On Bones of Contention by Ambeth Ocampo, Heroes, History, Reading, and whether or not we Filipinos deserve the mess we’re currently in

Why do people betray their brothers and eventually themselves?
-The Cripple, in Poon by F. Sionil Jose

Bones of Contention: The Andres Bonifacio Lectures by Ambeth Ocampo is a book that recounted the life and death of one of the Philippines’ National Heroes: Andres Bonifacio.

Bones of Contention: The Bonifacio Lectures by Ambeth Ocampo

Bones of Contention: The Bonifacio Lectures by Ambeth Ocampo

Reading this book was like watching a movie and I would have been amused and vastly entertained if it were fiction. Well, it’s definitely going to make for a good movie because Bonifacio’s life was surrounded with deceit, jealousy, hunger for power, conspiracy, intrigue, rape, treason, murder. But it left me filled with grief and seething with anger instead. Not that I didn’t have a general idea of his life before reading this. But Bones of Contention offers more details to his life that was not privy to the general public before.

Bonifacio is “the father of the Philippine Revolution.” Along with colleagues, he founded the Katipunan movement in July 7, 1892 with the hope of uniting the Filipinos into one solid nation and winning the Philippines’ independence from the Spanish colonial rule by means of revolution (Source: http://www.gov.ph/bonifacio-150/).

Bonifacio was elected as Supremo in January 5, 1894 and was reelected in December 31, 1895 (and took his oath as President of the Katipunan in January 1, 1896). On April 2, 1896—three months after he took the oath, he went to Cavite alongside his brother Procopio Bonifacio and colleagues Emilio Jacinto and Pio Valenzuela to organize a branch of the Katipunan.

At the time, the Filipinos were not united [However, this point is moot because to date, we are still deeply divided]. The Tagalogs would fight as one, even the Kapampangans, and the Ilokanos, and many others. But not together. Not all as one. Bonifacio, realizing that regionalism is the biggest weakness of the Filipinos, aimed to unite the country and a branch of Katipunan in Cavite would have been the first of the many branches all over the country.

Little did he know that that decision would spell the beginning of his end. A little over a year after he successfully formed a branch, he was arrested, tried, and “executed” for treason, his brothers killed, his wife Oryang raped and beaten. Just within the span of a year, his name was besmirched. He was accused of stealing from the coffers of Katipunan, accused of selling the country’s independence to Spain, and various other accusations that were spread through rumors clearly woven with plans carefully laid and executed so that they could remove him forever from his position.

Again, if this were fiction, I would have been impressed. The Caviteños were so focused and united and were such fast workers they managed to successfully implement their plan in such a short amount of time. Only, the man that they killed was a good man. A brother.


Types of Pinoys:

After reading this book, I realized that there were five types of Pinoys during the Spanish era:

  1. We have the “educated” ones—more popularly called the ilustrado—like Dr. Jose Rizal. They were the “learned ones” and the “enlightened” individuals who had strong opinions of their own regarding the Spanish oppression that we were suffering from then.

    They expressed these opinions a lot in the form of arts (the likes of Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, Dr. Jose Rizal, and Juan Luna) and through writing books and poems (Dr. Jose Rizal). Their priority was their country and they made sure that their people and the entire world knew about it.

    Unfortunately, people like them either get incarcerated or get shot at on the back or both through the orders of the Spanish  authorities.Nowadays, people like this keep quiet. We all know why. Like Rizal, they end up dead.

  2. The true revolutionaries. There were also people like Andres Bonifacio. They didn’t have a diploma to show because of  lack of money but they didn’t let that hinder their education by continually reading.

    They read even if the books they were reading were strictly prohibited. Books like that of Rizal’s, Victor Hugo, and books on the French Revolution and international law. It was said that mere possession of these books at the time was considered a crime.

    People like Bonifacio had a big heart for the country. This heart would spur them to start a revolution. They aspired for nothing else but freedom.

