From grade school, Filipinos are taught that the first president of the Philippines is Emilio Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo’s picture is known to young children: he’s on postcards, on the P20 bill, and every other music video of the national anthem has an actor portraying Aguinaldo raising the Philippine flag in a balcony where the Philippine independence was declared. To high school students, to get a crew cut means getting a hairstyle that’s similar to that the first president had and maintained seemingly all throughout his life.
For all this, however, it’s safe to say that most Filipinos are not aware that Aguinaldo committed one of the most infamous crimes in Philippine history: that of ordering the death Father of the 1896 Philippine Revolution Gat Andres Bonifacio. The rivalry between these two men is not widely emphasized in elementary and high school history curricula, and the extent of this rivalry even less so.
Now, 117 years after the Aguinaldo government sanctioned what turned out to be his brutal assassination, Bonifacio continues to hold a higher place in the hearts and minds of Filipinos determined to know their Philippine history and propagate what they claim to be the truth: that Bonifacio – not Aguinaldo – is the true first president of the first Philippine Republic. On May 10, 1897, Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were executed under orders from Aguinaldo, who issued a statement 50 years later saying he had authorized the death sentence as advised by members of the Council of War (there’s a photo of said statement dated March 22, 1948 in Teodoro Agoncillo’s “Revolt of the Masses”)
One of the more passionate defenders (and there are many of them, primarily historians such as professors Drs. Emmanuel Encarnacion, Ramon Villegas and Milagros Guerrero) is De La Salle University (DLSU) assistant professorial lecturer Michael Charleston Briones Chua. Chua is at the forefront of a signature campaign now being circulated among members of the academe and artists that calls on the Philippine government and its responsible agencies to recognize Bonifacio as the first president. He helped promote the Metro Manila Film Fest entry “Bonifacio: ang Unang Pangulo” that starred Robin Padilla and teen superstar Daniel Padilla (nephew to Robin) and directed by Enzo Williams.
Chua explains that his commitment to the cause of Bonifacio began in 1993 when he first read the paper of his professor Guerrero and her historian friends. He explained that it’s actually Guerrero who first floated the issue that Bonifacio was actually the country’s first president.
“I read their paper when I was younger and it made a lot of sense. Aguinaldo was sole leader of the revolution by 1897 because he was able to wrestle power from Bonifacio. And so I teach this to my students and saw that other professors believe in it as well, but until recently, it was only an academic topic. The proposition was already rejected by the historical institute in 1994 along with the petition calling for state funeral for Bonifacio. It was really a long shot.”
“We must be angry about that because Bonifacio is one of our greatest heroes, then you recognize the verdict that he was a traitor and that he divided the revolution. The one who laid down the verdict is actually the traitor and the one who divided the revolution,”
The board of the National Historical Institute, in a unanimous decision dated 7 July 1994 declared that the petition to grant a state funeral for Andres Bonifacio as the head of the Filipino Nation or State cannot be fully granted because it “necessarily reverses the verdict of death by an Aguinaldo-constituted judicial process a century ago against the Bonifacio brothers.”
In 1994, the NHI said that it did not give state honors to Bonifacio because they stood by Aguinaldo’s verdict.
“We must be angry about that because Bonifacio is one of our greatest heroes, then you recognize the verdict that he was a traitor and that he divided the revolution. The one who laid down the verdict is actually the traitor and the one who divided the revolution,” Chua said.
He went on to say that the reversal by a contemporary non-judicial act of private entities can no longer change what happened in the past.
“The state decided before that Bonifacio doesn’t deserve the honor of being president because it recognizes the Aguinaldo government’s verdict that Bonifacio was a traitor and that his execution was justified.”
In 2013, the 150th birth anniversary of the Supremo, Chua was approached by a labor alliance that said it wanted to resurrect the campaign. Chua spoke at an activity of the labor alliance, and the campaign took off as the media outlets, bloggers and historians gave their say on the issue. At the same time, a rumor went around that a government body (the National Historical Institute, some reports said) had unanimously approved plans to give Bonifacio a state funeral. Chua, however, decided to temporarily stop the campaign.
“I stopped the campaign because I was apprehensive that it might jeopardize symbolic state honors for Bonifacio. Sure, everyone agrees Bonifacio deserved state honors as Father of the Revolution, but many may not agree with the idea of him being honored as the first president. I told supporters of the campaign that we would wait for the right time, like after President Benigno Aquino’s term ends and there’s a new government.”
And then during the last quarter of 2014, the entertainment media came out with news that there would be a new film on Bonifacio. They referred to the Robin Padilla-starrer. Chua thought that it was a good time as any.
“I saw it as an important opportunity; with the movie being promoted, people will think and talk about Bonifacio,” he said. He hurriedly drafted a petition and immediately began getting signatures.
