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History/Background of the Philippines

Many groups of people are believed to have reached the Philippines by crossing a land bridge that is no longer in existence. 

From about 7000 BC to 2000 BC, larger groups of people from present-day China and Vietnam arrived in the Philippines.  It is believed that the largest migration to the islands occurred after the 3rd century BC.

The Indonesian and Malay archipelagos are where the latest arrivals to the Philippines originated.  Seafaring skills, along with iron tools and technologies (including glassmaking and weaving) were brought with these migrants.


With the diverse mixture of cultures a new civilization emerged by the 5th century AD.    There were influences from other countries as well, primarily the Middle East, India and China, bringing economic and social changes.

Islam spread throughout the southern parts of the Philippines during the 14th century, thus becoming firmly entrenched there.  The 15th century brought about trade with merchants from the Chinese Ming Dynasty.


The Philippine Islands became a Spanish colony during the 16th century; they were ceded to the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. In 1935 the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth. Manuel QUEZON was elected president and was tasked with preparing the country for independence after a 10-year transition. In 1942 the islands fell under Japanese occupation during World War II, and US forces and Filipinos fought together during 1944-45 to regain control. On 4 July 1946 the Republic of the Philippines attained its independence. A 20-year rule by Ferdinand MARCOS ended in 1986, when a "people power" movement in Manila ("EDSA 1") forced him into exile and installed Corazon AQUINO as president. Her presidency was hampered by several coup attempts that prevented a return to full political stability and economic development. Fidel RAMOS was elected president in 1992. His administration was marked by increased stability and by progress on economic reforms. In 1992, the US closed its last military bases on the islands. Joseph ESTRADA was elected president in 1998. He was succeeded by his vice-president, Gloria MACAPAGAL-ARROYO, in January 2001 after ESTRADA's stormy impeachment trial on corruption charges broke down and another "people power" movement ("EDSA 2") demanded his resignation. MACAPAGAL-ARROYO was elected to a six-year term as president in May 2004. Her presidency was marred by several corruption allegations but the Philippine economy was one of the few to avoid contraction following the 2008 global financial crisis, expanding each year of her administration. Benigno AQUINO III was elected to a six-year term as president in May 2010. The Philippine Government faces threats from several groups on the US Government's Foreign Terrorist Organization list. Manila has waged a decades-long struggle against ethnic Moro insurgencies in the southern Philippines, which has led to a peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front and on-again/off-again peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The decades-long Maoist-inspired New Peoples' Army insurgency also operates through much of the country.

Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator for Spain, arrived in the Philippines in March 1521.  A national hero was made when Magellan was killed in a skirmish the next month over paying tribute.  Chief Lapu-Lapu of Mactan resisted Magellan's demands for payment of a tribute and successfully defended his island against the Spanish.

There were disputes between Portugal and Spain over possession of the Philippines.  The "possession" went back and forth between the countries until King Philip of Spain also became king of Portugal in 1580.

Other countries wanted a foothold in the Philippines and during the 16th century there were attempts to achieve this goal in part by the English and Dutch.

The Filipinos wanted independence and to self rule.  Jose Rizal, a doctor, founded the Philippine League, a secret society.  He was critical of Spanish repression and in writing about it he stirred the anger of the Spanish colonial authorities.  As a result of this writings he was executed in 1896, thus making him a martyr for the Filipinos.  A direct result of his death was the desire to establish independence by open revolt with the Katipunan (Tagalog for association).  When the insurrectionists were discovered in 1896, they could no longer hide their activity so they began armed hostilities.  Although they were initially successful, Spanish reinforcements soon weakened the revolutionary forces.  But soon other forces were to be reckoned with over seas and in the Philippines.

In April 1898, the Spanish-American War began and shortly thereafter, the Americans were on Philippine soil after destroying the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay.  Aguinaldo, the chief of the rebel forces, returned to the Philippines after his exile to Hong Kong with the help of the United States.  He resumed command of the Philippine revolutionary army and in July that same year, was able to establish a new government with himself as the president, since the Spanish were retreating.

This independence was short-lived as the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898) declared Spain cede the entire archipelago to the United States for $20 million.  When the United States stated the establishment of U.S. military rule in the Philippines, Aguinaldo refused to acknowledge it.  Early the next year the Philippine-American War broke out when US sentries fired upon Filipino troops.

