Tag Archives: mabini

Mabini Letters: A Bill for Puto Seco

Last time I wrote something about Mabini was two years ago–I’ve read, and are now re-reading the letters of this phenomenal man. Writing helps my memory. So this is the continuation of that Mabini project. (By the way, thanks for NHI for compiling all the noteworthy letters from our heroes. I hope the succeeding reprints would contain the original Spanish text).

Unlike books, letters are extremely personal. Sometimes it reveals character flaws, sometimes strengths and sometimes, humor too–but Mabini doesn’t seem to possess this– even in letters you could sense his serious character. One thing I really like about these ‘letters’ is that they reveal the human side, after all, national heroes are humans too, like us–the only difference is that they stepped up to plate when their country needed them.

I believe that politicians, and people in public offices, must read Mabini. His sincerity and uprightness was unparalleled in a time when it was alright to abuse power. He was too bright, too honest and a cripple, the shadowy characters around Aguinaldo  felt uncomfortable having him around. He was the most capable man during the first president’s time in power. Too bad, he was sidelined, later forced out by the conspiring elites who wanted to secure for themselves the power and influence their families had during the Spanish administration.

Mabini saw a government, composed of egoistic men with selfish agendas, ready to surrender to the Americans. Leaders that would rather wait to be handed autonomy than fight for it. He found this unacceptable and this drove him away from the government he helped established. He saw that the people around him were not really interested in real independence but assurances of wealth and positions. He would later say to a friend that those who easily gives up after just a few months of fighting deserves to be slaves.

The road Mabini took was not easy, he was impractical, an idealist in an age of corrupted politics. More than a hundred years has passed and we only manage to go lower than the level of venality that existed during his days–it would be harder, if not impossible, to pull a Mabini today.

Here’s a portion of a letter he wrote to Aguinaldo about ‘poto seco’ (dried rice cakes):

“I would like you to know also that yesterday I received a bill of lading for you certifying that the Chief in Dagupan has sent here a quantity of poto seco. I forwarded the bill to the military administrator but he has not sent word whether he has got it from the train”

Now, I don’t know how Aguinaldo felt about all of these–are those ‘poto secos’ cost that important to reach his desk! Maybe not, but every penny in Mabini’s eyes must be accounted for. Anyway, these puto seco must have been provisions for the soldiers, so it could be as important as the rifles they carry.

Still on the same ‘puto seco’ letter, an important note (but not as important news as the rice cakes delivery because Mabini placed this note in the postscript!) was about Paterno insisting that he be named president of the Supreme Court. Mabini conveniently closed the meeting, probably not  liking the idea but told Aguinaldo that he gets to decide whether he wants to reconvene a session for the matter to be resolved.

One thing noticeable about Mabini is how disciplined he was when it comes to laws–it rules every part of him. Nothing ticks him off more than lawlessness and abuse of power. I could only imagine if he had his legs and had been awarded with his own army–I wonder what kind of general he would make.


Andres Bonifacio Subject in College

Get ready for another shocker of a bill  courtesy of our lawmakers: A college subject solely dedicated to the revolutionary hero, Andres Bonifacio. This was proposed recently by one this party group called Kabataan in congress.

Let’s wait for more. Why stop with Bonifacio? Lets add college units for all our heroes! Labu-labo na lahat na gawan ng suheto sa colegio!

Mabini should have one too. I can hear Caviteños clamoring another one for Aguinaldo. Maybe the brilliant Gen. Antonio Luna should be studied as a subject as well. My Ilongo parents would certainly wish one for their hometown hero Jaena.

But, really, do we need additional subjects so we can better appreciate Filipino history? Do we need a Bonifacio subject to understand the importance of his contributions?

Is it not that Philippine history is not being taught properly right from grade school? and that we lack programs that promote our culture and history?

