Evidence of human habitation dates back some 250,000 years. In more recent times, experts believe that the Negritos, who crossed then existing land bridges from Borneo and Sumatra some 30,000 years ago, settled the Philippine Islands. Successive waves of Malays, who arrived from the south, at first by land and later on boats called barangays—a name also applied to their communities—came to outnumber the Negritos. By the 14th century, Arab traders made contact with the southern islands and introduced Islam to the local populace. Commercial and political ties also linked various enclaves in the archipelago with Indonesia, Southeast Asia, India, China, and Japan. Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese-born navigator sailing for Spain, made the European discovery of the Philippines on 15 March 1521 and
landed on Cebu on 7 April, claiming the islands for Spain, but the Filipino chieftain Lapulapu killed Magellan in battle. The Spanish later named the islands in honor of King Philip II, and an invasion under Miguel Lopez de Legaspi began in 1565. The almost complete conversion of the natives to Christianity facilitated the Spanish conquest; by 1571, it was concluded, except for the Moro lands (Moro is the Spanish word for Moor). The Spanish gave this name to Muslim Filipinos, mostly inhabitants of southern and eastern Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, and Palawan. The Spanish administered the Philippines, as a province of New Spain, from Mexico. Trade became a monopoly of the Spanish government; galleons shipped Oriental goods to Manila, from there to Acapulco in Mexico, and from there to the mother country.
Although Spain governed the islands until the end of the 19th century, its rule was constantly threatened by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English (who captured Manila in 1762, occupying it for the next two years), the Chinese, and the Filipinos themselves. After the 1820s, which brought the successful revolts of the Spanish colonies in the Americas, Filipinos openly agitated against the government trade monopoly, the exactions of the clergy, and the imposition of forced labor. This agitation brought a relaxation of government controls: the colonial government opened ports to world shipping, and the production of such typical Philippine exports as sugar, coconuts, and hemp began. Filipino aspirations for independence, suppressed by conservative Spanish rule, climaxed in the unsuccessful rebellion of 1896–98. Jose Rizal, the most revered Filipino patriot, was executed, but Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and his forces continued the war. During the Spanish-American War (1898), Aguinaldo declared independence from Spain on 12 June. When the war ended, the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain for $20,000,000. US rule replaced that of the Spanish, but Philippine nationalists continued to fight for independence. In 1899, Gen. Aguinaldo became president of the revolutionary First Philippine Republic and continued guerrilla resistance in the mountains of northern Luzon until his capture in 1901, when he swore allegiance to the United States. Over the long term, the effect of US administration was to make the Philippines an appendage of the US economy, as a supplier of raw materials to and a buyer of finished goods from the American mainland. Politically, US governance of the Philippines was a divisive issue among Americans, and the degree of US control varied with the party in power and the US perception of its own security and economic interests in the Pacific. In the face of continued nationalist agitation for independence, the US Congress passed a series of bills that ensured a degree of Philippine autonomy. The Tydings- McDuffie Independence Law of 1934 instituted commonwealth government and further stipulated complete independence in 1944. In 1935, under a new constitution, Manuel Luis Quezon y Molina became the first elected president of the Commonwealth of the Philippines.
On 8 December 1941, Japan invaded the Philippines, which then became the focal point of the most bitter and decisive battles fought in the Pacific during World War II. By May 1942, the Japanese had achieved full possession of the islands. US forces, led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, recaptured the Philippines in early 1945, following the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval engagement in history. In September 1945, Japan surrendered. On 4 July 1946, Manuel A. Roxas y Acuna became the first president of the new Republic of the Philippines. Both casualties and war damage wreaked on the Philippines were extensive, and rehabilitation was the major problem of the new state. Communist guerrillas, called Hukbalahaps, threatened the republic. Land reforms and military action by Ramon Magsaysay, the minister of national defense, countered the Huks revolutionary demands. Magsaysay was elected to the presidency in 1953 but died in an airplane crash in 1957. Carlos P. Garcia succeeded Magsaysay and then won election to the office in 1958. Diosdado Macapagal became president in November 1961. He was succeeded by Ferdinand Edralin Marcos following the 1965 elections. Marcos was reelected in 1969 with a record majority of 62%. The Marcos government brutally suppressed the renewed Hukbalahap insurgency, but armed opposition by Muslim elements, organized as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Maoist-oriented New People’s Army (NPA), and by other groups gathered force in the early 1970s.
