Looking Back

Our heroes’ formal education, or lack of it

/ 01:23 AM October 07, 2015

Confucius’ birthday is commemorated by Celadon, the Chinoy student organization in Ateneo de Manila University, by showing appreciation for its teachers. It is much welcomed by the professors who work many hours outside the classroom preparing for lectures and marking papers. It is truly sad that many teachers all over the country are overworked and underpaid, when it is they who form the future.

Confucius’ birthday, National Teachers’ Week, and World Teachers’ Day made me think about the formal schooling of our heroes. We need not go into Jose Rizal anymore because everyone knows how his mother taught him how to read and how he studied in Europe. We need not be crushed by Rizal’s stellar grades in Ateneo Municipal or his good grades in the University of Santo Tomas. All that is common knowledge, but what about the schooling of other heroes like Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, or Apolinario Mabini?


How much of a formal education did our heroes have? We all know how Bonifacio was humiliated during the Tejeros Convention: His election as secretary of the interior was questioned because he had neither degree nor title. He was home-schooled and, according to Teodoro Agoncillo, finished the equivalent of our Grade 4.

He was literate; he could read, write and do simple arithmetic. Contrary to popular belief, his job was clerical, not manual. One source lists his occupation as “bodeguero” (warehouse clerk); he was not a “cargador.” He was fluent in Tagalog and Spanish, and it has been suggested that he knew some English, too.


Bonifacio was home-schooled and self-made. Much of his learning came from a life of reading. One assumes that his command of Spanish was better than Aguinaldo’s because one of the earliest Tagalog translations of Rizal’s “Ultimo Adios” is attributed to him. Aguinaldo’s Spanish, deemed all right for communication, needed improvement. Bonifacio read all three of Rizal’s books: the “Noli,” the “Fili” and the annotated “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas.” Aguinaldo did not read any. After Aguinaldo issued a statement in support of the 1957 Rizal Law that made the “Noli” and “Fili” required reading for all college students, Nick Joaquin asked what he found memorable in the novels. Aguinaldo then admitted that he knew very little Spanish and had not read the novels.

Aguinaldo had about seven years of formal education. As a boy, he preferred to play rather than study. When he went to school in Manila, he spent his afternoons daydreaming and watching the ships gliding on the Pasig River and Manila Bay rather than opening his books for study. In 1882, when he was 13 years old, Aguinaldo was overjoyed to learn that San Juan de Letran had closed due to a cholera epidemic. He never returned to school after that long break.

Mabini, on the other hand, returned to Letran after the cholera epidemic had passed.

We could probably strike a medal for Mabini because of his intermittent schooling. His first lessons were from his mother and his maternal grandfather because his father and his paternal grandfather were both illiterate. Mabini as a boy appeared bright, so he was sent to a school in Tanauan, which he subsequently left when the schoolmaster whipped him for some mistake he made in his lessons. He transferred to the school of Fr. Valerio Malabanan and stayed there until the third year of his secondary education. He then transferred to Letran in Manila for his fourth year, but had to stop temporarily due to the cholera epidemic of 1882. He returned to Batangas and was hired to teach children in Father Malabanan’s new school in Bauan until the epidemic was over.

Mabini returned in Manila in 1884. While enrolled in Letran, he cross-enrolled in the University of Santo Tomas but had to quit school for lack of funds. He resorted to teaching children again, and through hard work and perseverance he was able to complete his bachelor’s degree and to earn a teacher’s certificate in 1887. With his savings he finished law at UST and passed the bar in 1894.

Mabini almost missed his graduation because he had no money to buy or rent an academic gown for the commencement exercise. Fortunately, someone he had once provided with free legal advice gifted him with a toga. The irony was that he never practiced law, and was content with notarial work. What people did not realize then was that Mabini was busy with “subversive activities.” He was arrested in 1896 for complicity in the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution, but was detained in San Juan de Dios hospital due to his paralysis. Had he been able-bodied, he would probably have been imprisoned and tortured in Fort Santiago.

Like Bonifacio, Mabini read a great deal. His reputation for learning, for having a “gintong ulo” (golden head), led to his being ferried on a hammock all the way from Batangas to Kawit, Cavite, where he arrived on June 12, 1898, to witness Aguinaldo’s declaration of Philippine independence from Spain. For a year, Mabini became the closest and most influential adviser to Aguinaldo, the president of the first republic.


All this shows that a formal education can bring you only so far. What you do after graduation, after receiving the diploma, is what matters most.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: andres bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, Confucius, education, Emilio Aguinaldo, Jose Rizal
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