TO TAKE THE NECESSARY STEPS TO RECOGNIZE ANDRES BONIFACIO AS THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES (BONIFACIO: UNANG PANGULO)
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(Excerpt of full petition that was published in Esquire Philippines March 2015 issue)
As early as 1993, there was already a position made by established Katipunan experts and historians Dr. Milagros Guerrero, Ramon Villegas and Emmanuel Encarnacion that Andres Bonifacio, not General Emilio Aguinaldo, was the first president of the Philippines. They cited the fact that by the time the Philippine Revolution erupted in 24 August 1896, the Katipunan was not a just a mere organization but was transformed into a revolutionary government according to documents. And as the leader of the Katipunan at that time, he became its president.
According to Guerrero, Villegas and Encarnacion, “The governments that succeeded Bonifacio’s essentially republican Katagalugan government could only proceed from it.” The fact was that Aguinaldo’s leadership of the Revolution derived its authority from having wrestled it from the Supremo of the Katipunan by his execution in Cavite in May of 1897.
The date and the significance to the Aguinaldo government of the start of the revolution was underscored by the preamble of the provisional constitution for the Biak-na-Bato Republic: “The separation of the Philippines from the Spanish monarchy and their formation into an independent state with its own government called the Philippine Republic has been the end sought by the revolution in the existing war, begun on the 24th of August, 1896.”
The date and the election that happened during the start of the revolution was corroborated by a draft document of Bonifacio’s appointment of Mariano Alvarez as over-all chief of all the revolutionary forces in the province of Cavite dated 26 August 1896 in Kalookan: “Ayon sa pinagkaisahan sa ginanap [na] pulong ng Kataastaasang Kapisanan [noong] ikadalawang puo’t apat nitong umiiral na buan tungkol sa paghihimagsik (revolucion) at sa pagkakailangang maghalal ng magsisipamahala sa bayan at mag aakay ng hukbo…”
This was also corroborated by the memoirs of General Santiago Alvarez, which was based on numerous testimonies he collected, when he mentioned that during the 24 August 1896 meeting of the Kataastaasang Kapisanan at the barn of Tandang Sora in Bahay Toro, Kalookan, Bonifacio assigned ranks and positions in the army. Further giving evidence that on that day he formalized the establishment of the Revolutionary Government with its own army that was different from the Katipunan as a mere secret organization.
Bonifacio Leadership Functioned As A Government
The lack of historical material on the Katipunan government with only a few surviving documents was suddenly augmented by the recent access that we have to about 150 Katipunan documents that the guardia civil veterana confiscated during the Philippine Revolution that are now stored at the Archivo General Militar de Madrid (AGMM). Historian and Katipunan expert Jim Richardson compiled some of them with notes in his book The Light of Liberty: Documents and Studies on the Katipunan, 1892-1897. Although Richardson himself admits that, “the documents do not spring any huge surprises,” and that the geographic area of the source of the documents only came from the area of Southern Tagalog specifically the provinces of Manila and Cavite, the documents were important because they showed that Katipunan actually had a centralized working government. The different letters, decrees and minutes from different chapters of the Katipunan and from Bonifacio himself proves that fact that the Katipunan as an organization by 1896 was in itself working like a government, a system which was already in place when the Kataastaasang Kapisanan decided to start the revolution and formalize the government.
In he Katipunan documents, the highest decision making body, higher even than the Kataastaasang Sanggunian (Supreme Council—composed by President Bonifacio and his council) was the Kataastaasang Kapisanan (Supreme Assembly), which was composed of the Supreme Council along with the presidents of the many hukuman or chapters (the Sangguniang Bayan and the Sangguniang Balangay which were not under any Sangguniang Bayan). But Richardson pointed to the fact that in the 1897 documents, in the seals of the Haring Bayang Katagalugan, the term Kataastaasang Kapisanan is replaced by Kataastaasang Kapulungan, which also meant Supreme Assembly, but in a more stately fashion. In my opinion, this is a way for Bonifacio and his people to distinguish the revolutionary government from the government of the Katipunan as an organization, but retaining many of the same structures.
