Was Bonifacio the First President?

By Perry Diaz

Andres Bonifacio

Andres Bonifacio

Recently, there has been a great deal of interest on one of our heroes and founder of the Katipunan, Andres Bonifacio. Indeed, many are now of the belief that he had been denied the recognition he deserved.

A decade ago, I wrote a column, “Was Bonifacio the First President?” that revisited the turbulent times when the revolutionary movement was in disarray; divided into two factions, one led by Andres Bonifacio, the Supremo of the Katipunan, and the other, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the Magdalo faction.

Although Aguinaldo succeeded in wresting control of the Katipunan from Bonifacio in a power struggle that cost Bonifacio his life, Aguinaldo never had a chance to establish his rule over the archipelago. The coming of the Americans weakened his fledgling government. He fled to Palanan, Isabela in Northern Luzon where he made his last stand.

On March 23, 1901 – exactly four years after Aguinaldo took his oath of office as president at the Tejeros convention — the Americans, led by Brig. Gen. Frederick Funston, captured Aguinaldo in his camp in the mountains of Palanan. Caught by surprise, Aguinaldo was subdued without a shot fired.

Thus ended the aspirations of the Filipino people to establish their own nation, sovereign and independent from foreign powers, which makes one wonder: If Bonifacio wasn’t murdered and Aguinaldo had joined his government, would the revolution have succeeded under the leadership of Bonifacio? And this begs the question:

Was Bonifacio the First President?

By Perry Diaz
January 21, 2005

The original Katipunan flag

The original Katipunan flag

On July 7, 1892, Andres Bonifacio — upon hearing the news that Dr. Jose Rizal was arrested and deported to Dapitan the day before — called for a meeting with five of his friends, to wit: Jose Dizon, Valentin Diaz, Deodato Arellano, Ladislao Diwa, and Teodoro Plata. That night, they organized a secret society called Kataastaasang Kagalanggalangan na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Highest and Most Respected Society of the Sons and Daughters of the Nation) — in short, Katipunan. Bonifacio was named their Supremo.

They recruited people to join and by 1896, on the eve of the revolution, the Katipunan had more than 400,000 members. During the revolution, two dominant leaders emerged — Bonifacio and Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. By 1897, to the detriment of the revolution, their rivalry had divided the revolutionary forces into Bonifacio’s Magdiwang faction and Aguinaldo’s Magdalo faction.

Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo

Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo

Attempts were made to reconcile the two leaders. On March 22, 1897, the two factions held a convention in Tejeros, a barrio of San Francisco de Malabon in Cavite, Aguinaldo’s bailiwick. Aguinaldo did not attend the gathering. Jacinto Lumbreras, a Magdiwang, presided over the assembly. The agenda of the convention was to adopt a plan for the defense of Cavite. However, the subject was not even discussed as the meeting became tumultuous. Instead, those in attendance decided to elect the officers of the revolutionary government. In essence, the participants threw out the Supreme Council of the Katipunan under which all the revolutionary forces had been fighting for. Bonifacio reluctantly agreed to preside over the election. Aguinaldo was elected President; Mariano Trias as Vice President; Artemio Ricarte as Captain-General; Emiliano Riego de Dios as Director of War; and Bonifacio as Director of the Interior. The following day, March 23, Aguinaldo and the other elected officials, with the exception of Bonifacio, took their oath of office in the new revolutionary government.

Meanwhile, on the same day the Aguinaldo took his oath of office, Bonifacio and his followers — numbering forty-five — met again at the same venue of the convention held the day before. They were furious. They felt bad about the results of the election. They believed that the Magdalo faction committed anomalies during the balloting. Consequently, they decided to invalidate the election. They drew up a document — Acta de Tejeros — giving their reasons for nullifying the results of the convention.

Bonifacio and his supporters believed that Aguinaldo’s men were responsible for the chaos at the Tejeros convention. He believed that Aguinaldo’s men had maneuvered him out of power. Indeed, it was a rude awakening for him because even the Magdiwangs, his followers, did not vote for him either for President or Vice-President.

Tejeros Convention

Tejeros Convention

Adding insult to an injury, Daniel Tirona, a Magdalo, protested Bonifacio’s election as Director of the Interior saying that a person with a lawyer’s diploma should hold the post. Bonifacio, outraged by Tirona’s insult, angrily declared: “I, as chairman of this assembly and as President of the Supreme Council of the Katipunan, as all of you do not deny, declare this assembly dissolved, and I annul all that has been approved and resolved.”

