24 August 1896, Andres Bonifacio convened tha Kataastaasang Kapulungan or
National Assembly of the Katipunan in Melchora Aquino’s barn in barrio
Banlat, then part of Kalookan. Assembled were the members of the
Kataastaasang Kapulungan (Supreme Council), as well as the pangulo (heads)
of the sangunian (supra-municipal) and balangay (chapter) units. There they
made three major decisions. First, they declared a nationwide armed
revolution to win freedom from Spain. Second, they established a national
government. And third, they elected officials who would lead the nation and
The ilustrado-initiated propaganda movement had failed to persuade the
Madrid government to effect urgent reforms distant Asian colony. The
Filipino activists in Europe eventually realized the change had to come
about from within the archipelago itself.
With this in mind, Jose Rizal came home to the Philippines on 26 June 1892.
After meetings with local activists, Rizal established a civic society
called the Liga Filipina. On 3 July, a week after he arrived in Manila,
Rizal launched the organization in Doroteo Ongjunco’s house on Ilaya Street,
Tondo. The aims of the society were national unity, mutual aid, common
defense, the encouragement of education, agriculture and commerce, and the
study and application of reforms.
The Liga Filipina was short-lived. On 6 July, Rizal was arrested and
detained upon the orders of the Governor-General Eulogio Despujol. Two weeks
later, he was sent to Dapitan, Mindanao, where he lived in exile for four
One of the founding members of the league was Andres Bonifacio. On 6 and 7
July, when it had become apparent that an openly pro-Filipino organization
like the Liga Filipina would be suppressed by the colonial government,
Bonifacio and some friends formed a secret society. Among them were Deodato
Arellano, Ladislao Diwa, Valentin Diaz, Jose Dizon, and Teodoro plata. The
organization was called the Kataastaasan Kagalang-galang na Katipunan ng mga
Anak ng Bayan. The aims of the Katipunan were to unite the country and to
win independence from Spain by means of revolution.
Bonifacio, however, continued to work with the Liga, which its other
prominent members had resurrected in April 1893 because of his personality
and communication skills, the Supreme Council of the Liga appointed him
chief of propaganda. Bonifacio’s success in recruiting members unnerved the
more conservative elements of the Liga, who did not agree with his
revolutionary ideas. The Liga ceased to exist as October 1894.
Bonifacio did not become president of the Katipunan until 1895, although he
had always been an officer. Under his guidance, the Katipunan prepared for
revolution. Emilio Jacinto, Bonifacio’s trusted friend and adviser, wrote
the Cartilla or primer, which embodied the teachings of the organization.
The Katipunan operated a clandestine printing press and published a
newspaper, Kalayaan. By 1896, on the eve of the revolution, the membership
of the society had expanded dramatically. Estimates vary from 30,000 to
The Spanish secreta or secret police knew of the existence of a dangerous
clandestine organization by early 1896. The Governor-General believed the
government was still on top of the situation, but there was no let-up in the
surveillance of suspect personalities. By April 1896, the rebels were
reported to have cut railroad lines in Kalookan and environs. By May, the
general assembly of pangulo and representatives from all the balangay
(chapters) of the Katipunan were locked in heated discussions on the timing
of the revolution. To many, the time had come; but some, like Rizal, balked
at the idea.
By April or May 1896, the existence of the Katipunan was already known to
the Guardia Civil Veterana. In August, the confession of Teodoro Patino’s
sister to Fray Mariano Fil, the Augustinian curate of Tondo, merely
confirmed what the government already knew. The priest persuaded the
authorities of the grave danger the society posed to the Spanish community.
Reacting to the ensuing hysteria and acting on information collated over a
long period of time, the government had numerous prominent residents
arrested and detained; houses were raided and searched. Governor-General
Ramon Blanco was urged to apply the “juez de cuchillo” or total annihilation
of the Filipino population in a prescribed zone within the areas of
There was no holding back the revolution.
