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History of the Philippines

Table of contents
1 Prehistoric Times
2 Historic Times: Monday April 21 900
3 The Spanish Colonial Period
4 The Revolution
5 The American Period
6 The Commonwealth Era
7 The Japanese Conquest and World War II
8 Independent Republic of the Philippines
9 References
10 Footnote

Prehistoric Times

Main Article: Pre-colonial Philippines

Various Austronesian groups settled in what is now the Philippine islands by traversing land bridges coming from Taiwan and Borneo by 200,000 BCE (late Pleistocene). The Cagayan valley of northern Luzon contains large stone tools as evidence for the hominid hunters of the big game of the time: the elephant-like stegodon, rhinoceros, crocodile, tortoise, pig and deer. The Tabon caves of Palawan indicate settlement for at least 30,500 years; these hunter-gatherers used stone flake toolss. (In Mindanao, the existence and importance of these prehistoric tools was noted by famed José Rizal himself, because of his acquaintance with Spanish and German scientific archaeologists in the 1880s, while in Europe.)


Southeast Asia
as seen on the display globe at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago.

After the last ice age, the sea level rose an estimated 35m (110 feet), which cut the land bridges, filling the shallow seas north of Borneo. Thus the only method of migration left was the dugout prao, built by felling trees and hollowing them out with adzes. To this day, the Filipino word for village is kin to the word for boat. Around 3000 BCE, Malayss, from what is now Indonesia and Malaysia, also entered the area. Forty-five centuries later, one of these seafaring peoples would even play a part in the first circumnavigation of the globe 1521.

The Sea-farers

The South China Sea has currents which run counterclockwise. Thus, during a southwest monsoon, from June through September, it is easy to sail from the western Philippines, north to South China. During a northeast monsoon, in December through February, sailing would be easy from South China to the coast of Vietnam. From Vietnam, Nusantao sailor-traders could travel east along latitudes 11 to 14 degrees to Palawan and Mindoro, in boats of shallow draft. Reference: William G. Solheim II, Avelina Legaspi, and Jaime S. Neri, S.J., Philippine National Museum – University of Hawaii archaeological survey in southeastern Mindanao, as cited in The People and Art of the Philippines, UCLA Museum of Cultural History, Los Angeles, California, Fall, 1981

The areas of settlement were controlled by the supplies of fresh water; but since the land was bountiful, trade with other sea peoples provided for some interchange of beliefs and culture. (See: map of Southeast Asia)

Jar Burial

For example, the custom of Jar Burial, which ranges from Sri Lanka, to the Plain of Jars, in Laos, to Japan, also was practiced in the Tabon caves of Palawan. A spectacular example of a secondary burial jar is owned by the National Museum of the Philippines, a National Treasure, with a jar lid topped with two figures, one the deceased, arms crossed, hands touching the shoulders, the other a steersman, both seated in a prao, with only the mast missing from the piece. Secondary burial was practiced across all the islands of the Philippines during this period, with the bones reburied, some in the burial jars. Seventy-eight earthenware vessels were recovered from the Manunggul cave, Palawan, specifically for burial.

Trade items

One museum artifact, a ceremonial jade adze, almost 7 cm. long, of extremely fine workmanship, for such a fundamental tool, may indicate source for some of the wealth from the Philippines, since, in general, it is not known just what was traded by the sea-faring traders, except perhaps, jade and gold.


Since at least the 3rd century, the indigenous peoples were in contact with other east asian nations. They were, to varying extents, under the Hindu-Malayan empires of Sumatra, Indochina, and Borneo and then, beginning with the Ming Dynasty, under the Chinese sphere of influence. A thalassocracy, or rule from the beaches prevailed.

