Andres Bonifacio


On November 30, 2013, as we celebrate the sesquicentennial of Andres Bonifacio’s birth, we also commemorate the 80th anniversary of the unveiling of one of the country’s most enduring landmarks, one of the nation’s most impressive works of art—a fitting tribute to the man known as the father of the Philippine Revolution.

In Caloocan City, four major thoroughfares ring a soaring monument of granite and bronze—a memorial to Andres Bonifacio, the emblematic father of the Philippine Revolution and once the President of the Supreme Council of the Katipunan.

The monument has stood for eighty years—first a solitary rise in the expanse of Caloocan, and over the years a lynchpin for the city’s landscape to form itself around. It has lent its very name to the area now dotted by establishments that had once almost furtively crept toward it, and which now threaten to tower over its Winged Victory perched forty-five feet from the ground. Glancing at the monument enveloped in the shadows cast by these new and ever-newer buildings, pedestrians and commuters circle around it, barely looking up, even as those in vehicles consider it more obstacle than landmark. The Bonifacio Monument, imposing yet graceful, thus manages to both serve as gateway and landmark to the thousands that traverse it, and yet fades into the scenery for those who’ve seen it far too often for far too long.

For those who passionately argue that Andres Bonifacio has suffered the double-edged sword that is martyrdom-by-history, the Bonifacio Monument likewise attests to the drawback a prominent memorial represents. The symbolism resonates: The nominal hero of the masses, the plebeian idealist, the revolutionary from Tondo, standing still in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city—his gaze forever fixed on the length of Avenida Rizal, the old road leading back to Manila—indistinguishable in the background, unmistakable yet obscure in the pocket of Caloocan skyline that has sprung up around it.

Today’s scenes are a far cry from the spectacle that midwifed the Bonifacio Monument. Eighty years ago, on the inauguration of what was to become the grandest tribute to Andres Bonifacio, the day was of pomp and circumstance starkly befitting the revolutionary from modest, plebeian Tondo.

Nominally created on October 23, 1933 by virtue of Governor-General Frank Murphy’s Executive Order No. 452, the National Executive Committee for the Inauguration of the Andres Bonifacio Monument undertook a ceremony steeped in Filipino symbolism that would adorn every element of the day’s activities: whether the parade, or the unveiling, or the inauguration. Three women were handpicked from schools to lead the ceremonies as representations of Luzon (from the Women’s College), Visayas (from the Institute of Women), and Mindanao (from the Centro Escolar de Señoritas / Center for Women). The triumvirate would have eight more women as attendants, themselves hailing from, and effectively representing, the eight provinces that led the revolution in 1896—Manila, Cavite, Batangas, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, and Laguna.

As soon as the Speaker of the House Quintin Paredes arrived for the inauguration of the monument, the three women who represented the three principal islands of the archipelago came forward, accompanied by members of the Katipunan. In 1933, this meant three bent but proud men dressed in their Katipunero best—Lt. Col. Venancio de Jesus, Capt. Inocencio Peralta, and Lt. Dionisio Buensuceso. The six positioned themselves around the monument to form a triangle. The women stepped forward, escorted by designated members of Congress, to unveil the monument to the crowd that had gathered to witness this tribute to Andres Bonifacio.

The Bonifacio Monument was both valedictory of the Revolution of 1896 and pledge to future generations that independence would one day be restored. The unveiling of the monument itself was the culmination of a decades-long movement to commemorate not just the father of the revolution, but to reassert the continuing aspiration for independent nationhood of the Filipinos.

The political context of the campaign to build the monument is crucial to understanding the identity of the monument as both vindication and pledge. In 1901, the Americans passed the Sedition Act (Act No. 292), prohibiting Filipinos from advocating either independence or separation from the United States. Ahead of permitting the election of an all-Filipino lower house—the Philippine Assembly, due to take office in October 16, 1907—the Americans noticed that in the campaign for the election of assemblymen, the Philippine flag came to be prominently displayed: one such rally took place in Caloocan, rich in memories of 1896.

Alarmed American associations passed a resolution in August 23, 1907—a month redolent with memory for Filipinos—demanding the proscription of the Filipino flag. And so among the last acts of the American-dominated Philippine Commission was to ban the Philippine flag, anthem, and symbols of the Katipunan and the First Republic, on September 6, 1907.