Among those who have already signed are two National Artists for Literature, Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera and Virgilio S. Almario. While the Filipino department of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman has not issued an official stand, many among its professors have signed, among them Drs. Ramon Guillermo, Luna Sicat-Cleto, Nany Kimuell-Gabriel, Pamela Constantino, Marot Flores, Nilo Ocampo, Jimmuel Naval, Jovy M Peregrino and Reuel Aguila. (The stand of the UP Diliman History Department in the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy is yet to be inquired as of this publishing. – Ed)
Doctorate holders and academics from all over the country’s top universities have also signed, such as UP Pampanga professor Lito Nunag; UP Diliman professor Ma Carmen Penalosa; Miriam College Prof. Jose Rhommel Hernandez; Associate Professor of History at the DLSU History Department Prof. Tim Dacanay who is also the Coordinator of the College of Saint Benilde-SDA Design Foundation Department and award-winning playwright of Andres Bonifacio play “Teatro Porvenir”; Cebuano cartoonist and professor at the UP College of Fine Arts Prof. Jose Santos P. Ardivill; Prof. Jerry B. Grácio, full-time Commissioner for Samar-Leyte of the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino; Prof. Lars Ubaldo, vice chairperson of the DLSU History Department and former president of the Asosasyon ng mga Dalubahasa, May Hilig at Interes sa Kasaysayan (ADHIKA ng Pilipinas), Inc; Prof. Ma. Florina Yamsuan Orillos-Juan, former Chairperson of the DLSU History Department; Dr. Antonio P. Contreras, DLSU Political Science Department; Prof. Vim Nadera, director ng Philippine National High School for the Arts; and Prof. Fernando Nakpil-Zialcita of University of Hawaii and Ateneo de Manila University.
Also, the local government units of Manila, Cotabato and Cebu have issued three city council resolutions backing calls that Bonifacio be declared the first Philippine president.
Among the evidence Chua presents is how a key military historian and expert on Katipunan documents recognized Bonifacio’s presidency and revolutionary government.
“Captain John Roger Meigs Taylor, an American military historian who compiled the documents seized from the Philippine Revolutionaries, a collection which was later known as the Philippine Insurgent Records, had this say about the leadership of Andres Bonifacio: “The Katipunan came out from the cover of secret designs, threw off the cloak of any other purpose, and stood openly for the Independence of the Philippines. Bonifacio turned his lodges into batallions, his grandmasters into captains, and the supreme council of the Katipunan into the insurgent government of the Philippines,” Chua argued.
Chua’s petition paper and explanation regarding why Bonifacio should be considered as the country’s first executive is exhaustive. This is not surprising and this should be the case – he and his co-campaigners, after all, are determined to set history straight and in waging such a war, facts and arguments should be well-documented.
The sources he cites have also been cited before his mentor Guerrero, and among them are documents that are part of the collection of historian and former director of the pre-war Philippine Library and Museum, Epifanio de los Santos. These documents primarily consisted of letters and other important papers signed by Andres Bonifacio, and these, Chua argues, fully explain Bonifacio’s revolutionary government. Other document sources are from the Archivo General Militar de Madrid (AGMM) that have more detailed information and commentary on the establishment and structure of the same.
The historians-for-Bonifacio also went through the memoirs of revolutionary figures who knew Bonifacio and where his actual contemporaries such as Santiago Alvarez, Artemio Ricarte and Pio Valenzuela, as well as all available writings that mentioned Bonifacio, the Katipunan and its workings from the NHI, and the archives of Madrid and Barcelona.
“Dr. Guerrero and those who originally started this campaign for Bonifacio’s recognition as the first Philippine president really did their research. As for us who are continuing the campaign now, we really need the backing of historians because the issue does come as a shock to many. We were always taught that Aguinaldo was the first president and that Bonifacio did not run a government, only an organization,” Chua said.
There are those who have already voiced out their stand that it’s enough that Bonifacio is a national hero.
[quote_center]“In everything he did, he was thinking of the advancement of the revolution. He was not perfect, but he was so strict about his moral code. Had he not been assassinated, he would have made a better president. He was not the dumb Supremo he was portrayed to be. He was a great organizer, a theater actor who knew the importance of symbols”[/quote_center]
“Some people say that in the genealogy, Bonifacio doesn’t deserve to be in the list of people who were president s of the Republic because many of them did not act in the interest of the people. I say that he should be recognized as the first president to show people that it’s in his standard of principles that all of the country’s succeeding presidents should emulate and follow. And it’s not his fault that all those who became president have clearly fallen short. This campaign also aims to teach the coutnry’s leaders that we should uphold what Bonifacio taught us — what true freedom means. Kalayaan is kaginhawaan, (prosperity), and kaginhawaan comes from mabuting kalooban (goodwill). Mabuting kalooban is important to have true freedom and progress. Not like what we have now, officials engaged in corruption and plunder…”
And does Bonifacio have this “mabuting kalooban”?
“Yes. In everything he did, he was thinking of the advancement of the revolution. He was not perfect, but he was so strict about his moral code. Had he not been assassinated, he would have made a better president. He was not the dumb Supremo he was portrayed to be. He was a great organizer, a theater actor who knew the importance of symbols,” he said.
And with Bonifacio at the helm of the Philippines, would the country have been very different?
“I believe so. With Bonifacio in power, the Pact of Biak na Bato wouldn’t have happened. He would never have been fooled by the Americans. He would have led the Filipino people to continue the Revolution and we would have been a sovereign Philippines. Aguinaldo and his men should have cooperated with Bonifacio and the Katipunan, but Aguinaldo et al were full of pride with their elite educated leaders. Bonifacio had a one track mind when it came to the country’s freedom, just like Apolinario Mabini and Antonio Luna – definitely no compromise with the Americans.”
In the end, while there may be small hope that the current administration will act on the calls of this campaign for the Supremo, Chua is confident that as time goes on, more and more Filipinos will come to know the continuing relevance of Bonifacio and what he and the Katipunan fought and lived for.
“To recognize Andres Bonifacio’s presidency is to recognize a form of government that is not just a copy of the Western Style democracy but a concept that came from us—to uphold puri (honor) at kabanalan (spirituality) to have real kaginhawaan that leads to true kalayaan. A much needed attitude that each of us, especially our leaders must take into heart, before we can truly walk on the road to genuine freedom and progress. And more importantly, to recognize Andres Bonifacio’s presidency is to give justice to the man who built the Filipino nation,” he said.