I wrote this for the Philippine Online Chronicles.
On November 30, 2013 we commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio (1863-1897), the plebian leader of the 1896 revolution against Spanish colonial rule.
At the same time, we also remember a pantheon of local revolutionary leaders like Teresa Magbanua and Martin Delgado in Panay Island, among many others, who heeded the call of the time.
Aiming to end over 300 years of Spanish oppression, the Katipunan founded by Bonifacio waged a ferocious armed struggle that would eventually lead to the Spanish Empire’s humiliating defeat.
On August 23, 1896, Bonifacio led Katipuneros and their supporters in tearing up their cedulas or tax certificates in the Cry of Pugadlawin. This marked the launching of the armed revolution against Spain followed by pitched battles for the control over the colonial capital city of Manila.
The opening salvo of the 1896 revolution sparked dozens of revolts all throughout the Philippine archipelago, the first democratic revolution against colonialism and feudalism in Asia.
Flames of Revolt Spread to Panay
Fearing that the revolution would threaten their properties, local landed elites in the province of Iloilo raised funds to support the Spanish authorities and organized counterrevolutionary voluntarios who would be sent to Manila to fight the Katipuneros.
It is in recognition of their loyalty that the Spanish Queen Maria Cristina presented the city of Iloilo a coat-of-arms with the inscription “La Muy Meal y Noble ciudad de Iloilo” which translated means the most loyal and noble city of Iloilo.
But the flames of the Katipunan revolution cannot be extinguished and this inevitably spread to the island of Panay and eventually Iloilo.
Side by side with the retreat of the March 1897 Katipunan uprising in the town of Kalibo, Aklan were the mutiny in the neighboring provice of Antique and the emergence of the Bolo Battalion, later on commanded by the woman general Teresa Magbanua, in the hinterlands of Iloilo.
These forces linked up with other anti-colonial leaders such as Adriano Hernandez in Antique, Esteban Contreras in Capiz, and the Katipuneros expeditionaries led by Leandro Fullon and Ananias Dionko sent from Luzon island to Panay.
With the high tide of revolt sweeping the land, even the voluntarios of Iloilo led by Martin Delgado were convinced to switch allegiances and rebelled against their Spanish overlords.
A National Democratic Revolution
Inspired by the ideals of the French revolution, the 1896 revolution was a national democratic revolution that rallied peasants, workers, intellectuals, and other oppressed Filipinos.
The 1896 revolution fought for national independence, civil liberties, the elimination of theocratic rule, and the confiscation of friar estates.
This came alongside the heroic anti-colonial struggles in the Latin Americas which struck strong blows to the fledging Spanish Empire. This was part of a global wave of democratic revolutions led by a rising bourgeois that defeated feudalism.
Then the dominant social order in much of the world, the old feudal system of production is characterized by the extreme exploitation and oppression of the peasant class by big landlords.
This was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish in the form of the encomienda land grants which were later converted into hacienda plantations producing cash crops for export.
The 1896 revolution successfully defeated Spanish colonialism. But the Filipinos cannot savor the fruit of their hard-won victory.
US Imperialism steals Philippine Independence
At the turn of the 20th Century, the United States was becoming a rising industrial power that needed colonies to satiate its growing appetite for profit.
In the guise of aiding the Filipinos against Spain, US expeditionary forces sailed to the Philippines and took contol over the Spanish garrison at Intramuros, Manila. The US then bought the Philippines from Spain in the Treaty of Paris on December 1898 for a measly sum of $20 million.
On February 4, 1899, US forces launched a surprise attack against unsuspecting Filipino forces. Somewhere from 600,000 to 1,500,000 Filipinos were killed by American forces in the course of the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).
Entire towns and villages that resisted the US invasion were burned to the ground, including a 60 kilometer stretch between the provinces of Iloilo and Capiz.
Communities suspected of supporting Filipino guerrillas were “hamletted” or forced into concentration camps. The US used brutal torture techniques like the water cure on suspected “subversives.”
Some of the centers of the armed resistance against Spain and later on the US such as Dueñas, Iloilo and Capiz were dubbed by the colonizers to be infested by aswangs and other supernatural monsters in order to instill fear and discredit the revolutionary forces.
Bonifacio’s Continuing Relevance
The ideals of the 1896 revolution were buried under the empty rhetoric of the new colonizers’ “civilizing mission.” But this did not modernize the country through the elimination of feudalism.
The land monopoly was maintained and served to provide cheap agricultural products for US markets, thus keeping the Philippine economy backward and dependent on foreign goods and capital.
Many from among the local elites were attracted by the US promises of “benevolent assimilation” and were given positions in the colonial bureaucracy by the new colonizers.
The US granted formal independence to the Philippines in the year 1946. But the economic and political interests of the ruling classes would continue to be tied to their former colonial masters.
Imperialism has been replaced by the catch-phrase “globalization.” Yet it still means the same concentration of wealth in the hands of a few industrial powers and their puppets in the Third World and untold misery and poverty for the rest of the people.
Today, the BS Aquino regime is presently rocked by massive protests against its defense of the pork barrel and patronage politics amidst criminal incompetence in preparing and responding to super typhoon Yolanda.
It is for these reasons that many Filipinos continue to struggle to liberate the country from all forms of foreign domination, the feudal monopoly of land, and bureaucratic corruption.
With many of the same social ills that forced the Katipunan to take up arms still plaguing the Filipino people, it is necessary for the present generation to continue the unfinished revolution of Bonifacio and other heroes of the old national democratic struggle.
Renato Constantino, The Philippines: A Past Revisited, Manila: Tala Pub. Services, 1975.
Amado Guerrero, Philippine Society and Revolution, Luzon: Central Pub. House, 1996.
“Paglubad sang Problema sa Lupa: Ang Nagapadayon nga Kabilinggan ni Bonifacio kag Rebolusyon 1896,” Ulos, 2013.