Andres Bonifacio, atapang a tao.

I wonder if kids today still know this humorous poem:

Si Andres Bonifacio, atapang a tao.
Aputol a kamay, hindi atakbo.
Aputol a paa, hindi atakbo.
Apugot a ulo, hindi atakbo.
Aputol a uten, atakbo atulin.

They probably know the first line, but not the rest of it. I’ve wondered who wrote it, how and when it became popular; but like many popular poems and songs, it’s difficult to find reliable information in the Interwebs. The poem is disrespectful to the Supremo of the Katipunan, I know; but I’d like to think that Bonifacio would be the first to laugh if he heard it.

Today, of course, is 148th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio. Next to Jose Rizal, Bonifacio is the most popular Philippine hero. Many still argue that he should be the national hero, instead of Rizal.

In history class, Bonifacio and Rizal are often presented as opposites: the former was the poor, orphaned, uneducated, and hot-headed revolutionary, while the latter came from a rich family, calm and intellectual reformer.

I wish I had Ambeth Ocampo as a professor. His broadsheet column on Philippine history is always interesting, removing popular historical figures away from their idealized pedestal, making them more human and sympathetic. A recent column fancied a comparison of Rizal and Bonifacio if they were Ocampo’s students.

We have no school records for Andres Bonifacio who, according to the late Teodoro Agoncillo, barely finished the equivalent of today’s grade four. What is often forgotten by teachers and students who presume that Bonifacio was poor as a rat and barely made ends meet by peddling canes and fans on the street is that Bonifacio was home-schooled. His father may have been a tailor, but in the 19th century tailors were paid quite well and Bonifacio had a private tutor who taught him to read, write and do simple math. What the Supremo lacked in formal education he covered with a lot of reading.

If we are to believe Pio Valenzuela (a most unreliable historical source), as cited by Epifanio de los Santos in his 1917 Bonifacio biography, the Supremo often “went without sleep at night in order to read.” Valenzuela also provided a list of books that Bonifacio was supposed to have read, including “History of the French Revolution,” “Lives of the Presidents of the United States,” “International Law,” “Civil Code,” “Penal Code,” the Bible (in 5 volumes), Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” Eugene Sue’s “The Wandering Jew” and “Ruinas de Palmyra.” Valenzuela also said that Bonifacio liked talking about the French Revolution.

An even older article also listed the books from his library that Bonifacio read. Yes, Bonifacio had a library. And he read Les Miserables. I can’t even look at that doorstopper without my eyes hurting at the length of that monster of a novel. I wonder what he thought of the Cosette-Marius-Eponine love triangle.

That’s another difference he had with Rizal: Bonifacio’s life had no prominent love story. His most famous poem seemed to sum up his idea on love:

Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya
Sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila
Gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa,
Aling pag-ibig pa? Wala na nga wala.

(Which kind of love exceeds
In purity and nobility
More than the love for the homeland,
Which love is greater? None, none at all.)

Maybe Ambeth Ocampo could share something about Bonifacio’s love life in the future. Unlike Bonifacio, who was actually married twice, Rizal had several well-known love affairs and these were frequently mentioned whenever a new Rizal biopic comes out.

Rizal had at least three local movies made about his life. Bonifacio probably only had one.

Rizal and Bonifacio as students
November 30 is Andres Bonifacio Day in the Philippines