History of the Philippines

If you're moving to the Philippines, you may want to find out about the country's rich history, here is a brief overview of the Philippines from the first settlements 67,000 years ago to today...

The Philippine archipelago is believed to have been settled by humans over 67,000 years ago following migration from Indonesia.

Additional migration occurred over the following millennia and social and political groups formed across the islands. Humans began living in barangay communal settlements within a social hierarchy. Led by a datu, society in these settlements comprised nobles, freemen, workers and slaves.

During the early part of the 1st millennia AD the islands saw the arrival of Chinese and Indonesian traders. By the 1500s Islam had established itself in the Sulu archipelago and by 1565 had reached Manila in the north.

Ferdinand Magellan was one of the first Europeans to land in the area in 1521. He claimed the land for the Spanish king but was killed by a local chief.

The first Spanish colony was established by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in Cebu in 1565 and named after King Philip II. The Spanish defeated the local Islamic leaders and set up their capital in Manila in 1571.

The Seven Years' War from 1756-63 saw British forces land in the north of the country and capture Manila. The alienated Muslim communities in the south began raids and the local Chinese population, resentful of Spanish discrimination, supported the British with workers and troops. The end of the war saw reforms in the Spanish administration aimed at developing the economy and giving greater autonomy from New Spain.

From 1785 crops were cultivated and traded freely with Europe and Latin America under the Royal Company of the Philippines. Company profits fell after the independence of Spain's Latin American colonies and in 1834 the Royal Company of the Philippines was abolished and free trade recognised. Manila became an open port for traders from across the globe and by 1873 additional ports were opened to foreign commerce.

There was an awakening of national consciousness in the late 19th Century. Local clergy were discriminated against by the Spanish clergy, which held land and power. Chinese immigration to the islands was high and their presence began to cause unrest. Nationalist movements began to spring up and one such group led by Emilio Aguinaldo led a revolt against the Spanish administration in 1896. Although unsuccessful and exiled to Hong Kong, the insurgents rallied and in 1898 returned to the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. Aguinaldo's 12,000 troops held back Spanish forces at Manila until US troops landed, aiding victory.

The US did not include Aguinaldo in the ensuing succession and fighting between the rebel forces and the US troops broke out soon after the Spanish were defeated. Although a declaration of independence was issued by Aguinaldo in June 1898, the Treaty of Paris between Spain and the USA was signed in December of the same year ceding the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the US.

Aguinaldo headed a revolutionary congress in Malolos in January 1899 and a new republic was declared. Hostilities between the rebel government and the US began in February 1899 and by 1901 Aguinaldo had been captured and defeated. The US moved south and ended armed resistance from the Islamic territories too, placing the area under US control.

The US passed legislation in 1934 providing for a 10-year transition to democracy. The country's first constitution was proposed in 1934 and in 1935 Manuel Quezon was elected president of the new Commonwealth of the Philippines.

The country was attacked by Japanese forces in December 1941 and Manila fell in January 1942. Allied forces invaded the Philippines in October 1944 and the occupying Japanese surrendered in September 1945.

The Philippines became independent in 1946 with former collaborator Manual Roxas being sworn in as the first president.

Nacionalista Party leader Ferdinand Marcos came to power in 1965 and was responsible for numerous public works which increased the quality of life across the country. He sought economic and military aid from the United States and in 1967 the Philippines became a founding member of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). He became the first president to be re-elected in 1969.

The second term in office was not as successful as the first for Marcos as the economy slowed and the crime rate increased. The rise of a new communist party with a military arm in 1968 combined with insurgencies in Muslim areas to the south from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led to the government declaring martial law in 1972, which lasted until 1981. During the period those close to him wilfully engaged in rampant corruption, with his wife Imelda Marcos in particular, building a strong power base. Previously non-political armed forces became politicized. Following the lifting of martial law in 1981, Marcos easily won the ensuing election.

In 1983 Liberal Party leader and chief political opponent of the administration Benigno Aquino was assassinated at Manila airport. Although the authorities were cleared of any wrongdoing, Aquino was made a martyr and his death considered a symbol of a corrupt regime. The Church, political opponents, members of the armed forces and business leaders began to pressurise the regime and in 1986 Marcos called a snap election. On the proclamation of his subsequent victory by the Marcos-dominated National Assembly, leading figures in the country rallied around the candidate that they perceived to have won, Aquino's widow Corazon Cojuango. The People Power Movement ousted Marcos on the day of his inauguration and installed Aquino in power.

Aquino's tenure was fraught with division and she survived multiple military coups before being succeeded in the 1992 election by Fidel Ramos. During his time in office he persuaded right-wing soldiers, communist insurgents and Muslim separatists to cease operations against the government and against one-another and granted them amnesty. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) however, continued the armed struggle for an Islamic state.

At the end of his term Ramos was replaced by his vice-president Joseph Estrada. Although initially popular, his popularity waned after accusations of corruption and a failure to tackle the issue of poverty. Estrada declared 'all-out-war' against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2000 and under his presidency captured 46 MILF camps. However, after allegations of receiving money from illegal gambling businesses his leadership was to be cut short. After street protests and the withdrawal of support from the armed forces, Estrada was forced out of office in 2001.

Estrada's vice-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in on the day of his departure and her two-term administration was too, littered with coercion, corruption, scandal, military mutiny and fractious coalition politics until she ended her term in 2010.

Benigno Aquino III was sworn into office in 2010 and his tenure saw a focus on poverty, transparency and the economy. There was clashes with China over a number of issues and tensions continued with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and Moro National Liberation Front.