By Dom Galeon
A few years ago, a local TV station decided to do a series on the life of Andres Bonifacio. While the show was revolutionary in that it challenged many of history’s supposedly established notions about the Katipunan boss, it wasn’t able to dig deeper into the other aspects of Bonifacio’s life. That’s understandable given that there isn’t much that we know about his early life—and many of what we do know have no historical document to back them up (like the supposed fact that he peddled fans on the street to make ends meet for his family)—and a TV series has a limited air time and budget.
An interesting bit in Bonifacio’s life is worth telling this Valentine season. It’s how he met his second wife Gregoria de Jesus or Oryang, for short. Yes, second wife because Bonifacio was a widower and was already in his 30s when Oryang first met him.
“When I was about 18 years old, young men began to visit our house, and among them was Andres Bonifacio, who came in company with Ladislao Diwa and my cousin Teodoro Plata, then an escribano,” wrote Oryang years later, in her short autobiography originally in Filipino, published as Mga Tala ng Aking Buhay. “But none of them talked to me of love, since parents in those days were extremely careful, and girls did not want people to know that they already had admirers.”
Oryang’s notes about when he met Bonifacio is the only intimate source we have that details their love story. She continues, “The truth, however, was that my parents had for about one year already been informed of Bonifacio’s courtship, although I knew nothing about it. Three months thereafter, just as I was beginning to like him, I learned that my father was against Bonifacio’s suit because he was a freemason, and freemasons then were considered bad men, thanks to the teachings of the friars. Six months later I had earnestly fallen in love with him, and my father, though opposed at first, in the end gave his consent because of his love for me and because I told him the whole truth.”
She then describes how Bonifacio and her were married at Binondo Church in March 1983, with a certain Restituto Javier and his wife as their ninong and ninang (weddings then didn’t need an army of sponsors). The Catholic wedding, Oryang writes, was out of respect for her parents.
“But the week following, we were remarried in the house of our sponsor in what was then Calle Oroquieta before the katipuneros at their request, since they gave no importance to the Catholic ceremony,” her memoir continues. “I remember that there was a little feast, attended, among others, by Pio Valenzuela, Santiago Turiano, Roman Basa, Mariano Dizon, Josefa and Trining Rizal [two of Rizal’s sisters], and nearly all the dignitaries of the Katipunan. That very night I was initiated as a member of the Katipunan and assumed the symbolic name ‘Lakambini’ in order to obey and practice its sacred principles and rules.”
It’s possible that Oryang chose to highlight this moment to put a nationalistic touch to their love story, but according to popular historian Ambeth Ocampo, there is more to their romance than this.
Looking at the marriage books from the archives of Binondo Church—most of which were destroyed during World War II but the 1894 records survived and were made available to Ambeth in the 1990s—there was no record of an Andres Bonifacio marrying a Gregoria de Jesus. Instead, there was one for a certain “Andres Cipriano” and “Gregoria de la Cruz.” Ambeth believes that these were names Bonifacio and Oryang assumed in order to get around the requirements for consent since Oryang was considered a minor at that time.
Records from the National Archives seems to support this claim, particularly a handwritten note dated Oct. 6, 1983, which Oryang hastily wrote to the gobernadorcillo of Binondo. It reads, “I am Gregoria de Jesus from Caloocan, a dalagang Tagalog, a minor. I wish to contract marriage with my boyfriend (nobio) Andres Bonifacio of 11E Sagunto Street, Tondo. When my parents found out of my good intentions I was brought here, to Binondo and placed in 28D Madrid Street. I am truly a prisoner here. I have no liberty at all. I appeal to your power to mediate and give me justice.”
It’s a love story that’s reminiscent of that fictional one from fair Verona. Like Juliet to Bonifacio’s Romeo, Oryang was physically taken away from their home in Caloocan and, in her own words, made “prisoner” in Binondo. Presumably, her parents’ objections come from her being a minor and from Bonifacio being a freemason. That he was a widower didn’t help.
But Oryang’s love proved stronger and, at that point, it certainly was no longer a fling or a crush or the pining of a younger woman for an older man. Oryang was so determined to be with Bonifacio that, despite being a minor, she had the legal sense to bring her situation to the attention of the gobernadorcillo, the highest civil official in a town.
“Take me from here, summon my boyfriend,” Oryang’s plea to the gobernadorcillo continues (note how she refers to Bonifacio as her boyfriend, which means that they have already gone past courtship), “fulfill the necessary government requirements so that we can get married. I ask justice from you and hope that you listen because this appeal is addressed to anyone with a kind heart.”