, it was our co-opted datu class who ensured that the extractive agenda of the Spaniards through direct taxation was met. It was the imposition of land ownership over what used to be communitarian ways which caused our elite to shift allegiance from being a leadership for the interests of the people to one that is for private gain in partnership with our colonial rulers.
They now became landlords who appropriated the land and its produce for themselves and their colonial patrons, transforming the once free men and women of the community to landless peasants trapped in a system of debt peonage.
When the demands of the world economy shifted toward the production of raw materials, our landed elite looked toward the new masters of the emerging global manufacturing economy such as England and America. Some historians argue that the material and economic basis of the revolution of 1896 was not essentially between the colonial rulers and its subjugated peoples. But in fact it was fueled mainly by the desire of our landed elite to appropriate friar land to be transformed into agrarian capitalist ventures for their gain as well as for the new colonial interests' profit.
From this point of view, Bonifacio and his executioner, Aguinaldo though belonging to the same armed resistance, actually represent competing class interests. Coming from working class origins, the Supremo sought total sovereignty and independence from colonial rule, an agenda that many of his followers pursued even after his death. Whereas elite leaders such as Aguinaldo at a certain point welcomed the new American colonial interests since it complemented their own agenda of extracting profits from land.
This history of betrayal of our elite against the Filipino masses has been a consistent feature of our history since then. Our elite has continued to hold on to land and resources for their private gain at the expense and marginalization of the landless peasant class and they have secured dominance and control over the various resources of state power both local and national for this end. Scholars have described our elite as essentially rent-seeking or extractive bereft of any outlook for national development.
Andres Bonifacio and his gruesome death thus stand as a reminder of the betrayal of our elite. He also represents the courage of the Filipino masses and their continuing struggle for real independence and sovereignty not just from colonial rulers but also against a predatory ruling class.
This explains Bonifacio's problematic status as a national hero vis-a-vis Aguinaldo and even Rizal. Like a continuing nightmare, the circumstances of his death constantly challenge our national subconscious to face the lessons of history. On the occasion this year of the 150th anniversary of Andres Bonifacio's birth this coming November 30, 2013, it is best to reflect on the tragic lessons of his short and heroic life as a guide in continuing his and, more than a century later, our unfinished revolution.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 27, 2013.