Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Finding Andres Bonifacio

By: Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

I was invited recently to a meeting of the Center for Patriotic Initiatives where the topic for discussion was: “Two Years After Arroyo: Prospects and Challenges to the Patriotic Forces.” Among the invited speakers were Francisco Nemenzo, former president of the University of the Philippines; political analyst Ramon Casiple; and former Army Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim, now deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Customs. I was deeply flattered to be invited with such men. I wondered, of course, if a mistake had been made in inviting me.

I couldn’t go in the end because I hurt my hip, but I knew what I would have said. I would have talked of the “meeting” that took place late last year between the urban poor and Andres Bonifacio. That meeting capped, in a real if limited way, the development of urban poor leaders, so that they and others like them are a challenge today to the patriotic forces. The urban poor and Bonifacio met like long lost relatives.

That meeting was arranged by Professor Charleston “Xiao” Chua of Dela Salle University. We met Xiao by chance while he was giving a lecture on the Tejeros Convention in Ternate, Cavite. He brought the past to life, as he talked of Bonifacio’s last days. He took his students to the actual historical sites of the events. And they saw the cells where Bonifacio was kept, and heard stories of his last days from the local people who had heard them from their ancestors. My wife and I, for example, heard the school principal in Maragondon point out the acacia tree where, her parents told her, Bonifacio would often urinate on his way in or out of his cell in the convento there.

We arranged for Xiao to lead a visit of the poor people we work with through the towns of Kawit, Ternate, Tanza, Naic and Maragondon, and finally to the trail that leads up into the mountains where Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were killed by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s men. They sang patriotic songs there in the late afternoon. The poor, most of whom are from Tondo and neighboring areas, were captivated by the life and beliefs of Bonifacio. They identified with him.

They learned that Bonifacio was far more than the warrior with a bolo, as Jose Rizal was much more of a warrior than the peaceful non-violent leader portrayed in our textbooks. They learned Bonifacio had a total plan for the reform of life in the Philippines. They identified with Bonifacio because he, too, was poor and, like many of them, had to work to raise younger brothers and sisters. They admired how he struggled to find a place for himself in society. Bonifacio preached comradeship, brotherhood (and sisterhood), kindness and charity to one another as well as the need to fight for one’s rights. The poor found themselves very comfortable with Bonifacio’s emphasis on care for others and with his vision of the Philippines. They especially enjoyed his understanding of freedom which is kaginhawaan, which seems very similar to the “peace” spoken of in John’s Gospel (Jn. 20:19-23).

The poor we work with had undergone two long learning seasons in their lives before they “met” Bonifacio. The first season was community organization. It was spent struggling with government and the powerful for land, housing, basic services, better education, job opportunities and respect. Not so different from the Bonifacio’s patriotic struggle. The second “season” was their political work during the 2010 election where they chose their candidate at meetings of 300 leaders, and then acted as regular party workers, canvassing voters, setting up offices, keeping in contact, witnessing the counting, and finally celebrating victory and bemoaning defeat. They outgrew the political fragmentation of the poor that had allowed venal politicians to grab their votes in exchange for little food, little money and airy promises.

In the years 2005-2008 they thought of having their own political party which they called Poor People’s Party. Its vision:

•A pro-poor agenda: a party working on the basic issues of all poor in the cities and in provinces; on the issues of industrial laborers, farm workers, fisherfolk, peasants and small farmers, informal sectors, youth, the aged, tribal people, women, differently disabled persons and the like;

• National in scope: a party fielding candidates in barangay and local government elections, and in the years to come in provincial and national elections;

• Dedicated to the people’s cause and to the equality of all: a party whose leaders are knowledgeable about their given tasks and duties; hot-headed but strong-willed; and neither corrupt nor corruptible;

• Strongly anchored on the social teachings of the Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths.
Even before the poor met Bonifacio they shared, it seems, his manner of thinking about reform.
In the two periods, the poor learned how to analyze their situation to find what was truly good for them and what was the common good; to make strategy and tactics; and finally to have the courage to act in a mass-based, democratic and nonviolent manner, including in electoral politics. Add the inspiration of Bonifacio and you have a people ready for reform.

The urban poor are the challenge today to the patriotic forces. The poor desire reform more than any other sectors of the population because they have so little of power and wealth now. Many have the experience and capability to work for reform.

I would have ended my remarks at that meeting by quoting the words of Jesus: “The harvest is great, but the laborers are few. Pray the Lord of the harvest to send more workers into His fields.” (Lk. 10:02)

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates.

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