Ferdinand Magellan set out from Spain in 1519 on the first voyage to circumnavigate the globe with five ships and a complement of 264 crew. Three years later in 1522, only the one ship, the Victoria, returned to Spain with 18 men. The Philippines were the death of Magellan. The expedition sighted the island of Samar on March 16, 1521. Magellan was welcomed by two Rajas, Kolambu and Siagu. He named the islands the Archipelago of San Lazaro, erected a cross and claimed the lands for Spain. The friendly Rajas took Magellan to Cebu to meet Raja Humabon.
Humabon and 800 Cebuanos were baptized as Christians. Magellan agreed to help Raja Humabon put down Lapu-Lapu, a rebellious datu on the nearby island of Mactan. In a battle between Spanish soldiers and Lapu-Lapu’s warriors, Magellan was killed on April 27, 1521. Disputes over women caused relations between Raja Humabon and the remaining Spaniards to deteriorate. The Cebuanos killed 27 Spaniards in a skirmish and the Spaniards, deciding to resume their explorations, departed Cebu. For all its losses, the voyage was a huge financial success. The Victoria’s 26 ton cargo of cloves sold for 41,000 ducats.
This returned the 20,000 ducats the venture had cost plus a 105 percent profit. Four more expeditions followed between 1525 and 1542. The commander of the fourth expedition, Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, named the islands after Philip, heir to the Spanish throne (r. Philip II 1556-1598). The Philippines was not formally organized as a Spanish colony until 1565 when Philip II appointed Miguel Lopez de Legazpi the first Governor-General. Legazpi selected Manila for the capital of the colony in 1571 because of its fine natural harbour and the rich lands surrounding the city that could supply it with produce.
The Spanish did not develop the trade potential of the Philippine’s agricultural or mineral resources. The colony was administered from Mexico and its commerce centered on the galleon trade between Canton and Acapulco in which Manila functioned secondarily as an entrepot. Smaller Chinese junks brought silk and porcelain from Canton to Manila where the cargoes were re-loaded on galleons bound for Acapulco and the Spanish colonies in the Americas. The Chinese goods were paid for in Mexican silver.
Spanish rule had two lasting effects on Philippine society; the near universal conversion of the population to Roman Catholicism and the creation of a landed elite. Although under the direct order of Philip II that the conversion of the Philippines to Christianity was not to be accomplished by force, the monastic orders of the Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Recollects and Jesuits set to their missionary duties with purpose. Unable to extirpate the indigenous pagan beliefs by coercion and fear, Philippine Catholicism incorporates a deep substrate of native customs and ritual.
While the missionaries spread through the colony to found their parishes and estates in the barangays, the officials of the civil administration preferred to stay in Manila and govern indirectly through the traditional barangay datu or village chief. Although the traditional kinship organization of the barangay had maintained the communal use of land, the Spanish governors brought with them their feudal notions of land tenure with “encomienderos” and subordinate vassals. The traditional village chiefs became a class of landed nobility wielding considerable local authority.
The creation of a priviledged landed-holding elite on whom most of the rural population was dependent as landless tenants introduced a class division in Philippine society that has been the perennial source of social discontent and political strife ever since. In most villages, the priest and the local “principale” or “notable” represented between them Spanish authority. The “friarocracy” of the religious orders and the oligarchy of the landholders were the twin pillars of colonial society whose main interests were in keeping their positions of authority and priviledge.
The Spanish hold on the Philippines first began to weaken in 1762 when the British briefly captured Manila during the Seven Years’ War. In support of the British invasion, the long persecuted Chinese merchant community rose in revolt against the Spanish authority. The Treaty of Paris returned Manila to Spain at the end of the War but with increasing diversion of the China trade to Britain and, even more importantly, with an irretrievable loss of prestige and respect in the eyes of its Filipino subjects.
Spain had governed the colony for two hundred years in almost complete isolation from the outside world. The royal monopolies prohibited foreign ships from trading in the Philippines. After the Seven Years’ War, in collusion with local merchants and officials, foreign ships and merchants could ever more easily circumvent the monopolies and enter the Philippine trade. The colonial government had always operated at a financial loss that was sustained by subsidies from the galleon trade with Mexico. Increased competition with foreign traders finally brought the galleon trade with Acapulco to an end in 1815.
After its recognition of Mexican independence in 1821, Spain was forced to govern the colony directly from Madrid and to find new sources of revenue to pay for the colonial administration. Nationalist Movement and Katipunan Rebellion 1834 – 1897 Through the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Spain gradually exposed the Philippines to international commerce and, as a consequence, to the contemporary currents of European political thought. In 1834 Spain opened the Philippine ports to international free trade.
