Rizal the Federalist; Bonifacio the Unitarian


by Erwin S. Fernandez

Abung na Panagbasay Pangasinan

(House of Pangasinan Studies)

Although José Rizal and Andrés Bonifacio met on some points in their politics, they diverged from their concepts of Philippine nation and government. In his classic essay, Filipinas dentro de cien años, Rizal predicted that the Philippines “will probably declare themselves a federal republic.” How and why did Rizal come to suggest federalism, which did not happen in the long run? I will trace the origin of his thinking in the context of his life and works. On the other hand, Bonifacio envisioned a “Haring Bayang Katagalugan.” Again, what were the sources of his idea of a unitary Tagalog republic, which when hijacked by the ilustrado nationalists led by Aguinaldo was transformed into a “República Filipina”? Although Rizal’s prediction did not materialize, the idea of a federal republic was resurrected in a draft of a constitution by a group of prominent Filipinos and submitted to the first Philippine commission, which I will examine. Finally, I will state the implications of this understated yet fundamental difference between Rizal and Bonifacio in Philippine historiography and in the continuing search for an alternative system that includes rather than excludes the marginalized, respects the diversity of the nation and empowers the people in their communities.

Pitting Rizal and Bonifacio would seem to invite a lot of flak from Rizalists and Bonifacists. But one cannot help because there is a growing consciousness among the younger generation how the present political system hinders rather than encourages growth in the countryside after more than a century of experiment in a centralized Unitarian presidential setup. Since both Rizal and Bonifacio are national heroes who fathered the Philippine nation, it is only proper to investigate what kind of political system they had in mind for the country after their eventual separation from Spain. Let me begin with Rizal.

Rizal and his República Federal de Filipinas

Rizal predicted that after a hundred years, the Philippines might become a federal republic. His prognosis did not materialize. What must have been the source for this idea? “Filipinas dentro de cien años”, Rizal’s perceptive essay, graced the pages of La Solidaridad on 15 June 1889 to 1 February 1890. By this time Rizal was in London annotating Morga at the British Museum. It was seven years after he set foot in Madrid meeting some of its intellectual giants. One of them, Francesc Pi y Margall was on friendly terms with Rizal during his student days (Schumacher 1997, 56n).

When Rizal met Pi sometime in 1882 (Aseniero 2013, 20), the 58 year-old Catalan statesman has retired from politics. Involved in Spanish politics since 1854, he was short-time president of the First Spanish Republic of 1873. Upon his retirement, he returned to literature writing about his experiences on the Republic in La República de 1873 (1874), on his concept of the nation in Las Nacionalidades (1876), some literary pursuits in Joyas Literarias (1876) and on the history of America in Historia General de America (1878). Two years prior to meeting Rizal, Pi collected his various essays and speeches in La federacion (1880) including his 1868 prologue to his translation into Spanish of Proudhon’s Du principe Fédératif (Principle of Federation) and his 1869 speech in defense of republican federation in the Cortes. In 1883 he played a leading role at  the Republican Congress in Zaragosa in which a federal republican constitution for Spain was presented. A year later he released his Las luchas de nuestros dias and Observaciones sobre el carácter de don Juan Tenorio; the former Rizal was able to review in 1890 in La Solidaridad. Years later in Dapitan, Rizal would cite his meetings with Pi as having informed him about what was happening in the Philippines (Retana 1907, 274). It is not farfetched that prior to his review of Pi’s Las luchas Rizal must have read Pi’s earlier works, not excluding La federacion and Proudhon’s Principio Federativo or must have talked to Pi on these matters.

What was Pi’s political philosophy that must have attracted Rizal? Pi opposed constitutional monarchy and fought for the adoption of a federal republican form of government.  Federalism in Pi’s view would ensure the autonomy of regions, each with a distinct history, language and culture in contrast to a unitary republican form that would recreate a highly centralized system governed from Madrid to the peripheries.  It was the best alternative for Spain at that time because the mother country was facing the multifarious challenges of autonomy in the regions, the ineffectiveness of administrative structure, nationalist separatism in Cuba and social reforms (Aseniero 2013, 23).   The Philippines, in the 1883 draft of Spanish federal constitution, which Pi had a hand in, could assume to become one of the regions of the so-called Spanish federation but Rizal knew in 1889 that it was impossible. What he meant by República Federal de Filipinas must have consisted of autonomous regions from Luzon to Sulu forming a federal republic.

