Childhood & Early Years
Andrés Bonifacio y de Castro was born on November 30, 1863 in Tondo, Manila. Growing up in the slums of Tondo, he witnessed poverty and class struggle from a very close quarter. However contrary to popular belief, his family was not very poor.
His father Santiago Bonifacio was a local politician who for a time served as the chief lieutenant of the municipal mayor. Later, he looked after his family by working in various capacities, such as tailoring and operating ferry services across the Pasig River.
His mother Catalina de Castro was a Chinese mestiza. She worked as a supervisor in a cigarette factory. Born eldest of his parents’ six children, Andrés had five siblings named; Procopio de Castro Bonifacio, Espiradiona Bonifacio-Distrito, Trocadio De Castro Bonifacio, Maxima De Castro Bonifacio and Ciriaco de Castro De Castro.
Little is known about his childhood, except that he learned the alphabets from his mother’s sister and eventually began his education at a private school, possibly run by certain Guillermo Osmeña from Cebu. He studied here for seven years only.
When Andrés was still very young, his father contracted tuberculosis, which forced him to stop working. He died when Andrés was barely 13. A year later, his mother also passed away from the same disease. After that, it fell upon 14 years old Andrés to look after his younger siblings.
In around 1877-1878, Andrés dropped out of school in order to earn his living. However, he continued his studies in private, reading books on subjects like French Revolution and biographies of the US Presidents etc. published in Spanish and Tagalog language.
When he was in his late teens, he also picked up English and read internationally famous works like ‘Les Misérables’ by Victor Hugo, ‘Le Juif errant’ by Eugène Sue and ‘Noli Me Tángere’ and ‘El Filibusterismo’ by José Rizal etc. He also grew an interest in contemporary Philippine penal and civil codes.
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After the death of his parents, Andrés Bonifacio started making fans out of paper and cane, which he and his siblings sold to sustain themselves. Later, they began making posters for business houses.
When Bonifacio was in late teens, he started working as a messenger for a British trading firm called, Fleming & Company. Later, he joined a German trading firm called, Fressell & Company, working there as a storehouse keeper.
It is not known when but he also became an agent and broker of tar, rattan and other goods. All along, he continued to enhance his knowledge by reading various books and becoming aware of the social injustice faced by his countrymen under the oppressive Spanish rule.
Establishment of Katipunan
It is not known when or how Andrés Bonifacio became involved in active politics. However, we know that by the early 1890s, he used to distribute revolutionary leaflets against Spanish oppression near the University of Santo Tomas.
By 1892, he was fully involved in nationalist movements, becoming one of the cofounders of ‘La Liga Filipina,’ established formally by Jose Rizal on 3rd July. The organization, however, which called for the reform of the Spanish colonial government through peaceful means, did not sustain to fulfill its mission.
Shortly after the group’s first meeting was held, the Spanish authorities arrested Jose Rizal. On 7 July 1892, it was announced that he would be deported to Dapitan in Mindanao.
On the very night Rizals’s deportation was announced, Bonifacio cofounded a secret organization called, ‘Katipunan’, with Ladislao Diwa, Teodoro Plata and Deodato Arellano. Its full name was ‘Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galangan, Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan’ (KKK), meaning ‘Highest and Most Respected Society of the Country's Children’.
Although officially established on 7th July 1892, recently discovered documents show that Bonifacio might have been toying with the idea of establishing Katipunan since January. It sought to gain independence from Spain through armed revolution. Modeled on Masonic order, its members belonged mostly to the educated middleclass.
Along with cofounding Katipunan, Bonifacio also revived La Liga Filipina. But very soon he severed ties with the latter organization over ideological differences. He started focusing on KKK, which slowly but steadily began to expand by opening chapters in different provinces.
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An important official of Katipunan since its very inception, Bonifacio first served as its comptroller and then as its 'fiscal'. In 1895, he was elected Presidente Supremo of the society. Shortly, he started concentrating on increasing the group’s membership.
In March 1896, Katipunan also established its own paper called, Kalayaan (Freedom), with Bonifacio contributing in it under the pseudonym of Agapito Bagumbayan. The paper led to a drastic increase in their membership, which grew from around 300 at the beginning of the year to 3000 by July.
On 3 May 1896, Bonifacio held a general meeting in Pasig, where the leaders of Katipunan met to discuss the timing of the revolution. By then, a rebellious mood was sweeping across the nation and Bonifacio and his group believed that the time was right to launch their revolution.
Others like Santiago Alvarez and Emilio Aguinaldo believed that they still lacked adequate firearms; and therefore, they should wait. When contacted, Jose Rizal also recommended that they should be better prepared before launching the revolt.
Revolution Breaks Out
By August 1996, the Spanish authorities became aware of the presence of a secret seditious society and realized that the country was on the verge of a revolution. On August 19, so as to preempt the uprising, they arrested and imprisoned hundreds of Filipinos, many of whom were not even involved in rebellious activities.
