Philippines: The Spanish Colonial Era (1521–1898 CE)


Philippines: The Spanish Colonial Era (1521–1898 CE)

The Spanish Colonial Era (1521–1898 CE)

Manila Philippines Map 1
Manila Philippines Map
Manila Philippines seal
Manila Philippines seal
Manila Philippines Coat of Arms
Manila Philippines Coat of Arms
Manila Philippines Flag
Manila Philippines Flag

The Spanish Colonial Era (1521–1898 CE)

Plant-derived spices, such as pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and mace, became extremely valuable commodities to Europeans during the Renaissance—the 15th- and 16th-century period that brought the continent from the Middle Ages to the modern era. Spices became one of the primary commodities for trade during this period. The applications for the spices were numerous and included culinary, medicines and general health, scientific discovery and enhancements, textile dyeing, and aphrodisiacs and sexual aids, amongst others. The European maritime trade boom of the Renaissance period owed its acceleration to advances in ocean-going vessels, as well as significant interest by monarchies to dominate the global maritime trade routes. It was the time of oceanic exploration and pioneering voyages to far-flung and previously “undiscovered” domains. European rulers of the time put the full force of their wealth and political power behind launching fleets and eventually companies to benefit economically and politically from the rush in the trade of slaves and other exotic goods from Southeast Asia, as well as other places. This era of maritime political and economic maneuvering lasted into the mid-20th century, whereafter most foreign colonial powers dissipated after the close of World War II.

Many of the spices were sourced from Nusantara, specifically a small group of islands south of the Philippines known as the Moluccas (Maluku Islands), including the Banda Islands. Clove, nutmeg, and mace were the three commodities that grew naturally on this tiny island grouping that became known as the Spice Islands, whose produce, at certain points in history, became more valuable than gold. As cultivars (such as chilis, cocoa, and corn) from the New World of the Americas became more readily available with exploration, demand for Asian spices diminished, and prices stabilized. Initially, beginning in the early 1500s, the Portuguese dominated the trade in Southeast Asian spices, but later (by the mid-17th century), the Dutch and then the British were the dominant forces within maritime Southeast Asia, although the French and the Spanish also played their parts. The Dutch and British began their activities in Southeast Asia through the Dutch and British East India Trading Companies, respectively, both founded in the early 1600s, and then later directly through the monarchies and governments of their respective countries as ruling colonial powers. The Spanish, however, did not create an East India trading company and operated entirely on directives from the king of Spain and the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was also the king of Spain (r. 1519–1556), was the monarch of much of western and central European Roman Catholic domains of the first half of the 16th century. Not to be outdone by his European neighbors, Charles V’s reign encompassed the long-lasting colonization of parts of the Americas. Spanish motivation to conquer the New World was centered mostly around resource extraction (gold, cultivars, and high-value tradeable goods) but also by a desire to convert indigenous peoples to Roman Catholicism. Spain’s ability to claim territories from the Americas to Southeast Asia afforded them the title of having realms known as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” As well as spending considerable time and resources on the European continent to defend his territories, Charles V was responsible for sanctioning the Mesoamerican Aztec and South American Inca conquests by the Spanish conquistadors. The conquistadors were the conquering knights, soldiers, explorers, and overlords dispatched by their government to overrun parts of the unchristianized civilizations. The conquistadors were accompanied by Catholic missionaries and sometimes entire ecclesiastical retinues, who were intent upon converting the people of the conquered dominions. These conquered regions, including the Philippines, were incorporated into the Spanish Empire in various forms from 1521 to 1572. The new Spanish empires in the Americas were renamed as New Spain—now western Mexico and Peru—which both gained independence from Spain about three hundred years later in 1821. In 1556, Charles V divided his immense territories through a series of abdications that saw his son, Philip II, inherit Spain.

