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History of the Philippines (1521–1898)

This article covers the history of the Philippines under the Spanish Empire from the arrival of European explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, up to the end of rule in 1898.

Spanish expeditions and colonization

Although they were not the first Europeans in the Philippines, the first well documented arrival of western Europeans in the archipelago was the Spanish expedition led by Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan, which first sighted the mountains of Samar at dawn on 16 March 1521 (Spanish calendar), making landfall the following day at the small, uninhabited island of Homonhon at the mouth of the Leyte Gulf.[1] Magellan had abandoned his Portuguese citizenship and became a Spanish subject prior to his contract with Spain. On Easter Sunday, 31 March 1521 (Spanish calendar), at Masao, Butuan, (now in Agusan Del Norte), he solemnly planted a cross on the summit of a hill overlooking the sea and claimed possession of the islands he had seen for Spain, naming them Archipelago of Saint Lazarus.[2]

Magellan sought friendship among the natives beginning with Rajah Humabon, the chieftain of Sugbu (now Cebu), and took special pride in converting them to Catholicism. Magellan got involved with political rivalries among the Cebuano natives and took part in a battle against Lapu-Lapu, chieftain of Mactan island and a mortal enemy of Humabon. At dawn on 27 April 1521, Magellan invaded Mactan Island with 60 armed men and 1,000 Cebuano warriors, but had great difficulty landing his men on the rocky shore. Lapu-Lapu had an army of 1,500 on land. Magellan waded ashore with his soldiers and attacked the Mactan defenders, ordering Humabon and his warriors to remain aboard the ships and watch. Magellan seriously underestimated the Lapu-Lapu and his men, and grossly outnumbered, Magellan and 14 of his soldiers were killed. The rest managed to reboard the ships. (See Battle of Mactan)

The battle left the Spanish too few to man three ships so they abandoned the "Concepción". The remaining ships - "Trinidad" and "Victoria" - sailed to the Spice Islands in present-day Indonesia. From there, the expedition split into two groups. The Trinidad, commanded by Gonzalo Gómez de Espinoza tried to sail eastward across the Pacific Ocean to the Isthmus of Panama. Disease and shipwreck disrupted Espinoza's voyage and most of the crew died. Survivors of the Trinidad returned to the Spice Islands, where the Portuguese imprisoned them. The Victoria continued sailing westward, commanded by Juan Sebastián de El Cano, and managed to return to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain in 1522. In 1529, Charles I of Spain relinquished all claims to the Spice Islands to Portugal in the treaty of Zaragoza. However, the treaty did not stop the colonization of the Philippine archipelago from New Spain.[3]

After Magellan's voyage, subsequent expeditions were dispatched to the islands. Four expeditions were sent: that of Loaisa (1525), Cabot (1526), Saavedra (1527), Villalobos (1542), and Legazpi (1564).[4] The Legazpi expedition was the most successful as it resulted in the discovery of the tornaviaje or return trip to Mexico across the Pacific by Andres de Urdaneta.[5] This discovery started the trade of the famous Manila Galleons which lasted two and a half centuries.

In 1543, Ruy López de Villalobos named the islands of Leyte and Samar Las Islas Filipinas after Philip II of Spain.[6] Philip II became King of Spain on January 16, 1556, when his father, Charles I of Spain, abdicated the Spanish throne. Philip was in Brussels at the time and his return to Spain was delayed until 1559 because of European politics and wars in northern Europe. Shortly after his return to Spain, Philip ordered an expedition mounted to the Spice Islands, stating that its purpose was "to discover the islands to the west". In reality its task was to conquer the Philippines for Spain.[7]

On April 27, 1565, a Spanish expedition of a mere 500 men led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi landed in Bohol and made a blood compact with Raja Katuna and Raja Gala. He and his men then proceeded to the nearby island of Cebu, where they were attacked by the defiant Tupas, who had succeeded Humabon as king of Cebu.[8] Tupas was defeated and requested to sign an agreement which placed his people and the entire island of Cebu under Spain. On that same day, the first permanent Spanish settlement of San Miguel was founded in Cebu. In 1570, Juan de Salcedo, in the service of Legazpi, conquered the Kingdom of Maynila (now Manila). Legazpi then made Maynila the capital of the Philippines and simplified its spelling to Manila. His expedition also renamed Luzon Nueva Castilla. Legazpi became the country's first governor-general. With time, Cebu's importance fell as power shifted north to Luzon. The archipelago was Spain's outpost in the orient and Manila became the capital of the entire Spanish East Indies. The colony was administered through the Viceroyalty of New Spain (now Mexico) until 1821 when Mexico achieved independence from Spain. After 1821, the colony was governed directly from Spain.