A line from the film El Presidente was delivered by the Bonifacio actor to the Aguinaldo actor, “Wala na ang Katipunan sa Maynila… Pero dito buhay pa ang himagsikan sa Cavite.” This is a historical blunder. Nothing could be further from the truth as retrieved AGMM documents show. One example of Bonifacio’s government functioning in the Province of Manila would be the Northern District with Isidoro Francisco as Mataas na Pangulo. Based in Pantayanin, Pasig, this Mataas na Sanggunian had jurisdiction over Katipunan group in the provinces of Manila, Morong, Bulacan and Nueva Ecija. Richardson in his book lists some of the AGMM documents that show a functioning government:
1. A letter dated 3 December 1896 from the High Executive (Mataas na Pamunuan) informing chapters to assemble at Pantayanin for a planned attack on Pasig on 11 or 12 December.
2. A letter dated 8 December 1896 from Emilio Jacinto to Isidoro Francisco instructing him about taking care of gunpowder and giving guns only to people loyal to the cause and other preparations for the attack on Pasig.
3. A letter dated 12 December 1896 from Andres Bonifacio, who was already in Cavite, to the High Military Council in the Northern District about lost guns and prosecuting those who took them, congratulating them in helping in the Katipunan victory in Antipolo, ratifying election of military officers and other concerns.
4. A letter dated 15 December 1896 from the High Council informing chapters to attend a meeting to elect six council members with attached results of the 17 December election.
5. A record of meeting by the High Council dated 18 December 1896 presided by the Kataastaasang Pinunong Hukbo Emilio Jacinto on preparations for the planned attack on Pasig.
6. A letter dated 23 December 1896 from Emilio Jacinto to the High Council of the Northern District asking a release of a Katipunan offender and inquiring about electric batteries and his plans to test them with dynamites.
7. A demand for donations written about December 1896 from the High Council, identifying themselves with the Haring Bayang Katagalugan.
8. A certificate of christening of a certain Patrisia, 23 February 1897 presided by Julio Nakpil and attended by Jacinto, et.al.
9. A certificate of marriage of Geronimo Ignacio to Julia Saguisag, February 1897 presided by Julio Nakpil and attended by Jacinto, et.al.
10. Draft appointment from the high council dated February 1897 of Felicisimo Frineza as fiscal of Binangonan, Morong, in accordance with the authority vested by the “Kataastaasang Pang Ulo ng Haring Bayang Katagalugan.”
11. A letter dated 11 April 1897 from Emilio Jacinto to Julio Nakpil asking for news about weapons from Japan or Hongkong.
12. A letter dated 18 September 1897 from the High Council soliciting donations, signed by Julio Nakpil from Sta. Ana, closer to Intramuros, four months after Bonifacio’s death.
Despite the lack of existing documents, whatever was left in the AGMM papers and the Bonifacio-Jacinto letters at the Emmanuel Encarnacion collection is enough to clearly prove a working government, with jurisdiction over Katipunan areas, was still in touch with the Kataas-taasang Pangulo, Andres Bonifacio, even a few days before his arrest in Cavite, and continued on after his death independent of Aguinaldo’s government.
Jim Richardson clearly sums up the obvious: “…in late 1896 and early 1897 the High Council did function as a form of local government in some areas, particularly to the East of Manila and in the Sierra Madre foothills. Its leaders both civil and military, organized elections, made appointments, planned and fought battles with the Spanish enemy, solicited funds for the revolutionary cause, and tried to deal with the consequences of the fighting on the civilian population.”
Moreso, the Katipunan government also had a diplomatic component. A commission based abroad tried to negotiate for Japanese political, military, and financial aid and they also contacted US and French consulates in Hong Kong.
Finally, historians Milagros Guerrero and Zeus Salazar in different publications affirmed Bonifacio’s over-all command of the Katipunan army and that he was the one strategizing for the Katipunan in the national perspective, in contrast to Aguinaldo’s Cavite tactical operations in the onset of the revolution.
Defining Haring Bayan As The Sovereign Nation
The key to understanding Andres Bonifacio’s government is to know the spirit or the meaning of the name Haring Bayan. What is a Haring Bayan?
