Manitoba, Canada | Friday, March 07, 2014
January 05 - 20, 2010 | Volume 24, Number 1
Main > Editorials and Opinions
Come August, Remember Balintawak
Come August of each year, I am not reminded so much of the hot summer weather here in Canada or the rainy season back home in the Philippines. Come August, I am reminded of the bravery, the heroism, and the love of his compatriots by a young man who lived over a century ago. I am reminded of Andres Bonifacio and the Cry of Balintawak on August 23, 1896, or sometime in August at the start of the Philippine Revolution.
I am quirky that way, and it has been like that for decades. I was an impressionable but studious kid in high school who enjoyed History and Math. Back then we had classes in Philippine History, American Jistory, Oriental History, and World History in each of four years at the Arellano High School in Manila. As much as I was impressed with the heroic deeds of George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, or Sun Yat Sen, I was really proud of our Philippine heroes who lived not far from where we were.
Jose Rizal was from Calamba, Laguna; Apolinario Mabini, from Batangas; Gregorio Del Pilar, from Bulacan; and Emilio Aguinaldo, from Kawit, Cavite—all within a long bus ride from Manila. Andres Bonifacio was from Tondo, Manila, where we lived. If you look at pictures of these young men in their twenties and thirties, you get goosebumps, realizing they were risking their lives and limbs for the good of the Filipino people, to remove the yoke of oppression and persecution on a people from generation to generation for over three hundred years.
Andres Bonifacio founded the Katipunan on July 7, 1892, apparently influenced by his reading on the French Revolution (see p. 148 of my book, Like the Mimosa). He was a poor man from the slums of Tondo, orphaned early and knew the desperate struggle of poor people for a living and for equality and freedom. He had previously joined Jose Rizal’s Liga Filipina which was a movement to fight for reforms in the Spanish regime. Rizal’s arrest and deportation triggered the formation of the Katipunan (short for Kataastaasang Kagalanggalang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan, meaning “Highest and Most Respected Society of the Sons of the Country”). The secret organization, recruitment, and planning went on until a betrayal through the confessional led to the discovery of the Katipunan by the Spanish authorities on August 19, 1896.
On August 23, 1896, Bonifacio, realizing that the gig was up, gathered hundreds of Katipunan members at Balintawak in Caloocan (historians have narrowed down the place to the yard of Juan A. Ramos, son of Melchora Aquino who was also known as Tandang Sora in nearby Pugadlawin) to declare independence for the Philippines by raising their bolos (long field knives), tearing their cedulas (residence certificates), and yelling “Mabuhay ang bayang Pilipinas!” (Long live the Philippines!). This was the start of an armed struggle against the Spanish government, which was carrying on a reign of terror, random arrests, imprisonment, and executions. As there were ten thousand Katipuneros in Luzon and the Visayas, local revolts started one after another in the provinces. There were losses (because of poor weaponry) and victories especially in Cavite where young Emilio Aguinaldo led the struggle.
Unfortunately, conflict arose within the Katipunan as factions were formed, leading to the mock trial and inordinate execution of Andres Bonifacio, the man now regarded as the Father of the Philippine Revolution. Needless to say, it is supreme irony that he died in the hands of the very people he loved and he fought the Spaniards for. At the age of thirty-four, his sacrificial death was almost Christlike.
The Cry of Balintawak on August 23, 1896, is something every Filipino should keep in his heart. (There have been debates as to the exact date, but I go by historian Prof. Teodoro Agoncillo whom I have listened to and read back when I was at U.P. Diliman.) It is an event that changed the course of history and was carried out by an oppressed people led by a man with extreme courage and passion.
Over a century after that event, the Philippines is again under an oppression that defies understanding. After a long period of American education, Philippine political independence and self-government, the country is mired in national debts and economic doldrums brought about by graft and corruption. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Philippines “remains East Asia’s economic growth laggard. Between 1975 and 1999, per capita income grew by only 14% compared to 326% in Indonesia, 153% in Malaysia, and 220% in Thailand. Poverty afflicts 40% of the population, the highest incidence in Southeast Asia.”
Wouldn’t it be something if a new Cry of Balintawak led by a patriotic young man to rid the country of corruption happens during our lifetime?