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Philippine History

Ancient, pre-Spanish era | Pre-Spanish Influence
Magellan, Spanish Influence | Philippines, Jewel of Spain
Christianity, Introduction | Unrest for Spain
Philippine Revolution | Americas first Entanglement
Declaration for Independence


Most people including many Filipinos believe that Philippine history began with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer on the 17th March 1521 and that there is nothing of importance to report prior to this time. I have often wondered what type of civilisation and peoples existed here prior to the Spanish arrival.


Looking through many pages on the Internet, I came across a well written paper entitled "The Philippines a brief tour through time" written by (Michael R. Irwin). I have included extracts from Michael’s transcript detailing history up to and including the Declaration for Independence 12 June 1898, however the full document can be found on the following link “The Philippines a brief tour through time” and continues the history tour up to 1992 and the then President Fidel Ramos. Additional Philippine history items can be found at “Philippines History”.

Ancient and Pre-Spanish Era:

It is believed that the first inhabitants of the Philippines arrived over 300,000 years ago. It is commonly thought that they migrated over a land bridge, which existed at that time, from the Asian mainland. The next known inhabitation is when the Negrito or Aeta arrived in the islands around 25,000 years ago. However, they were driven back by several waves of immigrants from Indonesia, only to be followed by the maritime peoples of the Malayan islands.
Although there is little written about this period of history, the next major steps are the time period from around 5000 BCE (Before Common Era, aka, BC) through around 500 CE (Common Era, aka, AD)

There is much written on the Austronesian peoples of the Southeast Asia area and their descendants. These peoples were the seafaring people who traveled to distant parts of the world during this period of history. Some historians believe that these peoples settled in the southern regions of the Philippines and eastern regions of Indonesia. What is known, about this period, is that blade stone technology, dating back to around 5000 BCE reached the northern portions (Luzon area) of the Philippines.

Pre Spanish Culture & PeopleThere are several postulates concerning migration and maritime trade during this time period. It is known that there were many warring peoples in the Philippines as early as 2000 BCE. Within the past 20 years, remnants of stone walls have been found in the province of Ifugao. Based on dating techniques of the tools and artifacts found in the same area of these walls, it has been shown that they were built during this period, 2000 BCE. It is theorized that these stone wall outlines were the traces of an ancient fortress. This was thousands of years before any Spanish influences.

Mines have been found in the Philippines, dating back to at least 1000 BCE. There physical presence and the written history by the early Spanish settlers suggest that the Filipinos were actively mining for precious metals thousands of years before peoples in other regions of the area. The type of metals that were mined included silver, copper, gold and iron. Many of these metals were used as decorations for their homes as well as on their personages. During this same period, in history, the peoples of the region were building the rice terraces and other agricultural wonders that are known as common place today through the Asian communities.

One group, known as the Igorots, build stone walls, dams, and canals that still mystify engineers. These hydraulic works were created from stones greater in bulk than those of the Great Wall of China. Pottery finds, through out the Philippines, have been dated between 500 BCE through 500 C E (AD.) Some of this pottery included the unique burial jars found amongst the Ayub Cave pottery in Mindanao. This particular type of jar pre-date any found anywhere else in the southeastern regions of Asia.

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Pre-Spanish Influence, Modern Day:

Today, many historians dispute when modern Philippine history began. Some believe it to have started as early as the 13th century. It was during this time that 10 datus from Borneo, each with a hundred of his kinsmen, landed in what is now known as Panay Island in the Visayas. From this time to the early 16th century, the region, now known as the Philippines, was ruled by independent tribes of peoples.

Following this modern 'discovery' of the Philippines, as some historians put it (vs. Magellan), the country and its peoples began to see rapid advances in social and economic development. For instance, around the year 1380, it is believed that the Arab-taught Makdum arrived in the Sulu archipelago, establishing what became a powerful Islamic sphere of influence over the next hundred years.

During this same period in history, the Philippines was already established as an active trading center. It is known that many merchants and trading ambassadors from the surrounding areas, including Siam (Thailand) and China, came to Cebu to pay tribute to the king and arrange trade agreements

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Magellan and the Spanish Influence:

Even though early history is clearly one of tribal rule that engaged in a Image of Magellanbustling economy, European historians credit the voyages of Magellan, and succeeding expeditions from Spain, as the official accreditation and discovery of the region. When he was credited with the discovery of the Philippines, it was already inhabited by peoples whose culture and modernization was by no means that far behind most other areas of the world.

The Spanish were surprised by the advances made by these peoples. For instance, the peoples of this land were skilled in weapons making and other types of metal works. The Filipinos were already making their own cannons -- large one of iron and small, portable, ones of bronze. They were surprised to find a swivel type gun, known as a 'lantaka' which allowed the gunner to track a moving target. These 'primative' peoples, found by Magellan, were also 'peoples of the sea'. They used a navigational instrument similar to a compass and were much more skilled and experienced in all types of fishing and fisheries activities.

Death of MagellanThis 'discovery', the historians point out, is relevant, because it is what placed the Philippine archipelago on the maps of the world. It occurred when he, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer, landed at Homonhon Islet, near present day Samar, claiming the lands for Spain. It is believed that this event occurred on the 17 day of March in the year 1521. He was later killed on the Mactan Island of Cebu in a clash with native warriors who were led by a chieftain named Lapu-Lapu.

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The Philippines, a Jewel of Spain:

During this time in world history, Spain was in fierce competition with Portugal to dominate, through colonization, the lands of the world. Clearly the Philippines was a prize catch for Spain, based on its number of islands and its size; which, at the time, was estimated to be larger than it actually was. However size alone was not what made it a great prize -- its location made it a worthy and valuable catch.

