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That's Andres Bonifacio
By Elson T. Elizaga

Statue of Andres Bonifacio in Cagayan de Oro

Inspired by Senator Barack Obama, who generously praises his political critics, I suggest the honorable mayor Constantino Jaraula prepare a fund for the construction of an air-conditioned office and the installation of broadband Internet for the Historical and Cultural Commission (HISCCOM) of City Hall.

I’m presenting this idea because I sympathize with HISCCOM member Agnes Paulita Roa (aka Nanette Roa), whose apparent lack of access to information technology has prevented her from issuing accurate statements about Cagayan de Oro history. If HISCCOM is online, Roa and her staff could easily set up a forum, or a website, or consult experts abroad, and get answers in just a day or less.

Last week, Roa said that the statue of a man holding a bolo and a flag in divisoria is not that of the plebian hero Andres Bonifacio, but “a tribute to the local revolutionaries who died during the Battle of Agusan Hill” on May 14, 1900. Roa said the bones of the revolutionaries are “buried among the rocks that line below the statue”. She said “the inscription ‘El Pueblo A Sus Heroes’ at the foot of the monument is proof that the statue is not that of Bonifacio but an artist interpretation of the fallen Kagay-anon heroes” during the Philippine-American War.

Roa is correct about the bones of the heroes, but is mistaken about the monument. The first thing she should have done is visit the park of the municipality of Tagoloan – the hometown of her boss, vice-mayor Vicente Yap Emano, because a statue similar to ours is present there, placed beside that of Dr. Jose Rizal. This memorial is visible in a website about Tagoloan. The distinctly familiar pose – raised right arm with bolo, the furled-in shirt sleeves and pants, partially exposed chest, and pointed flag held by the left hand -- is clearly that of the stereotype concept of Bonifacio and not of Boy Pana.

If one is not satisfied with this similarity, it takes only seconds to find several other statues of the same form using Google Image. One is at the Quezon City Public Library – a white ghost-like representation of Bonifacio clutching a bright red KKK flag; another in Andres Bonifacio Park of Lucban, Quezon; a third in Bauan, Batangas; and a fourth in the University of the Philippines-Diliman. These images are so similar that one begins to suspect that they are cast from the same mold.

How did this picture of Bonifacio proliferated in books, paintings, and parks of the Philippines? A website that won the 2007 Philippine Blog Awards contains an article based on the book of historian Ambeth R. Ocampo:

“ … Ocampo suggested that we simply look at the world of local art and study how Bonifacio is represented by Filipino artists in the last eighty years in their drawings, paintings, music, and sculpture. He argued that the stereotyped image of Bonifacio as represented in their works goes against historical documentation. Hence, we have two Bonifacios in our national consciousness — one mythical, the other real — and that the myth has become more popular than reality. And therein lies our problem.

“As an example, Ocampo pointed out when a sculptor submitted studies for a proposed Bonifacio monument to the National Historical Institute. From his awkward drawings revealed the popular Bonifacio stereotype: one wearing an open camisa de chino to display a muscled chest and pants rolled up to reveal bare feet. On his left hand waved the Katipunan flag, while his right raised a menacing bolo. To highlight this difficult pose, the artist gave Bonifacio fiery eyes and a silent but suggested rebel yell.

“To the masses, there is nothing wrong with this image of Bonifacio. It can be seen in full color in the Carlos V. Francisco mural at the Manila City Hall, or in the various cement versions in schoolyards and municipal plazas all over the archipelago. Everything seemingly comes from the same mould or idea.

“Ocampo traced the origin of this image to a drawing by Jorge Pineda reproduced on the cover of Renacimiento Filipino of July 14, 1911. From this drawing was born the monument by the sculptor Ramon Martinez, which was unveiled on September 3, 1911, in Balintawak (it has since been transferred and now stands in front of Vinzon Hall in U.P. Diliman).

“Thus, that has been how most remembered Bonifacio until it was challenged by the late National Artist for Sculpture Guillermo Tolentino.

“After painstaking research and interviews with people who had actually known Bonifacio, Tolentino created a masterpiece in bronze in Caloocan that has become a landmark now known as ‘Monumento.’

“In this monument, as Ocampo illustrated, the artist represented a different image of Bonifacio: one in a closed barong tagalog, with a handkerchief tied on his neck, and wearing shoes! He stands calm but defiant with a bolo in one hand and a gun on the other. Behind him are Emilio Jacinto and a standard bearer with the Katipunan flag.

“When the protests poured in, Tolentino countered his critics with his research. The likeness was based not only on a photograph of Bonifacio, but on the bone structure of his sister Espiridiona as well. Interviews with surviving members of the Katipunan gave an idea of his attire and revealed that, contrary to common belief, Bonifacio favored his gun over his bolo in battles. Tolentino even consulted espiritistas (psychics) to discern the true likeness and character of Bonifacio.

“Ocampo also cited Bonifacio’s likeness to be elusive, for there is only one faded studio photograph of him in existence as compared to Jose Rizal’s numerous pictures. The irony of it all is that despite the common image of Bonifacio as the barefoot Great Plebian in his camisa de chino and rolled up pants, our sole photograph of him shows him wearing, of all things, a coat!”

In 2003, former mayor Vicente Yap Emano institutionalized the "Night Cafe" at the divisoria -- a Friday and Saturday night party characterized by chicken barbecue, beer, and pop music concert. Responding to reports of drunks urinating in the vicinity, the mayor constructed two public toilets, one about 20 meters in front of the statue of Bonifacio.

Beowulf fighting the dragon
1908 illustration of Beowulf by J. R. Skelton. Found in Wikipedia public domain.

The placement of this architecture has Bonifacio in a surreal and ridiculous position. It is possibly the only monument of a hero worldwide facing a toilet. In Western and Eastern mythologies, a brave warrior stands his ground against a monster -- such as a dragon. The media is particularly attracted to images of a lone man in China and nuns in Edza putting their lives in front of marauding tanks. But here in Cagayan de Oro, we have an image of a fired-up revolutionary brandishing a long knife and a flag, challenging a public toilet to a duel.

In another section of the park is also a toilet behind the monument of another national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. End

FROM THE MAIL. A book entitled "Local Historical Sources of Northern Mindanao" by Fr. Francisco Demetrio was published in 1995. The book describes the famous Battle of Agusan by Mr. Fortunato Yacapin, who was 82 years old when interviewed in June 1968. Mr. Yacapin, who was an eye-witness of the said battle, was from Puerto, Cagayan de Oro City. Yacapin tells us that "the bones of the dead heroes were gathered up and finally laid to rest under the monument of Bonifacio in the center of the Divisoria towards the east." Lourd Ostique, administrative assistant, Museo de Oro, Xavier University.

Elson T. Elizaga is a writer, photographer, and secretary of the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA). Send comments to elson@elizaga.net. This article and photo shouldn’t be copied without permission from the author. | An older version was published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily in June 2008. Updated here July 2008. Photo added August 14, 2010. Updated September 17, 2023.



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