Until then, Philippine agriculture had produced little more than a subsistence plus the small surplus that local markets could absorb. Under the influence of British and American merchants trading internationally, Philippine agriculture was transformed from local self-sufficiency to the export of cash crops for international markets; principally tobacco, sugar and abaca (hemp fibre for rope). The commercialization of Philippine agriculture and the resulting economic expansion greatly advantaged the landed elite in the country and the Chinese mestizo merchants in the provincial centers.
Importantly, many used their new prosperity to obtain modern, professional educations, both in the Philippines and in Europe, for their families. The friarocracy had long used its control of education in the colony to maintain its position. The religious orders excluded the teaching of foreign languages and scientific and technical subjects from their curricula. The Spanish government conceded to the growing demand for educational reform and in 1863 introduced a system of public education that opened new opportunities to Filipinos for higher learning.
A long standing source of resentment was the exclusion of Filipinos from the religious orders and the priesthood. This led to the armed revolt of Apolinario de la Cruz in 1841. The Spanish put down the revolt and executed Brother Apolinario. Spain itself was having trouble adjusting to the liberal democratic aspirations of nineteenth century Europe. In 1868, a liberal revolution in Spain deposed Queen Isabella II and gave rise to the short lived First Republic. A liberal governor, General Carlos Maria de la Torre, was appointed at this time to the Philippines.
He abolished censorship and extended to Filipinos the rights of free speech and assembly contained in the Spanish constitution of 1869. The popular governor did not last long. De la Torre was replaced in 1871 by Rafael de Izquierdo who promptly rescinded the liberal measures. The following year in Cavite, 200 Filipino recruits revolted and murdered their Spanish officers. The Spanish suppressed the revolt brutally and used the opportunity to implicate the liberal critics of Spanish authority in an imaginary wider conspiracy.
Many liberals were arrested or driven into exile. A military court condemned the reformist Fathers Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora to death. The three priests were garroted publicly on February 20, 1872 and made martyrs for the nationalist cause. The Spanish repression succeeded in joining the religious and secular discontents in a common spirit of Filipino nationalism opposed to the colonial authority. The Philippine emigre community in Spain, exiles and students, developed the Propaganda Movement.
It advocated the moderate aims of legal equality between Spaniards and Filipinos, Philippine representation in the Spanish Cortes (parliament), free speech and association, secular public schools and an end to the annual obligation of forced labour. A prominent Propagandist was Graciano Lopez Jaena who left the Philippines for Spain in 1880 after publishing a satirical novel, Fray Botod (Brother Fatso), describing the life of a rural friar. In 1889 he started the newspaper, La Solidaridad (Solidarity), that circulated both in Spain and the Philippines and was the medium of the Propaganda Movement.
Another Propagandist was a reformist lawyer, Marcelo del Pilar, who was active in the anti-friar movement. He fled to Spain in 1888 and became editor of La Solidaridad. The most famous Propagandist was Jose Rizal. He studied medicine at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines and in 1882 went to complete his studies at the University of Madrid. He took an interest in anthropology with a view to discrediting the racial notions of Filipino inferiority through the scientific study of the history and ethnology of the Malay people.
His more popular works were his two novels Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo (The Subversive) published in 1886 and 1891 respectively. The novels portrayed the authoritarian and abusive character of Spanish rule in the colony. Despite their ban, the books were smuggled into the Philippines and widely read. Rizal returned to the Philippines in 1892 and founded a national organization for peaceful reform – La Liga Filipina (The Philippine League). He was soon arrested for revolutionary agitation and exiled to the isolation of Dapitan on Mindanao.
Rizal’s arrest and exile in 1892 set in train a chain of events that was to lead directly to armed insurrection for national independence. On the night of Rizal’s arrest, Andres Bonifacio founded a secret society, the Katipunan (The Highest and Most Respectable Association of the Sons of the People), modeled on the Masonic Order and dedicated to national independence through revolution. From its origins in the Tondo district of Manila, Bonifacio gradually built the Katipunan to a strength of 30,000 members. In another Spanish colony, 15,000 km away, the Cuban revolution for independence started in February 1895.
To escape from his exile, Rizal volunteered to serve as a doctor for the Spanish army in Cuba. Rizal’s offer was accepted but just as he left for Cuba by ship, the Spanish learned of Bonifacio’s Katipunan. The Spanish began making hundreds of arrests and Bonifacio had little choice but to issue the call to arms, the Cry of Balintawak, on August 26, 1896. Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto attacked the Spanish garrison at San Juan on August 29, 1896 with 800 Katipuneros. Insurrections also broke out in eight provinces surrounding Manila on Luzon and soon spread to other islands.
