The Negritos are believed to have migrated to the Philippines some 30,000 years ago from Borneo, Sumatra, and Malaya. The Malayans followed in successive waves. These people belonged to a primitive epoch of Malayan culture, which has apparently survived to this day among certain groups such as the Igorots. The Malayan tribes that came later had more highly developed material cultures.
In the 14th cent. Arab traders from Malay and Borneo introduced Islam into the southern islands and extended their influence as far north as Luzon. The first Europeans to visit (1521) the Philippines were those in the Spanish expedition around the world led by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Other Spanish expeditions followed, including one from New Spain (Mexico) under López de Villalobos, who in 1542 named the islands for the infante Philip, later Philip II.
The conquest of the Filipinos by Spain did not begin in earnest until 1564, when another expedition from New Spain, commanded by Miguel López de Legaspi, arrived. Spanish leadership was soon established over many small independent communities that previously had known no central rule. By 1571, when López de Legaspi established the Spanish city of Manila on the site of a Moro town he had conquered the year before, the Spanish foothold in the Philippines was secure, despite the opposition of the Portuguese, who were eager to maintain their monopoly on the trade of East Asia.
Manila repulsed the attack of the Chinese pirate Limahong in 1574. For centuries before the Spanish arrived the Chinese had traded with the Filipinos, but evidently none had settled permanently in the islands until after the conquest. Chinese trade and labor were of great importance in the early development of the Spanish colony, but the Chinese came to be feared and hated because of their increasing numbers, and in 1603 the Spanish murdered thousands of them (later, there were lesser massacres of the Chinese).
The Spanish governor, made a viceroy in 1589, ruled with the advice of the powerful royal audiencia. There were frequent uprisings by the Filipinos, who resented the encomienda system. By the end of the 16th cent. Manila had become a leading commercial center of East Asia, carrying on a flourishing trade with China, India, and the East Indies. The Philippines supplied some wealth (including gold) to Spain, and the richly laden galleons plying between the islands and New Spain were often attacked by English freebooters. There was also trouble from other quarters, and the period from 1600 to 1663 was marked by continual wars with the Dutch, who were laying the foundations of their rich empire in the East Indies, and with Moro pirates. One of the most difficult problems the Spanish faced was the subjugation of the Moros. Intermittent campaigns were conducted against them but without conclusive results until the middle of the 19th cent. As the power of the Spanish Empire waned, the Jesuit orders became more influential in the Philippines and acquired great amounts of property.
It was the opposition to the power of the clergy that in large measure brought about the rising sentiment for independence. Spanish injustices, bigotry, and economic oppressions fed the movement, which was greatly inspired by the brilliant writings of José Rizal. In 1896 revolution began in the province of Cavite, and after the execution of Rizal that December, it spread throughout the major islands. The Filipino leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, achieved considerable success before a peace was patched up with Spain. The peace was short-lived, however, for neither side honored its agreements, and a new revolution was brewing when the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898.
After the U.S. naval victory in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey supplied Aguinaldo with arms and urged him to rally the Filipinos against the Spanish. By the time U.S. land forces had arrived, the Filipinos had taken the entire island of Luzon, except for the old walled city of Manila, which they were besieging. The Filipinos had also declared their independence and established a republic under the first democratic constitution ever known in Asia. Their dreams of independence were crushed when the Philippines were transferred from Spain to the United States in the Treaty of Paris (1898), which closed the Spanish-American War.
In Feb., 1899, Aguinaldo led a new revolt, this time against U.S. rule. Defeated on the battlefield, the Filipinos turned to guerrilla warfare, and their subjugation became a mammoth project for the United States—one that cost far more money and took far more lives than the Spanish-American War. The insurrection was effectively ended with the capture (1901) of Aguinaldo by Gen. Frederick Funston, but the question of Philippine independence remained a burning issue in the politics of both the United States and the islands. The matter was complicated by the growing economic ties between the two countries. Although comparatively little American capital was invested in island industries, U.S. trade bulked larger and larger until the Philippines became almost entirely dependent upon the American market. Free trade, established by an act of 1909, was expanded in 1913.
