Brief History

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Brief History of the Republic of the Philippines

The first people to live in the Philippine Islands are thought to have migrated from various regions of Asia, including negroid Aetas and Mongloid people from Southeast Asia.  Larger groups of people from the regions of present-day China and Vietnam arrived later.  The largest migrations to the islands, however, probably occurred after the 3rd century BC.  The latest arrivals were people from the Malay and Indonesian archipelagos and the Polynesian islands.  These migrants brought iron tools and technologies that included glassmaking and weaving as well as seafaring skills.

In the 5th century AD a new Filipino civilization had emerged from the mixture of cultures. Traders from as far away as India became frequent visitors to the islands. Competing influences from the Middle East, India, and China brought many changes in the economy and social life. Several primary industries, such as mining and metallurgy came into being. Gold and Silver, coins and pearls were utilized as media of exchange. By the 12th century, the powerful Sri Vijayan Empire had extended its reach from its Sumatran base to the Philippines. Starting in the 14th century, Islam spread through the southern parts of the archipelago and became firmly established there. Trade with merchants of the Chinese Ming dynasty is thought to have been established by the 15th century.

On 17 March 1521, the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, in the service of Spain, landed on the Homonhon Islet, near Samar Island. He was later killed in Mactan Island of Cebu in a clash with native warriors led by a chieftain named Lapu-Lapu.

The Philippines was a prize catch for Spain which, at that time, was locked in a fierce struggle for world colonization with Portugal. The archipelago was named Felipinas for Spain's King Philip II.

After the successful expedition in 1564 of Spain's Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, an administrative center was established in 1572 in Manila. Representatives of various Roman Catholic religious orders, such as the Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits, to convert the population. They were successful only in Luzon and the Visayas because the Moslems resisted the Spanish efforts.

Upon the overthrow of Spanish rule in Mexico by the Mexican War of Independence in 1821, the Philippines was put under the administrative control of Madrid. When three Filipino priests were executed for nationalist activities, a group of reformists, led by Dr. Jose Rizal, formed the Propaganda Movement in 1892 that would later pave the way for the Philippine Revolution.

Rizal was a doctor by profession as well as a man of letters. While essentially a political moderate, his writings were critical of Spanish repression and aroused the ire of the Spanish colonial authorities. He was executed on 30 December 1896 and became the martyred symbol for Filipino aspirations to independence and self-rule. Rizal's death brought the Katipunan (Tagalog for "association") movement led by Andres Bonifacio to the fore, seeking to establish independence by open revolt. Armed hostilities commenced on 26 August 1896 when the revolutionaries tore their certificates of identity (cedulas) in repudiation of Spanish rule.

The revolution, under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo was initially successful.

However, events were soon overshadowed by outbreak of the Spanish-American War on 21 April 1898. On 12 June 1898, with the Spanish retreating to the walled city of Intramuros, Aguinaldo was able to declare Philippine Independence and to establish a government with himself as President of the first republic in Asia. However, this independence was undermined by the terms of the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898) which governed the cessation of hostilities between Spain and the United States. In that treaty, Spain ceded the entire archipelago to the United States in return for $20 million. On 21 December 1898, the United States proclaimed the establishment of American military rule in the Philippines. Aguinaldo and the nascent Philippine republic refused to acknowledge American domination and went to war with the Americans on 04 February 1899. Filipino resistance to American rule was weakened after Aguinaldo's capture on 23 March 1901 but sporadic warfare continued up to 1905.

The United States established a civil government in 1902. In 1935 a commonwealth government was established complete with a Constitution, with Manuel L. Quezon as the first commonwealth president. He was reelected in 1941.

World War II broke out in 1941. Japan annexed the Philippines after a heroic battle with Filipino-American forces making a last stand in Bataan and Corregidor. With the surrender, Filipinos took to the hills and waged a guerilla war for four years. In 1945, American-led forces liberated the Philippines.

President Quezon had died in 1944, and Vice President Sergio Osmena succeeded him as President. On 23 April 1946, Roxas was elected president, with Elpidio Quirino as vice president. On 04 July 1946, the US flag was lowered for the last time as the Philippines was finally granted independence.

In addition to the problem of economic rehabilitation, the new state was faced with internal strife. In central Luzon the Hukbalahaps, or Huks, a Communist-led group of former guerrillas against the Japanese, organized a rebel government with its own military, civil, and administrative procedures. Demanding collectivization of farmlands and the abolition of tenant farming, the Huks became a powerful force in Luzon.

