The history of the Philippines can be divided into four distinct phases: the pre-Spanish period (before 1521); the Spanish period (1521-1898); the American period (1898-1946); and the post-independence period (1946-present).
The first people in the Philippines, the Negritos, are believed to have come to the islands 30,000 years ago from Borneo and Sumatra, making their way across then-existing land bridges. According to popular belief, Malays subsequently came from the south in successive waves, the earliest by land bridges and later in boats by sea. In contrast, modern archeological, linguistic, and genetic evidence strongly suggests that those successive waves of migrants came from Taiwan as the Austronesian sub-group, Malayo-Polynesians. From Taiwan, the Austronesians first spread southward across the Philippines, then on to Indonesia, Malaysia, and as far away as Polynesia and Madagascar. The migrants settled in scattered communities, named barangays after the large outrigger boats in which they arrived, and ruled by chieftains known often as datus. Mainland Chinese merchants and traders arrived and settled in the ninth century, sometimes traveling on the ships of Arab traders, who introduced Islam in the south and extended some influence even into Luzon. The Malayo-Polynesians, however, remained the dominant group until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.
Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan reached the Philippines and claimed the archipelago for Spain in 1521, but was killed shortly after arriving when he intervened in a dispute between rival tribes. Christianity was established in the Philippines only after the arrival of the succeeding Spanish expeditionary forces (the first led by Legazpi in the early 16th century) and the Spanish Jesuits, and in the 17th and 18th centuries by the conquistadores.
Until Mexico proclaimed independence from Spain in 1810, the islands were under the administrative control of Spanish North America, and there was significant migration between North America and the Philippines. This period was the era of conversion to Roman Catholicism. A Spanish colonial social
system was developed with a local government centered in Manila and with considerable clerical influence. Spanish influence was strongest in Luzon and the central Philippines but less so in Mindanao, save for certain coastal cities.
The long period of Spanish rule was marked by numerous uprisings. Towards the latter half of the 19th century, European-educated Filipinos or ilustrados (such as the Chinese Filipino national hero Jose Rizal) began to criticize the excesses of Spanish rule and instilled a new sense of national identity. This movement gave inspiration to the final revolt against Spain that began in 1896 under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo (another Chinese Filipino) and continued until the Americans defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, during the Spanish-American War. Aguinaldo declared independence from Spain on June 12, 1898.
Following Admiral George Dewey’s defeat of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, the U.S. occupied the Philippines. Spain ceded the islands to the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898) that ended the Spanish-American war.
A war of resistance against U.S. rule, led by revolutionary General Aguinaldo, broke out in 1899. During this conflict fighting and disease claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Filipinos and thousands of Americans. Filipinos and an increasing number of American historians refer to these hostilities as the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), and in 1999, the U.S. Library of Congress reclassified its references to use this term. In 1901, Aguinaldo was captured and swore allegiance to the United States, and resistance gradually died out until the conflict ended with a Peace Proclamation on July 4, 1902. Armed resistance continued sporadically until 1913, however, especially among the Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu.
U.S. administration of the Philippines was always declared to be temporary and aimed to develop institutions that would permit and encourage the eventual establishment of a free and democratic government. Therefore, U.S.
officials concentrated on the creation of such practical supports for democratic government as public education, public infrastructure, and a sound legal system. The legacy of the “Thomasites”–American teachers who came to the Philippines starting in 1901 and created the tradition of a strong public education system–continues to resonate today.
The first legislative assembly was elected in 1907, and a bicameral legislature, largely under Filipino control, was established. A civil service was formed and was gradually taken over by the Filipinos, who had effectively gained control by the end of World War I. The Catholic Church was disestablished, and a considerable amount of church land was purchased and redistributed.
In 1935, under the terms of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth. Manuel Quezon was elected president of the new government, which was designed to prepare the country for independence after a 10-year transition period. Japan attacked the Philippines in December 1941, however, and in May 1942, Corregidor, the last American/Filipino stronghold, fell. U.S. forces in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese, placing the islands under Japanese control. During the occupation, thousands of Filipinos fought a running guerrilla campaign against Japanese forces.
The full-scale war to regain the Philippines began when General Douglas MacArthur landed on Leyte on October 20, 1944. Filipinos and Americans fought together until the Japanese surrendered in September 1945. Much of Manila was destroyed during the final months of the fighting. In total, an estimated one million Filipinos lost their lives in the war.
