The Rundown: All about the Philippines

Dec 29, 2018 | Culture, Escape, Philippines

Culture & Travel 

Know the vibrant history of the Philippines and the reason behind its heavy Spanish, American, and Asian influences.

With thousands of pristine beaches, sprawling forests, and friendly locals, Philippines has become a favorite among many tourists. However, the archipelago made up of more than 7,000 lush islands is more than its remarkable attractions. This Southeast Asian nation also boasts a rich history.

Thanks to its past, the Philippines has one of the most diverse cultures combining key elements from American, Asian, and European influences. If you want to know more about the vibrant history of the Philippines, keep on reading.

Early Inhabitants and Trade

Although the written history of the country began during the Spanish occupation, the journey of Philippines started thousands of years before that. In Palawan, the earliest traces of life in the country were evident and manifested by the found stone tools which date up to 40,000 years old. Human bones which date around 22,000 years have also been discovered.

Some 30,000 years ago, the “Negritos” migrated to the country. They are described as small people with curly hair and a dark complexion. The Aetas which can be found in the lush mountains of Luzon and other Philippines islands are the descendants of these hunters.

In 3000 B.C., Malay people arrived in the Philippines and brought a more progressive culture which involved the production of iron tools, pottery, and even techniques in making rice fields. The Malay migration wave is theorized to be classified in the three parts. The first wave of migration is now the descendants of the people from Bontoc and other indigenous peoples in Luzon. The second wave of migrants is now most dominant with the Tagalog, Bisayan, and the Bicolano. The last wave established the Muslim Malays.

Along with the settlements in the country, trade also boomed. In the 2nd century AD, the Chinese did business with the people as they frequently visited Sulu, Mindoro, and Luzon. Tribal leaders from the country would even visit the Chinese emperor in Peking, now called Beijing, throughout the 14th and 15th century. By AD 1100, the traders grew in numbers thanks to travelers from Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Siam or Thailand, India, and Japan.

The Spanish Era

If you are wondering why Spanish and Filipino, the national language, has parallel words, it is because Spain ruled over the Philippines for 333 years where its king reigned over the country through a governor general. As a matter of fact, Philippines was named after King Philip II of Spain.

Thanks to history classes, Magellan has been catapulted into the most famous Spaniard in the Philippines. He is even more popular than Ricky Martin and Penelope Cruz combined. The Spanish rule started when Magellan came across the country as he sailed in the Pacific during 1521. He then claimed the country for Spain’s King.

Magellan baptized Rajah Humabon and insisted that all the chiefs should submit to whatever Humabon says. While he quite succeeded in converting some islanders to Catholicism, he died in battle against Lapu Lapu, a chief who did not agree to submit to him. The best way to know about Magellan’s adventure in the country is to listen to “Philippines History” by Filipino novelty singer and comedian Yoyoy Villame.

The Spaniards went back to the country in 1565, in an expedition led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and they built a fort in Cebu. They were driven by orders to colonize and Catholicize the country. Years later, the Spaniards landed in Luzon and built Intramuros, a walled city which where European churches and buildings were present. The Spaniards also made Manila the capital of the country. During this time, they conquered the area and thanks to the feudal system, Spaniards also owned massive lands where Filipinos would work tirelessly.

Furthermore, they spread Catholicism in the country. As a matter of fact, hundreds of grand European-inspired churches can be found throughout the country. Additionally, the friars built the first schools and universities, including the oldest existing university in Asia, University of Santo Tomas. Meanwhile, Spain also took hold of the trade in the country through its galleons.

In the 18th century, Spain’s control of the Philippines was slipping as it was running out of funds and allies due to its war with England. Furthermore, Dr. Jose Rizal, who is now the national hero of the country, was executed in 1896. Many Filipinos were inspired by the martyrdom of the charismatic poet.

American Occupation

When Spain was at war with the USA in 1898, the Americans defeated the Spanish conquistadors in a battle in Manila Bay. To gain the support of nationalist Filipinos, Commodore George Dewey welcomed General Aguinaldo back to the Philippines and installed him as the first president of the country. On June 12, 1989, the Philippine flag was raised for the first time during the Proclamation of Independence.

The long and struggle-laden rule of Spain had come to an end thanks to the Treaty of Paris which was signed in 1898. America bought Puerto Rico, Guam, and Philippines for $20 million. However, the dream of Filipinos to finally become an independent nation was put to shambles when Malolos fell under General Arthur MacArthur. The Philippine Republic became a puppet government of America to serve their needs.

In 1935, the Americans set up the Commonwealth of the Philippines where the country was under a constitution that mirrored the American constitution. It was during this time when the first election in the Philippines happened.

World War II and Japanese Occupation

Japanese soldiers landed in the Philippines merely days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Due to MacArthur’s abandonment, the Americans fell to the Japanese forces and around 76,000 of them, along with some Filipinos, were forced to walk 120 kilometers from Bataan to prison camps in Tarlac. Known as the “Bataan Death March,” over 20,000 souls died along the way due to hunger and fatigue.

Filipinos and Their Quest For Freedom

The Philippines endured Japanese occupation up until 1945 when the American troops returned to the country. The Philippines finally became independent on July 4, 1946, and Manual Roxas became the country’s president.

Having already fought two revolutions, the Filipinos have finally achieved their freedom. However, another challenge had come back when dictator Ferdinand Marcos became president. The enigmatic lawyer was first elected in 1965 and showed so much potential to bring back the glory days of the Philippines together with his wife, Imelda.

By 1970, the Marcos regime became the root of extensive poverty, bad funding, and most of all, palpable corruption. This triggered the revolutionary spirit of the Filipinos once more as thousands of people flocked during protests in the country’s capital where demonstrators were killed.

Marcos then implemented martial law in the country in 1972 with the purpose of keeping the power for himself. During this time, Philippines has once again found its way in the hands of an oppressor. Tons of changes were imposed during martial law such as curfews, abolishment of press freedom, and international travel for thousands of people who were enemies of the Marcos regime. During his time, over 3,000 were killed, approximately 35,000 were tortured, and more than 70,000 people were arrested.

People Power

The assassination of Marcos’ rival Benigno Aquino, Sr. ignited a fire among Filipinos. After Marcos beat Aquino’s wife, Corazon Aquino, in a rigged election, countless Filipinos marched in the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue during the EDSA Revolution in 1986 which put the widow in power. Marcos fled to Hawaii with his wife and died in 1989. The Presidential Commission on Good Government confirmed that around 3,000 pairs of shoes were seized from Imelda’s shoe collection in Malacañang Palace.

Philippines Today

The history of the Philippines has shaped it to what it has become today. The country has come a long way since it undergone years of struggle against oppressors. Currently, the Philippines is under President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who has gotten a reputation because of his war on drugs. Some of the major issues in the Philippines now involve the territorial dispute over the South China Sea, extrajudicial killings, and rebel insurgencies.

Despite these issues, the Philippines, now home to over 104 million Filipinos, is a country where happiness is evident. Despite poor living conditions in some areas, Filipinos still remain one of the most cheerful people in the world. This is precisely the reason why millions of travelers flock the wonderful islands every chance that they get to experience the genuine hospitality of Filipinos.