Jul 232015


Today is the birthday (1864) of Apolinario Mabini y Maranan, a Filipino revolutionary leader, educator, lawyer, and statesman who served as the first Prime Minister of the Philippines, serving first under the Revolutionary Government, and then under the First Philippine Republic. Mabini performed all his revolutionary and governmental activities despite having lost the use of both his legs to polio shortly before the Philippine Revolution of 1896.

Mabini’s role in Philippine history saw him confronting first Spanish Colonial Rule in the opening days of the Philippine Revolution, and then American colonial rule in the days of the Philippine–American War. The latter saw Mabini captured and exiled to Guam by American colonial authorities, allowed to return only two months before his eventual death in May, 1903.

I want to make a polemical point here before I continue. Among the many reasons I write this blog is to draw attention to people and events that don’t make it into standard Western textbooks. When I mention to people that I am Argentino, the most common response is to the effect that Argentina is good at football. Some sing a snatch from “Don’t cry for me Argentina” but they rarely know who Evita was or why she was important. The Philippines suffer the same fate on the international stage. Among other things the colonization of the Philippines in the 16th century by the Spanish played a vital role in Euro-Chinese relations for several hundred years. You’d never know this reading a Western history textbook.


Mabini was born on July 23, 1864 in Barangay Talaga in Tanauan, Batangas. He was the second of eight children of Dionisia Maranan, a vendor in the Tanauan market, and Inocencio Mabini, an illiterate peasant. Mabini began informal studies under the guidance of Maestro Agustin Santiesteban III his mother (being illiterate does not make you stupid). Because he demonstrated uncommon intelligence, he was transferred to a regular school owned by Simplicio Avelino, where he worked as a houseboy, and also took odd jobs from a local tailor – all in exchange for board and lodging. He later transferred to a school conducted by Fray Valerio Malabanan, whose fame as an educator merited a mention in José Rizal’s novel El Filibusterismo.

In 1881 Mabini received a scholarship to go to the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Manila. An anecdote about his stay there says that a professor decided to pick on him because his shabby clothing clearly showed he was poor. Mabini amazed the professor by answering a series of very difficult questions with ease. His studies at Letran were periodically interrupted by a chronic lack of funds, and he earned money for his board and lodging by teaching children.

Mabini’s mother had wanted him to take up the priesthood, but his desire to defend the poor made him decide to take up law instead.He wrote:

I am convinced that the true minister of God is not one who wears a cassock, but everyone who proclaims His glory by good works of service to the greatest possible number of His creatures.


A year after receiving his Bachilles en Artes with highest honors and the title Professor of Latin from Letran, he moved on to the University of Santo Tomas, where he received his law degree in 1894.Comparing Mabini’s generation of Filipino intellectuals to the previous one of José Rizal and the other members of the propagandista movement, journalist and artist Nick Joaquin describes Mabini’s generation as the next iteration in the evolution of Filipino intellectual development:

Europe had been a necessary catalyst for the generation of Rizal. By the time of Mabini, the Filipino intellectual had advanced beyond the need for enlightenment abroad[….] The very point of Mabini’s accomplishment is that all his schooling, all his training, was done right here in his own country. The argument of Rizal’s generation was that Filipinos were not yet ready for self-government because they had too little education and could not aspire for more in their own country. The evidence of Mabini’s generation was that it could handle the affairs of government with only the education it had acquired locally. It no longer needed Europe; it had imbibed all it needed of Europe.

Mabini joined the Guild of Lawyers after graduation, but he did not choose to practice law in a professional capacity. He did not set up his own law office, and instead continued to work in the office of a notary public. Instead, Mabini put his knowledge of law to much use during the days of the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American war. Joaquin notes that all his contributions to Philippine history somehow involved the law:

His was a legal mind. He was interested in law as an idea, as an ideal[…] whenever he appears in our history he is arguing a question of legality.

Mabini joined the fraternity of Freemasonry in September 1892, affiliating with lodge Balagtas, and taking on the name “Katabay”. The following year, 1893, Mabini became a member of La Liga Filipina, which was being resuscitated after the arrest of its founder José Rizal in 1892. Mabini was made secretary of its new Supreme Council This was Mabini’s first time to join an explicitly patriotic organization.


Mabini, who advocated for the reformist movement, pushed for the organization to continue its goals of supporting La Solidaridad and the reforms it advocated. When more revolutionary members of La Liga indicated that they did not think the reform movement was getting results and wanted to more openly support revolution, La Liga Filipina split into two factions: the moderate Cuerpo de Compromisarios, which wanted simply to continue to support the revolution, and the explicitly revolutionary Katipunan.

