The agony of Lola Nonay, the Supremo’s sister

Buena Bernal
The loss of her 3 brothers – Andres Bonifacio, Ciriaco, and Procopio – haunts Nonay until late in her life

PHOTO OF A PHOTO. A photo of Espiridiona 'Nonay' Bonifacio's funeral walk. The actual photo kept by 4th generation descendants 

MANILA, Philippines – “Pio, Pio, ako si Nonay (Pio, Pio, I am Nonay),” 74-year-old Gloria Distrito-Catalasan recalled her grandmother saying to an ailing Dr Pio Valenzuela. 

Before she died at the age of 76, Espiridiona “Nonay” Bonifacio – the younger sister of Andres Bonifacio – was able to reunite with two other living members of the revolutionary group her brother co-founded. 

Her brother Andres, along with members of the Kataastaasan Kagalang-galang na Katipunan (KKK) na mga Anak ng Bayan known as Katipuneros, fought for Philippine independence through an armed revolution. Historian Isagani Medina regarded what is now known as a notoriously fractious upheaval as the beginning of the end of Spanish colonial rule. 

Espiridiona, who was already called Nonay as a teenager, was Lola (Grandmother) Nonay to Gloria Distrito-Catalasan. Gloria, who herself is now a grandmother of 11, was 16 when her lola died on May 26, 1956.  

Dr Pio Valenzuela and Ladislao Diwa were the two Katipuneros Gloria remembers her lola to have searched for and visited. 

Pio was at his residence in Polo, Bulacan (now Valenzuela City) at the time Nonay visited him. Ladislao Diwa was in Cavite.  

“They embraced each other,” Gloria recalled the dramatic encounter with Dr Pio. “Lola Nonay kept introducing herself to Dr Pio – ‘Pio, Pio, I am Nonay,’ she would say.”

Unfortunately by that time, Dr Valenzuela’s faltering memory kept him from recognizing Nonay. But to Nonay, it did not matter. 

The Katipunera embraced him in tears as the old Pio muttered unintelligible words to himself.  

Life as a young Katipunera 

The women-members of the KKK were limited to wives, daughters, sisters, and close relatives of Katipuneros. In a biographical account of Andres’ life, Medina wrote that it was in July 1893 when the women’s chapter of the KKK was formed.

The Bonifacio siblings were orphaned at an early age, and Andres had to stand as the family’s breadwinner. Nonay, as a teenager, was dependent on her brothers for guidance.  

Her 3 older brothers – Andres, Ciriaco, and Procopio – were all part of the armed struggle. Growing up, they also served as Nonay’s de facto parents.

Sama lang siya nang sama… Bata pa siya, wala na siyang magulang,” Gloria recalled her lola’s stories. (She always went with her brothers… She was without parents as a kid.) 

Among the stories Gloria’s grandmother told her which she loves retelling is how Nonay helped out when the Katipuneros engaged in battle. She was 20 when news of the secret society reached Spanish authorities, prompting a systematic crackdown on the KKK.

Tiga-dala ako ng bala. Nilalagay ko sa kaldero ng kanin (I was tasked to bring bullets. I place them in a cooking pot with rice),” Gloria remembered her grandmother saying. 

Nonay would often hide guns under her skirt, take care of wounded Katipuneros, and cook for her older brothers.

GATHERING. Later in life, Espiridiona 'Nonay' Bonifacio (left) attended gatherings hosted by historians and entrepreneurs in honor of her brother Andres. Actual photo kept by 4th generation descendants

The lola in pain

Gloria remembers her Lola Nonay with fondness. She was with her lola at their Paco residence when the Katipunera passed away.

She felt that, even as decades have passed, her lola was still reeling from the loss of her 3 older brothers. 

Asked about what her lola knew about the controversial execution of Andres and Procopio, Gloria said it was a touchy subject for Lola Nonay.

Alam mo ang lola ko never siyang nag-mention tungkol dun… Nanginginig siya kapag tinatanong, parang naso-suffocate siya. Kasi ang lungkot ng buhay niya,” Gloria recounted. 

(You know my lola never mentioned [the execution]… She would shiver, as if suffocated, when asked [about the execution]. She lived a sad life.) 

Kaya alam na alam mong nangyari yun (That’s why you know it really happened),” Gloria said of the tragic death of her great uncles. Andres and Procopio were executed, following a trial condemning them of treason due to a fallout in the KKK. Ciriaco died during the arrest of Andres prior to the trial. 

Gloria shared how Nonay’s decisions as a parent were heavily influenced by her experience with loss. 

Gusto niya, kapag namatay ang mga anak niya, matutulog na lang… Kaya wala sa mga anak niya ang pinag-sundalo niya, kahit gyera ng mga Hapon noon,” Gloria shared. (She wants her children to die peacefully… That’s why none of her children were soldiers, even if it was World War II at that time.)

Ganoon ang closeness nila… Umiiyak siya minsan kapag hapon (That was how close they were… She cried sometimes during the afternoon),” said Gloria, who served as Nonay’s caregiver in the last few years of her life.

DESCENDANTS. Gloria Distrito-Catalasan (in pink) followed her Lola Nonay's footsteps in regularly attending rites in honor of Andres Bonifacio. Photo from Amor Distrito-Catalasan

The loving mother

Later on in her life, Nonay would be very active in joining activities during the yearly observance of both the birth anniversary and the death anniversary of Andres Bonifacio.

Uma-attend kami parati ng floral offering,” said Gloria, who now goes to these ceremonies with her cousins and eldest daughter.

Nonay also developed a close friendship with Chinese entrepreneur Ma Mon Luk, who was a decade younger than her. Gloria remembers times when the chef and restaurant-owner would throw a party for Nonay in honor of Andres.

Gloria remembers not much else about her Lola Nonay. That she loved her children and grandchildren. That she was courageous. That she spoke Spanish and read The Daily Tribune – which was written in English – every day. That she would sing songs while weaving. 

“[She was a] very loving mother. Namumulot siya ng pako o yung broken glass sa daan, para daw hindi maapakan ng mga anak niya (She would pick up nails and pieces of broken glass in the street, so her children wouldn’t step on them),” she recalled.

But most of all, said Gloria, she remembers her lola’s agony – a mental picture of her Lola Nonay crying during afternoons as she took care of her.

Gloria could only imagine how it must have been for her Lola Nonay to live through the death of her 3 brothers who stood as her parents and offered their lives to the cause of Philippine freedom. –


Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.