I LOVED Social Studies in elementary school. I identified myself with Andres Bonifacio because he was a common man and I thought he was the bravest of all the heroes because it was he who started the revolution.
I wasn’t the only one who idolized him. Most of the boys in the class did. When we jousted (minus the horses and using the bamboo stick that we fashioned into bolos to cut the grass in the playground as a sword) in the afternoons before flag retreat, everyone wanted to be Bonifacio. I do not know how we came to associate the man with fencing. It must have been because of the caricature of men with unsheathed bolos depicting the Cry of Balintawak.
Speaking of Balintawak, many times I fantasized being there when they tore the cedula, joining with unbridled passion in the chorus against the tyranny and oppression that the cedula symbolized, with men who were otherwise anonymous but for our shared vision of liberty and freedom.
Sometimes, I also wished that Bonifacio was still alive to tell us everything about love of country and how we could be heroes like him even if there was no revolution. Not that our teacher did a shabby job at it but it would have been different hearing it straight from the, no disrespect, the horse’s mouth.
At that time, we did not know how Bonifacio was killed, by whom and why. That subject never came up although there were sporadic mentions of the Magdalo and the Magdiwang. Maybe, our teacher wanted to spare us the details, worried that our young minds were not ready to understand the dark side of the Philippine revolution.
We honored Bonifacio yesterday on his birthday, unlike Jose Rizal whose heroism we pay homage to on the anniversary of his execution. We usually celebrate the life of heroes who died a violent death on the day that they died. Why is Bonifacio Day not observed on May 10?
Is it because his death was itself infamy? Bonifacio died in the hands of Filipino executioners by order of a Filipino kangaroo court, under circumstances that to this day remain controversial. Was he shot like Rizal was at Bagumbayan or was he stabbed while lying sick on a hammock?
How ironic that he who fought to save his people from the injustice of their colonial masters would meet his end from the injustice of his own countrymen. Bonifacio was killed because he was a threat to Emilio Aguinaldo. Bonifacio became a threat after he was insulted that he could not hold the position of secretary of the interior to which he was elected in the same meeting that elected Aguinaldo president, because he was uneducated.
The Philippine revolution is a story of nobility and heroism. Alas, it is also a tale of treachery and betrayal. Think António Luna. And closer to home, think Leon Kilat.
We do not honor Bonifacio as a hero on the day that he died because his death casts a giant shadow on the honor of people we also regard as heroes. We have romanticized the revolution and yet expect to learn from the lessons that our history taught us. We’re living a lie.