Why Was This Apolinario Mabini Statue in Guam So Controversial?
Apolinario Mabini's exile in Guam from 1901 to 1903 can be viewed as one of his last great acts of nationalism. He refused to submit to American powers and would end up being captured and arrested by United States troops. His letters from Guam talk about the conflicted state of a Filipino burdened by vested interests and the tragedy of being an American protectorate.
Our first Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the "brains of the revolution" was exiled in Guam, where he spent most of his remaining days. Just months before his demise, he returned to Manila and succumbed to cholera at just 38 years old.
There's a historical marker that honors Mabini, along with other Filipino exiles, at the War in the Pacific National Historical Park in the village of Asan, where they all stayed during that period. While certainly Guam-Philippines relations have benefited from the exchange, it is a different story for the people of Asan. They, after all, don't exactly identify with the Filipino revolutionary.
In 2015, plans for a life-sized Mabini statue to be erected in the area were in place. It was originally a symbol of friendship and cooperation between Asan and the city of Tanauan, Batangas, which is Mabini's hometown. It was soon met with rage, postponements, and protests from locals. The infamous statue had even stopped a mayor's reelection bid. How did this happen?
For starters, in September 2014, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced that Philippine Consul General Marciano R. De Borja met with Mayor Joana Margaret Blas of Asan-Maina to discuss possible locations for the installation of a new life-sized statue of Apolinario Mabini in Asan.
A sketch done by Mr. Rolly Zepeda and blueprint prepared by Mr. Meliton Santos of the Guam Filipino Artists was presented. Both parties agreed and formalized the deal in writing. The statue would be a donation from the First Asia Institute of Technology and Humanities, sculpted by Filipino artist Julie Lluch for Mabini's 150th birth anniversary.
Eventually, the statue would find its way to the Asan-Maina Village Center, where it received quite the backlash from residents. Protesters argued that they didn't have any ownership with Mabini, the figure. Many Asan residents didn't know who he was, too. A point of contention in the whole ordeal was the fact that locals were not told about the project from the onset. Residents would've wanted to see other improvements done to the village instead.
Citizens also advocated for a statue that should commemorate historical Chamorro figures. Chamorros are indigenous people that come from a predominantly Austronesian lineage. They are divided between the United States territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Micronesia.
The Mabini statue was met with delays, of course. Things got so heated that rallies were held. An Asan man had even thrown eggs at the statue at one point. The monument was also struck with a sledgehammer on one occasion.
The controversy also blew up in then-Mayor Joana Margaret Blas' face. Blas had been running for reelection at the time, and locals had decided that they wanted to vote her out. It was a "bigger picture" thing for the mayor. She explained that the statue would've had a playground and park, too. No local funds were used for the project, she added, and that the statue was merely a donation to the village. Residents had also tried to impeach her for it.
“Yes, a lot of our people were disappointed with our present mayor,” said Leslie San Nicolas, who had been the campaign manager of Democratic candidate Frankie Salas at the time. “They were disappointed with her over the Mabini statue. All of this is because she says she’s a mayor and can do what she wants to do.”
Blas opted to not move forward with the project. According to the former mayor, she conducted a petition to gauge support and opposition. San Nicolas, however, said Blas lied to her constituents. “She said she went house to house to get a feeling from the community… Yet you can ask anyone if the mayor went to their house, they all said ‘no,’” he added.
Blas, a Republican, was the only incumbent who lost her seat in the Primary Election that year. She, however, never regretted how the statue situation played out. The former mayor insisted that she only had good intentions for the project.
A photo of the supposed Mabini statue after Typhoon Dolphin.
As for the Mabini monument in Asan, it never got its unveiling ceremony. Typhoon Dolphin struck the village in 2015 and one of its collaterals was the monument. A tree crashed into the statue and that effectively ended the conversation.
The Mabini statue was marred by controversy from the start and ultimately met an unfortunate end. Strangely enough, its demise was at the hands of, not the people, but by Mother Nature herself. Hey, we guess it just was never meant to be.