Students are not even paying attention to Rizal and now we are about to add Bonifacio. When students are fairing well with existing history subjects we have in place – then we think of adding new subjects.  But for now – please, honorable congressmen, heed the advice of legendary English rock band Pink Floyd “leave the kids alone…”

The problem with our country is that we think we need more laws to fix our problems. We end up swamped with more laws than we know. There are more issues in Philippine historiography that needs to be addressed. We don’t need new subjects.

We need to strengthen the teaching of Philippine history – when begin to appreciate Philippine history as an essential part of our identity – then we have done our job. If we fail to do this, and we are failing, the whole thing falls apart – we continue with Philippine history subjects as just units that needed to be completed to pass high school and college. We end up with generations of Filipino with a shallow understanding of what the Filipino past is all about.

The biggest challenge is making Philippine history more accurate, more interesting, more accessible and more effective for the young. We need innovative historical  programs (in school and in public) that will capture our peoples imagination. We need to look at other countries and how they’re succeeding. Lets use all medias at our disposal – fund projects that will engage students and save what’s left of our national treasures. These are what our kagagalang-galang na mga representante should be tackling in congress. When these guys get creative and proactive, when they acquire vision – we get our taxes worth.

Mabini Letters: Lecturing El Presidente

You’ve got to admire Mabini. This guy got some balls.

In 28 February 1899 he wrote Aguinaldo:

“I heard Luna is going to resign as director and commander-in-chief of Operations in Manila because the company captains who had disobeyed his instructions in the last attack on Manila went unpunished.

We already see the disastrous effects of weakness. Not only the army but also the people notice this. And for the reason that there is the belief that we do no punish the guilty, some soldiers might say that here it is nothing to obey a general, while other places such a thing is punished with death and musketry. If you will punish the companies that will disobey in the future, the people will say that you punish them because the soldiers are not from Kawit. At this rate, our soldiers will never know what discipline is.

Because you did not mete out punishment at the proper time to the soldiers of P– who committed in Polo, and because of this the local president of Polo, is now here accompanied by two persons with mangled bodied, one of whom is the chief of barrio Maisan himself, who was the victim of looting by seventy soldiers of P–. These soldiers arrested all the men of the place, beating them with the butt of their guns.”

What I like most about Mabini is his honesty and sincerity. He’s known to take complaints from the most common of Filipinos and bring it straight to the Presidents desk. This must have caused considerable inconvenience for a war time president but Mabini, understanding the implications of ignoring the peasants and towns people, always insist that their complaints and grievances be placed on the agenda.

Mabini is faulted for being a major part of Aguinaldo’s government that became so morally and politically incoherent that it collapsed under its own weight.

But history has been kind to Mabini. As our generation continue to uncover facts about his role in Aguinaldo’s government, the more we deeply appreciate the position he took up, challenges he had faced, stumbled upon and overcome along the way.

He was an outsider, a “nobody”, until Aguinaldo had him fetched from Ba-y. Aguinaldo must have been aware of his prolific and impressive resume through his masonic ties. Why he picked someone like Mabini when he was al;ready surrounded by able [Kabitenyo] men?

Why Mabini?

Was Aguinaldo trying to bring an outsider with fresh views, who does not exactly share his  philosophy and values but will  give him a different perspective on issues facing his revolutionary government?

Or was Mabini just too brilliant a man to ignore?

There is one thing that the Paralytic hero is not: He was unafraid to call what he saw, even if it meant losing the support of people Aguinaldo relied on.

Warning his president, he ends his letter with the following words of caution:

“God has given you the prestige that you enjoy so that you can use it to give peace and order to your people, and this cannot be accomplished if the abuses are not stopped. Without peace and order, you will lose the prestige you have won, because it will come to be known that we do not know how to govern.

In this calamitous times, we need military dictatorship, not to control the towns people, but, above all, to suppress the abuses of the army, and nobody can do this but you, the Chief.

