Sunday, June 12, 2011

Jose Rizal turns over the "spiritual" and "moral" leadership to Bonifacio

An excerpt from my book, " Bagong Istorya: Great Stories in Philippine History"



Binundok church

That evening was as clear as day, as if the moon was giving its immaculate light to those who were meeting at the Friar estate’s house in Imus.

It was the first time in many months that both factions, the Magdiwangs and the Magdalos met to discuss a most important matter—a rescue plan for then imprisoned Dr. Jose Rizal. Rizal is to be executed the next day, and the Katipuneros wanted nothing more but to liberate him from his jail cell in Fort Santiago.

Top leaders of the Katipunan, led by the Supremo, was there, seen conversing with the martyr’s brother, Paciano. The Supremo came a few days prior, to mediate on a most serious concern—leadership of the revolution and the proposed formation of a government that would replace the secret society. Many Magdalos did not recognize the existing leadership and the government formed in Caloocan, despite the recognition of majority of the Katipuneros.

Nothing was achieved, because all their thoughts were of the brave doctor. Rizal, it seems, is still the highest official of the Filipino masons at that time, and most of them are members of the secret society. Had Paciano agreed, the Katipuneros could have snatched Rizal from the clutches of the Spanish authorities and history would have probably been different. [i]

Rizal is still the driving Spirit behind the revolution. He, somehow, exerts a very strong influence in the leaders of the Katipunan, especially the Supremo. The Supremo shares Rizal’s passion for the liberation of the country. The arrest of the doctor have credence to the Supremo’s beliefs that only through a radical revolt would the Filipinos be able to wrest control of political power from the colonizers.

When news of Rizal’s deportation spread, the Katipuneros offered the good doctor a way out. Valenzuela offered to spring him from his exile. Rizal refused. And now that he was about to be executed, the Katipuneros again offered him liberty. The doctor refused.

Was Rizal sacrificing his life for the revolution? It seemed like it.

Execution of Dr. Rizal
Rizal was not actually opposed to a revolt. The Supremo initially rebuked him for opposing the revolt. The good doctor was not a counter-revolutionary, no, far from it.  Miguel de Unamuno in "Rizal: the Tagalog Hamlet", described Rizal as "a soul that dreads the revolution although deep down desires it. He pivots between fear and hope, between faith and despair."[ii]. And the Supremo recognized the cause of Rizal’s hesitation. The martyr want nothing more than sure victory.

Despite the initial victories, the major push so to speak, eluded the Katipunan. Several towns were still under Spanish control. And the organization itself was facing a very serious leadership issue.

Shortly after his defeat in San Juan del Monte, Bonifacio and the rest of the Katipunan leadership retreated to the forests of Morong, Kalookan and Malabon. The assault in the polverin, however, was not a tactical defeat. The successive assaults by the Katipuneros in various parts of Manila left the Spaniards with no choice than to re-distribute their forces. Most of the Spanish regulars were assigned to Manila to fight the Katipuneros, leaving Cavite defenseless. This explains why Aguinaldo’s forces quickly occupied former heavily fortified Spanish garrisons in Noveleta, Imus and Kawit without stiffer resistance.

When the Katipuneros retreated to the mountains of Morong, the Spanish forces were able to regroup. Polavieja divided his army. He placed the bulk of it in Cavite where he engaged Aguinaldo’s  army. And one by one, the once Katipunan-dominated towns fell back into Spanish possession.

While Aguinaldo’s forces weakened, the Bonifacio-led government established in August 26 in Kalookan slowly re-organized itself into a more effective war government. An order signed by Bonifacio dates December 16, 1896, redefined the hierarchy of the Katipunan war organization. Bonifacio ordered the formation of battalions called Katipons composed of 203 men.

Fact is, before he left for Cavite sometime in November of 1896, Bonifacio had issued letters of instruction, appointing people in sensitive military positions in the Katipunan army. In a letter dated December 3[iii] which emanated from the Katipunan High command, Bonifacio appointed Isidoro Francisco as head of the Katipunan Northern Command, with Julio Nakpil as his secretary. The Northern High Command takes control of all Katipunan forces in Manila, Bulakan, Morong and Nueva Ecija.

