By Marivir R. Montebon
Ambassador Mario de Leon Jr., the Philippine Consul-general for New York, said that if Apolinario Mabini were alive today, he would have likely asked countries in Southeast Asia to rally along with the Philippines in defiance to China’s claims of the Spratlys group of islands sprinkled on China sea and within the 200 miles off Philippine coasts.
De Leon, fresh from his Philippine trip, opened The Mabini Sessions on July 23, Thursday, in the auspices of the Philippine Consulate of New York. This was to become an annual undertaking where foreign diplomats can discuss issues with the local communities of the east coast, he said.
Someone from the audience was up and about in defending the Spratly’s group of islands and has endorsed fully the necessity of linking with other southeast Asian countries to create a stronger voice for its territorial claims. The Filipinos in attendance couldn’t agree enough on this issue. A lot more on foreign service surfaced in the one-hour public forum.
Aptly called the Mabini Sessions, the forum is in honor of Apolonario Mabini, the first foreign minister of the Philippines under the Malolos government.
De Leon, now on his fourth year of service in New York, was riding high and relaxed on the questions of Makilala TV hosts Jen Furer, Cristina Pastor, and Rachelle Ocampo, swinging interestingly from how he managed to touch base with Filipino communities in the east coast, to surmising the ideological depth and brilliance of Mabini.
A notable leader of the Philippine revolution against Spain and the US in the late 1890s, Mabini was a staunch defender of independence from foreign aggression. In the last years of his short life (he died at the age 39 due to cholera epidemic), he refused to swear allegiance to the new colonizer, America, and was deported to Guam. Upon realizing he was so sick, he decided to swear allegiance in exchange to be returned to the Philippines. But when he was back, he continued agitating Katipuneros for independence.
The American government, then under Pres. McKinley, regarded Mabini as dangerous. He was physically impaired due to polio in his adult life, and was constantly in hiding to allude arrest while he continued to write about politics and governance.
Mabini resigned from the Aguinaldo cabinet, sometime in 1899, owing to their differences. He staunchly criticized Aguinaldo for signing the truce of the Biak-na-Bato in 1897, calling it an act of duplicity and has thus weakened the revolutionary forces.
In this truce, the Katipunan, agreed to stop the fight against Spain and lay down its arms in exchange for $800,000 (Mexican) a year before the Treaty of Paris was signed, notably selling the Spanish colonies of Cuba, Philippines, and Mexico to the USA for $20 million (US).
Aguinaldo had a beating from Mabini, reputed as the brains of the Katipunan. He wrote, condemning the death of Andres Bonifacio in the hands of Aguinaldo as “the first triumph of personal ambition upon true patriotism” and concluded that “the revolution failed because it was badly directed, because its director gained his place not by meritorious, but by irresponsible actions; because instead of sustaining the most useful men for the country, he rendered them useless by jealousy.”
He also opposed the idea of declaring Philippine independence. Historian Teodoro Agoncillo noted that Mabini rejected the idea because “it was more important to reorganize the government in such a manner as to convince the foreign powers of the competence and stability of the new government than to proclaim Philippine independence at such an early period.”
I would have wanted to ask Ambassador de Leon if Mabini would advice the current government to declare a default on the Philippine foreign debt. But we were pressed for time. Following the thread of a relentless mind, I think maybe he would do what exactly Greece did. Mabini has been reputed to not dance with the colonialists.