Even if hemmed in by a thicket of legislation, Filipinos kept pursuing independence: the first efforts concentrating on symbolic actions to assert that the aspiration for nationhood had not dimmed. On June 19, 1908, Speaker Sergio Osmeña formally pledged the legislature to pursuing Philippine independence. Assemblymen would pursue legislation at home and abroad to secure a pledge of independence, while reclaiming the symbols of nationhood. And so even as members of the legislature filed bill after bill to legalize the Philippine flag, others—led by a prominent veteran of the Katipunan, Guillermo Masangkay—literally had a representative forum in which to propose that a monument be erected to Bonifacio’s memory.

By 1911, a monument (“El Grito del Revolucion,” with a generic Katipunero whose image has come to be indelibly stamped in our popular culture as the Supremo himself) was built in Caloocan (though it has since been transferred to the front of Vinzons Hall, in UP Diliman) not as a government-approved, or funded, memorial, but as a private initiative. Only a year later, in 1912, would the Rizal Monument be unveiled. The question would then shift to who would be honored in only the second national monument to be dedicated to a Filipino.

It would be Bonifacio and the effort would be pursued in a methodical manner. On February 5, 1915, the Philippine Assembly passed Act No. 2494, which appropriated funds for public works and monuments. In August 29, 1916, the United States Congress enacted the Jones Law making, Philippine independence a question of not if, but when— and replacing the American-dominated Philippine Commission with an all-Filipino Senate, which was inaugurated in October of that year. The coast was clear. On February 23, 1918, Act No. 2760 was passed, which approved the building of a memorial to Bonifacio, as well as the creation of national committee to oversee it. A year and a half later, the Philippine flag and anthem were finally legalized.

A decade spent in fierce clashes between Filipino politicians and American Governors-General would pass until, on the occasion of Bonifacio’s 66th birth anniversary in 1929, at 5:45 p.m., the cornerstone of the monument was ceremonially installed by Mrs. Aurora Quezon, the wife of the highest-ranking Filipino official at the time, Senate President Manuel L. Quezon.

The national committee to build a monument then launched a contest for the design and the construction of the memorial. A total of thirteen artists participated, submitting their entries under aliases, and three notable Filipino artists of the time were assembled to judge over the results: the architect Andres Luna de San Pedro (son of Juan Luna, and the city architect of Manila) as Chairman, along with fellow architect Tomas Mapua (founder of the Mapua Institute of Technology) and the sculptor Vicente Francisco. By July 15, 1930, the contest calling for the design of the monument had garnered thirteen entries, which was then narrowed down to seven by the 27th of July. Two days later, the committee after further deliberation, had its winners.

Second place went to “Pugad Lawin,” which was later revealed to be a collaborative entry of the architect Juan Nakpil (son of Bonifacio’s second wife Gregoria de Jesus and her second husband Julio Nakpil) and the sculptor Ambrosio Garcia. Nakpil and Garcia won a cash prize of Php 2,000; the committee considered their design to be the most original in incorporating the tenets of modern art. Architect and historian Paolo Alcazaren notes, “The entry submitted under the name Pugad Lawin was a magnificent trilon (three tall columns capped by a stylized capital) in the Art Deco style. The figures at the base were classical.”

The winning entry, which received a cash prize of Php 3,000, went to “Batang Elias,” the alias of Guillermo Tolentino. By then Tolentino was, as Alcazaren notes, “already an established sculptor, having come back a few years before from extended studies in sculpture in Washington D.C. and Rome.” The committee deemed Tolentino’s design to be in possession of all the necessary requirements, artistic and sculptural—an edificial equal to the greatness of the man in whose honor the monument was to be dedicated.

With the design on hand, the amount of Php 97,000 (roughly Php 29,906,056.27 in today’s money) was appropriated for the erection of the monument—under Act No. 3602, passed on December 2, 1929. On August 30, 1930, the committee announced the results of the public competition pursuant to the provisions of Act No. 3602. An additional Php 26,041.76 (about Php 8,028,931.53 in today’s money) came from voluntary contributions (Guillermo Masangkay, for one, had donated Php 10,000). Guillermo Tolentino had, at his disposal, the total amount of Php 125,000 (equivalent to about Php 38,538,732.39 today) to construct the monument and thus realize his vision for a bold, unprecedented, and lasting tribute to Andres Bonifacio.

