Tears on Bonifacio Day
Looking back on the calendar for the year that is almost over, I counted 18 nonworking holidays spread throughout 2022. Are the single holidays appreciated as much as those that fall on Mondays and Fridays, resulting in three-day weekends? How would people feel if the 18 scattered holidays are given in one go? Imagine an 18-day break or two 9-day breaks with pay a year. Students, aside from the 18 regular and special holidays, have a semestral break of about a week, and a “long vacation” also known as the “summer break.” Older folks remember this under its Filipino-Spanish name “bakasyon grande.” In Spanish, “vacation” translates into a plural “vacaciones.”
From the list of holidays, we have a generic holiday for all our heroes, both known and unknown, in National Heroes Day that falls on the last Monday of August to commemorate the 1896 outbreak of the Philippine Revolution against Spain. We have three “branded” heroes’ days: two are regular holidays—Bonifacio Day and Rizal Day—while Ninoy Aquino Day is a special holiday. We cannot “celebrate” Rizal on Dec. 30 and Ninoy on Aug. 21 because their holidays remind us of the dark day they were shot and killed. We often think that history is always about remembering sometimes it is about forgetting. Bonifacio Day falls on the hero’s birthday, Nov. 30, because that can be cause for celebration; it obscures his inglorious death on May 10, 1897.
Bonifacio’s death is inconvenient if the history you are reading is meant to inspire. Bonifacio’s death is a blot in history that underscores the fact that the past is more complicated than the fairy tale you learned in Araling Panlipunan. I guess it was curiosity that led me to check out a 1963 translation of Bonifacio’s trial in the Ateneo Rizal Library when I was an undergrad, because this edition was the only one with a reproduction of the original handwritten trial documents, a transcription of the manuscript, and a masterful translation from the original Tagalog into English by Virginia Palma Bonifacio. Studying the 19th-century script of an anonymous court stenographer was one thing; searching the document for the signatures of Andres Bonifacio and his wife Gregoria de Jesus was like an Easter egg hunt.
I read the text and, in my mind’s eye, saw the trial as it unfolded in what is now known as the Bonifacio Trial House in Maragondon, Cavite. Bonifacio’s wife entered the courtroom to testify on the facts of their arrest. She requested permission to drape Bonifacio with a blanket she was carrying. Bonifacio was still wearing the soiled, blood-stained clothes from the time of his arrest days earlier. His bruises, his wounds from gunshot and from a knife pressed on the throat were not attended to and were festering. Reading the primary source document was very different from the textbook; questions were asked and the witnesses’ answers, under oath, were taken down.
Bonifacio denied firing at the arresting party; they fired first. His guns were confiscated. He told the court to examine them and find them fully loaded, proof that he did not fire a single shot. As a matter of fact, he was trying to stop the gunfire when he fell from the gunshot. Then, one of the officers, Col. Jose Ignacio Paua, pounced on him and stabbed him in the throat. Someone intervened before Paua could deliver a second thrust that could have finished him off. I often wonder if the planned raid on Bonifacio’s Limbon camp was to kill Aguinaldo’s rival while resisting arrest. Police today describe it as “nanlaban.” But Bonifacio survived and had to be tried for treason by a military court.
Col. Agapito Bonzon, leader of the arresting party, vented his frustration on Gregoria de Jesus, who was caught in the back of the camp. His men refused the order to tie her to a tree and beat her up. After all, this was not an ordinary woman: She was the wife of Bonifacio. She was the Lakambini, the muse of the Katipunan. In his testimony, Bonifacio asked the court to look into and protect his wife from Bonzon, who attempted to rape her twice. The trial records do not say if Bonzon succeeded or not, but the rape was meant to humiliate the helpless Bonifacio by taking what was most precious to him.
I stopped reading when I felt tears fall from my eyes onto the pages of the book. Fortunately, I was alone in the Filipiniana section at the time. This was one of many experiences that probably led me to become a historian.
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