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Filipino History

The Philippines were discovered in 1521 by a Portuguese navigator named Ferdinand Magellan, who claimed the islands for the King of Spain, as the Spanish had been financing his voyage. The Spanish sent more expeditions and claimed more of the islands naming them after Spanish royalty and nobles back home. The King wanted to convert the inhabitants to Christianity, so he sent hundreds of priests to spread the word of Catholicism. It worked to the majority of the locals, as today the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in South-East Asia. 

Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legaspi established the first Spanish settlement in Cebu in 1565. He later went on to defeat the Muslim leader Rajah Sulayman in Manila in 1571, which he was against the spread of Catholicism in the Philippines. This defeat began a 300-year-long religious war that still smolders in Mindanao, the spiritual home of Islam in the Philippines.

By the 18th century, Spain’s grip on the Philippines was slipping, as it was at war with the English and it was finding it difficult to keep its trade routes in the orient from attacks from other European foes. In 1762, under the orders of the East India Company, the English invaded Manila. To the British surprise the local people were able to fight them off and kick them out of the country within two years of occupation. This created a sense of nationalist pride and an anti colonial sentiment was at its highest, as it’s ever been. This eventually led to a rebellion by the Filipino leader General Emilio Aguinaldo in 1894, which lasted till 1897 when a peace pact was signed and the General agreed to go into exile in Hong Kong. The Filipino cause attracted the support of the Japanese and the Americans, but little came to it till the Spanish declared war on the Americans over a sugar dispute in Cuba. When the Spanish declared war on the Americans they sent a fleet of ships to Manila bay and destroyed the Spanish fleet in the bay. The Americans wanted the Filipino support, so they brought back the exile General and with the support of the Filipinos they drove out the last of the Spanish. The Spanish-American War ended within a year with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1898 and the Americans bought the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico for US$20 million. For the first time in the countries 400-year history the Philippines was declared independent in 1898, but it unfortunately only lasted for less then a year, as the Americans controlled it from that point on.

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Americans entered World War II and were at war the Japanese. With the American naval fleet almost being totally destroyed in the bombing, the Philippines was invaded almost immediately resulting in more than 75,000 American and Filipino troops surrendering to the Japanese. Of those 75,000 more than have perished due to the inhuman conditions the Japanese put them through in the coming years. When the Japanese were eventually kicked out of the Philippines in 1945 over 1 million Filipino people had lost there lives under the control of the Japanese.

In 1946, the Philippines officially gained their independence and the US helped the reconstruction of the country through loans that are still being paid today. Over the next two decades the new governments of the country formed a strong bond with the Americans, as they saw the importance of having them as a close ally. This lasted till 1965 when Ferdinand Marcos of the Nacionalista party won the presidential elections and began a program of rapid economic development. Before his maximum of two terms in office was over, in 1972, Marcos instituted martial law and suppressed all political opposition. He also set about large-scale looting of the country’s exchequer to fill his and his family’s own foreign bank accounts before leaving power. Filipino politics were a struggle for a number of years as the New People’s Army (NPA) and National Democratic Front (NDF) parties struggled for power of the country.

The turning point in the country’s recent history was in 1991 with a chain of events. The Americans had maintained two large bases on Luzon Island at Subic Bay (navy) and Clark Air Base, plus a handful of smaller facilities, since the end of World War II. However, the agreement permitting their use was due to expire in 1991. The problem was partly solved by the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo, dormant for 600 years, in the summer of 1991. Clark Air Base, situated 16km from the volcano, was damaged so badly that the Americans decided to abandon it. In 1994, after an agreement negotiated between the two governments, they also pulled out of Subic Bay. In October 1991, the Philippines senate accepted a deal carved out between the government and the USA, allowing for a total pull-out by 1994. By this time, the presidency had passed to Fidel Ramos, Aquino’s erstwhile Defense Minister and a key figure in recent Filipino politics. It was a big move as the Philippines had turned there back on over US$100 million a year in rent from the Americans for the military bases.

Today, the country economy is starting to look up, after years of catching up to its neighbors. The one problem the government has is that it’s believed that Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network has infiltrated the country and the army have been fighting the Islamic guerrillas in mainly Mindanao since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA. It’s advisable for tourists to be vigilant while visiting Mindanao. 

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