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This 23yo Law Student Is Andres Bonifacio’s Apo

Roman Paolo Bonifacio shares his thoughts on a state funeral, declaring his lolo a national hero, and those Bonifacio biopics.

Did you know that Andres Bonifacio, Father of the Philippine Revolution, was not exactly the “Dakilang Maralita” as history books claim? Coming from a middle-class family, he spoke several languages and read foreign books, even if he was forced to stop schooling and work at a young age to support his siblings.

Our source for this little-known fact: Roman Paolo P. Bonifacio, great-great grandson of Andres Bonifacio’s brother, Procopio Bonifacio. (Read: Which Filipino National Hero Defines Your Personality?)

Ahead of tomorrow’s Independence Day celebrations, My Pope Philippines asks the 23-year-old law student what it’s like to be the apo of the Ama ng Katipunan, and whether he’s following in his lolo’s footsteps— or forging his own path.

What is it like being the apo of the Ama ng Katipunan?

I am honored and humbled to be a descendant of a hero, more so a descendant of Andres Bonifacio. People often ask me “kamag-anak ka ni Bonifacio?” and would be amazed. 

My grandfather and father instilled this in me at a very young age. My father told me that I should not attach shame to our family name to continue Bonifacio’s legacy. To this day, I do my best so that the Bonifacio name is synonymous with positive attributes.

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The Bonifacio shrine at the foot of Mount Nagpatong and Mount Buntis in Maragondon, Cavite where it is believed he was executed, on May 10, 1897. (Photo from Ervin Malicdem/Wikipedia)

What is the status of the family’s request for a state funeral?

The family’s wish for a state funeral was relayed through mainstream media and speeches given on several occasions. To this day, it hasn’t been acted upon by the authorities. I believe that there was a lawmaker who wanted to elevate Andres Bonifacio’s status as a hero and to give him a state funeral, but this never prospered. (Read: The controversial deaths of three Filipino heroes)

A state funeral would merely be a symbolic gesture. I think it would be better, not only for his legacy but also for the entire nation, that he be declared the national hero. Through this, we would have a proper figure to rally behind. Bonifacio’s legacy and life would cement, especially in our youth, the value of hard work, nationalism, and sacrifice.

What is your opinion of all these Andres Bonifacio biopics?

Honestly, I cringe whenever I see his life being portrayed on the big screen because of how it was produced. Biopics of Andres Bonifacio merely capitalize on his struggles and fame; they never portray his true character and legacy. Movies about Bonifacio were also never given much attention in terms of historical accuracy, unlike those of Jose Rizal’s.

I don’t have a favorite but I would like to see a biopic of Bonifacio creatively shown like Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna and with the depth of 1998’s Jose Rizal. Hopefully someone in the film industry would decide to produce one with such quality.

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(Left) The Bonifacio Monument in Novaliches, Quezon City, was commissioned by Paolo’s grandfather. (Right) The Bonifacio siblings with members of the Distrito Family, also descendants of the revolutionary leader. (Photos courtesy of subject)

What do you think Bonifacio would say and do if he were around today?

Frankly, I think he would be appalled. Bonifacio is a strong-willed person and no doubt had political will, but he never used these virtues against Filipinos. He fought for the sovereignty of our nation and considered every inch of Philippine soil as Philippine territory.

Bonifacio and his men were almost always outnumbered and under-equipped, but they still fought for freedom. Our countrymen sacrificed their lives and liberties so that we can enjoy freedom. To surrender this in exchange for international political favors would be grossly shameful. (Read: Timeline: The West Philippine Sea Dispute Against China)

Another thing that I believe would shock him is the overwhelming human rights abuses. Filipinos during the Spanish occupation were subjected to human rights abuses. This is one of the reasons that convinced Bonifacio as well as other Filipinos back then to fight for freedom— to free fellow countrymen from being abused.

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Human rights and labor rights defenders stage a protest caravan in front of Camp Karingal in Quezon City on December 11, 2020. (Photo from George Calvelo / ABS-CBN News)

Are you following in your great-great grandfather’s footsteps—or forging your own path?

I forge my own path but never forget Andres Bonifacio’s legacy. When asked about what would be his path if he were alive today, the logical answer would be a politician. (Read: Mayor Vico Sotto Named Anticorruption Champion by US State Department)

In modern society, the level of change that Bonifacio would have wanted could only be done through politics and government. I did work for the government as an employee, but right now I don’t see myself taking the path Andres Bonifacio would have pursued.

I am currently studying law and hopefully someday become a lawyer. This is how I intend to do my part in improving society.  

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