“THE MORAL stance of Apolinario Mabini was his best legacy,” said novelist F. Sionil José. “He was the most intellectual of our heroes, the most intellectual of them all.”
The National Artist for Literature spoke at a recent symposium on Mabini at Club Filipino in San Juan City, Metro Manila, which was organized by actor-director Nick Lizaso, a history buff.
“More intellectual than Rizal?” I asked.
“Yes,” José replied simply.
In an anecdote about Mabini, he recounted this story: After talking to an historian, he had written in one of his novels that Mabini had syphilis “just to humanize him.” Only to be told later by historian-columnist Ambeth Ocampo that was not true; Mabini was a polio victim.
“So I had to correct this,” José said. “So, to young writers who are into historical novels, never commit the mistake I made.”
The novelist added that he disagreed with how Nick Joaquin, another National Artist, treated Mabini in his book of historical essays, “A Question of Heroes.”
José and the late Joaquin were actually good friends who loved to argue about history and literature whenever the two had a drink at Solidaridad Bookshop on Padre Faura, Manila, where José holds office.
“Mabini was a very moral and upright person,” José said.
Regina Buenaventura, granddaughter of National Artist Antonino Buenaventura, rendered classical pieces such as Abelardo’s “Cavatina” and De Guzman-De Jesus’ “Bayan Ko,” accompanied by concert pianist Jonathan Coo.
The other speaker, Augusto de Viana, chair of the History Department of University of Santo Tomas, said that at school Mabini had no shoes, no books, just borrowed from classmates but always gave the correct answers. He attended Letran College and went on to study law at UST. His grades were always sobresaliente or excellent.
“His grades were higher than Rizal’s,” De Viana said. “If you go to UST now, you will see [them] in the records.”
As he told the story, “the day he was to receive his diploma, Mabini decided to stay home because his family had no money for his graduation accouterments, like toga. Lo and behold, a few hours before graduation, a brand-new toga was delivered to his house, free of charge, donated by a woman who previously won a legal battle upon Mabini’s brilliant advice even when others had deemed it hopeless.”
One Dominican professor, after listening to how young Apolinario answered questions with a philosophical bent, predicted that he would become an important official in the land someday.
Mabini established a school in Intramuros, which lasted for two years. And he was for corporal punishment.
“Galit na galit siya sa (He was very angry at) students who could not concentrate,” De Viana said.
After drinking unpasteurized milk, Mabini died of cholera on May 13, 1903.
According to the history chair, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo considered the house where Mabini was born to be bad luck, blamed it for the floods in Manila, and had it transferred.
At a Malacañang reception, De Viana quoted Macapagal-Arroyo as saying “’Yung bahay na ’yan ni Mabini, fake, peque ‘yan.”
So he stood up and said, “Madam President, that house was where Mabini died. It is historical and sacred.”
De Viana added, “She just kept quiet.”