The first inhabitants

Human fossils found in Palawan suggest that people migrated from mainland Asia during the Ice age more than 30,000 years ago. Descendants from these first migrants are considered to be one the first inhabitants of The Philippines. They are called Negritos and live nowadays in remote areas scattered all over the archipelago.  

Spanish rule

Philippines recorded history started with the arrival of the Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for the Spanish Crown, on the uninhabited island of Homonhon in the gulf of Leyte on the 6th of March 1521. He sailed on through the gulf of Leyte to inhabited Leyte and Cebu, where he immediately started baptizing the locals and made an alliance with the local chiefs. Lapu Lapu, the chief of Mactan, currently the island where the airport of Cebu is named after, rebelled against Magellan who sended out a force of 48 armed men to crush the resistance. Magellans forces were overwhelmed by over 1000 local warriors armed with spears and poisonous arrows and Magellan himself was killed during the battle. Magellans remaining forces retreated and eventually arrived back in Spain. From the original 5 ships set out on the voyage only 1 ship, the Victoria completed the journey.  

Between 1525 and 1542 Spain launched four more expeditions. During the last of this expedition, the archipelago was renamed by Lopez de Villalobos to Islas de Filipinas, in honor of crown prince and later king of Spain, Philip II.

in 1564 Miguel Lopez de Legazpi sailed from Mexico with four ships to setup a base in the Philippines. In March 1565 he made a landfall in the Visayas, after heavy resistance from the local population. He succeeded to capture the island of Cebu where he immediately started constructing a fortress. Six years later, Legazpi ceded Maynilad- nowadays Manila, strategically located on the Pasig River and with a large natural harbor. When Legazpi died in 1572 most of the Philippines was already under control of the Spaniards, except for the southern part of the archipelago, particularly Mindanao.

Catholic priests and friars played an important role in the colonization process. They converted the locals to Christianity and built schools, churches, roads and were basically the rulers outside of Manila. During the 17th century Dutch, Portuguese and English forces attacked Manila. Only the British succeeded, but handed it after one year over to the Spanish.

Chinese played an important role in the economy of Manila, trading goods from other parts of Asia with the Spaniards for Mexican silver. The Chinese settlers were staying in Parian, a district outside of Intramuros, but within the reach, guns which were used to suppress several riots.


jose rizalIn the 19th century wealthy Filipinos let their children study in Spain and other European countries, where they developed patriotic sentiments. The most well known of them is Dr. Jose Rizal, the country's national hero, who wrote two novels: Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo (translated in English as Touch me not and The Reign of Greed), which tackles about the corruption and abuse by the Catholic church and Spanish government in the Philippines.

Rizal returned in 1892 to The Philippines and started the movement La Liga Filipina. Although he only promoted moderate reform, Spanish authority banned Rizal and his followers to Dapitan on the north coast of Mindanao. During the same period, Andres Bonifacio stood up and formed the secret society Katipunan or KKK with both male and female members. In a 4 year period the Katipunan recruited an estimated 30.000 members. When the Katipun organized a major revolt, Rizal was accused of planning  the revolution and despite lack of evidence, executed in Bagumbayan, nowadays officially known as Luneta or Rizal Park, which is named after him.

After 18 months of rebellion the Spanish negotiated a truce with the self declared general Emilio Aguinaldo, who had months earlier arrested Bonifacio and sentenced him to death during a mock trial. Meanwhile Spain declared war on the United Stated as a result of a dispute over Cuba and The Phlippines were drawn into the conflict. US Admiral Dewey was given orders to attack the Spanish forces in the Philippines and destroyed the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. The Filipinos were fighting together with the US forces, and General Aguinaldo declared independence after the US had defeated the Spanish troops. The US however had different plans and bought the Philippines in the Treaty of Paris from Spain along with Puerto Rico and Guam for US 20 million dollars.

American rule

When the US asserted their role as new colonial ruler, conflict broke out with Filipino freedom fighters. After a bloody war resulting in the death of more than 200.000 Filipinos, Aquinaldo was eventually captured and a few months later war ended. During the war, the US had already started to impose reforms on the Filipinos by introducing a new education system with American teachers. Further, the infrastructure was greatly improved and the upper class of Philippine society were gradually involved in the administration. In 1935 the Philippines got way step closer to their long-awaited independence when it became common wealth with the promise of independence in 1946. Unfortunately World War II broke out in 1941. 

