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May 23, 2020

A 1920 Biography of Apolinario Mabini

Image credit:  National Historical Commission - National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1189762.
Image credit:  National Historical Commission - National Historical Commission of the Philippines, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1189762.
From a 1920 publication entitled “Prose Selections” of the Department of Public Instruction and Bureau of Education, we extract this easy to read story of the life of Batangueño hero Apolinario Mabini. The biography was written less as a historical sketch and more as reading material for students of secondary-level English.

In the book’s foreword, Bureau of Education Director W. W. Marquardt wrote that this biography “was prepared by the members of the committee on secondary English with the help of several outsiders.” Below is the full text of the biography. The pagination provided is the same as in the book for the convenience of researchers. The full citation will be under the “Notes and references” section at the bottom of this post.

[p. 7]

BIOGRAPHY OF APOLINARIO MABINI


Apolinario Mabini:  image extracted from the 1920 publication “Prose Selections.”
Apolinario Mabini:  image extracted from the 1920 publication “Prose Selections.”

“A high ideal whatever it may be,
Although difficult of attainment,
May be realized through constant endeavor
And honest effort.”

Apolinario Mabini, the Filipino patriot and philosopher of the Philippine Revolutionary period, was born July 22, 1864. He was the second of the eight sons of Inocencio Mabini and Dionisia Maranan, who lived in Talaga, a small barrio of Tanauan, Batangas, and who supported their family by cultivating a small plot of land upon which they raised rice and corn for home consumption and a little garlic and sugar cane for sale.

Apolinario’s father, though unschooled, was a man of worth and prominence in his community, having held at one time the office of cabeza de barangay of Talaga. His mother, the daughter of the village school teacher, could read and write, and she appreciated the value of an education.

Apolinario’s parents were strict and exacting with their sons, using the rod when necessary, yet desirous that their sons should have all the advantages which a life of hard work and a meager income made possible. They toiled in the fields early and late in order to provide the best they could for their children.

Apolinario, even as a small boy, was studious. Although in perfect health, he was sad and silent and liked to sit alone to meditate, taking little pleasure in any of the children's games. He was obedient and was not inclined to quarrel, yet he was always ready to defend a child who had been mistreated by others. In one month's time he learned the alphabet, the syllabary, and the rosary from his mother and was so anxious to learn more that she permitted him to stop herding carabaos and to go for a time as a visitor with his elder brother to his grandfather's school in Talaga. Apolinario paid such close attention to the lessons taught that at the end of the first week he knew more about them than did his brother. This surprised and delighted his grandfather, who persuaded the boy's parents to let him continue his studies.

From his grandfather Apolinario learned reading, writing, and the rudiments of arithmetic. He studied with great zeal

[p. 8]

at school and at home. In order to obtain some degree of solitude and quiet in the Mabini one-room dwelling, he used to sit on the floor with a blanket pulled over his head, his book on his knee.

When Apolinario was about ten years old, he had learned all his grandfather could teach him. To his simple-minded parents, his progress seemed wonderful. They began to hope that someday, their son would become a priest. Following the advice of the grandfather, they sent the boy to school in Tanauan, where he began the long struggle for an education which occupied the greater part of his life.

In Tanauan, he earned his board and lodging by working as a muchacho in the household of a tailor. The first year, he studied primary work in a lay school conducted by Simplicio Avelino, who is said to have been severe and unsympathetic with his inquiring pupil. The boy complained to his father that he was not taught the meaning of the exercises which he was required to memorize and asked permission to transfer to the church school. When his father learned that Avelino had flogged the boy apparently without cause, the transfer was made.

During the first three years of what was then called the secondary course, which was classic and Roman Catholic, the Filipino priest and director, Valerio Malabanan, did all he could to stimulate the reflection and the genius of his earnest pupil. Mabini repaid the priest by doing excellent work in all of his studies. During the third year, in the competition for a scholarship offered by the college, San Juan de Letran de Manila, he won first place, a silver medal, and a diploma of honor for the course in universal history.

Although Apolinario was by nature more studious and quieter than most boys of his age, he no doubt had similar desires; but because of his serious-mindedness he was made to see their triviality and to abandon them. In an unpublished manuscript, he says:

When I began the secondary course, I longed to ask my parents for good clothes for the Christmas holidays, pointing out the example of my companions. In order to satisfy my longing, my mother sold all her coffee which she had gathered at harvest time in the barrio of Papaya, Lipa, and brought to me every bit of the money in order that I might buy whatever pleased me. That show of abnegation and affection moved me so much that I desisted in my desire of buying luxurious clothing, since I suspected that, with the money, she had given me a very part of her life and blood.



