IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > F. The Pacific Region, 1513–1798 > 3. The Philippines, 1500–1800
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
3. The Philippines, 1500–1800
The earliest historical sources on the Philippines show that the archipelago had trade and diplomatic relations with East and Southeast Asia from at least the 11th century C.E. Medieval Chinese accounts of the Philippines show a plurality of ethnic groups living in decentralized societies and trading in forest and ocean products. Ethnolinguistic diversity in the archipelago was considerable, and modes of living ranged from swidden agriculture to fishing and wet rice cultivation.  1
Spanish sources from the 16th century depict societies made up of local communities (barangay) under the leadership of hereditary chieftains (datu) who sprang from a noble class. Philippine society at this time can be broadly divided into those who had the right to bring lawsuits and change their political allegiance and those who did not. Within each stratum there was considerable variation in status. Leadership in warfare, particularly marine raiding, was a key constituent of political authority. Datus acted as judges in lawsuits, exercised control over communal property, and received a portion of the harvest as tribute as well as military support from the nobles who owed them fealty. The unfree classes included people who had fallen into bondage through debt, those who inherited the status of bondage, and chattel slaves. Movement between the free and unfree classes was possible in some areas of the archipelago, but in others social status was fixed and unchallengeable. Most parts of the archipelago had oral cultures, although an indigenous script apparently based on Indian models was used for Tagalog in the 16th century. By the 15th century, entrepôt ports were present in Cebu, Butuan, and Manila. Internal trading networks were highly developed within the archipelago, especially in the Visayas, with rice, raw materials, manufactured goods, and slaves exchanged over a wide area. Commerce and raiding tended to be combined in a distinctive political and economic matrix, which was based on the seafaring expertise of the region's inhabitants.  2
In the 1400s, Muslim trading states were established in the southern Philippines and in parts of Luzon, a development connected with the spread of Islam throughout island Southeast Asia at this time (See The Malay Archipelago and Peninsula). These states were often alliances of datus, who cooperated for military and economic advantage under the authority of a sultan. The rights and powers of sultans varied from state to state, depending in large measure on the charisma of individual leaders and their ability to inspire loyalty, although the more commercially developed polities had relatively stable ruling classes. Sharif status (claimed descent from the family of the prophet Muhammad) was a component in political leadership.  3
Strategic position and naval strength, together with commerce, made the sultanate of Sulu an important economic and political power. The other major Islamic kingdoms were Buayan and Magindanao on Mindanao, which rose to prominence in the 16th century.  4
Ferdinand Magellan became the first European to reach the Philippines. He was killed in a conflict with local people under the leadership of Lapulapu on April 27.  5
The expedition of Ruy de Villalobos, sent by Charles I of Spain, was driven off by local resistance. The name Felipinas was given to the areas around Leyte and was later applied to the whole of the archipelago.  6
Establishment of a permanent Spanish presence in the archipelago under the command of Miguel de Legazpi.  7
Manila became the center of Spanish power. Much of the area of the modern Philippines was nominally under Spanish control by 1576, although their actual authority was severely restricted in many areas, and Mindanao and Sulu remained completely independent. Spanish expansion was fueled by a desire to take control of the trade routes from Malacca and Eastern Indonesia and those to China, all of which had their terminus in Manila.  8
Socially, the Spanish colony was a mix of indigenous people (indios), Spaniards, a small but influential population of Chinese, and mestizos (those of mixed descent). In later times mestizos and creoles from the Spanish colonies in Latin America also came to the Philippines. Ethnic segregation was practiced, causing political tension. Socioeconomic inequalities were considerable. At village level, the Spanish sought to co-opt local leaders by increasing their privileges, in return for which the leaders took responsibility for collecting taxes and organizing labor service.  9
A governor-general was the supreme political authority in the colony. He was officially subordinate to the Council of the Indies in Spain. The Royal Audencia (est. 1584) acted as the supreme court and was intended to check abuses of power by the colonial government. Provincial governors were virtually independent of Manila.  10
Under the Galleon trade system set up in the late 16th century, only China and Mexico could trade in Manila, isolating the Spanish Philippines from commercial contacts with the rest of the Pacific region.  11
Augustinian friars accompanied Legazpi (1565) and were followed later by the Franciscans, Jesuits, Dominicans, and Recollects. The friars became a powerful political and economic force, exercising considerable influence on the colonial government. Following a decision in the 1580s, the church did all its proselytizing in vernacular languages, making priests vital intermediaries between the colonial government and the people. In the first few centuries of Spanish rule, there was close cooperation between the church and the colonial administration, partly because the papacy gave the Spanish crown complete authority over the missionary enterprise in the Philippines. Printing and education were by-products of the friars' missionary work. A Spanish-Tagalog Christian tract was the first book printed in the Philippines (1596), and in 1611 the Dominicans founded the University of Santo Thomas.  12
Revolts among the indigenous people broke out sporadically after the establishment of Spanish rule, ranging from indio attempts to regain sovereignty, such as the abortive revolt of Magat Salamat and Augustin de Legazpi in 1587, to expressions of economic discontent (e.g., the rebellion of Magalat in 1596) to religious movements, like the revolt in the Kagayan Valley in the 1620s.  13
From the late 16th century, Sulu, Magindanao, Buayan, and the Spanish competed for dominance of the southern Philippine region. Under the powerful sultan Quadarat, Magindanao had become the most important commercial, military, and political force in the region by the mid-17th century.  14
The Spaniards established a fort at Zamboanga on Mindanao to provide a base for expansion in the southern Philippines. Magindanao and Sulu subsequently fought a number of wars with Spain, punctuated by peace treaties and trade agreements.  15
Zamboanga fort abandoned. Spain played no part in the southern Philippines for the rest of the 17th century. In this period the Muslim states consolidated their internal power and traded with the Dutch.  16
Attempts by Governor Fernando Manuel de Bustamente to reform government finances.  17
The Spanish reestablished the Zamboanga fort, reopening hostilities with the Muslims.  18
Clerical opposition to Bustamente's reforms led to his murder by friars.  19
Volume of galleon trade increased through pressure from the Manila business community.  20
Outbreak of the rebellion of Dagohoy the result of religious and political discontents. The rebellion lasted for several decades.  21
Political competition in the southern Philippines continued in the mid-18th century. The sultanate of Cotabato dominated Mindanao. In 1751 a major war broke out between Spain and Sulu. Sulu forces carried out extensive raids in the Visayas and Luzon, which caused serious problems for the Spanish, whose financial resources were strained by the unremitting warfare.  22
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.