Monument Expanded View
click image to enlarge view
Acknowlegement thanking Caloocan City Government

“The Bonifacio Monument,” Alcazaren writes, “was intended to sit at its site specifically to commemorate the historic spark ignited there and that led to the culminating events of 1898.” Moreover, the site was a perfect counterpoint to the monument of Rizal in Luneta: The two leading figures of the Philippines’ emancipation from Spain would bracket Manila—the national man of letters down South by the sea, and the father of the Philippine revolution up North—not unlike sentries.

Caloocan used to be part of Tondo until 1815 when it became a municipality. The town’s growth surged after the completion of the Manila-Dagupan railway in 1892. It was there, in August 23, 1896, that Andres Bonifacio led the famous cry that sent the clear message of resistance to Spanish rule. For several years after, Caloocan was in the thick of the fight; first against the Spanish, then quickly against the Americans. By the turn of the century, the terror of war turned into reluctant acquiescence and Caloocan fell into the new colonizer’s sphere of influence. [...] Manila was slowly filling out and parts of the Daniel Burnham master plan for the city was taking shape. One of the main roads leading out of the city was Rizal Avenue. The avenue’s extension was to link it with the highway leading north (now known as the MacArthur Highway). A junction was formed with these two and a circumferential road known as Route 54 (now EDSA). This junction gave the opportunity for a rotunda and hence, a perfect setting for a monument, an entry statement for the city as well as an opportunity to commemorate the heroes and the events that occurred in Caloocan.

The rationale for the memorial’s location would be just one of the many details honed to capture the narrative of the Philippine Revolution—and the very story of the Philippines’ crusade for independence. From conception to unveiling, the Bonifacio Monument—an obelisk bearing 23 figures cast in bronze, atop an octagonal base with an eight-rayed sun; with a 45-foot tall pylon bearing the winged figure of Victory; covering an area of 200sqm at the time of its unveiling—would possess a precise symbolism, every element envisioned by Tolentino imbued with meaning. The sculptor’s notes on his design described it thusly: “The main component of the monument is a 45-foot pylon topped by the winged figure of Victory. At its base, on a platform-like structure are the figures underlining the various causes of the Revolution. The pylon or obelisque (obelisk) is composed of five parts corresponding to the five aspects of the society, Kataastaasan, Kagalanggalang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Highest and Most Venerable Association of the Sons of the Nation). The base is an octagon, the eight sides standing for the first eight provinces to rise against Spain, also represented as eight rays in the Katipunan flag. The base rises in three steps, each step alluding to each century of Spanish rule.”

It is noteworthy to reflect that in contrast to the ideological exclusivity of the past half-century, the creator of the monument selected by the generation of Filipinos who actually lived through the tumultuous times of the Propaganda Movement, the Revolution of 1896, the First Republic, the Filipino-American War and the peaceful campaign to restore our independence, viewed the monument and its symbols as informed by Rizal.

The very pools of water that surround the central obelisk were a nod to Rizal’s comparison of the Filipino temper to water—vital, its mien ever-changing, raging when provoked, an “elemental force,” which was among the motifs used in his El Filibusterismo: “That water is very mild and can be drunk, but that it drowns out the wine and beer and puts out the fire, that heated it becomes steam, and that ruffled it is the ocean, that it once destroyed mankind and made the earth tremble to its foundations!”

And so the pockets of water would serve as a reminder of this elemental nature of the Filipino; the sun with its eight rays was an ever-loyal nod to the first eight provinces that rose up against Spain; the bronze figures were frozen in tableaux that embodied all those sparks that would ultimately set afire the long-suppressed yearning for liberty. The very steps that led to the monument were meant to allude to the centuries of Spanish rule; every step, then, that one took toward Bonifacio and all that he stood for was to effectively rise against oppression by foreign rule.