The archipelago was formally named Las Felipinas, in 1543 by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos who followed Magellan to this territory. It was named in honor of Spain's King Philip II (actually the Crown Prince, who was actually excommunicated from the Catholic Church, by the Pope Paul IV in 1552).

It was known to be composed of thousands of islands and islets (now known to be 7,107), and spanning over eighteen hundred (actually 1854) kilometers from north to south, stretching from China to the north to the Indonesian archipelago at the south. Permanent Spanish occupation began in 1565, and by 1571 the entire country, except for the strictly Islamic Sulu archipelago, was under Spanish control.

The northern most tip of the country, Y'ami, of the Batanes Island group, is only 241 kilometers south of what is known as Taiwan today; while the southern most tip, Sibutu of the Tawi-Tawi group of islands, is just 14.4 kilometers north of what is known as Borneo. Thus, the Philippines, was located in a strategic location, both politically and economically. They were the window to the New World.

To its east is the Pacific Ocean and beyond it, the New World (the Americas). To the west are the kingdoms of Indochina including modern day Cambodia and Siam (Thailand) while southwest is Malaysia.

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Christianity's Introduction:

Spanish colonizers succeeded in introducing Christianity to the islands. Magellan's CrossStill today, Christianity represents over 85% of religious beliefs. They were highly successful in the region of modern day Luzon and Visayas but were unsuccessful in Mindanao, south region, where Moslems staved off the Spanish efforts.

Of course there are many recorded horror stories, of historically significant, where the Spanish forced the induction of Christianity upon the 'heathens' of these islands -- leading to thousands of deaths and tortures of the residents of the islands. Still today, many small towns and remote barrios celebrate, through re-enactment in fiesta stage plays, called moro-moro, the forced conversion of the peoples to Christianity by the threatened force of the Spaniards. These plays always end the same way -- most of the people convert and find 'happiness' in their new found religion, while the remaining are either killed or flee to the mountains, to be hounded by the Spaniards the rest of their lives.

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Unrest for Spain:

Spain's rule lasted from the 16th through the 19th century, with much of its rule fraught by a series of revolts. For instance, when three Filipino priests were executed for national activities, a group of reformists formed the Propaganda Movement. This movement paved the way for the Philippine Revolution, years later.

The Spanish made serious tactile errors, during their reign, when dealing with the peoples of the Philippines. For instance, toward the end of the 19th century, there was a young doctor-writer, named Jose Rizal, whom they arrested and later executed. His crime? He actively, and publicly, criticized Spanish officials, verbally and through the written media (in two novels) during the 1880s-90s.

His scathing criticisms concerned the methods used by the Spanish to rule the Philippines. Rizal, at the age of 30 was eventually imprisoned and on 30 December 1896, executed! This execution enraged the peoples deeply adding to the build up of injustices by the Spanish against them. These same peopled banned together, and attempted an unsuccessful revolution.

Due to his bravery and forsaking of personal safety, through his deeds and written actions, Jose Rizal is now recognized, by historians, as one of Asia's true nationalist. He is often compared to other Asian heroes, like Dr. Sun Yat-sen, of China.

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Phillipine Revolution:

The Filipino independence movement was in a state of growth during this same period, ultimately leading to the Philippine Revolution. The Revolution, itself, was first led by Andres Bonifacio and then later it was taken up by Emilio Aguinaldo. President of the Revolutionary Assembly at Teieros Interestingly, while Emilio Aguinaldo was mayor (1895) of Kawit in the province of Cavite, he had directed attacks against the Spanish military's presence in Cavite.

This, with the death of Rizal became the focal point in the nationalist revolt. During this time he was given the title of general by his followers. In 1897 he was elected president of the revolutionary assembly at Tejeros, Cavite. Only to be exiled to Hong Kong when they failed to succeed in their insurrection against the Spanish.

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Americas first Entanglement:

In April 1898, two months after the American warship "Maine" was blown up at Havana Harbor in Cuba by Spain, America declared war on Spain (Spanish-American War). May, 1898, a battle erupted in Manila Bay between the American naval fleet and the Spanish fleet. The Spanish flotilla of ships was completely destroyed.

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Declaration for Independence:

During this same period Aguinaldo, who was in Hong Kong, was encouraged to return to the Philippines by the United States as the Spanish-American War had moved from the Caribbean to the Philippines. Once back home, General Aguinaldo verbally proclaimed independence for the peoples of the Philippines on 12 June 1898, from the window of his home in Cavite (South of Manila). With this declaration, he became, in theory, the first president of the Philippine Republic .However, independence was to be short lived, due to the under pinning of power that was going on between Spain and America.

It has been theorized, by some historians, that the Spanish and Americans had, shortly after this total massacre at Manila Bay, met secretly and agreed to continue "battle", satisfying the Spanish code of honor, and after a time the Spanish would surrender.

On 13 August 1898, with Filipinos fighting along-side of Americans on Philippine soil, the end to the Spanish-American War was taking place. The twist? When the American and Filipino forces seized, through battle, Intramuros, on this very day in 1898, the Filipinos did not know that these foreigners, fighting at their side, would become a new threat to their independence.

When the Spanish at Intramuros surrendered, the Filipinos were prevented from entering the encampment -- by? -- these same Americans. This, of course, implanted distrust of the 'ally' foreigners, eventually culminating in another horrible battle for freedom -- the Filipino-American War.

Click here for the full paper

About the Author: Michael R. Irwin
Although not a Filipino, nor a historian, his hobby and life long fascination is history, especially early American (United States, revolutionary war period), ancient Greek/Roman, and Far Eastern (including China Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines). He is well read on the history of the Philippines and since 1993 has spent more than half of each year in the country, considering the Philippines and the people of these beautiful (maganda) islands his home and family.

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