The peasant-born Apolinario Mabini, whose 150th birth anniversary passed last Wednesday with few being even aware of it, was one of the two greatest intellectuals produced by the reform and revolutionary periods in Philippine history.
Mabini, who by dint of hard work became a lawyer by the time he was 30, has not received the recognition he deserves, although he belongs in the same company as Jose Rizal. True, those hideous clichés that describe him as “The Brains of the Revolution” and even worse, as “The Sublime Paralytic,” regularly fall from the lips of schoolboys and the clueless creatures who pass for government officials in the country of our despair, but the reality is that very few Filipinos are familiar with, much less appreciative of, the unique role he played in the making of the Filipino national community and in defining the philosophical and historical bases of the Philippine Revolution.
His distinct contribution to the making of the Filipino nation was evident not only in his contextualizing the necessity and morality of the Philippine Revolution within a coherent philosophy of man and society. It was equally manifest in his labors, as prime minister of the short-lived revolutionary government, to infuse substance into the declaration of Philippine independence in 1898 by attending to the necessary tasks of creating a functioning State with a Constitution and legal system.
Beyond these achievements, however, was his invaluable contribution to Filipino understanding of why the armies of the Philippine Revolution were defeated by US forces. In La Revolucion Filipina (The Philippine Revolution), his memoirs published after his break with Emilio Aguinaldo, Mabini attributed the fall to bad leadership.
Although, as he himself said, he was no military man but ”a man of letters,” in Chapter X he declared that even when war between the US invaders and the revolutionary armies could break out at any time “The Filipino general staff had not studied or laid down any plans for offensive or withdrawal movements in case of an outbreak of hostilities.” ( The Philippine Revolution. Translated from the Spanish by Leon Ma. Guerrero, 1969)
Most of all did he attribute the fall to the bad leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, who insisted on taking command of Filipino troops, but was unable to “devote himself completely to the proper discharge of the duties of his command because of his preoccupations as head of the government and the conceit of personally deciding many matters which should have been channeled through the departments of the central administration.”
Moreover, Aguinaldo, continued Mabini, was so pre-occupied with fears that General Antonio Luna was plotting to replace him that he allowed Luna to be assassinated—or very likely had him killed—when Luna went to Cabanatuan for a meeting with Aguinaldo. The killing of Luna by troops identified with Aguinaldo cost the Revolution its most capable military commander. Mabini believed that the murder of Andres Bonifacio “had plainly shown in Mr. Aguinaldo a boundless appetite for power, and Luna’s personal enemies exploited this weakness of Aguinaldo with skillful intrigues in order to encompass Luna’s ruin.”
“To sum it up,” said Mabini, “the Revolution failed because it was badly led; because its leader won his post by reprehensible rather than meritorious acts; because instead of supporting the men most useful to the people, he made them useless out of jealousy… He judged the worth of men not by their ability, character and patriotism but rather by their degree of friendship and kinship with him; and anxious to secure the readiness of his favorites to sacrifice themselves for him, he was tolerant even of their transgressions.”
Mabini concludes the paragraph with the wish that “God grant we do not forget such a terrible lesson, learnt at the cost of untold suffering” His indictment of Aguinaldo attributes the latter’s failures as a leader to a personal flaw, to hubris and self-aggrandizement as well as to his putting kinship and friendship above ability in choosing his officials—the equivalent of Benigno Aquino III’s triple “ka” standard for choosing officials (kabarkada, kaklase, kabarilan: gang mate, classmate, gun-range shooting crony)— to the extent that, like Aquino III, he overlooked even their worst offenses and even defended them.
When Mabini threw his support to the Revolution, he thought that such a great enterprise would compel those involved in it to subsume their personal, familial and class interests to those of the people—the very same mistake that even some supposedly thinking people persist in making, whether in 2010 or in previous Presidential elections. He eventually had to revise that view.
Unlike the officials of current and past Philippine governments, Mabini relinquished his posts in the Aguinaldo government out of principle. The immediate cause seemed to have been his repugnance over the murder of Bonifacio and Luna, but his resignation was also driven by his sense that Aguinaldo and his allies in the gentry were preparing to forge a compromise with the US invaders.
His resignation suggests that Mabini had revised his rather naïve belief that love of country would prevail over personal and class interests. Did Mabini sense that Aguinaldo and his company of rural gentry represented the very same class that had collaborated with the Spaniards in the conquest of the Philippines—the same class that in fact gladly went over to the US when the latter completed the conquest its conquest of these islands?
Although he died before his 40th birthday, Mabini did live to see the members of that class ensconced in the government of the US overlords as their reward for betraying the Revolution. Since the Commonwealth period the same class has monopolized political power in the Philippines. True to its opportunist and anti-people character, not only did the most prominent members of that class—Aguinaldo himself included—collaborate with the Japanese during World War II; they also made sure that the country would continue to be a political and economic dependency of the United States after 1946.
Mabini may not have foreseen the present, but if he were alive today, would most probably recognize in the so-called leaders of this country the same failed leadership that in his time led the Revolution to ruin. Their forebears may have presided over the defeat of the armies of the Philippine Revolution, but the political dynasties that evolved from the principalia and its allies in the rural and urban gentry during the US colonial era continue to rule the country today despite their long history of national betrayal, collaboration with foreign interests, corruption, and sheer incompetence. And as if to remind us all that they’re still at it, their current representative in Malacañang even used the 150th anniversary of Mabini’s birth last Wednesday to defend the indefensible.
First published in BusinessWorld.