Baker's Hill is a famous hang out place in Palawan, known for their freshly baked goodies like hopia, munchies and crinkles. It is located on top of a...
The Philippines is an archipelago composed of 7,101 islands of various shapes and sizes – many of them are so small they would be underwater during high tides. In spite of the Filipino’s predilection for “creative” names (e.g., Ningning, Potpot, Bekbek, DingDong, Pingping), almost 3,000 of these islands are still nameless. For easier classification, the archipelago is divided into three groups namely, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Nomenclature is the least of the locals’ concerns anyway since the country itself got its name from a foreigner, Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, a Spanish explorer.
In 1541, Villalobos was commissioned to lead an expedition that will establish Spain’s foothold in the East Indies. This was 20 years after Ferdinand Magellan’s own exploration, which ended in his tragic death. The Villalobos mission was mired with extreme obstacles, such as hunger, shipwrecks, hostilities from the natives, and the occasional annoyance brought by rival Portuguese forces near the area. When the fleet reached the islands of Samar and Leyte in 1543, Villalobos was so overjoyed that he named the islands Las Islas Felipinas, after Philip II, the heir to the Spanish throne at the time. The appellation would soon extend to cover the entire archipelago as Las Islas Filipinas or simply, Filipinas. Spanish colonization followed soon after, starting with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s arrival and establishment of Spanish settlement in Cebu in 1565. So contrary to popular knowledge, Spanish rule did not start with Magellan’s landing and planting of a huge cross in Cebu in 1521 (although we are definitely not undermining the man’s contribution to history. I mean, dying in the hands of the warriors of Mactan should count for something, right? Oh, right. His expedition was also the first one to circumnavigate the world, with only a few of his men able to return to Spain.)
Even before the arrival of the Spaniards, many of the islands that comprise the Philippine archipelago were already functioning as self-sufficient communities or barangays. The early barangays each had their own set of laws and style of government, which was led by a supreme leader called datu or rajah (or sultan in other parts of the archipelago). Some of the known pre-colonial barangays were big enough to sustain a population of about 2,000 people. These barangays include Zubu (Cebu), Mactan, Irong-Irong (Iloilo), Butuan, Bigan (Vigan), and Selurong (Manila). Trading and commerce was very active as foreign merchants from China, Japan, Borneo and other Asian neighbors, would come to the islands to ply their trades.
The remote location and separateness of the island communities (hello, archipelago) made the Philippine map look like scattered jigsaw puzzle pieces. It’s a fitting comparison considering that the Spaniard’s conquest of Las Islas Filipinas was abetted by regionalism and the apparent segregation of the communities. Without a centralized government, the islands almost instantly fell one by one to the sword and the cross. There are, however, some places where Spanish influence did not succeed to take hold, like in the formidable Muslim territories in Mindanao as well as in the mountainous regions of Luzon. Manila, which was initially under Muslim authority, became the capital of the Spanish administrative government.
Spanish rule in the Philippines lasted for more than three centuries, resulting to the country’s fervent devotion to Catholicism and small town fiestas (and paella). But that period of power was not without opposition. At various points, revolts were organized and launched by different provincial groups and for varying reasons – to oppose unjust tax imposition, to uphold local belief and faith, to fight the injustices committed by oppressive friars and corrupt officials, to demand equal rights, to be free from foreign rule, to assert local autonomy, etc. But the bottom line is, the Spaniards were not welcome to stay and throw their collective weights around…
Well, they were able to stay and boss around for three centuries, but still. The locals definitely did not make it easy for them. So, for every uprising that the foreign overlords crushed, there’s another group or two that stood up to continue the good fight. Mutineers – from Ilocos to Cavite, from Panay to Bohol – gave one heck of a fight that no modern pay-per-view can match. Some Filipinos, however, believed that armed resistance was not the ultimate solution to the country’s plight. Calls for social and political change were initiated through peaceful means by reformers such as Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. Del Pilar and Graciano Lopez Jaena. But when their calls fell to deaf ears, the secret organization Katipunan shouted even louder, with Andres Bonifacio leading the Cry of Balintawak (or Pugad Lawin. Or Banlat. Or Pasong Tamo. Depends on who you ask) to signal an all-out, in-your-face battle against the Spanish government on the 23rd of August 1896 (Or 24th. Or 25th. Or 26th. Again, depending on the source).
(Interlude. On the other side of the world and mirroring the situation in the Philippines, Cuba was struggling to break free from its Spanish rulers. The United States’ involvement turned the tide of the conflict in favor of the Cubans. A few days after a Cuban autonomous government took power, the US sent a ship, the USS Maine, to Cuba to protect its interest. However, a mysterious explosion sank the ship on February 15 1898, taking with it 266 American sailors. No thanks to the sensationalism of American press, the tragic explosion was blamed on Spain. This resulted into a war being ignited between the two nations, which predictably reached the Philippine shores and changed the course of the archipelago’s history. End of Interlude.)
