Saturday Afternoon with Ambeth and Apolinario

Ambeth and Apolinario: Face to Face

Prof. Ambeth Ocampo is one of the more popular Filipino historians, especially among students. He has written hundreds of interesting articles for Philippine Daily Inquirer and has published several books, most of which are compilations of these articles. I have read 16 out of his 22 books (Thank you, Jed!). I did not have the fortune to have him as my history professor in college, but his reputation has preceded him (I had Mam Habana for two semesters, Sir Totanes and Fr. Lahiff). I wanted to walk up to him and gush about his books every time I saw him walking around the campus, but my shy young self stopped me from doing so.

Che invited me to attend his lecture on Apolinario Mabini who would have celebrated his 150th birthday on July 23 (according to Mabini) or July 22 (according to esteemed historian Teodoro Agoncillo). Apolinario Mabini: Face to Face is the second of a three-lecture History Comes Alive! series with Sir Ambeth at Ayala Museum. Tickets cost P350 or US $8.08 for regular patrons and P250 or US $5.77 for students, senior citizens and teachers. Each ticket comes with a free Ambeth book and tour of Ayala Museum. The lecture lasts around 75 minutes. Sir Ambeth arrives at the venue several minutes before the lecture starts, and he is nice enough to have his photos taken.

façade of Ayala Museum
The book that came with my ticket
The venue of the lecture

I have to admit that I am not familiar with Apolinario Mabini. My mind in a state of tabula rasa is a good thing because I soak up a lot of new information about the Filipino hero called the Sublime Paralytic, which Sir Ambeth says is a title that does not really mean anything. He mentions that if Apolinario were a superhero, he would have been Professor Xavier of X-Men for obvious reasons. Juan Luna would have been someone with a laser coming out of his finger and Jose Rizal’s superhero version would have been buff.

The superhero version of Jose Rizal

Sir Ambeth talks about Mabini’s struggles as a young boy in Tananuan, Batangas, and how his poverty did not hinder him from educating himself. He read voraciously, the books he read did not belong to him, except for one, with his signature on it (Mabini’s signature is beautiful).

Sir Ambeth relates a heart-wrenching story that made Mabini grounded and incorruptible. Although he was the only one (out of eight children) who was sent to school, he did not have the luxury of having decent school materials. One day, he asked his mother to give him some money so he could buy a new suit as his current one was in tatters. His mother gathered all their crops (coffee?), walked to the market, which was kilometers away from their house and returned with a single silver coin. She gave Apolinario the silver coin, but he did not spend it to buy the suit because he saw how his mother worked hard to get it. Not long after that, his mother got sick and eventually died, and he blamed his vanity for her death. He kept the coin and took it with him as he rose to power as the right hand of Emilio Aguinaldo, as he fell out of favor and was exiled to Guam. After his death, that coin was the only material possession of import that was found among his belongings. Throughout his life, that silver coin reminded Mabini not to pilfer from the government coffers.

One silver coin can change the destiny of a person

Sir Ambeth also touches on the controversial gossip as to how and why Mabini became a paralytic. Ambrosio Rianzares and his cohorts might have spread the malicious rumor that Mabini became paralyzed due to syphilis. It must be noted that Mabini replaced Rianzares as adviser to Aguinaldo. Mabini had polio, which led to his paralysis, not syphilis. Sir Ambeth and author F. Sionil Jose had a conversation about this. F. Sionil Jose’s Po-on has a character based on Mabini.

Ambeth Ocampo and F. Sionil Jose

There are slides of letters and articles written by Mabini, in Spanish and in Filipino. He wrote El Verdadero Decálogo to guide the revolutionists. He wrote the entire Florante at Laura from memory, while in exile, because someone asked him if Philippines had some form of literature. Mabini’s eidetic memory could have been handy in Fahrenheit 451’s situation.

Verdadero Decálogo
Mabini’s life in his own words—I was born in 1864, in Tanauan, Batangas. I studied in Manila in 1881. I passed by XXX in 1882-1883. I returned in Manila to study Philosophy 1884-1885. That would have been a short autobiography.

From what I gather from the lecture, Mabini was an upstanding man—he walked the walked (no pun intended) and talked the talked. He wanted to fight for Philippine independence and did not want the Americans’ help. He was astute. He asked Aguinaldo to transfer his political enemies closer to him to stop them from gaining ground without his knowledge. He was wise. He asked Aguinaldo if there was a signed contract between him and an American representative (a gentleman’s handshake was not enough) and well, the Americans screwed us over. He was honest. He sent Aguinaldo a letter complaining about the noise his visitors made, which made Mabini’s head hurt. He did not use flowery words in his articles to mislead the readers. He was as, Sir Ambeth says, a fortuneteller. He knew the fate of the country 120 years before it happened. He knew that politicians would be selfish, insatiable and corrupt.

Book signing and photo opportunity after the lecture

History Comes Alive! Juan Luna: Face to Face is on August 30, 2014. For more information, please visit

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