Bonifacio and his Haring Bayang Katagalugan

Bonifacio, however, had a different political project. While Rizal did not disown the name Filipinas, Bonifacio created a new one, that of Katagalugan and called all its inhabitants as Tagalogs. The Katipunan’s Cartilla defined its objectives and the construction of a national identity based on Tagalog: “Ang kabagayan pinaguusig ng katipunang ito ay lubos at dakila at mahalaga; papagisahin ang loob at kapisan ang lahat ng tagalog. Sa pamamagitan ng isang mahigpit na panunumpa, upang sa pagkakaisang ito’y magkalakas na iwasak ang masinsing tabing na nakakabulag sa kaisipan at matuklasan ang tunay na landas ng Katuiran at Kaliwanagan. Sa salitang tagalog katutura’y ang lahat nang tumubo sa Sangkapuluang ito; sa makatuid, bisaya man, iloko man, kapangpangan man, etc., ay tagalog din.”

[The objective pursued by this association is noble and worthy; to unite the inner being and thoughts of the Tagalogs through binding pledge, so that through this unity they may gain the strength to destroy the dense shroud that benights the mind and to discover to discover the Path of Reason and Enlightenment.The word tagalog means all those born in this archipelago; therefore, though visayan, ilocano, pampango, etc. they are all tagalogs.]

From 24 August 1896 to the first quarter of 1897 before the Tejeros convention, a revolutionary government was established headed by Andres Bonifacio, pangulo ng Haring Bayang Katagalugan or president of Sovereign State of Tagalogland (Guerrero, Encarnacion and Villegas 1996). What structure did this government have? Power was vested in the president advised by a council of state composed of secretaries of war, state, interior, justice and finance, elected most probably from the Kataastaasang Sanggunian or the Supreme Council, which has direct supervision over Sangguniang Bayan or Provincial or Municipal Council and Sangguniang Balangay or Barangay Council. From these sangguniang bayans, they must have elected a representative to the Kataastaasang Kapulungan or the National Assembly, which happened on 24 August 1896 in Kalookan. It was republican and unitarian in form as confirmed by the magazine La Ilustracion Español y Americana calling Bonifacio “el titulado presidente de la República tagala.”

We can only speculate how and where did Bonifacio take his idea of a unitary republic. An autodidact, Bonifacio read books, among others, on Spanish civil and penal codes, treatises on international law, Carlyle’s French revolution, Lives of presidents of the United States, works of Rizal, Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and novels by Dumas, both father and son (Agoncillo 1996). Did he model his government after the First French Republic? Did he learn it out of his readings in international law? Did Emilio Jacinto, a prelaw student, help in formulating his concept of a Haring Bayang Katagalugan?

The 1899/1900 draft of a federal constitution

They were only called “eminent Filipinos” forming a committee whose leading figure was said to be sympathetic with Emilio Aguinaldo. It was the time when the Philippine-American War was raging and the First Philippine Commission headed by Jacob Gould Schurman went to the country to ascertain conditions, promote American authority and establish a civil government. The draft of the constitution was submitted to this commission.

On the first title, “Government and Nationality,” the first article describes the government of the Philippine Islands as “republican, federal, representative, and responsible” defining its territory according to the treaty of Paris and the second article defines the territory as divided into regions comprising of 11. It specifies which provinces belonged to a particular region, for example, the first region, the capital region, is composed of Manila, Cavite, Morong and Corregidor. Article III states that: “Each region enjoys complete legislative, governmental, and administrative autonomy, having power to dictate its own political constitution peculiar to itself, under the representative, republican, and responsible system indicated by this general constitution, by whose principles, declarations, and guarantees it must be inspired, with the exception that it can establish in any or all provinces of the region any generally practiced privilege worthy of respect. It shall be a constitution peculiar to the region and shall insure principally the administration of justice, municipal government of towns, and primary education. Under these conditions the Federal government guarantees to every region the possession and exercise of its institutions.”