When José Rizal, part of La Liga Filipina, was executed in December that year, however, Mabini changed his mind and gave the revolution his wholehearted support. Mabini was struck by polio in 1895, and the disease gradually incapacitated him until January 1896, when he finally lost the use of both his legs. When the plans of the Katipunan were discovered by Spanish authorities, and the first active phase of the 1896 Philippine Revolution began in earnest, Mabini, still ill, was arrested along with numerous other members of La Liga.

Thirteen patriots arrested in Cavite were tried and eventually executed, earning them the title of “Thirteen Martyrs of Cavite”. José Rizal himself was accused of being party to the revolution, and would eventually be executed in December that year. When the Spanish authorities saw that Mabini was paralyzed, however, they decided to release him.

Sent to the hospital after his arrest, Mabini remained in ill health for a considerable time. He was seeking the curative properties of the hot springs in Los Baños, Laguna in 1898 when Emilio Aguinaldo sent for him, asking him to serve as advisor to the revolution. During this convalescent period, Mabini wrote the pamphlets “El Verdadero Decalogo” and “Ordenanzas de la Revolucion.” Aguinaldo was impressed by these works and by Mabini’s role as a leading figure in La Liga Filipina, and made arrangements for Mabini to be brought from Los Baños to Kawit, Cavite. It took hundreds of men taking turns carrying his hammock to portage Mabini to Kawit.


He continued to serve as the chief adviser for General Aguinaldo after the Philippine Declaration of Independence on June 12. He drafted decrees and edited the first ever constitution in Asia (the Malolos Constitution) for the First Philippine Republic, including the framework of the revolutionary government which was implemented in Malolos in 1899.

Mabini was appointed prime minister and was also foreign minister of the newly independent dictatorial government of Aguinaldo on January 2, 1899. Eventually, the government declared the first Philippine republic in appropriate ceremonies on January 23, 1899. Mabini then led the first cabinet of the republic.

Mabini found himself in the center of the most critical period in the new country’s history, grappling with problems until then unimagined. Most notable of these were his negotiations with the United States, which began on March 6, 1899. The United States and the Philippine Republic were embroiled in extremely contentious and eventually violent confrontations. During the negotiations for peace, the U.S. offered Mabini autonomy for Aguinaldo’s new government, but the talks failed because Mabini’s conditions included a ceasefire, which was rejected. Mabini negotiated once again, seeking for an armistice instead, but the talks failed yet again. Eventually, feeling that the Americans were not negotiating in good faith, he forswore the Americans and supported war. He resigned from government on May 7, 1899.

The Philippine–American War saw Mabini taken more seriously as a threat by the Americans than he was under the Spanish: F. Sionil José writes:

The Spaniards underestimated Mabini primarily because he was a cripple. Had they known of his intellectual perspicacity, they would have killed him earlier. The Americans did not. They were aware of his superior intelligence, his tenacity when he faced them in negotiations for autonomy and ceasefire.


On December 10, 1899, he was captured by U.S. troops at Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, but granted leave to meet with W.H. Taft.In 1901, he was exiled to Guam, along with scores of revolutionaries, whom Americans referred to as ‘insurrectos’ and who refused to swear fealty to imperialist America. When Brig. Gen. Arthur C. MacArthur, Jr. was asked by the U.S. Senate to explain why Mabini had to be deported, he cabled:

Mabini deported: a most active agitator; persistently and defiantly refusing amnesty, and maintaining correspondence with insurgents in the field while living in Manila, Luzon.

Mabini returned home to the Philippines in February 1903 after agreeing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States on February 26, 1903 before the Collector of Customs. On the day he sailed, he issued this statement to the press:

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 sole purpose of dying.

To the chagrin of the American colonial officials, however, Mabini resumed his work of agitating for independence for the Philippines soon after he was back home from exile. Not long after his return, Mabini died of cholera in Manila on May 13, 1903 at the age of 38.  He is often known now by two epithets — The Brains of the Revolution and The Sublime Paralytic.

Rice is a staple in the Philippines, of course, and I have chosen sinangag (garlic fried rice) as my recipe du jour for several reasons. First because I am a big fan of properly cooked fried rice (which I get in abundance at street stalls in China). Second, because it is, among other things, a cheap peasant dish indicative of Mabini’s roots. Third, because I like garlic. In fact, just today I bought 50 cloves of peeled garlic (for about 50 cents) and have been chucking it in everything. You are best using non-sticky long grained rice, jasmine rice is excellent, that was cooked the day before. Sinangag is often served as a breakfast dish, either on its own or with some meat and vegetables. It can also be used as a side dish for regular meals. Kissing immediately afterwards is not recommended.



Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok over medium-low heat.

Add 10 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, and cook slowly. If the oil is too hot the garlic will become bitter. Let it sauté, stirring now and again, until it is golden brown.

Turn up the heat and add 4 cups of day-old, cooked rice. Fry stirring constantly until the rice is heated through and the garlic flavored oil has coated the rice grains.

Serve immediately.