A nation is born
The Spanish historian Manuel Sastron describes the revolution as a
“rebellion of the Tagalogs against Spanish domination;” he also refers to
the Tagalog rebels.” But it is clear that the 1896 revolution was a national
Written and published in 1896, the Katipunan’s Cartilla defined its major
Ang kabagayan pinaguusig ng katipunang
ito ay lubos at dakila at mahalaga; papagisahin ang loob at kapisan ang
lahat ng tagalog. Sa pamamagitan ng isang mahigpit na panunumpa, upang sa
pagkakaisang ito’y magkalakas na iwasak ang masinsing tabing na
nakakabulag sa kaisipan at matuklasan ang tunay na landas ng Katuiran at
Sa salitang tagalog katutura’y ang lahat nang tumubo sa Sangkapuluang ito;
sa makatuid, bisaya man, iloko man, kapangpangan man, etc., ay tagalog
(The objective pursued by this association is noble and worthy; to unite
the inner being and thoughts of the tagalogs through binding pledge, so
that through this unity they may gain the strength to destroy the dense
shroud that benights the mind and to discover the Path of the mind and to
discover the Path of Reason and Enlightenment.
The word tagalog means all those born in this archipelago; therefore,
though visayan, ilocano, pamapango, etc. they are all tagalogs.)
The term “Tagalog” defined all persons born in the archipelago, whether
Bisayan, Ilocano, Pampango, etc. Therefore the Tagalog nation or Katagalugan
consisted not only of Tagalog speakers but included all those who grew up (tumubo)
in the Philippines, regardless of ethnolinguistic classification and
ancestry. At the time, the term “Filipino” applied solely to Spaniards born
in the archiepelago. Bonifacio and Jacinto made “Tagalog” aterm applicable
to all indios or natives.
In his unpublished memoir, “Paghihimagsik Nang 1896-1897” (The Revolution of
1896-1897), Caviteño revolutionary and Aguinaldo’s secretary Carlos V.
Ronquillo explains the concept further:
Ito ang dapat unawain ng mga bumabasa:
sa tawag naming tagalog na makikita sa bawat dahon halos ng kasaysayang
ito, ay di ang ibig naming sabihi’y ang paris ng palagay ng iba, a inuukol
lamang sa tubong Maynla, Kabite at Bulakan, at iba pa, hinde kundi ang
ibig naming tukuyin ay Filipinas…
Sapagka’t sa palagay naming ay ganito ang talagang nararapat ikapit sa
tanang anak ng kapilipinuhan. Ang tagalog o lalong malinaw, ang tawag na
“tagalog” ay walang ibang kahulugan kundi ‘tagailog’ na sa tuwirang
paghuhulo ay taong maibigang manira sa tabing ilog, bagay na di maikakaila
na siyang talagang hilig ng tanang anak ng Pilipinas, saa’t saan mang pulo
( This is what the readers must understand: by what we refer to as tagalog,
a term which may be found on almost every page of this account, we do not
mean, as some believe, those who were born in Manila, Cavite and Balacan,
etc. no, we wish to refer to the Philippines…because, in our opinion, this
term should apply to all the children of the Filipino nation. Tagalog, or
stated more clearly, the name “tagalog” has no other meaning but
“tagailog” (from the river) which, traced directly to its root, refers to
those who prefer to settle along rivers, truly a trait, it cannot be
denied, of all those born in the Philippines, in whatever island or town.)
In his patriotic writings, Bonifacio expressed his concept of nationhood. In
K.K.K Katungkulang Gagawin ng mga Z.Li.B., Pagibig sa Tinubuaang Bayan,
Hibik ng Filipinas sa Ynang España and Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog, he
referred to the Philippine islands as sangkapaluan or Katagalugan. In a
revolutionary leaflet printed in Cavite during the first quarter of 1897,
Bonifacio wrote: “Mabuhay ang Haring Bayang Katagalugan.”
It was clear to Bonifacio and the members of the Katipunan that theirs was a
First Filipino government
From 24 August 1896, the Katipunan became an open de facto government. The
society had been organized as a secret organization with its own laws,
bureaucratic structure and an elective leadership. But a working government
was imperative once the August 1896 revolution had begun.