The fight for independence took a surprising turn when the Americans entered the picture. Fighting a common enemy, the American troops led by Admiral George Dewey and the Filipino revolutionaries led by Emilio Aguinaldo entered an uneasy alliance that had Aguinaldo returning to the Philippines on May 18, 1898 from his exile in Hong Kong. The Philippines forces successfully conquered almost all of the Spanish-held garrisons, except for the walled city of Manila. By June of that year, Aguinaldo led the declaration of the country’s independence at his house in Kawit, Cavite.
However, there were other things going on behind the scenes. At some point during the commotion, the Spanish-American War had ended and the two parties agreed to kiss and make up and sign the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. This resulted in the Philippines’ so-called exit from the “convent” and eventual entry to Hollywoodland. And just like in Tinseltown, the American occupation of the archipelago was mired with tragedies and heartbreaks behind the superficial glitz and glamour.
Not willing to give up their recently gained independence from Spain, the Filipinos resisted the United States’ so-called Benevolent Assimilation. On the other side of the ring, the emerging colonialists did not want to recognize the Philippine republic (it would not look flattering for the good ole US of A to be seen as an imperialist taking over an independent nation). So, in spite of its scale, unbelievable amount of bloodshed and large number of casualties, the Philippine-American War was treated by the Americans as nothing more than an insurgency, branding the Filipino soldiers as bandits.
Things took a turn for the worse for the Philippine troops when the Americans were able to track down and capture Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela. Later on, he made his pledge of allegiance to American authority and called on other revolutionaries to stand down and surrender to avoid further bloodshed. Generals Miguel Malvar of Batangas and Simeon Ola of Albay continued fighting yet they too, surrendered not long after. As the “insurgency” was more or less quelled, the American government started to implement its colonial mission of “preparing the Philippines for eventual independence.”
Bills concerning the Philippine’s self-government were drafted and rejected by the US Congress, and to some extent, by the Philippine Senate. Some people just can’t make up their minds when it comes to a country’s future. However, all the debates and legal mumbo-jumbo for Philippine sovereignty eventually came to a close with the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, a 10-year transitional government leading to the country’s full independence. The Commonwealth was inaugurated on November 15, 1935 with Manuel L. Quezon as President. Then World War II happened.
The shindig for national independence almost did not happen as the Japanese proceeded with their country-hopping invasion of Asia Pacific and reached the Philippines (It’s never too late to jump into the imperialism and colonialism bandwagon.). A day after their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese troops advanced to the country through Batan Island (the main island of the province of Batanes) on December 8, 1941. Manila fall to their hands by the second day of January 1942. Although, the US-Philippine forces valiantly fought to defend the capital, they were effectively driven to make their last stand in the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island, which, ultimately, fell in April and May, respectively. In the midst of the turmoil, the Quezon administration set up shop in the United States as a government in exile while USAFFE commander, General Douglas MacArthur, was ordered to relocate to Australia to plan a counterattack or in local parlance – a resbak.
In a relatively short span of time, from 1942-1945, the country plunged into darkness and despair that not even the Japanese-sponsored, Filipino-led government could drive away. (Atrocities and abuses by the Imperial soldiers have been heavily documented by various media since after World War II so we won’t mention any of those here. For argument’s sake, let’s just say they were terrible.) But the Philippines have this history of going into showdown with any colonial forces so the Japanese had it coming for them when then they forcibly took over the country. Guerilla forces all over the archipelago were formed and resisted the invasion. The fight never wavered and only intensified until the Allied forces under MacArthur’s command were able to return and land in Leyte in October, 1944 to kick some action. When the Japanese finally threw the towel to end the War, the Philippines’ road the independence continued.
On July 4, 1946, as promised, the Americans relinquished their sovereignty over the Philippines to the cheers of freedom-loving Filipinos. However, this relinquishment of sovereignty was not without several strings attached. One of the major conditions of the US government was the continued stay of American military bases in Angeles, Pampanga and Subic, Zambales (both of which were finally turned over to the Philippine government in the 1990s.). And so begins the process of rebuilding the country ravaged by war…
As a young sovereign nation, the Philippines went through a lot of growing pains. And over the decades, we have experienced lots of highs and lows. No one ever said that it would be easy, still, we trudge on. After centuries of reluctant subordination and valiant struggles, we can now proudly say that we control our own destiny. We may stumble at times, but so what? We stumble on our own terms. We dance to our own tunes. And we sure love to dance, by the way. And sing too. We’ve experienced calamities (natural and man-made), martial rule, coup de etas, brownouts, Kris Aquino and we are still standing. With our colorful past, it’s to our credit to that we always have things to smile and laugh about. We can’t help it. We are a happy bunch. People have tried to explain it and failed. The bottom line is, in spite of everything, there’s happiness and excitement in living in our 7,101 islands. Every Ningning and Potpot and Bekbek and Pingping can tell you that.