If we have the people on our side, we can be sure that we shall triumph, if not today, tomorrow, or the day after. If we do not have the people with us, we shall perish. If Americans pose serious dangers for us, our own countrymen would pose for us greater ones as a result of the abuses that are committed against them, abuses that are ofen the cause of revolutions.”

This letter was written more than 100 years ago, but what Mabini said then is still true today.

I wonder if our current leaders who got us into so much trouble read Mabini…

Proud Tanauan

Tanauan’s population is around two hundred thousand. Considering its substantial land, that’s not a lot of people.  Calamba, its next door neighbor to the south, is smaller but have twice the number of people.

What’s fascinating about Tanauan is how it remained agricultural. Tanauan retained its rural outlook and agricultural economy as late as the 1950’s and even in the 1960’s, it must have been completely rural and agricultural during Laurel’s (Pres. Laurel) childhood and juvenile years”, say the President’s biographers, the  del Castillos. Traditionally agricultural it was an influential town that produced great national leaders that played key roles in our history.

There were changes of course, but Tanauan has largely remained agricultural even today. Or at least it felt that way.

When we hear provincial, what comes to mind are backward communities. If we look back at our provinces in the 18th century, most of them were  progressive agro towns where hunger was never much a problem. The Spaniards introduction of crops and simple technologies had long solve the threats of famine. In Cebu, for example, the maize had been grown abundantly that in some areas it had challenged rice as staple. The 20th century saw the decrease in the produce that led us to import rice and other crops that we use to export to distant lands.

Tanaueño’s would send their children to Manila and abroad to study. A common practice among top families during the 18th century. Prominent families are known to commit their children to higher education. These children would then comeback take over the family business 0r make their mark in local politics. These educated Filipinos would later constitute the leadership of the revolution of  ’96.

These families, with their political influence, businesses and landholdings, represents the continuation of traditional prefilipino royalties [datus & local chiefs were assigned as cabeza de balangay by the Spaniards] that adapted itself into the times. Philippine society was stratified then on the basis of education and property. These divide between the rich and poor are magnified today because productivity in the fields has gone down. Unlike before when farming has been stable source of employment and food, these days the dwindling agricultural industry and continued oppression of the farmers and the poor by their corrupt government and landowners has increased the gap. Our farmers are subjected to conditions which makes it impossible for them to succeed. Today, the only farms that profits are those that are run by big corporations.

However, there’s a difference between the relation between the aristocratic Filipino families that employed the rural town farmers then and now. Their experience with the Spanish and then the Americans had bonded them closer. When the propertied class revolted against the colonial government it was their farmers and obreros that served as their soldiers. This relationship is no longer present in our agricultural towns. Prominent families had long abandoned their traditional lands [sold or left to be administered by corporations] and farmers has been preoccupied in their struggle to own part of the farms their ancestors tilled and providing the most basic of needs for their often over sized family. Farmers children has been sent to the cities to work for lowly jobs. However, This urban employment haven’t alleviated the flight of their families as they remain poor and exploited due to lack of education and discipline.

At the gate. an engraved metal plate reads "Jose P. Laurel, Abogado"

I visited the ancestral house of the Laurel’s not far from where I alighted. When I got there it was close. I kept knocking. The security guard won’t even talk [the house is about 300 meters away from the gate]. I have a feeling that I wasn’t the first curious observer that got snubbed there.

It was a great looking house none the less.

I’ve always been interested in the Laurel’s because an Ilonga aunt married one. I long since wondered what makes them successful. A historian, elegantly wrote “they breathed and drunk the idyllic atmosphere of the countryside at Tanauan and inherited the headstrong temperament attributed to those in propinquity with Taal volcano”.

Well, a more realistic explanation is that the Laurel men were expected to lead. They came from a long line of educated and successful fore bears.They had to exceed their parents expectations – anything less would have been unacceptable. Such were the demands of the tradition we once had.

