Looking Back

Mabini’s rejected appointment

History was made when the Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected the nomination of Perfecto Yasay as foreign secretary — the first time a nominee was rejected. The usual practice is for the CA to bypass the nominee, who should take the hint, but then a president can insist on his or her choice, make an interim appointment, and again present the nominee. If the nominee is bypassed again, the process is repeated until the nominee or the president gives up. By adopting a three-strikes-you’re-out policy, the present CA resolved this longstanding practice of interim appointments.

History was invoked when 76-year-old Leonor Briones challenged the bias against age and physical infirmity, in this case the use of a wheelchair to deal with long corridors at airports. In her opening statement she declared: “It’s true that I use a wheelchair whenever I travel by plane. But I’m sure everybody here agrees that there is no correlation between the state of my knees and the state of my brain, as well as the capacity to analyze challenges, whether these be related to education, finance, politics, and the economy.”


Then Briones made reference to Apolinario Mabini, who also had to pass a Committee on Appointments when Emilio Aguinaldo nominated him as chief justice in 1899: “I’m sure and I’m confident that if at that time there was a Commission on Appointments, his appointment would have been approved readily, wheelchair notwithstanding.”

But Madam Secretary was dead wrong. Mabini’s paralysis was used against him, and he was not as patient or diplomatic as Briones. The Sublime Paralytic asked the committee with a mix of humor and sarcasm: “Does the job entail a lot of walking?”


Briones was confirmed but four of President Duterte’s other nominees to the Cabinet were bypassed and would have to be given interim appointments and presented to the CA again. Mabini did not get to warm a Supreme Court bench, but historically he was our first foreign secretary.

All these historical references to Mabini made me wish that the CA had confirmed Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial. Mabini is said to have died of cholera as a result of drinking tainted carabao milk.

After his exile in Guam, Mabini returned to Manila where he stayed in a modest house with a thatched roof that, after a number of relocations on Nagtahan by the Pasig River, is presently in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Main (or Mabini Campus). Mabini wrote that he contracted paralysis in January 1896 and that his disability spared him from the imprisonment, torture, exile, or execution that was the fate of many people suspected of involvement in the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in August 1896. He was detained in San Juan de Dios hospital instead of a jail. Sometimes disability has its benefits.

Aguinaldo took Mabini into his Cabinet and confidence despite the latter’s disability and the rumors spread by his critics that Mabini lost the use of his legs because of syphilis. In the end, Mabini did not die because of polio or old age. In a 1955 interview, his brother Alejandro Mabini said: “Since he contracted paralysis, Kaka Pole had been getting for breakfast and lunch a special diet of gruel boiled in carabao milk. But in the evening, he was given only a light merienda or a glass of milk.

“On the afternoon of May 12, 1903, I came home from work (I was employed in a printing shop in Quiapo then) and found Kaka Pole alone in the house. My elder brother Prudencio, who was taking care of him, was in a neighborhood barbershop. As Kaka Pole wanted his milk, I handed him an already prepared glass of milk nearby. After he had drunk it, he suddenly flared up, accusing me of having given him spoiled milk. I did not think the milk was spoiled and up to this day I do not believe that it was. I entertain grave doubts as to what was really the cause of his death.”

Was that unconsumed glass of milk the real cause of Mabini’s death? We will never know, unless the death certificate and autopsy report turn up one day. Mabini is one of our underrated heroes, unfortunately overshadowed by our overemphasis on Rizal, so any reference to him in the present is always welcome.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]


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TAGS: Apolinario Mabini, appointment, Briones, CA, education, History, Mabini, opinion
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