In the earliest times, the items which were prized by the peoples included jars, which were a symbol of wealth throughout South Asia, and later metal, salt and tobacco. In exchange, the peoples would trade feathers, rhino horn, hornbill beaks, beeswax, birds nests, resin, rattan. Reference: Barbier, Islands and Ancestors Prestel, ISBN 3-7913-0899-8, Metropolitan Museum of Art 1988

Historic Times: Monday April 21 900

In 1989, the National Museum acquired the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, found in the Laguna de Bay of Manila, dated Monday April 21 900, based on the Year of Siyaka 822. The script is Javanese Kavi, which is derived from Brahmi. The Siyaka or Saka Era began in the year 78CE, based on Indic jyotisa, or astronomy. The document is not Javanese, but the influence is, because Balitung, the king of Java at that time, is not mentioned, although the date is based on that civilization. The inscription forgives the descendants of Namwaran from a debt of 926.4 grams of gold, and is granted by the chief of Tondo (an area in Manila) and the authorities of Paila, Binwangan and Pulilan, which are all locations in Luzon. The words are a mixture of Sanskrit, Old Malay, Old Javanese and Old Tagalog.

One example of pre-Spanish Philippine script on a burial jar, derived from Brahmi survives, as most of the writing was done on perishable bamboo or leaves; an earthenware burial jar dated 1200s or 1300s with script was found in Batangas. This script is called in Tagalog Baybayin or Alibata.

Around 1405, the year that the war over succession ended in the Majapahit Empire, Sufi traders introduced Mohammedanism into the Hindu-Malayan empires and for about the next century the southern half of Luzon and the islands south of it were subject to the various Mohammedan sultanates of Borneo. During this period, the Japanese established a trading post at Aparri and maintained a loose sway over northern Luzon.

As later competing immigrant groups colonized the islands, settlers from earlier waves (Negritos and Igorots) were pushed back into the mountainous areas and proto-Malays became the dominant ethnic group. The modern Filipino lives in a culture that is a facinating blend of Asian (Vedic,Theravada Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic), Spanish, Catholic, and American cultures that continues to both intrigue and baffle scholars today.

The Spanish Colonial Period

Main article: Philippine Spanish Colonial Period

The Philippine Islands first came to the attention of Europeans when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed there in 1521, claiming the lands for Spain. He was defeated by Lapu-Lapu, a native chieftain, at the Battle of Mactan, where he died. However, his ships reached the Spice Islands. The navigational charts of one of the ships, the Victoria, which circumnavigated the globe, were delivered to Seville 1522. In 1529, by the treaty of Zaragosa, Spain relinquished all claims to the Spice Islands (and westward) to Portugal. This treaty did not stop subsequent colonization.

Subsequent expeditions expanded Spanish influence in the islands. In 1543, Ruy Lopez de Villalobos named the territory Las Islas Filipinas after Philip II of Spain. On April 27, 1565, the first permanent Spanish settlement was founded by Miguel López de Legaspi, with five Augustinian friars, and 400 armed men, on Cebu, which became the town of San Miguel. In 1570 the native city of Manila was conquered and declared a Spanish city the following year. When Legazpi decided to transfer his capital to Manila, Cebu receded into the backwaters as influence and power shifted north to Luzon and its wide expanse of fertile lands. The Spanish gradually took control of the islands, which became their outpost in Asia.

Spanish colonial rule brought Catholicism. One friar, Fr. Juan de Placencia wrote a Spanish-to-Tagalog Christian Doctrine 1593 which transliterated from Roman characters to Tagalog Baybayin characters; since most of the population of Manila could read and write Baybayin at one time, this effort probably helped the conversion to Christianity [1]. Most of the islands, with the exception of Mindanao, which remained primarily Muslim, were converted. Muslims resisted the attempts of the Spanish to conquer the archipelago and this resulted in a lot of tension and violence which persists to the modern era.

The colonial period also saw the Spanish dominate the economy, focusing on the tobacco, as well as the Galleon Trade between Manila and Acapulco, Mexico. Commerce was tightly controlled by Spanish authorities until 1837 when Manila was made an open port.

To avoid hostile powers, most trade between Spain and the Philippines was via the Pacific Ocean to Mexico, and then across the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean to Spain. The Spanish military had to fight off Chinese pirates (who sometimes came to lay siege to Manila), Dutch forces, Portugeuse forces, and insurgent natives.

