History of the Philippines

Travel Guide Asia Philippines History of the Philippines


Land Formation and Migration

Morro fisherman, Philippines

Morro fisherman, Philippines

© jsherw

Human occupation of the Philippine islands dates back to some 30,000 years ago when the area used to be connected to the larger land mass of continental Asia. Natives from as far as Africa migrated on foot or small boats. Pygmy-nomads, known as Aetas, are the aborigines of the Philippine Islands. The indigenous Aetas exist to this day in the jungles of Zambales, Bataan and Pangasinan provinces. The end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago had sea water engulfing most of Asia's southeast region converting higher ground into islands - what is now part of Indonesia, Borneo, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.

Aetas (or Negritos) were pushed back from the lowlands to the highlands by the more organized Malays who migrated from the south. The first wave of Malays (or present-day Tinggians, Ibanags, Igorots Kalinggas and Apayaos of northern Luzon, the Mangyans of Mindoro island, the Dumagats of the Bicol region, Tasadays of Palawan, Manobos and other ethnic tribes of the south) are basically hunters like the Aetas but had more advanced tools, means and weaponry. Through time, these ethnic people were eventually pushed to higher ground by the next wave of Malays who had more sophistication and organization. The Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Cebuanos, Bicolanos, etc. settled, built and expanded their small kingdoms on coastal areas and deltas.



Pre-Hispanic Period

Malay settlements developed economically and culturally as trade with the Chinese and Arabs progressed, the former introducing gunpowder as early as the 9th century and the latter, introducing Islam in 700 A.D. The Malays are a gentle, friendly, hospitable and peace-loving people but tend to be suicidal and war-like only when their dignity and honor is challenged. The Chinese trader, Chau Ju Kuo, attests in his account in 1225 of the outstanding honesty of the early Filipinos. Some of these virtues and values have changed as the islands got exposed to the ravages and pillage of foreign colonization through the centuries.

Of particular interest in the country’s history are the 16th century Muslim Malay settlements situated on the mouth of the Pasig River on Luzon island: May Nilad (today’s Manila) on the south bank and Tondok (now Tondo) on the north side. May Nilad was ruled by Raja Matanda, then by his nephew, Raja Suleiman, a son-in-law of the Sultan of Brunei. The Tondok settlement on the north side was ruled by an elderly chief named Raja Lakandula. In the middle of the archipelago, Raja Humabon ruled Sugbu (now Cebu), Raja Kolambu ruled Limawasa, his brother Raja Siagu ruled the Manobos of Butuan in Mindanao. The most interesting is Kaliph Pulaka (known as Lapu-Lapu to the Tagalogs) who ruled Mactan island. Events that unfolded during their reign would usher-in great changes in the course of history of the islands - the time when the first Europeans visited the Philippine Islands.



European 'discovery' and colonization

15th century Europe laid witness to two powerful empires, Spain and Portugal, competing for world domination and the sourcing of spices that were more expensive than gold. Fernao Magalhaes, a Portuguese maritime explorer under the employ of King John III, was sent to India in 1505 at the age of 25 to install Francisco de Almeida as Viceroy. After participating in several voyages towards the east, he went AWOL and was fired for secretly trading with the Moors (Muslims). Falling out of grace and his career in shambles, he jumped to the other side of the fence, shifting his allegiance to King Charles I of Spain (Charles V). Boosting his chances of convincing the king about his plan of establishing the Spanish Crown's full access over the "Spice Islands", he towed along his personal slave Enrique - a Muslim Malay he had indentured (or captured?) from a previous expedition in the Far East and narrated the abundance of spices from Enrique's 'world'. Magalhaes was Hispanized as Fernando de Magallanes (or Ferdinand Magellan in English) and was given 5 ships with 273 men by his new king to facilitate the expedition that left Seville on August 10, 1519 on a westward route (instead of the usual eastern direction). Enrique the Malay remained Magellan's slave and personal interpreter and guide during the voyage.

On March 16, 1521, after crossing the Pacific Ocean, Magellan's fleet finally sighted land off the uninhabited island of Homonhon in Samar province. They were spotted by Raja Kolambu, ruler of Limasawa island, and his brother Raja Siagu, ruler of Butuan, who boarded their ships and found weary, hungry and near-death foreign sailors. Enrique, who was so glad to have heard his native tongue again spoken, did not, of course, realize that he was the first human being to circumnavigate the world. The Malays treated and fed the foreigners, helped them ashore and a Thanksgiving mass was celebrated. After several days of recuperation, Magellan and his men were accompanied by Raja Kolambu to the more prosperous island of Sugbu (Cebu) ruled by Raja Humabon where they received treatment with better facilities. They all became friends fast and celebrated a feast of their new friendship. On the night of their merry-making, Magellan boasted to his new friends of his armor and firepower. Taking the opportunity, Raja Humabon asked for Magellan's assistance to subdue his adversary, Kaliph Pulaka, ruler of nearby Mactan island. Discussions between the two leaders were translated by slave-interpreter, Enrique, who saw the opportunity for his emancipation from slavery (being aware that he could only be released from bondage upon the death of his master). Through the help of his Malay compatriots, they got Magellan and his men drunk that night. The following day, April 27, 1521, Mactan island was attacked by Magellan and his men, telling Raja Humabon and his men to just watch from their boats ashore. Magellan was killed by Kaliph Pulaka during the bloody battle and the remaining Spaniards scampered back to their ships, left the islands and sailed back to Spain with only one ship left, the Victoria, and 18 surviving sailors. The Italian volunteer-chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, who paid for the trip around the world, lived to document this historic voyage.

