Nicolas G. Ricafrente
Apolinario Mabini was born on July 23, 1864 in Talaga, Tanauan, Batangas, the second of eight sons of Inocencio Mabini and Dionisia Maranan. He is best known in history books as the “Brains of the Revolution” and “the Sublime Paralytic”. His paralysis was caused by polio which started in 1895 and gradually incapacitated him until he lost full use of his lower limbs in January 1896. He did not join any patriotic organization until 1893 when along with other Masons, he tried to revive Rizal’s Liga Filipina and later became its secretary. A reformist by conviction, he opted to join the moderate Cuerpo de Compromisarios after the dissolution of the Liga and continued to support the Propaganda movement in Spain. Other Liga members gravitated towards Andres Bonifacio’s separatist Katipunan.
Mabini was falsely associated with the Katipunan uprising and arrested in 1896, together with Numeriano Adriano, Moises Salvador and other Liga Filipina members. He was later released but other Liga members were executed and became known in history as the 13 Martyrs of Bagumbayan. This was the turning point in his patriotic life. He joined the revolution and in spite of his infirmity, was made the chief adviser of Emilio Aguinaldo until the reorganization of Aguinaldo’s cabinet in 1899.
Mabini refused to submit to U.S. authority
Philippine-American War: Concentration Camp in Batangas
In spite of the reversals suffered by the Philippine army against the formidable U.S. forces, he fought against negotiating peace with the Americans if it meant surrendering Philippine sovereignty.
Inauguration of the Republic on January 23, 1899
Apolinario Mabini’s Masonic name, “Catabay" (Katabay) could very well describe the role he assumed during the Filipino struggle for sovereignty and self government. He was first among equals, yet he was more of the conscientious, vigilant companion, sharing the role of the leader but never playing the leader himself. He was a passionate patriot and Aguinaldo’s chief adviser during the revolution. After the declaration of independence, he laid the foundation for the organization and administration of local governments, and later the creation of a revolutionary congress. His insights were ahead of his time. He had a clear grasp of the bigger picture of the revolution and its implications in a post revolution scenario.
As Emilio Jacinto was to the Katipunan, Apolinario Mabini was to the revolutionary government the ideologist and moral voice. He crafted Aguinaldo’s decrees for the administration of justice and protection of human rights. He wrote the "True Decalogue", a ten-point guide to citizenship and moral conduct which accompanied his constitutional program. Due to the exigencies of the times, Mabini wanted a strong President, with congress serving as adviser. But when he submitted his constitutional plan to congress, it set aside his proposals. The representatives later agreed to frame a constitution along the draft of Felipe Calderon which created a strong legislative body instead. Calderon’s proposal to make Roman Catholicism as the state religion was however, defeated. Mabini at least found vindication with the support of Mason delegates. The constitution was promulgated on January 21, 1899 after incorporating some of the amendments Mabini strongly urged. The Republic was inaugurated on January 23. In February, the Philippine-American war began.
Mabini keenly observed the presence of social cliques fighting for dominance and self-interests. He saw the ramifications of internal politics. In spite of the reversals suffered by the Philippine army against the formidable U.S. forces, he fought against negotiating peace with the Americans if it meant surrendering Philippine sovereignty. But he later chose to quietly relinquish his post as head of Aguinaldo’s cabinet when congress suggested its reorganization in May of 1899.
His primary detractors who formed the new cabinet soon showed their inclination towards accepting American rule and were used by the Americans to divide the Filipinos. This would also reflect on the division among the ranks of Filipino Masons later on, when the Americans, claiming exclusive territorial jurisdiction, transplanted their brand of Masonry in the Philippines, causing the displacement and eventual demise of the Grande Oriente Español and other grand jurisdictions in the country.
Mabini was captured by American forces on December 10, 1899 and released on September 23, 1900. He questioned the legality of the occupation. His unassailable logic and patriotic influence were too threatening to American interests that in spite of his frail condition and infirmity he was re-arrested in January 1901 and exiled to Guam. Even after the capture of Aguinaldo in March, 1901, he did not submit to the authority of the United States. He remained steadfast in his convictions and continued to assail American presence through his writings. While in exile he wrote his memoirs “La Revolución Filipina.” where he expressed, apart from his reasons for fighting colonialism, his sentiments and disappointments over what he perceived as major shortcomings of Aguinaldo and his government which he claimed, succumbed to the influence of the oligarchy.
He was not lacking in American sympathizers such as Senator George Hoar, who urged his release. However, there were stronger voices such as Elihu Root, the Secretary of War and William Howard Taft, the civil Governor of the Philippines (later President of the United States), who vehemently opposed his freedom. Taft expressing his fears that Mabini could cause a civil war in the Philippines described him as "the most prominent irreconcilable among the Filipinos." Eventually, Mabini was repatriated on February 26, 1903 only to die of cholera on May 13 of the same year. He was 39.
Mabini was a simple farmer’s son from Tanauan, Batangas possessed with determination, perseverance and ambition. He proved that poverty was not an impediment to acquiring an education nor an excuse to mediocrity by supporting himself through his studies. In 1881 at 17, he enrolled at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, endured ridicule from his classmates for his shabby clothing, but earned the respect of his professors with his brilliant mind. In 1887, he passed a government examination which earned him the degree of Bachelor of Arts and a Teacher’s Certificate with the title, “Profesor de Segunda Enseñanza”. He took up Law at the Universidad de Santo Tomas, earned his degree in 1894, then passed the examination for licentiate in jurisprudence and became a member of the Colegio de Abogados.
It was while he was studying Law and working to support himself as a copyist in the Court of First Instance when he worked under Numeriano Adriano in 1890. Adriano was some eighteen years his senior and belonged to a circle of Filipino Masons active in propaganda work. Mabini’s close friendship with Adriano and his association with the propagandists undoubtedly made a profound impact on his social and political outlook but he did not join the patriotic organization La Propaganda (Junta de la Propaganda) which was then the local liaison of the Propaganda Movement in Spain, or the Liga Filipina when it was first organized by Dr Jose Rizal. Then in September, 1892, Mabini joined the six-month old Logia Balagtas No. 149 which was founded by Numeriano Adriano, and fellow propagandists Moises Salvador and Arcadio del Rosario. Salvador was Mabini’s neighbor in Nagtahan; del Rosario, his private mentor in Civil Law.
In Masonry his analytical mind came to be tested during the period referred to by historian T.M. Kalaw as the “Democratization of the Fraternity”. As early as his initiation there was already a developing conflict between Logia Nilad 144, the “Mother Lodge” and other Filipino Lodges, over the question of lodge autonomy and management of Masonic affairs which the lodges believed, were being infringed by Nilad particularly its secretary, Pedro Serrano Laktaw. It was a question of Masonic rights, despotic orders, falsification of documents (of Dalisay lodge), personal attacks on Marcelo del Pilar and usurpation of authority that belonged solely, to the Grande Oriente Español. The lodges decided to break away from their Mother Lodge, but found themselves mired in organizational and legal constraints. Apolinario Mabini left his imprint in the history of true Philippine Masonry when he provided the legal and organizational bases for the eventual formation in 1893, of the Gran Consejo Regional de Filipinas (Regional Grand Council); the first national Masonic organization in the country under the Grande Oriente Español. Mabini thus became an acknowledged intellectual leader, a voice of reforms and a conscience of truth and justice; such attributes he carried as the “Brains of the Revolution”.
First published in IGLPI Journal No 3, 2010