Why was Bonifacio murdered?

By Perry Diaz

Katipunan "Supremo" Andres Bonifacio

Katipunan “Supremo” Andres Bonifacio

On July 7, 1892, Andres Bonifacio, together with Deodato Arellano, Valentin Diaz, Teodoro Plata, Ladislao Diwa, and Jose Dizon, upon learning of Dr. Jose P. Rizal’s deportation, convened secretly and agreed to form a secret society. The founders called the secret society the Kataastaasang Kagalang-Kagalang na Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan or Katipunan for short. It was also referred to as KKK.

Bonifacio, born on November 30, 1863, is considered the Father of the Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonization. He became the Katipunan’s military leader or “Supremo.” The Katipunan grew into a large organization and became a potent revolutionary force against the Spaniards.

The country honors Bonifacio by declaring November 30 as “Bonifacio Day,” a national public holiday. But there is one question that remains unanswered today and that is: Was Bonifacio the First President and why was he murdered?

Was Bonifacio the First President?

By Perry Diaz
January 21, 2005

Original Katipunan flag

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.

General Emilio Aguinaldo

General 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 that 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?


It’s been more than a century since Bonifacio was betrayed and murdered by his enemies. Many believed that had he lived and ruled the First Philippine Republic, the country today would be different from the colonial past in so many ways.   It would have been different from the Las Islas Filipinas that Rizal had dreamed about. It would have been different from what Quezon wished the Philippine Islands were 50 years later. It would have been different from what our present-day political leaders have crafted the government of the Republic of the Philippines into. But one thing would have happened for sure: It would have been a free country governed by the people, of the people, and for the people.


26 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Terry Sarigumba says:

    Bonifacio should be recognized as the first president of the Philippines and as Philippine national hero. The Katipuneros who deposed Bonifacio were ungrateful traitors to the admirable founder of KKK.

  2. johnnie says:

    Nice account of a chapter in Philippine history.

  3. Doc C says:

    Perry, an excellent PerryScope about Bonifacio. Thank you. ANDRES BONIFACIO AS FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE PHILIPPINES STILL A CONTROVERSY? Was he murdered?
    The historical assessment of Bonifacio involves several controversial points. Was his death a justified execution for treason and/or a “legal murder” fueled by politics? Some historians considered him to be the rightful first President of the Philippines. Historians such as Milagros Guerrero, Emmanuel Encarnacion, and Ramon Villegas have pushed for the recognition of Bonifacio as the first President. They emphasized that Bonifacio established a government through the Katipunan before a government headed by Aguinaldo was formed at the Tejeros Convention. Aguinaldo joined the revolution of Bonifacio when the struggle was already making headways.
    Aguinaldo had often denied his role on the execution of Bonifacio.
    Not to unearth the ugly parts of history, but it saddens us that “political execution” took place. Bonifacio deserved proper recognition and historians to re-write the truth of motive and intent of Aguinaldo when he ordered his soldiers to arrest and finally executed the Bonifacio brothers.
    Sad to say the Presidential election at Tejeros and the Presidential election at present, have some similitude. Both result to cheating, character assassination and death.
    Let us not forget the message of Bonifacio: “I gave my life for freedom, what will you do with yours?” It is a question addressed to all Filipinos. 

    The controversial question: Can we all agree Bonifacio as the acknowledged Father of the Philippines – Ang Unang Pangulo?


  4. Ricardo Arevalo says:

    I agree, Bonifacio should be considered the national hero. Aguinaldo only inherited the leadership of the KKK, but Bonifacio did all the work of the difficult task of organizing and uniting a credible force against the spaniards.

  5. Sluggo Rigor says:

    Thought-provoking piece, Perry. Thanks for this. Shouldn’t it be time for Filipinos (or Maharlikans) to embark on serious research, study and charting of their own
    history as a people? Almost all scholarly writings, including our nation’s name and choosing of national heroes, were dictated by non-Filipinos. Even the After-Battle Reports of WWII were not all written by Filipino soldiers. Hence—the ones remembered are mostly ignominious defeats like Bataan, Corregidor and even the Death March. Nothing wrong in remembering these but how about the triumphs that featured Filipino warriors? The capture by Filipino soldiers of Yamashita at Bessang Pass is not remembered…giving the notion of course that it was the Gringos only who fought and won the Pacific War. Keep the fire burning, Pinsan Perry.

