Robespierre is Bonifacio, Saint Just is Jacinto and the Jacobin is a Katipunero

Citizens, did you want a revolution without a revolution? What is this spirit of persecution that has come to revise, so to speak, the one that broke our chains?

– Maximilien Robespierre, 1792

For most people, the Philippine Revolution is widely considered as an “Asian Revolution”, a revolt of the conquered against the conqueror. While it may make sense since it is the often repeated narrative on our history textbooks where our professors and teachers have forced us to memorise the dates and the figures either for a multiple choice type of test or identification because it is very easy to make a test about history because we mostly see them as events that have happened a long time ago, the Philippine Revolution and the development of Philippine nationalism in general is a myriad of conspiracies, secrets, controversies, misconceptions and a sanitised narrative of history. While the education system in the Philippine is not as guilty as other countries, this standard narrative is the main reason on why a lot of us considered the study of history as boring because it is specifically made to be free of errors and full of national lies and the acceptance of the status quo and its legitimacy.

Contrary to the imagination of our popular consciousness, the Philippine Revolution is a product of the ideas of Europe, especially the French and the Spanish revolutions, which began to take root in this remote colony of Spain in the Pacific amongst the “Filipinos” (also known as the Creoles) with the likes of Luis Rodriguez Varela known as El Conde Filipino, Domingo Roxas, Pardo de Tavera, Jose Burgos, the Palmero brothers and Andres Novales who were quite connected to one another because of the existence of an organisation called “Los Hijos Del Pais” or the “sons of the country”, a loose association of Creole intellectuals. In fact, it is lamentable that our historical narrative in this period is very limited, primarily because we have separated the political and the social events happening in 19th century Spain from the development of nationalism and tendencies for reform in the Philippines, atleast in the minds of  a handful of the principales (the local nobility), the Creoles and later on, the ilustrados, the latter was a product of the economic boom experienced by the Philippines in the middle of the 19th century.

These individuals were influenced by the works of Enlightenment authors which became widely available after the gradual opening of the Philippines to world trade, starting in Manila from 1834 onwards. They share the tendencies of the intellectual classes in Latin America, and they shared the same goals which is to enact reforms in the colonies until the latter took the opportunity of Spain’s weakness to start their own wars of independence which liberated a huge chunk of Latin America from the Spanish Empire.

Benedict Anderson stated that nationalism begun as a process of individuals forming their own imagined community and they need a common language to bind them as an association, and in our case it is Spanish which united the reformists on their common struggle to secure reforms from Spain, namely the expulsion of the religious orders, civil liberties, the 1812 Cadiz Constitution and economic opportunities for both the Peninsulares and the majority, which the former assumed more control after the revolutions in Latin America and the failed Novales Mutiny in 1823.

Leon Ma Guerrero is correct that the history of the Philippines under Spanish rule begun and ended with the friars, since they successfully created a Spain which was isolated from the other Spain, and in fact some historians noted that the Philippine Revolution was a war of two Spains. The Spain in which the friars had created is very mediaeval in nature, and this were further reinforced by the flocking of the religious orders from secularised Europe and the failure of the Cavite uprising of 1872, in which prominent reformists  were either executed or arrested, while the rest were exiled.

For an average reader, it is quite absurd on why the Second Propaganda Movement were clamouring for reforms inside Spain, this is because the homeland is more liberal than the Spain that the friars have created in the Philippines. The friars were desperately clinging to maintain their power and to protect the “flock” from progressive ideas spread by the so called “filibusteros”. This was the Spain in which the mother country dumped the most conservative friars, the Carlists who lost the countless civil wars against the government and the unemployed who emigrated to try their luck in the islands to become the little tyrants over the native population. No matter how conservative, moderate or liberal the government of Madrid for the majority of its time period, they all appeared indifferent from the concerns of a distant land, except in two instances during the 1868 Glorious Revolution and the brief period of the First Spanish Republic in which a possibility of reforming the colonies to be fully assimilated to Spain were considered.