[p. 9]

The lad had few friends in school, went to no parties, had few amusements, and as his only diversion took lonely walks about Tanauan at night and on Sunday afternoon.

After his three years in Tanauan, Apolinario must have spent three years on the farm with his parents in Talaga. He did not take advantage of his scholarship at San Juan de Letran de Manila until 1881, when he entered the fourth grade of the secondary course and at the same time secured a position as assistant Latin teacher in the school of Melchor Virrey, who gave him board and lodging in return for his services.

During his second year in Manila came the cholera epidemic of 1882, which caused all schools to be closed. Young Mabini went home, returning after the epidemic was over, only to find that Virrey’s school had not been reopened — a majority of the students having not returned — and that he must go home a second time.

When the priest Malabanan, who had transferred his school to Bauan, heard of Mabini’s return, he offered him a place as assistant Latin teacher, which Mabini accepted and held for two years. As a teacher he was exacting, but encouraging. He strove to have his pupils get real benefit from their work; and insisted that they know the thought as well as the words of the lesson. His explanations were clear and concise, yet he spoke only when necessary, striving to make the recitation the pupil’s and not the teacher’s. Although he never used the whip, he often grew impatient and exasperated with the dullness of his pupils. On these occasions he would cry out to them in his native tongue: “Stupid, how stupid you are!”

After two years of teaching, when he was twenty years old, he was able to return to Manila to finish the fifth year of his secondary education which had been interrupted by the cholera epidemic. He obtained his old position in Melchor Virrey’s school and he distinguished himself in San Juan de Letran as a student of philosophy. During the year, Virrey died and his school was closed permanently. At the end of the year, Mabini left Manila for a third time. Sebastian Virrey, a brother of Melchor, who had been in the Malabanan school when Mabini was there, now offered Mabini a position in his school in Lipa. This offer Mabini accepted and he remained in Lipa for two years. There, he first attracted attention as an orator when he delivered a splendid oration on the occasion of a reception tendered a visiting priest.

Although much interested in the welfare of the Lipa school,

[p. 10]

Mabini never gave up the idea of returning to Manila to finish his education. Strong in his conviction that first of all a man must be good and to be wisely good a man must have knowledge, he studied prodigiously. He had determined to obtain the Spanish degree of Bachiller en Artes, and accordingly in March, 1887, he obtained a seven days’ leave of absence from the college and went to Manila to take the examination, which he passed successfully, receiving the distinction of merritissimus and the degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Professor of Latin.

The following July, Mabini left Lipa to enter a law school in Manila, finishing the course without interruption in 1894. Just why Mabini did not become a priest, in accordance with his parents’ wishes and in accordance with his own plans, is not known. He said that fate decreed otherwise; others say that his teachers advised him to become a lawyer in order that he might be better able to defend the defenseless. It was not because his religious faith had been lessened; he was always an ardent Roman Catholic. Perhaps, he had dreams of a political career. At any rate, he took up law. In the law school, he was considered the best man in a class of gifted students. He was graduated with the mark excellent in all subjects except two — general Spanish literature and critical history of Spain — which were approved as good. In the examination for licensee in law approved March 2, 1894, he obtained the grade, excellent.

Young Mabini’s life at the law school was one long struggle against poverty and pride. If his philosophy of life had been of a weaker sort, he would have given up under the burden of the privations and the humiliations which he was forced to endure. During his two years in Lipa, he had managed by stringent economy to save a mere pittance. A part of this he gave to his parents to be spent on the improvement of their home and their field. The remainder he found insufficient to pay his first year’s expenses at the law school. His parents had done their best for him and could do no more. Moreover, he always abhorred the idea of accepting aid from others; he felt that every man should be sufficient unto himself. Accordingly, he deprived himself of everything except the bare necessities of life. To obtain these, he sought various means. He gave private lessons during the years 1888 and 1889, and he abstracted cases for a relator de la audiencia, who paid him a few centavos a sheet. The next year he was a copyist in the court of first instance in Manila. Later,

[p. 11]

he was an assistant to the clerk, Numeriano Adriano, who recognized, in spite of Mabini’s shabby attire, his true worth and ability. There grew up between the two men a warm and lasting friendship. It was probably through Adriano that Mabini first became interested in politics and in the secret transactions which led up to the Philippine Revolution. Through Adriano he also became interested in the life work of Jose Rizal, whose writings he borrowed from a fellow student.

