For my Wife
Patient, understanding, and tolerant, who has shielded me, in this as in my other undertakings, against impertinent boors and all forms of noise.
IT WAS with great difficulty and trepidation that I was finally able to persuade myself to sit down to attempt a biography of Andres Bonifacio. For no one who has gone through the available sources on the first epoch of the Philippine Revolution, which includes, necessarily, the history of the Katipunan and its plebeian founder, can fail to note with dismay and with a sense of loss, that it is practically impossible for any one man to write a fairly complete story of Bonifacio’s life. For the Plebeian Hero, the first truly Filipino democrat, suffered from two disadvantages.
On the one hand was his lowly and obscure origin, and on the other was the plethora of supposedly reliable documents on his trial and death. Because of his obscure origin, none of his contemporaries, not even his sister, could give clear and accurate data on his early life. Indeed, because he was a mere bodeguero, they did not suspect that he would become a national figure and so do not remember much about him. I tried hard to pump dry his living contemporaries to obtain necessary and important information – to no avail! None of them could characterize him either as a man or as a leader of the Katipunan which he made into a vibrant force that challenged Spanish might and prestige.
On the other hand, the numerous documents on the trial and death of Bonifacio make it sufficiently taxing for a student of the period to pick out which are reliable and which are not. Some of the accounts were obviously manufactured by certain dramatis personae to make themselves appear in good light; other contain accounts of incidents that never happened. There was, too, the play for personal prejudices, and out of this welter of confusing opinions and narratives, comes out of the labyrinth like a dazed man blinking in the glare of the sun after long hours spent in a dark room.
In dealing with Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan, I have laid more emphasis on the latter than on its founder and organizer, firstly, because of the dearth of materials on his life, and secondly, because it is my belief that Bonifacio can best be seen and appreciated against the backdrop of the revolutionary society. He could not have been greater than the Katipunan. Nor could he have risen above it. To understand him, one must understand the Katipunan. He looms great because of the society. He must, therefore, be seen in and through the Katipunan, and this method of unraveling the thin and scattered threads of his life is valid only because of the lack of materials.
In examining my sources of information, I have adopted the attitude of friendly hostility. It has been my experience that most of the errors in the difficult task of interpretation – which, after all, is the most important in any book – spring from the scholar’s uncritical attitude. He takes for granted that the fame of an author is sufficient guaranty of reliability and competence. Such mental outlook smacks of hypocrisy and cowardice. I have, therefore, dismissed this line of reasoning as inadequate. In this book, I have subjected my sources to a severe scrutiny, looked for loopholes, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies in order to arrive at a balanced conclusion. Ricarte, for instance, hitherto regarded as incontrovertible, is after a careful examination, not always accurate and reliable. So is General Pio del Pilar. So are certain documents on the trial and death of Bonifacio. And so are some of the opinions expressed by the great scholars Epifanio de los Santos and Teodoro M. Kalaw. I shall probably hear loud protests and whispered innuendoes, but I invite the potential objectors to my method to read my Notes carefully, for in them I have embodied the reasons for repudiating some of the claims of famous scholars, for dismissing the authority and for accepting that document.
No controversial points are discussed in the main body of the book. Only my own conclusions are there set forth, whereas the arguments to support them are sufficiently clarified, I hope, in the Notes. This method, I believe, makes for easy reading and saves the readers from being rudely interrupted in their reading. To include the discussions of doubtful points and the footnotes in the main text would be to make the book a dull and protracted law brief. It is as if in the midst of a lively conversation between two friends, a maid suddenly appeared to tell the host that a salesman was at the door. In the second place, I refuse to argue the positions I have taken in the main narrative, believing, likewise, that it is improper of me to dispute things with my visitor -in this case, the reader – in the sala. I have thought it best to argue in the backroom – in the Notes at the end of the book.
With the help of General Emilio Aguinaldo, who was very cooperative with me, I was able to throw light on hitherto obscure and highly controversial episodes, thereby correcting serious mistakes and misconceptions about some phases of the revolution. I trust that with the data I have included in this book, and which I have interpreted, other students of the Revolution will be inspired to carry on where I left off. If this leads to the writing of a better book in the near or distant future, I shall consider my efforts not wasted and my work not written in vain.
MANILA, 12 April 1948
In writing the chapters “Of Laws and Men” and “The Summing Up,” I relied mostly on the English translations of the documents of Bonifacio’s trial, since the original documents were then unavailable. I deduced from the translations that a forgery must have been committed in order to make it appear that General (then Colonel) Pantaleon Garcia was the Judge Advocate who presided over the trial of the Bonifacio brothers.
Months after the present work was adjudged the winner, I secured photostats of the original documents of the trial. I compared Garcia’s alleged signature on the 1897 documents with that I found on two 1899 documents and with the one on the back of Garcia’s portrait he gave to Mr. Antonio K. Abad in 1930. General Garcia’s signature had not undergone any substantial change since 1899. However, a comparative study of the signatures on the 1897 and 1899 documents shows that there exist obvious differences between the signatures on the two sets of documents. In the first place, there are strokes in the 1897 documents that are, or what appear to be, imitations of Garcia’s strokes. In the second place, Garcia is shown to have signed his full name on some 1897 documents; only “Garcia” on a few; and “P. Garcia” on the others. On the other hand, Garcia consistently signed “P. Garcia” both on the 1899 documents and the 1930 portrait. To make this clear, I reproduce for this edition facsimiles of Garcia’s signature in 1899 and 1930 and of his alleged signature in 1897.
In view of my findings, I do not feel compelled to revise my original conclusions. On the contrary, the photostats have strengthened my arguments and the conclusions deduced from them. My arguments are set forth in Note 20, Chapter XIV.
MANILA, 26 August 1954
The excerpt was posted in this blog to commemorate T. A. Agoncillo’s 31st death anniversary as well as to compel the readers to rekindle their interest into knowing the history of our people. It was also to the purpose of giving light to Agoncillo’s trepidation on writing this book. Only the introduction part and Agoncillo’s “Summing Up” – his personal opinions – which is to follow, and my reactions, are to be exhibited here in this site.
Joshua C. Agar