At Naik, where Bonifacio subsequently moved his Magdiwang forces after the failed Tejeros convention, Bonifacio and his supporters drew up another document — known as the Naik Military Agreement — in which they resolved to establish a government independent and separate from the one established at Tejeros.

President Andres Bonifacio's signature and seal.

President Andres Bonifacio’s signature and seal.

Bonifacio and his supporters proceeded in forming a government. The government was called Haring Bayang Katagalugan (Sovereign Country of the Tagalog Nation). They printed its Cartilla, a small handbook containing the rules, the 14-point code of ethics, and the recruitment process. In it, the Katipunan declared that the word “Tagalog” stood for “all who were born in this archipelago… hence Visayans, Ilocanos and Pampangos were all Tagalogs” (“Filipino” during the Spanish regime was a Spaniard born in the Philippines and the natives were called “indios”). The following were elected as officers of the de facto government of Haring Bayang Katagalugan: Andres Bonifacio – President; Emilio Jacinto – Minister of State; Teodoro Plata – Minister of War; Aguedo del Rosario – Minister of the Interior; Briccio Pantas – Minister of Justice; Enrique Pacheco – Minister Finance; Silvestre Baltazar – Treasurer General; Daniel Tirona – Secretary General. Unfortunately, the Bonifacio government was never recognized because they were all busy fighting the Spanish colonial forces.

Execution of Andres Bonifacio

Execution of Andres Bonifacio

Upon learning of the Naik Military Agreement, Aguinaldo sent a contingent of soldiers to arrest Bonifacio and his brothers Procopio and Ciriaco. The confrontation became deadly. Ciriaco was killed and Bonifacio and Procopio were wounded. They were brought to Naik to face a military tribunal. Albeit the absence of evidence, the Bonifacio brothers were found guilty of treason and sedition. They were recommended for execution. Aguinaldo commuted the sentence to deportation. However, Generals Mariano Noriel and Pio del Pilar, both former allies of Bonifacio, convinced Aguinaldo to withdraw his order and proceed with the execution. They believed that as long as Bonifacio were alive, there would be no unity. On May 10, 1897, Aguinaldo’s soldiers executed the Bonifacio brothers at the foot of Mt. Tala. They were buried in shallow graves without markers.

On June 12, 1898, Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines and installed a “Dictatorial Government” that would be temporary in nature until peace is achieved at which time it may be “modified by the nation, in which rests the principle of authority.”

General Emilio Aguinaldo boarding the USS Vicksburg as a Prisoner of War (Photo credit: Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 by Arnaldo Dumindin).

General Emilio Aguinaldo boarding the USS Vicksburg as a Prisoner of War (Photo credit: Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 by Arnaldo Dumindin).

On March 23, 1901, exactly fours years after he took his first oath of office, American forces captured Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela. Thus ended the Philippine revolution started by Bonifacio.

Today, Andres Bonifacio’s admirers believe that he was the first president of the Philippines. He organized the Katipunan and led the revolution against Spain. They believed that not only was he the first president of the country, he should be accorded the title of “National Hero” of the Philippines.

Had the historians robbed Andres Bonifacio of his rightful place in Philippine history? Shouldn’t Bonifacio precede Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo as the acknowledged Father of the Philippines?


14 Responses. Have your say.

  1. No doubt Andres Bonifacio is a national hero. I am convinced he is the first President of this country. But your question about his stature as hero superseding Rizal is bad, to say, the least; it does not belong here – you are not discussing Rizal and Bonifacio here.

  2. Doc Cesar Candari says:

    Perry, very excellent article.
    I agree with Frank. Rizal was already a national hero when he died as a martyr in 1896. He is one of the greatest Filipinos who ever lived at a time when the Philippine Islands was under the oppressive rule of the Spanish regime for 377 years. Jose Rizal, as a political figure, initiated a civic organization-La Liga Filipina the purpose was to build a new group sought to involve the people directly in the reform movement. Subsequently, this gave birth to the KATIPUNAN (KKK) led by Andres Bonifacio and Emelio Aguinaldo. Rizal is believed to be the first Filipino revolutionary whose death is attributed entirely to his work as a writer; and through dissent and civil disobedience enabled him to successfully destroy Spain’s moral primacy to rule. No Philippinie hero supercede Dr. Jose Rizal.
    Doc CDC.

  3. Gabriel says:

    Its about time that a Filipino must right the correct History of the Philippines. Most of the writers before were Spaniards or Foreigners whose self interest is for their own good only.