Early in Charles V’s reign, in 1519, he commissioned the Magellan expedition that dispatched explorer and seaman Ferdinand Magellan (c. 1480–1521) to make the first full circumnavigation of the globe in recorded history. Included in the specifications for his voyage was the discovery of the renowned Spice Islands of the East Indies (maritime Southeast Asia). Magellan was of Portuguese nobility, but he was prevented from fulfilling his plans of finding a westward route to the East Indies by his own king. King Charles I of Spain instead employed Magellan and provided the explorer with a fleet of five vessels. Magellan headed west from Europe and passed the bottom of South America via a sea strait now known as the Magellan Strait and entered the “peaceful sea,” or the Pacific Ocean. Magellan had visited India and Southeast Asia on previous trips but by sailing around the eastern approach via the Cape of Good Hope at the southern point of Africa. He arrived with a reduced fleet and crew in Southeast Asia in 1521—two years after setting out from Europe.

Magellan’s second stop after Guam (east of the Philippines) was the Philippines itself, where they remained for six weeks. At first, they were stationed at Homonhon in the east of the archipelago, then at Limasawa, a small island southeast of Cebu and directly below Leyte Island. Magellan named the islands he saw as the Archipelago of Saint Lazarus and claimed them for the king of Spain. He erected a cross and began converting the local people to Christianity. Magellan allegedly converted over two thousand people, including Rajah Humabon of Cebu and the leaders of surrounding islands.

However, on the island of Mactan, the locals, led by the legendary Lapu-Lapu, resisted violently, and in the ensuing battle, Magellan was killed. According to the scribe Antonio Pigafetta, forty-nine Spaniards were attacked in shallow waters off Cebu by 1,500 Mactan warriors. There were reports that Christian-converted Visayan warriors assisted the Spaniards.

With further imminent hostilities from the Rajahnate of Cebu likely, the Spanish fled to the Moluccas, where they knew that the resident Portuguese would assist them. (This was after making the infamous stop on Palawan for resupply and where they took the royal family of the Taytay hostage.) Of the 270 men and five vessels (containing two years of supplies) that had left Spain in 1519, one ship, the Victoria, limped back to Spain under the command of Spanish Juan Sebastián Elcano, reaching its destination in 1522. Mutinies, storms, disease (mostly scurvy), and wars with indigenous locals had left only nineteen survivors, but the Spanish had completed the “impossible” and circumnavigated the globe. (The next successful circumnavigation was by Queen Elizabeth I of England’s naval explorer Sir Francis Drake fifty-eight years later.)

Three or four further expeditions left Spain for the Philippines over the next forty-four years, and they retained their interest in the area from a distance. By 1559, King Philip II of Spain renewed the Crown’s interest in the Philippines and sent an expedition of five hundred men to the archipelago, who would establish a permanent presence on the islands. In February 1565, an expedition led by Miguel López de Legazpi (1502–1572) arrived in Cebu, and they went on to establish the first Spanish settlement in the region. However, it was only by 1570 that the colonists had conquered the primary principality of Maynila under the soldier Martín de Goiti (c. 1534–1575), who was taken from Mexico for the purpose. With the assistance of local Visayans, the Spanish first intimidated Tondo into surrendering and then gained Maynila. The rajah of the time, Rajah Sulayman (r. 1571–1575), who was technically a vassal of the Sultanate of Brunei and Tondo, made alliances with the Spanish rather than defending Maynila. De Legazpi founded the city of Manila and pronounced it the capital of the Spanish East Indies. He also became the first governor general of the Philippines. Philip II’s intention, as well as the missionaries who accompanied the colonists, was to take the islands peacefully, but the reality on the ground was that infractions and skirmishes forced the Spaniards to be fairly aggressive in their approach. (On several occasions, the Spanish needed to repel the Portuguese from taking hold of the archipelago.) Within a short time, the Spanish were enforcing the practice of encomienda—a form of enforced indigenous labor—but by 1574, slavery was officially abolished by royal decree (almost 240 years before slavery was abolished in Spain, around 260 years before the United Kingdom, and nearly three centuries before the United States declared abolition).

