Rizal and Bonifacio – Polar Opposites?

The Philippine Islands (1899) (14773138935)How much in the discussions about the “Pepe and Boni” is just projection, first of all? How many who say that Rizal wanted to be a martyr actually want to say that of Ninoy? How many who are for Bonifacio’s alleged shoot first, talk later mindset mean right-wing or left-wing characters in the present or nearer past of the Philippines? How many who are against Rizal’s reformism actually mean the February Revolution of 1986 was not really a revolution, and reforms from then were useless? What is their real agenda?

Bayot o Bayani?

How many of those who criticize Rizal for not being a revolutionary also subscribe to Duterte’s criticism of Mar Roxas (link)? “Wala, si Mar, bayot. Hindi niya kaya. Hindi. Kaya ko kasi lalaki ako,.. Hindi ka lalaki, papaano ‘yan? Takot kang pumatay, takot kang mamatay. Eh subukan mo ako. Maghawak ka ng shabu sa harap ko, pasabugin ko ulo mo…Ikaw bayot, ako kaya ko. Hindi ka marunong pumatay?” The gist is that leaders have to “fear neither death nor killing”. Modern, civilized men aren’t seen as “real men”.

Rizal in fact was a good shot and knew how to fence. If the duel between Antonio Luna and Rizal had pushed through, there probably would have been no Heneral Luna (link) as Rizal was by all accounts better. While Bonifacio was, as many may not know, a well-read autodidact, forced to stop going to school by his being orphaned very early. And this was his conclusion in March 1896 (link): Reason tells us that we must rely upon ourselves alone and never entrust our livelihood to anybody else. Unlike Duterte.

Approach the World?

Unlike also like Sikatuna, also mentioned by Bonifacio for his blood compact with Legazpi, or Aguinaldo, who made his deal with Spain in Biak-na-Bato in 1897 and then tried to become an American protege in 1898. Or pro-Japanese collaborators later on. The ilustrados around Rizal still hoped to be treated as equals by the Spaniards, some wanting representation in the Spanish Parliament or Cortes, others wanted autonomy, but still under the Spanish crown. An arrangement like Australia has with England?

According to Charles Mann’s book 1493, there were already Filipino communities in Mexico City in earlier centuries, but most probably never returned to the country, just like the Manila Men of Louisiana (link). The ilustrados of the late 19th century were able to travel back and forth to Europe thanks to the Suez Canal and steamships. Electricity was one of the marvels of that age, as well as photography. Rizal loved to take “selfies”. Aspiring for modernity is still a Filipino obsession. Was the place a backwater too long?

Differences in Perspective

On the other hand, Bonifacio and the like were middle class people working in foreign firms that had been increasingly setting up in Manila for decades. They had a glimpse of what might be out there, they had the stories of Rizal, but no access to those places. Their view was of the abuses perpetrated by colonial authorities, as mentioned in one of the founding documents of the Katipunan (link): this land has been broken from the stem and withered, and shows no inclination to grow fresh shoots or spring back to life.

Even if Rizal’s novels do mention colonial and friar abuses, there is a major difference in wading in a flood that is waist-high versus a flood that is neck-deep. And though the great respect Bonifacio had for Rizal is known, there is one sentence in the January 1892 Katipunan document which shows serious doubts regarding the many in Rizal’s social class:  The pretensions of the enlightened men (ilustrados) who have education and everything they desire, dear ones, but it can be seen that their habits are coarse.

Battle of Katipunan

Even today one can see truly enlightened, cosmopolitan members of the Filipino elite – as opposed to pretentious rich people or pseudo-intellectual schmucks. One can also see ordinary Filipinos who embody good values – as opposed to vulgar, tacky types. The once strong divide between UP and Ateneo, nationalist as opposed to elitist-clerical has faded somewhat nowadays, with student councils of both universities calling upon the audience to wear black during the “Battle of Katipunan” as a sign of protest (link).

The great divide may be elsewhere now, as an observer of the 2016 elections noted (link): Malapit ba si Duterte o si Binay sa pagiging katulad ni Bonifacio?  Si Roxas, si Poe o si Santiago ba ay kapara ni Rizal? Duterte skipped Bonifacio Day yesterday. Meanwhile, more Filipinos are abroad than ever before. Those who have had the privilege of learning good English of course are more at ease in many global settings. Typical OFWs and some BPO workers may see the world much like Bonifacio once did.

Disown the World?

