Culture | The Bonifacio Vote and the Culture of Resistance

By Lloyd Jetender T. Manango

The continuing relevance of the Supremo is largely due to the “unfinished” character of the revolution he led. Peasant landlessness, poverty, injustice, colonialism — the material conditions that fueled the Katipunan — still offer fertile ground for revolution today. Filipinos, whether moved by Bonifacio or not, carry on his legacy through their culture of resistance: farmers defending their land, the urban poor holding fast against demolition, drug war victims demanding justice, students fighting for the right to education.

The Bonifacio Legacy

The name “Andres Bonifacio” has become synonymous with revolutionary fervor and the struggle for societal transformation. Whether being honored by the likes of Maria Laya Guerrero of the militant Kabataang Makabayan or co-opted and dragged through the mud by the patently anti-democratic Duterte, the Bonifacio legacy remains alive and well on the 158th anniversary of his birth.

Filipinos’ resonance with Bonifacio speaks of their hunger for genuine change. This desire is so potent that “change” has become a staple talking point for politicians every election season. Masquerading as advocates of the people’s interests, candidates use the language of the masses in order to win the support of the voting population. Despite this, as the people know, all too well, decades of elections have changed nothing but the names of those in power.

Bonifacio and Elections

Those from the liberal camp laud the elections as an arena of class struggle: an open market in which the oppressor and oppressed can face off on equal footing. It is difficult, however, to see Bonifacio agreeing with this concept of elections. Historically, the Supremo participated only in the Tejeros Convention as his first and last national elections — if it even counts as that, given that the overwhelming majority of voters were wealthy Caviteños.

To say that Tejeros ended badly for Bonifacio is an understatement; the middle-class Katipunero was executed by order of the newly crowned Emilio Aguinaldo not long after. The elite leadership ushered in by Aguinaldo’s victory derailed the radical aspirations of the revolution towards surrender and betrayal. He sold the revolution’s arms to Spain, went into exile, and was charmed into submission by the sweet promises of the colonizing United States.

The Tradition of Elite Factionism

The power grab at Tejeros taught a key historical lesson about the nature of change by the ballot box. Despite his merits as a revolutionary leader, Bonifacio lacked the wealth and connections required to counter the political orchestration of the Aguinaldo faction.

The elite factionism that defeated Bonifacio continues to define Philippine politics. Carrying the torch of tyranny today is the alliance of Marcos and Duterte, supported by their partners in crime Arroyo and Estrada. However, unlike the Tejeros faction who were united behind Aguinaldo, this marriage of powerful political clans is one of desperation and mistrust. Duterte failed to secure term extension and is left defenseless against international and domestic persecution for his human rights violations and plunder. He now seeks refuge under the wing of Marcos Jr., with Sara Duterte held down to a Vice-Presidential bid.

Desperation pushes Duterte to hedge his bets. As his daughter runs in tandem with the other dictator’s scion, Duterte fields Bong Go as his own presidential bet while running for senator himself. The cracks in this “alliance” are exposed further as Duterte grabbed national attention with his blind item cocaine-slinging against his fellow power-addicted politician. If push comes to shove, the outgoing tyrant still has Comelec in his back pocket; he can simply cheat his way out of jail like he did back in the 2019 midterm elections. Worse, he still has enough power to declare martial law and cancel the elections altogether.

Change by the Ballot

The Philippine electoral battlefield is much less an arena of class struggle than a platform for class oppression. Reforms may have granted the people the right to choose, but the choices are limited in a ballot full of Aguinaldos, Marcoses, and Dutertes.

While there may be candidates whose interests align with the peoples’, they remain a minority, and even then they are subject to the sway of dominant forces in the status quo. Even VP Leni Robredo, the leading “opposition” candidate, caved in to pressure from the US and the AFP in her wholesale support of the witch-hunting and corrupt anti-communist task force. This regression from the side of Robredo further disabuses the people from the possibility of change via vote. It is made abundantly clear that the Filipino masses cannot simply vote away tyranny, nor could they fully entrust their lives and livelihoods to the wavering principles of a lesser evil. Granted, Robredo is a far cry from Duterte and Marcos, but the genuine change demanded by pangs of hunger from Bonifacio’s time until now cannot be satisfied by a mere shift in the leadership of a rotten system.

Resistance Beyond the Ballot

The demands of the Filipino people for land, wages, and rights are drowned out by the rivalry of the ruling classes. Amid their fight for power, the masses are left unheard in their misery and poverty. As long as farmers have no land to call their own, as long as workers labor under exploitative conditions, and as long as the government insists on its policy of bloodshed, the people’s culture of resistance will continue to thrive.

There is no question that the Bonifacio vote is a vote against tyranny and dictatorship. However, like the masses who immortalize his name through revolutionary sacrifice, Bonifacio’s struggle for change does not end at the ballot box. The Bonifacio legacy calls on the people to follow the example of his Katipunan — to organize themselves in order to realize their collective strength.

The Supremo lives on today through the marching multitudes, raised fists, and ringing voices; he is out with the people fighting for change in the frontlines, casting his vote in the line of fire.

The Official Student Publication of the University of the Philippines Manila. Magna est veritas et prevaelebit.