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.
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.
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.
BENIGNO S. AQUINO III
President of the Philippines
RAMON A. CARANDANG
Secretary of Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning
MANUEL L. QUEZON III
Undersecretary of Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning
Andres Bonifacio Sesquicentennial
MANUEL L. QUEZON III
Editor in Chief
JEAN LAURENE ARBOLEDA
DERRICK MACUTAY Project Managers
JOHN MARK PEROCHO
Layout and Design
JOI MARIE INDIAS
MARK PHILIPPE LEGASPI
CAMILLE DEL ROSARIO
CHERIE LYNN TAN