The military authority in the Philippines was replaced by a U.S. civil government in 1902 with William Howard Taft becoming the first civil governor.  Taft later became an American president.  American politics affected the islands as Taft and his successors were unwilling to delegate very much authority to the Filipinos.  Eventually, a commission was appointed to investigate the situation in 1921.  Under opposition of the Filipino advocates for independence, the commission declared immediate independence would be a betrayal of the Philippine people.

Official policy was changed with the election of another United States president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.  A bill was passed in 1933 granting the Philippines independence after 12 years.  A catch to this was that the US would have military and naval bases.  Another catch was that Philippine exports were to have tariffs and quotas imposed on them.  Needless to say, this bill was rejected by the Filipinos.  Another bill was passed in 1934 that pleased both sides, by 1946, the Philippines would be granted complete and absolute independence.  This second bill also provided for a Philippine president to oversee an interim commonwealth, supervised by the United States.  In 1935, the constitution was approved by Roosevelt and ratified by the Philippine people.

Trouble wasn't over for the islands because in 1941, the Japanese attacked the Philippines which began a large scale invasion two weeks later.  Destruction was wrought with the invasion and occupation of the islands by the Japanese, but they surrendered to General MacArthur (of the US) in 1945.

The United States established preferential trade relations with the Philippines in order to help rehabilitate the islands.  They also gave the Philippines several hundred million dollars as rehabilitation and war damage aid.

In 1946, with their independence again, the Republic of the Philippines was formally proclaimed. Unfortunately, the country was filled with internal strife along with the organization of a rebel government.  When the U.S. requested troops for the Korean War, the Philippines responded in spite of the internal threat.

The government changed hands several times during the next few years until the elections of 1965.  At these elections the Nationalist candidate, Ferdinand Marcos won.  Marcos was reelected in 1969 because of rapid economic developments that brought prosperity.  Civil unrest by Communist ideological influences troubled his second term.  Guerilla war was waged on the government by two separate forces, the Communist New People's Army and the Moro National Liberation Front (a Muslim separatist movement in the south).  With the excuse of the unrest and criminal depredations, martial law was declared in 1972.  Marcos ruled by decree after this as Congress was dissolved and the opposition leaders were arrested.

With the promulgation of a new constitution in 1973, Marcos was able to continue with absolute powers due to a transitional provision attached to it.  Elections were postponed and Marcos sought approval for his acts with repeated referendums.  By 1980, the opposition had had enough and urban guerillas carried out a series of bombings in Manila in an attempt to demand the end of martial law.

In 1981, martial law was officially ended by Marcos, but his tight hold on the country didn't lessen.  An opposition leader exiled in America, Benigno Aquino, returned to Manila only to be assassinated by a military escort that was sent to arrest him.  Marcos' approval rating with the people dropped even more and his mandate was called into question.  Aquino's widow, Corazon, ran in an election against Marcos in 1986 and won after Marcos' attempts at cheating during the elections was exposed. 

When Marcos sent an armored tank to crush the uprising (which was led by his Defense Minister and Armed Forces Vice Chief) that was pledging allegiance to Corazon, protestors filled the streets.  With the tanks not being able to reach the rebel encampments, along with a rebel attack via helicopter on the presidential palace, Marcos was convinced to flee.  He fled to Hawaii, where he later died.

In 1987, Aquino was sworn in as president and won the enactment of a  new constitution.  Trouble with military unrest as well as popular discontent with the slow economic reform threatened her government.  The US Air Force was able to suppress a coup attempt in 1989.  In November 1992, the US Navy withdrew from the Philippines after a basing agreement wasn't ratified.  This agreement was necessary because the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 caused damage that forced the abandonment of Clark Air Base.

The election of Fidel Valdez Ramos, Aquino's former defense secretary, in 1992 was the beginning of a turnaround in Philippine economy.   Exhibiting dramatic growth by 1994 and 1995, the economy looked poised to compete with its Southeast Asian neighbors.  These hoped were dashed with the Asian financial crisis in 1997, causing a slowdown in the Philippine economy. 

The country weathered the regional crisis in better shape than most of its neighbors, due to the economic reforms that had been put in place along with a democratic system that assured transparency of governance. 

President Fidel Ramos, former Vice President for Corazon Aquno, attempted to amend the Philippine constitution in 1997 in order to allow presidents' two 6-year terms.  This was thoroughly denounced by Ms. Aquino and Jaime Cardinal Sin.  Ramos' vice president, Joseph Estrada narrowly defeated the House Speaker Jose de Venecia who was endorsed by Ramos.  Estrada, a former actor as well, held the office for a little over two and half years before being ousted

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