Mabini in oral history
We cannot imagine Apolinario Mabini without a wheelchair, because that is the image given us by textbooks, monuments and iconography. To make young people sit up and take notice of the “Sublime Paralytic,” you have to show them a picture of Charles Xavier, the bald man in the wheelchair we associate with the X-men.
I was lucky that curators and staff in National Historical Shrines were kind to an inquisitive college student like me because if they were otherwise, I would probably be in another profession today. Two whom I remember with much fondness was Miss Linda Aguinaldo in charge of the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite, and “Ka Pule” or Apolinario Mabini, in charge of the Mabini Shrine in Nagtahan. Miss Aguinaldo fired my curiosity by showing me all the secret passages in the Aguinaldo mansion and allowing us up the look-out tower where, on a clear day, you can see all the way to Manila. Ka Pule showed me around the simple wooden house with a nipa roof and shiny bamboo-slat floor where Mabini died. While Ka Pule did not look one bit like the hero on the P10 bill, I was awed just talking to him because he brought life to a name in my history book; he brought flesh and blood back to an image fossilized in bronze and marble.
I remembered Ka Pule when I came across some oral history on the Sublime Paralytic from his brother, Alejandro Mabini, who was interviewed in July 1955 when he was 76 years old. Alejandro said Mabini had warned them about the opposite sex:
“One Sunday morning my brothers Prudencio and Agapito, Cayo Alzona, the private secretary of Kaka Pole, and myself were ogling beautiful girls passing by our house on their way to church. Kaka Pole, who was watching us, closed the window angrily and told us to keep away from girls.”
Another bit of oral history states that, in the days before his paralysis set in, the hero wanted to learn how to dance but was too shy to learn or practice with a woman. So he got one of his friends to play music on a guitar while he practiced his moves holding a chair. Before the 1980 autopsy that conclusively proved that Mabini’s paralysis was caused by polio, there were other theories. One was that he got wet and cold walking in the rain, which caused “pasma” that led to his paralysis. The more scandalous reason put forward for his paralysis was syphilis.
There are two or three accounts about Mabini getting wet and losing the use of his legs. One of them was recounted by Alejandro Mabini:
“It was a rainy day and Manila was flooded when he [Mabini] noticed that his pet horse was missing, Kaka Pole ignored the rain and went out to look for the horse. When he returned hours later with his horse he was drenched to the skin. The following morning, Kaka Pole felt a numbness in one of his legs. The numbness kept spreading until a week later, his body was almost completely paralyzed.”
Contrary to popular belief, it took a while for the paralysis to set in, and this was what saved Mabini from execution following the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in August 1896. Unlike others rounded up and imprisoned for complicity in the rebellion, Mabini was detained in a hospital, and it was this sorry state that led to his eventual release. Alejandro Mabini described the hero’s typical meal:
“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 barber shop. 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.”
Apolinario Mabini died of cholera, from infected carabao milk, on May 13, 1903, shortly after his return from exile in Guam. A newspaper report on his funeral on May 17, 1903, reads:
“In spite of the fact that he died of cholera, the authorities permitted a public funeral for Mabini, the Filipino politician and leader. The funeral took place today. Eight thousand natives marched from Mabini’s house to the church and thence to the grave in La Loma cemetery. Hundreds of former insurgents, headed by [Emilio] Aguinaldo, were in the procession. There were no anti-American demonstrations.”
US Gen. Arthur MacArthur, father of Douglas MacArthur and military governor of the Philippines, described the hero to a US Senate committee as follows:
“Mabini is a highly educated young man who, unfortunately, is paralyzed. He has a classical education, a very flexible, imaginative mind, and Mabini’s views were more comprehensive than any of the Filipinos that I have met. His idea was a dream of a Malay confederacy. Not the Luzon or the Philippine Archipelago, but I mean of that blood. He is a dreamy man, but a very firm character and of very high accomplishments. As said, unfortunately, he is paralyzed … and would undoubtedly be of great use in the future of those islands if it were not for his affliction.”
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