    However, people like them get shot at on the back or hacked by bolos, too, by their very own people. They were intelligent enough to evade the enemies but were gullible enough to think that every Pinoy was like them—and therefore, can be trusted—that they all loved the country equally and that they were all aiming for the country’s unity. They think that because they were all suffering from the same pain, that they all wanted the same thing: freedom. They didn’t expect that centuries of oppression would breed ambitious and power-hungry Pinoys who would stop at nothing in order to achieve their goals. Yes—at nothing—even if it meant that they would off an unsuspecting compatriot.

    They were so naïve they didn’t fight back and let themselves be arrested thinking everything will be resolved in the end. After all, they were all Filipinos, right?! Right!

    *If Bonifacio indeed stole from the coffers, if he sold the country from Spain, if he did many other accusation they said he did… why did he die poor? Why did his sister have to sell his “relics” just to ensure that the family would be able to eat? Is that something a family who sold the country would do if they had plenty?

    Why, instead of finding money he supposedly stole or he had gotten from selling the country, did the authorities found books instead? Why not bars and bars of gold? He didn’t even have a bankbook [unlike the other heroes]!

    Bonifacio was intelligent enough to evade the authorities. He had no permanent address. The only way he was defeated was by the hands of the people he trusted. Because they were the ones who knew where he was. All the time.

    Again, we don’t get Bonifacios a lot these days. Everybody knows they’ll end up dead, too, if they become one.

  3. And then we have aspiring politicians like Aguinaldo. They were not voracious readers like the first and the second type. They had aspirations for the seat of power but they knew when to be swayed and when to cooperate just to ensure their survival.

    They are like weeds. They thrive everywhere and in every type of era. This is because they were the types who survived because they have no qualms of selling the country to the very same Spanish government they were fighting against just to ensure the safety of their lives [please refer to the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. (For those who didn’t know, this particular pact was called a “truce” made between the Spanish Government and Emilio Aguinaldo and the revolutionaries meant to end the revolution. Emilio Aguinaldo and some of his associates were exiled to Hong Kong and were paid a considerable sum of money they called an indemnity)].

    They also didn’t hesitate to cooperate again during the American settlement (the matters with Pratt, Wildman, and Williams) and yet again, during the Japanese occupation.

    *Don’t get me wrong. I would never ask anyone to die for me. Or for my country. Something like that should be done wholeheartedly. But to do exactly what they had accused Bonifacio of doing… they were actually the ones who committed treason. And they did it with signed papers for every generation to see. And yet, they called themselves heroes? Where is justice?

  4. The cronies. I realized that centuries ago, they already existed!If this were high school, I’d call them the sidekick of the third type. I wish it were as simple as that.Cronies were the weak ones who were only strong when they were hiding behind someone else they deem far stronger than them.

    They were only strong because they knew that that their targets won’t fight back. They were only strong because they knew they were trusted enough by their “brothers,” and because they were sporting a gun and they were not afraid to use this gun to said brothers and their wife.They were the types who were willing to do the dirty deeds themselves. And for a price, of course!

    They get to have a position in the would-be government, probably attend parties such as the Malolos banquet.

    A little bit of fame, that was their price, a picture and a mention of their names on the society page and history books as heroes and revolutionaries and reformists here and there.It didn’t matter if they only took the credit from someone else. It didn’t matter if they bloodied their hand on the process. What only mattered was self-advancement.

    Nowadays, they call themselves honorable. But deep down, they are nothing but cronies and thieves.

  5. The spectators. They are the general public. The females get raped. Both by the Spanish and Pinoy authorities of that era. Their properties get pillaged, they get betrayed, killed. Repeatedly. And they allow it. They had over three centuries of practice they accepted it as a norm already.

    When the power shifted from Spain to Pinoys, they continually allowed it. Better than letting the Spaniards do it to them, right? Or the Americans or the Japanese. At least they were our own, right? Right?