Contrary to earlier beliefs that Bonifacio’s hold over the Katipunan weakened after the San Juan del Monte tragedy, pieces of historical evidence give us a new perspective that the Katipunan even grew in strength and numbers after the Battle of Pinaglabanan.

In a letter dated December 1896 proved that  the Katipunan was then, in historical fact, was transformed into a Haring Katalugan led by Bonifacio. That letter instructed Katipuneros to donate funds to the Katipunan which was then, transforming into a bigger, more lethal, government. [iv]

Another letter dated December 12, 1896 letter is significant for two (2) things: First, it clearly established that Bonifacio still commands an army of around 60,000 regular Katipuneros. Second, the letter was written after he visited the towns of Cavite, those liberated from Spanish rule. [v] Bonifacio’s visit in Zapote Cavite for which he was feted like a king, showed how influential Bonifacio was even when Aguinaldo had declared himself the undisputed leader of the revolution in Cavite. 

The Invitations

Shortly after the twin victories of the Katipunan in Cavite by the Magdiwang and Magdalo groups, the Katipuneros had invited Bonifacio to go to Cavite. Twice he rejected the invitation since Bonifacio was busy engaging the enemy in Morong.

On December 1, 1896, together with his wife and brothers Ciriaco and Procorpio, General Lucino and 20  soldiers went to Cavite. The visit of Bonifacio was significant. He was visiting Cavite as the Supremo, the Katipunan’s highest distinction.

While Bonifacio was in Cavite, the Spanish forces continued to suffer defeats. Governor-General Blanco tried but failed to defeat the Katipuneros. He declared publicly that the colonial government wanted nothing more than a good government for the Filipinos. Blanco wanted to coax the Filipinos to peacefully surrender. The tactic failed.

Blanco’s reconciliatory policy did not sit well with the Spanish friars. Manila archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda and the Provincials of the religious orders, used all possible means, including bribery to bring down Blanco. They even sent a telegram to their fellow friars in Madrid calling for Blanco’s ouster.

On December 13, 1896, the Madrid government decided to replace Blanco with a more vigorous and iron-fisted Camilo Garcia de Polavieja. Polavieja was a brutal general. He ordered the Spanish soldiers not to take prisoners and execute all rebels.

With 16,000 men armed with Mausers and one field battery, Polavieja swiftly moved against the Katipunan forces in Cavite. Their superior firepower outclassed and outgunned the valiant Katipuneros.

The Second Trip to Cavite

Four days later, on December 17, Mariano Alvarez of the Magdiwang Council again invited Bonifacio to Cavite. At first, the Supremo disagreed. But upon the prodding of General Artemio Ricarte, the Supremo made the trip. Bonifacio went to Imus and stayed in the house of a Katipunero, Juan Castaneda. [vi]

Early signs of Aguinaldo’s Treachery

Prior to Bonifacio’s trip to Zapote, there were already indications of Aguinaldo’s treachery. News reached the Supreme Council that a Jesuit superior by the name of Pio Pi, wrote to Aguinaldo about the possibility of armistice. [vii] Reports also reached the Supremo that Aguinaldo was arranging for peace talks with the Spanish authorities, [viii]something which the Supreme Council of the Katipunan did not allow. Curiously, even, the Spanish authorities tried but failed to rouse a rift between the Katipuneros by considering Aguinaldo as the “chief of the rebellion” instead of the Supremo.

When the Supremo and the rest of the Magdiwang Council learnt of Aguinaldo’s attempts to broker peace with the Spaniards, they rejected Aguinaldo’s actions. Bonifacio, instead of confronting the issue head on, disputed with the Supremo over strategic troop placements and blamed him for the supposed capture of Silang.  It was then that the Supremo formed a very strong suspicion that Aguinaldo was willing to surrender the revolution.[ix] Fact is, the Supremo even suspected Aguinaldo of being a Spanish spy.

