Saturday, July 20, 2024

Ink and Bullets: Weapons of Change

By Kristia Niña Daymiel | November 27, 2023

Torn cedulas scattered on the ground like confetti and rifles raised along victorious shouts of “Mabuhay ang Kalayaan ng Pilipinas!” One can only imagine the Katipuneros’ praises during the Philippine Revolution in 1986, with one man leading the charge in a duel, bestowing independence upon Filipinos and claiming liberty. 

In the slums of Tondo, Manila, on Nov. 30, 1863, a son was born fated to become a father. Both to his siblings—and his countrymen. 

Orphaned at the age of 14, Andres Bonifacio y De Castro, the father of the Philippine revolution, already exhibited independence himself even before winning the Philippines from the hands of its colonizers. At a young age, Bonifacio stood on his own feet, juggling multiple jobs to provide for his siblings. With a sense of heroism evident in his upbringing as a brother and a revolutionist, Filipinos honor Bonifacio as a national hero. 

If not for Jose Rizal—the great reformist Filipino hero—and his novels, “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo,” Andres Bonifacio wouldn’t have pursued a revolution after reading the ills of Philippine society under the Spanish regime, page by page. Through the instances of repression and plights written between the lines of both of Rizal’s narratives, Bonifacio was inspired to fight for the country’s freedom. 

But even with the influence of these novels, the way Bonifacio carried out his revolution contrasted the way of Rizal.

While Rizal called for peaceful reforms against a repressive Spanish colony through paper and quill, Bonifacio revolted against the Spaniards through rifles, bolo (machete), sibat (spear), and balisong (butterfly knife). With the injustices he witnessed committed against the Filipinos by the Spaniards, Bonifacio and Rizal stood on one ground: to fight for the country’s freedom. Due to this, and despite their different styles, they are both revered Filipino heroes.

As their legacies are woven in every sense of liberty we indulge today, these two warriors are always pitted against each other in arguments on who should be the national hero: With Bonifacio’s revolt and Rizal’s reformist novels, who among them is the better hero? 

While the debate over who must be enthroned as this “national hero” rages on, it must be considered that the Philippine government doesn’t have any law explicitly proclaiming a national hero in the first place. So even Rizal or Bonifacio—regardless of who among them wins the tug-of-war of the national hero title—cannot be at all officially declared as “the” national hero. Even with their significant legacies in Philippine history, however, they are still casually “honored” as technically unofficial heroes among other Filipino historical figures: Emilio Aguinaldo, Apolinario Mabini, Marcelo del Pilar, Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, and Gabriela Silang. All these figures have holidays commemorating their victories, which includes Bonifacio Day that celebrates the Katipunero’s birth. 

Nov. 30 marks the 169th birthday of Bonifacio, but with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s Proclamation No. 19 amending the celebration to give way for more long weekends this 2023, Bonifacio Day has been moved to Nov. 27. 

More so, Rizal and Bonifacio, together with Aguinaldo, Mabini, del Pilar, Kudarat, Luna, Aquino, and Silang were recommended by the National Heroes Committee as national heroes to then Secretary Ricardo T. Gloria of the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports on November 22, 1995. It has been a long-overdue proposal—one spanning 28 years—yet since then, no action has taken place. 

Whether officially declared or not, considering the conquests they won for the Philippines, Rizal and Bonifacio remain venerated as heroes among Filipinos, with their valor still contested on a weighing scale. 

But, considering that Bonifacio’s revolt was motivated by Rizal’s novels, wouldn’t that make them equally great heroes? 

Even with the contrast of a quill and a rifle, the blood both Rizal and Bonifacio shed for the Philippines only emphasizes the fact that they served their countrymen. Through ink and bullets, the country that was once held captive from power and repression has now nestled back in the hands of its beholder, the Filipinos—not as laborers, but masters. 


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