World War II

In 1941, Japanese forces launched an attack on Pearl Harbor and other forces attacked Clark Field. Within two days, ground forces landed in the Philippines and fought their way down the Bataan Peninsula. General MacArthur  declared Manila an open city to save the city from destruction. On January 2, 1942 Japanese forces occupied the city and General MacArthur, his family, and his staff officers left Corregidor in four torpedo boats for Mindanao.The remaining forces soon surrendered to the Japanese and had to walk the 120 km Bataan Death March to San Fernando. An estimated 10.000 Americans and Filipinos died along the way.

MacArthur returned to the Philippines on October 20, 1944 and fulfilled his promise to return as he waded ashore on the island of Leyte. In January 1945, US forces invaded the main island of Luzon and took the city of Manila in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. The city was completely destroyed in the battle and an estimated 150.000 Filipino citizens died.

Marcos years

On July 4, 1946 the Philippines finally gained independence from US rule. Manuel Roxas was installed as the first president, but died before finishing his four-year term. In 1965 a young lawyer by the name of Ferdinand Marcos, which comes from an influential political family won the elections. Marcos implemented a comprehensive infrastructure reform program to boost the country's economy. His first lady, the flamboyant Imelda Marcos, focused on social and cultural reform. 

In 1969, Ferdinand Marcos became the first President of the Philippine Republic to be re-elected a second and last 4-year term amidst charges of vote buying and election fraud. Seven years later, Martial Law was declared and opposition leaders were arrested and a curfew was put into place. From then on, the conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos  ruled the country until the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. when he returned to the Philippines after living in exile in the United States. The Filipinos went out to the streets where they held a People Power Revolution and called for Marcos' immediate resignation. This event was also called as Edsa Revolution which marks a very significant happening in the Philippine history. Mr. and Mrs. Marcos were hoisted out of the palace by the CIA and went into exile in Hawaii. Marcos died in 1989.


Marcos was replaced by the Philippines first female president, Corazon Aquino, the wife of the late assassinated senator Benigno Aquino Jr. During her presidency, she survived seven coup attempts , but never really managed to bring the army and a number of powerful families under her control. After her six-year term little had changed for most of the Filipinos.

She was succeeded by defense minister Fidel Ramos in 1992. He had ambitious plans to boost the economy, reduce the foreign debt and transform the country into an Asian tiger. The country was experiencing daily powercuts due to increasing demand for electricity, old power plants and the hesitation of foreign investors to invest money in the Philippines. Ramos requested and got special powers from congress to resolve the crisis. International companies were given licenses to build and operate power plants and guarantees that all generated power would be bought by the government and paid in US dollar. 

In 1998, Ramos'  vice-president at that time, Joseph Ejercito Estrada was elected president. Estrada was a former movie actor and soon there were rumors that he was receiving huge amounts of money from an illegal gambling game. The senate, in which Estrada's party had a majority, launched an impeachment trial which he survived, due to votes of his supporters. Once again half a million people gathered at EDSA in what became known as People Power II or Edsa Dos, and demanded his resignation. When cabinet members and the military took the side of the protesters, Estrada stepped down and his vice-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won the 2004 election with a 3% advantage over Fernando Poe Jr. She was however accused of using money from public funds for her campaign and in 2005. 10 members of her cabinet resigned and urged her to follow them. She refused and impeachment cases filed against her were rejected by congress.

On February 24, 2006 Malacañang Palace was placed under extra protection when a bomb exploded outside the palace. A day later, Macapagal-Arroyo announced that extreme left and right wing fraction of the military where behind the bombing and she declared the state of emergency throughout the Philippines. According to her this was necessary to bring back stability to the country. The state of emergency lasted for more than a week before being lifted on March 3, 2006. During this period, protests were not allowed and several military and political leaders were arrested without a warrant. Critics argued that declaring the state of emergency was unlawful, but the high court declared the proclamation constitutional.

In 2008, a peace treaty with the largest Islamic separation movement (MILF) was blocked by the high court. Fights broke out between the MILF and the army, resulting in the death of 300 people and displacement of 600.000 people.


In June 2010, Benigno Aquino, the son of former president Corazon Aquino and senator Benigno Aquino, became the 15th president of the Republic of the Philippines. Hopes are that he will continue the fight against corruption and improve the life of the average Filipino.