Vice President Quirino, who became acting president on the death, in April 1948, of President Roxas, won a term on his own in 1949. The Huk rebellion continued to gather momentum in 1949 and 1950.

In the presidential elections, held on 10 November 1953, former Defense Minister Ramon Magsaysay won a decisive victory over the incumbent Quirino, and because of his vigorous conduct of the campaign against the Huks, the back of the rebellion was broken, although it was not entirely suppressed.

Magsaysay died in an airplane crash on 17 March 1957 and on the next day Vice President Carlos P. Garcia was sworn in as president. Garcia was subsequently elected president, and Diosdado Macapagal, an opposition Liberal party candidate, was elected vice president. Macapagal was elected president in 1961, but in the elections of 1965 he lost to the Nationalist candidate, Ferdinand Marcos.

Rapid development of the economy brought prosperity during Marcos's first term, and he was easily reelected in 1969. His second term, however, was troubled by civil unrest, caused by increasing Communist ideological influence. By the early 1970s two separate forces, the Communist New People's Army and the Moro National Liberation Front, a Muslim separatist movement in the south, were waging guerilla war on the government. The unrest and criminal depredations were cited as excuses for the declaration of martial law in 1972. Congress was dissolved, opposition leaders arrested, and strict censorship imposed. Marcos thereafter ruled by decree.

A new constitution was promulgated in January 1973, but transitional provisions attached to it gave Marcos continued absolute powers, and elections were indefinitely postponed. President Marcos officially ended martial law in 1981 but maintained a tight grip on the country. Opposition to his rule, however, continued to grow. In 1983, opposition leader Benigno Aquino returned to Manila from exile in the US and was assassinated by a military escort sent by Marcos to arrest him.

The assassination dramatically increased opposition to Marcos' rule and his mandate was called into question. Marcos called for presidential elections in February 1986 with Aquino's widow, Corazon, running against him. With his attempts to cheat exposed by Church and citizen groups, Marcos lost the support of his Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and the Armed Forces Deputy Chief of Staff General Fidel Ramos.

The two led an uprising of military reformists who declared their allegiance to Corazon Aquino. Marcos sought to crush the uprising by sending an armored tank column against the rebels. However, more than three million Filipinos massed in the streets preventing the tanks from reaching rebel encampments. This display and a rocket attack by rebel helicopters on the presidential palace convinced Marcos to flee. He went into exile in Hawaii and later died there.

Aquino was sworn in as President and won the enactment of a new constitution in February 1987. Although she won a vote of confidence in legislative elections that May, military unrest, coupled with popular discontent at the slow pace of economic reform, continued to threaten her government.

In the May 1992 presidential election Aquino endorsed the eventual winner, her former defense secretary, Fidel Valdez Ramos. Ramos, a West Point graduate and a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, assumed office with the Philippines on the verge of economic recession. Industry was crippled by a shortage of electric generating plants.

The Administration pushed through a series of dramatic legislative measures aimed at privatizing massive infrastructure programs and further liberalizing the economy. By end of 1993, the establishment of sufficient power generating capacity, privatization efforts and the conversion of the Subic Naval Base into an industrial estate and free port ushered in a flood of foreign investment. By 1994 and 1995, the economy began exhibiting dramatic growth and looked poised to compete with those its prosperous Southeast Asian neighbors.

The Asian financial crisis, which began in late 1997, slowed the resurgent Philippine economy. However, due to the economic reforms that had already been put in place and a democratic system that assured transparency of governance, the country was able to weather the crisis well.

In May 1998, Joseph Ejercito Estrada was elected as President and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was elected Vice President. The Estrada Administration placed emphasis on three major objectives: reduce poverty, preserve law and order and fight graft and corruption.

However, in November 2000, a motion to impeach him was passed by Congress and the impeachment trial commenced presided over by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Hilario Davide. On 16 January 2001, following a NO vote by 11 out of the 22 Senators that composed the impeachment court, a second People Power revolution was staged at EDSA demanding his resignation from office. On 20 January 2001, the Supreme Court unanimously declared the position of President vacant and Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as President. She became the 14th President of the Philippines, the second woman to be swept into Presidency by a peaceful People Power Revolution (EDSA II).

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Last modified: September 15, 2006