Bonifacio, when questioned at Tejeros, Cavite, defined the letter “K” in the
flag to mean “kalayaan” or freedom and explained:
…na mula sa Ktt. Pamunuan ng Katipunan,
hanggan sa kababa-babaan, ay nagkakaisang gumagalang sa pagkakapatiran at
pagkakapantay-pantay; namumuhunan ng dugo at buhay laban sa Hari, upang
makapagtatag ng sarili at malayang Pamahalaan, na samakatwid, ay mamahala
ang Bayan sa Bayan, at hindi ang isa o dalawang tao lamang.
(…that from the Highest Officials of the Katipunan to the lowest members,
all are one in their respect for brotherhood and equality; they risk blood
and life in the struggle against the King, in order to institute our own
free Government, so that, in short, the People, and not only one or two
people, shall govern the Country.)
Jacinto Lumberas stated:
Ang Kapuluan ay pinamamahalaan na ng
K.K.K. ng mga anak Anak ng Bayan, na siyang nagbukas ng Paghihimagsik; may
Batas at Alintuntuning pinaiiral; sinusunod at iginagalang ng lahat sa
pagtatanggol ng Kalayaan, pag-ibig sa kapatid, pag-aayos at pamamalakas ng
(The Archipelago is governed by the K.K.K. ng mga Anak ng Bayan, which
initiated the Revolution: with Laws and Regulations which enforces;
followed and respected by all for defending Freedom, fraternal love,
constituting and consolidating the Leadership.)
Santiago Alvarez also said:
Kaming mga Katipunan…ay mga tunay na
Manghihimagsik sa pagtatanggol ng Kalayaan sa Bayang tinubuan.
(We of the Katipunan…are true Revolutionaries in defending the Freedom of
While Bonifacio, Lumberas and Alvares defined the moral, democratic and
nationalist bases of the government, some elements were more explicitly
republican. One captured official seal, illustrated in the 30 March 1897
issue of La Illustracion Español y Americana, bore the term “Republika ng
John R.M. Taylor, the American military historian and custodian of the
Philippine Insurgent Records, concluded that Bonifacio established the first
Filipino national government. Taylor interpreted the documents he saw as
The Katipunan came out from the cover
of secret designs, threw off the cloak of any other purpose, and stood
openly for the independence of the Philippines. Bonifacio turned his
lodges into battalions, his grandmasters into captains, and the supreme
council of the Katipunan into the insurgent of the Philippines.
Gregorio F. Zaide, who wrote a history of the Katipunan, acknowledged
Bonifacio’s revolutionary government:
The Katipunan was more than a secret
revolutionary society; it was, withal, a Government. It was the intention
of Bonifacio to have the Katipunan govern the whole Philippines after the
overthrow of Spanish rule.
Even Teodoro Agoncillo had to concede that:
Immediately before the outbreak of the
revolution, therefore, Bonifacio organized the Katipunan into a government
revolving around a ‘cabinet’ composed of men of his confidence.
A far clearer idea of Bonifacio’s Katagalugan government emerged in the late
1980s when letters and other important document signed by Bonifacio─part of
the collection of noted historian and former director of the prewar
Philippine Library and Museum, Epifanio de los Santos─became accessible.