Despite the heavy loss of men and 4 ships, Spain was still able to recoup twice the amount of investment on Magellan's expedition with Victoria's load of spices that made the trip back. So lucrative was the spice trade that more expeditions were sent by the Spanish Crown in the decades to come.

In 1565, 44 years later, a second voyage led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the Adelantado, set sail back to the island groups to start a colony. He named the group of islands Las Islas Filipinas in honor of the king of Spain, Philip II. This was the beginning of the 333 years of Spanish colonization. He conquered prosperous Cebu and established a stronghold there. Later, he heard of an even more prosperous settlement in the north called May Nilad and sent an expedition led by Martin de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo. Upon reaching the mouth of the Pasig River, the two were surprised to discover an advanced state of fortification of the settlement and were repulsed by May Nilad warriors under Raja Suleiman. Defeated, the Spaniards returned to Cebu to report the find. The Adelantado, de Legazpi, himself led a massive force to May Nilad and was successful in over-throwing the forces of Raja Suleiman. The wounded Raja returned to Brunei where he died. The Adelantado wasted no time and established his new stronghold in the area, laying the foundations of the Walled City of Intramuros. His remains have been preserved and lies inside a museum in Intramuros, beside San Agustin Church, the oldest standing Church in the Philippines - built within the century that the Adelantado had passed away.

During the years of colonization, the Filipinos suffered under the hands of the gobernadorcillo and even from its religious friars. In the last few years of the 19th century, a masonic group called the Katipunan or KKK arose who, led by Andres Bonifacio, raised insurgencies against Spanish rule. At the same time, a league of Filipino intellectuals published the newspaper La Solidaridad, which aimed for representation of Filipinos in the Spanish tribunals. One of these intellectuals was Jose Rizal, who is now a national hero. He wrote two of the most controversial novels of the period: Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Both novels depicted the inequality and the abuses of the Spanish friars and politicians, and became an inspiration for the Katipunan in their search for freedom. Jose Rizal was executed in Bagumbayan (presently Luneta) in December 30, 1896 after being found guilty of treason by a one-sided military tribunal court. He was incarcerated in Fort Santiago, Intramuros during his trial. His death further fanned flames of the Philippine Revolution led by Bonifacio, then later by Emilio Aguinaldo.



Independence and the 20th century

As the Philippine Revolution culminated into its impending victory, the Spanish-American War ignited. On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo declared the whole archipelago free from Spanish rule in a Declaration of Independence held in ceremonies in Kawit, Cavite province just outside of Manila - ahead of the surrender of the remaining forces of the Spanish Army in Intramuros who were helplessly entrenched and besieged by Filipino revolutionaries outside its walls. Unknown to the Filipinos, the humbled Spaniards had secretly negotiated their surrender instead, not to the Filipinos, but to the American forces who had laid siege on Manila Bay. As precursor to this surrender, the Spanish and American navies on Manila Bay made-up a mock battle, the former firing its cannons over the walls of Intramuros, killing and weakening the Filipino forces beyond its walls. This made it easier later on for the Americans to subjugate the Filipino revolutionaries. The Spaniards formalized their surrender of the Philippine Islands to the Americans in the Treaty of Paris. After over 300 years of harsh Spanish rule, the Filipinos faced another foreign ruler for the next 30 years. A Commonwealth Government was finally inaugurated in 1935. But during the WWII, Manila was dragged into the war, it being a colony of the US. Almost fully destroyed, the whole archipelago was held under the control of the Japanese empire for 5 years.

After the war, Japan ceded the Philippines back to the US, who granted the country its "sovereignty" on July 4, 1946, on the condition that it maintained its huge US military bases therein. Since then, the Philippines has moved to become one of the leaders in Asia. But on September 21, 1972, then president Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law which lasted for 21 years. Those were trying years for Filipinos, suffering under a dictatorial regime that lasted until August of 1983, when Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino, Marcos' rival, was shot dead at the tarmac of the old Manila International Airport after 3 years of exile. This started uprisings against the regime and then on February 25, 1986, Ferdinand Marcos and his family were ejected out of Malacañang Palace and exiled to Hawaii by the peaceful EDSA People Power revolution. Aquino's wife, Corazon Aquino was put to power and became the first Lady President.

After this, the Philippines became more industrialized and saw improvements in infrastructure. Even with the current political climate, the Philippines has tried to develop its economy and regain an influential position in the global market.


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This is version 11. Last edited at 14:55 on Apr 18, 17 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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