Andres Bonifacio (1863-1897), a Philippine revolutionary hero, founded the Katipunan, a secret society which spearheaded the uprising against the Spanish and laid the groundwork for the first Philippine Republic. Andres Bonifacio was born in Tondo, Manila, on Nov. 30, 1863. He grew up in the slums and knew from practical experience the actual conditions of the class struggle in his society. Orphaned early, he interrupted his primary schooling in order to earn a living as a craftsman and then as clerk-messenger and agent of foreign commercial firms in Manila.
Absorbing the teachings of classic rationalism from the works of Jose Rizal, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew, books on the French Revolution, and the lives of the presidents of the United States, Bonifacio acquired an understanding of the dynamics of the socio-historical process. This led him to join the Liga Filipina, which Rizal organized in 1892 for the purpose of uniting and intensifying the nationalist movement for reforms.
When the Liga was dissolved upon the arrest and banishment of Rizal, Bonifacio formed the Katipunan in 1892 and thus provided the rallying point for the people’s agitation for freedom, independence, and equality. The Katipunan patterned its initiation rites after the Masonry, but its ideological principles derived from the French Revolution and can be judged radical in its materialistic-historical orientation. The Katipunan exalted work as the source of all value.
It directed attention to the unjust class structure of the colonial system, the increased exploitation of the indigenous population, and consequently the need to affirm the collective strength of the working masses in order to destroy the iniquitous system. When the society was discovered on Aug. 19, 1896, it had about 10,000 members. On August 23 Bonifacio and his followers assembled at Balintawak and agreed to begin the armed struggle.
Two days later the first skirmish took place and a reign of terror by the Spaniards soon followed. Conflict split the rebels into the two groups of Magdiwang and Magdalo in Cavite, on Luzon. Bonifacio was invited to mediate, only to be rebuffed by the clannish middle class of Cavite. Judging Bonifacio’s plans as divisive and harmful to unity, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the elected president of the provisional revolutionary government, ordered the arrest, trial, and execution for “treason and sedition” of Bonifacio and his brothers.
On May 10, 1897, Bonifacio was executed. Contrary to the popular view, the cause of Bonifacio’s tragic death at the hands of other Filipino rebels cannot be solely attributed to his own personal pride. Rather, the correlation of class forces and the adventurist tendency of Bonifacio’s group led to his isolation and subsequently to Aguinaldo’s compromises with the American military invaders.