  6. There are leaders born to write, others born to lead, still others can write but cannot lead. A leader is one who has natural “gift” to be followed for he felt as being one of them and because he is speaks “their” language.

    Can anyone, Rizal, M H del Pilar or other leaders of the Katipunan has that CHARISMA of Andrs Bonifacio calling his followers at monment’s to gather at Pugad Lawin or Balintawak tearing their cedulas and shouting “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas, Mabuhay ang ating Bayan?

    This man from Trozo, Tondo Manila has his a nom de guerre “AGAP itong BAGONG BAYAN”,has leadership style and charisma to start the 1896 REVOLT OF THE MASSES.

    Let us give CREDIT where CREDIT is due and Bonifacio deserves more than just a niche in the pantheon for heroes.

  7. Who among the early leaders of the Philippine Revolution has the charisma to lead a violent organization against Spain.
    Bonifacio is not an “illustrado” but despite his meager education he can command thousands to put up defiant resistance against the Spanish rulers.

    Because of that “charsima” Bonifacio was able to speak the “language” of the people, who at moment’s notice can summon his follwers to gather at Pugad Lawin August 24, 1896 to start the REVOLT OF THE MASSES?

    Give credit where credit is due and Bonifacio deserves more than just a NICHE in the PANTHEON for HEROES!

  8. Doc C says:

    More reflections about Andres Bonifacio:There has been a great deal of interest about the controversy regarding who was the first President of the Philippines. To repeat Perry stated that Andres Bonifacio was founder and Supremo of the secret society of KKK-Katipunan, a secret organization dedicated to the expulsion of the Spanish and independence of the Philippines through armed force. Later, in 1894, Aguinaldo joined the “Katipunan”.
    What is not widely known is that Bonifacio was the first president of the Philippines, the Father of the Philippine nation, served from August 24, 1896 “until his tragic death on May 10, 1897.”
    Citing original documents attested to by historians, it has been argued the Katipunan, under Bonifacio’s leadership, ceased being a secret society and was forced to come out in the open as a revolutionary government with its own laws, bureaucratic structure and elective leadership.
    The Bonifacio’s presidency was also further acknowledged in contemporary Spanish publications. For instance, in the February 8, 1897 issue of the La Ilusraction Española y America, an article on the Philippine Revolution appeared, accompanied by a portrait of Bonifacio in a black suit and white tie, with the caption ‘Andres Bonifacio/Titulado (Presidente) de la Republica Tagala.
    Indeed, many are now of the belief that Bonifacio had been denied the recognition he deserved.
    The story is a tragic one. Bonifacio founded and led the Katipunan, which launched the Philippine revolution against Spain in 1896. But he died not in the hands of the Spanish enemy but in the hands of Magdalo, a rival revolutionary faction, led by General Emilio Aguinaldo.
    The two leaders engaged in an ugly infighting, a dispute that brought to revolutionary movement in shambles. By 1897, two factions developed to the detriment of the revolution; their rivalry had divided the revolutionary forces into Bonifacio’s Magdiwang faction and Aguinaldo’s Magdalo faction. They failed to coalesce their forces and fight side by side against the enemy, and the leaders lost their souls to greed and thirst for power. There was a power struggle between the two factions.
    We might revisit the ‘history of shame’ when the revolutionary movement was in disunity, divided into two factions, one led by Andres Bonifacio, the Supremo of the Katipunan, and the other, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of another faction.
    Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of revolutionary forces against Spanish rule and then against United States of America, became president of the short-lived Malolos Republic in 1899. He was captured by American troops in 1901, ending his presidency. The republic never received international recognition. Why the Philippine government considers Aguinaldo to be the country’s first president?

  9. jose balmadrid says:

    Bonifacio has initiated a government that precedes a government and society that has the making of a just and strong nation at par with nations even by today’s standards. The Philippines’ chance to build a great nation was missed because as it is today we already have rotten politicians predecessors of the ones we have today and should be deposed. We can have the courage and the honest intelligence of Bonifacio who even openly supports JOSE RIZAL a great advocate of liberty and freedom for the Filipinos. I wonder if the same is true with an educated Aguinaldo.

