Apolinario Mabini

Apolinario Mabini, c. 1900. via Wikipedia

Like fellow Philippine revolutionaries Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, lawyer Apolinario Mabini, the first prime minister of the Philippines, did not live to see his 40th birthday.  He suffered from paraplegia (paralysis of the legs), but Mabini had a powerful intellect, and was known during his short life as the "Brains of the Revolution" and also the "Conscience of the Revolution."

Early Life:

Apolinario Mabini y Maranan was born on July 22 or 23, 1864 in Talaga, Tanauwan, Batangas, about 70 km (43.5 miles) south of Manila.

  His parents were very poor; father Inocencio Mabini was a peasant farmer, and mother Dionisia Maranan supplemented their farm income as a vendor at the local market.  Apolinario was the second of their eight children.

As a child, Apolinario was remarkably clever and studious.  Despite his family's poverty, the boy studied at a school in Tanawan under the tutelage of Simplicio Avelino, working as a houseboy and tailor's assistant to earn his room and board.  He then transferred to a school run by the famed educator Fray Valerio Malabanan.

At the age of 17, in 1881, Mabini won a partial scholarship to Manila's Colegio de San Juan de Letran.  He once again had to work all through school, teaching Latin to younger students at three different schools in the area.  Apolinario earned his Bachelors degree and official recognition as a Professor of Latin in 1887, and went on to study law at the University of Santo Tomas.


Apolinario Mabini went into the legal profession in order to defend poor people.  He himself had faced discrimination from fellow students and professors, who picked on him for his shabby clothing before they realized how brilliant he was.  It took him six years to complete his law degree, since he worked long hours as a law clerk and a court transcriptionist in addition to his studies.

  Mabini earned his law degree in 1894, at the age of thirty.

Political Activities:

While at school, Mabini supported the Reform Movement, which was a conservative group mainly made up of middle and upper class Filipinos calling for changes to Spanish colonial rule, rather than outright Philippine independence.  It included the intellectual, author, and physician Jose Rizal.  In September of 1894, Mabini helped establish the reformist Cuerpo de Comprimisarios, the "Body of Compromisers," which sought to negotiate better treatment from Spanish officials.  Pro-independence activists, mostly from the lower classes, instead joined the more radical Katipunan movement, which was established by Andres Bonifacio.  Katipunan advocated armed revolution against Spain.

In 1895, Mabini was admitted to the bar, and worked as a newly-minted lawyer in the Adriano law offices in Manila.  He also served as the secretary of the Cuerpo de Comprimisarios. 

Early in 1896, Apolinario Mabini contracted polio, which left his legs paralyzed.  Ironically, this disability saved his life that autumn - the colonial police arrested Mabini in October of 1896 for his work with the reform movement.  He was still under house arrest at the San Juan de Dios Hospital on December 30 of that year, when the colonial government summarily executed Jose Rizal.

  Mabini's polio likely kept him from the same fate.

Between his medical condition and his imprisonment, Apolinario Mabini was not able to participate in the opening days of the Philippine Revolution.  His experiences, and the execution of Rizal, radicalized Mabini, however, and he turned his keen intellect to the issues of revolution and independence. 

In April of 1898, he penned a manifesto on the Spanish-American War, presciently warning other Philippine revolutionary leaders that Spain would likely cede the Philippines to the US if it lost the war.  He urged them to continue to fight for independence, whether from Spain or the US.  This paper brought him to the attention of General Emilio Aguinaldo, who had ordered the execution of Andres Bonifacio the previous year, and had been driven into exile in Hong Kong by the Spanish.


The Americans hoped to use Aguinaldo against the Spanish in the Philippines, so brought him back from his exile on May 19, 1898.  Once ashore, Aguinaldo ordered his men to bring the author of the war manifesto to him; they had to carry the disabled Mabini over the mountains in a stretcher to Cavite.  Mabini reached Aguinaldo's camp on June 12, 1898, and soon became one of the general's primary advisers.  That same day, Aguinaldo declared the Philippines' independence, with himself as dictator. 

Establishing the New Government:

Mabini was able to talk Aguinaldo out of ruling the Philippines as an autocrat.  On July 23, 1898, under Mabini's influence, the new president modified his plans, establishing a revolutionary government with an assembly rather than a dictatorship.  Apolinario Mabini's power of persuasion over Aguinaldo was so strong that his detractors called him the "Dark Chamber of the President," while his admirers named him "the Sublime Paralytic."

Because his personal life and morality were difficult to attack, Mabini's enemies in the new government resorted to a whispering campaign to slander him.  Jealous of his immense power, they started a rumor that his paralysis was due to syphilis, rather than polio.  The fact that syphilis does not cause paraplegia did nothing to clear Mabini's name.  Despite these petty attacks, however, Mabini continued to work toward fashioning a better country.

Mabini wrote most of Aguinaldo's presidential decrees.  He also molded policy on the organization of the provinces, the judicial system, and the police, as well as property registration, and military regulations.  Aguinaldo appointed him to the Cabinet as Secretary of Foreign Affairs and President of the Council of Secretaries.  Mabini also exercised significant influence over the drafting of the first constitution for the Philippine Republic.

At War Again:

On January 2, 1899, Mabini was appointed prime minister and foreign minister of the new government.  He began negotiations with the United States on March 6, over the Philippines' fate now that the US had defeated Spain.

  The two sides were already engaged in hostilities, but had not declared war on one another.  Mabini sought to negotiate autonomy for the Philippines, as well as a ceasefire.  US negotiators refused the ceasefire condition, or a proposed armistice.  In frustration, Mabini threw his support behind the war effort, and on May 7, he resigned from Aguinaldo's government.

Aguinaldo declared war on the United States on June 2, 1899.  The revolutionary government at Cavite had to flee; once again Mabini was carried in a hammock, this time to Nueva Ecija, 192 km (119 miles) to the north.  He  was captured by the Americans on December 10, 1899, and was made a prisoner of war in Manila until the following September. 

On January 5, 1901, Mabini published a scathing newspaper article titled "El Simil de Alejandro" (The Resemblance of Alejandro), which stated that "Man, whether or not he wishes, will work and strive for those rights with which Nature has endowed him, because these rights are the only ones which can satisfy the demands of his own being.  To tell a man to be quiet when a necessity not fulfilled is shaking all the fibers of his being is tantamount to asking a hungry man to be filled while taking the food which he needs."  The Americans immediately re-arrested him, and when he refused to swear fealty to the US, sent him into exile in Guam.

During his long exile, Apolinario Mabini wrote La Revolucion Filipina, a memoirs.  Worn down and sickly, fearing that he would die in exile, Mabini finally agreed to take the oath of allegiance to the US. 

Final Days:

On February 26, 1903, Mabini returned to the Philippines.  American officials offered him a plush government position as a reward for agreeing to take the fealty oath, but Mabini refused.  He released the following statement: "After two long years I am returning, so to speak, completely disoriented and, what is worse, almost overcome by disease and sufferings.  Nevertheless, I hope, after some time of rest and study, still to be of some use, unless I have returned to the Islands for the sold purpose of dying."

Sadly, his words were prophetic.  Mabini continued to speak and write in support of Philippine independence over the next several months.  He fell ill with cholera, which was rampant in the country after years of war, and died on May 13, 1903.  Apolinario Mabini was only 38 years old.