During most of the colonial period, the Philippine economy depended on the Galleon Trade which was inaugurated in 1565 between Manila and Acapulco, Mexico. Trade between Spain and the Philippines was via the Pacific Ocean to Mexico (Manila to Acapulco), and then across the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean to Spain (Veracruz to Cádiz). Manila became the most important center of trade in Asia between the 17th and 18th centuries. All sorts of products from China, Japan, Brunei, the Moluccas and even India were sent to Manila to be sold for silver 8-Real coins which came aboard the galleons from Acapulco. These goods, including silk, porcelain, spices, lacquerware and textile products were then sent to Acapulco and from there to other parts of New Spain, Peru and Europe.

The European population in the archipelago steadily grew although natives remained the majority. They depended on the Galleon Trade for a living. In the later years of the 18th century, Governor-General Basco introduced economic reforms that gave the colony its first significant internal source income from the production of tobacco and other agricultural exports. In this later period, agriculture was finally opened to the European population, which before was reserved only for the natives.

During Spain’s 333 year rule in the Philippines, the colonists had to fight off the Chinese pirates (who lay siege to Manila, the most famous of which was Limahong in 1574), Dutch forces, Portuguese forces, and indigenous revolts. Moros from western Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago also raided the coastal Christian areas of Luzon and the Visayas and occasionally captured men and women to be sold as slaves.

Some Japanese ships visited the Philippines in the 1570s in order to export Japanese silver and import Philippine gold. Later, increasing imports of silver from New World sources resulted in Japanese exports to the Philippines shifting from silver to consumer goods. In the 1580s, the Spanish traders were troubled to some extent by Japanese pirates, but peaceful trading relations were established between the Philippines and Japan by 1590.[9] Japan's kampaku (regent), Toyotomi Hideyoshi, demanded unsuccessfully on several occasions that the Philippines submit to Japan's suzerainty.[10]

On February 8, 1597, King Philip II, near the end of his 42-year reign, issued a Royal Cedula instructing Francisco de Tello de Guzmán, then Governor-General of the Philippines to fulfill the laws of tributes and to provide for restitution of ill-gotten taxes taken from the natives. The decree was published in Manila on August 5, 1598. King Philip died on 13 September, just forty days after the publication of the decree, but his death was not known in the Philippines until middle of 1599, by which time a referendum by which the natives would acknowledge Spanish rule was underway. With the completion of the Philippine referendum of 1599, Spain could be said to have established legitimate sovereignty over the Philippines.[11]

Spanish rule

Political System
The Spanish quickly organized their new colony according to their model. The first task was the reduction, or relocation of native inhabitants into settlements. The earliest political system used during the conquista period was the encomienda system, which resembled the feudal system in medieval Europe. The conquistadores, friars and native nobles were granted estates, in exchange for their services to the King, and was given the privilege to collect tribute from its inhabitants. In return, the person granted the encomienda, known as an encomendero, was tasked to provide military protection to the inhabitants, justice and governance. In times of war, the encomendero was duty bound to provide soldiers for the King, in particular, for the complete defense of the colony from invaders such as the Dutch, British and Chinese. The encomienda system was abused by encomenderos and by 1700 was largely replaced by administrative provinces, each headed by an alcalde mayor (provincial governor)[12] The most prominent feature of Spanish cities was the plaza, a central area for town activities such as the fiesta, and where government buildings, the church, a market area and other infrastructures were located. Residential areas lay around the plaza. During the conquista, the first task of colonization was the reduction, or relocation of the indigenous population into settlements surrounding the plaza.

As in Europe, the church always had control over the state affairs of the colony. The friars controlled the sentiments of the native population and was more powerful than the governor-general himself. Among the issues that resulted to the Philippine revolution of 1898 that ended Spanish rule was the abuse of power by the religious orders.