  10. Macario Corsame says:

    Selfish jealousies and lack of spiritual maturity. This is why Rizal spurned violent revolution and felt we weren’t ready for independence. Read the conversation between Fr. Florentino and the dying Simoun in the last chapter of El FILI. And so Rizal wrote, “Hate creates nothing but monsters” and “What is independence for if the slaves of today will become the tyrants of tomorrow?”

    • JREYES says:


  11. DON GIVENS says:

    I agree that politics then and today are one and the same, greed for power, self promotion, corruption, and self enrichment to the detriment of the masses.
    I am one of those who recognized Andres Bonifacio as the first Philippine President and the first Philippine National hero.

  12. fidelgeuremin says:

    I most definitely agree that Andres Bonifacio be recognized as the first Philippine President and a National Hero. Apparently, because he was just a common man, the illustrados who influenced the course of history at that time did not give him the credit due to him and even usurped his true place in our history. It was clearly a case of vested interest on the partof some people.

  13. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    Why was Bonifacio murdered? I do not know the answer. In fact after the article, I have more questions than conclusive answers.

    But if you ask some supporters of Aguinaldo, dead or alive, I think one of their answers will be quite like this, “Bonifacio was not murdered but was executed based on a death sentence (insubordination?) signed by Aguinaldo, as the President of the PHL Revolutionary government, after the Tejeros Convention, to preserve unity in its war against a common foe, the colonial Spanish government.”

    If PHL history will be re-written, we need facts on how KKK was governed between July 7 1897 (KKK was founded) and March 2, 1997 (Tejeros Convention, “TC”).

    We need to know more how Bonifacio and his KKK officers delegated and executed orders in harassing and attacking the enemy. Did the Supremo sign these command orders? Did the Supremo sign the appointments and promotions of the KKK military officers like in the case of Aguinaldo and General Noriel and other generals prior to TC? Who funded the KKK? How did the KKK High Command relate to KKK commanding officers and its soldiers in the battle fields?

    Were there documents or recorded events that showed that the Supremo and Aguinaldo and his officers are in contact with each other long before the TC? Were there illustrados who supported KKK and the Supremo?

    Sad to say that student of PHL history was immediately ushered in to the point that Boniface and Aguinaldo became rivals without explanation how the rivalry happened.

    No offense to Boniface. But I think he lost his leverage as a KKK Supremo when he agreed to attend the TC in a place dominated by Aguinaldo and his supporters instead of first inviting Aguinaldo and his party at the KKK home-based or in a neutral place.

    In parallel situation, Nationalist China President Chiang Kai-shek (?) and Communist leader Mao Zedong were known bitter rivals for China’s leadership who fought separately a common enemy Japan. But at the end of WW2 both retained their separate leadership without killing each other. Mao became the leader of mainland Communist China and Chiang transferred his nationalist government in Taiwan and the rest is now history.

    What a sad chapter in PHL Revolutionary Government.

    • jose balmadrid says:

      If at all, our government is dominated and supported by illustrados. That for one indicates where the country has been and where it is going. In a saying that even precedes that of president Kennedy’s famous words,…”do not ask what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country”? quotes from a very highly educated beloved American leader. A century earlier, Bonifacio, a Pilipino, born leader said “I gave my life for freedom, what will you do with yours?” Guys we are heirs to great leaders, homeland awaits..

    • La Tagala says:

      The KKK founded in 1897? Where are you getting your information? The KKK was founded in 1892! Aguinaldo joined in 1896, a few months before the Revolution broke out the same time Bonifacio formed a revolutionary government in August 1896. Aguinaldo was a General, and not an official of the government. Bonifacio was recognized by Spanish journalists as the ‘certified’ President of the the Tagalog Republic in Feb 1897. The Tejeros convention came later. Bonifacio was tricked, pure and simple; and he should have been more guarded. But this was from a lack of experience with the Cavite elite. Even people today are shocked by Cavite political culture.

    • La Tagala says:

      you can get answers to your questions from Jim Richardson’s research.

  14. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    Thanks Mr Balmadrid and All.

    I hope the PHL leader of the next Administration loves history who knows how to connect the past

    I wish the next Administration will appoint a body or the PHL Historical Commission for the purpose of reviewing and correcting the errors and give recognition to those distinguished personalities in the past who sacrificed their lives in the name of freedom.

