Philippines History
  1. The Spanish conquest of the Philippines

Unlike other regions of Southeast Asia, the Philippines did not suffer a strong Chinese or Indian influence; more important was, starting from the 15th century, the Muslim penetration into the southern islands (Sulu, Mindanao), where two sultanates were established. In the 16th century, the population was divided into small independent communities (barangay), led by hereditary leaders (datu), when, after Magellan’s expedition (1521), the Spanish conquest of the Philippines was initiated (1565) by M. López de Legazpi, who established the first colony in Cebu. Established in 1583 as a formal dependence of the viceroyalty of New Spain, the administration of the colony was in fact autonomous, with wide powers exercised by the governor general. From an economic point of view, relations with Mexico remained of primary importance for over two centuries, given the strategic position of the Philippines on the route between Spanish America and Asia. In the management of the colony the role of the Church was relevant, assuming political functions and accumulating a huge land patrimony; it contributed to the inclusion in the local administration of the datu who transformed themselves into landowners, forming an indigenous landed aristocracy (the principal). The accentuation of these processes (19th century) and the elimination of trade barriers were accompanied by growing political demands of the new Filipino elite.

  1. Attempts at autonomy

The opening of the Suez Canal (1869) and the influx of British and American investments, was accompanied by growing demands from the new Filipino elite that demanded reforms and participation in political power. The closure and repression by the Madrid government contributed to the development of an independence movement (Katipunan) which in 1896 began the armed struggle for liberation, in 1898 proclaimed independence and in 1899 promulgated the republican constitution with president E. Aguinaldo. But the United States, which in 1898 had bought the colony from Spain, imposed its dominion by force (the last resistance was eradicated in 1916). However, they granted the colony a gradual autonomy: in 1907 a bicameral Parliament was established; in 1934 the Philippines self-government was recognized (maintaining in Washington control of foreign and defense policy) as a transitional regime towards full independence, to be achieved within 10 years. In 1935, with a constitution inspired by the US model, the Filipinos elected a Congress (bicameral since 1940), a vice president and a president of the Commonwealth. These developments were accompanied by rapid population growth and strong growth in the plantation economy. The economic power of the oligarchy of the ilustrados (“intellectuals”, Nationalist Party) was strengthening, which assumed the political and administrative functions progressively delegated by Washington, while the worsening of the living conditions of the peasants caused agitation and the establishment of the Communist Party (founded in 1930 and outlawed from 1931 to 1938).

The Japanese occupation (1942-45) marked a rift in the Filipino ruling class: on the one hand, the nationalist leaders M. Quezon and S. Osmeña established a government in exile in Washington; on the other hand, an independent Philippine Republic was proclaimed in 1943 headed by JP Laurel. After the end of the war, the country gained independence in 1946 (Republic of the Philippines). First president was M. Roxas, founder of the Liberal Party. Backed by the USA, it followed an openly pro-American policy: in 1947 it recognized American companies the same rights as Filipino companies in the exploitation of natural resources and granted the United States a number of military bases in the archipelago (Clark Field, Subic Bay); in 1951 he signed a mutual defense treaty with the United States; Vietnam. The United States, for its part, helped the Philippine government to crack down on the guerrillas of the Communist-inspired Huk movement.

  1. The years of the guerrilla warfare

The two-party system based on the alternation between nationalists and liberals lasted about 25 years. Since the end of the 1960s, the growth of contrasts between the various groups of the dominant oligarchy, the development of a strong protest movement among the students, the resumption of peasant unrest and armed struggle (after the formation in 1968 of a new Communist Party of Maoist inspiration) and the birth of a Muslim separatist movement in Mindanao and the Sulu Islands led to a crisis of the regime. The president FE Marcos (elected in 1965 and 1969), who at the end of his second term (1973) could not have been re-elected, took the opportunity to proclaim martial law (1972), dissolve Congress and the parties and establish a personal dictatorship, severely repressing the rebellion that the New People’s Army (NPA), linked to the new Communist Party, put in place in most of the provinces. On the international level, Marcos confirmed the traditional relations with the USA. In economic policy he tried to promote a development driven by exports and foreign investments, initially rewarded by a fairly sustained growth; later, however, the unfavorable international situation forced the adoption of further austerity measures. After the killing (1983) of the liberal opposition leader B. Aquino, Marcos found himself in increasing difficulty, above all due to the growth of guerrillas, capital flight and a progressive decline in Washington’s support. Popular protest exploded after the disputed presidential elections in 1986. Marcos left the country and the presidency of the Republic was assumed by C. Aquino (widow of the assassinated leader).

  1. Towards democracy

The restoration of democracy, sanctioned by the launch of a new Constitution in 1987, did not, however, coincide with a real renewal of government practices. During the 1990s, political life continued to be characterized by widespread corruption and conflicts between the dominant oligarchies, an expression of agrarian and financial interests, while the continuation of the austerity policies and the limits of the agrarian reform launched in 1988 continued to fuel strong social tensions. The fragmentation of the political framework was confirmed by the 1992 general elections which brought the former Defense Minister FV Ramos to the presidency, supported by Aquino, who had decided not to reapply. The new president formed a coalition executive and placed the revitalization of the economy and national reconciliation with the communist rebel groups of the NPA and the Muslim independence movement MNFL (Moro national liberation front) at the center of his program, with which he was an agreement was signed in 1996 that put an end to 24 years of guerrilla warfare in the southern regions. The presidential elections of 1998 were won by Vice President J. Estrada, who led an electoral campaign with a strongly populist tone and also obtained the support of Marcos’ widow, Imelda. Unable to implement profound structural reforms, the new administration nevertheless had a short life and was put in difficulty even by the flare-up of the clashes with the Muslim guerrillas, against which the massive use of the army was useless. Involved in corruption and subjected to a impeachment in October 2000, Estrada was forced to resign and was replaced by vice president G. Macapagal Arroyo, later confirmed in 2004. Attempts to dialogue with the Moro Front and the NPA have clashed with a resumption of terrorist activity. The presidential elections held in May 2010 recorded the victory of the popular party leader Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III (b. 1960), son of C. Aquino and emblem of the will to change after the unpopular presidency of G. Arroyo -Macapagal; in 2016 he was succeeded by R. Duterte, who in the following years established an authoritarian regime in the country, waging a fight against drug trafficking responsible for the death of thousands of individuals and the subject of complaints of violation of human rights and proposing measures such as L’ abolition of any limit on the number of presidential terms and the reintroduction of the death penalty. The mid-term elections for the renewal of half of the Senate, the lower house and various local administrations, held in May 2019 in a climate of strong tensions, allowed the politician to win the majority of the seats in the upper house, obtaining legislative support for some constitutional changes considered by the opposition to be highly restrictive of fundamental freedoms and rights.


The population of the Philippines is to be attributed to groups of Homo sapiens which reached the island of Palawan (Tabon cave, with the oldest human remains of the Philippines dating back to about 20,000 years ago). The Neolithic levels (1800-500 BC) yielded red engobe pottery decorated with engraving and impression, nephrite bracelets and earrings, shell beads and bracelets, a stone mallet (Arku’s cave) and other lithic tools. The use of metal artifacts (copper / bronze and iron) spread after 300 BC This period is characterized by the use of burying the dead in jars, then generally placed inside caves, together with the kits (small vases and ornaments in shell). Between the 10th and 15th centuries. AD pottery from China and Vietnam spread. In the burials of this period, the disproportion between the richness of the various grave goods demonstrates the differentiation of status within the company.

Philippines History