(Re)reading Andres Bonifacio from Obscurity

Luis Bienvenido Foronda
3 min readOct 15, 2020

Andres Bonifacio, the Filipino plebeian hero, is popularly epitomized in works of Carlos “Botong” Francisco’s Cry of Balintawak (or Cry of Pugad Lawin) mural and Guillermo Tolentino’s sculpture in Monumento.

Two of Teodoro Agoncillo’s books, The History of the Filipino People (1990) and Revolt of the Masses (2017) depict Bonifacio in this subtle way.

This ‘veneration without understanding’, to borrow from Renato Constantino, relinquishes in the idea the man himself was a plebeian, a proletariat, a complicated individual engaged with the inarticulate masses.

A panel of Carlos “Botong” Francisco’s Cry of Balintawak at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila.

This was the representation of a nationalist view in our history that Constantino and Agoncillo were both trying to represent.

It was done to portray the character of the masses as having a revolutionary consciousness born under three centuries of colonial oppression.

Yet surprisingly neither of these fad representations is anything like his only known photograph.

The celebrated hero, in his americana, taken during his wedding day.

Botong’s depiction was just “imagined” and Tolentino’s sketch was part of his consultation work as an “espiritista.”

This morning, I started rereading Floro Quibuyen’s A Nation Aborted (2008) as part of my efforts to gain a grasp of what Agoncillo was trying to point out in the Revolt of the Masses.

I came across this statement from Quibuyen,

“The discursive practice of contemporary historians in positing a dichotomy between elite/ilustrado and folk/masses is seriously flawed and needs to be rethought. The basic flaw is that when one dichotomises, one also homogenises — each is a corollary of the other. Practically all scholars take for granted the fundamental conflict between ilustrado and the masses — as if there were no ideological struggles within each of the classes.”

The only known photograph of Andres Bonifacio.

Quibuyen’s statement clears up the image of Bonifacio from having to pit the elite consciousness and politics against those of the masses.

He clears up, once and for all, the confusions and errors of Agoncillo and Constantino.

According to Quibuyen, Agoncillo’s proposition that Bonifacio saw the La Liga Filipina and the Katipunan were two separate entities seem to be falsely construed as this was not the case.

Agoncillo depicted the KKK as a “distinctively plebeian society” and described Bonifacio as “almost illiterate and belonging to the lowest class of society.” He was neither.

Andres Bonifacio’s father was a teniente mayor (vice mayor). His parents had enough means to send him to a private tutor in the locale.

As a young man, Bonifacio was literate enough in Spanish to be successfully employed in Manila as an agent and a broker for two multinational firms. His wife, Gregoria was the daughter of the gobernadorcillo of Caloocan.

Making Bonfacio far closer to “the center of the social pyramid than to its base, closer to the petty bourgeoisie than the proletariat.”

Bonifacio was educated enough to read about Rizal or understand the French Revolution and its underpinning factors.

Bonifacio is also recognised as the first Filipino to translate Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell) into the vernacular.

Quibuyen ends, “The tendency, deriving from a vulgar Marxism, to categorise the ilustrado as a homogenous class with a unitary ideology obscures more than it illuminates. Trapped in this hermeneutic straitjacket, one fails to discern, even on an empirical level, the pivotal personal experiences that could have had an impact on consciousness.

Teodoro Agoncillo, The Revolt of the Masses: A Story of Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan (Diliman: University of the Philippines Press): 1, 283–284.

Floro Quibuyen, A Nation Aborted: Rizal, American Hegemony and Philippine Nationalism (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press): 15, 37–39.