Three letters and one appointment paper, written by Bonifacio on printed
letterheads dated from 8 March to 24 April 1897, and all addressed to Emilio
Jacinto, prove that Bonifacio was the first president of a national
government. These letters contained the following titles and designations:
Pangulo ng Kataastaasang Kapulungan
( President of the Supreme Council)
Ang Kataastaasang Pangulo
(The Supreme President)
Pangulo nang Haring Bayang Katagalugan
(President of the Sovereign Nation of Katagalugan)
Note: “Bayan” means both “people” and “country”
Ang Pangulo ng Haring Bayan
May tayo nang K.K. Katipunan nang mga Anak ng
Unang nag galaw nang Panghihimagsik
(The President Sovereign Nation Founder of the Katipunan,
Initiator of the Revolution)
(Office of the Supreme President,
Government of the Revolution)
The prewar scholar Jose P. BAntug referred to Bonifacio as the
“Kataastaasang Pangulo” and “General’ No. 1.” Jose P. Santos in 1933, and
Zaide in 1939, came to the same conclusion and recognized the Bonifacio
However, both men misread the phrase Ang Haring Bayan─found in the Minutes
of Tejeros Assembly (23 March 1897), the Jacinto Appointment Paper (15 April
1897), as well as the undated Bonifacio Manifesto entitled Katipunan Marahas
ng mga Anak ng Bayan─as Ang Hari ng Bayan. The first phrase refers to
Bonifacio’s adaptation of the Western concept of republic─from res publica,
literally public thing or common wealth ─to the Filipino concept of
Thus, the government headed by Bonifacio prior to 22 March 1897 was
democratic in nature and national in scope, contrary to some postwar
historians’ contention that Bonifacio attempted to establish a government
separate from Aguinaldo’s only after the Tejeros Assembly, and was therefore
guilty of treason.
An article on the Philippine revolution appeared in then 8 February 1897
issue of the La Ilusracion Español y Americana. It was accompanied by an
engraved portrait of Bonifacio wearing a black suit and white tie, with the
caption “Andres Bonifacio, Titulado “Presidente’ de la Republica Tagala” and
described him as the head of the native government. The reporter, GA.
Reparaz, referred to Aguinaldo only as a generalissimo. The key officers in
the Bonifacio government, according to Reparaz, were as follows : Teodoro
Plata, Secretary of war; Emilio Jacinto, Secretary of State; Aguedo del
Rosario, Secretary of Interior; Briccio Pantas, Secretary of Justice; and
Enrique Pacheco as Secretary of Finance.
In his 1897 work, "El Katipunan" or "El Filibusterismo en Filipinas," the
Spanish historian Jose M.del Castillo reiterated the results of what was, in
effect, the first Philippine national elections and listed the same names as
The August 1896 transformation of the Katipunan into a revolutionary
government and Bonifacios election to the presidency were confirmed by Pio
Valenzuela in his testimony before the Spanish authorities. Del Roasario,
who was captured, was described as “one of those designated by the Katipunan
to form the Revolutionary Government of the Philippines and to carry out the
function of local government administration.”
Bonifacio set in place mechanisms for popular participation from the
national to the local levels. The government established by the Katipunan
was run by consensus.
The Supreme Council was called the Kataastaasang Kapulungan as can be noted
from the letterhead and seal used by Bonifacio. Baldomero Aguinaldo, Pangulo
(President) of Sangunian Bayan Magdalo (Magdalo Council), in a letter dated
21 March 1897 and addressed to Felix Cuenca and Mariano Noriel refers to a
memorandum from Bonifacio as “isang Kalatas ng G. Presidente “ (a message
from Mr. President) and recognizes the national government led by Bonifacio
as “Kgg na pulungan ng hihimacsic (Gobierno revolucionario)” (Honorable
revolutionary council (Revolutionary government).
In each province, the Kataastaasang Sangunian coordinated the Sangunian
Bayan, which saw to public administration and military affairs on the
supra-municipal or quasi-provincial level. In the province of Manila, there
were many Sangunian Bayan, such as in Tondo, Kalookan, Mandaluyong, San Juan
del Monte, Marikina, Pasig and Pateros, San Mateo, etc. There were Sangunian
Bay an in the province of Batangas, Bulacan, Laguna, Nueva Ecija and Tayabas,
etc. There were at least three Sangunian Bayan under unified military
commands to facilitate strategic planning and tactical moves.
