THE RELUCTANT POLITICIAN Dr. Galicano C. Apacible
Demosthenes would have been speechless over democracy Pinoy style.
Our founding fathers set the tone. Members of the Malolos Congress (1898) were theoretically from everywhere but it’s strange that Pedro Paterno of Manila represented Ilocos Norte and his brother Maximino, Bongao (that’s in Tawi Tawi). Benito Legarda also of Manila was delegate from Tiagan (wherever that is), Leon Guerrero from Surigao and Makati’s Pio del Pilar, from Negros Occidental. Tiburcio Hilario of Pampanga spoke for Iloilo and Batangueños Sotero Laurel for a place called Tutaan and León Apacible for Lepanto up in the Cordilleras, although that was okay because he was there in exile.
From the Spanish way (no national elections) and the Filipino way, we switched to the American way even before President Emilio Aguinaldo was captured in 1901. Within the decade, political parties had been formed and provinces and cities already had elected leaders.
In Batangas, Partido Nacionalista leaders were unhappy with the then governor and they asked Dr. Galicano C. Apacible to run for the post in the 1908 elections. Though a private citizen, Apacible an active Nacionalista. He had been active in the Propaganda and independence movements and his personal reputation was the highest. Apacible was clearly a “winnable.”
In Spain as a medical student, Apacible was in the front lines of the Propaganda Movement, founder and first President of Barcelona’s La Solidaridad Association that published the fortnightly La Solidaridad. He was also with the exiled Aguinaldo government in Hong Kong, the scrupulously honest custodian of the revolution’s funds intended for the purchase of arms and ammunition. During the Filipino-American War, he served as chairman of the Comité Central Filipino that sought world recognition of Philippine independence.
Apacible nixed the idea of running for governor. He did not wish to abandon his medical practice and wanted to rebuild his personal finances. The reelectionist governor was a friend and besides all that he was a bad public speaker.
However, Apacible could not refuse some 40 senior Batangas political and economic leaders who reasoned with him and promised to do all the necessary spending and speaking. As planned, Apacible spent nothing and hardly spoke during the campaign. Without mass or social media then, campaigning meant rallies in town after town. Apacible seldom gave a speech; his companions did the orating. Much to his surprise, Apacible won and, true to form, gave of his best as governor.
The Second Philippine Assembly elections came up and Apacible was persuaded to run as assemblyman. He spent the ridiculous amount of ₱220 and beat his opponent by 490 votes. He ran for reelection in the Third Assembly and was again reelected, still with friends doing the speaking and spending. Apacible was in the legislature from 1910 to 1916, posting a distinguished record and serving among others as committee chairman of appropriations and of public Works, and as majority floor leader.
Four friends offered to finance Apacible’s candidacy for a hotly contested third term, raising among themselves ₱40,000, not a small sum in those days. He turned them down politely, saying, “The idea of being a slave or instrument of four financial magnates, supporters of my election, frightened me. Under those conditions I would lose my independence and freedom of action.” For the same reason and to the same friends, he refused the post of resident commissioner at Washington, D.C.
He begged off from Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison’s offer of secretary of the interior but agreed to be secretary of agriculture and natural resources, a post that as always he served with distinction. Apacible retired in 1921 with cash in bank of ₱12,000, his savings after 14 years of high government service.
We’ve had many elections in the century since Apacible last ran for office. Some are stuck in memory: the catchy tune Mambo Mambo Magsaysay and Quirino’s ₱5,000 bed; Imelda and Danding splitting the vote; Roco’s sickness, FPJ’s loss, and Gloria’s phone tap (“Hello Garci!”); Marcos goaded into a snap election; Cory’s takeover, death and PNoy’s candidacy; Grace Poe’s citizenship and the last election where I couldn’t vote because my name had disappeared.
And now we are about to choose from among the incumbent vice president, a former provincial governor and senator, a champion boxer, a city mayor, and a police chief. That’s as of now. There could be other aspirants—movie stars, comedians, whatever, in their place by May next year.
America may not have succeeded in teaching us Abraham Lincoln’s definition, “Democracy is a rule of the people, for the people, and by the people” but our homegrown version is certainly more interesting.
(more on Dr. Galicano C. Apacible next week)
Note: This article is based on Encarnacion Alzona, Galicano Apacible: Profile of a Filipino Patriot (Manila: National Historical Institute, 1971).
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