Monday, December 2, 2013

The Bare Bones of Andrew Good Fate.

I'm not big on Philippine history and national heroes, but for some reason I felt like observing Andres Bonifacio's 150th birth anniversary by watching San Andres B. A new opera boasting of a pedigreed line-up, from librettist and National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario; Prof. Chino Toledo, composer and musical director; and esteemed director Floy Quintos.

In his production notes, Quintos candidly states that San Andres B. 

"is not opera in the classical mode, nor is it a pop or rock opera. Rather, in Chino Toledo's words: it is a new new opera."

"Toledo's score captures the conflict, the struggle, the dilemma with unrelentingly jagged and edgy musical lines," he added.


I thought it was a jangly mess. The music was unmelodious, the libretto unmemorable, and there were no outstanding set pieces that, imho, immortalized what the opus was trying to say. And as a casting aside, the guy portraying Emilio Jacinto had more physical presence and stronger vocals than the one playing the eponymous lead.

Sorry, Floy. Then again: 

"In the local art scene, it is time for something unfamiliar, disturbing, strange. It is time to hear something new. I told the singers na ang dream ko for San Andres B. is, well, remember how Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' was first greeted by the audience during its premiere? Riots. Hisses. Boos and bravos! Ganun ang gusto ko mangyari,' he said."

But it's an ill wind that blows nobody good. Because I could barely make heads nor tails of what was going on in Bonifacio's life from the goings-on onstage, in between the orchestra often drowning out the singers and me nodding off like a peasant (horrors!) at the opera, I promptly researched the next day on the life of Gat Andres de Castro Bonifacio. The man who, for some people, should rightfully be regarded as the First President of the Philippine Republic.


From what little I can recall from school, I remember Bonifacio was the Great Plebeian hero, who ultimately got the short shrift and was murdered on the orders of a treacherous, power-hungry Emilio Aguinaldo. Even as a child I could not comprehend the injustice of a cold-blooded, calculating turncoat becoming President of the Republic. But since then, local history has abundantly shown that any son of a bitch (or simply a bitch, ain't it so, Madame?) can sit and lay waste to the land from the throne of Malacañang.

And if it is the victors who truly write history, then the story of Bonifacio is truly Filipino, and truly one of woe.

Unlike his illustrado counterpart Rizal, Bonifacio was a true picture of the Filipino masses. Even his life story reads like a telenovela. Born of a working-class father and a mestiza mother, young Andres had to stop schooling when his parents both died from illness. He supported his younger siblings by making canes and paper fans,as well as posters for business firms.

Bereft of further formal education, he was largely self-taught. He avoided ignorance by becoming a voracious reader, devouring anything from Victor Hugo's Les Miserablés, to his own countryman Rizal's Noli and Fili. Doubtless these novels influenced his later political and social leanings.

When he grew older, Bonifacio became a bodeguero, while acting on the side in moro-moro plays. Continuing the theme of a storied life, he was married twice: first to a woman who contracted leprosy and died. And then the second time, to Gregoria de Jesus, who bore him a son, Andres, who soon died of smallpox in infancy. This was after their house burned down during Holy Week of 1896, of course.

Needless to say, the etymology of the name "Bonifacio" is "good fate."

Bonifacio joined Rizal's short-lived La Liga Filipina, an organization which called for political reforms in the Spanish colonial government. The league was disbanded after just one meeting due to Rizal's arrest and deportation to Dapitan. On the day of Rizal's arrest - 7 July  1892 - Bonifacio and others founded the Katipunan

The Kataas-taasan Kagalang-galangan Katipunan was a secret society with links to Freemasonry, that advocated armed struggle against Spanish colonial rule. The Katipunan was composed largely of lower and middle class men, but later opened its membership to include women, as well. It was within this society that Bonifacio formed a lasting friendship with Emilio Jacinto, who would become his adviser and confidante.

Even after founding the KKK, Bonifacio continued working simultaneously with La Liga Filipina, which eventually fractured along socio-economic lines as much as ideological ones. The more conservative, wealthier members opted to support the Cuerpo des Compromisarios - political reformists located in Spain. "Radicals" from La Liga, like Bonifacio, were subsumed into the KKK.

The KKK grew so rapidly, from 300 members in January of 1896, to 30,000 by August, that it was inevitable that the Spaniards would eventually learn of the existence of the secret, seditious society. It's sad to note that it was a disgruntled Katipunero, Teodoro Patiño, who confessed to a Fr. Mariano Gil about the existence of the secret, sacrilegious Freemason-like society. 