Unable under the 1935 constitution to run for a third term in 1973, President Marcos, on 23 September 1972, placed the entire country under martial law, charging that the nation was threatened by a “full-scale armed insurrection and rebellion.” Marcos arrested many of his more vehement political opponents, some of whom remained in detention for several years. In January 1973, the Marcos administration introduced a new constitution, but many of its provisions remained in abeyance until 17 January 1981, when Marcos finally lifted martial law. During the intervening period, Marcos consolidated his control of the government through purges of opponents, promotion of favorites, and delegation of leadership of several key programs— including the governorship of metropolitan Manila and the Ministry of Human Settlements—to his wife, Imelda Romualdez Marcos. Although Marcos made headway against the southern guerrillas, his human-rights abuses cost him the support of the powerful Roman Catholic Church, led by Jaime Cardinal Sin. Elections were held in April 1978 for an interim National Assembly to serve as the legislature until 1984, but local elections held in 1980 were widely boycotted. Pope John Paul II came to Manila in February 1981, and even though martial law was no longer in effect, he protested the violation of basic human rights. In June 1981, Marcos won reelection for a new six-year term as president under an amended constitution preserving most of the powers he had exercised under martial rule. New threats to the stability of the regime came in 1983 with the rising foreign debt, a stagnant economy, and the public uproar over the assassination on 21 August of Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Aquino, a longtime critic of Marcos, was shot at the Manila airport as he returned from self-exile to lead the opposition in the 1984 legislative elections. The gunman was immediately killed, and 26 others suspected of conspiracy in the assassination were acquitted in December 1985 for lack of evidence. Public sympathy gave opposition parties 59 out of 183 elective seats in 1984.
In 1985, political pressures forced Marcos to call for an election in February 1986 in view of a widespread loss of confidence in the government. The Commission on Elections and the National Assembly, controlled by his own political party, proclaimed Marcos the winner. His opponent, Maria Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, the widow of Benigno S. Aquino, claimed victory, however, and charged the ruling party with massive election fraud. The National Movement for Free Elections, the United States, and other international observers supported Aquino’s charge. Accordingly, other countries withheld recognition of Marcos. On 21 February 1986, a military revolt grew into a popular rebellion, urged on by Jaime Cardinal Sin. US president Ronald Reagan gave Marcos an offer of asylum, which Reagan guaranteed only if Marcos left the Philippines without resistance. Marcos went into exile in Hawaii.
On 25 February 1986, Corazon Aquino assumed the presidency. Her government restored civil liberties, released political prisoners, and offered the NPA a six-month cease-fire, with negotiations on grievances, in exchange for giving up violence. Because Aquino came to power through the forced departure of an officially proclaimed president, the legality of her regime was suspect. Consequently, she operated under a transitional “freedom constitution” until 11 February 1987, when the electorate ratified a new constitution. On 11 May 1987 the first free elections in nearly two decades were held under the new constitution. More than 83% of eligible voters cast their ballots, 84 candidates ran for the 24 senate seats, and 1,899 candidates ran for the 200 house seats. There were 63 election-related killings. Old-line political families still controlled the system, as 169 House members out of the 200 elected either belonged to or were related to these families.
On 20 December 1987 one of the worst disasters in maritime history occurred when an overcrowded passenger ship collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro Island and at least 1,500 people perished. This delayed local elections until 18 January 1988. Nationwide 150,000 candidates ran for 16,000 positions as governor, vice governor, provincial board member, mayor, vice mayor, and town council member. In 1988 election-related violence killed more than 100 people. Members of the progovernment parties, a faction of the PDP-Laban and Lakas ng Bansa, formed a new organization, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) in June 1988. In March 1989 the thrice-postponed election for barangay officials was held, electing some 42,000 barangay captains. In August 1989 President Aquino signed a law giving limited autonomy to provinces where most Philippine Muslims lived: Mindinao, Palawan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi islands.