    *Nowadays, they are being lauded and called resilient. They are called strong, forgiving, and kind. I say they’ve had enough. They’ve been long suffering. Emotionally battered. Forever preyed upon. That’s what they are.


Present Times

I have always wondered why very few among Filipinos love to read [now, before we waste our time arguing about this statement, we can easily save time and effort by checking the study that National Book Development Board (NBDB) has been doing over the years].

After reading this book, I came to the following conclusions: first that the reason why Filipinos don’t love reading was because during the Spanish era, the Spanish authorities were so afraid we’ll become “learned” and “enlightened” that they practically prohibited reading.

I also realized the reason why most people of the first types leave the country. Types third, fourth, and fifth still exist.

The general public still let themselves be used and abused.

Politicians and cronies and political dynasty are still abound and are getting worse by the minute. They preyed upon people even in light of disasters that left thousands dead.

On Dr. Jose Rizal:

Dr. Jose Rizal loved reading so much he became such an “enlightened person,” or as Ambeth Ocampo put it – “he was such a renaissance man amidst a country still very much caught up in the Middle Ages.”

Because Rizal knew so much and saw so much, he was killed for it.

On Aguinaldo:

Ambeth Ocampo observed how Emilio Aguinaldo did not seem to read at all. He related in Bones of Contention how Nick Joaquín discovered in an interview that Aguinaldo’s Spanish was so inadequate he couldn’t read Rizal’s novels at all.

It is easier to think that he did things like tried Bonifacio for treason on the advice of the sharks around him. That he had trusted them so easily he didn’t see awful things coming.

That he was duped easily many times by many people including those who had hidden agenda, Filipinos and foreigners alike. He had political aspirations and he was so easily manipulated because this political aspiration was used against him.

That or maybe he was indeed behind the downfall of the Bonifacio brothers alongside the other members of his faction because they wanted the power for themselves. Let’s face it; either he was indeed an idiot manipulated by the others or that he was willing to do everything in order to realize his political ambitions.

As a Filipino, it is very hard to accept that Aguinaldo would order the arrest of the Bonifacio brothers in such a manner. But he couldn’t have been such an idiot he wouldn’t realize things for what they truly were.

On Andres Bonifacio:

He, too, loved to read and again, because he knew so much and saw so much, he was killed for it.

    1. That Andres Bonifacio was indeed more brilliant than the Filipinos credit him for. I really agree with Ambeth Ocampo on this.
    2. Sometimes I couldn’t help but think that he was probably killed on the spot alongside his brothers the day his supposed “colleagues” stormed his house to arrest him. That no trial ever occurred.If there really was, then exactly how many days would it take for a man who had been both shot and at the same time, slashed on the neck to live, without any medical attention? This, while he was being jostled and carried around for five days for the trial (April 29, 1897 — May 4, 1897). Would he really have the energy to attend a trial?

      And just as Mr. Ocampo had wondered, why carry him to a mountain on a hammock so far away if he could have been killed anywhere. Someplace nearer and less difficult to go to?
    3. They couldn’t find the brothers’ bones, because as Ocampo had surmised, that they were never buried in the place the executioners mentioned in their accounts. That they were lying just as they had about everything.And I’m not even saying this simply because of the books that Bonifacio read. For me, the books that we read aren’t the ultimate measure of the person’s brilliance alone but also how we actually use this brain of ours.

      It was actually how Andres managed to evade the enemies that made him downright brilliant.

      He had managed to live in stealth even while making a living and supporting a family. This is what made him more intelligent and more capable of carrying out the revolution more than anyone.

      Yes, there were signs of an impending revolution, the Spaniards have long suspected it before it was exposed – after all, not everyone can be as careful as Andres Bonifacio. But what made him an even more effective leader was that he had managed to wipe out almost all traces of his existence.

      And he was able to do this because he was selfless and he didn’t cling to material things and power. He had no designs of owning even a house as evidenced of his not having a permanent address.

      Because it could lead to his capture.

