‘Apolinario Mabini’s Leadership 101’

Emilio AguinaldoAguinaldo was a general in the revolution against Spain and he rose to power and became the “first president” of the republic.  He is also remembered as the president who proclaimed the independence of the Philippines from his mansion in Kawit, Cavite on June 12,1898.

Ferdinand Marcos was an elected representative from Ilocos Norte who became senate president.  In 1965 and 1969, he was elected and reelected as the president of the Philippines.  History remembers Marcos as the president who declared martial law on September 21, 1972.  His rule is known for human rights abuses and corruption.

Rodrigo Duterte is a strongman mayor from Davao City who was elected as the 16th president of the Republic of the Philippines in 2016.

Aguinaldo became the “leader” of the Philippine revolt against Spain after he deposed Andres Bonifacio, the supreme leader of the Katipunan.  Marcos imposed his authoritarian rule in 1972 and sought to perpetuate himself in power by declaring martial law and hadthe constitution rewritten to serve his authoritarianrule.

Duterte as president made pronouncements about having a revolutionary government with dictatorial powers.

Both Aguinaldo and Marcos abused the position that they had.  For Duterte, there are lessons that he should learn from Aguinaldo’s and Marcos’ presidency, and why dictatorships don’t work.  Apolinario Mabini wrote in his book,“The Philippine Revolution,”about the type of leader that Aguinaldo was during his time and this can serve as a wake-up call for Duterte and the Filipino people who romanticize dictators and authoritarian rule—

“The Revolution failed because it was badly directed, because its leader won his post not with praiseworthy but with blameworthy acts, because instead of employing the most useful men of the nation he jealously discarded them. Believing that the advance of the people was no more than his own personal advance, he did not rate men according to their ability, character and patriotism but according to the degree of friendship or kinship binding him to them; and wanting to have favorites willing to sacrifice themselves for him, he showed himself lenient to their faults. Because he disdained the people, he could not but fall like an idol of wax melting in the heat of adversity. May we never forget such a terrible lesson learned at the cost of unspeakable sufferings.”

We should learn from the lessons that Apolinario Mabini wrote about regarding the character and leadership of Aguinaldo.  Achieving genuine and true democracy will be an impossible goal if leaders only lookout for themselves and are surrounded by inept, irrational, and irresponsible people who do not have the interest of the whole nation and its people in their hearts.

Government by the people should be managed by brilliantleaders and managers who have the national interest as their end in mind.

It is not enough that a leader can manage a locality.  Aguinaldo became the “cabeza de barangay” in his town and when the reorganization of local governments was enacted in 1895, at the age of 25, hethen became Cavite el Viejo’s first “gobernadorcillo capitan municipal” (Municipal Governor-Captain), which is the equivalent of the present day municipal mayor in the Philippines.

Even if we give Aguinaldo the benefit of the doubt that he was a capable local leader, this did not translate to a leadership that he could be proud of when he became president.

Aguinaldo’s rule was about patronage and he did his best in excluding the very people who were willing to fight for the genuine interest of the Filipino people.  Instead of being on the side of Andres Bonifacio, Antonio Luna, Emilio Jacinto, and instead of empowering and giving his support to one able and very capable cabinet member in Apolinario Mabini, Aguinaldo traveled and trekked the road of patronage politics and associating himself with those who were out to enrich themselves.  This led to the weakening of Mabini’s voice as those who feared Mabini’s honesty and brilliant mind succeeded in silencing him and keeping him as far away from Aguinaldo as possible.

Antonio Luna was his only general who understood the warfare and military science after Jose Torres Bugallon died, but Luna too was killed by forces loyal to Aguinaldo as he feared that General Luna was a threat to his presidency.  After the brave general died, with no capable leader to lead his army, losses after losses led to Aguinaldo’s capture and arrest in Palanan, Isabela.

The Filipino people must learn from the bitter lessons that the great Apolinario Mabini pointed out.  A nation should be led by people who know what they are doing and who have the best interest of the nation in their minds and hearts.  Also, democracy can only survive when there is an active political opposition and when the democratic institutions are functioning to guarantee that there is check and balance.


Jojo Liangco is an attorney with the Law Offices of Amancio M. Liangco Jr. in San Francisco, California.  His practice is in the areas of immigration, family law, personal injury, civil litigation, business law, bankruptcy, DUI cases, criminal defense and traffic court cases.  Please send your comments to Jojo Liangco, c/o Law Offices of Amancio “Jojo” Liangco, 605 Market Street, Suite 605, San Francisco, CA94105 or you can call him (415) 974-5336.