The Tanauan’s first family were the ruling elite. From their line came the most fervent of Filipino nationalists who distinguished themselves as public servants. Sotero was representative in the first Republic who died of dysentery in an American concentration camp, then there was the son Jose who became president and later his sons; Teroy the senator, Jose Jr a former house speaker and Doy vice president during Cory’s presidency.

Tanauan's elegant looking church. Like all old churches, this figured prominently in their culture and history.

Of all the presidencies  of the country, Laurel’s is probably the most controversial because to many the second republic of which he was the chief executive had been reduced to in some to a puppet government that did nothing but the bidding for the Japanese.

Recto would later suffer the same fate. Tagged as a “collaborator”. They were accused of traitorous acts against their people. President Laurel would be pardoned but Recto (one of the glories of Philippine Spanish letters) would refuse the pardon, electing to fight for his freedom in the courts – and he won.

These patriots, upon their release would be the main opponent of the absurd American parity rights. Their actions during the war and after it showed their true patriotism. The Laurel’s for their part had been one of the staunchest nationalist of southern Tagalog. Many of those accused of “collaboration” were merely acting on behalf of the people. What an unfortunate task these men had but someone had to accept the responsibilities of representing the peopl otherwise there would have been more blood shed.

If it were not for President Laurel, “an up and coming jurist, a native of Tanauan, Batangas… long time resident of the district of Paco in Manila, member of the Supreme court”, Marcos would’ve rotted in jail. He was almost in a similar situation as Marcos was in his youth. He felt it would be a terrible waste to let the young Marcos rot in prison. If he never did pardon the man, just imagine how different our history would have been.

Of course, discussion’s about Tanauan’s past would not be complete without mentioning Apolinario Mabini. I met some of his relatives in the town during my first visit. Like Mabini, they are common folks, not into politics nor do they seek it. The highest post ever held by a Mabini in Tanauan is that of a Barrio Captain.

Mabini is the ideal man to lead the government during the revolution and he was practically running the country as Aguinaldo’s chief adviser. But being honest and upfront, he quickly alienated himself against his own government. He made enemies who were constantly intriguing against him. He later resigned his post and went underground. He became a fierce critic of the excesses of Aguinaldo’s deposed government.

Mabini’s letters [originally compiled by Teodoro Kalaw] are among the most revealing documents in Filipino historiography. Hopefully one day, we could dedicate a course in our schools that would study these correspondence. Its a pity that such documents, although available for the public, are hardly ever studied.

According to the Mabini’s of Tanauan, all of his siblings struggled in life even after his death. He left no properties, no bank accounts. Unlike his contemporaries, he never used his position for his material advantage. He lived frugally all his life. The only well off Mabini’s of today are the descendants of Agapito, who married into a prominent Manileno family.

Another Tanaueño worthy of  mention is Hen.  Nicolas Gonzales, the last of Aguinaldo’s general to surrender to the Americans. Along with Malvar, he fought relentless against the invasion until his surrender. Its unfortunate that very few knew of his admirable dedication towards the revolution. Tanaueños of old looked up to him. The Americans, saw him a worthy opponent and named the peak of Tagaytay ridge [formerly Monte de Sungay] after him. Hen. Gonzales married a Laurel’s and stayed in Tanauan almost all his life. He would later serve as governor of the province.

There are a handful of Antillean houses left around here. This one looks great.

The origina site of Tanauan's "escuela pia" where young men like Mabini learned the rudements of education from Friar educators.

This visit coincided with the initial work on the recreation of Mabini's house in the shrine dedicated to him. Laborer's strictly follow the exact measurements of the Hero's Nagtahan home.

Reference/Further readings:

The saga of José P. Laurel (his brother’s keeper) by T del Castillo and J del Castillo

So help us God: the presidents of the Philippines and their inaugural addresses by Jonathan E. Malaya

The Mysteries of Taal by Thomas Hargrove


Ricarte Remembered

I recently discovered an article about Artemio Ricarte from Teodoro Kalaw’s “Spiritual Register”, a compilation of the journalist’s paper in the 1920’s, magnificently translated by Nick Joaquin from the original Spanish text.