National Government: On the national level, the King of Spain, through his Council of the Indies (Consejo de Indias), governed through his sole representative in the Philippines: the Governor-General (Gobernador y Capitán General). With the seat of power in Intramuros, Manila, the Governor-General was given several duties: he headed the Supreme Court (Real Audiencia), was Commander-in-chief of the army and navy, and was the economic planner of the country. All known executive power of the local government stemmed from him and as vice-regal patron, he had the right to supervise mission work and oversee ecclesiastical appointments. His yearly salary was P40,000. For obvious reasons, the Governor-General was usually a Peninsular (Spaniard born in Spain) to ensure loyalty of the colony to the crown.

Provincial Government: On the provincial level, heading the pacified provinces (alcaldia), was the provincial governor (alcalde mayor). The unpacified military zones (corregidor), such as Mariveles and Mindoro, were headed by the corregidores. City governments (ayuntamientos), were also headed by an alcalde mayor. Alcalde mayors and corregidores exercised multiple prerogatives as judge, inspector of encomiendas, chief of police, tribute collector, capitan-general of the province and even vice-regal patron. His annual salary ranged from P300 to P2000 before 1847 and P1500 to P1600 after it. But this can be augmented through the special privilege of "indulto de commercio" where all people were forced to do business with him. The alcalde mayor was usually an Insulares (Spaniard born in the Philippines). In the 19th century, the Peninsulares began to displace the Insulares which resulted in the political unrests of 1872, notably the execution of GOMBURZA, Novales Revolt and mutiny of the Cavite fort under La Madrid.

Municipal Government: The pueblo or town is headed by the Gobernadorcillo or little governor. Among his administrative duties were the preparation of the tribute list (padron), recruitment and distribution of men for draft labor, communal public work and military conscription (quinto), postal clerk and judge in minor civil suits. He intervened in all administrative cases pertaining to his town: lands, justice, finance and the municipal police. His annual salary, however, was only P24 but he was exempted from taxation. Any native or Chinese mestizo, 25 years old, literate in oral or written Spanish and has been a Cabeza de Barangay of 4 years can be a Gobernadorcillo. Among those prominent is Emilio Aguinaldo, a Chinese Mestizo and who was the Gobernadorcillo of Cavite El Viejo (now Kawit). The officials of the pueblo were taken from the Principalía, the noble class of pre-colonial origin. Their names are survived by prominent families in contemporary Philippine society such as Lindo, Tupas, Gatmaitan, Liwanag, Pangilinan, Panganiban, Balderas, and Agbayani to name a few.

Barrio Government: Barrio government (village or district) rested on the barrio administrator (cabeza de barangay). He was responsible for peace and order and recruited men for communal public works. Cabezas should be literate in Spanish and have good moral character and property. Cabezas who served for 25 years were exempted from forced labor. In addition, this is where the sentiment heard as, "Mi Barrio", first came from.

The Residencia and The Visita: To check the abuse of power of royal officials, two ancient castilian institutions were brought to the Philippines. The Residencia, dating back to the 5th century and the Visita differed from the residencia in that it was conducted clandestinely by a visitador-general sent from Spain and might occur anytime within the official’s term, without any previous notice. Visitas may be specific or general.

Maura Law: The legal foundation for municipal governments in the country was laid with the promulgation of the Maura Law on May 19, 1893. Named after its author, Don Antonio Maura, the Spanish Minister of Colonies at the time, the law reorganized town governments in the Philippines with the aim of making them more effective and autonomous. This law created the municipal organization that was later adopted, revised, and further strengthened by the American and Filipino governments that succeeded Spanish.

Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade: The Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade was the main source of income for the colony during its early years. Service was inaugurated in 1565 and continued into the early 19th century. The Galleon trade brought silver from New Spain, which was used to purchase Asian goods such as silk from China, spices from the Moluccas, lacquerware from Japan and Philippine cotton textiles.[13] These goods were then exported to New Spain and ultimately Europe by way of Manila. Thus, the Philippines earned its income through the trade of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon. The trade was very prosperous and attracted many merchants to Manila, especially the Chinese. However, initially it neglected the development of the colony's local industries which affected the Indios since agriculture was their main source of income. In addition, the building and operation of galleons put too much burden on the colonists' annual polo y servicio. However, it resulted in cultural and commercial exchanges between Asia and the Americas that led to the introduction of new crops and animals to the Philippines such as corn, potato, tomato, cotton and tobacco among others, that gave the colony its first real income. The trade lasted for over two hundred years, and ceased in 1815 just before the secession of American colonies from Spain.

