By Ed Aurelio C. Reyes

Kamalaysayan Writers and Speakers

(July 1993)

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UBLIME PARALYTIC is the title we usually associate with Apolinario Mabini, because of his particularity among the heroes of the Philippine Revolution of 1896 and the Philippine-American War. But KAMALAYSAYAN prefers to refer to him as the Sublime Statesman, one who exerted great efforts to be an active leader of a revolutionary government-on-the-run, despite his difficult physical condition.

          Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines the word "statesman" as (1) one versed in the principles and art of government, esp: one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government or in shaping its policies, (2) one who exercises political leadership wisely and without narrow partisanship.

          Mabini fits both definitions squarely. He was indeed well- versed in political science, with the principles and art of governance so much so that it was his brain that shaped the evolution of the Filipino state under its second president, Emilio Aguinaldo. (The first president of the Filipino people was Andres Bonifacio, who was elected "Pangulo ng Haring Bayan" after the formation of the first Philippine government on August 24, 1896; Aguinaldo ousted Bonifacio from the presidency in the Tejeros Convention of March 1897, but began using the title only after having Bonifacio killed two months later.)

          A leader who could not distinguish himself as an intellectual, Aguinaldo badly needed an adviser of Mabini's caliber in those critical moments of the shaping of the first republic in Asia. An essential component of the policy he vigorously pursued in word and in deed was that of resistance to American enticements for an "autonomy" arrangement for our country, something similar to what we actually have now.

          If there is any value at all in celebrating July 4 every year as "Philippine-American Friendship Day," there is so much more to celebrate on July 22, the date carried by the birth certificate of Apolinario Mabini, our Sublime Statesman.

Perseverance in Study

          In his book Looking Back, history researcher and popularizer Ambeth Ocampo contrasts Aguinaldo with Mabini and Bonifacio:

          "Andres Bonifacio was humiliated by more "educated" people in the Tejeros convention simply because he had barely finished Grade Four. But Bonifacio read more and had better command of Spanish than...Aguinaldo. While Bonifacio, who wrote verses, translated Rizal's Ultimo Adios into Tagalog (Pahimakas), Aguinaldo knew very little Spanish and later admitted he hadn't read any of Rizal's novels!

          "A look into Aguinaldo's background showed he had about seven years of formal education. As a boy, he preferred to play rather than study. At 13 he was overjoyed to learn San Juan de Letran had closed due to a cholera epidemic which hit Manila in 1882. He never returned to school.

          "...(Mabini) had also been enrolled in Letran when the epidemic broke out. The only difference was that Mabini went back to school.

          "Mabini would have probably won first prize for his intermittent schooling. He took his first lessons from his mother and maternal grandfather (father and paternal lolo were illiterate), who suggested that Mabini be sent to school in Tanauan (in his home province, Batangas).

          "In Tanauan he studied until he was whipped by a schoolmaster for some mistake he had committed in his lessons. Mabini later transfered to Fr. Valerio Malabanan's school until the third year of his secondary education. He transferred to Letran in Manila when he reached fourth year, but had to stop because of the epidemic. He returned to Batangas to teach in in Fr. Malabanan's new school in Bauan until it was safe to return to Manila.

          "In 1884 Mabini returned to Letran and cross-enrolled at the College of Sto. Tomas, but had to stop again due to lack of funds. He taught when he finally got his A.B. and a teacher's certificate in 1887. With his savings, he took up law at the University of Sto. Tomas. He passed the bar and missed marching because he could not afford a toga. What's funny is that he never practiced law; he was merely content with notarial work! (Or so people thought; actually he was too busy with 'subversive activities')."

Dedicated to the People

          What is at least as important as acquiring knowledge, if not more important really, is using such knowledge in the service of the people. Like doctors, lawyers have bigger opportunities than others to use their knowledge mainly to make money for themselves (Sec. Flavier is complaining, for instance, about entire batches of medicine graduates ignoring calls for community service). Mabini chose to serve the people's revolution, working where he felt he was needed most, and eventually distinguishing himself as a statesman.

          He started off by joining Rizal's La Liga Filipina. After Rizal was arrested and exiled, it was through the efforts of Bonifacio and Domingo Franco that the Liga was recognized and saved from inactivity. Mabini became the secretary of the Supreme Council. Constantino tells us (Philippines: A Past Revisited): "Upon (Mabini's) suggestion, the organization decided to declare its support for La Solidaridad and the reforms it advocated raise funds for the paper, and defray the expenses of deputies advocating reforms for the country before the Spanish Cortes (parliament)."

          This suggestion, I feel, was a backward step for the Liga, which represented a development in Rizal's own political work: that the efforts, although still reformist, be pursued by organizing work right here in the homefront.

          Bonifacio, who had been active in organizing Liga chapters among the impoverished masses, disagreed, and eventually the Liga split up with Mabini and Bonifacio leading opposing groups.

          But statesmanship was shown by Mabini when he wrote to acknowledge the failures of his group and praise the astounding success of the Katipunan. Mabini wrote (as quoted by Gregorio Nieve and translated by Teodoro Agoncillo):

          "Those who were in favor of continuing the paper formed a body called Comparomisarios (pledgors), because each of them pledged himself to pay a monthly contribution of five pesos for the support of the paper. Andres Bonifacio on the other hand reorganized the society under the name KATIPUNAN NG MGA ANAK NG BAYAN (Society of the Sons of the People) already with separatist aims.

          "The Katipunan spread very rapidly, because the provoking and insolent manner in which the friars conducted their campaign of opposition had exasoerated the masses..."

          Mabini's statesmanship was shown again when he took the side of Antonio Luna against the members of the Paterno cabinet, who were advocates of "autonomy" as offered by the Americans. Mabini had earlier described Luna as a "dangerous man" and therefore had no personal liking of him, but when it came to choosing sides in a raging debate within the ranks, he took the principled position.

          Constantino quotes Mabini thus:

          "It seems that the present cabinet is now negotiating with the Americans on the basis of autonomy, and I laugh at all this because those who get tired after months of struggle will be of no service except to carry the yoke of slavery."

          Mabini actually issued a call for armed struggle in April 1899 when the U.S. government issued a policy extending its sovereignty over the Philippines. Wrote he:

          "And since war is the last resource that is left to us for the salvation of our country and our own national honor, let us fight while a grain of strength is left in us; let us acquit ourselves like men, even though the lot of the present generation is conflict and sacrifice. It matters not whether we die in the midst or at the end of most painful day's work; the generations to come, praying over our tombs, will shed for us tears of love and gratitude, and not of bitter reproach."

          Earlier, it was upon Mabini's advice that Aguinaldo replaced his dictatorship with a revolutionary government that would be in a better position to win the recognition of other nations.

          As a statesman, Mabini was for a government that was not controlled by partisan politics. he said ( as quoted by goncillo, History of the Filipino People), the Council of Government "belongs to no party, nor does it desire to form one; it stands for nothing, save the interests of the fatherland.

          "Mabini was also a staunch campaigner for the separation of the Church and State, and inspired the eventual formation of the Philippine Independent Church. He argued for the preservation of the Church, but such preservation must be premised upon the appointment of Filipino priests to all Church positions.

          Upon his capture by the Americans, the Sublime Statesman chose to be exiled to Guam instead of pledging allegiance to the American flag. Needless to say, he endured hardships in that exile, but he endured without regretting his decision.

          Here was a man whose body could not stand erect, but whose spirit stood tall before the seductions of that "mighty and humane North American nation."

(Kamalaysayan Media Service)



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