It was this precision in symbolism, the keenness to imbue every element with weighty meaning and allusion, was in keeping with Tolentino’s training as a classical sculptor. Guillermo Tolentino—who would become a National Artist for Sculpture—was at the time an established figure in the arts, having been appointed a professor at the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts upon his return from the the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. His style, honed in Europe, was of classical realism, and he would remain a staunch and vocal champion of the movement. (In the late 1930s, as the classical style and modernism came to a head, Tolentino memorably dismissed modernist work as “ugly”—insisting that “distortion in painting is a cardinal sin.” It is a curious counterpoint, as the second prize for the design of the Bonifacio Monument, submitted by Nakpil and Garcia, was predominantly in the modernist style.)

Tolentino’s aesthetic would influence numerous Filipino sculptors, many of them having studied under him at the UP School of Fine Arts. One of these students was Anastacio Caedo, his star pupil, assistant, and protegé. Caedo would be Tolentino’s right-hand man in the creation of the Bonifacio Monument, the two leading a team of sculptors that toiled in a studio garden in Malate. The Bonifacio Monument was thus, expectedly, a collaborative effort that sought to realize Tolentino’s singular vision: The construction of the central column, including the base, was done by the architect Andres Luna de San Pedro (son of the ilustrado hero Juan Luna, and the chairman of the jurors that chose Tolentino’s design); the pedestal and shaft were carved in granite imported from Germany. The sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti, Italian by birth, would likewise lend his expertise in the forging of the 23 bronze figures (cast in Italy) that served as the memorial’s central element. (Monti, too, would provide a postwar link, in terms of monuments: Monti designed the mourning angels that surmount the Quezon Monument—itself designed by Federico Ilustre, who started his career as a draftsman for Juan Nakpil.)

If the tableaux in the Rizal monument are static and sparse, those in the Bonifacio Monument are imbued with energy and emotion. Each figure is modeled with classical perfection in composition, but charged with the fierce sentiments of a romanticist—and all of them fashioned with a realist’s careful and conscientious attention to detail. Emilio Jacinto’s face is frozen in a battle-cry right behind Bonifacio; on the other side of the obelisk are the priests Mariano Gómez, José Apolonio Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora. Caedo would serve as a model of one of the Katipuneros—the one that cradled a dead infant, with a sheet thrown over its still face. (Caedo, too, is among those considered to be the model for the UP Oblation, as he was Tolentino’s assistant during its creation.) Tolentino also modelled after Mrs. Angela Sison (wife of Senator, and later Defense Secretary, Teofilo Sison) the young woman that lay prostrate before an angry old man; Guillermo Masangkay’s role in the revolution and the realization of this monument to its nominal father would be forever immortalized as a Katipunero tearing up a cedula.

Nearly unseen unless from a considerable distance from the monument, the winged figure of Victory rises 45 feet in the air, the granite tower her pedestal. Patterned after the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the triumph it evokes only underscores the value of the tumult and the struggle and the fury that holds her up. That in the centuries of subjugation, for every mother who had held her dead child, every laborer who defiantly tore proof of Spain’s ownership, for every boy from Tondo who dared form a nation—the goddess of Victory looked on. We had won.

Nothing demonstrates this—the claiming of the Monument and the Hero for a nation once more on the threshold of independence—better than the marker at the foot of Bonifacio’s statue: cast in the same enduring bronze, but in the various codes of the Katipunan, with exhortations not in English or Spanish, but the Tagalog wielded by Bonifacio as every bit as powerful a weapon as the bolos, rifles, and handguns of the Katipuneros. Literally a codex—it is a proclamation, enduring, inscrutable except to those to whom the words were originally addressed: the Filipinos. Decoded, it is Bonifacio’s proclamation of August 28th, two days before he led the attack at San Juan del Monte—the first real battle of the Philippine revolution:

Mga maginoong namiminuno, kasapi at mga kapatid: Sa inyong lahat ipinatutungkol ang pahayag na ito. Totoong kinakailangan na sa lalong madaling panahon ay putulin natin ang walang pangalang pang-lulupig na ginagawa sa mga anak ng bayan, na ngayo’y nagtitiis ng mabibigat na parusa at pahirap sa mga bilangguan. Na sa dahilang ito’y mangyaring ipa-tanto ninyo sa lahat ng mga kapatid na sa araw ng sabado, ika-29 ng kasalukuyan, ay puputok ang panghihimagsik na pinagkasunduan natin, kaya’t kinakailangang sabaysabay na kumilos ang mga bayanbayan at sabaysabay na salakayin ang maynila. Ang sino pa mang humadlang sa banal na adhikang ito ng bayan ay ipalalagay na taksil at kalaban maliban na nga lamang kung may sakit na dinaramdam o ang katawa’y may sama at sila’y paguusigin alinsunod sa palatuntunang ating pinaiiral. — Bundok ng Kalaayan, ika-28 ng Agosto ng 1896, May Pagasa. :

[English translation by Teodoro A. Agoncillo and S.V. Epistola:]

Bonifacio's Proclamation of August 28, 1896: This manifesto is for all of you: It is absolutely necessary for us to stop at the earliest possible time the nameless oppressions being perpetrated on the sons of the country who are now suffering the brutal punishment and tortures in jails, and because of this please let all the brethren know that on Saturday, the 29th of the current month, the revolution shall commence according to our agreement. For this purpose it is necessary for all towns to rise simultaneously and attack Manila at the same time. Anybody who obstructs this sacred ideal of the people will be considered a traitor and an enemy, except if he is ill or is not physically fit, in which case he shall be tried according to the regulations we have put in force. — Mount of Liberty, 28th August 1896, Andres Bonifacio.

Whether in word or deed, all this was thus anchored on Andres Bonifacio—in the midst the tumult of these tableaux portraying the agonizing struggle for Philippine independence was a Bonifacio standing tall and serene, his gaze cast toward Old Manila. The Bonifacio of Tolentino was imbued with classical meaning, expressing almost no emotion—a cool, calculating, stoical leader in the thick of battle. Not deaf to the horrors and rage that surrounded him, but drawing strength from it all, held in a calm center. Napoleon Abueva, a student of Tolentino, offers an alternative interpretation: that Bonifacio’s quiet dignity and confidence evokes the resilient spirit of Filipinos.

And so here, at what was once the entrance to Manila before the era of the expressway, stands a calm Bonifacio, dressed in an embroidered Barong Tagalog and knotted kerchief, with a bolo in one hand, a revolver in the other, surrounded by Jacinto and two other Katipuneros, symbolizing the Cry of Pugad Lawin. Tolentino’s work on Bonifacio was the culmination of extensive research and consultations not just with Bonifacio’s living contemporaries, but also with the occult through seances and espiritistas; Tolentino modelled the figure’s bone structure after Bonifacio’s surviving younger sister Espiridiona. Tolentino’s sacred classical realist aesthetic has, perhaps, given us a Bonifacio so unlike the volatile man of action that has bled into our collective psyche—but was nonetheless the best approximation of the man so few could ever define so accurately.

Tolentino's exertions to portray Bonifacio in a manner that would satisfy his dwindling number of contemporaries yet immortalize the appearance of the Supremo for posterity, speaks volumes of the KKK as Secret Society—in comparison to the First Republic that would succeed it, which managed to immortalize for all time, the features of its protagonists in photographs every bit as poised—and posed—as those of the Propagandists. This telling detail—or to be precise, the lack of them, much as Tolentino was prepared to point to documents and testimony assiduously collected by himself—says everything that needed to be said, then or now, about how daring, and essentially, successful the Supremo was as organizer. And how sweeping, because so sudden, the tumult of revolution was, that both its leader and its followers would rise, and fall, with the scantiest of documentation, written or visual.

The biographies of the man who would found the Katipunan trace his 33 years in a short, terse, faithful rote: A man of humble beginnings who wanted more from life—this, unfortunately, in a rigid society that frowned upon such audacious ambition (how we forget the rejection he faced from the family of his second wife, or the protestations against revolution of his own scandalized brother-in-law). The story follows in telegraphic detail: Bonifacio the hard worker who wished to rise up the ranks; self-taught, with a desire to be a great thinker, to be ilustrado in spirit—he read the great French novels, we learned; admired Rizal; and would himself pen stirring manifestos and rousing nationalist poetry. More importantly, we are told, his ambition did not end with himself. Disgruntled by the status quo—of the seeming futility of simply desiring more under Spanish rule, with its insistence on class divides and the superiority of the foreign race—Bonifacio formed and led the Katipunan, a secret society whose sole aim was to overthrow three centuries of subjugation to Spain.

