Philippines Day 02 – Part 1: Lots of History

Our hotel is very clean and comfortable.  The rooms are small—just large enough for two beds, a desk, and a stand with a TV, with our own bathroom—but we won’t be in them much except for sleeping anyway.  We’ll be staying here a second night, and then off to our next destination in this chain of tropical islands!

Breakfast was served in a cafeteria on the third floor.  We had several options, from eggs with sausage and toast, to more traditional Filipino food (vegetables, pulled pork, rice, fish).  All of our beverages here are bottled, because the tap water would make us ill.  We have also been cautioned not to have drinks with ice in them, or eat foods (such as lettuce or fruits) that have been washed in tap water.  It’s going to take a little time to adjust to this—I already got my toothbrush wet with water from the sink!

A money-changer is coming to our hotel to switch our American currency to Filipino pesos.  Noel, our guide and a pastor here in the Philippines, is going to be facilitating this process for us.  He told us that it is safer for the money-changer to come to us with the amount we need, rather than for Noel to take all our money to an exchange service.  We will have our Filipino money before we go touring the historic sites this afternoon!  The exchange rate is 44 PhP (Philippine Pesos) to $1 US.


Edna, from UCCP (United Church of Christ in the Philippines) has prepared some information for us today, a historical approach to the understanding of where the Filipino churches are today (covering four centuries).  (Please note: These are my raw notes from her presentation.  If you are interested in the history of the Philippines, this will be a good place to start, but this information is not meant to be quoted in a research paper.)

The 7,107 islands are sometimes close, and sometimes separated by wide expanses of water.  There are rainforests, mangroves, and extensive coastlines, home to a diverse range of birds, plants, animals, and sea creatures.  The Philippines is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world.  But many of these jewels are being lost to climate change.  The area is prone to earthquakes and typhoons, on an average of 20 per year.

Population is 91.9 million as of 2009.  It is the 12th most populous country in the world.  The growth rate is staggering (up from 88.5 million in 2007).  The main resource the Philippines provide to the world is an international workforce; many Filipinos travel abroad seeking work and send their earnings home to support their families.  The government is very supportive of this and makes the traveling process as easy and welcoming for their traveling workers as possible.  Religiously, 90% are Christian, with 80% Roman Catholic and 10% Protestant/Other Christian.  5-10% are Muslim and indigenous.  Catholicism is so much a part of the culture in the Philippines that everyone is familiar with it, even if they identify with a different faith tradition.

As early as 200,000 BCE, various groups had traversed land bridges coming for Borneo and settles in what is now the Philippine Islands.  Around 3,000 BCE, Malays from what is now Indonesia and Malaysia also came and settled in the islands.

Around 1400, traders introduced Islam to the Hindu-Malayan Empires and in the next half-century, the southern half of Luzon (the main island in the north where Manila is) and the islands in Mindanao (southernmost large island) became subject to the various Mohammedan sultanates of Borneo.  During this time, the islands were divided in leadership.

The Philippines have a history of invasion and colonozation: first from the Spanish, then the Americans, then the Japanese.  It took quite some time before the Filipinos were able to achieve their independence.

Spanish Colonial Period: 1521-1898

When colonizers come, they look for allies so they can build a base in the new territory.  Magellan was discovered by the tribes in the Philippines in 1521.  He sided with one of the warring chieftains against Lapu Lapu, and in a tribal conflict, Magellan was killed by Lapu Lapu.  This didn’t stop the Spanish from colonizing the islands, though.

Through oppression, exploitation, and suppression, they introduced feudalism and capitolism.  They regionalized the economy and established a land monopoly on products like tobacco and sugar.  They would export raw materials and import luxury goods.  There were high taxes, forced labor, and much corruption in the system.  There were a select few who accumulated the majority of the wealth, at the cost of impoverishing the people.  (Note from Leslie: I had to remind myself that this is Filipino history and not a commentary on the current situation in the US.)

Children from wealthy families were sent to study in Europe, where they were exposed to liberal ideas.  When they returned, they became the propagandists.

Resistance came from all sectors of society: oppressed peasants, exploited workers, local government officials, regional military officers, illustrados, intelligencia, priests, and women.  The problem was that they were so spread out, they could not communicate with each other, so their protests were sporadic and ineffective.

Revolution in 1896 was sparked by the corruption of the Roman Catholic priests, who were then executed by the people who were resisting.  This is when all the protesters began working together, believing change could happen with reform.  They were just starting to build up to a revolution for independence, when a woman overheard the plans and confessed them to a priest, hoping to prevent fighting and slaughter.  As a result, the Spaniards were warned of the impending revolt.