But these exceptions were very brief, and for the most part the government in Madrid considered the power of the religious orders in the Philippines as comparable to an infantry battalion, and any hint of sensible reforms would thus weaken the power of the Church, and demands for autonomy and even secession would become popular with the masses. Indeed, it was the Spain of Madrid which shut all options aside from a violent revolution. The Katipunan was a product of the indifference of Madrid, but they were not merely a group of reformists, Bonifacio, Jacinto and their supporters such as Marcelo Del Pilar who was instrumental because of his ties with the Masonry and also as Deodato Arellano’s brother in law aimed not only to topple the yoke of Spanish colonial rule, but also to create a new nation.

Dr. Pio Valenzuela stated in his memoirs that Bonifacio likes to talk about the French Revolution and we can only wonder on how those conversations might influence the founding of Bonifacio’s “Haring Bayang Katagalugan” or the Sovereign Tagalog Nation. In a modern perspective, the ideology of the Katipunan is very syncretic, a combination of the Fascist idea of a nation and a socialist view of the people, this is the reason why it is revolutionary and reflected the radical Jacobins of the French Revolution. Both factions wanted to impose a new order through the use of force, in the case of the Katipunan of an armed revolution and for the Jacobins, a campaign of terror throughout France. We can only wonder what would happen if Bonifacio and the radicals had prevailed, since the Katipunan was not only contented on using the revolution for political purposes, but also for the formation of a new society and a new national identity free from the traditions imposed by more than 300 years of Spanish rule.

This is the reason why our Maximilien Robespierre is Bonifacio and our Louis de Saint Just as Jacinto,  and in the case of the Jacobins who wanted a social and cultural revolution by using the political institution to create the “Republic of Virtue” which is quite similar to the society that Rousseau have envisioned. Still, its doesn’t discredit the Philippine Revolution more as a revolution with a European rather than an Asian character. Now, we are too busy debating whether Bonifacio should be our first President, but he doesn’t deserve it, he deserves the title of the Supremo, he was the very soul of the Philippine Revolution and its early radical phase.

Unfortunately, any attempt to reprogram the culture of a community would require radicalism, and this would attract the ire of those who doesn’t share the views of a new society. The National Convention with some elements of the Committee of Public Safety had conspired against the radicals such as Robespierre as both the Magdalo and the Magdiwang factions in Cavite had conspired to rid Bonifacio, the very symbol of radicalism in the Katipunan. Both figures were executed at the height of their power, and both of their flames had been extinguished, in the case of the Jacobins with their fall from power and the rise of the Directoire and later Bonaparte, and in the Katipunan’s case the proclamation of the First Philippine Republic to the continuation of the rule of an oligarchy until the present day Philippines reinforced by the subsequent American colonial period in which more than 200,000- 1 million Filipinos were killed during the Philippine American War due to starvation and the apparent genocide against the population.

The reason why it is important to study the French Revolution and its connection to the Katipunan is the universality of its ideas, and it was likely that the early phase of the Katipunan was influenced by the radicalism of the Jacobins, since Bonifacio was very familiar with its narrative, which also ironically led to his death, much like Robespierre. Jacinto, unlike Saint Just had survived the purge but he refused to cooperate with the ‘moderate’ Republica Filipina until his last breath. But two things are clear; Bonifacio and the radicals were considered as martyrs by some people and the Philippine Revolution is still unfinished.

It is up to us, who collectively make our history, to continue its legacy………… and as long as it’s not being achieved, the violence associated with the Terror and it’s justification that change could be achieved through terror by virtue will still echo throughout humanity true to the notion of Karl Marx that revolutions are in fact, and will still be the locomotive of history, and death as stated by Robespierre will be the beginning of immortality and death will be the every fate of a revolutionary, and the revolutionaries in our case died in an unfulfilled dream in a stanza of Bonifacio’s poem “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa”

Ang nakaraang panahon ng aliw, ang inaasahang araw na darating?

Ng pagka-timawa ng mga alipin, liban pa sa bayan saan tatanghalin?





Anderson, Benedict (1982) Imagined Communities: Reflections and Origins on the Spread of Nationalism

Joaquin, Nick (1977) A Question of Heroes

Sarkinyaz, Manuel (1995) Rizal and Republican Spain and Other Rizalist Essays

Schama, Simon (1989) Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution




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