By Victor P. Gendrano
Reprinted from Heritage Magazine, Vol. IX, No. 4, Winter 1995.
The early Filipinos were seafarers who lived along the side of seas and rivers where they subsisted from the bounty of the sea and in practicing slash and burn agriculture called kaingin. Due to geographical isolation and primitive means of transportation, the people evolved their own unique culture and different dialects. Each settlement, called barangay, was headed by the strongest and bravest chieftain who is looked upon for protection and patronage. Neighboring settlements sometimes form loose federations to counteract raids and other form of outside aggression, but otherwise they are autonomous communities. This allows trade and barter among barangays and cooperation among them.
Long before the arrival of the Spaniards, the people had a flourishing trade with Chinese businessmen and Malayan traders in the southern shores closer to Borneo. The traders would bring silk, porcelain and barter them with gold, silver, and other precious gems and stones.
European discovery of the Philippines
The Philippines was accidentally discovered by the European powers in their continuous search for a route to the Indies where they imported the much coveted spices. Regaled by the exploits of Marco Polo in his travels in the Orient, Portugal and Spain, the leading European powers then, tried to outdo each other in discovering a new route to the Moluccas, Spice Islands in Indonesia.
Thus on March 17, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese naval captain under the service of Spain, landed in the small island of Homonhon in Samar in the southern Philippines to look for food and water. Convinced that he will reach the east by travelling to the west, Magellan embarked on the expedition with five ships. Due to hardships in the heretofore unknown and unnavigated sea, not to mention mutiny by his sailors, he had only three ships left when he landed in the Philippines.
Magellan befriended the Sultan of Cebu and succeeded in Christianizing the natives. To prove the military might of his soldiers and to champion the cause of his new vassals, he decided to "punish and teach a lesson" Lapulapu, a chieftain of the island of Mactan who did not acknowledge the sovereignty of Cebu over his island.
Lapulapu and the Battle of Mactan
The battle was fought in the shallow shores of Mactan as it was low tide. The Spaniards, burdened with their heavy metal armors, were no match to Lapulapu and his men who, armed only with bamboo spears, bows and arrows, and kampilans (native machetes), nevertheless bravely battled the soldiers. Magellan was hit by a poisoned arrow and was eventually killed and the victorious natives drove back the rest of the invaders to their boats. Lapulapu thus became the first Filipino to rise against western aggression and domination. This incident was but a pause in the march of history, however, as subsequent Spanish expeditions eventually succeeded in occupying the Philippines and subjugating and Christianizing the Filipino people, aptly symbolized by the sword and the cross.
Early uprisings against Spain
As time went on, many uprisings occurred to protest the Spanish maltreatment of the natives such as forced taxes and labor, and indiscriminate incarceration for no major reasons at all. Both the clergy and the government officials were guilty of these repressions and other atrocities.
These early "disturbances" were dealt with effectively by the Spanish authorities by employing the divide and conquer strategy. Ilocanos or Kapampangans from the north, for instance, were sent to quell the rebellion in the Bicolanos or the Visayans in the south, or Bicolanos were dispatched to troubled areas in the north or in the Tagalog region. There were no shortage of mercenaries even then.
Taking advantage of the clannishness of the Filipinos, this shrewd tactic served the Spaniards well and for a long time. It was only much later that a gradual awakening of latent nationalism took place among the Filipino people.
The elite and educated Filipinos did not immediately opt for Philippine independence from Spain. Educated in Europe and receptive to the ideas of freedom, these so-called Propagandists worked instead for reform and representation of Filipinos in the Spanish Cortez. Abroad, in their speeches and writings, they attacked the clergy and colonial government's abuses and urged the Spanish government to institute reforms especially in the treatment of the Filipino people.
Prominent among the propagandists were the orator Graciano Lopez Jaena, fiery Marcelo del Pilar, and Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the latter a truly renaissance man so much ahead of his time. It was Rizal who paid dearly with his life in front of a firing squad in Luneta on the early morning of December 30, 1896. Rizal's young life was stilled but not his ideas which were incorporated in his two books, Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, as well as his other writings. His untimely death further fed fuel to the fire of nascent nationalism of the Filipino people and did much more to hasten the end of the Spanish reign in the Philippines.
Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan
Even before the death and martyrdom of Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio had already founded on July 7, 1892 the Katipunan, a secret society, whose sole purpose was to overthrow the Spanish regime in the Philippines. Unlike Rizal, Bonifacio, a commoner, ardently believed that armed conflict and open revolution were the only ways to drive the dreaded Spaniards and clergy out of the country.
Following the government's discovery of the Katipunan and the subsequent arrests and imprisonment of many members, Bonifacio and his followers openly declared their revolution by tearing their cedulas or identification papers in the famous Cry of Balintawak in the hills of Pugad Lawin in Balintawak on August 23, 1896, heralding the start of the Philippine revolution against Spain.
Aguinaldo and Philippine independence
Because of internal dissensions and power struggle in the Katipunan organization, Bonifacio and his brother were executed by the rival faction headed by Aguinaldo. The latter operated south of Manila where he had won some skirmishes and hence was regarded as a better general. After the death of Bonifacio, Aguinaldo took over the helm of the revolutionaries continuing the objectives of his predecessor, which is to overthrow the Spanish government in the Philippines.
Slowly but surely, the people stopped thinking of themselves as Kapampangan, Bicolano, Bisaya, Tagalog or Ilocano, but a Filipino. All over the country, the people rose as one, evolving a truly national revolution. With almost all the country in the hands of the rebels, Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898 at the balcony of his house in Kawit, Cavite.
The Americans, whom Aguinaldo naively thought were his allies in fighting the Spaniards, had instead the intention of annexing the Philippines after it defeated the Spanish armada in Manila Bay. They stayed in the Philippines after the naval battle waiting for their spoils. This became apparent when the Spanish forces holed in Intramuros in Manila surrendered to the Americans instead of to the Filipino rebels. An infamous prearranged mock battle was staged between the two forces.
It did not matter that the Filipino rebels were on the verge of winning the war against Spain as they only had to defeat or effect the surrender of the last Spanish forces in Manila. At this time, all the provinces were already under the control of the revolutionaries.To add insult to injury; no Filipinos were invited much less consulted before and during the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898 between the United States and Spain. The Treaty resulted in the Philippines being sold to the United States for a paltry sum of $20 million paid to Spain.
Philippine American war
The fruits of victory having been snatched from them, the Filipinos had no choice but to fight against the Americans. Thus began the Philippine American War which up to now is erroneously termed Philippine Insurrection by western historians. It was an American soldier, Private William Walter Grayson, who fired the first shot that started the war on February 4, 1889.
Due to the superior firepower of the U. S. forces, the revolutionaries gradually started losing grounds, eventually surrendering areas they previously occupied. This almost one-sided carnage mercifully ended on the capture of Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901 at Palanan, Isabela.
Early on, to the credit of the United States, the Philippines was promised independence after a transition period of ten years called the Commonwealth which started in 1935. The Filipinos were given more and more responsibility to run their government under the tutelage of the colonizers. The American military government changed to civil government with limited Filipino participation at the start, which led later to autonomy and complete Filipinization of the government. Then came World War II.
The Philippines, which was a commonwealth of the United States at the advent of World War II in 1941, contributed its large share in defeating the Japanese invaders who overrun the country after fierce stands in Bataan and Corregidor. With their fall, the Filipino soldiers as well as civilians continued their resistance to the Japanese occupation by organizing themselves into guerrilla bands.
During the lull of uneasy peace, the Japanese government tried all means to convince the Filipinos that they are also Asians and therefore both should unite into an "Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere" against the United States and other western colonizers. However, the Japanese soldiers' barbarity and cruelty to the civilian population which included rape, torture and murder, only fueled the Filipinos hatred of the Japanese invaders.
Philippine liberation and independence
The tide of war changed and eventually the Philippines was liberated by the combined Filipino guerrillas and U.S. forces. On October 20, 1944, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, with President Sergio Osmeña and Carlos P. Romulo, landed in Leyte to fulfill his promise of returning to the Philippines and reclaiming it from the Japanese occupational forces. Eventually, Japan was forced to surrender after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively.
Finally, on July 4, 1946, the Philippines, ready or not, was given back its rightful independence forcibly taken away from them by the Americans in 1899.