The Philippines eventually came under the viceroyalty of New Spain and was governed directly from Mexico City via the Real Audiencia (Royal Audience) of Manila. Manila was officially established on February 6th, 1579, through the papal bull Illius Fulti Praesidio by Pope Gregory XIII, which encompassed all Asian Pacific territories under the Archdiocese of Mexico. (After the Mexican Revolution of 1821 that brought independence to New Spain, the Philippines were governed directly from Spain until 1898.) Within twenty years after the passing of the bull, the Spanish had established a cathedral in Manila, including an episcopal palace and Augustinian, Dominican, and Franciscan monasteries, including a Jesuit house. Just before the death of King Philip II of Spain in 1598, he issued a decree to return all ill-gotten taxes to local Filipinos, therefore, in a sense, returning a large degree of their autonomy. However, there was a year’s delay before his death or the decree was known in the Philippines, and during 1599, a referendum was held whereby local Filipinos acknowledged Spain as their overlords. Spain was officially in control of the Philippines.

The early settlers in the colonial Philippines were explorers, soldiers, government officials, and religious men who were born in Spain, Mexico, or Peru. The incoming peoples from New Spain were of Spanish ancestry as well as indigenous Mesoamerican, and the mixed-race descendants became known as mestizos, mulattos, or indios. Immigrating Spanish nationals sometimes married into the noble indigenous classes (the Ginoo and Maharlika castes) to entrench their position within the archipelago. Chinese immigration to the archipelago also flourished during the Spanish colonial occupation, as the Europeans imported thousands of Chinese migrant laborers to construct necessary colonial infrastructure on the islands, such as houses, government buildings, hospitals, and churches. In order to defend the parts of the Philippines they had gained, the Spanish built fortresses called presidios at key locations to protect their territories from foreign powers, such as the British, Dutch, Portuguese, and Muslim and Asian pirates. Japanese traders also settled on the islands during the colonial era. In the late 16th century, Japanese pirates known as wakōs built a trade, specifically for piracy of Chinese shores and seas, on northern Luzon. In 1582, the Spanish repelled these pirates and their infamous warlord Tay Fusa in the Cagayan battles. Tay Fusa had attempted to establish a Japanese city-state on Luzon (called Luçon by the Spanish) to support his piratical trade.

Fending off pirates—whether Muslim, Japanese, or Chinese—was a regular occupation of the Spanish. In 1574, shortly after the Spanish had gained Manila, the Chinese warlord Limahong (Lim Hong or Lin Feng) invaded the northern Philippines via a series of raids in search of silver and gold. He failed to invade Manila despite several calculated and planned attacks, mostly due to the foresight and counterattacks of conquistador Juan de Salcedo (1549–1576), master of the Spanish camp at Manila and close relative of de Legazpi (either his grandson or his nephew). De Salcedo had played an active role in the conquest of the Philippines, and once he had repelled the pirate Limahong from Manila in 1574, he besieged the wokou (Chinese pirates) in Pangasinan for four months before they fled, never to return to the Philippines. Renowned historian William Henry Scott (1921–1993) refers to Salcedo as the “last of the Conquistadores,” and he died at twenty-seven years of age, most likely from dysentery. To further enhance Salcedo’s romantic image of Spanish gallantry, he is known as the erstwhile lover of Princess Kandarapa of Tondo. Their forbidden romance became the fodder of a legendary local tale reminiscent of English playwright William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, with both lovers dying young with an unresolved misunderstanding between them.

The Plaza de Roma in Manila—the capital of the Spanish-era colonial Philippines. This administrative area was called Intramuros, meaning “within the walls” since it was a protected, walled-off area for the ruling colonists and settlers.

Judgefloro, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although the Spanish laid claim to the entire area of what we now know as the Philippines, they never truly got the southern Muslim islands under control, and this created the foundations for Filipino infractions centuries later in modern times. The Spanish-Moro wars were a series of battles between the Spanish and the Muslim sultanates of the southern islands that lasted from the late 1500s to the late 1800s. The Castilian War in 1578 was a Spanish-Christian war against the Muslim Bruneians, who had considered themselves as the de facto rulers of the Muslim Philippine sultanates at various times over the centuries. The two powers fought for control of the Philippines, with Spain invading Brunei and burning a multi-tiered mosque to the ground. However, the Spanish did not remain in Brunei due to heavy losses from cholera and dysentery and returned to Manila. In some instances, the Spanish were permitted small military and religious retinues in certain areas of the Muslim principalities, but they never got a firm hold on governing these regions.

