Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Political Philosophy of Mabini and Recto

Claro M. Rector and Apolinario Mabini

The pictures are taken from

by Alan S. Cajes


The political ideas of Apolinario Mabini and Claro M. Recto were largely shaped by the socio-economic and political conditions of the country during their respective eras. . In the case of Mabini, the following factors contributed to the development of his political philosophy:
  • Infusion of liberal ideas from Europe to the Philippines;[1]
  • Demand for the secularization of the clergy and the conflicts between the regular and secular priests which culminated in the execution of Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora;[2]
  • Demand for the abolition of statute labor, which was perceived as a clear violation of the principle that all men are created equal;[3]
  • Advancement in material prosperity and cultural maturity of the Filipinos;[4]
  • Increased education and literacy of the Filipinos;[5]
  • Increased “weight of taxation on that segment of the population least able to bear it;[6]
  • Abuses committed by the Spanish authorities against the Filipinos;[7]
  • Activities and writings during the Propaganda movement;[8]
  • Two phases of the Philippine Revolution;[9]
  • Religious schism which resulted in the establishment of the Filipino National Church,[10] and
  • Mabini’s encounters with the other leaders of the revolution who wanted him out of power.
These factors, coupled with Mabini’s knowledge of Philosophy and Law, facilitated the development of his ideas.

In the case of Claro Recto, the following factors serve as a background in understanding his thoughts:
  • Virtual free trade between the United States and the Philippines which was viewed as “highly prejudicial to the economic interests” of the Filipinos;[11]
  • Poor economic performance of the country and the deplorable condition of the country’s poor population;[12]
  • Control by American citizens and corporations of the country’s economy through the parity clause of the Trade act;[13]
  • His vast and solid experience as a politician and leader of the nationalist movement of the country, and
  • His own education in law and readings of the literature on nationalist industrialization.
Mabini’s Political Philosophy

Apolinario Mabini stands out as one of the greatest, if not the foremost, political philosophers of the country. He is also one of the most comprehensive and consistent of all the Filipino philosophers.

Concept of Man and Society

According to Mabini, “all men have been given life by preserve and employ in terms of a preordained mission, which is to proclaim God’s glory in doing what is good and just.”[14] Men are by nature good and just and have the capacity to unfold his goodness and sense of justice to others. In this context, freedom can only be understood as doing what is good and just, meaning what is reasonable. He said: “True liberty is only for what is good and never for what is evil; it is always in accordance with Reason and the upright and honest conscience of the individual.”[15]

Since life is a gift from God, man has the freedom to acquire all the means to preserve life in a manner which does not constitute a violation of God’s will as implanted in nature.[16] This freedom is inalienable to man and “prior to all human law.”[17] Thus, anyone who leads a luxurious life at the expense of others is guilty of violating the natural law.

On Government

The importance of the government is based on the idea that men form a society for the purpose of mutual help so that each other “may enjoy the greatest possible well-being which would not be possible if men were isolated.”[18] There are those who belong to society who “desire to live at the expense of others.”[19] These people, according to Mabini, “are either the strongest or the most shrewd. Forgetting how they ought to act...they begin by either force or deceit to appropriate the means of the livelihood of others. In so doing, they mock the rights which others have by nature. These being reduced into slavery, are forced to labor for the increase of the personal interests of others.”[20] Because of this condition, it is imperative for society to have a leader, “who by superior force and intelligence, will prevent some individuals from usurping the rights of others, and who will allow everyone to work, in accordance with their respective specialization.”[21]

This leads to a basic question in Mabini’s philosophy: “Who shall be that power who will order others and to whom obedience is necessary...and who will mediate on the clash of interests -- that chronic disease of society?”[22] Now, since all virtues can hardly be found in one man, society has to elect him who is the most qualified. Thus, he, “although equal to all others, has the right to direct others, because his associates have conferred upon him this power.”[23]

It is important to stress the point that Mabini conceived political power as something that is derived from the consent of the governed. The political leader possesses power because his associates in society grant him such power. This power, however, is limited by the principle that the people are only permitted to obey him in all that is just. The moment the leader disgraces himself before his people, he ceases to possess the power granted to him.

