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An eyewitness account of Mabini’s funeral

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While rummaging through microfiche copies of newspaper clippings “relating to the Philippine question” at Harvard’s Widener Library last year, I came across the following excerpt from a diary recorded by an American woman visiting the Philippines in 1903. Several entries from the

diary had been published in a newspaper sympathetic to Philippine aspirations, likely the Boston Evening Transcript, and this one, in particular, all but jumped out at me.

Not even Cesal Adib Majul’s standard biography of Apolinario Mabini contains a detailed account of his funeral—a massive outpouring of grief, prefiguring the 1983 funeral of Ninoy Aquino. Mabini died on May 13, 1903; he was buried on May 16, a Saturday. The diary entry is dated the following Tuesday; together with other excerpts, it was published on July 17, 1903.

Manila, May 19

If it were the custom of the country for women to attend funeral services, I should have tried to make some arrangement to attend Mabini’s funeral last Saturday with some of my Filipino friends. As it was, however, no better plan presented itself than to go as the great mass of the people went—on foot. Accordingly I walked out to Sampaloc, reaching the square from which the procession was to start at about 4.30. Already a great crowd had gathered, and when the procession finally started, at about 5 o’clock, the broad avenue as far as one could see was packed. It was purely and entirely a Filipino gathering; I saw no Americans other than a few curious idlers, who apparently lived in the immediate neighborhood. The funeral procession itself was thoroughly characteristic: first came a band of music, then a hearse completely covered with elaborate wreaths and drawn by 12 jet-black horses with black plumes and caparisons, and at the head of each a lackey in a strange, old-fashioned black uniform, three-cornered hat and tow wig, all rather oddly suggestive of the vicar of Wakefield. Following came two more hearses with floral offerings, then [at this point, there is a series of perhaps five words, which I cannot decipher] by his family and immediate friends. Immediately behind followed, on foot and bare-headed, but in no special order, his friends and the representatives of various organizations, and the procession proper was closed by another band. And all about this central nucleus, crowding close, but without jostling or disorder, came the Filipino people, thousands of them, many of them on foot, and, as far as the eye could reach, carriages and yet more carriages filling the wide avenue from sidewalk to sidewalk. At first, to an American, there was a certain incongruity about the bands of music, the strange, medieval funeral pomp and the entire lack of any system or formal arrangement of the following people, but after a little this feeling wore away. There could be no question about the wonderful appropriateness and expressiveness of the violin music, and there was something strangely and deeply impressive about the democratic simplicity of this great, orderly, silent gathering, rich and poor together, following in the heat and dust of the street, and about the throng of dark, serious faces, so plainly stamped with the deeper melancholy of a long subject race—a sadness so deep that it seems to have grown into the very modeling of their features.

It seemed as though the whole city of Manila had gathered, and I could not help noticing the large proportion of strong and finely intelligent faces, especially among Mabini’s more intimate friends. Most noticeable, also, and with a certain suggestiveness for the futrue [sic], was the extraordinary number of young men, many of them evidently students, keen, thoughtful and intelligent looking. The lateness of the hour made it impossible to go out to the distant cemetery, so at the turning of the road I and many others turned back to the city, but a large majority followed all the way.

On Monday evening I called on Senor L. to ascertain whether it might not be possible to obtain some of Mabini’s unpublished writings, and he took me to call upon Senor Rosario, an old friend of Mabini’s, in whose house Mabini had lived in his student days and with whom he had studied law. It proved entirely out of the question to get anything, firstly because all the papers were still in charge of the sanitary department, and secondly because during his imprisonment in Guam and since his return to Manila, Mabini had given practically his whole time to the writing of a large work, a history of the Philippine revolution, which he himself has translated into English, and to an exhaustive study of the laws issued by the Philippine commission during his imprisonment. Senor Rosario showed me the last photograph taken of Mabini, the original of that published in the Renacimiento, and gave me various little personal reminiscences about him: of his tireless industry, his reticence as to his plans, and his habit of shutting himself up along with his work until it was concluded.

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The journalism class I have the privilege of teaching is hosting a Shaping of Opinion forum on Thursday, with the inimitable Lourd de Veyra as special guest. The forum—to be held from 9 to 11 in the morning, at the auditorium of the College of Mass Communication, on the UP Diliman campus—promises to be a revealing give-and-take with Lourd, whose irreverent but insightful commentary appears on radio, TV and online. Open to the public!

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jnery@inquirer.com.ph/On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand

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