When the Democrats came into power in 1913, measures were taken to effect a smooth transition to self-rule. The Philippine assembly already had a popularly elected lower house, and the Jones Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1916, provided for a popularly elected upper house as well, with power to approve all appointments made by the governor-general. It also gave the islands their first definite pledge of independence, although no specific date was set.
When the Republicans regained power in 1921, the trend toward bringing Filipinos into the government was reversed. Gen. Leonard Wood, who was appointed governor-general, largely supplanted Filipino activities with a semimilitary rule. However, the advent of the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s and the first aggressive moves by Japan in Asia (1931) shifted U.S. sentiment sharply toward the granting of immediate independence to the Philippines.
The Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act, passed by Congress in 1932, provided for complete independence of the islands in 1945 after 10 years of self-government under U.S. supervision. The bill had been drawn up with the aid of a commission from the Philippines, but Manuel L. Quezon, the leader of the dominant Nationalist party, opposed it, partially because of its threat of American tariffs against Philippine products but principally because of the provisions leaving naval bases in U.S. hands. Under his influence, the Philippine legislature rejected the bill. The Tydings-McDuffie Independence Act (1934) closely resembled the Hare-Howes-Cutting-Act, but struck the provisions for American bases and carried a promise of further study to correct "imperfections or inequalities."
The Philippine legislature ratified the bill; a constitution, approved by President Roosevelt (Mar., 1935) was accepted by the Philippine people in a plebiscite (May); and Quezon was elected the first president (Sept.). When Quezon was inaugurated on Nov. 15, 1935, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was formally established. Quezon was reelected in Nov., 1941. To develop defensive forces against possible aggression, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was brought to the islands as military adviser in 1935, and the following year he became field marshal of the Commonwealth army.
War came suddenly to the Philippines on Dec. 8 (Dec. 7, U.S. time), 1941, when Japan attacked without warning. Japanese troops invaded the islands in many places and launched a pincer drive on Manila. MacArthur's scattered defending forces (about 80,000 troops, four fifths of them Filipinos) were forced to withdraw to Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island, where they entrenched and tried to hold until the arrival of reinforcements, meanwhile guarding the entrance to Manila Bay and denying that important harbor to the Japanese. But no reinforcements were forthcoming. The Japanese occupied Manila on Jan. 2, 1942. MacArthur was ordered out by President Roosevelt and left for Australia on Mar. 11; Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright assumed command.
The besieged U.S.-Filipino army on Bataan finally crumbled on Apr. 9, 1942. Wainwright fought on from Corregidor with a garrison of about 11,000 men; he was overwhelmed on May 6, 1942. After his capitulation, the Japanese forced the surrender of all remaining defending units in the islands by threatening to use the captured Bataan and Corregidor troops as hostages. Many individual soldiers refused to surrender, however, and guerrilla resistance, organized and coordinated by U.S. and Philippine army officers, continued throughout the Japanese occupation.
Japan's efforts to win Filipino loyalty found expression in the establishment (Oct. 14, 1943) of a "Philippine Republic," with José P. Laurel, former supreme court justice, as president. But the people suffered greatly from Japanese brutality, and the puppet government gained little support. Meanwhile, President Quezon, who had escaped with other high officials before the country fell, set up a government-in-exile in Washington. When he died (Aug., 1944), Vice President Sergio Osmeña became president. Osmeña returned to the Philippines with the first liberation forces, which surprised the Japanese by landing (Oct. 20, 1944) at Leyte, in the heart of the islands, after months of U.S. air strikes against Mindanao. The Philippine government was established at Tacloban, Leyte, on Oct. 23.
The landing was followed (Oct. 23–26) by the greatest naval engagement in history, called variously the battle of Leyte Gulf and the second battle of the Philippine Sea. A great U.S. victory, it effectively destroyed the Japanese fleet and opened the way for the recovery of all the islands. Luzon was invaded (Jan., 1945), and Manila was taken in February. On July 5, 1945, MacArthur announced "All the Philippines are now liberated." The Japanese had suffered over 425,000 dead in the Philippines.
The Philippine congress met on June 9, 1945, for the first time since its election in 1941. It faced enormous problems. The land was devastated by war, the economy destroyed, the country torn by political warfare and guerrilla violence. Osmeña's leadership was challenged (Jan., 1946) when one wing (now the Liberal party) of the Nationalist party nominated for president Manuel Roxas, who defeated Osmeña in April.
