Mabini vs the Rich | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Mabini vs the Rich

Someone once commented that I am like an ostrich who hides my head in the past instead of commenting on current social issues. If I were to be relevant in this critic’s eyes, then today’s column should be on Typhoon “Glenda” or President Aquino’s challenge to the Supreme Court on its ruling that the Disbursement Acceleration Program is unconstitutional. I leave the present to my fellow columnists who can cover the issues far better than me. My column title is, after all, “Looking Back.”

Frankly, there is enough historical documentation for any natural calamity down to the 16th century that could be hastily organized to make a column timely. I did that recently for “Yolanda” by asking how Tacloban could be devastated thrice by typhoons in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. I also wondered aloud whether, if we dig deeper, we may find documents to show that Tacloban was devastated even earlier, during the 18th, 17th, 16th and 15th centuries.


Then there is the temptation to use Jose Rizal to beat the deadline. For every pressing social issue, there is always something sharp or timely to be found in the 25 volumes of Rizal’s writings.  This has led some people into believing that the National Hero foresaw all our problems over a century ago.

Rizal is the easiest to cite because almost all his writings have been compiled and translated from the original Spanish, German, French, and other foreign languages into Filipino and all the major Philippine languages.  Unfortunately, we cannot say the same about the other heroes, whose works remain beyond the reach of our generation because these have yet to be compiled and, once found, require translation from the original Spanish because language separates our generation from the past.


On July 22 or 23, the nation will celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Apolinario Mabini, who is remembered as the “Sublime Paralytic” and nothing more. Mabini’s writings were compiled and published before the war by the National Library under Teodoro M. Kalaw, and it was only in 1965 that a compilation of his letters was made available in English. In 1969 Leon Ma. Guerrero made a very readable translation of Mabini’s “La Revolucion Filipina,” which was just one of the documents in the two-volume compilation by Kalaw. Mabini’s works were also translated by Alfredo S. Veloso in volumes that had long been out of print and only recently reprinted by Jose R. Perdigon.

Like Rizal, Mabini has a lot to say to our generation from his experience in the birth of the nation. He was in the thick of things as prime minister, as our first foreign secretary, as the adviser who had the president’s ear and was described as the “camara negra” or “Black Cabinet” of Emilio Aguinaldo’s government. What makes Mabini admirable is that he entered government poor and left it poor, despite all the temptations that come with the exercise of power. Rereading Mabini’s letters recently led me to an undated letter to the president where he hints at resignation.

He opened the letter by saying: “Mr. President: Although I acknowledge that you have reasons to get tired of me because I only tell you things that may cause you trouble, I hope you will have the patience to read through what I am going to tell you, as I promise never to trouble you again.”

Mabini advised the president against a plan to raise money by taking on a loan from some rich and patriotic people in their circle. The catch was that the loan would be paid from the rentals of government estates. A permanent commission of the Board of Treasury would be appointed from stockholders who have acquired at least 50 shares in the enterprise. They were to ensure that the loan and interest would be paid on time, and if the rentals of government estates were not enough, this permanent commission was authorized to use income from personal taxes.  In effect, Mabini warned the president, the board members would govern and fiscalize the treasury, and if they controlled the purse, then they controlled the government.

He did not mince words and even supplied a name: “By the very reason that the rich people of Manila, since they live in the same place, shall make up this Board—and as I understand, [Pedro] Paterno has already talked to them—I can already foresee that we shall have a worse setup than the one we had during the Spanish regime. Inasmuch as it is the Treasury that supports you, if you are going to put it in the hands of the rich you will necessarily be under the power of the latter.”

Further in this letter Mabini warned: “I did not expect that these things could happen. Neither did I expect that you would grant the rich people these guarantees. We worked without pay; but the rich will not put up their money without having a voice in the Treasury. It is probable that the members of the Board will ask for salaries. In this case the rich people will get all the benefit and the soldiers will remain hungry… In the end the tenants and the employees will blame you, and the rich will have a big laugh.”

Mabini closed by saying: “May God enlighten you, inasmuch as in your hands lies the welfare or misfortune of the Philippines” Mabini would be replaced by Paterno, exiled to Guam by the Americans, and would return home to die as poor as when he joined the government.


Now that is a lesson we should not forget.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Apolinario Mabini, Disbursement Acceleration Program, Emilio Aguinaldo, Jose Rizal, President Aquino, Supreme Court, Tacloban, Teodoro M. Kalaw, Typhoon Glenda, Yolanda
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