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Bonifacio of History and Myth

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 15:24:00 11/27/2010

Filed Under: history, Education, Heroism, Arts (general)

ANDRES Bonifacio, like Jose Rizal, is part of everyday life in the Philippines: his profile is on the ten-peso coin; his name on streets, school buildings and textbooks. His image is so etched in our consciousness that we see but hardly notice him.

I became mindful of Bonifacio and his image on Bonifacio Day 1996. It was a commemoration in Liwasang Bonifacio (old name: Plaza Lawton) led by the mayor of Manila, who wore an elegant piña barong and a funny Katipunero hat. In the midst of the solemnity that marks official programs, National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin growled audibly from the back, ?Where are the masses? Where the hell are the masses?? The well-heeled crowd looked at Joaquin, and seeing the beer bottle in his hand, dismissed him as a drunk.

That day, I gave sculptor Guillermo Tolentino?s statue of Bonifacio, with the Manila Post Office in the background, a second look and asked many questions: Where were the masses on Bonifacio Day? Why was Bonifacio wearing an embroidered barong, instead of a white camisa de chino opened all the way to his navel to reveal six-pack abs? Where was the red neckerchief and red drawstring pants we associate with him and folk dances? Why was he wearing shoes instead of going about barefoot? Where was the gleaming bolo and the red flag, both symbols of the Philippine Revolution? Why did Tolentino depict Bonifacio with a quiet defiant dignity instead of the angry facial contortion that results from the silent rebel shout of other statues?

The image we have of Bonifacio has been shaped by the re-presentation of Philippine history by a series of visual artists?from Jorge Pineda?s pencil drawing on the cover of the July 14, 1911 issue of Renacimiento Filipino, to Carlos V. Francisco?s magnificent mural depicting the History of Manila in 1968. The visual image persists: from the Grito de Balintawak monument by Ramon Martinez unveiled in 1911, the first in reinforced concrete, to Guillermo Tolentino?s granite and cast-bronze masterpiece of 1933 that has given that spot in Caloocan its distinct name, ?Monumento.?

Unlike Jose Rizal who was documented in many photographs from age 14 to the time he was shot at 35 in Bagumbayan, we have only one faded photograph of Andres Bonifacio. What makes this unique studio portrait problematic is that the Great Plebian, the Hero of the Masses, isn?t in his trademark camisa and red pants; this Bonifacio is wearing a coat and tie! (See Fig. 1) This photograph became the basis of an engraving published by a Spanish periodical in 1897, where the ?Titular President of the Tagalog Republic? was given a better coat and tie (See Fig. 2). Then, in the days before Adobe Photoshop, Bonifacio?s face was retouched, his coat updated to the style of 1913 and adorned with a carnation on the buttonhole (See Fig. 3). Like Barbie?s partner Ken, Bonifacio could change from a coat to a Katipunan uniform (See Fig.4). We make our own Bonifacios in our image and likeness.

Everyone associates Jose Rizal with a dark suit and a bowler hat, Bonifacio with the camisa and red pants, such that when students act out the ?Noli Me Tangere,? Ibarra is dressed like a statue of Rizal while Elias is dressed like a statue of Bonifacio. We tend to mix things up. We have both a historical Bonifacio based on a photograph and historical documents, and a Bonifacio based on art and myth. We tend to remember the mythical one more.

Before it was transferred to Vinzons Hall in UP Diliman, the monument by Ramon Martinez used to stand in Balintawak (See Fig.5). According to press clippings of the time, this was an allegory of the revolution. A plaque at the base of the statue said it was ?Ala-ala ng bayang Pilipino sa mga Bayani ng ?96,? (A memorial of the Filipino People to the Heroes of 1896). That plaque is long gone and the same statue in Diliman has been rechristened by a new plaque that declares ?Bonifacio.?

Common sense should remind us that Bonifacio did not fight with a bolo; he used a gun. And if he went to the revolution wearing that shining white polo and screaming red pants, he would have made for an easy target for enemy snipers. What was he shouting? Was it really sugod mga kapatid! (Charge!)? Perhaps textbook history has been censored and Bonifacio shouted the word that sparked the Philippine Revolution, a bad word that begins with ?P?? Common sense, as we all know, is not common.

Guillermo E. Tolentino raised the image of Bonifacio from the screaming revolutionary in camisa and red pants to one of National Hero. After painstaking research and interviews with contemporaries of the Supremo, Tolentino proposed a Bonifacio in an elegant barong tagalog. This Bonifacio wore shoes. He stands calm but defiant with a bolo in one hand and a gun in the other. Behind him are Emilio Jacinto and a standard bearer with the Katipunan flag. Aside from the photograph mentioned above, Tolentino based the hero?s likeness on the bone structure of his sister Espiridiona. Not content with this, Tolentino went beyond the grave, consulting espiritistas to discern the true likeness and character of Bonifacio.

Before you spend your next ten-peso coin, look at the Bonifacio wearing a camisa and a neckerchief etched on it and ask the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas where they stored his coat and tie. ?

Copyright 2015 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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