In 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the US for 20 million dollars under President McKinley in the Treaty of Paris, after which McKinley issued the Proclamation of Benevolent Assimilation.  This culminated in the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), as the Filipinos resisted their “assimilation” through guerilla warfare tactics against the previous ally, whom they now perceived as an enemy.  This was the only way they knew how to resist.

American Regime: 1898-1946

The end of the war meant the end of Spanish control, but it was the beginning of American Imperialism.  (Side note: Mark Twain tried to raise $20 million to buy the Philippines and give it back to the people who lived there.)

So how did the US rule?

Enraged by a guerilla massacre of US troops, the US retaliated by carrying out an indiscriminate attack upon the inhabitants, with General Jacob Smith ordering troops to kill everyone over the age of ten.  Smith was eventually court-martialled by the American military for the incident.

To get the population under control, villages were turned into concentration camps, cramped into inhumane conditions with a high death rate (sometimes as high as 20%).  There were scorched earth campaigns, and anyone found outside the concentration camps were shot on sight.  Men were rounded up for torture, questioning, and execution.  Women were raped.  Houses—entire villages—were burned and looted by US soldiers.

An estimated 250,000 Filipinos (at a conservative estimate) were killed by US forces by the end of the Filipino resistance.

Americans instituted some measures of Filipino self-rule: popular elections, civilian government, autonomous governments, bicameral legislation, judicial system, civil service, public education, a nation-wide police force.

There were also changes on land issues.  A considerable amount of church land was purchased and redistributed more evenly.  Land was offered to landless farmers.

Japanese Occupation – 1942-1945

The Japanese invaded the Philippines after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, because it was an American territory.  Their occupation was atrocious.

A total of 76,000 starving and sick American and Filipino defenders, on April 9, 1942, surrendered and were forced to endure the infamous Bataan Death March.  An estimated 7,000-10,000 died of starvation and disease; some were executed.

The Philippines suffered grievously.  There was great loss of life and tremendous physical destruction.  The war left Manila extensively damaged, almost completely destroyed.

After 4 years of Japanese control, US General MacArthur returned to the Philippines with troops and ships, and eventually regained control of the islands.

In 1946, the Philippines gained Independence, granted by the US on July 4th.  The Laurel-Langley Agreement allowed the US to still have ownership of certain properties and have military bases in the Philippines.  That expired in 1974, at which point all missionaries, military personnel, and corporations had to leave.  However, American corporations and government still have incredible influence and control over what happens in the Philippine economy and government, and the military still has a small presence here (on the grounds that it protects the Philippines from threats in Asia and means the US will be faster to respond if necessary).  Even though the Philippines have their own government now, the “American Empire” still largely controls their economy through globalization and imperialism.


As a result of this kind of history, the Filipino people have a resiliency to hardship and economic depression that other cultures do not understand.  This is why they can still smile and enjoy life, even though their economy is suffering under debt and inflation just as badly as the US (if not worse than the US, because the Filipinos are not able to pay off their debt).

However, the bad things are continuing, even under Filipino self-rule.  There have been many instances of extra-judicial killings (sanctioned by the government), and 360 political prisoners.  There is a campaign of silence and control by the government to promote successes and not talk about failures.  This is why it is so important to raise global awareness of the situation in the Philippines; with our American privilege comes influence.  The American government and corporations influence (if not control) the Philippine reality; but we are the ones who influence and have control of the American government.  The change begins together, and it must start with us.


About Leaping Loon

I am an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister serving our congregation in Elgin, Illinois. While I am determined to embrace my propensity to wander, it oftentimes takes a leap of faith to do so. My life's motto seems to be: "Leap, and the net will appear." True to my spirit, and following Love's call, I must simply free myself to go. Where will I end up? Let's find out. Welcome to my journey!
This entry was posted in 2011 Philippines, Trips. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Philippines Day 02 – Part 1: Lots of History

  1. BiLLD says:

    Marvelous post. What an opportunity to be able to take this trip. I am waiting for the next post. Hope we are in Phoenix at the same time. Would like to talk more to you about this trip.

  2. Ruby says:

    Okay reallys sad to say, learned more about “ancestral country” then I ever knew from your post.
    Be safe out there.

  3. Sally Mills says:

    Sounds like you are learning a lot! You might ask about Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos while you are there as they are an important part of Filipino history.

    • Leaping Loon says:

      We learned about Marcos later that afternoon at a museum in Manila! It’s pretty unbelievable that the first elected president of the Philippines managed to declare martial law and reign as dictator and then, after being pressured into allowing another election, was re-elected. In fact, the situation bore many parallels to GW getting re-elected in 2004. For example, cheating at the polls…. There’s so much history here that I never knew about, and I know I’m barely scratching the surface!

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