In late August 1896, Andrés Bonifacio organized a mass gathering in Caloocan. Here, they kickstarted the revolution by tearing off their personal identity documents or cedulas, signaling their refusal to pay taxes under Spanish rule. The event was later known as the ‘Cry of Balintawak’ or ‘Cry of Pugad Lawin’.
Bonifacio then reorganized the Katipunan into an open de facto revolutionary government, naming the nation as ‘Haring Bayang Katagalugan’ or ‘Tagalog Republic’. On August 23, 1896, he declared independence from Spain, naming himself President and Commander-in-Chief of the revolutionary government.
On 28 August 1896, he issued a proclamation, calling for "all towns to rise simultaneously and attack Manila”, and sent generals to lead the rebel forces. He himself led an attack on San Juan del Monte with the intention of capturing Manila's metro water station and the powder magazine on August 30.
In San Juan del Monte, the Spanish, who were fewer in number, were able to hold off until the reinforcement arrived. Ultimately, Bonifacio’s troops suffered great casualties and he was forced to withdraw. Thereafter, he turned his attention to establishing mountain and hill bases at Balara, Pantayanin, Ugong and Tungko.
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On November 7, 1986, he led attacks on Marikina, Montalban and San Mateo. Although he initially succeeded in driving away the Spaniards from these towns, he later lost these posts and decided to move to Cavite where troubles were brewing between two groups.
Conflict with Emilio Aguinaldo
The rebels in Cavite were divided into two factions; Magdalo, headed by General Emilio Aguinaldo and Magdiwang, headed by Andrés Bonifacio’s relative Mariano Álvarez. When Bonifacio reached Cavite, Aguinaldo, who was militarily more successful and belonged to a wealthy family, started challenging him on various matters.
The first assembly in Imus achieved little. So, they decided to meet in Tejeros on March 22, 1897 and hold an election in order to settle the issue of governance within the Katipunan once-and-for-all.
The election was won by Emilio Aguinaldo, who became the President of the new Philippine republic. Bonifacio received the second highest number of votes, by virtue of which, he should have become the vice president. But he was appointed to the post of Secretary to the Interior, a relatively lower position.
Since Bonifacio did not have any university degree, Daniel Tirona questioned his fitness for the job of Secretary to the Interior. Humiliated, Bonifacio pulled out his gun to shoot Tirona, but was stopped. He later dissolved the assembly and declared the result null and void.
By April 1897, Emilio Aguinaldo had consolidated his position, with many of Andrés Bonifacio’s supporters switching sides. Sensing trouble, Bonifacio decided to get out of Cavite. He therefore left for Indang on his way to Morong.
While he was in Indang, Aguinaldo issued an arrest warrant for him, accusing him of fostering disunity and sedition. According to some sources, he also received complaint that Bonifacio’s troops had stolen work animals and burned down a village because the villagers refused to provide provisions.
On April 25, 1897, while he was camping at barrio Limbon, Indang, Bonifacio was surprised to see Aguinaldo's men led by Colonel Agapito Bonzón and Major José Ignacio Paua coming to visit them. He did not suspect anything and received them cordially. The day passed peacefully.
Early on April 26, 1897, Bonzón and Paua opened fire on Bonifacio's men. Although surprised, Bonifacio told his men not to fight against their own people. But shots were nevertheless exchanged. One of his brothers was killed while another was beaten and his wife was raped.
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Bonifacio was shot in the arm by Bonzón and stabled in the neck by Paua. He survived only because one of his men prevented Paua from striking again, sacrificing himself in the process. He was then taken to President Aguinaldo’s headquarters in Naic along with other captives.
Trial & Execution
At Naic, Andrés Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were tried for treason and sedition against the revolutionary government as well as for attempting to murder Aguinaldo. The jury was composed entirely of Aguinaldo’s men. So was his defense lawyer, who acted more like the prosecutor.
As Bonifacio’s trial started, his defense lawyer, instead of defending him, confirmed his guilt. Bonifacio was not allowed to confront the witnesses. Therefore, in spite of insufficient proof of his guilt, he and his brother were sentenced to death by a firing squad.
On 8 May 1897, President Aguinaldo commuted the death sentence into deportation to an isolated island nearby. But on being persuaded by his generals to withdraw the order, he ultimately signed the death sentence.
On May 10, 1897, the Bonifacio brothers were taken to Mount Nagpatong, near Mount Buntis in Maragondon, where they were shot dead by a firing squad. At that time, Andrés Bonifacio was 34 years old.
Family & Personal Life
It is not known when, but Andrés Bonifacio was first married to one Monica of Palomar, his neighbor in Tondo. She died of leprosy a year after their marriage. They did not have any children.
In 1892, 29 years old Bonifacio met 18 years old Gregoria de Jesús. Her father was a prominent citizen from a landowner family from Caloocan.
In 1893, they got married at the Binondo Church in a Catholic ceremony. Later that day, they also observed the Katipunan wedding rites. The couple had a son named Andrés, born in early 1896. He died of smallpox when he was still an infant.
Today Andres Bonifacio is remembered as the Father of the Philippine Revolution and a national hero. Some historians also call Bonifacio, not Aguinaldo, the first president of the country.