Four hundred fifty-five years ago, the Philippines was claimed by imperialistic Spain. While this colonization dragged on through the realms of time for more than 300 hundred years, it was through the bloody ascent of a revolution that the idea of liberation was sparked. Eventually, the resistance envisioned by the radical activist Andres Bonifacio led to our ultimate freedom from the Spaniards.
Since then, we were convinced that the revolution had ended. Yet for many Filipinos, the fight never stopped, especially not today.
In celebration of his 156th birthday, an exhibit entitled ‘Makabuluhang Sining Alay kay Andres Bonifacio’ was held in commemoration of the Supremo of the Katipunan. Organized by the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), a federation of artists in the Southern Mindanao region, in partnership with the faculty union of the Holy Cross of Davao College, the said expo sought to remember the legacy of a man who resisted cruel oppression.
“Dapat jud tun-an ang kasaysayan ni Bonifacio. Dili man gyud malikayan nga naa gyuy mga nang-aalipin na mga tao,” Junard Arsobal, a sculptor from the Sining Obrero, the cultural arm of KMU, explained.
“Sa iyaha ka makakuhag idea og inspirasyon kung unsa ang mga pamaagi sa paglaban,” he added.
A symbol for the marginalized
Each artwork present on the exhibit embodied a narrative of the different aspects in Bonifacio’s life. More than humming of Bonifacio’s bravery and determination, however, it also reflected the battle cry of the marginalized.
Ms. Leah Apsay from the Political Science and History Department, and Junard Arsobal shared their insights about Bonifacio’s life and how his story continues to be relevant until today.
“He came from the group of the plebeians or the masses, yung mga common during the Hispanic period,” Apsay stated.
A little historical background of Bonifacio would reveal that, as a kid, he was born to poor parents. Being the eldest of five children, it came as a big blow when, at the age of fourteen, his parents died sealing his fate as the provider for his brothers and sisters. Working in various American companies, he had experienced becoming a craftsman, an abaniko seller, and even a messenger. Because of poverty, he never had the chance to get an education. However, it never hindered him from learning.
“Tan-awon nato ang gibuhat ni Bonifacio. Kung unsa ka-bangis ang pagsakop sa Espanyol sa Pilipinas—gigamitan ug mga klase-klaseng dahas, mao pu’y gitugpang niya. Karon ang mga Lumad, ginapaglaban nila ang ilang mga lupa. Ginatawag gane sila na mag-uuma pero wala sila’y kaugalingong lupa. Sa mga mag-uuma, ang gusto nila ay reporma sa lupa.” Arsobal said.
Just like the struggle of Bonifacio first in getting access to basic resources and eventually, in achieving liberation and independence, the Lumads have had their fair share of difficulties in asserting their rights. According to the U.N. Human Rights Council, military attacks, bearing the suspicion that Lumads are rebel recruits lead to thousands of Lumads being displaced, and some even killed. Last February, with Duterte announcing that he would open Mindanao to investors to generate wealth, more controversies about ancestral domain claims erupted among a multifold of Lumad communities.
Awareness, Activism, and the Katipunan
Alongside his labor, Bonifacio found time to read different books that he was considered an intelligent and well-read Filipino. From his readings, he learned about the French Revolution, which greatly inspired his own crusade to take up arms against Spain.
More than that, his eagerness to learn made him aware of the issues present in his time. In the aftermath of Jose Rizal’s exile to Dapitan, he realized that reform was not possible. Thus, he leaned towards an armed revolution, founding the Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galangan, Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan or what is commonly known as the Katipunan on July 7, 1892.
“He responded to the call of time to make change,” Apsay emphasized.
Though Bonifacio never saw his aspirations turn into reality since he was killed five years after he founded the Katipunan, it was his revolution that ultimately led the country towards liberation from Hispanic shackles.
In hindsight, Andres Bonifacio really is just like many Filipinos of today in the sense that he fought for change in the name of love for country. Limitations to his education did not hinder him from learning, and much so, from acting to resist and overthrow a repressive system.
Nothing much has really changed in comparison to today’s time. When before, the country was dominated by a foreign government who repressed her people, today, the country is still plagued by the same power imbalance— this time, between her own children who come from different cultural, social, and economic backgrounds.
While history books would claim that the revolution has, indeed, ended, Bonifacio’s struggle for justice and freedom continues. So long as minority groups and the poor are not given their due, and those in power refuse to heed their call, the fight that Bonifacio started more than a century ago lives on.