If you read the transcript of the Bonifacio Trial to the end, you will be left asking: What happened? Better still: What really happened?
On May 4, 1897, Pantaleon Garcia sent findings to Emilio Aguinaldo, commander in chief, recommending that a decision be made by a council of war because of the gravity of the case. Aguinaldo responded on the same day by referring the case to Mariano Noriel, president of the council of war.
On May 5, 1897, at 3 p.m., Noriel convened the council of war in the municipio of Maragondon, Cavite, with the prosecution, the defense, and the Bonifacio brothers present. The prosecution presented its case:
“That according to said documents, the brothers Andres, Ciriaco and Procopio Bonifacio were the first to plan the attack on the revolutionary government, and that in fact [Andres] induced Pedro Giron to kill the President. He also ordered his soldiers to get ready to fire at the government soldiers who were their enemies. His acts showed that he was a traitor to the government according to the testimony of those who stood witness in this trial.
“Ciriaco, brother of Andres, was killed in the encounter with the government soldiers. Procopio, also a brother of Andres, was an accomplice. I respectfully recommend that Andres and Procopio be given capital punishment by shooting them in a public place, each one to be shot five times from a distance of ten feet, in accordance with the gravity of their crime. However, I leave it to the wise discretion of the Council to study my recommendation very well.”
Naturally, the defense argued for a sentence lighter than death, but how did Placido Martinez expect to gain it with this opening statement?
“To defend Andres Bonifacio is quite impossible because of what he has done. He deserves even a heavier penalty than death because the desire to kill the highest magistrate of the land is equivalent to killing all of us. This only goes to show that he has no compassion [for] his countrymen who are his brothers; but it cannot be denied that we are all human and are liable to make mistakes and should therefore receive counsel.”
Before the defense rested its case, Martinez requested that an inquiry be conducted into Bonifacio’s accusation that Col. Agapito Bonzon had tried to dishonor his wife. “If this is true, the Colonel should be punished; if this is a false accusation, then Bonifacio should be punished, for the insult and slander against a superior officer like Bonzon who has been upholding the dignity of his office.”
Procopio Bonifacio had a separate defense lawyer in Teodoro Gonzales, who argued for a lighter sentence because his client “did not induce or bribe anybody and had nothing to do with any plan of Andres Bonifacio regarding the overthrow of the government, and … did not hide during the encounter.”
Andres Bonifacio was allowed to address the court, but his statement was not noted in detail. On May 7, 1897, the council of war sent its recommendation to Aguinaldo, through his cousin Baldomero Aguinaldo, the judge advocate general, for resolution. On May 8, after reading the documents and seeking other opinions, Baldomero Aguinaldo forwarded the document recommending confirmation.
On the same day, Aguinaldo pardoned the Bonifacios:
“Whereas Andres and Procopio were the ones found guilty while their soldiers only followed their orders obediently, punishment should be meted only to them, and the soldiers, for obeying them, should be reprimanded severely. Considering the present situation of this land and the fact that the guilty ones are true sons of this country; following likewise the merciful policy of the government never to draw blood uselessly; with the approval of its department secretaries, I hereby pardon Andres Bonifacio and Procopio Bonifacio from the death penalty, and instead grant the punishment of exile in an isolated place, where they will be held in solitary [confinement] watched by prison guards and will not be allowed to speak to each other or to other people… The arms and other properties confiscated by the government troops are to become government property for use in time of war and for the benefit of the government. Let the request of the Judge Advocate General be granted regarding copies of statements needed for further investigation.”
The Bonifacios were informed of the decision. Procopio acknowledged it by signing the trial document, but Andres couldn’t, or wouldn’t, because he couldn’t use his hand.
If the trial documents show that Aguinaldo pardoned the Bonifacio brothers and commuted the death sentence to exile, what happened? Bonzon was not investigated for the attempted rape of Gregoria de Jesus. Why?
The buck stops with Emilio Aguinaldo, who said in his memoirs that Pio del Pilar, Mariano Noriel, and many others, including former allies of Bonifacio, had convinced him to change his mind. Artemio Ricarte, in his own memoirs, provided additional names: Feliciano Jocson, Antonio Montenegro, Teodoro Gonzales, Clemente Jose Zulueta, Severino de las Alas, Baldomero Aguinaldo, Mariano Trias Closas, and many other Caviteños.
While textbook history does not provide all the other angles to this complicated story, having the primary sources available online can help develop critical thinking in search of a conclusion and resolution to this divisive part of our history.
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