Overall, besides infringements from the Moros and foreign powers, over the centuries that Spain ruled the Philippines, they also needed to contend with regular uprisings and skirmishes by local Filipinos, although these were always subdued. Many local Filipinos often fought voluntarily alongside their Spanish overlords to defend the islands against foreign invaders and protect Spain’s suzerainty. However, it was also the case that many soldiers brought in from New Spain, India, and other foreign locations escaped their commissions and integrated into the local populations of the Philippines as civilians.

One of the biggest disappointments of the Spanish was that the Philippines did not produce the most coveted of global spices—pepper, nutmeg, cloves, and mace—but could only produce cinnamon, which is in the bark of an evergreen tree indigenous to the archipelago. This tree, Cinnamomum mindanaense, was discovered by the Spanish growing on the island of Mindanao (as well as some islands of the Visayas), and it can be used as a flavoring and additive for food. In addition, camphor oil can be extracted from its bark, wax from its fruit, and its wood can be used for furniture-making. The natives referred to the tree as “sweet wood” (caiu mana).

Although there are no historical records regarding earlier European exploration in the Philippines, it is possible that the Portuguese explorers had already visited the archipelago, and owing to its lack of marketable spices, they had not attempted to colonize the islands. The next real European intervention to Nusantara was the Dutch East India Company in the early 1600s, by which time Spain had claimed the Philippines. In 1646, the Battles of La Naval de Manila saw three Spanish galleons fend off eighteen Dutch ships that were preparing to invade and capture the Philippines. This offensive was also part of the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) that saw European territories under Spain’s control and that of the Holy Roman Empire—including Holland—struggle for independence, which they eventually achieved. The Battles of La Naval de Manila, which included five separate battles, were later investigated by the Catholic ecclesiastics and declared as a miraculous event that is still celebrated in the Philippines.

Spain was one of many nations to take control of previously unchartered areas, and in the case of the Philippines, they united an area in which many different cultures and landscapes existed. (Without Spanish intervention in the 1500s, the Philippines may have been split up in a multitude of different ways.) In fact, they eventually encompassed an area that included over 150 ethnolinguistic groups. The spread of the islands, as well as the difficult terrain across many of the landmasses, not to mention the disparate communities outside of the main principalities, would always make the Philippines difficult to govern.

The Philippines was named by the Spanish explorer and Dominican priest Ruy López de Villalobos (1500–1544) in a 1542 expedition from Mexico as Las Islas Filipinas (“the Philippine Islands”) in honor of King Philip II of Spain. Even before Spain had laid its first settlement in the archipelago, de Villalobos was charting potential borders for a future nation. When the Hispanic era of the Philippines began, the first Spaniards to arrive on the archipelago were at pains to understand the various origins of the people they encountered on its shores. They referred to the Negritos as Negrillos, the non-Negrito pagans as Indios (Indians) or Indigentas (indigents), and the Muslims as Moros. Later, in the 19th century, it became more evident that the Indios were really of Malay (Austronesian) ancestry. The early Spanish colonialists referred to the locals as Filipinos, but later in the 19th century, this term was associated with Filipino-born Spanish natives, who resented being referred to as “Filipinos” and preferred the term hijos del país (“sons of the country”). Meanwhile, certain indigenous Filipinos began referring to themselves by the colloquial name of Pinoy.

Mosques had been established in the Philippines hundreds of years before, with the first one on the Sulu island of Simunul by the scholar, trader, and Sufi missionary Karim ul-Makhdum in 1380. The Spaniards established themselves through the building of churches and garrisons first, which later developed into complete colonial settlements. Each Spanish town had a central plaza for the hosting of festivities, around which government buildings, churches, and a market area were established. Besides religion, the Spanish brought the peso, new foods from America such as cocoa, chilis, pineapples, and maize (corn), as well as new cultivars such as coffee, tobacco, sugarcane, and indigo plants (used to extract dye for textiles). The colonists brought European architecture, music, and clothing fashions to the Philippines. Most influentially, the Spanish introduced education systems and colleges, and although many of these were originally religiously orientated, in time, they formed the foundation of a strong and effective education system that is present in the Philippines today. The Jesuits founded a college in Manila in 1590, and in 1611, the oldest university of the Philippines (and of all Asia), Santo Tomas, was founded, also in Manila.

