About The Katipunan

Posted Sunday January 29, 2012 20:59:44 UTC ()

   Supremo Andres Bonifacio
   Supremo Andres Bonifacio
Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan. Patterned somewhat after Rizal's Liga Filipina, though with an entirely different purpose, it was founded at Tondo, a suburb of Manila, on July 7th, 1892, the same day that the decree of Rizal's banishment to Dapitan was made public by Governor-General Despujol. Marcelo H. Del Pilar, the companion and co-worker of Rizal in Spain, is generally credited with having directly inspired its establishment. In fact one of the founders of the Katipunan was Del Pilar's brother-in-law Deodato Arellano, who became its first president. From the beginning, however, it was the organizing ability and tenacity of purpose of Andres Bonifacio that saved the society from an untimely death. He became its third president and as such was known to all members as the Supremo or the Supreme One.

Being a secret society, a good deal of mystery enveloped the early history of the Katipunan. Until a comparatively recent time, there was more misinformation than actual knowledge regarding its purposes and organization. A Spanish parish priest, Fray Mariano Gil, who "discovered" its existence, declared its object to be "the general massacre of all Spaniards living in the Archipelago"; a Filipino writer, on the other hand, advanced the theory that the summum of Katipunan aspirations was a communistic republic. So inaccurate was the information about it that even after its "discover", it was generally confused with Freemasonry, and, for a long time thereafter, its centers in the provinces were invariably spoken of as "lodges". In the language of James A. Le Roy, "more ridiculous, exaggerated, and often willfully false things have been written" about the Katipunan than any other feature of Philippine history.

Opinions to the contrary notwithstanding, it is possible to make a statement as to what constituted the main object of the society. Barring certain subsidiary aims, the primary purpose was two-fold:

  1. The union of all Filipinos, and
  2. The separation from Spain by means of a revolution. The society from the beginning was undoubtedly both a patriotic and a seditious organization.

   Emilio Jacinto
   Emilio Jacinto
The union of all Filipinos as an aim of the Katipunan is shown in the second paragraph of Emilio Jacinto's Primer which was generally looked upon by the early katipuneros as their guide. It reads as follows:

"The object pursued by this association is great and precious: to unite in ideas and purposes all Filipinos by means of a strong oath, and from this union derive force with which to tear the dense veil that obscures the intelligence and thus find the true path of Reason and Light ".

Andres Bonifacio, early in 1896, expressed the same thought when he wrote:

"Reason teaches us to be united in sentiment, thought and purpose, so that we may acquire the strength necessary to crush the evil that is afflicting our people".

This position of the katipuneros was dictated not only by the apparent necessity for greater unity, but also by the natural tendency to follow in the footsteps of Rizal and Del Pilar, the two great apostles of Filipino union. It was therefore a heritage from the preceding generation.

With respect to the idea of separation by means of a revolution, there appears nothing absolutely definite in the writings of the founders of the association which have been preserved. The omission was probably not accidental; it may well have been dictated by prudence. By this omission the leaders of the association could hope to gain the sympathy at least, if not the support, of those who would naturally recoil from the violence of a revolution and the uncertainty of political separation, and, at the same time, lessen the risk of furnishing documentary proofs of sedition in case of discovery. Thus Jacinto only vaguely suggests in his Primer that, as a fitting recompense for those who willingly suffered, liberty would soon dawn, bringing happiness for all. Bonifacio mentions neither separation nor revolution in the Decalogue. Dr. Valenzuela, on the other hand, testified that, according to Bonifacio, the society proposed to bring about the union of all Filipinos and to demand for the Philippines equal rights with the Spanish provinces, including the sending of delegates to the Cortes.; and, in case of refusal on the part of Spain to grant such demands, to provoke a revolution and declare the independence of the Archipelago under the protection of Japan. What these men really had in mind, however, is revealed in the articles they wrote and published in 1896 in the paper Kalayaan (Liberty), organ of the Katipunan. One of these articles written jointly by Bonifacio and Dr. Valenzuela, says in part:

... We raise our heads long accustomed to bow low, and summoning up all our strength ... boldly tell them [the Spaniards] that the expression " Mother Spain " is but a piece of adulation ... that they are nought but a race that robs, a people that fattens on what is not its own; that there is another people [the Filipinos] tired of that which gives it neither strength nor life, and that there is no longer any hope except in our own forces and means of defense.

   Apolinario Mabini
   Apolinario Mabini
In a country already greatly perturbed as the Philippines then was, there can be little doubt regarding the real intention of the authors of these articles. Certainly the men who were initiated into the Katipunan from 1894 on, if not from the outset, understood the society to stand not only for revolution but for separation as well. Thus in 1894 the initiates of a section in a district in Manila boldly announced in a document signed in blood that they would "not take a backward step in the revolution against the Spanish enemy. The document bears a stamp with these words: "Philippine Republic, Concepcion, Manila". Another document dated in 1896 states the object of the society to be "the independence of the Filipino people, and the total destruction of Spanish rule". Apolinario Mabini, who knew Bonifacio and with him sat as a member of the directorate of the Liga Filipina, was undoubtedly right when he said that the Katipunan was founded with "separatist" aims.