One must try to imagine how isolated from the world the Philippines was around 1800. Possibly the ordinary Filipino was even more isolated from the world in 1800 than 1521, when the small chiefdoms and the collections of chiefdoms called rajahnates at least traded with the world – mostly on their own terms. The sense of having lost something is what both Rizal’s Philippines a Century Hence and Bonifacio’s Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog exude. Learned helplessness might have been an effect of that loss.

Probably that learned helplessness is the key weakness of all three major founding fathers of the Philippines. Rizal who wanted to rely mainly on learning from abroad, Bonifacio who might have glorified the past too much, Aguinaldo who followed the fatal Filipino tradition of relying on foreign patrons – which Duterte is simply continuing. Different from Japan, whose spirit was never broken, and therefore had the confidence to adopt whatever it happened to see fit from foreign templates – yet staying Japanese.

Being less developed than others at some point has happened to nearly every country. Germans learned from the Romans, Romans from the Greeks, Greeks from Persians. The relative isolation of the Philippines had a more advanced civilization crashing in like alien starships, while continental Eurasians had learned from one another for millennia. Filipinos now travel the world. Disowning the world and joining China in anti-Western resentment – Duterte’s way – may not be the wisest course. Rizal and Bonifacio were 120 years ago. The world and the Philippines are both radically different places now. Travel and communication have gotten even faster and more instantaneous than then. The challenges of today are more important, the past offers lessons at most. Let us see.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 1 December 2018

8 thoughts on “Rizal and Bonifacio – Polar Opposites?

  1. I am reading old Ambeth Ocampo books,.
    I have stated with the Rizal lectures.

    He growing up thinking thatt Bonifacio shoukd be National herio instead of Rizsl
    That was before his passion for Rizal studies.
    I think he is solid Rizal now.

    Btw. Nice touch on connecting the two with current events.

    • With regards to bayot o bayani.
      Ocamponentertaibed the thought that Rizal might be gay to his “amateurish psycho-analysis” ( he somewhat admits) of Gus dreams ( Dreams of Blumentrit); his non commitment to relationships, and a letter sent to him by his male classmate.

      Oh well, he was also intrigued because of some suggestions of critiques.

    • Bayot in the context Duterte used it means more like “duwag”..


      Some Filipinos hate Jose Rizal. I am one of them.

      Reasons vary. For some, Rizal was too much a part of the bourgeoisie to soil his hands with blood and gunpowder. Others stress he was a lackey of the Americans, a “safe” choice for a Filipino national hero all because his image as a writer fit into their “democratic” and “savior of the world” molds, unlike the temperamental and fiery revolutionary Supremo Andres Bonifacio.

      Likewise, there are those who insist that Rizal’s refusal to be rescued from his prison in Dapitan and to take part in the revolution, regardless of Bonifacio’s prodding via Pio Valenzuela, did much to reveal Rizal’s “true” intentions: assimilation into the Spanish government rather than complete and utter independence from the colonizers.

      To many, Rizal was a traitorous pencil pusher, a self-willed Ivory Tower recalcitrant.

      Duwag. Plain and simple.

      As for my reason, I hate Dr. Jose Rizal because he was right in refusing to direct a premature bloody revolution.

      Notice that I didn’t say he was against the revolution.

      On the night Pio Alejandrino Valenzuela paid Rizal a visit in Dapitan, and there expressed word of the Katipunan’s plans to rescue him, with additional revelation that the Katipunan’s revolution might kick off prematurely despite the lack of arms, Rizal said:

      “This I do not approve. A revolution without arms should never be started against an armed nation. Its consequences will be fatal and disastrous to the country. The Filipinos will necessarily have to lose owing to lack of arms” (Taken from “My Conference with Dr. Jose Rizal in Dapitan,” which forms part of the “Memoirs of the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution” by Dr. Pio A. Valenzuela, http://j-rizal.blogspot.com/2007/04/dr-pio-valenzuelas-conference-with-dr.html)…

      ..For Rizal, apparently, a revolution waged prematurely, without sufficient weapons at their disposal, would be a bloody revolution–much of it their own. To lose and be conquered yet again wasn’t an option. To lose the fight–their one chance at beating the odds–would crush whatever confidence was left in the Filipino to stage an uprising.