One of the first books published in the Philippines was the Doctrina Christiana (Christian Doctrine). This book on Catholic catechism was written by Fray Juan de Plasencia (1520–1590), a Spanish friar of the Franciscans who lived in the Philippines from 1578 to 1590. The book was written in Spanish and Tagalog. The Franciscans were a Christian order that operated primarily under the Catholic Church, and Fray de Plasencia was part of the first group of missionaries to arrive on the archipelago after the Spanish conquest. In 1590, what is now referred to as The Boxer Codex (or the Manila Manuscript) was commissioned by the Spanish to illustrate ethnic groups of the Philippines and other Asian states. The codex contains hand-drawn illustrations and descriptions of the Philippines and other Asian places, including their people, belief systems, and even mythological creatures!

The first efforts made by the Spanish to translate Filipino were by the missionaries who wished to convert the local populace to Roman Catholicism. One of the most significant of these dictionaries was the Vocabulario de la lengua tagala (Vocabulary of the Tagalog Language) by Augustinian missionary Fray Pedro de San Buenaventura in 1613. It is believed that Fray de San Buenaventura drew on the Doctrina Christiana to create his dictionary, which became a crucial reference source for later missionaries to the Philippines.


Illustration of a Manila Spanish galleon being received by the local peoples off the coast of the Philippines from the Boxer Codex, also known as the Manila Manuscript, 1590.,_ca._1590.jpg

After 1570 and the conquest of Manila, the Spaniards began proselytizing Christianity and making concerted efforts to convert the locals to the Catholic faith and away from their indigenous animistic belief systems. This process was easiest for them along the populated coastal regions of the larger northern islands. It was difficult for the friars to access the remote, central highland regions of the archipelago, and the southern islands were predominantly Muslim and had been so in some cases for more than five hundred years. Unfortunately, by the 18th century, the Spaniards took Christian indoctrination far more seriously and punished locals who were found practicing indigenous belief systems. This process of installing Christian domination included burning bamboo scripts of the Filipinos and destroying cultural artifacts. The Catholic Church and their imported religious proselytizers and ordained hierarchies shared power with the Spanish Crown, which included the governing officials and conquistadors.

At first, the Spanish retained the barangay and its resident datu, but the chief’s powers were restricted, and the administration of Philippine villages came mostly under the jurisdiction of both lay and ecclesiastical Hispanic authorities. The datu was mostly a figurehead who formed the primary negotiation unit with the Spanish, specifically for tax collection and the execution of Spanish policy. The Spanish used the existing regional social institutions and rulership hierarchies for the implementation of a highly centralized, autocratic colonial regime. During the three and a half centuries of Spanish rule, the European overlords didn’t make drastic changes to the arrangement of existing Philippine local governments but rather used existing structures toward their own ends, making alterations or advancements where and when necessary to streamline their suzerainty of the islands. The Spaniards instituted four levels of governance: provinces, cities, towns, and neighborhoods (wards or municipalities).

Spanish intentions to reconfigure the existing independent villages of the Philippines, or the barangays, included establishing small towns, or poblaciónes, and capitals that then assumed much of the barangays’ original political functions. This was known as the process of Redducción (reduction or perhaps simplification and centralizing). These towns were created where it was most geographically and administratively convenient for the Spanish. Filipinos were moved from disparate barangays into central locations in which a church was established, and the process of population control, taxation, and religious conversion (Christianization) began. Roads extended radially from the poblaciónes along which villages, or barrios, arose, which were further divided into small neighborhood units or sitios. By the late 19th century, the Spanish had reconfigured the towns, or pueblos, into barangays of fifty to a hundred families, although this new configuration of amalgamated barangays was artificial in comparison to the principalities that the Spanish had found upon their arrival in the archipelago. (Elements of both indigenous and Spanish settlement patterns still exist in the Philippines today.) A new type of chief called a cabeza de barangay was appointed as the overseer under the Spanish command of the principalía—the elite Spanish ruling classes and statesmen. The cabeza de barangay could appoint a few sub-administrators and was exempt from paying taxes.