In the late 16th century, the Japanese, under Hideyoshi, claimed control of the islands and for a time the Spanish paid tribute to secure their trading routes and protect Jesuit missionaires in Japan.

In 1762, the British seized Manila with a force of 13 ships and 6830 men, easily taking the Spanish garrison of 600, but made little effort to extend their control beyond the port city. By 1764 the Treaty of Paris (1763) had returned Manila to Spain.

Developments in and out of the country and the opening up of the Suez Canal in 1869, which helped cut travel time to Spain, brought new ideas to the Philippines. This prompted the rise of the illustrados, or the Filipino upper middle class. Many young Filipinos were thus able to study in Europe.

The Revolution

Main article: Philippine Revolution

In the late 19th century there was increasing insurgency against Spain, as natives demanded independence. From the illustrados came a group of students who formed the Propaganda Movement. They did not wish separation from Spain, but did demand equality and political rights. They spoke out against the injustices done of the colonial government and especially the Catholic friars. Among the propagandists are José Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, and Graciano López Jaena. Rizal, the most famous of the propagandists, used the words of Christ to further the movement: touch me not (John 20: 13-17); he was executed on December 30, 1896.

The injustices of the Spanish had led to uprisings since the 1600s. The 1872 uprising, in Cavite, was notable since it had a large effect on the country. The Spanish put this down by executing three Filipino priests—Burgos, Gomez, and Zamora (see Gomburza)—. Historians generally agree that this execution marks the start of the Philippine Revolutionary Period.

In 1892, Andres Bonifacio, founded a revolutionary society called the Katipunan. By 1896, Filipinos were openly rebelling against the Spanish and the revolution was spreading throughout the islands. The Filipinos succeeded in taking amost all Philippine territory, except for Manila.

In 1898 Spain and the United States of America went to war with Spain (see: Spanish-American War). The US Navy under George Dewey attacked the Spanish in Manila Bay by sea as the Filipino forces lead by Emilio Aguinaldo attacked by land, resulting in Spanish surrender.

Faced with inevitable defeat, Spain sued for peace - but instead of surrendering the Philippines to the Filipinos, the Spanish sold the country to the United States, at the end of the Spanish-American War.

The Filipinos, under Emilio Aguinaldo, declared victory and proclaimed their independence on June 12, 1898. Aguinaldo became the first Philippine President and a congress drafted and approved a constitution. This act was opposed by the United States.

The American Period

Main article: American Colonization of the Philippines

Right: 1898 US Political Cartoon. US President William McKinley is shown holding the Philippines, depicted as a savage child, as the world looks on. The implied options for McKinley are to keep the Philippines, or give it back to Spain, which the cartoon compares to throwing a child off a cliff. The option of granting independence seems not to be on the cartoonist's mind.

At the end of the Spanish-American War, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1898), Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States in exchange for 20 million United States dollars. When it became clear to the natives that American forces intended to occupy and control the country, revolts broke out. At a constitutional convention held against the wishes of American authorities, Aguinaldo was declared President of the Philippines Republic - and declared to be an "outlaw bandit" by the McKinley Administration.

The Americans refused to recognize any Philippine right to self government, and on February 4, 1899, Aguinaldo declared war against the United States so long as they opposed independence. Some Americans accused the Filipino nationalists of Jacobinist tendencies, and US government officials repeatedly stated that few Filipinos were in favor of independence, although this conclusion was questioned by some. In the US, there was a movement to stop the war; some said that the US had no right to a land whose people wanted self-government; Andrew Carnegie offered to buy the Philippines for 20 million United States dollars and give it to the Filipinos so that they could be free. (Thus, there has been historical US support for self-rule in the Philippines from the beginning of the relationship between the nations.)

Although Americans have historically used the term "the Philippine Insurrection," Filipinos and an increasing number of American historians refer to these hostilities as the Philippine-American War (1899-1913), and in 1999 the U.S. Library of Congress reclassified its references to use this term. In 1901, Aguinaldo was captured and swore allegiance to the United States. A large American military force was needed to occupy the country, and would be regularly engaged in war, against Filipino rebels, for another decade. An estimated 250,000 Filipinos were killed by the U.S. Forces in the attempt to put down the forces favoring independence.

