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Bonifacio founded the Katipunan, a secret revolutionary society against Spain, on July 7, 1892. In fact it was a revolutionary government headed by him. He could have declared himself the President and no one would be against it .

Emilio Aguinaldo was the first Philippine president, according to history books, but the scandalous events that transpired before and after March 22, 1897 presidential elections would never be forgotten by those who believe that Andres Bonifacio was the legitimate first president. Bonifacio founded the Katipunan, a secret revolutionary society against Spain, on July 7, 1892. In fact it was a revolutionary government headed by him.

He could have declared himself the President and no one would be against it, but he was so humble that he assigned one of his men from time to time to the post, who could be replaced by another at Bonifacio’s discretion or behest. Finally, in 1895, Bonifacio had himself elected President or “Supremo” of Katipunan, perhaps fed up with the lackluster performance of the past presidents of the revolutionary government. So, you see, his being President was firmly established as early as 1895.

About four years after Katipunan was founded, a young man in the name of Emilio Aguinaldo would rather have his own version of Katipunan in his province, Cavite. That’s why the organization was split into two factions: Magdiwang, the original Katipunan of Bonifacio, and Magdalo, the newly formed group of Aguinaldo. To resolve the issue of who was going to lead, a presidential election was held in the bailiwick of Aguinaldo, of course. Aguinaldo was so confident (or playing safe?) that he did not even show his face in that momentous event.

As expected, Aguinaldo was elected President and Bonifacio, Director of the Interior. Being a good sport, Bonifacio was satisfied with the election results. But then, something very obnoxious happened. Daniel Tirona, a Magdalo loyalist, questioned the educational qualifications of Andres Bonifacio saying that the position held by Bonifacio should be given to an educated man, particularly to a lawyer. What could be a greater insult to the Supremo who started it all! He was about to shoot Tirona but an Aguinaldo loyalist held his hand.

Bonifacio was quick to realize that the ugly head of politics was glaringly evident and working against him. He declared the election null and void and left the damned place. He was pursued by Aguinaldo’s men, and the rest is dark history.


The historical assessment of Bonifacio involves several controversial points. His death is alternately viewed as a justified execution for treason and a "legal murder" fueled by politics. Some historians consider him the rightful first Philippine President instead of Aguinaldo. Some historians have also called that Bonifacio share or even take the place of José Rizal as the (foremost) Philippine national hero. The purported discovery of Bonifacio's remains has also been questioned.

Trial and execution

Historians have condemned the trial of the Bonifacio brothers as unjust. The jury was entirely composed of Aguinaldo's men; Bonifacio's defense lawyer acted more like a prosecutor as he himself declared Bonifacio's guilt and instead appealed for less punishment; and Bonifacio was not allowed to confront the state witness for the charge of conspiracy on the grounds that the latter had been killed in battle, but later the witness was seen with the prosecutors. Teodoro Agoncillo writes that Bonifacio's declaration of authority in opposition to Aguinaldo posed a danger to the revolution, because a split in the rebel forces would result in almost certain defeat to their united and well-armed Spanish foe.

In contrast, Renato Constantino writes that Bonifacio was neither a danger to the revolution in general for he still planned to fight the Spanish, nor to the Revolution in Cavite since he was leaving; but Bonifacio was definitely a threat to the Cavite leaders who wanted control of the Revolution, so he was eliminated. Constantino contrasts Bonifacio who had no record of compromise with the Spanish with the Cavite leaders who did compromise, resulting in the Pact of Biak-na-Bato whereas the revolution was officially halted and its leaders exiled, though many Filipinos continued to fight (though Aguinaldo, unofficially allied with the United States, did return to take charge of the revolution during the Spanish-American War).

Historians have also discussed the motives of the Cavite government to replace Bonifacio, and whether it had the right to do so. The Magdalo provincial council which helped establish a republican government led by one of their own was only one of many such councils in the pre-existing Katipunan government. Therefore, Constantino and Alejo Villanueva write Aguinaldo and his faction may be considered counter-revolutionary as well – as guilty of violating Bonifacio's constituted authority just as they considered Bonifacio to violate theirs.

Aguinaldo's own adviser and official Apolinario Mabini writes that he was "primarily answerable for insubordination against the head of the Katipunan of which he was a member". Aguinaldo's authority was not immediately recognized by all rebels. If Bonifacio had escaped Cavite, he would have had the right as the Katipunan leader to prosecute Aguinaldo for treason instead of the other way around. Constantino and Villanueva also interpret the Tejeros Convention as the culmination of a movement by members of the upper class represented by Aguinaldo to wrest power from Bonifacio who represented the middle and lower classes.

Regionalism among the Cavite rebels, dubbed "Cavitismo" by Constantino, has also been put forward as motivation for the replacement of Bonifacio. Mabini considered the execution as criminal and "assassination...the first victory of personal ambition over true patriotism." He also noted that "All the electors [at the Tejeros Convention] were friends of Don Emilio Aguinaldo and Don Mariano Trías, who were united, while Bonifacio, although he had established his integrity, was looked upon with distrust only because he was not a native of the province: this explains his resentment."

