Photo by Joseph Batcagan

This Bonifacio Statue in Tanza has a Crazy (yet Plausible) History

By joseph batcagan

I attended a talk on Panay oral traditions last weekend. Prof. Eliodora Labos – Dimzon, one of the presenters who tackled Visayan folklore, mentioned how our stories seem to carry more weight if it’s transmitted orally. As an example, she pointed out how tsimis spreads quicker, even though common sense is screaming right at our faces that we’re not doing our social spaces any favors. She stopped short of saying “fake news”, though. Imagine how long the open forum would’ve gone if someone opened it up.

Her talk led me to think back to one of the earlier pieces we ran in the website, ‘The Unknown Rizal and the Time Capsule.’ To those who haven’t read it yet, it’s an investigation on the origins of the Jose Rizal statue in Tanza, and one of the topics broached there was why it faced the Aglipayan Church. The TL;DR version: Rizal’s statue was supposedly erected to dissuade people from attending mass at a Catholic service and instead go to its Aglipayan counterpart instead. That’s some expensive piece of subliminal messaging right there.

However, it’s this line that struck me the most:

The Kapawa put up the Andres Bonifacio Monument here in the city… to distinguish the Catholic Church from the Aglipayans; this is where you can see the statue of Ka Andres today facing the Tanza Catholic Church with his bolo raised up and holding the flag of Katipunan.

andres bonifacio portrait - project iloilo
From the original image of El Renacimiento Filipino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Andres Bonifacio, the Supremo of the Katipunan who was painted as the 1-B to Rizal’s 1-A in textbooks and Pinoy pop culture, embodied the idea of the Philippine Revolution more than any other figure in history. So, if what was said here was true, then it’s not just the symbolism that’s impressive, it’s also the ballsy-ness behind it. How did anyone convince the townsfolk to put up what was a giant F-U to the Catholic Church?

For that purpose, I asked the same guy that was also interviewed for the Rizal statue story: Mr. Elm Depatillo, an architect who has been with the Iglesia Filipino Independiente (or more popularly known as the ‘Aglipayan’) Church as far back as he can remember. As is the case with how most religions spread in the country, his family’s membership in the church stretches back generations, though he said he was still unable to track who among their line was the first Aglipayan member.

The IFI is the first church established by native Filipinos with no direct input from either the Spanish clergy or the Roman Catholic Church in 1902. So, it may have been only appropriate that the story Mr. Depatillo shared to me was one also shared to him by his grandparents and the other Aglipayan elders through constant re-telling and referencing.

Gregorio Aglipay, the church’s founder, was a Katipunan sympathizer who was appointed by Emilio Aguinaldo as the Philippine revolutionary forces’ Vicar General during the three-year Filipino-American War. So, according to Mr. Depatillo, the IFI’s first members in Tanza were the Katipunero veterans and their families.

Even though the Spanish lost control of the Philippine Islands, the Spanish friars and, later on, the American clergy were still running the churches during the American occupation. That apparently did not sit well with many Filipinos.

andres bonifacio statue in tanza - project iloilo
Photo by Joseph Batcagan

Prof. Ephraim C. Areño’s wrote an entry on the spread of Aglipayanism in Iloilo in the book, ‘The Struggle Against the Spaniards and the Americans in Western Visayas’ (Eds. Henry Florida Funtecha and Melanie Jalandoni Padilla. Iloilo: U.P. in the Visayas Centennial Committee, 1998. 87-108.). In one of the passages, he wrote how the US-appointed Apostolic Delegate Placido Louis Chapelle pooh-poohed the Filipino clergy’s agitation for more natives to be appointed to the bishopric as “the merest pretexts of shrewd anti American (sic) Filipino politicians.” Somehow, burns sounded more savage when delivered in turn-of-the-century English.

Mr. Depatillo claimed that Iloilo City was “eighty per cent” Aglipayan during those years while he rattled off famous names like the Lopezes, the Carams, the Villanuevas, and the Lorings as prominent IFI members.

By most accounts, the battles between the IFI and the Catholic Church went beyond just philosophical debates. Aglipayans seized churches by justifying that those structures were built on the labor and money of the townsfolk and, therefore, were properties of the people. On the other hand, one of the popular stories from the American government’s mission of recovering the said churches involved Fr. Frederick Rooker, the first American bishop installed in Iloilo, doing a Duterte-esque gesture of threatening to shooting Dumangas’s Municipal President unless he handed over the church keys to him.

andres bonifacio statue in tanza iloilo - project iloilo
A close-up view of the Bonifacio statue today. Photo by Joseph Batcagan.

Of course, the IFI never sustained its momentum beyond its salad years due to a variety of factors: the Supreme Court ruling that IFI return the seized assets to the Catholic Church; infighting; Fr. Aglipay’s death; and, as Mr. Depatillo believed it, the eventual adoption of Filipino priests into the Catholic mainstream. Fr. Jorge Barlin, the first Filipino bishop, proved to be invaluable in the Catholic Church regaining its foothold in the country, in particular.

So, perhaps putting up an aggressive-looking statue in front of a Catholic church seems like the most sensible thing to do at that point. Ang Kapawa, an erstwhile zarzuela troupe of Tanzahanons with members composed of Katipunero children and second-generation relatives who banded together for “a common good”, as the commemorative plaque below the Bonifacio statue reads, raised the funds to build the Andres Bonifacio monument in 1926.

The plaques, apparently, were meant to be self-contained. Whatever references were made to the Kapawa, it surely did not include the religious ties its members shared with the IFI.

Mr. Depatillo, of course, maintains otherwise.

Amo na ginpa-atubang. (Daw ginhambal nga) indi kamo dira magsulod.”

[That’s why it face the church. It’s to tell people that they should not come in there.]

The years, however, still went on unimpeded. The Tanza Church has become an integral part of the community, and what it’s providing to them goes isn’t just limited to spiritual matters.

The statue and the church remains to this day. So, it might be important to ask ourselves this: what do they even mean today? Are they still standing up for what they symbolized for back then?

Those might sound like dalming questions, but it says a lot about us that we rarely have the attention to ask these kinds of questions. Perhaps what we find scarier isn’t that we’re coming up with these questions, but it’s finding the need to create answers that would satisfy us. Is that why we still look up to other people to give us the easy answers and solutions?

For now, we still have this statue of the angry Supremo in Tanza Bonifacio. To many people, it’s simply a marker of where they are. To others, though, it might be a reminder that there is still a lot to be angry about.

Research assistance provided by the Center for West Visayan Studies.

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.