Royal Society of Friends of the Country: José de Basco y Vargas, following a royal order to form a society of intellectuals who can produce new, useful ideas, formally established the Real Sociedad Economica de Amigos del Pais. Composed of leading men in business, industry and profession, the society was tasked to explore and exploit the island's natural bounties. The society led to the creation of Plan General Economico of Basco which implemented the monopolies on the areca nut, tobacco, spirited liquors and explosives. It offered local and foreign scholarships and training grants in agriculture and established an academy of design. It was also credited to the carabao ban of 1782, the formation of the silversmiths and gold beaters guild and the construction of the first papermill in the Philippines in 1825. It was introduced on 1780, vanished temporarily on 1787-1819, 1820–1822 and 1875-1822 and ceased to exist in the middle of the 1890s.

Royal Company of the Philippines: On March 10, 1785, Charles III created the Royal Philippine Company with a 25 year charter.[14] It was granted exclusive monopoly of bringing to Manila, Philippines; Chinese and Indian goods and shipping them directly to Spain via the Cape of Good Hope. It was stiffly objected by the Dutch and English who saw it as a direct attack on their trade of Asian goods. It was also vehemently opposed by the traders of the Galleon trade who saw it as competition. This gradually resulted into the death of both institutions: The Royal Philippine Company in 1814 and the Galleon trade in 1815.[15]

Taxation: To support the colony, several forms of taxes and monopolies were imposed. The buwis (tribute), which could be paid in cash or kind (tobacco,chickens, produce, gold, blankets, cotton, rice, etc., depending on the region of the country), was initially was fixed at 8 reales (one real being 8 centavos) and later increased to 15 reales, apportioned as follows: ten reales buwis, one real diezmos prediales (tithes), one real to the town community chest, one real sanctorum tax, and three reales for church support.[16]

Also collected was the bandalâ (from the Tagalog word mandalâ, a round stack of rice stalks to be threshed), an annual enforced sale and requisitioning of goods such as rice. Custom duties and income tax were also collected. By 1884, the tribute was replaced by the Cedula personal, wherein colonists were required to pay for personal identification. Everyone over the age of 18 was obliged to pay.[17] The local gobernadorcillos had been responsible for collection of the tribute. Under the cedula system, however, taxpayers were individually responsible to Spanish authorities for payment of the tax, and were subject to summary arrest for failure to show a cedula receipt.[18]

Forced Labor (Polo y servicios): The system of forced or corvée labor known as polo y servicios evolved from the encomienda system, introduced into the Latin American colonies by the Conquistadores and Catholic priests who accompanied them. Polo y servicios is the forced labor for 40 days of men ranging from 16 to 60 years of age who were obligated to give personal services to community projects. One could be exempted from polo by paying the falla (a corruption of the Spanish falta, meaning "absence"), a daily fine of one and a half real. In 1884, labor was reduced to 15 days. The polo system was patterned after the Mexican repartimento, selection for forced labor.[19]

By the 19th century, the Philippines had become an important possession. The early small number of European settlers, soldiers and missionaries brought lllthem aspects of European life, i.e. the Spanish menu,[20] religious festivals, stone houses, manner of clothing and fashion. The colonists used the Gregorian calendar, the Latin script and used theocentric art, music, literature. Likewise, the European settlers and their descendants, known as Insulares (lit. "islanders"), also adapted to oriental culture learning to eat rice as their staple and use soy sauce, coconut vinegar, coconut oil and ginger. Today, Filipino culture is a blend of many different cultures.