The rebels were not trained regulars and had little success against the colonial troops. In the province of Cavite, however, under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, the Katipunan rebels defeated the Civil Guard and the colonial troops. Meanwhile, Rizal was arrested in transit to Cuba and ordered returned to Fort Santiago in Manila to stand trial for rebellion, sedition and illicit association. He was tried on December 26, found guilty and condemned to death. Jose Rizal was shot by a firing squad on December 30, 1896. Rizal’s execution gave the rebellion fresh determination.
The Katipunan was divided between factions loyal to Bonifacio and Aguinaldo. Due to his successes in battle, Aguinaldo was elected to replace Bonifacio. Bonifacio withdrew his supporters and the two factions began to fight. Bonifacio was arrested, tried and executed on May 10, 1897 by Aguinaldo’s order. Aguinaldo’s forces were driven from Cavite to Bulacan where Aguinaldo declared the constitution and established the Republic of Biak-na-Bato. Both sides soon came to realize that the struggle between Spain and the new Republic had reached an impasse.
The rebels could not meet the Spanish regulars in the field but neither could the Spanish put down the guerrillas. Negotiations began in August and concluded in December with the Pact of Biak-na-Bato. The agreement extended a general amnesty to the rebels with a payment of US$800,000 for Aguinaldo and his government to retire in voluntary exile to Hong Kong. Aguinaldo left the Philippines with his government on December 27, 1897. While in Hong Kong, Aguinaldo and his compatriots designed what is today the Philippine national flag.
Spanish-American War / War of Philippine Independence 1898 – 1901 Relations between the United States and Spain deteriorated over the conduct of the war for independence in Cuba. On February 15, 1898 the American battleship, USS Maine, exploded and sank in Havana harbour under mysterious circumstances with the loss of 260 men. As war between the United States and Spain became imminent, the commander of the U. S. Asiatic Squadron, Commodore George Dewey, had discussions with Emilio Aguinaldo’s government in exile in Singapore and Hong Kong.
On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain and the Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, ordered Dewey to attack the Spanish fleet in the Philippines. The Battle of Manila Bay was the first hostile engagement of the Spanish-American War. In the darkness before dawn, Commodore Dewey’s ships passed under the siege guns on the island of Corregidor at the entrance to Manila Bay and by noon on May 1, 1898 had destroyed the Spanish fleet. Aguinaldo arrived back in the Philippines on May 19, 1898 and resumed command of his rebel forces.
The Filipino rebels routed the demoralized Spanish forces in the provinces and laid siege to Manila. From the balcony of his house in Cavite, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines on June 12, 1898. Whatever understanding Dewey and Aguinaldo may have reached in Hong Kong prior to the war, neither could have appreciated the full extent of the geopolitical forces at play. By late May, the newly appointed Admiral Dewey had received intructions to distance himself from Aguinaldo and his independence cause. The declared war aim of the United States was Cuban independence from Spain.
This was soon accomplished. The American forces landed in Cuba on June 23 and, with the surrender of Santiago on July 16, the Spanish sued for peace through the French ambassador in Washington two days later. Events in the Cuban theatre were concluded in less than a month. The United States had not expressed an interest in taking over the remnants of Spain’s colonial empire. On news of Dewey’s victory, warships began arriving in Manila Bay from Britain, France, Japan and Germany. The German fleet of eight warships was especially aggressive and menacing.
All of these imperial powers had recently obtained concessions from China for naval bases and designated commercial spheres of interest. American interests had reason to fear that leaving the Philippines to the designs of the imperial powers might exclude the United States from the Asia-Pacific trade altogether. By late July, 12,000 American troops had arrived from San Francisco. The Spanish governor, Fermin Jaudenes, negotiated the surrender of Manila with an arranged show of resistance that preserved Spanish sensibilities of honour and excluded Aguinaldo’s Filipinos.
The Americans took possession of Manila on August 13, 1898. As it became apparent that the United States did not intend to recognize Philippine independence, Aguinaldo moved his capital in September from Cavite to the more defensible Malalos in Bulacan. That same month, the United States and Spain began their peace negotiations in Paris. The Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10, 1898. By the Treaty, Cuba gained its independence and Spain ceded the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States for the sum of US$20 million.
