On Mabini, paralysis and intrigue

There’s screencap of a tweet going around social media about how a girl who watched Heneral Luna was clueless as to why Apolinario Mabini was always seated in every scene he was in.

Netizens were quick to do a collective facepalm and throw some barbs, puns and memes about the said girl.

Push ARTICLE: Epy Quizon, nagbigay ng komento sa viral tweet tungkol sa isang netizen na hindi alam ang kanyang karakter…

Posted by Abs-Cbn on Thursday, September 24, 2015

I wasn’t that surprised at all, only fearful of what young folks today know and understand, or the lack of it, about our own history. The girl, is clearly ignorant of who Apolinario Mabini is and why he was stuck in a chair.

There’s also greater chance that the girl is not alone. Many others might also be unaware of why Apolinario Mabini is always seated in the textbook images, statues and iconography.

So why was he always seated in a chair or in a wheelchair? The latter would obviously mean he is paralyzed from the waist down. According to historical records, Apolinario Mabini was stuck by Polio in 1895 and he completely lost the use of his legs in January 1896, months before the Philippine Revolution broke out through the leadership of Andres Bonifacio and the K.K.K. or Katipunan movement.

What’s interesting is there were other theories about Mabini’s paralysis. Historian Ambeth Ocampo shares some of these theories as recounted by Alejandro Mabini:

“It was a rainy day and Manila was flooded when he [Mabini] noticed that his pet horse was missing, Kaka Pole ignored the rain and went out to look for the horse. When he returned hours later with his horse he was drenched to the skin. The following morning, Kaka Pole felt a numbness in one of his legs. The numbness kept spreading until a week later, his body was almost completely paralyzed.”

The other theory, and this one is more controversial, is that Mabini’s paralysis was caused by syphilis! Again, I refer to Ambeth Ocampo who had a great discussion about this in his column that appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer back in 2009:

“I still remember the afternoon in the National Library when senior members of the National Historical Institute were looking out the window towards T.M. Kalaw Street. Teodoro A. Agoncillo and E. Aguilar Cruz first commented on the statue of pre-war National Library director Teodoro M. Kalaw by National Artist Napoleon Abueva that stood guard in front of the library. Then they looked at the statue of Apolinario Mabini that also adorned the lawn. One of the historians quipped, “Oh, from the sublime to the syphilitic?” and both laughed like college students enjoying a dirty joke. I was to learn later that Mabini was supposed to have lost the use of his legs because of syphilis.

I was always warned that syphilis could lead to blindness and even madness, but paralysis? Both historians did not seem to know that in 1980 the remains of Mabini were exhumed by a team of orthopedic specialists, led by Dr. Jose M. Pujalte, whose son Brix is now the president of the Philippine Orthopedic Association. After careful reconstruction, X-ray and analysis, the team concluded that Mabini’s paralysis was not caused by syphilis, as some people would like to believe, but it was the result of adult polio.

Unfortunately, juicy rumors like this have a long shelf life because some people just want to believe the worst of someone as upright as Mabini. In contemporary times isn’t Elpidio Quirino remembered for a “golden orinola” under a P5,000 bed? One can only hope that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be remembered for something more substantial than breast implants.

In case someone objects to the topic of today’s column, the rumor of Mabini’s syphilis should really be forgotten especially in the light of the findings that he had polio. But the story resonates as we approach the coming presidential elections when we will see, hear, and read similar mud-slinging.

The more important lesson in the Mabini syphilis rumor is why the story was created. If you take the time to study Mabini’s short stint in government, you would see how he rose to become the most powerful man in the First Republic. Mabini went through all of Emilio Aguinaldo’s papers, often drafting replies and recommending action. Mabini’s wise and principled counsel was always at Aguinaldo’s disposal so that he made many enemies who described him as the “camara negra (dark chamber) of the President. Mabini was not the same as a crony in the Marcos administration or “we bulong” in the Aquino administration or even the “midnight cabinet” in the Estrada administration. Mabini felt it was his job to protect the President and the Republic at all cost. He was criticized and insulted for doing his job. And when no anomaly could be laid at his door, his enemies concentrated on his disability and tarnished his reputation with the syphilis rumor.

Mabini was removed from office through political intrigue, which was probably a good thing because, failing in that, his enemies would have probably resorted to assassination in the same way they disposed of Antonio Luna.

It is unfortunate that few people read our history because they are jaded by boring textbook history. With the exception of Teodoro Agoncillo, who tried to write history and make it as engaging as fiction, most academic history is written by academics for fellow academics, their research buried in deadly prose and entombed in academic journals squirreled away in university libraries. Our history has everything, from the inspiring to the depressing. If more people read and learned from it, then the Philippines would be a better place today.”

Hopefully, the discussion about our national heroes, their lives, their deaths and even the trivialities would encourage the youth not just to study our own history more diligently, but ultimately, learn from the rich lessons it carries for I believe that we make our own history. It is entirely up to us whether the history that we make, is something that we can be ashamed of, or something we can be proud of.

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