British invasion

In August 1759, Charles III ascended the Spanish throne. At the time, Britain and France were at war, in what was later called the Seven Years War. France, suffering a series of setbacks, successfully negotiated a treaty with Spain known as the Family Compact which was signed on 15 August 1761. By an ancillary secret convention, Spain was committed to making preparations for war against Britain.[21]

On 24 September 1762,[22] force of British Army regulars and British East India Company soldiers, supported by the ships and men of the East Indies Squadron of the British Royal Navy, sailed into Manila Bay from Madras in India and after a battle, took possession of Manila and its port, Cavite.[21] The expedition, led by Brigadier General William Draper and Rear-Admiral Samuel Cornish, captured Manila, "the greatest Spanish fortress in the western Pacific", and attempted to establish trade with China.[23]

The early success at Manila did not enable the British to control the Philippines. Spanish-Filipino forces (made up mostly of Filipinos) kept the British confined to Manila. Nevertheless, the British were confident of eventual success after receiving the written surrender of captured Catholic Archbishop Rojo on 30 October 1762.[24]

The surrender was rejected as illegal by Don Simón de Anda y Salazar, who claimed the title of Governor-General under the statutes of the Council of Indies. He led Spanish-Filipino forces that kept the British confined to Manila and sabotaged or crushed British fomented revolts. Anda intercepted and redirected the Manila galleon trade to prevent further captures by the British. The failure of the British to consolidate their position led to troop desertions and a breakdown of command unity which left the British forces paralysed and in an increasingly precarious position.[25]

The Seven Years War was ended by the Peace of Paris signed on 10 February 1763. At the time of signing the treaty, the signatories were not aware that the Manila was under British occupation and was being administered as a British colony. Consequently no specific provision was made for the Philippines. Instead they fell under the general provision that all other lands not otherwise provided for be returned to the Spanish Crown.[26]

The British rule of Manila ended with them embarking from Cavite in the first week of April 1764, and sailing out of Manila Bay for Batavia, India and Britain. The controversy over payments demanded from Spain of the outstanding part of the ransom promised by Rojo in the terms of surrender and the compensation demanded from Britain for the excesses committed by Governor Drake against residents of Manila, reverberated in Europe for years.[27]


  • 1. Zaide 2006, p. 78
  • 2. Zaide 2006, pp. 80–81
  • 3. Agoncillo 1990, p. 73
  • 4. Zaide 2006, pp. 86–87.
  • 5. Zaide 1939, p. 113
  • 6. Scott 1985, p. 51.
  • 7. Williams 2009, pp. 13–33.
  • 8. Jovito Abellana, Aginid, Bayok sa Atong Tawarik, 1952
  • 9. Schottenhammer 2008, p. 151.
  • 10. Yu-Jose 1999, p. http://books.google.com/books?id=kbWv-pZy5H0C&pg=PA1 1.
  • 11. Villarroel 2009, pp. 93–133.
  • 12. .Abinales & Amoroso 2005, p. 55.
  • 13. South East Asia Pottery - Philippines
  • 14. Solidarity, 2, Solidaridad Publishing House, p. 8, "The charter of the Royal Philippine Company was promulgated on March 10, 1785 to last for 25 years."
  • 15. De Borja & Douglass 2005, pp. 71–79.
  • 16. Agoncillo 1990, pp. 81–82
  • 17. Agoncillo 1990, pp. 82–83
  • 18. McCoy & de Jesus 2001, p. 233.
  • 19. Agoncillo 1990, p. 83
  • 20. Filipinas, Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines to Argentina (Spanish) (archived from the original on 2008-04-27)
  • 21. a b Tracy 1995, p. 9
  • 22. British naval calendar date
  • 23. Tracy 1995
  • 24. Tracy 1995, p. 54
  • 25. Fish 2003, p. 158
  • 26. Tracy 1995, p. 109
  • 27. Tracy 1995, p. 106
  • 28. Cummins 2006, pp. 132–138
  • 29. Sagmit 2007, p. 127.
  • 30. Agoncillo 1990, p. 166
  • 31. Salazar 1994, p. 107[citation needed].
  • 32. a b Guerrero 1998, pp. 175–176[citation needed].
  • 33. Agoncillo 1990, p. 173.
  • 34. Constantino 1975, p. 179
  • 35. Quibuyen 1999[citation needed].
  • 36. Constantino 1975, pp. 178–181
  • 37. Guerrero 1998, pp. 166–167Guerrero 1998, pp. 175–176[citation needed].
  • 38. Agoncillo 1990, p. 152
  • 39. Constantino 1975, p. 191
  • 40. Agoncillo 1990, pp. 180–181.

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