Mabini, Luna and Aguinaldo
Apolinario Mabini, one of our greatest heroes, was a beacon of light against the shadows that fell on the First Republic and led to its end. The pages of his Guam memoirs reveal his bitterness and disappointment with Emilio Aguinaldo, whom he served as the closest and most trusted adviser until others wormed their way into Malolos, caught the ear of the President, and worked for Mabini’s fall a year from taking office.
Not mincing words, Mabini blamed Aguinaldo for the death of Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna:
“Bonifacio’s death had plainly shown Mr. Aguinaldo’s immeasurable ambition for power, and the personal enemies of Luna by means of clever intrigues exploited this weakness to ruin him. If Aguinaldo, instead of killing Luna, had supported him with all his might, it should be too much presumption to say that the revolution would have triumphed; but I have not the least doubt that the Americans would have a higher idea of the courage and military capacity of the Filipinos. If Luna were alive, I am certain that the deadly blow given by General Otis would have been checked or at least avoided in time, and Aguinaldo’s incapacity in the military command would not have been clearly demonstrated. Moreover, to get rid of Luna, Aguinaldo availed himself of the same soldiers the former had punished for breach of discipline then. Aguinaldo killed the discipline, destroying his own army. With Luna its firmest support, the revolution fell, and the ignominy of the fall, weighing entirely upon Aguinaldo, caused his moral death, a thousand times bitterer than the physical one; then Aguinaldo ruined himself, condemned by his own actions. That is the way Providence punishes great crimes.”
To contextualize the memoir, the Mabini licking his wounds in Guam was not the same as the Little President literally in the corridors of power. Mabini didn’t have a cell phone and left a paper trail. On Feb. 26, 1899, Mabini advised Aguinaldo to discipline the Kawit soldiers insubordinate to Luna. Aguinaldo’s inaction toward his townmates prompted Luna to resign, so Mabini advised discipline. “In these calamitous times, we need military dictatorship, not to control the people, but above all, to suppress the abuses of the army, and nobody can do this but you the Chief. If we have the people on our side we can be sure that we shall triumph, if not today, tomorrow, or the day after. If we do not have the people with us, we shall perish.”
A week later, on March 6, 1899, Mabini informed Aguinaldo of Luna’s abuses: He published an edict stating he could shoot anyone without due process, as he did with a Chinese in Bocaue; he crossed into the jurisdiction of other generals, causing disunity. “If an educated person cannot understand what powers he has, how much less an ignorant [person]? Please make him understand these things so that we shall have no conflicts,” wrote Mabini.
In a postscript, Mabini added: “If you can replace him the better.” Next day, March 7, 1899, Mabini advised Aguinaldo not to offer Luna the portfolio of undersecretary of war:
“We need for that post someone who understands office work, the organization of the army, and the laws governing war. He might tangle up the organization, which will be worse… If he is not good for the army, the less he will be for the office, because he is a despot. This is a sort of warning. I have already given you to understand long ago that he does not know the organization and the function of a war office. He is a chemist and knows something about trenches, but he will not do for politics and law.”
Expecting Luna to resign, Mabini drafted a reply and sent it to Aguinaldo — “just in case you decide to accept said resignation and you have no answer in readiness. I leave everything in your hands.” He recommended a replacement: “It is up to you to decide on Luna’s irrevocable resignation… you should appoint another, and you should give the direction of the defense work in this part of Polo to Don Ambrosio, he being your Chief of Staff, so that there will be no friction and trouble afterwards.”
Mabini’s letters to the President show that the road to nationhood is more complicated than that summarized in textbook history, which leaves out important lessons on how power attracts conflicting interests and corrupts those who wield it. Mabini warned us to heed the lessons of history, bought with so much suffering, but unfortunately nobody reads him.
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