Grupos Filipinos Ilustres, 1911

Photo: Grupos Filipinos Ilustres, NCCA/ National Museum Collection

This lithograph called Grupos Filipinos Ilustres by Guillermo Tolentino from 1911, created the National Pantheon according to historian Resil Mojares. It imagined heroes, intellectuals, artists, activists and politicians together in a studio portrait. It was a popular fixture in homes during the American occupation of the Philippines, inhabiting the space where bootleg copies of Da Vinci’s Last Supper would now hang. The print has become rare and expensive and museum worthy. We can credit Tolentino for getting a few things right in this print, that even after Rizal was recommended by a committee to become “national hero” and recognized with a monument at Luneta (It was under construction at that time) that he still shared the center of the frame with Bonifacio, whom everyone knew was the leader of the revolution. Bonifacio is accurately depicted in formal morning dress, which he wore in his only known photograph. I always thought it was strange, that unlike any other nation born after colonialism, that the national hero of the Philippines is not the leader of the revolution. One can argue that Tolentino, even as a young art student tried to correct that and gave Bonifacio his place, quite literally, under the sun.

It is unfortunate that we have a holiday for Andres Bonifacio’s birth and not his martyrdom (10th of May). Those who read Philippine history know the shameful reason why this is the case. But perhaps it is only right, as Montesquieu wrote in Persian Letters, that we weep for Bonifacio on his birth rather than on his death. More than a century from the revolution which he led, millions of Filipinos are born into suffering, debt and a life they never asked for.