Manuel Roxas became the first president of the Republic of the Philippines when independence was granted, as scheduled, on July 4, 1946. In Mar., 1947, the Philippines and the United States signed a military assistance pact (since renewed) and the Philippines gave the United States a 99-year lease on designated military, naval, and air bases (a later agreement reduced the period to 25 years beginning 1967). The sudden death of President Roxas in Apr., 1948, elevated the vice president, Elpidio Quirino, to the presidency, and in a bitterly contested election in Nov., 1949, Quirino defeated José Laurel to win a four-year term of his own.
The enormous task of reconstructing the war-torn country was complicated by the activities in central Luzon of the Communist-dominated Hukbalahap guerrillas (Huks), who resorted to terror and violence in their efforts to achieve land reform and gain political power. They were largely brought under control (1954) after a vigorous attack launched by the minister of national defense, Ramón Magsaysay. The Huks continued to function, however, until 1970, and other Communist guerrilla groups have persisted in their opposition to the Philippine government. Magsaysay defeated Quirino in Nov., 1953, to win the presidency. He had promised sweeping economic changes, and he did make progress in land reform, opening new settlements outside crowded Luzon island. His death in an airplane crash in Mar., 1957, was a serious blow to national morale. Vice President Carlos P. García succeeded him and won a full term as president in the elections of Nov., 1957.
In foreign affairs, the Philippines maintained a firm anti-Communist policy and joined the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization in 1954. There were difficulties with the United States over American military installations in the islands, and, despite formal recognition (1956) of full Philippine sovereignty over these bases, tensions increased until some of the bases were dismantled (1959) and the 99-year lease period was reduced. The United States rejected Philippine financial claims and proposed trade revisions.
Philippine opposition to García on issues of government corruption and anti-Americanism led, in June, 1959, to the union of the Liberal and Progressive parties, led by Vice President Diosdad Macapagal, the Liberal party leader, who succeeded García as president in the 1961 elections. Macapagal's administration was marked by efforts to combat the mounting inflation that had plagued the republic since its birth; by attempted alliances with neighboring countries; and by a territorial dispute with Britain over North Borneo (later Sabah), which Macapagal asserted had been leased and not sold to the British North Borneo Company in 1878.
Ferdinand E. Marcos, who succeeded to the presidency after defeating Macapagal in the 1965 elections, inherited the territorial dispute over Sabah; in 1968 he approved a congressional bill annexing Sabah to the Philippines. Malaysia suspended diplomatic relations (Sabah had joined the Federation of Malaysia in 1963), and the matter was referred to the United Nations. The Philippines became one of the founding countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967. The continuing need for land reform fostered a new Huk uprising in central Luzon, accompanied by mounting assassinations and acts of terror, and in 1969, Marcos began a major military campaign to subdue them. Civil war also threatened on Mindanao, where groups of Moros opposed Christian settlement. In Nov., 1969, Marcos won an unprecedented reelection, easily defeating Sergio Osmeña, Jr., but the election was accompanied by violence and charges of fraud, and Marcos's second term began with increasing civil disorder.
In Jan., 1970, some 2,000 demonstrators tried to storm Malcañang Palace, the presidential residence; riots erupted against the U.S. embassy. When Pope Paul VI visited Manila in Nov., 1970, an attempt was made on his life. In 1971, at a Liberal party rally, hand grenades were thrown at the speakers' platform, and several people were killed. President Marcos declared martial law in Sept., 1972, charging that a Communist rebellion threatened, and opposition to Marcos's government did swell the ranks of Communist guerrilla groups, which continued to grow into the mid-1980s and continued on a smaller scale into the 21st cent. The 1935 constitution was replaced (1973) by a new one that provided the president with direct powers. A plebiscite (July, 1973) gave Marcos the right to remain in office beyond the expiration (Dec., 1973) of his term. Meanwhile the fighting on Mindanao had spread to the Sulu Archipelago. By 1973 some 3,000 people had been killed and hundreds of villages burned. Throughout the 1970s poverty and governmental corruption increased, and Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand's wife, became more influential.