There are differing accounts of Bonifacio's manner of execution. The commanding officer of the execution party, Lazaro Macapagal, said in two separate accounts that the Bonifacio brothers were shot to death, which is the orthodox interpretation. Macapagal's second account has Bonifacio attempting to escape after his brother is shot, but he is also killed while running away. Macapagal writes that they buried the brothers in shallow graves dug with bayonets and marked by twigs.

However, another account states that after his brother was shot, Bonifacio was stabbed and hacked to death. This was allegedly done while he lay prone in a hammock in which he was carried to the site, being too weak to walk. This version was maintained by Guillermo Masangkay, who claimed to have gotten this information from one of Macapagal's men. Also, one account used to corroborate this version is of an alleged eyewitness, a farmer who claimed he saw five men hacking a man in a hammock. 

Historian Milagros Guerrero also says Bonifacio was bayoneted, and that the brothers were left unburied. After bones said to be Bonifacio's – including a fractured skull - were discovered in 1918, Masangkay claimed the forensic evidence supported his version of events. Writer Adrian Cristobal notes that accounts of Bonifacio's captivity and trial state he was very weak due to his wounds being left untreated; he thus doubts that Bonifacio was strong enough to make a last dash for freedom as Macapagal claimed.[45] Historian Ambeth Ocampo, who doubts the Bonifacio bones were authentic, thus also doubts the possibility of Bonifacio's death by this manner.

Bonifacio as first Philippine President

Some historians such as Milagros Guerrero, Emmanuel Encarnación, and Ramón Villegas have pushed for the recognition of Bonifacio as the first President of the Philippines instead of Aguinaldo, the officially recognised one. This view is based on his position of President/Supremo of the Katipunan revolutionary government from 1896–97. This view also emphasises that Bonifacio established a government through the Katipunan before a government headed by Aguinaldo was formed at the Tejeros Convention. Guerrero writes that Bonifacio had a concept of the Philippine nation called Haring Bayang Katagalugan ("Sovereign Tagalog Nation") which was displaced by Aguinaldo's concept of Filipinas. In documents predating Tejeros and the First Philippine Republic, Bonifacio is called the president of the "Tagalog Republic".

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".

In their memoirs, Emilio Aguinaldo and other Magdalo people claim Bonifacio became the head of the Magdiwang, receiving the title Harì ng Bayan (“King of the People”) with Mariano Álvarez as his second-in-command. However, these claims are unsupported by documentary evidence. Carlos Quirino suggests these claims stem from a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of Bonifacio’s title Pangulo ng Haring Bayan (“President of the Sovereign Nation”). Santiago Álvarez (son of Mariano) distinguishes between the Magdiwang government and the Katipunan Supreme Council headed by Bonifacio.

Bonifacio as national hero

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 notes that the Philippine national hero, unlike those of other countries, is not "the leader of its liberation forces". Renato Constantino 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."

Historian Ambeth Ocampo gives the opinion that arguing for Bonifacio as the "better" hero on the grounds that he, not Rizal, began the Philippine Revolution, is moot since Rizal inspired Bonifacio, the Katipunan and the Revolution. Even prior to Rizal's banishment to Dapitan, Rizal was already regarded by the Filipino people as a national hero, having been elected as honorary president by the Katipunan. Leon Ma. Guerrero notes that while Rizal did not give his blessing to Bonifacio because he believed the time was premature, he did not condemn the aim of independence per se. Teodoro Agoncillo gives the opinion that Bonifacio should not replace Rizal as national hero, but they should be honored "side by side".

Despite popular recognition of Rizal as "the Philippine national hero", the title itself has no explicit legal definition in present Philippine law. Rizal and Bonifacio, however, are given the implied recognition of being national heroes because they are commemorated annually nationwide – Rizal Day on 30 December and Bonifacio Day on 30 November. According to the website of the National Center for Culture and the Arts:

Despite the lack of any official declaration explicitly proclaiming them as national heroes, [Rizal and Bonifacio] remain admired and revered for their roles in Philippine history. Heroes, according to historians, should not be legislated. Their appreciation should be better left to academics. Acclamation for heroes, they felt, would be recognition enough.

Bonifacio's bones

In 1918, the American-sponsored government of the Philippines mounted a search for Bonifacio's remains in Maragondon. A group consisting of government officials, former rebels, and a man reputed to be Bonifacio's servant found bones which they claimed were Bonifacio's in a sugarcane field on 17 March. The bones were placed in an urn and put into the care of the National Library of the Philippines. They were housed at the Library's headquarters in the Legislative Building in Ermita, Manila, together with some of Bonifacio’s papers and personal belongings. The authenticity of the bones was much disputed at the time and has been challenged as late as 2001 by Ambeth Ocampo. When Emilio Aguinaldo ran for President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines in 1935, his opponent Manuel L. Quezón (the eventual victor) invoked the memory of Bonifacio against him, the bones being the result of Bonifacio's execution at Aguinaldo's hands. During World War II, the Philippines was invaded by Japan in 1941. The bones were lost due to the widespread destruction and looting during the Allied capture of Manila in February 1945.
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