What is the Use of Bonifacio Today?
This piece should come out a day before the 160th birth anniversary of Gat Andres Bonifacio — national hero, revolutionary, Tondo boy — and two days after the official celebration of Bonifacio Day (government decided to move it earlier in accordance with its policy of holiday economics). The title of this article might seem too utilitarian to some but it is a question asked by millions of young Filipinos reading about his life, other heroes, and the history of the Philippines.
That was, in fact, the same question I asked when I was in elementary school and well into high school. Why are we studying dead men, and events that happened decades ago? Will I be able to use these later in life? Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, Gregorio del Pilar and other heroes lived in a different time and in completely different circumstances. It was not until I got into college at the University of the Philippines in Diliman when the answer to this irreverent questions started to take shape.
Then later on in life I got very interested in history, not as an academic subject, but as a source of insights and information that allowed me to reflect on current problems we are facing today. I realized how foolish and immature my question was. We do not study history to replicate what Bonifacio and Rizal did. We are not being asked to become a Supremo or to become a propagandist. We study history, and, more significantly I think, the lives of men and women who lead in the creation of our nation in order to understand how they grappled with their particular problems and reflect on how we can understand and solve our own. In other words, while they lived in a different era we can certainly learn valuable lessons from them.
Take the Supremo for instance. I have always admired ALL our national heroes but if I had to pick one who I can truly relate to, it has to be Andres Bonifacio. This is probably because he was a Tondo boy through and through. He was born in a small hut at Calle Azcarraga, presently known as Claro M. Recto Avenue which at that time was part of Tondo. Some historians have questioned whether Bonifacio was really poor or was in fact middle class.
This issue of what to label him socio-economically is irrelevant. Bonifacio and his five other siblings became orphaned at a young age of 14. At that age, Bonifacio assumed the responsibility of raising his younger siblings. He sold paper fans and canes to support his family. He would later work as messenger in Fleming & Company, and as warehouse man until 1896.
Even if we assume without conceding that Bonifacio was born to a middle-class family, there is no doubt that he and his siblings were orphaned and had to overcome tremendous difficulty in life. The point is not whether or not he should be classified as “poor” or “middle class,” the point of his life story is the fact that he overcame hardships in life by using hard work, perseverance and a sense of responsibility for others.
That, by the way, is also the answer to the question I posed as the title of this column. Bonifacio is useful because he can serve as an inspiration to young people who might be encountering tough times in life. When you read his life as a kid, as a teenager, and later as the leader of the Philippine revolution, Bonifacio was always the underdog. He overcame extraordinary odds to accomplish what he had accomplished in life. It seemed like all forces conspired to stop him. But it did not stop him from doing great things. I would like to believe that it is the Tondo boy in him, never giving up even when all is lost. And that is why a grateful nation, 160 years later, continues to commemorate his life.
That is the reason why I enjoy reading about history and the lives of men and women in the past. I find it useful and delightful to read about the lives of heroes — in politics, in our history and even in the world of business. It is not about becoming them or copying them. It’s about finding yourself and your place in this world.