Bonifacio wanted to launch an armed revolt as soon as possible, but Aguinaldo demurred, citing a lack of available firearms. The decision was made to consult Rizal in Dapitan, who also advised against a premature revolution and recommended more preparation.

But events soon overtook everyone, as history happens, and the Spaniards cracked down on hundreds of Filipinos - Katipunan members and innocent non-members alike. Bonifacio, Jacinto, and Guillermo Masangkay disguised themselves as sailors and boarded a ship where Rizal was being held, awaiting to sail to Cuba, where he had agreed to work as a doctor for the Spanish colonial forces in exchange for his release from Dapitan.

Bonifacio and company had wanted to rescue Rizal so he could join the revolution, but Rizal rejected their offer. Eventually, he, too would be arrested, tried and executed.•

After eluding a massive manhunt, Bonifacio called for a massing at Caloocan, where the Philippine uprising was to be launched. The "Cry of Balintawak/Pugad-Lawin" opened with a symbolic gesture of the tearing of community tax certificates: the infamous cedulas. Bonifacio reorganized the KKK into a de facto revolutionary government, with himself as President and Commander-in-Chief.

The rest, as they say, is history. But what's far more interesting to me are the footnotes, rather than the Big Picture.


There's Bonifacio's little-known National Anthem: a hymn he commissioned from Julio Nakpil entitled Marangal Na Dalit Ng Katagalugan.** Aguinaldo later rejected it in favor of an anthem he in turn had commissioned: the Marcha Nacional Filipina, which was to become the basis of the Lupang Hinirang we know today.

Then there was the infamous fracturing of the Katipunan chapters. The Magdalo, headed by Aguinaldo's cousin Baldomero Aguinaldo, and the Magdiwang, headed by Mariano Alvarez,the uncle of Bonifacio's wife, Gregoria. In time the friction between the nepotistic factions would result in a chasm that would eventually engulf Bonifacio.

There were also the shady elections at the Tejeros Convention, assembled to determine once and for all who was in charge of the fledgling Philippine government. While Bonifacio received the second highest number of votes next to Aguinaldo, the suggestion to proclaim him as Vice-President of the Biak-Na-Bato Republic was ignored, and elections proceeded. Instead, he was nominated Director of the Interior, a move contested by eternal malcontent Daniel Tirona on the grounds that Bonifacio was not a lawyer and thus could not hold that office.

So fraudulent were these elections, so marred with whispers of cheating that Bonifacio declared them null and void in his Acta de Tejeros. His rejection of the election results and his accusations of treason against its hastily-inducted President (for negotiating with the Spaniards) led to Aguinaldo promptly consolidating his power and ordering the arrest of Bonifacio.

Leading us, of course, to the infamous trial of the Bonifacio brothers, a mockery of justice resulting in their execution (some say legal murder). Prompting Mabini to declare it as criminal and the "assassination …the first victory of personal ambition over true patriotism." (Interestingly, one of Bonifacio's supposed murderers was Gen. Lazaro Macapagal, grandfather to Gloria Arroyo.)


In San Andres B., the Greek chorus repeatedly warns Andres that "Mahirap maging bayani."

They predict the future, with its treachery, disappointments, and Bonifacio's own ignoble end. And when they ask if he is willing to accept these as the price of freedom, he immediately, defiantly proclaims "Yes!"

Nothing seems to have changed much since then, from where I stand.

Which kind of makes you wonder if our heroes only die in vain. Or whether the Filipino - in his great unwillingness and/or inability to learn from history - is truly worth dying for.

And then, there's this: Police, soldiers dismantle parts of photo exhibit about Bonifacio.

Footnotes from Wikipedia:

* José Rizal is generally considered the National hero, but Bonifacio has been suggested as a more worthy candidate on the grounds of having started the Philippine Revolution. Teodoro Agoncillo writes that Rizal is a "United States-sponsored hero" who was promoted as the greatest Filipino hero during the American colonial period of the Philippines - after Aguinaldo lost the Philippine-American War. The United States promoted Rizal, who was taken to represent peaceful political advocacy, instead of more radical figures whose ideas could inspire resistance against American rule. Specifically, Rizal was selected over Bonifacio who was viewed as "too radical" and Apolinario Mabini who was "unregenerate."

** The term Tagalog historically refers to an ethnic group, their language, and script. While historians have thus tended to view Bonifacio's concept of the Philippine nation as restricted to the Tagalog regions of Luzon, as compared to Aguinaldo's view of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao (comprising the modern Philippines), Guerrero writes that Bonifacio and the Katipunan in fact already had an all-encompassing view. The Kartilya defines "tagalog" as " all those born in this archipelago; therefore, though Visayan, Ilocano, Pampango, etc. they are all Tagalogs."

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