Due to the Japanese occupation, the guerrilla warfare that followed, and the battles leading to liberation, the country suffered great damage and a complete organizational breakdown. Despite the shaken state of the country, the United States and the Philippines decided to move forward with plans for independence. On July 4, 1946, the Philippine Islands became the independent Republic of the Philippines, in accordance with the terms of the
Tydings-McDuffie Act. In 1962, the official Philippine Independence Day was changed from July 4 to June 12, commemorating the date independence from Spain was declared by Emilio Aguinaldo in 1898.
The early years of independence were dominated by U.S.-assisted postwar reconstruction. The communist-inspired Huk Rebellion (1945-53) complicated recovery efforts before its successful suppression under the leadership of President Ramon Magsaysay. The succeeding administrations of Presidents Carlos P. Garcia (1957-61) and Diosdado Macapagal (1961-65) sought to expand Philippine ties to its Asian neighbors, implement domestic reform programs, and develop and diversify the economy.
In 1972, President Ferdinand E. Marcos (1965-86) declared martial law, citing growing lawlessness and open rebellion by the communist rebels as his justification. Marcos governed from 1973 until mid-1981 in accordance with the transitory provisions of a new constitution that replaced the commonwealth constitution of 1935. He suppressed democratic institutions and restricted civil liberties during the martial law period, ruling largely by decree and popular referenda. The government began a process of political normalization during 1978-81, culminating in the reelection of President Marcos to a 6-year term that would have ended in 1987. The Marcos government’s respect for human rights remained low despite the end of martial law on January 17, 1981. His government retained its wide arrest and detention powers, and corruption and cronyism contributed to a serious decline in economic growth and development.
The assassination of opposition leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, Jr. upon his return to the Philippines in 1983 after a long period of exile coalesced popular dissatisfaction with Marcos and set in motion a succession of events that culminated in a snap presidential election in February 1986. The opposition united under Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino, and Salvador Laurel, head of the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO). The election was marred by widespread electoral fraud on the part of Marcos and his supporters. International observers, including a U.S. delegation led by
Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), denounced the official results. Marcos fled the Philippines in the face of a peaceful civilian-military uprising that ousted him and installed Corazon Aquino as president on February 25, 1986.
Under Aquino’s presidency, progress was made in revitalizing democratic institutions and civil liberties. However, the administration was also viewed by many as weak and fractious, and a return to full political stability and economic development was hampered by several attempted coups staged by disaffected members of the Philippine military.
Fidel Ramos was elected president in 1992. Early in his administration, Ramos declared “national reconciliation” his highest priority. He legalized the Communist Party and created the National Unification Commission (NUC) to lay the groundwork for talks with communist insurgents, Muslim separatists, and military rebels. In June 1994, President Ramos signed into law a general conditional amnesty covering all rebel groups, as well as Philippine military and police personnel accused of crimes committed while fighting the insurgents. In October 1995, the government signed an agreement bringing the military insurgency to an end. A peace agreement with one major Muslim insurgent group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), was signed in 1996, using the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) as a vehicle for self-government.
Popular movie actor Joseph Ejercito Estrada’s election as president in May 1998 marked the Philippines’ third democratic succession since the ouster of Marcos. Estrada was elected with overwhelming mass support on a platform promising poverty alleviation and an anti-crime crackdown. During his first 2 years in office, President Estrada was plagued with allegations of corruption, resulting in impeachment proceedings. Estrada vacated his office in 2001. In 2007, an anti-graft court convicted Estrada of plunder charges. He received a presidential pardon soon after the conviction.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, elected vice president in 1998, assumed the presidency in January 2001 after widespread demonstrations that followed the
breakdown of Estrada’s impeachment trial. The Philippine Supreme Court subsequently endorsed unanimously the constitutionality of the transfer of power. National and local elections took place in May 2004. Under the constitution, Arroyo was eligible for another term as president for a full 6 years, and she won a hard-fought campaign against her primary challenger, movie actor Fernando Poe, Jr., in elections held May 10, 2004. Noli De Castro was elected vice president.
Impeachment charges were brought against Arroyo in June 2005 for allegedly tampering with the results of the 2004 elections, but Congress rejected the charges in September 2005. In November 2011, Arroyo was arrested and charged for her role in alleged electoral fraud in connection with the 2007 congressional election.
In 2010 elections, Liberal Party Senator Benigno S. Aquino III (son of Ninoy and Corazon Aquino) won the presidency, campaigning against corruption and on a platform including job creation, provision of health care and education, and other domestic issues. Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, a member of the PDP-Laban party, won the vice presidency. The election was the first in the Philippines to feature nationwide use of automated ballot-scanners, and, despite uncertainty about the technical reliability of the machines in the run-up to the election, most opinion-shapers lauded the election process as among the best in the Philippines’ history, quickly producing results that were widely accepted as legitimate.