    Perry, I do believe you have more materials and more sense to write our Philippine History. Bonifacio could have been a great President of our Nation.

    • perry says:

      Hi Gabriel,

      I truly believe that if Aguinaldo did not assassinate Bonifacio, the Haring Bayang Katagalugan would have prospered. What Aguinaldo did is “power grab” or coup d’etat. Nevertheless, Bonifacio’s short reign should be recognized as the one that had served as the catalyst in the independence movement.


  4. Balmero D.Minero says:

    Perhaps Rizal and Bonifacio should share the honor of having the title of National Heroes. Rizal as its brain and Bonifacio as its heart. Yet I believe Bonifacio will give the honor to Dr. Jose Rizal because it was because of Rizal why KKK was founded.

    As for Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, he is the arm of the revolution – who may have legally (in Magdalo’s own term) became the first President, yet at the expense of the life of another national hero – Bonifacio.

    His place in history has now became morally questionable.

  5. Balmero D.Minero says:

    Do we have a Rizal and a Bonifacio at present time to deliver our people from our bondage to corruption, poverty, deception & ignorance?

    Where is the modern-day Rizal that writes as passionate and brilliant as Rizal and the modern-day Bonifacio that acts and organizes like Bonifacio to implement what the modern-day Rizal has challenged?

  6. Isabel E. Florin says:

    We do not want to unearth ugly parts of history, but it saddens us that something like that took place. The struggle, we believed was for the Filipinos against foreign powers, not Filipinos against Filipinos. What we should look into, right now is, was the execution of the Bonifacio brothers necessary to defend our nation? Or was it prodded by selfish motivation. If the latter, it should not be glorified. Aguinaldo met his ill fate too, but he had the glory. Let us put it where it should be enshrined. Come to think of it, Bonifacio could have given us a different story.



  8. Z says:

    I learned a lot from this article about our history. What a shame that Aguinaldo murdered another human being for the sake of power. We should not continue to honor him as the first president of the Philippines. Bonifacio should be given due recognition and let all historians recognize their mistakes in attributing so much glory to Aguinaldo.

  9. Rex Garcia ME / CPE / PE says:

    Z Thanks for your comments . I agree everything you said and that also reminds about a previous dictator who did the same evil to murder all his political enemies like Ninoy Aquino and others just to expand and extend his power and greedy for more wealth. This is my first time to learn about history between Aguinaldo and Bonifacio. I believe Mr. Z last sentence on his comments that Bonifacio deserved proper recognition and historians to re-write the truth of motive and intent of Aguinaldo when he murdered his kabayan Pinoys to accomplished his evil goal. Learning is never ending and thanks for a well written historical article by Mr. Perry Diaz and comments by Mr. Z

  10. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    The PHL Historical Commission (PHC), I think, is the proper body who can shed light as to who was the First President of the Revolutionary Government against Spain.

    And, I believe the issue between Bonifacio and Aguinaldo was already a settled case… Aguinaldo, as the First President based on the historical books and articles we read – presumably with the approval of the PHC and Department of Education.

    But, I do not see any problem if said issue is revisited by way of petition before the PHC by those concerned with Bonifacio.

    In our generation, my concern is that there is similarity in the Presidential election at Tejeros and the Presidential election at present. Both result to cheating, character assassination and death.

    Both in colonial era and at present time the Presidential position is worth dying for because of greed for power as Head of State and as Head of Government at the same time.

    Wake up Philippines! Political reforms are long overdue. Let’s shift to Parliamentary system by making a Council as Head of State and the Prime Minister as Head of Government.

  11. anonymous says:

    i think emilio should also be considered a hero and not just a traitor as everyone else perceived. thinka about it we do not know what really happened. yes, both emilio and andres are heroes in their own ways. truth be told, we may not know but maybe just maybe emilio might look and appear to be evil but with good intentions. as for the issue that emilio ordered the execution of andres, he was just complying with the decision of other officials. let’s not confine the possibility of something good from emilio, a tinge of hope for a hero who once fought for the sake of our dear country.

  12. AMBOTSAINYO says:

    until we dont correct the history, we’re nothing but useless beings. there’s a documents that says bonifacio was the PRESEDENTED DELA REPUBLICA TAGALA (Haring Bayang Katagalugan (Sovereign Country of the Tagalog Nation. Why the heck we do nothing about this to correct this fucking history?

  13. AMBOTSAINYO says:

    noon pa man dirty politics. bunch of crocs. fucking history!

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