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X. San Mateo: central to Bonifacio’s military strategy

[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]

Bonifacio’s journey to the cave of San Mateo did place him within a nexus of signification. Bonifacio was aware that this was known as the cave of Bernardo Carpio. He was not awakening a sleeping king, however, nor was he manipulating peasant belief. He was participating in a long-standing history of revolt. There is continuity between social banditry and Bonifacio. This continuity is not to be found in Pasyon and Revolution‘s atavistic, essentialised counter-rational underside to history, however. It is not a continuity of idiom or ideology. Bonifacio’s journey to the cave of San Mateo was an act of identifying with the history of mass resistance of the late nineteenth century.

Based on an awareness of its history, Bonifacio recognized the tactical significance of San Mateo’s geography and used it to the advantage of the Katipunan at the beginning of the revolution.

In Pasyon and Revolution we read, “Bonifacio himself, as Carlos Ronquillo reports, told his followers that their legendary king Bernardo would descend from Mount Tapusi to aid the Katipunan rebels.” (111) The source for this claim is Ronquillo’s manuscript, Ilang Talata tungkol sa Paghihimagsik ng 1896-97; there is no page number given.

Carlos Ronquillo with Emilio Aguinaldo and other ilustrado exiles in Hongkong (1898)

Carlos Ronquillo with Emilio Aguinaldo and other ilustrado exiles in Hongkong (1898)

In responding to Milagros Guerrero’s critique of his work, Ileto stated

In 1897, Carlos Ronquillo, the personal Secretary of Emilio Aguinaldo, in his “history” of the Katipunan uprising castigated Bonifacio for raising false hopes that an army would descend from Mount Tapusi “to lead his whole army.” “This plain falsehood,” writes Ronquillo, “was a deception or morale booster (pangpalakas loób) perpetrated by Bonifacio; because at the appointed hour neither men nor arms arrived from Tapusi. Up to now we do not know where this mountain is.”1

Ileto used this passage in three separate essays. In each case he cited pages 6 and 21 of Ronquillo’s unpublished manuscript. In his response to Guerrero Ileto dropped his prior reference to Bernardo Carpio. In Carpio’s stead we find Bonifacio’s promise that “an army” would lead the “whole army.” Not one of the four citations provided the Tagalog original, aside from the phrase ‘pangpalakas loób.’

In Ileto’s later articles, Ronquillo served as the example of “the nationalist ‘historian’ … a believer in enlightened liberalism.” Ronquillo, Ileto stated, “already decried this ‘dark underside’ of Bonifacio’s mentality, adding it to the litany of faults that he felt justified Bonifacio’s execution at the hands of Aguinaldo and the Cavite elite. Hopefully, historians today will not participate in this bloody execution by insisting upon a singular, reductionist reading of the text that comprises our national hero.”2 Ileto was not questioning the historical accuracy of Ronquillo’s statement; he was rather asking that we consider how the ‘masses’ would have perceived Bonifacio’s claim that Bernardo Carpio, or an army, would descend from Mount Tapusi. Ronquillo was thus a representative of bad ‘reductionist’ historiography; to read history in this fashion was to participate in the murder of Bonifacio.

In 1996, the University of the Philippines press published an excellent edition of Ronquillo’s manuscript, thoroughly edited and annotated by Isagani Medina.3 Ileto seems to be paraphrasing a passage and a footnote from the manuscript. Nowhere is there anything that could be considered an exact quotation. The first passage reads

Because it had been agreed upon, we stopped and waited for the army of Bonifacio that would be coming from Mount Tapusi and were to be firing and would lead the entire army; however, from the agreed upon time to until daybreak it did not arrive.4

Ronquillo footnoted Tapusi thus

This statement by Bonifacio was a tremendous lie because neither people nor arms were at Tapusi and even he himself did not arrive there. This was just a cruel deception of the people!5

The statement “up to now we do not know where this mountain is” and the parenthetical untranslated phrase, “pangpalakas loób,” are both absent from Ronquillo’s manuscript. Bernardo Carpio is missing as well. This was not the statement of someone who is detecting the “dark underside” in Bonifacio’s mentality; this was an accusation of poor military leadership and deception. Bonifacio had promised troops and failed to deliver. This was Ronquillo’s accusation. It was also, ironically, a ‘cruel deception.’

Zeus Salazar, in his Agosto 29-30, 1896: Ang Pagsalakay ni Bonifacio sa Maynila, examined in detail the claim that “Bonifacio’s plan to attack Manila subsequent to the discovery of the Katipunan was never really carried out.” This planned assault on Manila, “traditional historians” believed “was replaced instead with an attack on San Juan del Monte,” a much smaller, less coordinated undertaking.6 Salazar’s examination of the dispatches made by the English, German and French consuls in Manila, in conjunction with the existing historical evidence, convincingly demonstrated that the planned assault did, in fact, occur.

