Sunday Lifestyle

The untold stories of Andres Bonifacio and his family

WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores - The Philippine Star

Real heroes are men who fall and fail and are flawed, but win out in the end because they’ve stayed true to their ideals and beliefs and commitments. — Kevin Costner

What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity? Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero? Is the light truly the source of darkness or vice versa? — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Amid the high-stakes territorial dispute over jurisdiction of Bonifacio Global City by Taguig, Makati and Pateros, with National Heroes Day next week and the National Historical Institute (NHI) led by Professor Maris Diokno urging the country to commemorate this year the 150th birth anniversary of revolutionary Andres Bonifacio, I sought out the hero’s great-great-grandnephew Atty. Gary Bonifacio for an exclusive interview. He is the great-great-grandson of the Katipunan founder’s younger brother Procopio, who was a fellow revolutionary and also executed along with Andres Bonifacio in 1897 by the men of General Emilio Aguinaldo after the controversial election at the Tejeros Convention in Cavite. Excerpts from the interview:

PHILIPPINE STAR: What is your reaction to Bonifacio Global City being legally fought over by three cities Taguig, Makati and Pateros?

ATTY. GARY BONIFACIO: (Laughs) Kasi malaki iyong income eh (It’s due to the big income). When I was a kid, I recall Fort Boni was part of Makati, then the Bonifacio Global City became part of Taguig City. That former military camp was named Fort Andres Bonifacio.

That’s where I read the opposition people were jailed during martial law?

Yes, people like Ninoy Aquino and others.

Your reactions to the December 2012 movie on General Emilio Aguinaldo entitled El Presidente which depicted your great-great-granduncle Andres Bonifacio and your great-great-grandfather Procopio Bonifacio in a negative way? Even in the Jose Rizal film starring Cesar Montano, Bonifacio I think was depicted as a revolutionary hothead?

That is often the depiction of Andres Bonifacio, which is not true and not fair. They claimed that Emilio Aguinaldo did not order the killings of the Bonifacio brothers, but this latest movie El Presidente showed that there was some sort of confession.

Actually Aguinaldo did write such a confession, there was a letter by him in 1949 if I’m not mistaken, in his own handwriting, it was written on Aguinaldo’s birthday. He wrote a confession and admitted being behind the killing of Bonifacio, but he gave a reason. Aguinaldo claimed that based on the sulsol ng mga tauhan niya (based on the proddings of his men) — the letter was in Tagalog — if he wanted to maintain the stability of the government, he had to implement the decision of the Council of War, which was the death penalty for the Bonifacio brothers.

Any movie on Andres Bonifacio to counter or refute those movies with wrong depictions?

There was already a recent Bonifacio film, it’s an indie film starring now Quezon City Congressman Alfred Vargas. The depiction was okay naman (all right), it depicted Andres Bonifacio closer to the truth. One of the revelations of that film, which really happened, was that Andres Bonifacio was killed by stabbing or hacking by bolo (large Filipino machete). Then my great-great-grandfather Procopio Bonifacio was shot by Lazaro Macapagal.

Andres Bonifacio was executed at age 33, his younger brother Ciriaco was shot dead during their arrest and younger brother Procopio was executed along with Andres. The hero Andres had a son who died, your family descended from the Procopio line, what happened to the other descendants of the Bonifacio siblings?

The Ciriaco line we’re still looking for them, even that of Troadio… There were six siblings in all — Andres Bonifacio, Ciriaco, Procopio, Espiridiona, Troadio and Maxima, of which four joined the revolution — Andres, Ciriaco, Procopio and Espiridiona. Troadio was a kid during the revolution, but after the death of Andres Bonifacio and during the American colonial occupation, Troadio refused to swear allegiance to the American flag.

What happened to Troadio then?

He went into self-exile. The last country that we knew or heard that Troadio Bonifacio was in was France in 1898 or 1899, then we heard no news after that.

Was it true you said that up to the 1930s, Aguinaldo’s men were still hunting for Espiridiona? What happened to her after the killings of her three brothers?

She was still being hunted then. She hid in Cavite in that area near Maragondon and Naic, I think she hid in Ternate. Espiridiona Bonifacio was hidden by the Distrito family of Cavite and she eventually married that person who protected her.

