Apolinario M. Mabini: Triumph of mind over matter



One of the brightest minds that served the first Philippine Republic under General Emilio Aguinaldo was Apolinario Mabini. It was not an accident that he was dubbed the Brains of the Revolution since he was gifted with a powerful intellect and mastery of political craft, which had guided our republic during its birth. Unlike Andres Bonifacio, Aguinaldo and many other heroes who fought on the battlefields, Mabini wielded his intellectual prowess and mighty pen to oppose foreign invaders. Despite his physical condition, he was never daunted neither by the Spanish invaders nor the American colonizers until his death. Mabini had not fired a gun or wielded a bolo against any invaders who trampled our shores, but his contribution to gain our country’s freedom is immense. 

In his 30s at the prime of his life, Mabini was struck with polio, a debilitating disease that paralyzed half of his body. However, his disability did not prevent him from serving our country. It was a case of triumph of mind over matter. He was the legal consultant and constitutional adviser of the revolutionary government. Thus, he was known as the “Sublime Paralytic” owing to his prominent role in the birth of our nation. 

If Rizal was the brightest star of the Propaganda Movement who championed the call for reforms in our country, there was no doubt that Mabini was the intellectual of the Philippine revolution. As the foremost postwar columnist Indalecio P. Soliongco had written, “For more than Rizal, Mabini was the intellectual of the Revolution. Rizal’s highest glory was obtained during the Propaganda Movement. But during the period of stress and uncertainty of the Revolution, during that tremendous crisis that brought forth the Republic, it was Mabini, his mind and ideas, which served as the source of that intellectual guidance without which the Revolution would have been led astray—either in anarchy or in surrender.”

Mabini’s other major handicap was poverty. He was born to and raised by an illiterate peasant family but it did not deter him from acquiring an excellent education. While in high school, he worked as a houseboy for the owner of the school to pay for his education. Through scholarships, which he supplemented by working at odd jobs, including teaching Latin to students of lower levels, he completed his bachelor’s degree with honors at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. He pursued law at the University of Santo Tomas where he excelled academically. The records at the National Historical Commission showed that a law professor was greatly impressed by his thesis. After reading Mabini’s paper, his professor was quoted as saying: “The work seems to have come from the mind of a sage. I would like to live long enough to see how a mind like this will lead society.” I am certain that Mabini did not fail him.

Tomorrow, July 23, would be Mabini’s 158th birthday anniversary. He was born in Talaga, Tanauan, Batangas. He was 3 years younger than our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal. Unlike the more renowned propagandists like Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Jose Maria Panganiban and others who had studied and traveled in Europe where they were exposed to liberal ideas, Mabini did not have the same privilege, but his lucid mind and sharp pen were feared and respected by both the Spanish and American colonizers. His deep understanding of how government works and his grasp of democratic principles laid down the solid foundation of our nationhood.  

General Emilio Aguinaldo fully trusted him and acknowledged his brilliant legal mind. He wrote the Constitution of the Republic, which is recognized as the first in Asia. He was well read and was thoroughly familiar with the US Constitution and those of the other western countries. Thus, the Malolos Constitution was very much his work. When the First Philippine Republic was set up, he served as the first Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Later on, Mabini was also elected as the Prime Minister of the Philippines. He was the most influential adviser of President Aguinaldo. He drafted the presidential decrees and proclamations issued by the first president of our country. He advocated and recommended a popular democratic government, which the revolutionary government adopted. 

A hero of his stature should be given greater recognition and glory. A town in Batangas was named after him; a shrine in Tanauan was constructed to mark his birthplace; some infrastructures like bridges and highways carry his name and at least one college in Bicol was founded to immortalize him. 

Gawad Mabini, an award created to honor him, is given to Filipinos who have rendered outstanding foreign service. There’s no question that Mabini is a true patriot whose love for his country is second to none. In his True Decalogue, he declared: “Love your country after God and your honor, and more than you love yourself, because your country is the only paradise that God has given you in this life; the only patrimony of your race; the only inheritance from your ancestors; and the only future of your descendants: because of your country, you have life, love and interests; happiness, honor and God.” 

He was imprisoned by the Spanish authorities and was exiled by the Americans to Guam in 1901 when they took control of our country. Mabini correctly predicted that Spain, which was already losing the war against us, would cede our country to the new invaders. When the Filipino-American hostilities started, Mabini was one of the most wanted enemies by the Americans. He was carried on a hammock to escape the pursuing American soldiers but he was captured in Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija. He refused to pledge allegiance to the new colonizers. He was deported to Guam where he spent more than two years in exile. Three years later, he was allowed to go home to his beloved country. The American government offered him various juicy positions but he declined all of them. Instead of living in peace under American rule, he continued his advocacy to secure our independence by speaking about the political conditions in our country and writing essays promoting nationalism among our people. 

He died of cholera on May 13, 1903 at the age of 38, when the epidemic hit our country. He left a great body of work, which is of great interest to all lovers of history. His personal memoir entitled “La Revolution Filipina” gives us a better insight about the Philippine Revolution, the first armed uprising waged against the western colonial powers in Asia, and the reign of the first Philippine President, Emilio Aguinaldo.  

Mabini’s face is no longer found in any of our peso bills. In the English Series of the Philippine currency notes circulated from 1949 to 1969, Mabini appeared in our one peso note. As it was the most common bill in circulation, Mabini was very popular among our people. In the Pilipino and Bagong Lipunan series launched in 1969 to 1985, Mabini appeared in the P10 bill. In 2001, the BSP stopped printing the P10 banknote. Mabini may no longer be in our wallets, but he will be forever in our hearts. 



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