Contrary to Aguinaldo’s insinuation in his memoirs that Haring Bayan means King of the Bayan (Hari ng Bayan), Bonifacio was cited by General Santiago Alvarez in his memoirs when he defined Haring Bayang Katagalugan as, “…na mula sa Ktt. Pamunuan ng Katipunan, hanggan sa kababa-babaan, ay nagkakaisang gumagalang sa pagkakapatiran at pagkakapantay-pantay; namumuhunan ng dugo at buhay laban sa Hari, upang makapagtatag ng sarili at malayang Pamahalaan, na sa makatwid, ay mamahala ang Bayan sa Bayan, at hindi ang isa o dalawang tao lamang. (Italics mine)”
Also, the secretary of Aguinaldo, Carlos Ronquillo y Valdez in his Ilang Talata tungkol sa Paghihimagsik (Revolucion) nang 1896-97, translated Aguinaldo’s Biak-na-Bato Republic as “Pamahalaan ng Haringbayang (sic) Katagalugan”: “Dito rin [Biak-na-Bato], nang kailangan na ng panahon[,] uling pinag-ayos ang natatayong ‘Pamahalaan ng Haringbayang Katagalugan[’], na binigyan ng lalong masaganang kinang na kumislap sa kanyang bagong Konstitusyon… noong unang araw ng Nobyembre nang 1897…”
Also, a handwritten Tagalog draft of Apolinario Mabini’s Reglamento de la Constitucion del Gobierno Revolucionario on 23 June 1898, the organic decree that established the revolutionary government of Aguinaldo after proclaiming independence, mentioned Haring Bayan as the Tagalog equivalent of Republica, take note, in bold highlights: “Ang Atasan Tigalagda (Gobierno Dictatorial) buhat ng̃ayon kung turan ay Atasan panghihimagsik (Gobierno Revolucionario) na ang tunay na nais ay ang pakikidigma ng̃ upang matiwalag itong Filipinas hanggang sa mg̃a ibang Kaharian sampo ng̃ España ay kanilang kilalanin ang pagkahiwalay at ihanda sa bayan ang bágay na kakailang̃anin ng upang matatag ang tunay na Haring bayan (Republica).” However, in the published decree, the word was omitted.
If there are two existing Aguinaldo related-documents equating Haring Bayan into the sovereign nation, then it is a recognition that Bonifacio’s Haring Bayan had the spirit of a national government and in fact, they derive their authority from it.
Its Own Constitution
One contention of the elites of Cavite in the Tejeros Convention was that the Revolutionary Government of Andres Bonifacio was not a government because it lacked a constitution. Earlier Bonifacio rejected a constitution that they presented to him for adoption because it was an exact copy of the organic law of the Spaniards—the Maura Law of 1893.
To some historians, the Haring Bayang Katagalugan had a concept of a fundamental law. It was written by Emilio Jacinto and it became what was known as the Kartilya ng Katipunan.
But the Kartilya could be a public document given to new recruits. There’s good reason to believe that they had a constitution, an internal one, defining internal finances, structures and regulations (the organizational chart as pointed out by historian Nunag). Although we don’t have the later version of that constitution, the “Casaysayan” documents of January and August of 1892, and a constitution written by Emilio Jacinto in 1894 that tell us that their constitution was more than a moral code. This constitution even became the basis of what would become the Biak-na-Bato constitution.
One of the Casaysayan documents, dated January 1892, six months before the Katipunan was formally established, was clear from the start that its intention was to create a state as early as that period “Isinasaysay na ang mga Capuloang ito ay jumijiwalay sa Espanya mag bujat sa arao na ito at ulang quiniquilala at quiquilalanlin pang Puno at macapangyayare cung di itong Cataastaasang Catipunan.”
Why Make Bonifacio A President
Some say that they don’t want Andres Bonifacio to be recognized as a president because he doesn’t want Bonifacio to be included in a list of not so good people. His vision and ideology was different from the present government. Others even say that this is as good as demoting Bonifacio. He is already given a higher level recognition, that of being a hero. So why bother? Good emotional point. But this is not an ideological or emotional issue. The fact was that he ran a government with a national character and he was the president. Should we be upholding that fact? That truth?
Some more historians say that Andres Bonifacio should not be made president because we have to revise the textbooks over again and that might confuse the school children. But should historical truth be sacrificed for practicality?
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. 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.
To recognize Bonifacio’s presidency is to recognize the first manifestation of a government of national unity in the Philippines (lahat ng tumubo sa Sangakapuluang ito) which eventually led to the birth of the First Constitutional Democratic Republic in Asia, the Republica Filipina, led by President General Emilio Aguinaldo.
To recognize Bonifacio’s presidency is to recognize a concept of government that came from the bayan, in addition to the ilustrado / elite forms of government that we recognize today.
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 at kabanalan 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 fathered the Filipino Nation.
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