Saturday, November 17, 2018
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Looking Back

Mabini in exile

Textbook history has reduced Apolinario Mabini into “The Sublime Paralytic,” whatever that means. To complicate matters, Mabini is sometimes referred to as the “Brains of the Revolution,” which confuses students who know that the same title applies to Emilio Jacinto.

Most people know only the “Decalogue” from Mabini’s writings, which does not give the reader much of an idea of what Mabini was really like. Mabini’s writings remain largely unread because they are in Spanish. We are separated from many of our heroes because of language. It’s a pity that Mabini wrote a lot for a nation that does not read. His writings are often dry and legal; he left little to expose his human side. A rarity then is a letter to his brother Alejandro sent after he had settled in his place of exile in February 1901. It reads:

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“We were taken aboard the transport Rosencrans on the morning of Tuesday January 15 [1901], and we left Manila Bay on the afternoon of the next day. We sailed towards the South, passed Camarines and Albay, crossed San Bernardino Strait and, at last, found ourselves in the Pacific Ocean, heading Northeast, if I am not mistaken, en route to Guam, where we arrived at almost noon on the 24th. In short, we traveled eight days, more or less, across an ocean that I was seeing for the first time.

“Do not ask me for details about our voyage, because not even once had I been able to leave the cabin during the crossing. As to accidents, I know of only one, damage to the engines of the ship, the fixing of which forced us to stay idle for half a day in the middle of the Pacific; I also suffered a slight dizziness, caused maybe by the salty air of the sea. Kuya suffered no inconvenience and he is in perfect health. [Mabini was accompanied in exile by his elder brother Prudencio].

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“Owing to the lack of buildings to house us we had to remain aboard for about nineteen days. We went ashore on the afternoon of the 12th in a barrio called Piti. We then proceeded, mostly on foot, towards the town of Agana, which was previously the capital of the Marianas Islands, and now of Guam alone. After three quarters of an hour of walking, we arrived in the Barrio of Asan, which is said to be about more than an hour’s walk from Agana (four miles approximately), and we stopped in this place. [We do not know if Mabini, due to his illness, was carried or provided with a ride.—ARO]

“Despite our long stay aboard ship, the jail has not yet been constructed; and because of this we are being provisionally housed in army tents. We are occupying a lot where, during the Spanish domination, once stood the hospital for lepers that has been burned down. This makes one say that the place is very appropriate, because the Americans, in the conviction that our minds suffer from an infectious disease, segregate us, like lepers, from social contact with our fellowmen. Would to heaven that our segregation contribute to the pacification of those beloved lands, because exiled as I am, I do not think of myself but only of you over there who are exposed to many dangers while the war lasts. [Italicized text was censored by the US prison authorities.]

“This land, at first glance, is arid. Along the road that we have traversed from the landing place, there were only a few small houses placed far apart, and the mountain as well as the plain that met our eyes showed only scanty vegetation; and the little that there was appeared toasted by the sun. By the looks of said vegetation, one would think that the hot season is at its end instead of just beginning.

“However, we are occupying a lot with beautiful grounds. Imagine a terrain carpeted with fine sand very similar to the color of bran and, nevertheless planted with coconuts that I wish were more close together and with thicker and more luxuriant foliage to intercept the rays of the sun that the canvas roofs of our tents cannot completely keep away. If I face towards the North, I see a very turbulent sea, a steep hill screens back and left side; to right, I see a street, with the small huts of the barrio almost hidden among coconut trees and partly destroyed by the last typhoon; and farther, another hill, almost bare. People say that behind this last hill, towards the Northeast, lies hidden the town of Agana.

“At a glance, the natives of this island appear to belong to our race, the climate is practically the same as ours over there although we still have frequent showers even during these months.

“To one who looks at life not through ease and comfort, our situation is bearable. We are given wholesome food, enough to keep us well, and the Commandant of the Prison has, so far, done all he could to avoid humiliations and unnecessary labor for us. I do not say anything in his praise because this letter will pass through censorship and I do not want him to take what I say as flattery. Besides, he does not need praises from any of us.

“There is one sad note. Yesterday we received the news of the death of one of our companions, Don Lucas Camerino, resident of Imus, who died after six o’clock in the morning in the hospital in Agana. The Commandant acceding to our request, allowed two of us to attend the burial. The deceased caught a fever on board the ship that took him to the grave in two weeks. May he rest in peace!”

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: “Brains of the Revolution, Apolinario Mabini, Emilio Jacinto, Guam, History, Marianas Islands, Philippine history
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