There were five coup attempts between the time Aquino took office and the end of 1987. This continuing succession of coup plots culminated in a large, bloody, well-financed attempt in December 1989. Led by Colonel Gregorio Honasan (who participated in the 1987 coup attempt, and was a close associate of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile) and involving more than 3,000 troops that targeted several bases; US air support helped to quelled this attempt. The Senate granted Aquino emergency powers for six months. President Aquino’s administration lost international credibility with the appeal for US military support to quell the coup attempt. The authorities made arrests, but the Supreme Court ruled that Senator Juan Ponce Enrile could not be charged with murder, nullifying a criminal case against him. He was charged in a lower court with rebellion. In September 1990, 16 military members were convicted of the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino in 1983 and sentenced to life in prison.
Former president Ferdinand Marcos had appealed to Aquino to allow him to attend the funeral of his mother, as he had appealed several times to visit his mother while she was ill; Aquino denied each request. The Philippine government had traced at least $5 billion in deposits to Swiss bank accounts made by Marcos. Marcos attempted to negotiate his return to the Philippines, promising his support for Aquino and the return of $5 billion to the Philippines. Aquino also rejected his wife Imelda’s plea for her husband’s return. The Philippine government filed an antigraft civil suit for $22.6 billion against Marcos in 1987. Marcos and his wife, Imelda, were indicted in the United States, charged with the illegal transfer of $100 million in October 1988. On 28 September 1989 former President Ferdinand Marcos died in Honolulu. Aquino refused to allow his burial in the Philippines.
Under pressure from Communist rebels Aquino removed the US military bases from the Philippines in 1989. Three US servicemen were murdered outside Clark Air Force Base and the Communists took responsibility for the murders. A Communist guerrilla who admitted participating in the 21 April 1989 assassination of US Army Colonel James Row was arrested. In September 1989 US vice president Dan Quayle met with Aquino to discuss the renewal of the lease on US military bases. Prior to his arrival two American civilians working on the bases were killed; the government attributed these deaths to Communist guerrillas. The Communists continued to threaten US servicemen and local politicians. Anti-American demonstrations at Clark Air Base and in Manila led to clashes with the police and to injuries. The Communists continued their threats and two more US servicemen were killed near the Clark Air Base. In June of 1990 the Peace Corps removed 261 volunteers from the Philippines after Communist threats against them. In September 1990 Aquino said it was time to consider an “orderly withdrawal” of US forces from the Philippines.
Within a year the Philippines was pummeled with three major natural disasters. In July 1990 an earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale struck. The epicenter was 55 mi north of Manila and more than 1,600 people were killed. A super-typhoon devastated the central Visayas in November 1990. An even more destructive natural disaster occurred on 12 June 1991 when Mount Pinatubo in Zambales province, a volcano dormant for more than 500 years, violently erupted, causing the abandonment of Clark Air Base in Angeles City; 20,000 US military, their dependents, and civilian employees evacuated to the United States from Clark and the Subic Bay Naval Station.
The Philippine-American Cooperation Talks (PACT) reached agreement on military base and non-base issues, but Philippine Senate refused to ratify the proposed treaty. On 6 January 1992 the Philippines government served notice of the termination of the US stay at Subic Naval Base in Zambales. After almost a century of US military presence, on 30 September 1992 the United States handed over Subic Naval Base to the Philippines. The Philippine government turned it into a free port, headed until 1998 by Dick Gordon.
Amnesty International (AI), the human rights organization, published a report in 1992 critical of the Aquino administration’s assent to human rights violations perpetrated by the military; AI alleged that 550 extra judicial killings occurred during 1988–91. The military refuted the AI report citing its oversight of rebel activities.
In March 1991 President Aquino stated that Imelda Marcos could return to the Philippines, but that she faced charges that her husband stole $10 billion during his 20 years as president. Mrs. Marcos returned in November, after five years in Hawaii, to face civil and criminal charges, including tax fraud. In January 1992 Imelda Marcos announced that she would run for election in 1992; in the same month she was arrested, and then released, for failing to post bail on charges that she unlawfully maintained accounts in Switzerland. In September 1993 the government permitted the embalmed body of Ferdinand Marcos to return to the Philippines for burial near his home in northern Luzon. On 24 September 1993 Imelda Marcos was found guilty of participating in a deal that was “disadvantageous to the government” under the Anti-Graft and Corruption Practices Act. She faced a maximum prison sentence of 24 years, but she remained free on bail while her appeal was considered.