The Spanish rearrangements of the Filipino population ensured that taxes were collected for the Spanish Crown so it could continue to fund Spanish sovereignty in the archipelago. Although, ironically, for much of Spanish domination in the Philippines, the colonization of the archipelago cost them more than it produced in saleable goods and commodities, and resources from other parts of the Spanish Empire were used to fund the governance of the Philippines. This was true particularly in the first period of Spanish occupation of the islands, when the Spanish Manila government ran at a constant loss that could only be offset by subsidies from New Spain in the Americas. Questions over how to fund the occupation of the islands continued into the 18th century, but the archipelago remained a “white elephant” (not particularly useful) possession of Spain’s. Basic community services were provided mostly by the religious fraternities or cofradías—specifically education and medical assistance. Otherwise, the Filipino neighborhoods needed to rely on themselves for assistance with daily life, and the community members took turns assisting each other with activities such as building houses, farming, and other labor-intensive projects. This method of informal labor exchange continued until Philippine independence in the 20th century.

The Spaniards’ intense interest in Central and South America led to their holding a monopoly on the commodities from those places, such as gold, chilis, vanilla, cocoa, and other high-value items of trade. By 1571, the Spaniards had established the first trans-Pacific maritime trade route that linked its territories of the Philippines with Mexico, known as tornaviaje or “journey home.” (The first direct voyage of Philippine-Spanish trade occurred in 1767 by the frigate Buen Consejo—it was not considered a legitimate trade link for the first two hundred years of Spanish suzerainty.) This Manila-Acapulco (Philippine-Mexican, respectively) trade reached its peak in the 18th century, with cinnamon as the main export from the Philippines. Even though the Mexican, as well as Dutch, demand for this Filipino “gold dust” was insatiable and remained profitable (it was used prolifically to flavor chocolate at the time), it still didn’t necessarily warrant Spain’s efforts at occupying and governing the Philippines. So, even after two hundred years of occupation, they still weren’t sure if their suzerainty was worth the effort! Spain’s Mexican domains were still supplementing the Spanish Philippine government with an annual subsidy known as the situado.

However, the potential of the Philippines was (and remains to this day) immense if only a coordinated effort at agriculture, mining, and industry could have been mobilized and maintained by the Spaniards. Some historical European records referred to the Filipino Spanish as “indolent, negligent, and proud.” Apathy and corruption were ever-present and increasing in the Hispanic home government on the continent. Efforts by foreign (non-Spanish) Europeans to salvage the Philippines as an economic vassal were constantly overlooked or thwarted. The resident Philippine Spanish were suspicious of other foreign interlopers and unsure of their intentions. For the indigenous Filipinos, the Spanish had fundamentally changed their concept of land usage. The ancient communities employed communal land ownership—and, in some parts of the Philippines, still do—whereas the Spanish introduced the concept of private land ownership and commercial cultivation. It would not have been possible for the local populations under the suppression of the colonists to understand, let alone conduct, commercial farming practices.

One Englishman (although naturalized in Spain), Nicholas Norton Nicols, eventually persuaded the Spanish Philippine government to begin cultivating cinnamon on a grander scale, using alternative cultivars and methods to enhance the indigenous cinnamon. Unfortunately, after beginning his work in 1762, he met with a tragic and untimely death just one year into the start of his project. A few years later, a former assistant of Nicols, Francisco Xavier Salgado (1713–c. 1792), took over the cinnamon agricultural project that aimed to cultivate (and hopefully, in time, produce a globally competitive emporium) a refined form of Zamboanga cinnamon. Salgado had been authorized to continue with Nicols’s work by the dynamic and economically-minded governor general of the time, Simón de Anda y Salazar (in off. 1770–1776). However, even though Salgado had success within the first few years of his cultivation, starting in 1774, he could not sustain his efforts without the financial and political support of the Spanish government, especially after de Anda’s death in 1776. Although he received support from the European sovereign, the Spanish Philippine bureaucracy, slow communications, and despotic attitudes of the local government brought his efforts to a closing failure.