Martial law remained in force until 1981, when Marcos was reelected, amid accusations of electoral fraud. On Aug. 21, 1983, opposition leader Benigno Aquino was assassinated at Manila airport, which incited a new, more powerful wave of anti-Marcos dissent. After the Feb., 1986, presidential election, both Marcos and his opponent, Corazon Aquino (the widow of Benigno), declared themselves the winner, and charges of massive fraud and violence were leveled against the Marcos faction. Marcos's domestic and international support eroded, and he fled the country on Feb. 25, 1986, eventually obtaining asylum in the United States.
Aquino's government faced mounting problems, including coup attempts, significant economic difficulties, and pressure to rid the Philippines of the U.S. military presence (the last U.S. bases were evacuated in 1992). In 1990, in response to the demands of the Moros, a partially autonomous Muslim region was created in the far south. In 1992, Aquino declined to run for reelection and was succeeded by her former army chief of staff Fidel Ramos. He immediately launched an economic revitalization plan premised on three policies: government deregulation, increased private investment, and political solutions to the continuing insurgencies within the country. His political program was somethat successful, opening dialogues with the Communist and Muslim guerillas. Although Muslim unrest and violence continued into the 21st cent, the government signed a peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1996, which led to an expansion of the autonomous region in 2001.
Several natural disasters, including the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo on Luzon and a succession of severe typhoons, slowed the country's economic progress in the 1990s. The Philippines, however, escaped much of the economic turmoil seen in other East Asian nations in 1997 and 1998, in part by following a slower pace of development imposed by the International Monetary Fund. Joseph Marcelo Estrada, a former movie actor, was elected president in 1998, pledging to help the poor and develop the country's agricultural sector. In 1999 he announced plans to amend the constitution in order to remove protectionist provisions and attract more foreign investment.
Late in 2000, Estrada's presidency was buffetted by charges that he accepted millions of dollars in payoffs from illegal gambling operations. Although his support among the poor Filipino majority remained strong, many political, business, and church leaders called for him to resign. In Nov., 2000, Estrada was impeached by the house of representatives on charges of graft, but the senate, controlled by Estrada's allies, provoked a crisis (Jan., 2001) when it rejected examining the president's bank records. As demonstrations against Estrada mounted and members of his cabinet resigned, the supreme court stripped him of the presidency, and Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as Estrada's successor. Estrada was indicted on charges of corruption in April, and his supporters attempted to storm the presidential palace in May. In Sept., 2007, he was convicted of corruption and sentenced to life imprisonment, but Estrada, who had been under house arrest since 2001, was pardoned the following month by President Macapagal-Arroyo.
A second Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), agreed to a cease-fire in June, 2001, but fighting with fundamentalist Islamic guerrillas continued, and there was a MNLF uprising on Jolo in November. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the U.S. government provided (2002) training and assistance to Philippine troops fighting the guerrillas. In 2003 fighting with the MILF again escalated, despite pledges by both sides that they would negotiate and exercise restraint; however, a truce was declared in July. In the same month several hundred soldiers were involved in a mutiny in Manila that the government claimed was part of a coup attempt.
Macapagal-Arroyo was elected president in her own right in May, 2004, but the balloting was marred by violence and irregularities as well as a tedious vote-counting process that was completed six weeks after the election. A series of four devastating storms during November and December killed as many as 1,000 in the country's north and east, particularly on Luzon. In early 2005 heavy fighting broke out on Mindanao between government forces and a splinter group of MILF rebels, and there was also fighting with a MNLF splinter group in Jolo.
In June, 2005, the president was beset by a vote-rigging charge based on a tape of a conversation she had with an election official. She denied the allegation while acknowledging that she had been recorded and apologizing for what she called a lapse in judgment, but the controversy combined with other scandals (including allegations that her husband and other family members had engaged in influence peddling and received bribes) to create a national crisis. Promising government reform, she asked (July) her cabinet to resign, and several cabinet members subsequently called on Macapagal-Arroyo to resign (as did Corazon Aquino). At the same time the supreme court suspended sales tax increases that had been enacted in May as part of a tax reform package designed to reduce the government's debt. In August and September the president survived an opposition move to impeach her when her opponents failed to muster the votes needed to force a trial in the senate.