The Americans gradually succeeded in taking control of urban and coastal areas by the end of 1903 and pursued an aggressive campaign of de-hispanization and promotion of English as a universal language which has resulted in the loss of Spanish as the major language of commerce and government.

While the 1903 Census officially reported the number of Spanish speakers at only 1% of the population, it only considered the Spanish-born and completely disregarded the mestizos, the Chinese population, and the native illustrado class which would have placed the numbers at more or less 60% of the population. The 1916 Report by Henry Ford to President Woodrow Wilson makes it clear that:

" I traveled through the [Philippine] Islands, using ordinary transportation and mixing with all classes of people under all conditions. Although based on the school statistics it is said that more Filipinos speak English than any other language, no one can be in agreement with this declaration if they base their assessment on what they hear...

"Spanish is everywhere the language of business and social intercourse...In order for anyone to obtain prompt service from anyone, Spanish turns out to be more useful than English...And outside of Manila it is almost indispensable. The Americans who travel around all the islands customarily use it."

Some measures of Filipino self rule were allowed, however. The first legislative assembly was elected in 1907. A bicameral legislature, largely under Philippine control, was established. A civil service was formed and was gradually taken over by the Filipinos, who had effectively gained control by the end of World War I. The Catholic Church was disestablished, and a considerable amount of church land was purchased and redistributed.

The Commonwealth Era

Main article: Commonwealth of the Philippines

When Woodrow Wilson became the American President, in 1913, there was a major change in official American policy concerning the Philippines. While the previous Republican administrations had envisioned the Philippines as a perpetual American colony, the Wilson administration decided to start a process that would gradually lead to Philippine independence. U.S. administration of the Philippines was declared to be temporary and aimed to develop institutions that would permit and encourage the eventual establishment of a free and democratic government. Therefore, U.S. officials concentrated on the creation of such practical supports for democratic government as public education and a sound legal system. The Philippines were granted free trade status, with the U.S. In 1916, a Filipino House of Representatives was permitted and this body gradually began to take control of the internal government.

In 1934, the American Tydings-McDuffie Act granted Philippine independence by 1944. On May 14, 1935, an election to fill the newly created office of President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was won by Manuel L. Quezon and a Filipino government was formed on the basis of the US Constitution. (See: Philippine National Assembly; see Signing_of_the_Philippine_Constitution for a picture of the signing.)

Filipino, largely based on the Tagalog dialect, became the official language in 1937.

The Japanese Conquest and World War II

Main article: Philippines during World War II

The invasion by Japan began in December of 1941. As the Japanese forced advanced, Manila was declared an open city to prevent it from destruction, meanwhile, the government was moved to Corregidor. In March of 1942 U.S. General Douglas MacArthur and President Quezon fled the country. The cruelty of the Japanese military occupation of the Philippines is legendary. Guerilla units harassed the Japanese when they could, and on Luzon native resistance was strong enough that the Japanese never did get control of a large part of the island. Finally in October of 1944 McArthur had gathered enough additional troops and supplies to begin the retaking of the Philippines, landing with Sergio Osmena who had assumed the Presidency after Quezon's death. The battles entailed long fierce fighting; some of the Japanese continued to fight until the official surrender of the Empire of Japan on September 2, 1945. The final Japanese soilder to surrender was Hiroo Onoda, in 1974. Over a million Filipinos had been killed in the war, and many towns and cities, including Manila, were left in ruins.

Independent Republic of the Philippines

Main article: History of the Philippines (1945 to present)

The Philippines attained independence in 1946, with the Liberal Party's Manuel Roxas becoming the first president of an internationally recognized independent Philippine nation. In 1948 he was succeeded by Elpidio Quirino. The early years of independence were dominated by U.S.-assisted postwar reconstruction. A communist-inspired Huk Rebellion (1945-53) complicated recovery efforts before its successful suppression under the leadership of President Ramon Magsaysay. The succeeding administrations of presidents Carlos P. Garcia (1957-61) and Diosdado Macapagal (1961-65) sought to expand Philippine ties to its Asian neighbors, implement domestic reform programs, and develop and diversify the economy.

