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Volume 3,  Number 14              May 11 - 17, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Mabini: A Century After His Passing


May 13, 2003 marks the 100th death anniversary of Apolinario Mabini, known to Filipinos as "The Sublime Paralytic" and "The Brains of the Revolution." He was a brilliant thinker who used his pen in the service of the Filipino people's struggle for freedom in the age of new imperialism.


By Alexander Martin Remollino



Apolinario Mabini was born on July 23, 1864 in the village of Talaga in Tanauan, Batangas. He was the second of eight children of Dionisia Maranan, a vendor in the Tanauan market and a daughter of the village schoolteacher, and Inocencio Mabini, an unlettered peasant.


A show of uncommon intelligence while tagging along with an elder brother to his grandfather's classes brought him to a regular school. While studying at a school owned by Simplicio Avelino, he worked as a houseboy for a tailor in exchange for free board and lodging. He later transferred to the school of Fr. Valerio Malabanan, a famous educator in Tanauan who is mentioned in Jose Rizal's novel El Filibusterismo.


Mabini then went to the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Manila in 1881 as a scholar. It was there where he amazed a professor who thought of picking on him because of his bad clothes - as if poverty gave him any other choice. He was asked a series of very difficult questions, which he all answered excellently.


While studying at Letran, he earned money for his board and lodging by teaching children. Because of a chronic lack of funds, his studies in Manila went on and off.


In 1887, he completed his Bachilles en Artes with highest honors. The next year, he enrolled in law at the University of Santo Tomas. He completed his course in 1894.


Political activity


Mabini, probably as a result of his wide readings, had begun to develop egalitarian ideas of sorts while a student at Letran. On one of his trips to Tanauan, he met a priest on the road. Following the custom then, the priest extended his hand to Mabini, expecting the young man to kiss it. Mabini shook the priest's hand instead, explaining to his brother afterwards that only parents' hands should be kissed.


He began to take an active part in politics while studying law.

It is believed that at the University of Santo Tomas – considered Asia’s oldest university - he came into contact with fellow students who had links with the Reform Movement. He would later be given the task of corresponding regularly with Marcelo del Pilar, who was then agitating for reforms in Madrid through the paper La Solidaridad. His job was to inform del Pilar of the situation on the home front and explain what reforms were needed. He did this task assiduously even while practicing his profession.

When the revolution led by Andres Bonifacio broke out in 1896, Mabini did not immediately support it. He believed that the Reform Movement had not yet been given a full chance.

It was also in that year that he contracted a disease which paralyzed him from the waist down. He had to be confined at the San Juan de Dios Hospital. His involvement in the Reform Movement had made him suspect in the eyes of the Spanish authorities, but his condition saved him from Bagumbayan - where a number of his friends were executed.

The execution of Rizal in December 1896 signified to Mabini the death of the Reform Movement. At this point he transferred his whole support to the Revolution.

He wrote the pamphlets "El Verdadero Decalogo" and "Ordenanzas de la Revolucion," which were intended to inspire the revolutionaries in the fields and guide them in their conduct of the struggle; and a constitutional program for the Philippine government.

In 1898, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo invited Mabini to work in the Revolutionary Government. He helped in organizing it and wrote laws and decrees. He was appointed President of the Cabinet - a position equivalent to today's Executive Secretary, which is now manned by Alberto Romulo.

Unlike Aguinaldo, Mabini was suspicious of the Americans - who presented themselves purportedly to help the Filipinos secure liberty from Spain - early on. He was in fact against the declaration of independence on June 12, 1898; he thought it premature, as it revealed to the Americans the real objectives of the Filipinos, while the intentions of the supposed allies were unknown. But other forces within the Revolutionary Government had prevailed at that time.

Later developments would prove Mabini right. In December 1898, unknown to the Filipinos, the United States obtained the Philippines from Spain for $20 million. In February 1899, the United States launched its war of conquest against the Philippines.

Mabini would become a leading luminary of the resistance against the U.S. occupation of the Philippines. He wrote articles and pamphlets urging his compatriots to continue the struggle for freedom and condemning American military atrocities against the Philippine populace. He also disputed U.S. propaganda which described the occupation as intending to train the Filipinos in the art of self-government: he would argue that self-government is learned by experience, as proven by the American people themselves, and that Filipinos would never learn self-government while under foreign control - and this would give the Americans "justification" for staying in the country indefinitely. He also junked the U.S. line that the occupation of the Philippines would serve to make the country prosperous, arguing that any "prosperity" that would be derived from the American occupation would benefit the Americans and not the Filipinos.


Mabini would suffer for his uncompromising stand for independence.

Even in the early days of the Philippine-American war, there were those in the Revolutionary Congress who were open to the idea of autonomy instead of independence, most notably Pedro Paterno (who, just two years before, had negotiated for the Spanish government in the Pact of Biak na Bato, a pact that made peace between the Philippines and Spain - within the framework of continued Spanish sovereignty over the Philippine islands). Mabini would inevitably come into conflict with these elements within the Revolutionary Government. He had no choice except to resign, as General Aguinaldo would show partiality toward the forces of autonomy.

When the American forces began to pursue the leaders of the Philippine resistance movement, Mabini went into hiding in Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija. Soon, he would be arrested by American soldiers, courtesy of a group of Macabebe Scouts who led them to his hiding place. He was imprisoned in Fort Santiago from December 11, 1899 to September 23, 1900.

Mabini would continue his agitation for independence after his release. He flatly rejected offers to serve in the colonial government, and also refused to take the oath of allegiance to the American flag. Because of this, he was exiled to Guam, where he was to stay for two years.

Last days

In February 1903, probably weakened by exile and feeling that he would die on foreign soil, Mabini decided - with a heavy heart - to take the oath of allegiance to the United States - a condition for his return to the Philippines.

Upon returning to the Philippines, he resumed his work of agitating for independence even as he had sworn allegiance to the American flag - proving that the oath he took was merely pro forma.

A cholera epidemic struck Manila in May of that year. Mabini, who was then residing in Nagtahan, was hit by the disease, and in the evening of May 13 he passed away. He was 10 days and two months short of his 39th birthday.

Mabini left behind an unpublished book, La Revolucion Filipina, which blamed the failure of the 1896 Philippine Revolution on Aguinaldo and condemned him for instigating the execution of Bonifacio and the murder of Gen. Antonio Luna. (General Luna, like Mabini, stood for independence and rejected autonomy.) His friends published the book for him.

Mabini for today

Mabini was a firm believer in the right of every human being to be free. He fought against the American colonial occupation because he believed that Filipinos, being human beings as much as anyone else, have a right to liberty, and the occupation of the Philippines was a violation of that right.

If Mabini were alive today, he would no doubt be a fierce advocate of genuine independence. He would surely push for a foreign policy anchored on sovereignty.

In line with this, he would definitely be a bitter critic of the Macapagal-Arroyos and the Oples who could not think of Philippine interests as apart from U.S. interests. He would surely oppose the presence of U.S/ troops on Philippine soil, as this violates sovereignty by automatically aligning the Philippines with the United States. No doubt he would have criticized the Macapagal-Arroyo government for supporting the U.S.-led war on Iraq - a violation of the sovereignty of the Iraqi people.

He would certainly also be a vehement critic of the globalist policies pursued dutifully by the Macapagal-Arroyo government. He would reason that globalization benefits only foreign corporate interests, particularly U.S. corporate interests, and would push for a nationalist economic framework.

And so the partisans of the existing order would call him, by turns, a "terrorist" and a "dreamer" - as advocates of genuine independence have been called by the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. Bulatlat.com

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