Bonifacio had planned a three-pronged assault on Manila — from the north, Caloocan, Balintawak and surroundings; from the south, Cavite; and from the east, from the mountains of San Mateo. On the night of August 29, the assault was initiated by Bonifacio’s forces from San Mateo, the troops in the north likewise attacked. Cavite did not respond to Bonifacio’s orders. Numerous justifications for this failure to follow orders were given in memoirs and subsequent accounts: the orders did not apply to all Katipunan balangays, there was no signal given, the Katipunan lacked the necessary arms.7 No excuse is quite as dramatic — or as dishonest — as Ronquillo’s bald-faced assertion that “Bonifacio’s forces never came down from Tapusi.” Ronquillo was certainly attempting to justify the execution of Bonifacio, but not because Bonifacio was part of some irrational, dark ‘underside’ of Philippine society. When Ronquillo wrote his memoirs, Bonifacio was dead. By calling Bonifacio a liar and a poor leader, Ronquillo was not merely justifying his execution; he was covering over the perfidy of the Cavite elite.

Not only did San Mateo and Pamitinan figure prominently in the initial assault on Manila, they remained a vital center for operations under the leadership of Bonifacio and his fellow Katipuneros. Numerous sources attest to this.

Mariano Ponce, writing on the sixth of May, 1897, from exile in Hong Kong to Ferdinand Blumentritt, gave notes on details of the revolutionary effort culled from various letters he had received, in particular a letter from a “rebel camp at Baling-Cupang (San Miguel de Mayumo)” He writes

In Pamitinan, in the jurisdiction of Montalban and a half kilometer from it (province of Manila), is one of the best defended Tagalog encampments. Columns proceeded from Manila, Mariquina, Pasig and San Mateo intending to attack it on the 7th and 9th of April; but seeing the situation and defenses of the camp, they retreated a great distance without firing a single shot.8

Pamitinan was prepared for combat and served as a successful base for the resistance of the Katipunan under Bonifacio’s leadership. It continued to serve as a base of armed struggle long after Bonifacio’s death.9


  1. Reynaldo C. Ileto, “History and Criticism: The Invention of Heroes,” in Filipinos and their Revolution: Event, Discourse and Historiography (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1998), 217; Reynaldo C. Ileto, “‘Methodological’ Implications of a Dispute on Andres Bonifacio,” Anuaryo/Annales 1, no. 3 (1982): 12; Reynaldo C. Ileto, “Bonifacio, the Text, and the Social Scientist,” Philippine Sociological Review 32, nos. 1-4 (1984): 27-8.
  2. Ileto, “‘Methodological’ Implications of a Dispute on Andres Bonifacio,” 12.
  3. Carlos Ronquillo, Ilang Talata Tungkol sa Paghihimagsik nang 1896-97, ed. Isagani Medina (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1996)
  4. Palibhasa’y salitaan, ay nagagsihinto at inantabayanan ang pulutong ni Bonifacio na manggagaling sa bundok ng Tapusi na pawing barilan na siyang mangunguna sa buong pulutong; subalit nang dumating na ang taning na oras hanggang sa magliliwanag na ang araw ay di dumarating. (Ronquillo, Ilang Talata Tungkol sa Paghihimagsik nang 1896-97, 216).
  5. Ang sinasabing ito ni Bonifacio ay isang malaking kasinungalingan pagkat ni tao ni baril ay wala sa Tapusi at ni siya naman ay di nakarating doon. Ito’y isang kalupitang pandaya lamang sa tao! ibid., 684, fn. 3; the footnote is by Ronquillo, indicated by the initials CVR.
  6. Zeus A. Salazar, Agosto 29-30, 1896: Ang Pagsalakay ni Bonifacio sa Maynila (Quezon City: Miranda Bookstore, 1994), 96.
  7. For all of these justifications, see ibid., 108-11.
  8. En Pamitinan, comprensión de Montalban y a medio kilometro de este (provincia de Manila), hay un campamento tagalo de los mejor defendidos. Columnas procedentes de Manila, Mariquina, Pasig y San Mateo intentaron atacarlo el 7 y el 9 de Abril; pero viendo la situación y defensa del campamento, se retiraron a gran distancia sin disparar un solo tiro. (Mariano Ponce, Cartas Sobre La Revolución [Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1932], 1-3).
  9. It was in San Mateo that US Major General Lawton was killed by troops under the command of General Licerio Geronimo. Geronimo had earlier served in the August 29-30th assault under Bonifacio.
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