Mabini considered the probability that a political leader can veer away from the objectives of his office. He said: “It is necessary that the members of society should nominate a group of men that will represent them before this authority, with the expressed purpose of determining the limitations of the power of this authority and the extent of how to fulfill his mission. This group of men should also see to it that the maintenance of this public power should be done with the greatest possible equality and in proportion to the individual capacity of each member of society. This is the only method by which the elected one will be prevented from abusing his powers.”[24]

What Mabini describes is the check and balance mechanism between two organs of the government, namely the executive and the legislative. The executive needs the guidelines from the legislative in order to perform his functions. Thus lawmaking, which is the function of the legislative body, shall be for the purpose of setting the terms of reference for the executive.

How is the legislative body checked? Mabini said: “The guarantee for the proper functioning of the legislative is its truly representative character and the public character of its sessions.”[25]

A third organ of the state is the judiciary, which is tasked to determine the “kind of punishment for evil in society”. The legislature checks the judiciary by seeing to it that the exercise of judicial power “should be done with the greatest possible equality and in proportion to the individual capacity of each member of society.”[26]

Function of Government

While Jose Rizal and Emilio Jacinto used the phrase “welfare of the people,” Mabini is more specific by saying that the function of the government is to “study the needs and interpret the desires of the people in order to fulfill the one and satisfy the other.”[27] This idea is consistent with his notion of governance as one which is based on the consent of the people. This consent is based on the principle that the leader governs in order to promote the people’s interests. The moment a political leader fails to perform this duty, the legitimacy of his government is in jeopardy.

Obedience to Law

State laws are derived from natural law as interpreted by Reason. Thus obedience to law simply means obedience to Reason. The collective Reason of the people constitutes what is called authority. Thus all authority belongs to the people by natural right.[28]

On Revolution

Mabini defines revolution as the “violent means utilized by the people in the employment of the right to sovereignty that properly belongs to them, to destroy a duly constituted government, substituting for it another that is more in consonance with Reason and justice.”[29] A revolution can be justified because the “tendency of betterment or progress is a necessity or law found in all creatures whether individually or collectively... As it is unnatural that a being should resign itself to its own death, the people must employ all… energies in order that a government that impedes its progressive development be destroyed.”[30]
A revolution can also be external and internal. External revolution means effecting changes in institutions that fail to respond to the needs and desires of the people. This type of revolution should be accompanied by an internal one which consists in changing “our ways of thinking and behaving”.[31]

Recto’s Political Thought

Claro Recto may be considered as the direct intellectual descendant of Mabini. But while Mabini focused on political philosophy, Recto concentrated on political economy, which is almost absent from Mabini’s philosophy. The reasons for this shift in field of concentration are the conditions that shape the minds of the two thinkers: Mabini lived during the time when the country was in political disarray; Recto lived at the time when the Philippines was in economic turmoil.

On Nationalism

Recto defines nationalism as “devotion to and advocacy of Filipino interests and Filipino unity and independence, zealous adherence to our own Filipino nation and its principles, in brief, Filipino patriotism.[32] A more concrete explanation of the term is contained in his speech on the eve of the elections in 1957 when he ran as presidential candidate of the Nationalist Citizens’ Party. Recto declared: “Our national salvation lies first in asserting the nationalistic ideals of our heroes in their fight for emancipation and second in changing the course of our economic efforts by giving emphasis to nationalist industrialization.”[33]
Recto considered the advocacy of the national interests as non-negotiable. The interest of the people should not be sacrificed in any deal with other countries. He defended his position by saying that “there are litigations of such nature as not to allow a concession without sacrifice of the fundamental principles and spiritual interests, and that liberty, supreme aspiration of all peoples and the quintessence of the rights of the Creator, cannot be subject of transactions, promises and barters.”[34]