In national and local elections held 11 May 1992, Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph E. Estrada were elected president and vice president, respectively. On 30 June 1992 Fidel Ramos succeeded Corazon Aquino as president of the Philippines with a plurality of 23.6%. Nearly 85% of eligible voters turned out to elect 17,205 officials at national, regional, and local levels. The election was relatively peaceful with only 52 election-related deaths reported. Rules required voters to write the names of the candidate they wanted for office. This, combined with the number of candidates, meant it was several weeks before the votes were completely tallied. Ramos, a Methodist and the Philippine’s first non-Catholic president, considered the country’s population growth rate as an obstacle to development. A rally of 300,000 Catholics led by Cardinal Sin took place in Manila in 1993 to protest the Ramos administration’s birth control policies and the public health promotion of prophylactics to limit the spread of AIDS.
Domestic insurgency by the Muslim population continued throughout the 1980s. By the 1990s, however, internal divisions among the Muslims, reduced external support, military pressure, and government accommodations, including the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 1990 had greatly reduced the threat. In January 1994 the government signed a cease-fire agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front, ending 20 years of guerrilla war. Splinter groups among the Muslim population continue, however, to cause difficulties for both the MNLF and the government.
The last remaining communist insurgency in Asia was reduced temporarily by the Ramos government’s peaceful signal, the 1992 Anti-Subversion Law, and the 1993 split in the ranks of the NPA that created a lull until issues related to the weakened leadership were resolved. The NPA returned to violent opposition sporadically throughout the 1990s, especially by the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, an offshoot of the NPA. The NPA significantly increased its use of children as armed combatants and noncombatants during this same time.
In January 1994 the congress pass a law passed restoring the death penalty for 13 crimes including treason, murder, kidnapping and corruption. Police reform was a particular goal of the legislation. This legislation was partly in response to a series of abductions of wealthy ethnic Chinese Filipinos abducted for ransom, in which the Philippine National Police were found to be involved. The result, however, was that in February of 1999, the Philippines carried out its first execution in 23 years when Leo Echegaray, 38, a house painter convicted of raping his 10-year-old stepdaughter, was put to death.
Conflicting claims to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea are a source of tension between the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China. In 1989 Chinese and Philippine warships exchanged gunfire in the vicinity of the Spratly Islands. The incident was resolved by diplomatic means. In June 1994 China protested an oil exploration permit granted to Vaalco Energy of the United States, and to Alcorn Petroleum and Minerals, its Philippine subsidiary. The Philippine response was to refer to a principle of “common exploration” and development of the Spratlys. China had employed this same principle when the Philippines had protested China’s granting the United States permission to explore in the Spratlys in 1993. China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei all lay claim to all, or a portion, of the Spratly Islands. In June 1994 a 5-day conference on East Timor held in Manila ended with an agreement to establish a coalition for East Timor in the Philippines and proposed a peace plan based on the gradual withdrawal of Indonesian troops. But turmoil in the Spratlys did not end. In 1995, China briefly occupied Mischief Reef in a part of the islands claimed by the Philippines. In spring of 1997, Chinese warships were seen near Philippine-occupied islands in the chain. The two countries have also traded occupation of Scarborough Shoal, heightening tensions and prompting Manila to seek renewed American military presence. In May 1999 the Philippine Senate ratified a new Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States, despite claims by opponents that the VFA would give the US military the opportunity to bring nuclear weapons, without declaration, into the Philippines, violating the Philippine constitution.
The issue of Filipino women forced to work abroad, long a controversy in the country’s large impoverished class, came to a head in 1995. In March, Filipina domestic worker Flor Contemplacion was executed in Singapore for the murder of a maid and a child. Outraged Filipinos claimed the girl was framed; they filled the streets of Manila in protest. The crisis, the product of unemployment and underemployment forcing families to export their children to low-wage overseas jobs, culminated in Mr. Ramos’s sacking of two cabinet ministers.
In January 1996, Philippines police uncovered and thwarted a plot by Islamic extremists to assassinate Pope John Paul II during his visit to Manila that month.