While Mabini was assistant court clerk, it is said that at one time the judge of the court, unfavorably impressed with Mabini’s shabby black coat, ordered his dismissal. Adriano was astounded and said excitedly, “You cannot mean it, sir. Wait!” Then, he brought the judge some of his assistant’s work which, though done rapidly, was neat and exact. After seeing the work, the judge withdrew his order.

Later, Adriano left his position to become a notary public. His place should have been given to Mabini, but for some reason or other, probably for a political one, it was given to a Spaniard named Moreno. The new clerk, perhaps, wanted to make good by cutting down expenses; or perhaps he felt capable of doing the work without an assistant; or perhaps he thought that Mabini’s appearance bespoke inefficiency and nonresistance. Anyway, the new clerk turned his silent, poorly clad assistant into the street. Thus turned out, young Mabini was without work and was unable to pay for his board and lodging.

He now sought a place as aspirante tercero de hacienda. This he obtained after passing an examination in which he received the highest mark. He was appointed to the Intendencia General where he worked in the mornings. In the afternoons, although a better-paying position was offered him, he taught in a private school conducted by Raymundo Alindada, a friend and fellow student in San Juan de Letran. In the early morning, he attended his law classes, often arriving as the first one late. The professor of this class was rigidly punctual. One day the professor looked down at young Mabini’s name and, seeing that he had many tardy marks after it, said sharply, “Little is needed to send you into the streets.” Then he asked the guilty student to explain the lecture of the preceding day, whereupon Mabini repeated almost word for word the lecture, with its due explanations. The professor was dumbfounded and became interested in the cause of the lad’s tardiness. If he investigated further, he must have discovered that Mabini

[p. 12]

had no textbooks; and that he took notes and listened attentively to the lectures and discussions during class, writing them out in full as well as he could remember them when he went to his room.

Because of his poverty, young Mabini was deprived of the social pleasures which most boys enjoy at school. Of course, these pleasures may not have seemed so important to Mabini as to other boys, but doubtless they would have been enjoyed nevertheless, had he had the clothes and the money to afford them. At the time of graduation, his class was planning a class souvenir which was to contain a photograph of each member of the class and other relevant matters such as that which we find in class souvenirs of today. Mabini paid his share of the expense of getting out the souvenir, but he refused to have his photograph taken, simply saying that he disliked the idea. No doubt his clothes were too shabby to be photographed, and he was too proud to borrow others.

About this same time, some friends called on him to invite him to the farewell party of the class, whereupon they learned that he could not attend because his clothes were not presentable. And more than that, he told them that he could not take part in the commencement exercises because he had no money with which to purchase the necessary cap, gown, and hood. While his classmates were still there, they saw a carriage stop in front of the house. Presently, they were surprised to see a servant, who had jumped from the carriage, approach Mabini to offer him a parcel, which when opened was found to contain a cap, gown, and hood for the graduation. This timely gift had been sent by a wealthy woman to whom Mabini had given gratuitous legal advice when he chanced to meet her one day at the home of a friend. So, after all, he received his degree in the conventional habiliments.

Mabini resigned as aspirante tercero de hacienda August 31, 1894, probably because of a misunderstanding with the chief of his department. In the spring of 1895, he was admitted to the bar with the designation of “colegial of the third class.” He then accepted a position in the law office of his old friend Numeriano Adriano where he worked as a notary. Then for at least a year he lived in comparative comfort. It would seem that comfort and ease were now due him, since he had made such a hard fight for his education; but fortune was against him. In 1896 he contracted a severe fever. On his recovery he became permanently paralyzed, first in the right leg and



[p. 13]

then in the left. He endeavored to make the best of his misfortune, doing what notarial work he could at home in his invalid’s chair. He bore his trouble with calm resignation; his personality had long been schooled to meet trying circumstances. It is little wonder that people called him the “Sublime” or the “Sublime Paralytic.”