      Rizal knew, on the other hand, that this struggle would drive the Spanish conquistadores crazy, what with another revolution in Cuba siphoning much of Spain’s war resources at the time.
      Desperate to hold on to its colonies, Spain’s monarchy could unleash a violent reprisal the likes of which would render the resistance broken and, later, obsolete. Filipinos had one chance at battling the odds. To lose now was to douse the fire of the resistance for all time…

      ..My own take on the matter is this: Rizal’s refusal to direct the revolution comes as a lesson in the art of Rizalian struggle: to never look at one person as the source of the light and the fire. To him, heart and mind must figure in the battle for our freedom. To charge with one and dispense with the other is suicide.

      Who will build and lead the republic if all were ignorant, or worse, dead because of ignorance? Because all they had to go on was rage?..

      (written by Joel Pablo Salud)

    • Thanks.
      Sorry about the gay stuff. I remember r my cousins from Davao teasing each other “bayot ka”, and I asked wat bayot meant and they told me: “bakla”-
      I doubt that he is one, because there are accounts of him fighting much taller and bigger bullies and there was no mention of kalmot and sabunot.(joke)

      Apparently Ocampo knows Vicara, I saw her name under the acknowledfements.

    • Now that you have mentioned meanings and contexts, I am supposed to leave the “was Rizal gay ?” to my imagination, but I could net help share this.

      “Last week, two of my students came up to me after class with a volume of Rizal’s correspondence and asked what I thought of a rather mushy juvenile poem that Ricardo Aguado dedicated to Rizal on March 19, 1877. At the time of its composition, Rizal was 15 years old, a student at the Ateneo Municipal and the verses read:

      Dedicated to Rizal by his classmate Ricardo Aguado, 19 March 1877. To my Dearest Friend Jose Rizal, on His Saint’s Day, 19 March.

      That merciful heart divine
      Now lovingly inspires
      My psaltery unrefined
      With voices my mind doth seek
      To sing its ardent love.

      Your pleasing image alone,
      In my soft heart always engraved,
      Now removes from me the fraud
      The loved star from sailor forlorn
      As in an agitated sea.

      For you’re, sweet friend of mine.
      The only joy of my soul.
      And always to be with you
      Is my incessant desire
      In this sad, unfortunate land.

      But since my luck denies
      Me such happiness this day,
      My Muse with tenderness
      Its affection doth sent to you
      At this pleasant hour of joy.

      And cheerfully is content
      Kind heaven to implore
      To banish gloomy thoughts
      Away from your lusty soul
      And in it dwell peace and joy

      That as the ardent rays
      Of the sun eclipse feeble stars
      With mortal grief,
      As with belles-lettres you leave
      Behind ’neath your footprints the rest.

      That such enthusiasm your years
      Frustration, wickedness, sad fears
      Without perturbing your peace
      Like a brook among flowers gay
      With thing of beauty pass by.

      And if one day finally
      The Just calls you to His
      Happy home of ineffable joy
      Your beautiful soul
      May enjoy celestial bliss.

      I didn’t quite know how to react, especially since the above verses come with a small note that reads, “Rizal, Yesterday I could not give it to you because it was not yet finished, and then I went out and had no more time. Don’t show these verses to anybody, not even to one you trust most.”

      How could I have missed something as intriguing as this? When I returned to the office and pulled out my copy of Rizal’s correspondence, there was a small note on the table of contents beside this letter that said, “Is there something more to this seemingly juvenile verse?” For me to speculate would prove to my critics that when I read documents, I actually add one plus one and get three.

      Rizal’s reply or his reaction to the above is lost to history. There is one other letter from Aguado to Rizal dated May 21, 1877 that relates the assault on the Luna home by bandits, but even here was a harmless line made meaningful by context. Rizal asked, “Who are the boys at your house?” Now, that I leave to the reader’s imagination.

      Before we read this in the context of “Brokeback Mountain” or “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros,” we have to guard against hindsight, or the use of 21st-century views on a document from the late 19th century. Maybe we need some background from Felix Roxas, who was a student in the Ateneo Municipal at the time. He wrote:

      “… It happened that at the age of 13 when we took up the study of our two classics — Virgil on the one side and Fenelon on the other — we staged a play about Olympus with goddesses, nymphs and nereids. Human nature takes its course and, for an infinity of reasons, this instinct develops until such time comes when passionate love letters are addressed to each other by fellow classmates.”

      At the time, when an all-boys school had a play, only boys were on stage, playing both male and female parts. The same was true of an all-girls school play. No wonder passions were aroused. So was there anything going on between Aguado and Rizal? I leave that to your imagination.

      If my students learn how to read a document, analyze it inside out and form their own conclusions, this is definitely a lesson they will take with them for the rest of their lives.”

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