Surprising as it may seem, there is not really much documentation about that prominent figure in Philippine history that is Andres Bonifacio. In fact, there is only one known photograph of him that exists, and he is wearing not a camisa but a coat and tie. It is the scantiness of information about him, along with the circumstances of his life and death, that the Bonifacio legend began to grow shortly after his infamous death in 1897.
For a people seeking a tangible symbol of sorts to identify themselves with, a puzzle arose as to how to depict a man like Andres Bonifacio. Thus was born the popular perception of Bonifacio as a man crying out in defiant anger, armed with a bolo on one hand and ready to charge. This image of Bonifacio became the prevalent depiction in many works of art about him that arose over the years, In one prominent example, a monument erected in memory of the First Cry of Balintawak which depicted a man with an unbuttoned camisa and holding a bolo and a flag was associated with Bonifacio even though it was not actually depicting the man.
In the midst of these difficulties, one sculptor by the name of Guillermo Tolentino took up the challenge of creating a grand and “accurate” monument that would be befitting a hero like him. Having won the design competition to build a planned monument for Bonifacio, Tolentino went as far as getting in touch with Bonifacio’s sister and contacting mediums for him to get an idea as to how Bonifacio would look like.
Tolentino’s Bonifacio monument would be unveiled on November 30, 1933, 70 years since the hero’s birth. Somewhat similar to the Rizal monument in Luneta with the obelisk, it has an octagonal base (symbolizing the 8 provinces that first revolted against Spain after the Cry of Balintawak/Pugad Lawin) with a winged figure at the top of the obelisk. At the center is Bonifacio, standing this time in silent defiance holding a bolo and a revolver, surrounded by his second-in-command and “Brains of the Katipunan” Emilio Jacinto and other Katipuneros. The monument is also surrounded by other figures which portray the suffering of the Filipino people during the Spanish colonial rule. Prominent among them is the figure of a man being garroted which symbolized the execution of the Filipino secular priests Fathers Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez, and Jacinto Zamora on February 17, 1872, by itself a watershed event that paved way to the Revolution itself.
Grandiose as it was that befitted a hero, it did not escape criticisms, particularly as to how Bonifacio was portrayed which defied the common perceptions of him. Still, Tolentino stood his ground as to how he portrayed the hero. Besides, the controversy did not affect in any way the monument’s stature as a landmark in the then still-to-be-developed Manila suburb of Caloocan. considering that it was located in the intersection of 3 major thoroughfares: the circumferential road that we know now as EDSA, Rizal Avenue which would lead to downtown Manila, and the northern highway we know now as MacArthur Highway which during In time was Manila’s gateway to northern Luzon. (before the construction of the road we know now as the North Luzon Expressway in the 1960’s) The monument and the area where it was located became known as “Monumento,” the landmark that greeted the people as they went to and from Manila.
The Bonifacio Monumento still stands today, though no longer as imposing as a landmark as it was before thanks to the heavy traffic around it nowadays. More unfortunate is the recent mushrooming of more imposing buildings around it that ruined the once serene skyline that allowed it to dominate as a monument of this caliber deserves to. Heritage conservation not only is about preserving the structure but also about ensuring its surroundings are developed in a way that it would not ruin the atmosphere of the area where it is located. Unfortunately, the development around the Monumento area was left unchecked that soon enough, we are now seeing buildings and billboards dominating over what was supposed to be the dominant landmark in the area. Such is the sad state of things in this metropolis as far as heritage is concerned.
Still, the Monumento stands tall and in quiet defiance and ready to march onward in the face of circumstances as it strives to maintain its iconic character in the midst of unchecked development in the city.
Acknowledgements as well to Artes de las Filipinas
© The Urban Roamer