Mabini was not imposing in appearance. It was through his personality that one discovered his greatness. He was of medium height and of slight physique. He carried his head a little to one side; he had a sensitive face and a high forehead; his eyes were penetrating, yet not lively. When he walked, he either looked straight ahead into space or gazed at the sky. As a rule, he wore the ordinary Filipino attire, he was never “well-dressed,” and he had but one black coat when he was in the law school. When possible, he did not wear shoes because he disliked them. His voice was full and resonant, and he spoke slowly and distinctly. Throughout his life, he was devoutly religious. He was faithful to his friends and he was just in his dealings with men. Too proud to accept assistance from anyone, he trusted always to his own strength. He spoke little and thought much.

Mabini had no love affairs. Once in the Malabanan college, he was heard to say that a certain “daughter of the plow” in Bauan was pretty. Several times during 1891, he called on a distinguished lady of Trozo. But there ends the history of his social relations with women. Nevertheless, we know that he must have appreciated, in some measure at least, the part which a regard for women had played in the history of modern civilization, and the part it might play in the history of the Philippines, judging from the following extract from one of his papers:

In the traditional chivalry of ancient times a nation’s respect for women figured as the principal virtue of a knight ‘without fear and without reproach,’ because the habit of protecting the honor and the life of the weak and defenseless shows a certain greatness of heart and nobility of soul. And I assert that this virtue was not alone a necessity in the legendary epoch of Romanticism, but it is as well one of the greatest necessities in the life of a people; since if the woman within the sphere in which she customarily moves meets always with respect and consideration, at once she will acquire that sense of dignity which transmitted to her sons will inspire them with courage and fortitude for great enterprises, for heroic acts.

Mabini loved his mother devotedly, more especially because he realized the sacrifices and the efforts she had made for him. In one of his manuscripts he says to the mother who loved him:

[p. 14]

Mother of mine: In the midst of my misfortune, your memory is not painful to me since the idea consoles me that fate spared you the pain of seeing them; but if unexpectedly happy days should come to me, perhaps I would complain that you had not been permitted to reap the reward of my well-being.

In dedicating his La Revolution Filipina to his deceased mother, he says:

Mother of mine: When still a child I told you that I wished to study to please you above everything else, because your golden dream was to have your son a priest; to be a minister of God was to you the greatest honor to which a man could aspire in this world.

Seeing that you were too poor to suffer the expenses of my education, you weakened yourself in working, without giving heed to either sun or rain, until you contracted the illness which brought you to the grave.

Fate has not wished me to be a priest, nevertheless, convinced that a true minister of God is not alone he who wears the long habiliments, but all those who proclaim His glory by means of good and useful service to the greatest possible number of His creatures, I will try to be faithful to your wishes while I do not lack strength for this end.

Wishing to deposit above your tomb a crown devised by my own hands, I dedicate this little book to your memory; it is poor and unworthy of you, but up to this time it is the best crown that the inexpert hands of your son has been able to fashion.

The affection which Mabini had for the members of his family seems to have been returned. He was much beloved by his parents and by his maternal grandmother. His grandmother died unexpectedly, when Mabini chanced to be at home on a vacation. From her death bed she admonished Mabini’s parents not to forget to look out for his welfare.

When Mabini visited his home during school vacations, he squatted with his brothers upon the floor and, swaying his knees back and forth as he spoke, told them in resonant tones the stories of the great heroes of history. Above all, he advised them to become wise in order that they might be better men. When he was studying law, he told them that if they needed help and if they were in the right, he would do all in his power to defend them, but that if they were wrong he would not attempt to defend them. Yet with his family, except on occasions when he told them stories, he was formal and reserved.

The story of the part Mabini took in the Philippine Revolution is too long to be dealt with fully in a short sketch of his life. His connection with the reformists caused not only his arrest, but the arrests of Numeriano Adriano, Domingo Franco, Moises Salvador, and others. All except Mabini were shot. Mabini, because of his paralysis, was detained in the Hospital of San Juan de Dios. Later he was set free.

[p. 15]

Mabini was not among those reformers who at the beginning advocated arms as a means to their ends; he was in favor of petitioning the Spanish Government further.

It was in the second period of the Revolution in 1898 that Mabini was most active. Then he planned the Revolutionary government. He was made President of the Council of Secretaries and Secretary of the Exterior. He wrote decrees and the proposed constitution of the Philippine Republic. He wrote the Programa Constitutional de la Republica Filipina. Small wonder that Mabini was called “the brains of the revolution.”