At the founding assembly in Kalookan on 24 August 1896, the revolutionary
government made the following decisions: 10 the revolution would begin with
attack on Manila at midnight of Saturday, 29 August; 20 a revolutionary was
established with the appointment of Aguelo del Rosario, Vicente Fernandez,
Ramon Bernardo and Gregorio Coronel as brigadiers general; 3) the four
generals were tasked with strategic planning for the occupation of Manila;
4) the military situation was to be constantly appraised so that an uprising
could be started earlier than 29 August; 5) assigned routes for three
commanders were laid out through Tondo, San Marcelino and the Sampaloc
rotunda (now part of Sta. Mesa).
The revolutionary troops were more enthusiastic than effective, however, and
the Katipunan was unable to wrest state power from the well-entrenched
Later, Bonifacio and more than ten generals commanded a rebel army assembled
by Sanggunian Bayan of various towns within and around present Metro Manila.
They engaged mostly in attack-and-withdraw operations: they seized town
halls, capture food, arms, and ammunition supplies, and neutralized enemy
The rebel forces were divided into north and south sectors by the Pasig
River. To the north lay Bonifacio’s guerilla forces in Manila and suburbs,
with fortified camps in Balara, San Mateo, Pantayanin and Montalban; the
armed Katipunan groups in Bulacan and Mariano Llanera’s forces based in
Nueva Ecija were constanly on the move through The Siera Madre the patron
(landed gentry and rural elite) leaders. Governor Ramon Blanco reported to
the Spanish Cortes the reinforcements were necessary to destroy both sectors
and end the insurrection.
The Cavite rebel groups evolved into two supramunicipal governments with
military commands. One was called Magdiwang, covering the territory from
Noveleta and San Francisco de Malabon up to Batangas. The other was called
Magdalo, which extended its sphere of influence from Kawit, Cavite, to the
southern parts of the province of Manila, now Rizal. It soon became apparent
that in order to hold on to captured territory, the rebels had to conform
unified intra-provincial administrative units. The perimeter was then
secured with forts and trenches.
The Katipunan army in Cavite was big, but it has been estimated that the
army north of the Pasig River was much bigger. In other parts of the
archipelago, the rebels were organized into squads and commands smaller than
those in Central Luzon.
The original Katipunan sub-organizations of Sangunian Bayan on the
supra-municipal level, and the Panguluhang Bayan (local council) on the
district or barrio level constituted the civilian component of the
Katagalugan government. As the government was a revolutionary one, many
civilian leaders were concurrently military officials. At the same time,
generals and key officers in the revolutionary army exercised power over
government structures. Bonifacio, as president was effectively the
commander-in-chief. Aguinaldo was one of his captains general.
The Spanish military writer Federico de Monteverde gives details of the
military organization instituted by Bonifacio. Monteverde fully illustrates
the different revolutionary insignas corresponding to each rank, such as
colonel, brigadier general, major general, lieutenant general and captain
general. Various military insignas are also discussed by Taylor, and
described by Generals Alvarez and Artemio Ricarte in their memoirs.
As the revolution progressed, Bonifacio had to formalize the army. In an
order dated 16 December 1896, the revolutionary president redefined the
hierarchy of the Katipunan military organization. Each battalion unit─called
Katipon─was to be composed of 203 men.
As commander-in-chief, Bonifacio supervised the planning of military
strategies and the preparation of orders, manifests and decrees, adjudicated
offenses against the nation, as well as mediated in political disputes. He
directed generals and positioned troops in the fronts. On the basis of
command responsibility, all victories and defeats all over the archipelago
during his term of office should be attributed to Bonifacio.
The claim by some historians that “Bonifacio lost all his battles" is
Prior to the outbreak of the revolution, some Filipinos based in Hong Kong
acted on behalf of the nationalist movement in the Philippines. Led by
Doroteo Cortes, they solicited funds from various sources, especially from
wealthy businessmen and companies. They sent the donations to Jose Maria
Basa, who was also based in Hong Kong and served as disbursing officer.