I find Ricarte together with Mabini, Sakay, Antonio Luna stories most interesting. They present the different phase of the revolution. The one that most of us never learned from school. Unfortunately, these Filipinos heroism are less visible today. Those who wrote our text books intended to hide these heroes faces.

Kalaw spoke about the sacrifice that Ricarte had to endure with his family because of “his tenacious refusal to accept American sovereignity”. Together with Mabini, the two were the last Filipinos from Guam to be brought back in.

Mabini took the oath, Ricarte didn’t.

The paralytic hero, physically drained and weak, probably did so out of fear to depart from this life in a foreign land – a fate that frightens even the hardest of patriots. They could not bear the thought. A popular story about Claro M. Recto is that his dying words in Rome was said to be “how terrible, to die in a foreign land”.

Three months after Mabini took that oath he died while Ricarte exiled himself to Japan.

Vibora’s Japanese Hut

The Vibora’s small Japanese home was described as having “two pictures. One is a  picture of Rizal, one one side of the sala, and the other is of Bonifacio, on the other side”. The Japan Times interviewer (whose storywas the basis of Kalaw’s article) continued, “every day the lady of the house adorns these two images with the freshest loveliest Japanese flowers. And then between these pictures symbolizing two great patriotic ideas, Ricarte and his wife will spend whole hours sitting in silence, as if secretly communing with the spirits of the perished past. No painting could be made greater in pathos than this moving Filipino scene in a foreignland”

Life in Nippon Land

He taught Spanish in Japan. He was a teacher before he became a soldier, more out of necessity than anything. Vibora could have chosen the easy life but heeded the call for revolution. One of his Japanese student became his aide around the islands when he made his comeback.

He went back with his Japanese friends believing that finally he could oust his hated adversaries. He was a man willing to go at the ends of the world to see his Filipinas free. No matter what it costs. Still fighting after all the years he’s been away from his land.

More than 40 years had passed and things are very different. So much has changed that for Ricarte the country appeared to be a new world.  Gone are the friends he once knew and those he knew had ceased to resist American rule. He spoke Spanish and found hardly a soul who can speak it. I could only imagine how lost and confused he felt.

The Filipino landscape has been drastically transformed by the Americans in just a few decades. The imposition of English and the annihilation of the revolutionary forces (who became mere bandits in the Yankee eyes) and their supportes did the job.

The Last of the Mohicans

Vibora was the last revolutionary leader from the revolution of 1896 to die without the blemish of ever accepting the Americans.

True, he went back with the Japs. For this, many saw him a traitor.  But who are we to judge this man? He gave up most of his life to pursue something he ardently believes in.  We could all argue about why he did what he did – we have the benefit of hindsight. His passion was taken advantage of. But credit is due to a man who resisted American rule until his last moments.

Final Resting Place

Last year I visited Vibora’s grave in Libingan ng mga Bayani. It was  a very simple tombstone without the elaborate designs (a Sharp contrast to the AFP generals) The general’s spot is almost hidden, shaded by tall trees.

He died of dysentery in the highlands during the Pacific war. He was with the fleeing Jap soldiers.

In Japan he sought to also have a small memorial (and for his children to be able to study there) when he dies – this, they honored after the war.

A memorable story I read about Ricarte was when the Japanese started recalling all their personnel. He being an ally was ordered to join the recalled officers. The old man Ricarte, declined and simply replied, “I cannot take refuge in Japan at this critical moment when my people are in direct distress. I will stay in my motherland to the last”.

Good thing he never went back to Japan, because if he did, he would’ve met his hated WASP running the affairs of his adopted country after its humiliating defeat in the pacific wars.

Reading Ricarte, his memoirs and articles about him only serves to strengthen my belief that he rightfully belongs to the pantheon of the greatest of all Filipino heroes!

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