Ferdinand Marcos was first elected President on the Nacionalista Party in 1965. In 1972 he declared martial law, citing growing lawlessness and open rebellion by the communist rebels as his justification. Marcos governed from 1973 until mid-1981 in accordance with the transitory provisions of a new constitution that replaced the commonwealth constitution of 1935. He suppressed democratic institutions and restricted civil liberties during the martial law period, ruling largely by decree and popular referenda. The government began a process of political normalization during 1978-81, culminating in the reelection of President Marcos to a 6-year term that would have ended in 1987. The Marcos government's respect for human rights remained low despite the end of martial law on January 17, 1981. His government retained its wide arrest and detention powers. Corruption and favoritism contributed to a serious decline in economic growth and development under Marcos.

The assassination of opposition leader Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr upon his return to the Philippines in 1983, after a long period of exile, coalesced popular dissatisfaction with Marcos and set in motion a succession of events that culminated in a snap presidential election in February 1986. The opposition united under Aquino's widow, Corazon Aquino, and Salvador Laurel, head of the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO). The election was marred by widespread electoral fraud on the part of Marcos and his supporters. International observers, including a U.S. delegation led by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), denounced the official results. Marcos was forced to flee the Philippines in the face of a peaceful civilian-military uprising that ousted him and installed Corazon Aquino as president on February 25, 1986. A new Philippine constitution went into effect on February 11, 1987.

Under Aquino's presidency progress was made in revitalizing democratic institutions and respect for civil liberties. However, the administration was also viewed by many as weak and fractious, and a return to full political stability and economic development was hampered by several attempted coups staged by disaffected members of the Philippine military.

Fidel Ramos was elected president in 1992. Early in his administration, Ramos declared "national reconciliation" his highest priority. He legalized the communist party and created the National Unification Commission (NUC) to lay the groundwork for talks with communist insurgents, Muslim separatists, and military rebels. In June 1994, President Ramos signed into law a general conditional amnesty covering all rebel groups, as well as Philippine military and police personnel accused of crimes committed while fighting the insurgents. In October 1995, the government signed an agreement bringing the military insurgency to an end. A peace agreement with one major Muslim insurgent group was signed in 1996.

Joseph Ejercito Estrada's election as President in May 1998, marked the Philippines' third democratic succession since the ouster of Marcos. Estrada was elected with overwhelming mass support on a platform promising poverty alleviation and an anti-crime crackdown.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Estrada's Vice President, assumed the Presidency in January 2001 after widespread demonstrations that followed the breakdown of Estrada's impeachment trial on corruption charges. The Philippine Supreme Court subsequently endorsed unanimously the constitutionality of the transfer of power.

In 1992, the US closed down its last military bases on the islands. A quarter-century-old guerrilla war with Muslim separatists on the island of Mindanao, which had claimed 120,000 lives, ended with a treaty in 1996.

However, there still remains some pocket rebellions with fragmented rebel groups, particularly some communist groups operating in the mountains of Luzon and the Visayas, and a smattering of Muslim fighters who do not recognize the 1996 peace treaty. Likewise, there has been a rise in the terroristic activities of Islamic-fundamentalist groups collectively fighting under the Abu Sayyaf banner. In 2003 U.S. troops began to participate in combat against Abu Sayyaf along with Filipino troops (though Filipinio authorities denied this), violating the Filipino Constition.

See also : Philippines History, Communications History of the Philippines, Demographic History of the Philippines, Military History of the Philippines, Transportation History of the Philippines


"Statistics: Spanish Language in the Philippines"


[1] The Spanish friars were surprised at the ease with which the Filipinos could read
Baybayin writing (right to left, left to right, and even upside down) apparently because the script was linear when incised on a bamboo stick, and was well suited to the language. However, the language would change in the face of pressure from Spanish words, consonants, and vowels.