Thursday, September 23, 2004

News and gossip from Mabini

News and gossip from Mabini

Updated 11:01pm (Mla time) Sept 23, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the September 24, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

BROWSING through Apolinario Mabini's correspondence recently, I was drawn to a number of chatty letters to Marcelo H. del Pilar. My original impression, after going through all these letters twice several years ago, was that, compared to Jose Rizal's, they were devoid of human interest. Mabini probably turned serious and conscious of his letters when he was Emilio Aguinaldo's trusted adviser.

In the US Library of Congress are letters addressed to Aguinaldo, with marginal notes, usually a draft reply, written in Mabini's small almost feminine script (which is why some people make a big thing about his surname, maliciously linking it to “binibini” [miss]). Poor Mabini was the target of a demolition job that originated from the Malolos Congress. The nasty rumors about his paralysis and venereal disease emanated from his enemies in Congress, and these were debunked only in the 1980s following an autopsy proving that the Sublime Paralytic lost the use of his legs due to polio, not syphilis.

Mabini had a human side and we get rare glimpses of this in his letters to Del Pilar. For example, in a letter dated Nov. 28, 1894, he narrated:

"In the last town fiesta of Cavite, moments before the start of the bicycle race, which was one of the highlights of the celebration, the captain of the civil guards of one of the military posts of the said province pushed Don Jose Luna out of his way, insulting him at the same time. As it was to be expected, this resulted in a challenge to a duel, which the captain refused to accept. He is the kind of man who values his life as much as he despises the dignity of a fellow human being."

One would wish that Mabini's notes and comments made it to some small blind item or a column in La Solidaridad because some of the gossip is as interesting today as it was 110 years ago. In the same letter of Nov. 28, 1894, he said:

"In Santa Isabel, Bulacan, an event took place lately, news of which was circulated here among our friends. The parish priest of that town visited the Municipal School for Girls and, because of his brazen and discourteous behavior, of which only our friars are capable, a fight ensued between him and two girls. The girls came out with bruised heads, whereas the parish priest, his garments torn to shreds, ran down the streets, giving a show of nakedness never expected even by Christ himself. I am not in a position to guarantee this news."

Sometimes Mabini relates the social and political tension during those times. On Jan. 22, 1895, he wrote Del Pilar:

"Rumors of an approaching rebellion are starting again to circulate here and the government is trying to forestall it by giving secret orders to the police to raid any meeting of the Freemasons and arrest the people they come upon as if they were gamblers. For this reason, the workshops here, which will never be found guilty of audacity because they have learned enough prudence, have suspended their work to avoid criminal complaint for unlawful assembly. In truth, I do not know how Freemasonry, being a lawful association in Spain, could be unlawful in the Philippines, where it is practiced exactly as Spanish Freemasonry."

In our history textbooks, the Philippine Revolution led by Andres Bonifacio seems to appear out of nowhere. Of course, the Revolution is supposed to have resulted from centuries of neglect and opposition, but to have rumors of a rebellion circulating over a year before August 1896 made me realize how paranoid Spanish Manila could be. In the same letter, Mabini related:

"The municipal captain of the town of Talisay, Batangas, is under court-martial because a letter, signed by him and addressed to the German Consul requesting that the accompanying letter be sent to Rizal, was found in the person of the drunkard. In this letter, Rizal was being informed that the people of Talisay and others were already prepared and only waiting for his decision. It is clear that it is a coarse scheme, plotted by his enemies, which does not even deserve to be mentioned had the authorities not given it importance and, like Quixote, started persecuting what did not exist."

So rumors of a rebellion were not real? The alleged letter to Rizal from rebels in Talisay was a forgery planted on this poor innocent man? Didn't Bonifacio send an emissary to Dapitan to ask Rizal what he thought of the revolution and whether he was willing to support it?

This mixture of news and gossip deserves a second look if only to help us recreate the history of the late 19th century. In a letter dated April 29, 1895 Mabini related news that sounded like Basilio and Crispin in "Noli Me Tangere":

"In Manila nowadays the only topic of conversation is the theft of a ciborium in the church of Paco. The suspects, two sacristans, died in San Juan de Dios Hospital because of tortures inflicted on them with real inquisitorial fury. There are rumors circulating around, which appear as truth. What is worse is that it is also being heard around that one of the sacristans declared that the parish priest had knowledge of the theft, doubtless to implicate certain persons whom he does not trust. But this last rumor is still uncertain."

Mabini wrote only to Del Pilar, but now his letters are read by others who are curious about his life and times.


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