In connection with The True Decalogue which accompanied the Programa Constitutional de la Republica Filipina, Mabini said on June 24, 1898:

Many speak of liberty without understanding it; many believe that by having liberty, one can act without restraint, for evil as well as for good, which is a great mistake. Liberty is only for good and never for evil; it is always in accord with man’s reason and with his upright and honorable conscience. When a thief steals, he is not free, because he allows himself to be dragged by evil; he makes himself a slave of his passions; and when we confine him, we punish him precisely because he would not use true liberty.

It is necessary that you should not forget these considerations, because if, instead of using liberty, you should abuse it, we not only will fail to attain our improvement but we will be in a worse condition than before. Furthermore, in order that we may build the true edifice of our social regeneration, we must change radically, not only our institutions, but also our conduct and thoughts.

In 1899, Mabini was captured by the American troops in Central Luzon in the town of Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, where he had sought security after a misunderstanding and break with some of the Revolutionary leaders. Afterwards he was held in Manila as a prisoner. It was probably while in prison that he wrote The Rise and Fall of the Philippine Revolution, in which he explains what he means by true loyalty to one’s country, as follows:

* * * (he) believed that he could only serve his country with honor and glory in an elevated position, which is an error perilous for the common welfare. This error is the principal cause of the civil wars which impoverish and destroy many states, and contributed greatly to the failure of the Revolution. He alone possesses true patriotism who, whatever the position he fills, be it high or low, strives to do for his countrymen the most good possible. A little good done in a humble position, gives little to honor and glory; while a little good in an elevated post is a sign of negligence and inaptitude. True honor is gained by cultivating our intellects in order to learn to know the truth, and educating our hearts to accustom them to love it. Through the knowledge of the truth we come to know our duties

[p. 16]

and justice, and by complying with our duties and doing justice we shall be respected and honored, whatever our stations in life. Let us never lose sight of the fact that we are on the first step in our national life, and that we are called upon to go up, and that we can only ascend by the ladder of virtue and heroism; above all, let us not forget that if we do not grow, we must die without having been great, without being able to reach manhood, which is the way of a degenerate race.

After he was released from prison on September 23, 1900, Mabini lived in a small nipa house near Manila. Here, weakened by paralysis and disappointed in the outcome of his greatest dream, he barely supported himself by writing for local newspapers. After the appearance on January 5, 1901, in El Liberal of his article entitled “El Simil de Alejandro,” the American authorities thought best to exile him along with others to the Island of Guam.

On August 24, 1902, the exiles were informed that they would be permitted to return to the Islands if they were willing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States “without mental reservations.” At first, Mabini refused to do this, but after being convinced that a Filipino nation could become a reality only through the help of America, he announced on February 9, 1903, that he was ready to take the oath. He was then allowed to return to Manila, where on February 26th, the day of his arrival, he took the oath before the Collector of Customs. Mabini was then offered a government position but he refused it, to return to the seclusion from which he had come. In regard to this he says:

Fearing that my infirmity might have been the principal cause of the inefficiency of my labor and that it might unfit me for the work which is demanded by the great problems of the present situation, I am going back to the obscure position from which impelled by circumstances, I have come, in order to hide my shame and anguish, not for having committed an unworthy act but for not having been able to do better service. It is true that I am not the one called on to declare whether I proceeded well or not, rightly or wrongly; however, I will not conclude without saying that I have no other balm with which to soothe the bitterness of my painful life than the satisfaction produced by the conviction of not having committed any error knowingly. May I say the same at the hour of my death.

Indeed the hour of his death was not far off. He died of cholera in Manila May 13, 1903, at the age of thirty-nine. His funeral was conducted with much pomp and ceremony. Thus ended the career of a great leader—a man who had made the

[p. 17]

best of himself and of his talents in order that he might better serve his God and his country; a man who considered his country next to his God. His dreams were without selfishness and without vain conceit; they were the dreams of a patriot. Few men have lived to the day of their death, as he seems to have lived, sublime in the knowledge of never having failed to follow the dictates of their conscience.

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Notes and references:
The text of this article has been extracted from “Biography of Apolinario Mabini,” published 1920 in “Prose Selections” by the Department of Public Instruction, Bureau of Education and the Bureau of Printing.

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