Column: Patriot’s primer

Published January 11, 2011. The “Kartilyang Makabayan” is on my wish list of book projects: I hope to complete an annotated translation in time for Bonifacio’s 150th birth anniversary. Bahala na!

IN 1921, largely through the efforts of poet-politician Lope K. Santos, an official holiday to mark the birthday of Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio was celebrated in the country for the first time (it came a generation after his execution at the hands of Emilio Aguinaldo’s men). The day before the new holiday, labor leader Hermenegildo Cruz later recalled, his school-age children asked him: “Sino ba iyan si Bonifacio (Who is that [man] Bonifacio)?”

Wari ako’y natubigan (I felt like I had been doused),” the pioneer labor organizer and nationalist writer wrote. After he recovered, he began to tell his children about Bonifacio and the Katipunan: “Sa maiikling pangungusap, ay aking ipinatanto sa mga anak ko ang buong kabuhayan ni Andres Bonifacio at ang sanhi’t katwiran kung bakit siya’y ibinubunyi ng ating lahi’t Pamahalaan. Akin ding ipinakilala sa kanila ang mga aral ng ‘Katipunan’; at isinaysay ang kapakinabangang natamo ng Bayang Pilipino sa paghihimagsik na pinamatnugutan ng kapisanang yaong itinatag at pinanguluhan ni Andres Bonifacio. (In simple words, I made my children understand the whole life story of Andres Bonifacio and the roots and reasons why he was being honored by our race and government. I also introduced to them the principles of the Katipunan; and narrated the benefits gained by the Philippine nation through the revolution directed by that society founded and headed by Andres Bonifacio.)”

That teaching moment (as we now say these days) led Cruz to write “Kartilyang Makabayan” (Patriotic Primer), a revealing catechism (it follows a question-and-answer format) about Bonifacio and the revolutionary organization he founded “na nagturo at nagakay sa Bayang Pilipino sa Paghihimagsik laban sa kapangyarihang dayo (which taught and guided the Philippine nation in the Revolution against foreign powers),” as part of the kilometric sub-title put it.

“Kartilyang Makabayan” is a testament to Bonifacio’s greatness, and while it does without documentation or often even the courtesy of attribution, the primer does not seem to strain after effect. In a few instances, the modern-day reader with access to more information might think that Cruz tried to stretch the point, but all told, the primer is that rare thing: the reasonable paean, the measured praise.

Its principal objective can be glimpsed in Question No. 11.

Ano’t idinadakila ng Bayang Pilipino si Andres Bonifacio at siya’y ipinalalagay na dakilang Bayani sa piling ni Rizal? Sapagka’t siya ang nagtayo at nahalal na pangulo ng ‘Kataastaasan, Kagalanggalang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan,’ na pinagkautangan ng Bayang Pilipino ng kabayanihan sa pagusig sa kanyang ikalalaya. ‘May-pagasa’ ang sagisag niya na ‘nangyari’ bago siya mamatay.

(One possible translation: Why does the Philippine nation honor Andres Bonifacio and seek to place him as a noble hero beside Rizal? Because he founded and was elected head of the Highest, Most Honorable Society of the Sons of the People, to whom the Philippine nation owes the heroism of its struggle to be free. “There-is-hope” was his pseudonym, which “happened” before he died.)

To honor Bonifacio in full is to place him “sa piling ni Rizal,” which means not only “on the side of,” but “in the same rank as,” Rizal. In 1922, the year Cruz published his primer, that meant accomplishing two things: to locate Bonifacio in the Rizal story, and then to distance the supremo of the Katipunan from the martyr of Bagumbayan.

Like early chroniclers of the Katipunan, Cruz traced its founding to Rizal’s arrest after his return from Hong Kong. “Nang maalaman ito ni Andres Bonifacio ay nagalab ang kanyang loob (When Andres Bonifacio came to know of it, his heart was inflamed).” He then gathered Ladislao Diwa Valentin Diaz, Ildefonso Laurel and Deodato Arellano (other accounts include other names) in a house on Azcarraga Street, and together they founded the Katipunan.

The connection with Rizal is explicit.

But Cruz takes pains to show that at a critical crossroads in history, Bonifacio and Rizal parted ways. The contrast between Bonifacio’s conviction that the time for an armed revolt had come and Rizal’s punctilious regard for peaceful means is sharpened by several anecdotes, embodied in the answers to the questions in Cruz’s catechism. Indeed, a survey of the questions themselves is already telling. No. 34: “In other words, the Masons and the wealthy Filipinos were not in agreement with the Katipunan?” No. 36: “What did the Masons do to Bonifacio and the Katipunan?” No. 37: “Was Rizal in agreement with the revolution started by the Katipunan?” No. 39: “What did Bonifacio do in the face of the opposition of Rizal and others to the revolution?”

Perhaps the most moving part of the catechism is when Cruz drew a contrast between the methodical patience of the wealthy and the ready fatalism of the poor, and then followed it up with an eloquent defense of the poor’s come-what-may attitude: “the poor, workers, the destitute, the lowly people, here [in the Philippines] and wherever else, when they embrace a deed they realize needs to be done to meet a noble objective, do not tarry in thought and act immediately, by means of the words ‘Bahala na [Come what may]!’ We will see that this ‘bahala’ is what saved the Filipino people in those times and led us to victory.”

Sadly, Cruz’s small book is neglected and out of print. It doesn’t merit even a single citation in the standard reference on Bonifacio and the Katipunan, Teodoro Agoncillo’s “The Revolt of the Masses.” And yet it is an important (and most useful) read. Those who’ve read it, or will consult it online through the University of Michigan’s impressive archives, will know what I mean.


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  1. Pingback: Finding Bonifacio: Readings, Reflections, Resources » Manuel L. Quezon III

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