The Spanish continental Bourbon Reforms (Reformas Borbónicas) were a set of economic and political legislation updates by the Spanish Crown during the 1700s that brought considerable changes to the Spanish colonial territories, such as in the Americas and the Philippines. Instituted by a new lineage of kings (the French-originated Bourbons), as opposed to the Habsburg dynasty under which Charles V and Philip II had ruled, the Bourbon government code was less complicated and more decentralized than previous lines of monarchical control originating from Spain. It aimed to improve the hierarchy and define the independence between Spain and its colonies. (Some theorists suggest that the reforms were the root cause for Spanish colonies demanding and gaining independence within the next century or so.) For the Philippines, the Bourbon reforms were a positive influence on Spanish rule, as the Spanish gained increased economic independence toward the end of the 18th century. The reforms provided space for increased local entrepreneurship and privatization to an extent. It must be considered that many of the Spaniards who were born or naturalized in the Philippines were part of the upper classes, who considered industry, commerce, and agriculture beneath them. Individuals such as Salgado had been the exception, and in the atmosphere of the strangling effect of the Hispanic officialdom of the day, it was difficult, if not impossible, to make commercial progress as an individual (even for wealthy individuals like Salgado had once been).

In the 18th century, the Royal Audience of Manila wrote a letter to King Charles III of Spain (r. 1759– 1788) urging the Crown to abandon the colony that always seemed to be leaking funds, but the Catholic Church opposed the abandonment of the islands because it believed it could make ecclesiastical inroads into the rest of Asia from the Philippines. Despite this fiscal request, as well as experiences such as Salgado’s, historians mark the 18th century as a watershed time in the archipelago’s economic, cultural, religious, administrative, and military development. This period advanced the archipelago, forming the foundation for contemporary Filipino life. Salgado had begun his Philippine career as a government official and, by 1762, held the lofty position of secretary of the central government. He was one of the few, along with his superior Simón de Anda, who managed to escape during the British occupation of Manila—a twenty-month-long incursion from 1762 to 1764, which was part of the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763). (The Seven Years’ War was a global war that included five continents and many contested maritime regions, such as Nusantara, and has been equated with the first real World War. Although the conflict began in Europe between England, France, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden, it extended to the colonies of the various nations, such as North America and Asia.) Together, Salgado and de Anda managed to salvage enough Spanish pesos from the royal treasury before their escape to Laguna de Bay that helped finance the retaliatory war with Britain.

The British were intent upon using Manila as an entry point to trade with the East, specifically China. The Spanish paid a ransom to the British to prevent them from destroying Manila, and the exiled Spanish governor of the capital, de Anda, along with Filipino troops, prevented the British from spreading their occupation beyond Manila during the two years of occupation. Salgado used his personal wealth along with the salvaged pesos to finance a resistance movement against the British, as well as General Antonio Bustos, the chief Spanish military commander. Combined with Salgado’s efforts to intercept bullion (probably silver pesos) from Mexico arriving on northern Samar Island on the ship the Filipino, the Spanish eventually gained enough currency, and therefore weaponry, to win the local war against Britain and reclaim Manila.

At the same time, the 1763 Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years’ War and required Britain to return foreign territories, such as the Philippines, although this news reached Manila late, and the Spanish had already recaptured Manila. The treaty also included a promise by Britain to protect Roman Catholic territories in the New World. (Unfortunately, Salgado’s only son, José Eslava, was captured during the incursions and died in a British prison cell from disease.) Some British and Indian sepoy troops remained in Manila after the close of the Seven Years’ War and integrated into Filipino society. (Another ethnicity to settle in the Philippines during the colonial era were the Cambodians, who were fleeing persecution.)

Through the centuries of Spanish rule of the Philippines (333 years from 1565 to 1898), it gained and lost territory consistently to other forces, and although the existing conglomeration of islands that is known as the Philippines is impressive and extensive, Spain could have, at certain points, been the overlords of the large island of Borneo and even Cambodia on the Asian mainland. The unusual geographical and social arrangement of governing an archipelago meant that over the centuries of colonial rule, some Filipinos were entirely under Spain’s suzerainty and oftentimes almost enslaved to the Spanish, whilst other remote and rebellious communities ignored their presence and continued their customs and way of life—in certain instances, they continue to do so this day. The Spanish Philippine government considered their ongoing struggles with the southern Muslim principalities of the Philippines as an extension of the continental Reconquista, or the reclamation of European Mediterranean territories from the Muslims that had lasted from 718 to 1492. During the entire colonial era, the Spanish-Moro conflict continued, with the Spanish only managing to subjugate parts of Mindanao and Jolo toward the end of the 19th century.