What happened to Maxima?

She died at an early age.

Was it true Aguinaldo’s men raped Andres Bonifacio’s wife during his arrest?

In the memoirs of Bonifacio’s widow Gregoria de Jesus, she didn’t say directly that rape happened, but she described her agony and sufferings in captivity. She didn’t directly write that it happened, but by reading between the lines, you could deduce what actually happened.

How did you the family of Procopio survive after the killings and where did your forebears hide?

The son of Procopio — Juan Bonifacio — fled to Mindoro with his mother and grew up there. Our hometown is now called Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro. My great-great-grandfather Procopio Bonifacio was one of the founders of the Katipunan in Mindoro. He was sent there by Andres Bonifacio. Procopio’s wife, Juana, was from Mindoro. My great-grandfather Juan had two sons my grandfather Gregorio and his brother Mateo. Gregorio had two wives — he had six kids from the first wife and the second wife Fructusa Alfaro Bonifacio had two children, my late father Andres Bonifacio and his sister Antonina. 

Was it true that after the killings of the Bonifacio brothers, your family members were persecuted and had to go into hiding ever since?

After the death of Andres Bonifacio, many of his Bonifacio cousins and relatives changed their surnames.

In the mid-1990s, I sold real estate to the owners of the Bonifacio Motors, who used to have their business along Edsa Avenue, which I think is now the new head office of Filinvest Land. Are you related?

Perhaps, because most of us Bonifacios are related.

You’re now a lawyer. Can you or others go perhaps to the Supreme Court or to Congress to legally reverse the unjust trial and execution of the Bonifacio brothers?

That was almost 100 years ago already… Although I know Supreme Court Justice Abraham Sarmiento once prepared a critique of the trial of Andres Bonifacio, and it came out that it was really a kangaroo court.

After all these many years of hiding, when was the first time that you or any other Bonifacio descendants started coming out in public?

In 1992, when I was a college student at the University of the Philippines as a philosophy major, I was then taking a history class or Kasaysayan 1, when my teacher the late Dr. Isagani Medina asked us students to each write a term paper on either a famous personality or our family history.

I chose to write on our family history, while my classmate chose to interview then actor Tirso Cruz III for his term paper and I even accompanied him to his interview at the location shooting of the Agila TV show in Antipolo. On a lighter note, I later on discovered that my professor Dr. Medina was pro-Aguinaldo and lived in Cavite, but he was a great professor.

So how did others get to know that you are a descendant of the Bonifacio family?

Dr. Isagani Medina told others about me in UP to people like Domingo Landicho, then Doming had friends connected to then Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim. It was in 1992 that Mayor Lim sought us out and he arranged for a day for us the descendants of both Espiridiona and Procopio to meet. That was the first time the two branches of our Bonifacio clan had ever met since the 1897 killings. Our family is very grateful to former Manila Mayor Fred Lim, for without him, we wouldn’t have met.

Where are the remains of the Bonifacio brothers?

In 1918, there was a congressional inquiry and one of those who went to Cavite to dig up the remains was Andres Bonifacio’s friend in the Katipunan, Guillermo Masangkay. There were forensics experts too.

So the remains of Andres and Procopio were found? Is it true they later lost that?

They only found the remains of Andres Bonifacio, not that of Procopio. Yes, the remains got lost… After the congressional inquiry of 1918, the Bonifacio remains were stolen. Then they were found again in a sack. Then they were displayed at the National Museum. However, during the liberation of Manila from Japanese military occupation, the National Museum building was one of those bombed by the Americans, so the Bonifacio remains were lost.

Which historians or scholars were fairer to Andres Bonifacio?

Now many are writing about Bonifacio, like Milagros Guerrero, Zeus Salazar, Jimmy Veneracion, newspaper writer Ramon “Mon” Villegas, the late Adrian Cristobal…

Did you read the coffee table book on Bonifacio by Adrian Cristobal? He had a lot of pictures and documents…

Yes, I read it… There’s a picture there of Bonifacio’s baston (cane), that was taken from one of our relatives, Kuya Francisco “Baby” Camacho. He’s a relative from the mother of Andres Bonifacio, she was a Spanish mestiza.