A large portion of the funds was used to send a commission to Japan to
negotiate for political, military and financial aid for the anticipated
uprising towards the end of 1896. With Cortes were Isabelo Artacho and Jose
A. Ramos, who arranged with Japanese politicians to acquire 100,000 rifles
and an unspecified amount of ammunition. The weapons were partly paid for in
advance while the balance was to be amortized over a number of years. The
commission also petitioned Japan to send a military squadron to aid the
revolutionary forces and, after independence was won, to recognize the
Filipino state. Investigations by the Spanish authorities revealed, "The
plan was that while Andres Bonifacio was busy ecruiting people for the
general uprising, Doroteo Cortes should carry on the necessary negotiations
Although Japan was not at war in 1896, she looked at her Asian neighbours
with a keen expansionary eye. However, most Asian countries then were under
European colonial dominion. Around the middle of May 1896, the Japanese
cruiser Kongo visited Manila. Bonifacio and some Katipunan members
immediately sought a meeting with Japanese Admiral Kanimura, while Jacinto
drafted a message addressed to the Emperor of Japan. It read: "The Filipino
people greet the Emperor of Japan and the entire Japanese nation, with the
hope that the light of liberty in Japan will also shed its rays in the
Philippines…" Japan was not disposed to go to war against Spain in 1896-1897
just to uphold the rights of Filipinos. Nevertheless, Bonifacio expected the
arrival of arms and ammunition from Japan in August 1896.
Cortes continued to represent the revolutionaries before foreign entities.
Together with Basa and A.G. Medina, Cortes sent a petition to the Consul of
the United States of America in Hong Kong on 29 January 1897. The request
implored the "Gefe Supremo desu Nacion" for protection of the Filipinos and
recognition of their right to self-government. But the petition was
ill-timed. Grover Cleveland lost the presidential elections; his successor,
William McKinley, declared a national policy focused on "domestic business
conditions and economic recovery from the continuing depression of 1893 and
therefore (he tried) to avoid conflict with Spain."
In January 1897, The Philippine Commission in Hong Kong addressed a petition
to Henry Hannoteaux, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, which
enu,erated 50 grievances of the Philippines against Spain and called for
assistance. However, France remained strictly neutral because she feared
that such anticolonialism would contaminate neighbouring French Indochina,
and also because France had no means for practicable intervention.
Significance of 1896 Revolution
In July 1892, Bonifacio founded the Katipunan which launched the first
anticolonial revolution in Asia in August 1896. He formed the first national
governments established by Aguinaldo from 1897 to 1899.
The Katagalugan government carried over the symbols and teachings of the
Katipunan, which the people accepted as the revolutionary authority. This
government was democratic in principle, orientation and form. At its
inception, it was formed by representatives from the provinces where the
Katipunan had a mass-based membership. It adopted as its national standard
the Katipunan’s red flag with a white sun with the Tagalog letter "Ka" in
the center and commissioned Julio Nakpil to compose the national anthem, "Marangal
na Dalit ng Katagalugan."
In defining "Tagalog" as the term for all Filipinos, and "Katagalugan" as
the country’s name in lieu of "Filipinas" which had colonial origins,
Bonifacio and the Katipunan sought to define a national identity.
The Katagalugan government commanded the loyalty of a significant portion of
the population. It held territory, where it exercised the functions of a
state. It had armed forces which fought for, and defended its existence. It
had diplomatic component, which attempted to gain international recognition
for the new nation.
The governments that succeeded Bonifacio’s essentially republican
Katagalugan government could only proceed from it. The 24 August 1896`
government certainly had a large mass-based following than the 24 August
1897 entity that deposed it. But as a result of the power struggle in Cavite,
Emilio Aguinaldo, although only one of many revolutionary generals, usurped
President Andres Bonifacio’s authority. Aguinaldo reorganized Bonifacio’s
Republika ng Katagalugan and renamed it Republica Filipina.
The first Filipino national government was established on 24 August 1896.
Filipinos should observe the date as National Day, if the 1896 Philippine
Revolution and the Katipunan are to have any worth at all. And Filipinos
should recognize Andres Bonifacio not only the founder of the Katipunan and
leader of the revolution of 1896, but as the first Filipino president: the
father of the nation and founder of our democracy.