The Katipunan, for Bonifacio, was something that the country direly needed; for the Katipunan was action. It was to be more than the stirrings of dissatisfaction, more than mere grumbling; it was more than mere response, more than the willingness to risk life and limb because of the cause. The Katipunan was committing one’s self fully to the cause. For Bonifacio, the Katipunan was going to do something that would liberate the people, proudly reclaim what was truly ours, and—consciously for its founder or otherwise—in the process build a nation independent in thought, word, and deed.

Our history books catalog the doings of this Bonifacio spurred into action—as do countless historical markers, and monuments cradled in town centers, as do the postcards every grade school student is required to include in a scrapbook of Philippine history. The President of the Supreme Council at the head of a defiant crowd in the then-wilderness of Caloocan (of whose composition we can forever catch a glimpse through the testimony of Guillermo Masangkay), leading the tearing of the sacred cedula—the diminutive piece of paper that proved that one was a subject of Spain. And then here we have Bonifacio with his bolo thrust forward—what could be nobler than a revolution equipped with nothing more than crude blades and the frenzied thirst for freedom?—leading the charge. Here, too, is the Bonifacio painted vividly, even luridly, in the national memory: The red pantaloons of the Katipunan gleaming in the night skirmishes, the indio face scorned by the conquerors forever frozen in the battle-cry for liberty. Our collective memory has successfully immortalized this boy from Tondo: Bonifacio the noble, Bonifacio the indignant, Bonifacio the defiant: Bonifacio, ever the proud “Pangulo Nang Haring-Bayang Katagalugan,” even in his final days, toppled from power, scorned by his own compatriots.

The Bonifacio Monument sought to capture all that—and it was built, it must be said, as much as an act of posthumous vindication, even rehabilitation, as it was intended to be a symbolic place of interment for a Supremo whose mortal remains were lost to history: for it, too, fulfills the role of a particular memorial, the symbolic last resting place for one whose bones are lost to posterity.

Monuments are meant to capture a greatness precisely because they are forged to stand in defiance of the passage of time, of the reputations assigned by trends in historiography, and of the caprices of popular fashion. From the late 1990s onward, the government of Caloocan City would paint the eight-rayed sun a deep yellow, and the octagonal base that surrounded it a red-brown meant to simulate brick. The punch of color would only underscore the stateliness of the granite-and-bronze that lay at its heart. Numerous attempts have been made to alter the dimensions of or entirely move the monument—to Fort Bonifacio, to Luneta close to Rizal’s own memorial (where, in the twilight of his life, Emilio Aguinaldo dreamed his own monument would stand), to the northern district of Caloocan. These numerous proposals have been rejected—in preservation of historical importance, of national art, of the wholeness of Tolentino’s aesthetic and nationalist vision; of what the historian Simon Schama terms “landscape and memory.”

It is Guillermo Tolentino’s memorial—rich in symbolism, imbued, not with false gravitas, but rather, the vital energy, emotions, and losses that are the landmarks in the long road to Philippine independence; enduringly, and thus, relentlessly, so representative of the Filipino people and its hopes and its dreams and its sufferings and what makes it whole—that has perhaps served Bonifacio’s legacy best. It stands at the heart of Caloocan today, eighty years from its unveiling—crowded from all sides by artless establishments that proclaim their transient commercialism, pedestrians who view the bronze-and-granite ode and testament to the Filipino spirit as nothing more than scenery. But it will endure, the winged figure of Victory will forever gaze from her pedestal assuring us of our hard-won liberty as she surmounts the eight provinces first proudly proclaimed in the Katipunan flag and commemorated in our national flag born of the resumed revolution in 1898—and Bonifacio will stand tall and proud and defiant in a world that has refused to stay still, as a reminder that passion must be born of reason; and that action must have, at its heart, a moral purpose: the ultimate source of an individual’s—and a people’s—ability to achieve a happy, cohesive, and independent existence.


President of the Philippines

Secretary of Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning

Undersecretary of Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning

Andres Bonifacio Sesquicentennial

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DERRICK MACUTAY Project Managers

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