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Looking Back
The house where Mabini died

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:10:00 07/23/2008

Filed Under: history, Personalities, Human Interest

Apolinario Mabini is one of my favorite heroes. If only he kept as much of his papers to match the 25 published volumes of Jose Rizal?s collected writings, I could have made another career just by reading and writing about him. Alas, he left us with only two volumes, often cited by the ignorant as ?La Revolucion Filipina? because that is the title on the spine and cover, although it is but the title of his memoirs, which is only one document in the two-volume compilation of his newspaper articles and other writings. There is a separate volume on his edifying letters which, unlike Rizal?s letters, contain little or no personal information. Mabini must have been a serious and brooding intellectual, making it difficult to even imagine the so-called ?Sublime Paralytic? standing and walking before he was afflicted by polio as a young man.

One of his brothers, in a prewar newspaper interview, narrated how Mabini tried to learn how to dance. Since he was too shy to physically hold a woman (or a man), he practiced his dance steps with a chair.

The good news is that the Mabini Shrine in Pandacan, Manila, the simple wooden house with a thatch roof where he died, has been moved from the inaccessible Presidential Security Group compound across the Pasig River from Malacańang to the Polytechnic University of the Philippines campus further down the river. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority said it needed to widen the Pasig but the Mabini Shrine was getting in the way. When the move was implemented, some people complained, but we explained that the PSG site was not the original location of the house?it had been moved from across the river. I would like to believe that where this historic house goes, the land beneath it becomes part of the shrine.

Earlier, when I asked Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim if we could relocate Mabini?s house in the Arroceros Park, he immediately said yes, but people around him convinced him otherwise. Manila?s loss is the Polytechnic University of the Philippines? (PUP?s) gain. We are fortunate that PUP president Dr. Dante Guevarra welcomed the move. The house where Mabini died, now stands there as an inspiration for all the young people who should learn service and love of country.

Mabini was homegrown. He was not wealthy enough to study abroad, but he was in a true sense ?ilustrado,? or enlightened. The house that has since become the shrine was actually the house of his brother.

Mabini was, next to Emilio Aguinaldo, the most powerful man in the First Republic. There were many opportunities and temptations to use that power for his own ends, but he refused. He wrote about Aguinaldo over a century ago but the advice he gives holds true for people in office today. The words are sharp but they ought to be remembered:

?To sum it up, the Revolution failed because it was badly led; because its leader won his post by reprehensible rather than meritorious acts; because instead of supporting the men most useful to the people, he made them useless out of jealousy. Identifying the aggrandizement of the people with his own, he judged the worth of men not by their ability, character and patriotism but rather by their degree of friendship and kinship with him; and anxious to secure the readiness of his favorites to sacrifice themselves for him, he was tolerant even of their transgressions. Because he thus neglected the people, they forsook him; and forsaken by the people, he was bound to fall like a waxen idol melting in the heat of adversity. God grant that we do not forget such a terrible lesson, learnt at the cost of untold suffering.?

Mabini also said there was culture and virtue demanded by public office and that nobody should believe ?that one can serve his country with honor and glory only from high office, and this is an error which is very dangerous to the common welfare; it is the principal cause of the civil wars which impoverish and exhaust many states and contributed greatly to the failure of the Revolution. Only he is truly a patriot who, whatever his post, high or low, tries to do the greatest possible good to his countrymen. A little good done in a humble position is a title to honor and glory, while it is a sign of negligence or incompetence when done in high office. True honor can be discerned in the simple manifestations of an upright and honest soul, not in brilliant pomp and ornament which scarcely serve to mask the deformities of the body. True honor is attained by teaching our minds to recognize truth, and training our hearts to love it. The recognition of truth shall lead us to the recognition of our duties and of justice, and by performing our duties and doing justice we shall be respected and honored, whatever our station in life. Let us never forget that we are on the first rung of our national life, and that we are called upon to rise, and can go upward only on the ladder of virtue and heroism. Above all let us not forget that, if we do not grow, we shall have died without ever having been great, unable to reach maturity, which is proper of a degenerate race.?

Some misguided souls think Mabini was being prophetic, but in reality these relevant words only emphasize the sad fact that we haven?t changed much over the past century. History does not repeat itself, it?s we who repeat it.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu.



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