    Set the criteria for National Heroes and those who may not be classified as National Hero but should be given due recognition for their remarkable distinctive role in PHL history. Hence, an individual may be classified as a Nationalist, Martyr, Socialist, Labor leader, Benevolent Dictator, Artist, etc., but not necessarily a hero.

    The PHL celebrates National Heroes Day for the known and unknown heroes without singling a particular hero as the national hero. I support this idea to avoid discrimination.
    Even in private entities their success lies in the healthy co-existence between Labor and Management. I think same thing is true for the so-called ilustrados and the non-ilustrados whether in the past or in present generation.

    Allow me to share with you some interesting words from the novel entitled “ILUSTRADO” authored by Syjuco. (Pls. access the internet.)

    “The book’s title, which means “enlightened” in Spanish, refers to young men who left then-Spanish colonized Philippines in the late 1800s for Europe to study and then returned with radical ideas that fomented revolution. Syjuco said he wanted to update the term to refer to the millions of Filipinos abroad who have the potential to give back to their country.

    Syjuco also wanted the term to refer ironically to the elite in power who fail to bring the basic human rights that Filipinos would expect: peace, justice, opportunities to work — even hope.”

  15. Balmero D. Minero says:

    We don’t really know the entire facts about what really traspired during those tumultuous time of our past and so we cannot really know who has the right to the title as the First Philippine President. We cannot raise them.back to life yet our future is stlll before us. What we must do now is not to find the real hero but find the True GOD who can save & raise us up towards His great plan for our Filipino race for His glory. What woulf it profit us if we come to know who our first President be if we lose our very soul and future. There is still a root cause why we are in this quagmire of defeat and failure. We not just the Facts but the TRUTH.

    • La Tagala says:

      wrong. we have enough data to know that Andres Bonifacio was the first President, and Aguinaldo was a general under the revolutionary government during the war against Spain. Read Guerrero et al.

  16. Doc C says:

    I enjoyed reading all of the commentaries.
    The historical assessment of Bonifacio involves several controversial points. Was his death a justified execution for treason and/or a “legal murder” fueled by politics? Some historians considered him to be the rightful first President of the Philippines. Historians such as Milagros Guerrero, Emmanuel Encarnacion, and Ramon Villegas have pushed for the recognition of Bonifacio as the first President. They emphasized that Bonifacio established a government through the Katipunan before a government headed by Aguinaldo was formed at the Tejeros Convention. Aguinaldo joined the revolution of Bonifacio when the struggle was already making headways.
    Aguinaldo had often denied his role on the execution of Bonifacio. We would not want to water down the contributions of Aguinaldo in defining the miseries of the Indios at the crossroads of their being liberated from the Spaniards into the clutches of American colonialism in the late 1890’s. We must, however, identify his social positions, which define his perspectives at that time, and, perhaps, doubt if the accolades for which he was venerated for should really be offered to Bonifacio.

  17. Ben E. Oteyza says:

    I was born in Manila in 1931. Contemporaries from grade school to college in Univ. of the Philippines recognize Bonifacio as a national hero with Jose Rizal and Mabini. Aguinaldo was NOT, and he was scorned as POLITICAL OPPORTUNIST who caused Bonifacio’s death. Aguinaldo is a black mark and shame in Philippine history ! ! !

  18. Doc C says:

    Ben , I totally agree with you .

    DOC C
    (Cesar C)

  19. Emilio Aguinaldo is a Political Opportunist just like this 32 years of Third World Status Creation of the Philippines by MAdPnoy hacienda luisita self interest of a Pilipino Traitor who sold Sabah and making the Philippines milking cow of the Japanese for a nuclear Plant that never fired a single watts and yet charges the Pilipinos for 4 billion dollars.

  20. La Tagala says:

    this account is so wrong. Bonifacio’s government was formed in 1896, upon declaration of war against Spain, not in 1897 after the Tejeros convention. He declared the election results invalid in Tejeros, during the convention, not after. His government was still in place; and Aguinaldo and others respected the Acta, and informed others that they respected the Acta nulling the election results. But then he changed his mind and took his oath as President, as a coup d’etat against the Katagalugan government, and against the principles and practices of the Katipunan by swearing in front of a priest. Aguinaldo was the one who formed a government separate from the original one formed by Bonifacio. Aguinaldo’s was a splinter/rogue government.

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