The opening of the manmade Suez Canal in 1867 brought a flood of Westerners to the Philippines, who were keen to engage in regional trade. The canal also enabled Spanish-Filipino intelligentsia (the Ilustrados) to enroll in European education systems and universities. In 1863, Queen Isabella II of Spain (r. 1833–1868) issued a decree that established a free public school system in the Philippines but in the medium of Spanish. The Spanish also invested heavily in infrastructure during this century, advancing the Philippines far beyond its Asian neighbors and, in some cases, beyond many European countries (specifically when it came to building and transportation). The first regional bank, El Banco Español Filipino de Isabel II, was created in 1851 to deal with a 19th-century economic boom that was mostly bolstered by the export of agricultural products. Along with the establishment of the bank was the introduction of the first exclusively Filipino currency—the Philippine peso. Although the peso had been used previously on the islands, it was mostly in the form of silver bullion from Acapulco (specifically the Spanish dollar or the “piece of eight”), and it had been used in tandem with other currencies.

The Spanish were internationally applauded by this stage as having been successful and fair colonizers who had improved the livelihoods of the local peoples, who were generally content and prosperous. But not all Filipinos appreciated being colonized. Certain Filipinos that had settled in New Spain or other parts of the world, or even those employed in the navies and armies of foreign countries, were clearly discontent with colonialism and intent upon achieving anti-imperial societies—whether for their homelands or for others (specifically in the Americas and Asia-Pacific). During the colonial era, native Filipino communities abroad became known as Manilamen or Manila men, Tagalas (from Tagalog), and Lucoes (from Luzon). These men were slaves, indentured servants, sailors, mercenaries, and tradesmen. Communities of Manilamen sprung up from slaves who had escaped the Spanish Navy or were recruited from other parts of the world as sailors and pearl divers—such as from Louisiana, northern Australia, and the Torres Strait Islands (north of Australia). In Mexico (specifically the states of Guerrero and Colima), Filipino immigrants arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries on Spanish Manila galleons (built in the Philippines) and were referred to as chino. This naming created confusion with the later Chinese immigrants who arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries. A 2018 study revealed that one-third of the population of Guerrero has 10 percent Filipino ancestry.

Mexico achieved its independence in 1821 after over a decade of continued struggles that had been ignited by the reign of the French insurgent Napoleon Bonaparte (r. 1804–1815) and his supplantation of the king of Spain, Charles IV, with his own brother Joseph! (Joseph Bonaparte was the king of Spain from 1808 until Napoleon Bonaparte’s fall from power in 1813.) Naturally, this instability in Europe incited Mexico to fight for independence from an artificially installed head of state. Once Mexico gained its independence (which was again ratified by Queen Isabella II in 1836), its leaders expressed a desire to assist the Philippines to similarly gain liberation from the Spanish since many Filipinos had been present to liberate Mexico. A secret memorandum was sent from the new Mexican government to this effect. The irony of the memo was that it included the statement, “we must resume the intimate Mexico-Philippine relations, as they were during the halcyon days of the Acapulco-Manila galleon trade.”

This statement intimates that the centuries of the Spanish colonial trans-Pacific era were apparently blissful for both Filipino and Mexican communities! This begs the question of why the “freedom” referred to earlier in the memorandum of the “less fortunate countries” such as the Philippines was entirely necessary.

Uprisings against the Spanish in the Philippines only began in 1872, half a century later, but the colonizers were aware that changes needed to be made in their governance of the isles. By 1893, the Spanish aimed to create more local autonomy in the Philippine governance structure and drafted the Maura Law. This law was a belated attempt, and it was never implemented. The Maura Law took greater and detailed strides to integrate and elevate the role of the cabeza de barangay into a town board of executors (like a mayor), making him more connected to the provincial government. One of the parameters for the position of cabeza de barangay was that the individual needed to be of Filipino or mixed Filipino descent. Along with the cabeza de barangay, a series of lieutenants was appointed, including a chief lieutenant. Although this final 1893 Spanish law was never implemented, it laid the foundation for the American municipal system that came shortly after.



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