The history of the Philippines may be divided into four distinct phases:
the pre-Spanish period (before 1521); the Spanish period (1521-1898); the
American period (1898-1946); and the years since independence (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. Subsequently, people of Malay stock
came from the south in successive waves, the earliest by land bridges and
later in boats called barangays. The Malays settled in scattered communities,
also called barangays, which were ruled by chieftains known as datus. Chinese
merchants and traders arrived and settled in the ninth century A.D. In
the 14th century, Arabs arrived, introducing Islam in the south and extending
some influence even into Luzon. The Malays, however, remained the dominant
group until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.
Ferdinand Magellan claimed the Philippines for Spain in 1521, and for
the next 377 years, the islands were under Spanish rule. This period was
the era of conversion to Roman Catholicism. A Spanish colonial social system
was developed, complete with a strong centralized government and considerable
clerical influence. The Filipinos were restive under the Spanish, and this
long period was marked by numerous uprisings. The most important of these
began in 1896 under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo 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 Dewey's defeat of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay,
the United States 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 war.
A war of resistance against U.S. rule, led by Revolutionary President
Aguinaldo, broke out in 1899. Although Americans have historically used
the term "the Philippine Insurrection," 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.
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 and a sound legal system.
The first legislative assembly was elected in 1907. A bicameral legislature,
largely under Philippine 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. World War II intervened, 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.
The war to regain the Philippines began when Gen. Douglas MacArthur
landed on Leyte on October 20, 1944. Filipinos and Americans fought together
until the Japanese surrender in September 1945. Much of Manila was destroyed
during the final months of the fighting, and an estimated 1 million Filipinos
lost their lives in the war.
As a result of 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 Independence Day was
changed from July 4 to June 12, commemorating the date independence from
Spain was declared by General Aguinaldo in 1898.
The early years of independence were dominated by U.S.-assisted postwar
reconstruction. A 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. Corruption and favoritism contributed to a serious decline in economic
growth and development under Marcos.
The assassination of opposition leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino 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
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), denounced the official results. Marcos
was forced to flee the Philippines in the face of a peaceful civilian-military
uprising that ousted him and installed Corazon Aquino as president on February
Under Aquino's presidency progress was made in revitalizing democratic
institutions and respect for civil liberties. However, the administration
also was 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 was signed in 1996.
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.
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 on corruption charges. The
Philippine Supreme Court subsequently endorsed unanimously the constitutionality
of the transfer of power. National elections will take place in May 2004.
In December 2002, Macapagal-Arroyo announced she would not be a candidate
for a full term as president.