Apolinario Mabini: A Lesson in Honesty


With Mabini’s great grandaughter in the Talaga Shrine


I was reading  news about Noynoy Aquino’s on going US visit and was looking at the list of the business delegation and saw familiar last names: Cojuanco, Lopez, Montinola, Zobel de Ayala, Villanueva,Aboitiz etc. One thing that is common among these men is their families unbelievable wealth and influence.

Most of our leaders, in politics and business has been in power for the vast majority of the time. These elites represent the infinitesimal percentage of the population that controls the wealth of nation. Aquino belong to this group by the way. But not all descendants of heroes enjoys the perks of inheriting vast sums of money or benefit from political dynasty.

There are those that didn’t quite make the “rich and famous” mark – descendants of known heroes that inherited nothing but good names.

Like the Mabini’s of Tanauan.

I remember a trip I made sometime last year to Tanauan. I came to look for Mabini’s relatives. I’m deeply fascinated by Mabini and thought that it a great idea to find out more about the Man through family tales and recollections.

After reading a couple of his biography I felt more distant to the hero. The nationalist theme is so strong in these books that their authors forgot Mabini’s human side.

But is there a human side to Mabini?

I happened to read his correspondence and oddly I find them almost emotionless – even when confronted with the prospect of death in exile, his reminders to his brothers were very formal and plain.

But he was very human with understandable flaws but his immense contribution in fighting for a independent state overshadows everything.

His granddaughter even suggest that he fell in love with a local girl but never found the courage to confess his love. The “panyolito” Mabini gifted the lady is now a permanent display in the shrine. It was donated by the lady’s family. Why it was kept for so long could only mean that the woman cherished the gift. Too bad, Mabini was too much of a torpe.

Pelagia Mabini, a great granddaughter and NHI employee in the Mabini shrine said, “Mahiyain daw iyan, panay lamang ang aral”. I was moved by how proud the lady was with her grandfather. “Talagang tapat siya, ultimo ang terno na suot niya noong siya ay namatay ay bigay lamang ng mga kaibigan niya”. While I was taking notes she told me that most Mabini’s today, except one branch of the family (Agapito’s), are poor – she even said that most of them can’t even afford hospitalization.


Even his Manila home was a simple one – his Nipa home in Nagtahan is stripped of all the grandeur of a rich Manileno house. He took pride in his provincial up bringing – a replica was being built in Tanauan during my visit last July


I wonder if he would’ve changed his mind had he thought his family would undergo a great deal of economic suffering. But I don’t think he would ever  – he’s too much of an idealist and believes so deeply in the ideals of a free and honest society. While he was in power he was on top, presided on many governmental functions, come to think of it he could have registered lands under his name but because he was honest, he never did.

He could have even opted to pledge his allegiance with the Americans, with this awaits  powerful position that would have made him rich man. But Mabini was way too principled to ever allow himself to accept American rule and favors. So he suffered and died poor while most of his contemporaries started to dream the American dream.

From the Tanauan church, Barrio Talaga is some three kilometers away. The young Mabini, the brightest among the brood walks before the sun rises to attend the class headed by a friar. The mother was hoping  that the quite son would also soon become a Priest. Something that most mom wants their boys to be during those times. I’m sure she never imagined that one day her son would become Mabini the revolutionist.

Was there anyone in the Mabini’s of Tanauan that attempted to enter the realm of Philippine politics? Ma’am Pelagia said, “Yes, a cousin, elected as a councilor pero wala na, ayaw na yata?”. Their attitude reflects that of their grandfather. “Only he is truly a patriot who, whatever his post, high or low, tries to do the greatest possible good to his countrymen. A little good done in a humble position is a title to honor and glory, while it is a sign of negligence or incompetence when done in high office.”

The Rizal centric hero education we have has robbed all the other heroes of attention. Believe it or not there are no official holiday attributed to Mabini – Filipinos and our leader haven’t realize how great this man truly is. Well, Aguinaldo doesn’t have one either but for me Mabini is a bigger figure. This patriot deserves more attention. There’s so much we can discover from the man. Our politicians would be ashamed of themselves if they find lessons Mabini’s life had to teach them.

