Notes for an essay on Apolinario Mabini


  • The Nation-building Half-century: 1896-1946; The Four Decades of Democratic Confrontation: 1946-1986; Three Decades of Contesting People Power: 1986-2016.
  • We came at the tail end of long line of Spanish Revolutions: first, Mexico, last Philippines. We were the last gasp of Enlightenment– after us, came the 19th Century:  Marxism Nationalism.
  • Clashes of modernity in the formation of the first proto-state –Mabini’s own ambivalence over the Katipunan, ambivalence over representative government except to establish the basis for proclamation of independence– there doesn’t seem to be much discussion over 1896 or even 1897, the first two phases of the revolution, as far as Mabini is concerned.
  • The government was established in an ad hoc manner; policies after Mabini entered the scene involved the rectification of mistakes Mabini identified early on:

1. The premature proclamation of independence, in particular under the protectorate of the United States. (N.B. Mabini criticized it as unfounded on any binding agreement)

2. The formation of a constitutional regime –versus what Agpalo in an early essay described as a “Pangulo” Regime (McCoy description of an authoritarian strain: Laurel, Marcos etc.) Mabini seems in an ambiguous place here, viewing a caudillo as more urgent than a constitutional regime; then, once his own constitutional program was thwarted, warning of oligarchy versus the antidote as he proposed it, of the man on horseback (Bonapartism in Marxist sense?).

3. Central question of Reason –Science—in nation-building; tying him to the modernity of the Katipunan (Richardson) and in contrast to the principalia who were more comfortable with recognizing terroritorial barons; no surprise, then, that at the end of his regime, without Mabini, Aguinaldo reverts to proposing the creation of nobility in a last gamble to shore up support for the Republic. If Jim Richardson’s book on newly-identified Katipunan documents is a guide, there is more of a continuity of thought and aspiration in Rizal-Bonifacio-Mabini: it is Aguinaldo who is the outlier. Were Pardo de Tavera, with Buencamino and Legarda (Federalistas), closer in synch with Propaganda Movement than, say, the Nacionalistas who hewed to Mabini’s program of the inevitability of independence, so long as Filipino leadership was united and thus could confront Americans with blunt political reality that it could not be divided and conquered? Or, did Mabini straddle the end of Enlightenment and the start of the era of Nationalism?

  • Mabini’s point was not independence at all costs (he has been member of La Liga Filipina after all), but the minimum demand of recognition of the government; a treaty of peace between equals rather than a protectorate government  which would end up not only imposed, but representing a break from the evolution of regimes from 1896, 1897: furthermore even after the defeat of the First Republic,   in debates over whether to have either an outright protectorate or an autonomous government, the question was not one of peace or commonwealth status but the end  goal of Filipino government –a question he raised again, long after: he wanted to gauge for himself the sentiments of his people, first as to the end of hostilities, and second, as to the end goal of independence. Interesting is his prescription for the way forward after the defeat of the Republic –a point interesting as he himself viewed the Republic as extinguished with the capture of Aguinaldo- previously warning (see Kalaw) that there was a difference between the Americans negotiating with government and negotiating with Aguinaldo personally –yet he shows that he did not consider, much less recognize, a successor- government to Aguinaldo.
  • “Nationalism” through both “reform” and “revolution” Mabini identified that independence could no longer be suppressed; that it would be impossible to ignore either by Filipinos or Americans: the last showdown of this would be the Dominion proposal of 1938 and in 1946.
  • Mabini bridged these gaps: Propaganda to Malolos, and Malolos to the autonomy movement leading to the independence in 1946; within that, he represented ideas of a strong presidency that would arise in the 1930s, World War II and even Martial Law; also: the idea that constant referenda –the plebiscitary elections in 1922 and 1933 in particular– meant he was the first advocate of (Quezon’s) articulation of a government of public opinion that was the central referendum question in 1922.
  • The period of premiership for Mabini is remarkably modern: telephones, telegraph, public opinion, mass media, all elements of governance; his critique of Aguinaldo –personal feelings taken into consideration—remains a useful prism for looking at the weaknesses of Philippine leaders and society.
  • It is difficult for contemporary Filipinos, increasingly ignorant either of the Enlightenment, Classical thought, or basic principles of law and political science, to grasp the fundamental, nation-building approach of the Revolutionary and Independence (1896-1946) generations.
  • Being worthy of independence: Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini (kartilya, decalogue), preoccupation of the Revolutionary and Independence generations; culminating in Code of Citizenship and Ethics under Commonwealth and Second Republic. Contrast with Magsaysay Credo: which was personalistic.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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