The visit was, therefore, not just for the Supremo to broker peace between the Magdiwangs and the Magdalos—it was also a move to counter what Aguinaldo did in Imus when he declared a revolutionary government, a direct contravention to the existing Katipunan revolutionary government headed by Bonifacio.  Aguinaldo’s manifesto was a direct challenge to Bonifacio’s legitimacy as the Supreme leader.

Bonifacio’s legitimacy at that time was never overtly questioned. Contrary to some assertions that Bonifacio’s prestige as a leader waned shortly after the Battle of Pinaglabanan, the warm welcome given to him on his second day in San Francisco de Malabon belied this.

On the morning, Bonifacio was visited by Emilio Aguinaldo with his brother, Baldomero, Daniel Tirona and Vicente Fernandez of the Magdalo Council. When Bonifacio saw Fernandez, the Supremo ordered his immediate arrest. Bonifacio accused Fernandez of abandonment and treachery and negligence after he abandoned his post which led to the defeat of the Katipuneros in the August 29 encounter. Bonifacio’s order, however, was ignored and taken as a joke. [x]

Major Esteban San Juan then invited Bonifacio to visit Noveleta. Together with Aguinaldo, the Supremo visited the newly secured town. Together with Jacinto, the Supremo had been driven on a tour of inspection in a luxurious carriage pulled by a swift, well-fed white horse. The Supremo was greeted by a brass band, fireworks, firing of rifles in the air and shouts of “Long live the Supremo!” Afterwards, the group visited San Francisco de Malabon and was greeted in a similar fashion with a Te Deum by Fr. Manuel Trias, a Katipunero. [xi]

But the acclaim with which he had been honored, the Supremo sadly observes here, had awakened in a few hearts the “worm of envy”, and already he had become the target of falsehoods and malicious intrigues. 

In the latter part of December 1896, Bonifacio went to Cavite with his wife and brothers Procopio and Ciriaco.  They were personally met in Zapote by Aguinaldo and other leaders. Bonifacio was received enthusiastically by the CaviteƱos.

However, in his memoirs, General Artemio Ricarte recounted that a few days after Bonifacio’s arrival, black propaganda against Bonifacio in the form of anonymous letters circulated all over Cavite.  The letters described him as unworthy of being idolized.  The letter writers called him a mason, an atheist, an uneducated man, and a mere employee of a German firm. [xii]

Daniel Tirona, a close Aguinaldo associate, was identified as the source of the derogatory letters. The Supremo confronted Tirona at the house of Col. Santos Nocon in San Francisco del Monte. Bonifacio demanded an explanation to which Tirona ignored. Provoked, Bonifacio got his revolver and aimed it at Tirona. Cooler heads intervened. Mariano Alvarez and some of the women presented prevailed Bonifacio from shooting the cocky Tirona. [xiii]

The Imus Assembly

On December 31, the Imus assembly was convened to determine the leadership in the province.  The purpose was to end the rivalry between the two factions.  The Magdalo group wanted a revolutionary government to supplant the Katipunan.

A Magdalo, Edilberto Evangelista presented a draft Constitution. The draft was rejected after the delegates noticed that it was just a poor copy of the Spanish Maura Law. Such an idea was objected to by the Magdiwang faction that maintained that the Katipunan already had a constitution and by-laws recognized by all.  The meeting ended without a resolution of the conflict. The two groups, however, never really openly fought for the leadership, in deference to Paciano Rizal, the brother of Rizal who was also there.  

It was also in this meeting that the Supremo was given the carte blanche authority to restructure a government if needed, and to create a committee that would form a revolutionary government. The Supremo was also given the authority to head this committee. When Bonifacio asked for papers to authenticate this decision, no papers were given to him. [xiv]

The Conferment of Leadership

For Josephine Bracken, it must have been heart wrenching seeing her lover’s body falling to the ground. When a volley of bullets from the Spanish Remingtons and Mausers hit Rizal, the martyr tried to twist his body when he heard the shout of “fuego”. Rizal might have caught several bullets when he faced his executioners. Coates wrote that Rizal’s body jerked and for a split second, his body remained upright. Then it swung around dead as it fell and landed on its back, his sightless eyes staring at the rising sun. As he fell, one of the Spanish officers went near him and finished him off with a bullet in the head. A white dog with an eye patch was said to have circled Rizal’s body several times, whining and tried to rouse him from his deathly stupor.