Muslim rebels in Mindanao continued their insurgencies against the government, raiding the trading town of Ipil in April 1996. The terrorists killed 57 people and burned the town’s business district. The rebels also took part in the resurgence of kidnappings and bank robberies in Manila and Mindanao. More than 100 kidnappings were reported in 1996, many in which police officers were also suspected. A peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MNLF was signed on 2 September 1996, that ended the 24-year-old war in Mindanao. The agreement was signed by the government chief negotiator Manuel Yan, Nur Misuari, Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas, and Secretary General Hamid Algabid of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). Later, Misuari ran for and won the governorship of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARM) in the 9 September 1996 elections.
The Philippine economy suffered a harsh blow in 1995 when a typhoon ravaged the rice harvest, trebling the destruction of the rice acreage lost to the Mount Pinatubo eruption. But the economy rebounded in late 1995 and through 1996, buoyed by the government’s massive infrastructure improvements and plans to develop former US military bases Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base as tourist attractions and economic zones.
President Ramos introduced the Philippines 2000 movement, which was both a strategy and a movement; he called it the Filipino people’s vision of development by the year 2000. As envisioned, the Philippines by the year 2000 would have a decent minimum of food, clothing, shelter, and dignity. The major goal of Philippines 2000 was to make the Philippines the next investment, trade, and tourism center in Asia and the Pacific. The Ramos administration achieved several of its economic goals but few of the social changes envisioned.
On 30 June 1998 the newly elected President, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, took office. The new Vice President was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In November 2000, impeachment proceedings began against Estrada on allegations of corruption, betrayal of the public trust, and violation of the constitution. Estrada stepped down as president on 20 January 2001 after months of protests, and Arroyo was sworn in as president. Estrada in April 2001 was charged with taking more than US $80 million from state funds while in office; he was arrested and placed in custody. Arroyo faced a sluggish economy upon coming into office; the economy was still recovering from the 1997–98 Asian financial crisis. She initiated privatization and deregulation policies, especially in agriculture and the power-generating industry. On 30 December 2002, Arroyo declared she would not sseek a second term in the 16 May 2004 presidential elections, so that she could focus on her economic reform agenda, restore peace and order, reduce corruption, and “heal political rifts.”
The separatist conflict on Mindanao had claimed more than 120,000 lives in three decades as of December 2002. In March 2001, the 12,500-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front declared a cease-fire and declared it was ready to hold talks with the government. However, on 11 February 2003, more than 2,000 government soldiers advanced toward an MILF base near Pikit, attempting to disband a group of kidnappers known as the “Pentagon gang,” which is on the list of US terrorist organizations. Approximately 135 MILF fighters were killed in three days of fighting. In January 2002, nearly 700 US troops, including 160 Special Forces soldiers, were sent to Mindanao to assess the military situation, provide military advice, and train the 7,000 Philippine soldiers pursuing the guerrillas of the Abu Sayyaf group operating in the southern islands of Basilan and Jolo. The Philippine constitution forbids foreign troops fighting on its territory.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the United States urged countries around the world to increase anti-terrorist measures they might take. Southeast Asia was a primary focus of attention. In May 2002, the 10 members of ASEAN pledged to form a united anti-terror front and to set up a strong regional security framework. The steps include introducing national laws to govern the arrest, investigation, prosecution, and extradition of suspects. As well, they agreed to exchange intelligence information and to establish joint training programs such as bomb detection and airport security.
The militant Islamic group Abu Sayyaf (“Bearer of the Sword”) is one of several guerrilla organizations involved in a resurgence of violence in the Philippines since 2000. It split off from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1991 to pursue a more fundamentalist course against the government. Actions taken since the early 1990s include bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings of priests and businessmen. One of its goals is an independent Islamic state in Mindanao, but its activities have been linked to international terrorism as well, including ties to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, according to the US government. In May 2001, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 20 people, including 3 Americans, demanding ransom. They beheaded one of the American captives, and held the others—a missionary couple—hostage. In June 2002, Philippine commandos attempted to rescue the couple and a Filipino nurse being held with them. Two of the hostages were killed in a shootout, and one of the missionaries was freed. In August, Abu Sayyaf kidnapped six Filipino Jehovah’s Witnesses and beheaded two of them. In October 2002, a series of bombings took place— on a bus in Manila and in locations in Zamboanga City that were blamed on Abu Sayyaf.