On Political Economy

The key to the country’s prosperity is industry. Industry, however, has to be placed in the control of the Filipinos themselves. He said: “As long as foreigners dominate our production, our manufacture, and our distribution of the essentials of civilized life, we will remain benighted natives, the dupes of profiteers and carpet baggers. We will remain outcasts in the family of nations, unable to deal with other countries on an equal footing and our internal policies influenced, if not determined, by powerful interests acting through their Filipino friends in power and authority.”[35]

For Recto, the economic condition of a nation is determined by those who control the country’s purse. If the economic machinery is controlled by foreigners, then the nation’s economic condition will be favorable not to the natives but to the foreigners. Under such condition, the natives will depend on the benevolence of the economic managers for their survival. Thus, it is likely that the natives will merely serve as the workers of the capitalists. And since the foreigners would require the assistance of some Filipinos to effectively control the economy, few Filipinos will prosper materially in order for them to extend utmost cooperation in maintaining the status quo. This will then create a situation that will enable the “foreign vested interests and a small privileged class among our people to live in ostentation and luxury, while the great masses of Filipinos exist in penury, ill health and ignorance.[36]

In the final analysis, it is the people themselves who are responsible for the economic condition of the country. Recto explains: “A nation’s political, economic and cultural life is of its own people’s making. Of course there are what we call forces of history, but it is for the channel them toward the realization of national objectives. We must accept, therefore full responsibility for the backward condition of our economy, our political immaturity, our predilection for dramatizing minor issues to the neglect of long-rage basic questions, and for our confusions and indecisions that have delayed for decades the progress of the nation.”[37]

[1] Horacio de la Costa, Readings in Philippine History (Philippines: Bookmark, 1965), 215.
[2] Teodoro Agoncillo, History of the Filipino People (Philippines: 1990), 122-126.
[3] de la Costa, 183.
[4] Ibid., 216.
[5] Ibid., 220.
[6] Ibid., 224.
[7] Ibid., 224-225.
[8] Cesar A. Majul, The Political and Constitutional Ideas of the Philippine Revolution (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1957), 33-34.
[9] Agoncillo, 171-174.
[10] Ibid., 235.
[11] de la Costa, 262-264.
[12] Ibid., 266.
[13] Ibid., 282.
[14] Apolinario Mabini, La Revolucion Filipina (con otros documentos de la Epocha). Documentos de la Biblioteca National. Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1931 (vol. 2), 22.
[15] Mabini, vol.1, 104.
[16] Majul, 34.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Mabini, vol. 1, 104.
[19] Mabini, vol. 2, 2:23
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid., 24
[25] Ibid., 69.
[26] Ibid., 24.
[27] Ibid., 129.
[28] Ibid., 270.
[29] Mabini, vol. 1, 108.
[30] Mabini, vol. 2, 275-276.
[31] Mabini, vol. 1, 105.
[32] Renato Constantino (ed.), Vintage Recto Memorable Speeches and Writings. (Quezon City: Foundation for Nationalist Studies, Inc., 1986), 140.
[33] Ibid., xvi.
[34] Ibid., 16.
[35] Ibid., xv.
[36] Ibid., xiv.
[37] Ibid., 224-225.

1 comment:

logic said...

I have written a very comprehensive article on the "major themes" in Mabini's Political Philosophy in "Colloquia Manillana" published by the Dominicans. I think it's in the 2002 or 2003 issue. I was studying theology then in UST.

My thesis in AB Philosophy is also about Mabini's Political Philosophy. It's in Sto. Domingo, QC (Philippine Dominican Center of Institutional Studies) where I graduated in 2002.

I'm an ex-Dominican friar btw. :)

They would be very helpful if you are doing any research on Mabini's Political Philosophy.

Louie Alfren E. Logico