It stipulates on who are Filipinos and includes a bill of rights. It defines the prerogatives of the federal government led by a governor-general who will reside in Manila and appointed by the president of the United States and delimits the powers of regions. Legislative powers are vested in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate is composed of 22 members, 11 of which are appointed and 11 of which are elected from each of regions’ legislature. The chamber of deputies is to be composed of 110 members apportioned to the 11 regions. It provides for a permanent commission when sessions of both chambers are closed. It also provides for Supreme Court of justice, the final arbiter in questions of law and jurisprudence.

The constitution did not prosper as the First Philippine Commission would state that: “In a country of such differences and varieties of population and social conditions there seems, if not any considerable real advantage, at least a theoretic propriety and fitness in grouping together by themselves, irrespective of existing provincial and district boundaries, the different tribes who inhabit the archipelago—Visayans, Tagalogs, Vicols, Ilocanos, etc.—and allowing them to manage their own local affairs; but that is a very different matter from constituting these new regions into independent and sovereign states, which delegate certain of their functions to the general government of the archipelago, as the framers of the above-mentioned constitution have actually done. To any such organization of Philippine states the commission is distinctly opposed; it is copied from the constitution of other countries in which the conditions are totally different from those which exist in the Philippines” (Report of the Philippine Commission 1900, 89). Of course, American colonial officials could not afford to give way some powers of the colonial government to the autonomous regions although they would know sooner or later that the Filipino Muslims in the south had different system of government and customs that could be accommodated in a federal system.


The draft was an attempt to account for the differences and diversity found in the archipelago. Rizal must have known that. It was an archipelagic country divided geographically into regions, each with its traditions, customs and languages. The draft must also have been a response to the Federal Republic of the Visayas, which opposed Aguinaldo’s government. But the phantom of Bonifacio’s unitary republican government continued to hover over subsequent constitutions, first in the Biac-na-Bato constitution of 1897 followed by the Malolos Constitution of 1899, the 1935 Constitution up to the 1987 Constitution. It is characterized by an ethnocratic fascist state led by a selfish elite residing in the enclaves of Manila while the regions and their cultures wallow in poverty and destitution. Let me end by quoting Pi: “¿Qué le da fuerzas al poder: la centralización? Debo descentralizar. ¿Se la da la religión? Debo destruirla. Entre monarquía o república optaré por la república, entre la unitaria o la federal, optaré por la federal.” “La federación es un sistema por el cual los diversos grupos humanos, sin perder su autonomía en lo que les es particular y propio, se asocian y subordinan al conjunto de los de su especie para todos los fines comunes. Establece la unidad sin destruir la variedad.”

Yes, Rizal the federalist must have known that it is fundamental to establish unity without destroying diversity and it must be through a federal republic. On the other hand, Bonifacio had planted the seed for a Unitarian republic – one that might have been necessary in 1896 but no longer in this day and age – since it has benefited only the center as it became the controlling template for regions outside the capital, not only in terms of a bankrupt culture but also the handiwork of a predatory capital in the hands of a greedy oligarchic, mestizo elite.


Agoncillo, Teodoro A. 1996. The revolt of the masses: The story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

Aseniero, George. 2013. From Cadiz to La Liga: The Spanish context of Rizal’s political thought. Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia 49 (1): 1-42.

First Philippine Commssion. 1900. Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, Vol 1. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Guerrero, Milagros C., Emmanuel N. Encarnacion and Ramon N. Villegas. 1996. Andres Bonifacio and the 1896 Revolution. Sulyap Kultura 3-12.

Pi y Margall, Francisco. 1880. La federacion. Madrid: Imprenta de Enrique Vicente.

Retana, Wenceslao O. 1907. Vida y escritos del Dr. José Rizal. Madrid: Librería General de Victoriano Suárez.

Schumacher, John N. S.J. 1997. The Propaganda Movement 1880 – 1895. Quezon City:

Ateneo de Manila University Press.

* Paper presented first as “Contending concepts of nation and government: Divergent paths between Rizal and Bonifacio” at the Alay at Laya Conference on Bonifacio and Mabini, 25 April 2014, Ateneo de Manila University. The author acknowledges the minimal financial assistance from the Provincial Government of Pangasinan.


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