Discovering Mabini Stripped Off the Wheelchair
Forgive me for not spewing history in my blog for weeks now, since a lot has been going on in my quiet life. Tomorrow is the celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Apolinario Mabini, and as such, for the people who sent me questions via tumblr fan mail, please please be patient with me as I will put the questions on hold for a few more days, for my posts about Mabini. Rest assured I will answer them one by one.
Last Saturday, I went to the Ayala Museum and revisited their diorama of Philippine history. In the June 12, 1898 diorama (photo above), I noticed a man being carried via a hammock. No label was given that it was Apolinario Mabini, but for those of us who know history, we know. And I love how unassuming it was presented, as if Mabini himself do not want the attention to be drawn to himself. He was after all the power behind the Philippines’ first Chief Executive. He was used to being in the background. Mabini’s cabinet was even branded by his enemies as “camera negra” or the Black Cabinet. Who was this man anyway?
Let me begin by gathering from memory what I knew about Apolinario Mabini from the teachers that taught me in my younger years (which I would surmise, you also may have been taught, within the Philippine education system). The overused “sublime paralytic” or “dakilang lumpo” (lit. translation: great paraplegic) tagline of him only mires the man as recorded in his writings.
I knew he was a paraplegic, brainy, tactful, genius, the power behind President Emilio Aguinaldo, during the first year of the first republic in Asia. That was it. Eventually in my college years, I encountered some leftist-leaning professors that say Mabini was a “balimbing,” in that in the end of all the fighting against U.S. forces in the Philippine-American War, he turned his back on his people by surrendering to the Americans, pledging allegiance to the American flag. He shouldn’t therefore be called a hero. Simple isn’t it? Everything is seen as black and white. Go to the enemy side, and you’re an a traitor.
I wish it were that simple. But then by adhering to that we would be committing a fatal error.
For Mabini breaks all the boxes that we put him in.
He is branded by some unlearned people today as a “balimbing” educated Ilustrado elite. But look into his life and you’d discover that he was nothing of the sort. Educated, yes, but rich? Mabini was so poor that when he graduated earning a law licentiate at the University of Santo Tomas, he refused to attend the graduation because he couldn’t afford a gown (thank God, a client of his sent him a gown that he wore that day). At the resumption of the Philippine Revolution on May 1898, Mabini, fresh from law school, worked in a notary to sustain his everyday needs. Yet out of his humble resources and with the help of friends, seeing that the Philippine Revolution that began on August 1896 was legitimate in its aims but disorganized in its implementation, Mabini self-published his pamphlets advising the people on what steps to take (i.e. Choosing a leader, laying out the aims of the movement), that when Aguinaldo, from his exile in Hong Kong, arrived, on May 19, 1898 all the people rallied to him easily, with 7 provinces declaring their loyalty to the new government, the first independent republic in Asia, that was to be established. One would think of the French Revolution, that out of uncontrolled passions, it descended into anarchy and much bloodshed. But the Philippine Revolution, with all its imperfections and self-inflicted crimes (especially on women, to Mabini’s alarm) never reached those dark depths. Perhaps it was Mabini’s influence that made the new Republic launch and float even if it was short-lived. He stood as a seer when the people needed one. His foresight and view of the times, his advise to President Aguinaldo was nothing short of… amazing.
Paraplegic? Couldn’t walk due to polio? Yes he had the disability, but that quickly disappears once you read his works. In that full year from June 1898 to May 1899, as Mabini filled the position of the Prime Minister of the Philippine Republic in Malolos, he would write decree after decree for President Aguinaldo, as a man puts one stone on another to build a stable edifice. He didn’t need feet to build. He was a visionary—“artless” as Mabini would charge himself, but what a vision! Ever so suspicious on foreign forces, but with full concern for the welfare of his country, he never established a political dynasty, nor used his position of power for political gain. As Randy David said, he entered the government poor, he was still poor when he left it. He was the guiding hand of legality behind the very existence of the new republic. And when he saw that popular opinion in the Malolos Congress was not in his favor, he willingly stepped down as head of the cabinet, to be replaced by Pedro Paterno, whom we all know eventually sided to the winning side—the American forces.
Mabini was called by the American military as the great “intransigent” among the Filipinos advocating for independence. And truly so, because he remained resolute even after his capture, being sent to Guam in exile despite his illness. He only swore allegiance to the U.S. when Mabini felt that the Filipinos gave up armed resistance and by staying in Guam he was disobeying the vox populi. It was a genius stroke of the Americans not to make a martyr out of Mabini by executing him, for by doing so, they would have unleashed another Philippine Revolution.
He was, to the very end of his days, beside his people, guiding them. And you don’t need feet to do that.
In the coming days I will be posting a lot of Mabini stuff online, his seemingly stoic loyalty to the rule of law and the spirit behind these laws, his concern for the people, his humility in submitting to the current set up in government that he did not approve but tried to fix by the use of his legal mind. Mabini made many enemies because of his stand, but that can’t be helped. All great men have enemies. But we don’t remember their enemies much, do we?
One of my best loved Mabini quotes is noted below, his advice to people who are in public service:
“I have here the key to our public conduct: show the people the magnitude of our task, point out to them the shortest way and the true aim so that they may not lose their way; then enumerate all the risked they have to surmount in their difficult journey without excluding anything and present these one by one to their real extent, so the people may gather up all their courage and strength and prepare all their resources; and after all these, tell them— “Follow me and kill me if I turn back. If you do not wish to follow, then I will go alone, and I alone will be annihilated for sure, but I will be greater than all of you together and I, alone, will reap the glory of all your past work because I, alone, have preserved to the end. Whereas, if you come with me, the greater part of the glory will be for those who overcame the biggest obstacles. This is not called a promise. It has a more noble name: it is called faith, unyielding and unswerving faith that may have inspired and guided past revolutions, shapes the present and will give life to the future.”
(“The Truth in its Place,” October 15, 1899)