Take it from Bonifacio: You're never too young to lead

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 30 2016 06:14 PM | Updated as of Nov 30 2016 07:37 PM

MANILA - Most Filipinos know Andres Bonifacio as the leader of the revolutionary group Katipunan, the great plebian who was instrumental in the revolt against Spanish colonizers.

Historian Carlo Santiago, however, would like to remember Bonifacio as an effective communicator, and one who the youth of today should take after.

Speaking on [email protected], Santiago said the idea of having a Philippine identity, one that is outside being a Spanish colony and being under the Catholic Church, was already swirling during Bonifacio's time.

It was an idea articulated best by Jose Rizal and the Illustrados, but it was Bonifacio who formed a message and relayed it effectively to an audience, said Santiago. 

"The best thing about Bonifacio is that he was able to deliver this message to a very particular audience, and that’s why I call him a great communicator because he was able to identify the audience, he was able to craft the message and he was so effective in recruitment, in organizing, and I think that is how I would like to remember him," he said.

At a young age of 29, Bonifacio was among the Filipinos who went up against a Spanish army in the early days of the revolution, armed with bolos, spears, and rusty old pistols. 

Bonifacio formed and led the Katipunan, a secret society, where he, the Supremo, and his troops launched an armed revolution against Spain by tearing up their resident certificates or cedulas in what came to be known as “The Cry of Pugadlawin.”

He and his brother Procopio were shot at Mount Nagpatong, near Mount Buntis in Maragondon, Cavite on May 10, 1897 after days of skirmishes between his group and General Emilio Aguinaldo's.

In their account of Bonifacio's life, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines wrote: "His educational attainment and military expertise may not have been equal to that of other heroes but his love for the country was absolute. His name will always be revered and serve as the battle cry of Filipinos who yearn for freedom oppression and injustice."

Years later, as the nation celebrates Bonifacio's 153rd birth anniversary, opponents of the secret burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani are expected to take to the streets and voice their grievances.

If previous episodes of these protests were any indication, the youth are once again going to drive Wednesday's demonstrations forward—something Santiago lauds.

He noted, apart from a young Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto, who was proclaimed the brains of Katipunan, was also only inching 20 during the revolution.

"Youth should not be a deterrent to nationalism, to patriotism," he said.

"If you have an idea and you know how to articulate the idea, go for it. I think that’s something that the youth now [do]: anything they’re [expressing, they're] expressing it quite well," he added.

Santiago argues against people saying millennials shouldn't be protesting against the Marcos burial when they weren't even alive during his martial rule.

"Sa akin, no. For them, I think, the burial stands for something greater than just a burial itself," he said.

He believes people feel strongly about this issue because it affects the concept of nationhood. 

"I think there is an underlying issue here which is questions of nationhood—what is a hero? What does a hero stand for?—and this is what I think drives the young people today because they are the ones trying to live in the society, build the society," he said.

In Santiago's definition, a hero is one who "stands for the values of our society, what kind of society we want to build, who we want to be as a people, and what kind of nation we want to achieve."

Meanwhile, for the older generation, Santiago poses the challenge of communicating better to the younger ones, just as Bonifacio did. He said, they need to come up with "a better message" and a counter-propaganda.

Propaganda, he explained, is an emotional process, not an intellectual or moral one. Counter-propaganda, meanwhile, is both an intellectual and an emotional process "because you have to be able to be intellectually honest and emotionally appealing as well."

"You have to ask those other people who lived through those times, who understood the difficulties of that period—they just can’t keep talking the same old spiel na ‘ganito ang buhay noon.’ They have to start asking, ‘how do we make the younger generation who never went through it? How do we make them feel what we felt?’," he said.