I FIND it interesting that while Rizal Day remembers the death anniversary of Jose Rizal, Bonifacio Day, which we celebrate in a couple of days, commemorates the birth of Andres Bonifacio. I think its because while the death of Rizal is one that we might consider as heroic death, Bonifacio’s death is clouded in mystery and intrigue.
It fascinates me how we choose to remember our heroes and the events in their lives. Sometimes we practice what I call collective and selective amnesia. We remember the good stuff and ignore the bad stuff. Rizal Day commemorates the heroic sacrifice of Rizal for the sake of the country. Bonifacio’s death was a result of an intramural political controversy (Magdalo vs. Magdiwang, Tejeros convention, etc.) that resulted in the arrest, conviction and execution of the founder of the Philippine revolution.
Despite Bonifacio’s “un-heroic” death, his heroism is embedded in the life that he lived. I have always had a special affection towards Bonifacio not just because of his bravery in leading the revolutionary struggle against the Spanish colonial empire but because of how he overcame the struggles in his own life and became the hero that he was.
Andres Bonifacio was born on November 30, 1863 in a small hut at Calle Azcarraga, presently known as Claro M. Recto Avenue in Tondo, Manila. Bonifacio, then barely fourteen, assumed the role of parents when they were orphaned. His other siblings were Ciriaco, Procopio, Troadio, Esperidiona and Maxima.
He made crafts and sold paper fans and canes. He also worked as a messenger and as a warehouse man. He never finished formal schooling but he was self-taught. He read a lot of books and taught himself Tagalog and Spanish. He never allowed their impoverished situation to define his future.
To me, this is a very important component of his heroism. He could have just focused on working and supporting his siblings. He could have justifiably decided that solving the problems of the country had to take a back seat to the problems of feeding his family. But Bonifacio offered his talents and his life not just for the well-being of his siblings but for the good of all Filipinos. It’s easy to overlook this fact given our focus on the revolution that he started but it was his character and virtue that made him a hero.
It is something that young Filipinos today can learn a lot from. You do not have to lead an armed uprising or take up arms in order to become a hero. Developing that character that allows you to believe in your ability to overcome the hardships in your life is enough personal achievement to be proud of. When you decide not to allow what you are today to define your future then that is the beginning of the road towards success.
Andres Bonifacio died on 10 May 1897. Together with his brother Procopio, the founder of the Revolution that would give birth to the first Republic in Asia, was shot at Mount Nagpatong, near Mount Buntis in Maragondon, Cavite. It was an unceremonious end to a significant life.
But history has a way of correcting life’s existential inequities. Today, Bonifacio is synonymous to courage, to fighting for freedom, to independence. His life – the way he overcame poverty and the way he led a people to their freedom – is exemplary and heroic. That is why I have a special affinity towards the Supremo more than anyone in our pantheon of heroes. Somehow, I can relate to the kind of life he lived. It helped a lot of course that he is also from Tondo and the entrepreneurial vigor he displayed to be able to support his family. Bonifacio was a self-made man. He was not born to an influential family. He was not rich. He did not have the opportunities that a luxurious life provided. And yet, he made his life mattered better than anyone else in his – or even the future – generation.