In Feb., 2006, the government engaged in talks, regarded as a prelude to formal peace negotiations, with the MILF, and dicussions between the two sides continued in subsequent months. Late in the month, President Macapagal-Arroyo declared a weeklong state of emergency when a coup plot against her was discovered. Intended to coincide with the 20th anniversary celebrations of the 1986 demonstrations that brought down Ferdinand Marcos, the coup was said to have involved several army generals and left-wing legislators. The state of emergency was challenged in court and upheld after the fact, but the supreme court declared aspects of the emergency's enforcement unconstitutional.
In October the supreme court declared a move to revise the constitution through a "people's initiative," replacing the presidential system of government with a parliamentary one, unconstitutional, but the government only abandoned its attempt to revise the constitution in December after the Roman Catholic church attacked an attempt by the house of representatives to call a constituent assembly and by the opposition-dominated senate. In 2006 there was fierce fighting on Jolo between government forces and Islamic militants; it continued into 2007, and there were also clashes in Basilan and Mindanao.
In Jan., 2007, a government commission blamed many of the more than 800 deaths of activists during Macapagal-Arroyo's presidency on the military. The president promised action in response to the report, but the chief of the armed forces denounced the report as unfair and strained. Congressional elections in May, 2007, were marred by fraud allegations and by violence during the campaign; the voting left the opposition in control of the senate and Macapagal-Arroyo's allies in control of the house. In November there was a brief occupation of a Manila hotel by soldiers, many of whom had been involved in the 2003 mutiny. In Oct., 2007, the president's husband was implicated in a kickback scandal involving a Chinese company; the investigation continued into 2008, and prompted demonstrations by her opponents and calls for her to resign.
A peace agreement that would have expanded the area of Mindanao that was part of the Muslim autonomous region was reached in principle with the MILF in Nov., 2007. Attempts to finalize the agreement, however, collapsed in July, 2008, when Muslims accused the government of reopening settled issues; the agreement was also challenged in court by Filipinos opposed to it. In August significant fighting broke out between government forces and rebels that the MILF said were renegades; two months later the supreme court declared the agreement unconstitutional. Fighting in the region continued into 2009. A cease-fire was established in July, 2009, and peace talks resumed the following December.
Luzon was battered by several typhoons in Sept.–Oct, 2009; the Manila area and the mountainous north were most severely affected, and more than 900 persons died. In Nov., 2009, the country was stunned by the murder of the wife of an opposition candidate for the governorship of Maguindanao prov. and 57 people who joined her in a convoy as she went to register his candidacy; the governor, Andal Ampatuan, and his son were charged with rebellion and murder in relation to the slaughter and events after it.
The May, 2010, presidential election was won by Senator Benigno Aquino 3d, the son of the late President Corazon Aquino. The relatively inexperienced Aquino benefited from his mother's popularity and his own clean image, and handily defeated former President Estrada and other candidates. The voting was marred somewhat by irregularities, particularly in the S Philippines.
Talks in Feb., 2011, with Communist rebels led both sides to commit to a cease-fire and ongoing negotiations intended to reach a peace accord within 18 months. The rebels withdrew from the negotiations in November and the cease-fire ended; no significant talks the occurred until Dec., 2012. In Oct., 2011, there was significant fighting with Moro rebels in W Mindanao and on nearby Basilan. N Mindanao suffered from deadly flash flooding in Dec., 2011, after a typhoon struck; more than 1,200 were killed by the storm. A year later S and cental Mindanao were hit by a supertyphoon that led to similar flooding; more than 1,000 died. Also in 2011 and 2012 there were increased tensions with China over disputed islands in the South China Sea; in early 2013 the Philippines notified China that it would seek arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In Oct., 2012, the government and the MILF reached a framework peace agreement that would create a new autonomous region to replace the existing one in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. The congressional elections in May, 2013, gave Aquino's supporters control of both houses. In Sept., 2013, MNLF rebels alienated by the MILF agreement launched significant attacks in Zamboanga and Basilan. The islands of Bohol and Cebu, in the Visayan Islands, suffered significant damage from an earthquake in Oct., 2013, and the following month parts of Leyte, Samar, and Cebu were devastated by a supertyphoon. The tropical storm, which also affected other islands, was the deadliest ever to hit the Philippines, killing more than 6,000 people.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Philippines Political Geography