Yes, it’s true. I read Bonifacio’s mother was a Spanish mestiza with some Chinese blood too?

Actually, Andres Bonifacio was not really an Indio, he was more a Spanish mestizo.

What other facts about Andres Bonifacio can you share?

He was an actor in the theater, and often played the role of the mythical Bernardo Carpio. He was also a member of the Free Masonry. His mother’s family used to own the present-day Tutuban property in Tondo, Manila. His mother Catalina de Castro, one of her uncles was cabeza de barangay of Tayuman. That property was not productive, so it was sold to the railway. It is now the site of a mall.

Was the Magdalo name of former military coup plotters versus then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo led by now Senator Sonny Trillanes taken from General Aguinaldo’s Magdalo wing of the Katipunan?

Yes, Magdalo was the Katipunan chapter in Cavite led by Emilio Aguinaldo, while the other Cavite chapter of the Katipunan called Magdiwang was led by Mariano Alvarez who was an uncle of Bonifacio’s wife Gregorio de Jesus.

Was Emilio Aguinaldo’s taking over of the Philippine Revolution from Katipunan founder Andres Bonifacio also a military coup?

Yes, it was a takeover of power.

In college at the Ateneo, I wrote a term paper on the rebel Macario Sakay, he said he was continuing Bonifacio’s revolution when he fought the American colonizers who labeled him a “bandit” but he was defended in court by Senator Jose Diokno’s father Atty. Ramon Diokno. Was Sakay originally with Bonifacio?

Macario Sakay was one of the colleagues of Andres Bonifacio in theater, in fact, he was also their barber, but he later became long-haired. I think it was only during the American military occupation that Sakay became long-haired. Isa siya sa mga kababata ni Andres Bonifacio, taga-Tundo din siya (He was one of the childhood friends of Andres Bonifacio, he was also from Tondo).

I read that Andres Bonifacio and his men like Sakay used anting-anting or amulets?

Yes, because Filipinos are superstitious since before. There was a time that Andres Bonifacio went to the mountains of Montalban in Rizal for cleansing of the soul. His goal was, his belief was that if one was to rule in government, one should have a clean conscience. Until now, there are folk beliefs about those two great rocks in Montalban and how the legendary Bernardo Carpio stood in that gorge between the two great rocks. That place is Pamitinan Cave, that was where Andres Bonifacio went for cleansing during Holy Week in April of 1895 or one year before the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution on Aug. 26, 1896.

The Tejeros convention in Cavite where Bonifacio was said to have been a cheat — the first dagdag-bawas (addition-subtraction) election in Philippine history?

Yes, there were more votes counted than there were actual voters, and mind you, our government still celebrates that. So what will you expect in our elections, if the first election of the Filipino people was also the first election marred by controversy?

Have you ever met the descendants of Aguinaldo? What did you talk about?

Yes, we’ve met before at an occasion of the Kaanak 1896 — which is an association of the descendants of the revolutionaries — but we never spoke to them. We’re just civil to each other.

Aside from the Bonifacio brothers, other victims of injustice in Philippine history include the assassination of General Antonio Luna and Senator Ninoy Aquino, the betrayal by collaborators of anti-Japanese guerrilla leader Wenceslao Vinzons whose family was executed. Next week is National Heroes Day. Do you think there are “fake heroes” too in our textbooks?

I think so, because it depends also on who wrote the history. Often, those who say they “won” the struggle, they write their version of history but it’s often not the whole truth.

This year on Nov. 30, the government commemorates the 150th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio. How do we best honor him?

Hopefully, the government should depict Andres Bonifacio for what he really was and not the usual stereotype of him as always angry, wearing a camisa de Chino and wielding a bolo. 

In the viewpoint of us, his family, we believe Andres Bonifacio during his time was also fashionable. In the three surviving actual pictures of Andres, one showed him wearing a coat and a bowtie which was published in a Spanish newspaper with a caption saying he was “titulado de la Republica Tagala” and labeling him as “wanted.” The second surviving picture was of Bonifacio in a coat with a necktie, this used to be the image on the old five-peso bill; and the third picture showed him wearing a military uniform.

The best way to honor Andres Bonifacio is for us to look again at the historical records and to write fairly by depicting him based on the truth.

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