      This can be affirmed by the fact that we only have so little to go by in as much as Bonifacio is concerned. It was because he made sure of that. After all, his capture would mean the failure of the revolution – the end of everything that they had so worked hard for.

      So much was at stake that he made sure that no one would be able to trace his steps.

      In fact, the only physical proof that we have of him that affirms his existence was a single photograph. There were no other documents that will verify he ever graced this world – not his birth certificate – although yes, there was that of his parents’, but there were no other documents and even the name he used in his marriage was a different one. He didn’t even have a permanent address and no one could exactly tell what his job/s was/were.

      Even the bolos and the gun that he used during the revolution seemed to have vanished as well. We were only left with hope and speculations that whatever bolo we had before the Second World War was one of his.

      The people who mattered to him were the only ones who could really tell that yes – he existed. Yes, Andres Bonifacio isn’t just a myth. People like his wife, parents, and siblings could attest to that. People like his comrades in the revolution. Which, unfortunately, had proven to be the bane of his existence. His curse. The cause of his downfall. You choose how you will call these people – though traitors it seemed – is the more apt description.

      Because who else had the power to bring him down? He was pretty much invisible to the Spaniards except from his family and comrades. This is the glaring truth that we Filipinos have to face. That indeed, his downfall was caused by Filipinos, that his blood is in our hands.

      When it comes down to it, why cling to worldly things like bolos and guns and documents? He was alive. He was real, even if his bones had also disappeared into oblivion alongside everything else including his life.

      But what does it matter if we lost the material and physical things affirming his existence?

      What truly matters is that we Filipinos do not forget what he truly stands for: revolution.

      We must not forget what he was trying to tell us. That revolution is in the heart. It is the feeling of wanting to do good for our country. To be selfless. To be with honor.

      It does not lie in the bolos or in guns. It means fighting for freedom and fighting for what is rightfully ours even if it meant trying to erase any traces of our existence. Not striving to gain power. And especially not gaining that power for ourselves and at the expense of our very own people. There certainly is no honor in that.

      That we must be selfless.

      That above material things like our houses and the palaces there is such a thing as honor.

      Perhaps the reason why our country is so screwed was because we had failed to live by his example. The clamor for power is still there. The need to amass wealth at the expense of the rest of the Filipinos. That it didn’t matter if they off each other in the process or if they expose each other’s misdeeds in front of the television. Or in the newspapers (which apparently dates back to Quezon and Aguinaldo). Because the greater majority of the Filipino people will simply ignore them and forget everything along the way.

      By continuing to look the other way, we deface Bonifacio’s honor and everything that he truly stands for.

      By letting the people who killed him get away with their actions. By letting corrupt officials get away time and again, we dishonor Andres Bonifacio and his memory. What he truly stands for.

      Will we continue to choose to dishonor him?

      This year marks his 150 years. It is fitting. It is time… to give him what is due to him.

      No, I’m not talking about titles and many other accolades.

      Let us honor him by doing what he would have wanted for us to do for the country today.

      Because by letting these people get away with their shit time and again I can’t help but think that we, after all, deserve all the shit that we are all in.

      At this rate, I couldn’t help but think that in the next 150 years, we’ll still be the same: forgiving, forgetting, being taken advantage of. It’s such a vicious cycle. Not much had changed 116 years ago when he died. It’s even gotten worse.

      In the end, it all boils down to this: if we continually turn a blind eye to Filipinos who kill their own just so they will remain or get the power that they covet, if we continually let plunderers and corrupt politicians rule our country, then we really deserve what we got.

      Let us uphold his memory.


Note: I think I said some things repeatedly. But, just so I’d finally be able to post this, I’ll let it be for now and edit it later. Else, I’ll never finish it. I’ve been working on this review for a month and a half now!

I personally feel that this review is related to my review on Guardians of Traditions.

I still want to say many things, but I’ll reserve it for Jonathan Sturak’s His First, Her Last.


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