I’m a conspiracy theorist in a way and I believe that Mabini’s fate of being relegated to a minor role has a lot to do with his actions during the period leading to the Malolos republic. He had repeatedly  criticized  the Government and the rich men behind it, even citing a lending provision in the constitution between the Government and the rich Filipino lenders disadvantageous for the people.


Hair taken from Mabini. Which means he can be resurrected some time in the future 🙂



Actual article in the New York Times about Mabini’s passing in 1903.


He detested the nepotism that existed in Aguinaldo’s government – which as you can imagine did not made him a popular associate in the cabinet lined by Cavite men. The only reason he survived that long was because of his brilliance. He made himself indispensable but not for long – no one really is immune to the nepotistic biases of a self-destructing leadership. In time the pressure made Aguinaldo drop Mabini.

Mabini was a rarity in politics during his time. Eventually he fell out of Aguinaldo’s graces which was not surprising as he became critical of how things were being run. The elitist and the interest groups he went up against made sure he gets isolated and off in a corner. These men even spread rumors that he died of syphilis which past and present writers would help spread. All of these makes me wonder if there’ll ever come a time when honest Filipinos can succeed in politics.


7 responses to “Apolinario Mabini: A Lesson in Honesty

  • Ivy Nogot

    @De AnDA: We are interested to invite the living descendant of Mabini in UST. Do you have her contact number? Thanks

  • What Mabini Would Do | With one's past...

    […] Apolinario Mabini: A Lesson in Honesty […]

  • Bogs

    Great blog and I’m happy I found out about it. Great articles and interesting insights.

    I’m a Batangueno and proud of the Mabini and LAurel connection. I have a question, I thought that the precondition for Mabini to be brought back from exile was to take the Oath of Allegiance to Uncle Sam? The only historical figure I know who did not take the oath and chose exile was Artemio Ricarte (although unfortunately for him he was back by the Japanese.)

    As for Aguinaldo, without taking anything from him in terms of his contributions to the Revolutionary cause, I don’t think he is, shall we say “hero” material. Not in the same (generally speaking) mold as Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini etc. Aguinaldo strikes me more as a politician. In fact he would fit right in with our present day politicians. I was reminded of this when I visited a turn of the century house that has still a portion of its ceiling and walls painted with Filipino heroes. One of the descendants owners pointed out to Aguinaldo and said something like “kahit nuon, nagpapatayan na sila, kagaya ngayon kaya walang nagbabago.”

  • pransis

    Kuya! I’ve recently visited Mabini Shrine and told Lola Pelagia about her picture with you. I even described your appearance to her.

    So she told me in turn about some visitors who also took pictures with her.

    But thinking about it later, mukang iba ata ung dine-describe niya kasi ‘yung shot n’yo ay dun sa kabilang room.

    Anyway, I asked her if they have an internet connection so that I could send her the pictures we took with her.

    But since they have none, I’m thinking of sending her via snail mail. I’m thinking of sending also the photo posted on your blog.

    If you would allow it first, of course. 🙂

    • De AnDA

      Of course! thank you.

      Ang iyong pagbisita sa dambana ng magiting na bayani ay isang magandang pagbabalik tanaw at pasasalamat sa sakripisyo’t kabayanihan ni Mabini.

  • Tia Isabel

    Mabini had a huge funeral, even had black horses wearing plumed headdresses pulling his hearse, with thousands walking behind it. He was beloved by the people and mourned. I find it scandalous that there is no holiday dedicated to Mabini. It shows you how “patriotic” our Republic really is….not.

    To appreciate Mabini you have to put yourself in his place and in that time, which was a time of great mourning and tragedy. Filipinos were fighting each other, many became bitterly disillusioned with the leadership and abandoned the fight because they became demoralized.

    Mabini had uncompromising integrity. He was not a drama queen. Neither was Rizal or any other true hero of that time. If you can read his writings you will see how deep he was, how tough, how honest. Thank God for Mabini. It shows you too what happens to people with integrity, who are not for sale — they are ignored and forgotten. But they can never be forgotten. The more time passes, the more reverence people feel for them.

    I love Mabini. He’s a true Filipino icon.

    Tia Isabel

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