The idea of having a definite program of government beyond the organization prescribed by the Katipunan, once separation was attained, did not seem greatly to have preoccupied at that time the thought of the leaders. Yet the Katipunan was undoubtedly a patriotic society, and at heart the leaders presumably wished the country's good. The katipuneros were bent on destroying,the Spanish rule which they felt had already become unbearable, but their constructive program did not go beyond a plan, generally accepted, to found a republic on the ruins of the decaying colonial system. Whether this form of government would be th, most suitable under the given conditions, and just what kind of a republic they intended to establish, did not appear seriously to have hampered the pursuit of their immediate objective. A republic they wanted, and a republic they must have. All else, it was taken for granted, would surely follow. In this respect, they were no different from other revolutionists at the inception of their work.

Aside from the main object it strove to accomplish, the association had certain subsidiary aims. It preached the love of and service to country. "The life that is not consecrated to a lofty and reasonable purpose is a tree without shade, if not a poisonous weed", says the Primer. It proclaimed, moreover, the equality of all men, a precept that was undoubtedly stressed and at times, either willfully or through ignorance, distorted into sobme sort of communism. It urged cooperation, a genuine mutuality of effort. "Defend the oppressed ", commands the Primer," and fight the oppressor". It extolled the chastity of women, and iterated the golden rule. These principles of conduct 1 it sought to, inculcate among its members on behalf of social betterment, so as to accentuate their community of interests and purposes and strengthen their bonds of union.

Neither Bonifacio in his Decalogue nor Jacinto in his Primer said anything about the "massacre" of Spaniards. There may be stray bits of evidence to show that "massacre" was in the minds of some members of the Katipunan; but certain documents generally cited by rabid Spanish writers in this connection must be viewed with suspicion, since their source has never been given and their authenticity is still unproven. With an association like the Katipunan, however, whose members were largely recruited from the lower classes, it was inevitable that some of its principles would be misunderstood and even misconstrued. Indeed, after that body had become successful, there came "an influx of spurious elements, of false katipuneros, whose excesses brought discredit upon the society". Nevertheless, what the leaders wanted was to steel the hearts of their associates and prepare them for a long struggle against their rulers. This seemed necessary in view of the traditional deference the majority of natives then showed the ruling race, particularly the clergy. To combat it, the Katipunan leaders appealed not only to the Filipino's love of country but also, to his religious instinct. "Believe", says Bonifacio, "that the aims of the KKK (Kataas-taasan, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan), are God-given, and the desires of thy country are therefore also the desires of God."

There is no original document that describes completely the organization of the Katipunan. Jacinto's unpublished work on the "Katipunization" of Laguna province, though not written till early in 1898, throws much light on the subject, but, like all works of local character, does not describe the organization as a whole. Of the secondary sources, the testimonies of Dr. Valenzuela and others, the reminiscences of Artemio Ricarte, a katipunero, and Isabelo de los Reyes, La Religion del Katipunan (Katipunan Religion) are very useful, but much care should be exercised in consulting them. Fortunately, however, there are no fundamental differences in the views expressed by these men and by others regarding the society's organization.

It seems reasonably certain that the Katipunan had three distinct units of control, namely,

  • The supreme council, for the whole Archipelago;
  • The provincial council, for each province or district; and
  • The popular council, for each town. Sometimes, however, a province had two, such councils, thus constituting itself into, two, Katipunan provinces, while a popular council might have under its direction two or more sections.

   The first Katipunan flag
   The first Katipunan Flag
Each council had its own set of officials generally consisting of a president, a secretary,.a fiscal (attorney) and a treasurer. But besides these officials, the supreme council, to which all councils owed obedience, had several councillors and for some time a medical adviser. In August, 1896, the supreme council, according to Dr. Valenzuela, was composed of

  • Andres Bonifacio, president;
  • Emililo Jacinto, secretary;
  • Teodoro, Plata, fiscal;
  • Enrique Pacheco, treasurer;
  • Pio Valenzuela, medical adviser; and several councillors.

After the establishment of the supreme council, the founders slowly and carefully began to make "converts" in the suburbs of Manila and in some of the towns near the capital. With great secrecy, subordinate councils were established in an ever-widening area. Although at first, quite inactive, leading only a somewhat precarious existence to, the end of 1893, the Katipunan took on a new lease of life early in 1894. A year later there were already established in Manila City alone four "popular councils" with several sections. The province of Manila and the near-by provinces of Morong, Cavite, Batangas, Laguna and Bulacan, and even the more distant provinces of Nueva Ecija and Tayabas felt the silent campaign conducted by Bonifacio and his enthusiastic followers. By the middle of 1896, the society was already well established in central Luzon.

Various estimates regarding the probable number of those affiliated are given by different authorities. They vary between 20,000 and 123,500. The actual number of members was probably not exactly known even by the katipuneros themselves. However, the membership must have been large, probably nearer the latter figure than the former, although it represented only a small portion of the entire population. In central Luzon alone was the society's influence felt in any appreciable degree.

As the association grew and its membership increased, rumors regarding its existence were bound to arise. Early in July, 1896, a lieutenant of the Civil Guard, writing at the town of Pasig, to the Civil Governor of the province of Manila reported that he had reason to suspect that " something abnormal was going on ", that he had been informed of the existence of a secret society whose members were constantly holding gatherings at different places near Manila and raising money to buy arms. On August 13, a Spanish friar-curate of a town near Manila wrote to the same authority a letter wherein he spoke of "masons" and " separatists " and, after asserting that what the country needed was some "blood-letting", advised the "disappearance of two or three of the more prominent citizens. All sorts of rumors were therefore in the air when, on August 19, the society was betrayed by Teodoro Patifio to Fray Mariano Gil, friar-curate of the suburb of Tondo.

Leandro H. Fernandez, 1926
University of Michigan Digital Library



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