Rizal’s body was taken to a shallow grave in the cemetery of Paco, Manila. No one really knew where, but one of his sisters, discovered it and put a marker, with the martyr’s initials written in reverse.

Everyone knew that Rizal desired nothing more than martyrdom. Even in his last days, Rizal fought for his innocence.

Shortly after his execution, Rizal’s widow, Josephine and sister Trining asked Paciano to accompany them to the Supremo. They arrived at the Katipunan headquarters at San Francisco de Malabon shortly around noon.

The widow and the sister finally saw the Supremo. The entire Katipunan leadership had just learned of the execution. Everyone felt outraged. Their silence however, when they saw the martyr’s widow, sister and brother was more of reverence rather than anger.

When the widow arrived at the house of Mrs. Estefania Potente, the Supremo greeted them with reverence. Everyone saluted. Some cried. Others raged inside, but did not show their emotions, out of deference to the deceased relatives. 

Josefina spoke to the Supremo and gave him two small sheets of folded paper. They found these inside the burner they took from Dr. Rizal when they last visited him at Fort Santiago.

One was the “Mi Ultimo Adios” written in very fine Spanish script and the other, an English manuscript which was translated by Mr. Lorenzo Fenoy from Batangas. The Supremo asked permission to translate the poem into Tagalog. The widow agreed.

The widow and her sister-in-law, however, sadly narrated how they failed to get the other message which was inside the left shoe of the martyred doctor. Trining failed to get near the body of the slain doctor due to tight security. What was that thing buried with Rizal? No one knew even up to this day. [xv]

That meeting was a symbolic gesture among the Katipuneros that the martyred doctor wanted the Supremo to lead the revolution. The widow and the martyr’s sister and brother did not bother to meet Aguinaldo. Instead, they met the Supremo who was then, at that time, being maligned and being questioned for his leadership.

Paciano joined the Katipuneros as a General while the widow became one of those who took care of the sick and wounded. Foreman writes that Josephine also fought in the arena of battle, riding on horseback with a Mauser rifle. She reportedly killed many Spanish officers. After the Spaniards recaptured Cavite, she was given free passage to Hongkong in May 1897 where she died.[xvi]

The Katipuneros waged a very intense battle against the Spaniards. Towns fell and most were governed by the Katipuneros.


[i] Alvarez, 71
[ii] Miguel de Unamuno, "The Tagalog Hamlet" in Rizal: Contrary Essays, edited by D. Feria and P. Daroy (Manila: National Book Store, 1968)
[iii] Mataas na Pamunuan Letter dated December 3, 1896.Source: Archivo General Militar de Madrid: Caja 5677, leg.1.119
[iv] Mataas na SangunianDemand for donations, c. December 1896.Source: Archivo General Militar de Madrid: Caja 5677, leg.1.128.
[v] Archivo General Militar de Madrid: Caja 5677, leg.1.120
[vi] Alvarez, p. 67.
[vii] Aguinaldo, Emilio (1964), Mga gunita ng himagsikan, Manila.
[viii] Guerrero, Milagros; Schumacher, S.J., John (1998), Reform and Revolution, Kasaysayan: The History of the Filipino People, 5, Asia Publishing Company Limited, ISBN 962-2582-28-1.pp. 180, 190.
[ix] Ibid, p. 190.
[x] Alvarez, 67; Ricarte, 32
[xi] Alvarez, 67.
[xii] Alvarez, 68
[xiii] Alvarez, 69
[xiv] Constantino 1975, pp. 182–184 and Guerrero 1998, pp. 187–191.
[xv] Alvarez, 72