November 28, 2013

Andres Bonifacio – Icon of the Philippine Revolution

“(A)ng catubusa’y hindi nacucuha sa salita o sa sulat…
Sucat na! Papagsalitain natin naman ang sandata!”  - Andres Bonifacio

On November 30 the Filipino working class and people mark the 150th birth anniversary of Gat Andres Bonifacio, the father of the Filipino nation and the Philippine Revolution.  Bonifacio dubbed the “Great Plebian” due to his humble beginnings as an ordinary workingman, self-studied the liberal bourgeois ideals of the French Revolution and Rizal’s writings, joined the reform movement under La Liga Filipina established by Jose Rizal and founded the Katipunan, the secret society that rapidly grew into an armed mass movement that eventually overthrew Spanish colonial rule.

It is only fitting that current-day revolutionaries and activists of various people’s movements, nationalists and patriots (not the vapid, flag-waving kind but those whose love of country includes the defense of national sovereignty and independence from foreign neocolonial domination, exploitation and aggression) and a broad range of working people are celebrating Bonifacio’s sesquicentennial through various forms.  There are mass rallies at Bonifacio monuments all over the country on Bonifacio Day; cultural events such as “Maghimagsik! Andres Bonifacio: Rebolusyonaryo, Anakpawis,” a theater production sponsored by progressive labor and youth organizations on December 7; new musical compositions such as “Dear Bonifacio” uploaded on the internet and described by its young songwriter as a “pledge to continue the Filipino people's unfinished struggle for real change, justice, prosperity and peace”; and a slew of forums and exhibits in schools and universities organized by teachers, students and workers’ unions.

To honor the legacy of the “indio” who in 1896 led the first bourgeois democratic revolution in the Philippines and in Asia to overthrow the yoke of 300 years of Western colonial rule by Spain, the Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND) has launched a new book Salita ng Sandata: Bonifacio’s Legacies to the People’s Struggles.  The collection of essays, poems and scholarly articles are about the life and times of Bonifacio, his incomparable and enduring legacy as a revolutionary patriot and a man of the masses and his relevance to the ongoing armed and unarmed people’s movements for national and social liberation.

In the book’s foreword, Prof. Jose Maria Sison, founding chairperson of the revolutionary party of the Filipino proletariat, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), distills the greatness of Bonifacio not just as the father of the Philippine revolution but of the Filipino nation that it gave birth to.

According to Prof. SIson, “(D)espite being a wage-earning plebeian, he could not be awed or cowed into submission or compromise by the colossal colonial and feudal structure which had been built for more than 300 years... (He) took the risk and the pains of organizing the Katipunan in order to generate the collective will and daring of the people to fight the powerful oppressors and exploiters.”

Bonifacio was a thinking man who Prof. Sison considers “brilliant” in that “(h)e studied the history and current circumstances of his people… He was far more knowledgeable about his people than those who went to the university but who did not care about them and those who neither read nor understood the social advancement of other peoples who had fought for liberty, equality and fraternity.”

Bonifacio displayed “nobility and purity of character and purpose” by dedicating his life and all his capabilities for the people’s revolutionary struggle suffering untold hardships not just for himself but for his family and giving the ultimate sacrifice of his life, together with his two siblings, upon his betrayal and murder ordered by the ilustrado General Emilio Aquinaldo.

His unparalleled courage and daring was borne of his loathing for the greed, abuse and terror inflicted by the Spanish “sword and cross” as well as his trust in the people, especially the toiling masses, whose sufferings and aspirations he understood and completely identified with.  While he began his political activities in support of the Propaganda Movement seeking reforms from Spain, he did not hesitate to call for armed struggle when it was clear that it was the only path to national independence and the overthrow of the feudal order.  In fact, “(h)e actually led the series of battles that irrevocably started the war of independence.”

Bonifacio was said to have a short temper and was maligned by his enemies as having a dictatorial and imperious bent.  However Prof. Sison draws the reader’s attention to Bonifacio’s humility in offering the leadership of the revolution to Rizal before and after the outbreak of the revolution.  On the other hand, Aguinaldo, who is officially recognized as the President of the First Philippine Republic, had the cunning and ruthlessness to seize the leadership from Bonifacio and order his mock trial and brutal execution.

Certainly Bonifacio's most outstanding virtue and accomplishment that sets him apart from Rizal and other heroes of the Reform Movement, was his ability to conclude and firmly believe that the Filipino masses were ready and willing to rise up in arms as one, bear the sacrifices needed to fight against the superior Spanish colonial forces and win their freedom from tyranny and exploitation. His only weakness or error, if it can be considered one, is that like the French and German workers in the 1848 Revolutions in Europe, he was too trusting of the bourgeoisie and overestimated their importance in the struggle.    

The Filipino revolutionaries led by the Katipunan went on to defeat the Spanish colonialists but complete victory was snatched by the United States of America, the rising imperialist power at that time, with the collaboration of Aguinaldo and other ilustrados.  The old colonial master was replaced by a new one; the old ilustrado class was coopted and became part of US imperialism’s subservient local ruling elite of big landlords and trading partners.

The same foreign domination and feudal and semi-feudal oppression of the Filipino nation and people that Bonifacio, the Katipunan and our forebears rose up against was not only maintained, it was further aggravated. Thus the people’s aspirations for genuine independence and democracy and the logic of revolution to bring about fundamental social change have remained valid and even more compelling.

For the past century since US colonial rule was imposed on our people - then replaced by indirect, neocolonial rule - Philippine society has been afflicted by a chronic crisis causing boundless misery and suffering to the masses, mostly impoverished peasants, resulting in peasant revolts erupting intermittently all over the islands but quelled in one way or another, including the opening up of land frontiers to ease the problem of landlessness. That crisis entered its terminal phase in the late 1960s with the exhaustion of land frontiers coupled by intensified imperialist plunder as the crisis in the world capitalist system worsened.

It was at this time that armed struggle resumed nationwide under the CPP-NPA, and in Muslim Mindanao under the Moro National Liberation Front, both responding to the smoldering desire of the people to once again rise in revolution against the unjust social system and seeking direction, organization and leadership.  On a nationwide scale, the leadership of the new democratic revolution -- the national democratic revolution – has been provided by the Filipino working class, through its party, the CPP.

More starkly clear than during Bonifacio's time, the imperialist-coopted bourgeoisie cannot provide leadership to this new democratic revolution, even as its demands such as land reform, national industrialization and an independent foreign policy are essentially bourgeois demands.

Moreover, the global depression of the world’s capitalist system triggered by the meltdown of its financial system has unmasked the inherently anti-worker and anti-people bias of this system; that it is unsustainable and is leading to massive environmental destruction; and that it is irreparably socially unjust and morally corrupt.  An alternative society organized in non-capitalist, in fact, anti-capitalist terms - socialism - is in the horizon for this new national democratic revolution.

The book Salita ng Sandata is a timely tribute to the glorious heroism and martyrdom of Andres Bonifacio for the cause of national and social liberation.  It not only reaffirms Bonifacio’s rightful place in the pantheon of Filipino heroes but also revitalizes his legacy and its relevance to the people’s resurgent revolutionary struggles. #

Published in Business World
29-30 November 2013


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