What I've Learned

“Authority over the people resides, by natural law, in the people themselves.”—Apolinario Mabini

The Brains of the Revolution, the Sublime Paralytic.
IMAGE Presidential Museum and Library on Flickr


1864-1903, Revolutionary leader, lawyer, and statesman


By “political revolution,” I understand a popular movement designed to cause a drastic change in the organization and action of the three public powers; the legislative, executive and judicial. If the movement is slow, gradual, or progressive, it is called “evolution.” [...] This conflict is resolved by prudence, which counsels evolution.

While pride sometimes instills courage and perseverance in the pursuit of hazardous enterprises, it is always an evil counsellor in determining whether a proposed objective is expedient or not.

I was not fated to be a priest. The true minister of God is not one who wears a cassock, but everyone who proclaims His glory by good works of service to the greatest possible number of His creatures.

Conscious of pain, and thus conscious of life, [Filipinos] asked themselves what kind of a life they lived. The awakening was painful, and working to stay alive more painful still, but one must live. How? They did not know, and the desire to know, the anxiety to learn, overwhelmed and took possession of the youth of the Philippines. The curtain of ignorance woven diligently for centuries was rent at last: fiat lux, let there be light, would not be long in coming, the dawn of a new day was nearing.

It was necessary to picture the miseries of the Filipinos more movingly, so that the abuses, and the afflictions they caused, might be publicly revealed in the most vivid colours of reality. Only a novel could combine all these attractions, and Rizal set himself to writing novels.


In truth the merit of Rizal’s sacrifice consists precisely in that it was voluntary and conscious. He had known perfectly well that, if he denounced the abuses which the Spaniards were committing in the Philippines, they would not sleep in peace until they had encompassed his ruin; yet he did so because, if the abuses were not exposed, they would never be remedied.

Political scandal-mongers nicknamed me “Devil’s Advocate to the President.” Seeing that my advice was not only useless but even resented by the cabinet members, and fearing that they would blame me for their own failures, I tried to disassociate myself from Mr. Aguinaldo, moving to another house against his wishes. But he immediately ordered the installation of a telephone connection between his house and [mine], so that, to my discomfiture, I continued to play the part of devil’s advocate.

We fought in the conviction that our dignity and sense of duty required the sacrifice of defending our freedoms as long as we could, since without them social equality between the dominant class and the native population would be impossible in practice and perfect justice among us could not have been achieved. Yet we knew it would not be long before our scant resources were exhausted, and our defeat inevitable. 

Like any other man, I hold to certain truths which rule and guide my conscience and which constitute my articles of faith. They enjoin me to believe that all authority over the people resides, by natural law, in the people themselves. 

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The ruler’s success is always to be found in the adjustment of his practical measures to the natural and immutable order of things and to the special needs of the locality, an adjustment that can be made with the help of theoretical knowledge and experience. The source of all failures in government can therefore be found, not in mistaken theories but in unprincipled practices arising from base passions or ignorance.

I joined the struggle in the belief that I was following the voice of the people; I quit it now for the same reason.

The Revolution failed because it was badly led; because its leader won his post by reprehensible rather than meritorious acts; because instead of supporting the men most useful to the people, he made them useless out of jealousy. Identifying the aggrandizement of the people with his own, he judged the worth of men not by their ability, character and patriotism but rather by their degree of friendship and kinship with him; and, anxious to secure the readiness of his favorites to sacrifice themselves for him, he was tolerant even of their transgressions. Because he thus neglected the people, the people forsook him; and forsaken by the people, he was bound to fall like a waxen idol melting in the heat of adversity. God grant we do not forget such a terrible lesson, learnt at the cost of untold suffering.

How shall we get foreigners to respect our women when we ourselves set the example of offending them?


I have tried to be impartial. I have also tried to render judgment on events and not on particular individuals. But in adjudging the Revolution, I could do no less than pass judgment on the man who did not recoil from crime in order to embody the Revolution in himself from beginning to end.


The frustrated Andres Bonifacio was wont to say when he was still alive that we should fear no one except History, and indeed History is implacable in doing justice, and its judgment is terrible against the offender.

Only he is truly a patriot who, whatever his post, high or low, tries to do the greatest possible good to his countrymen.

True honor is attained by teaching our minds to recognize truth, and training our hearts to love it. 

Develop the special talents that God has given you, working and studying according to your capabilities, never straying from the path of good and justice, in order to achieve your own perfection, and by this means you will contribute to the progress of humanity.

The Filipino people, educated by long sufferings during the protracted dominion of Spain, have learned to reflect and to judge things calmly, even in the midst of great excitement. They know that, no matter how great and civilized a people may be, it contains bad men as well as good men; and, therefore, they do not condemn all.

How shall we get foreigners to respect our women when we ourselves set the example of offending them? Can we Filipino men expect to be respected when our women are not?

Reflecting now on subsequent events, I find no evidence that my banishment to Guam contributed in any way toward the capture of Aguinaldo and Lukban or the surrender of Malvar and other Filipino leaders; on the contrary, there is reason to believe that this error had more than a little to do with the prolongation of hostilities and loss of lives. 


I have no other balm to sweeten the bitterness of a harsh and melancholy life than the satisfaction given by the conviction of having always done what I believed to be my duty. God grant that I can say the same at the hour of my death.


These quotes are excerpted mainly from the English translation of Apolinario Mabini’s La Revolucion Filipina by writer and statesman Leon Ma. Guerrero, as it appears in The Presidential Museum and Library.

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