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Monday, August 31, 2015

Filipino "George Washington": Bonifacio or Aguinaldo?

George Washington
More than a hundred years ago, the Philippines for a brief period became the first constitutional republic in Asia and since then, fifteen Presidents were elected, appointed or succeeded into office. Most Filipino historians will always start the presidential succession with General Emilio Aguinaldo, who was elected by the elites in the Malolos Congress. Most foreign historians, on the other hand, started with either Manuel Quezon of the Commonwealth or with Manuel Roxas of the Third Republic of the Philippines. A growing number of Filipinos today, go as far as declaring Andres Bonifacio as the "first President of the Philippines.”

As a western colony for more than three hundred years, Filipinos learned the glorious histories of the western world written by the victors of course. We learned about military commanders and generals leading or defending in the name of freedom and preserved their sovereignty. For almost fifty years as an American colony and commonwealth, the American colonizers made sure that Americanism was fully entrenched in Filipino culture and society. We learned that the United States itself was a former British colony (technically, a group of British colonies) who fought and won the world's first anti-colonial revolution. One person who stood out in the American War of Independence was General George Washington. He was a veteran of the French and Indian War or most commonly known outside the United States as the Seven Years' War of 1756-1763, a virtual world war between the British Empire and the Borbounic Empires of France and Spain (both ruled by the House of Bourbon). During that war, the Philippines became a British colony for a short period. Anyway, George Washington went on to become his country's first ever democratically elected president simply because he lead the American revolutionary army to victory over the most powerful colonial empire in the world. His legend grew even further and was even praised by his country's former colonial ruler (British King) for not usurping or taking power by force despite having complete control of the American revolutionary forces. He even turned down a third presidential term and preferred to go back to his farm and live in peace.

Anyway, we Filipinos are too desperate to have our own "George Washington." It’s a mentality of too much Western wannabeism or American wannabeism. We Filipinos are too busy trying to be like the West, trying to be like Americans that we forget about ourselves as a nation. We keep trying to take the shortcuts instead of taking one step at a time in nation-building. We Filipinos wanted our history to be as glorious as that of the West. We wanted our first President to be a "Washington." A Filipino "George Washington."

Two obvious choices are Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo.


Most history textbooks taught about General Emilio Aguinaldo as the first President of the Philippines but many did not know about General Miong usurping his way to the Katipunan leadership and virtually launched a coup through rigged internal election that would eventually lead to the execution of Andres Bonifacio and his brother in the middle of the Philippine Revolution. Andres Bonifacio, on the other hand, was the founder of Katipunan and the father of the first ever anti-colonial nationalist revolution in Asia.

Some Filipinos will argue that Aguinaldo is the Filipino George Washington due to his role in the Philippine War for Independence and for being elected President himself. Although, as I pointed out, he was not elected by the people but rather by the ruling class, the elites. Other Filipinos argued that Bonifacio is the first President, the Filipino George Washington simply because the usurper Aguinaldo took power through an elite-motivated coup within the ranks of Katipunan leadership whom Bonifacio started. If that is the case, then maybe Doctor Jose Rizal was the first president of the Philippines because Katipunan was inspired and preceded by Rizal's La Liga Filipina movement. The Rizal argument, of course, will obviously break the Filipino fantasy of a Filipino George Washington. He was just a writer, a novelist, a surgeon, and an intellectual who did not lead an armed revolution.

Anyway, we should just stop trying to be Americans. We don't need a Filipino George Washington. We don't need a glorious start of nation-building. We already got our independence and should start acting as a multicultural independent nation but instead we are too dependent to the United States. We are too busy trying to be most westernized country in one of the oldest civilized region in the world (Yes, Asian civilization goes back way before the Americans called themselves Americans) that we forgot that we are already have our own culture, our own heroes. We don't need a Washington. We already got Lapu-Lapu. We already got Rizal. We already got Bonifacio and even Aguinaldo. We don't need to have our first President to be like George Washington. Sure Aguinaldo usurped his way to the Katipunan leadership but Katipunan was just an armed revolutionary movement and not a government under a constitution. Heck if I revised the Philippine presidential succession, it will start with Manuel Quezon simply because he was democratically elected by the people under a constitution. However, Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio does not need to be presidents to make them great heroes. Both of them are not only among our founding fathers but also far greater heroes than those people elected into presidencies. They don't need to be a president to elevate their importance in our country's history. It's time to grow up and move forward instead of meddling with the past and couldn't move on. It's one of many reasons why the Philippines is a banana republic. Maybe we as society are not educated enough and that Doctor Rizal's words in his novel, El Filibusterismo, still apply today:

“I do not mean to say that our freedom must be won at the point of the sword; the sword now counts for very little in the destinies of our times, but I do say that we must win freedom by deserving it, by improving the mind and enhancing the dignity of the individual, loving what is just, what is good, what is great, to the point of dying for it. When a people reaches these heights, God provides the weapon, and the idols and tyrants fall like a house of cards, and the freedom shines in the first dawn.”

The more we keep changing the past instead of the present circumstances in our country then we are not truly free from the past and we're definitely not free from the tyranny of the oligarchs ("slaves of today . . .  tyrants of tomorrow" ~Jose Rizal). 

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