Looking Back

Underrated Mabini

Apolinario Mabini, probably because of his disability, is one of our underrated national heroes. Rizal lived a fruitful life and died in a very dramatic manner; Bonifacio, the firebrand, started a revolution that was irreversible; hot-tempered Antonio Luna whose language was as colorful as his character was assassinated by Emilio Aguinaldo’s bodyguards. But Mabini cuts a different profile. He could not walk, run, or raise a bolo, or fire a gun in battle. He fought with his mind and his pen and died of cholera, infected it is said, from drinking unpasteurized carabao milk. Mabini is a hero best appreciated through his writings but, like Rizal, he too wrote a lot for a nation that does not read.

Mabini was mentioned a number of times in the course of a US Senate inquiry into the conduct of the military in the Philippine-American War, that was officially called the “Philippine Insurrection” to belittle the Filipino struggle for freedom, and to make sure that the short-lived Malolos Republic was not recognized as an emerging nation. There was a move to subpoena Mabini to get his and the Filipino side of the story but that was not possible, according to the US military, because he was exiled in Guam.


Earlier, on Jan. 7, 1901, Gen. Arthur MacArthur issued a deportation order that covered Mabini and others who refused to surrender and swear allegiance to the United States: “In pursuance of authority obtained from the War Department by cable, under date of Dec. 27, 1900, the following named persons, whose overt act has clearly revealed them as in aid of or in sympathy with the insurrection, the irregular guerrilla warfare by which it is being maintained, and whose continued residence in these islands would, in every essential regard, be inimical to the pacification thereof, will be deported at the earliest practicable date to the island of Guam, there to be in surveillance or in actual custody, as circumstance may require, during the further progress of hostilities, and until such time as the restoration of normal peace conditions in the Philippines has resulted in a public declaration of the termination of such hostilities.”

When the US Senate asked MacArthur to explain how this polite invalid could be considered dangerous and a continuing threat to the pacification of the Philippines, he replied in a cable:
“Mabini deported: a most active agitator; persistently and defiantly refusing amnesty, and maintaining correspondence with insurgents in the field while living in Manila, Luzon, under the protection of the United States; also, for offensive statement in regard to recent proclamation enforcing the laws of war. His deportation absolutely essential.”

While detained in Manila, Mabini by many means unknown to the enemy was able to send out letters and writings that inspired continuous resistance to the American pacification. US Gen. Elwell Stephen Otis interviewed Mabini and described him as: “Was the master spirit, able, radical, uncompromising. He furnished the Brains which made Aguinaldo’s Cabinet formidable.”

Otis continued: “He was brought before me recently, paralytic and a prisoner. I offered him his freedom on parole not to stir up trouble. He hesitated, and said, ‘I have not changed my convictions.’

“I told him that I did not respect him the less on that account, and repeated the offer.”

“‘I have no means of support,’ Mabini replied. ‘I cannot put my freedom to any use.’”

Deportation in Guam did not break him. In April 1901, Maj. Henry B. Orwig who was in charge of the prison camp reported that many of the exiles had expressed a willingness to submit to American rule in order to return home. Mabini wanted to return and die in the land of his birth but initially refused to swear allegiance to the Stars and Stripes. Orwig noted: “Mabini has, however, made no such declaration; and, while he is entirely submissive to the prison rules, there still seems to be an undercurrent of resistance and a determination to be a martyr.”

Even if he was literally sick of prison food, what kept Mabini alive was his desire to return to the Philippines and that was not possible as he initially refused to swear allegiance to the United States. He later gave in to die in the land of his birth.

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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Apolinario Mabini, Looking Back
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