Disappointed at having lost the opportunity to acquire the Philippines as a colony, Germany applied diplomatic pressure during the Paris negotiations to block the American request for the Caroline Islands. Spain subsequently sold the Caroline and Marianas Islands (less Guam) to Germany. The Treaty of Paris was not well received in the Philippines. Filipino nationalists were incensed at the arrogance of the imperial powers to bargain away their independence for the tidy price of US$20 million with not so much as a pretence of consultation with Filipinos.
Given its own history of colonial revolution, American opinion was uncomfortable and divided on the moral principle of owning colonial dependencies. Having acquired the Philippines almost by accident, the United States was not sure what to do with them. On January 20, 1899, President McKinley appointed the First Philippine Commission (Schurman Commission) to make recommendations. Aguinaldo did not need recommendations to decide what he would do. On January 23, 1899 he proclaimed the Malalos Constitution and the First Philippine Republic.
The hostilities in the Philippine War of Independence began on February 4, 1899 and continued for two years. The United States needed 126,000 soldiers to subdue the Philippines. The war took the lives of 4,234 Americans and 16,000 Filipinos. As usually happens in guerrilla campaigns, the civilian population suffers the worst. As many as 200,000 civilians may have died from famine and disease. As before, the Filipino rebels did not do well in the field. Aguinaldo and his government escaped the capture of Malalos on March 31, 1899 and were driven into northern Luzon.
Peace feelers from members of Aguinaldo’s cabinet failed in May when the American commander, General Ewell Otis, demanded an unconditional surrender. Aguinaldo disbanded his regular forces in November and began a guerrilla campaign concentrated mainly in the Tagalog areas of central Luzon. Aguinaldo was captured on March 23, 1901. In Manila he was persuaded to swear allegiance to the United States and called on his soldiers to put down their arms. The United States declared an end to military rule on July 4, 1901. Sporadic resistance continued until 1903. These incidents were put down by the Philippine Constabulary.
American Colony and Philippine Commonwealth 1901 – 1941 President McKinley’s Schurmann Commission (1899) recognized the determination of the Filipino people to gain their independence and recommended the establishment of the institutions for a civilian domestic government as soon as practical. Even though on March 16, 1900 the fighting in the War of Independence was still far from over, President McKinley appointed the Second Philippine Commission (Taft Commission) and gave it the legislative and executive authority to put in place the civilian government the Schurmann Commission had recommended.
In 499 statutes issued between September 1900 and August 1902, the Taft Commission swept away three centuries of Spanish governance and installed in its place the laws and institutions of a modern civil state. It established a code of law, a judicial system and elective municipal and provincial governments. The Philippine Organic Act of 1902 extended the protections of the United States Bill of Rights to Filipinos and established a national bi-cameral legislature.
The lower house was the popularly elected Philippine Assembly and the upper house was the Philippine Commission appointed directly by the President of the United States. Following American practice, the Philippine Organic Act imposed the strict separation of church and state and eliminated the Roman Catholic Church as the official state religion. In 1904 the administration paid the Vatican US$7. 2 million for most of the lands held by the religious orders. The lands were later sold back to Filipinos.
Some tenants were able to buy their land but it was mainly the established estate owners who could afford to buy the former church lands. The first elections to the Philippine Assembly were held in July 1907 and the first session opened on October 16, 1907. The Nacionalista Party of Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmena won the election and continued to dominate Philippine electoral politics until World War II. The political success of the Nacionalista Party was the skill of Quezon and Osmena in tying the traditional patron-client relations (utang na loob) to the new institutions of the modern civil state.
It was also their worst mistake. The Nacionalista Party was a network of overlapping patron-client relations that were more concerned with particular local and personal interests and little inclined to address the larger national issues of social reform; land ownership, tenancy rights, population growth and the distribution of wealth. The Party built the power and influence of the old landed elite into the new institutions of democratic governance. And what is the same thing stated differently, the new party politics excluded the non-elites from the rewards and benefits of representative institutions.
The failure of democratic politics in the Philippines to represent its non-elites and mitigate their grievances has been the recurrent cause of violent discontent and the desperate resort to revolt and insurrection. The Jones Act of 1916 carried forward the Philippine Organic Act of 1902. An elected Philippine Senate replaced the appointed Philippine Commission and the former Philippine Assembly was renamed the House of Representatives. As before, the Governor-General, responsible for the executive branch, was appointed by the United States President.
The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 established the Commonwealth of the Philippines which at the end of a ten year transition period would become the fully independent Republic of the Philippines. A plebiscite on the constitution for the new Republic was approved in 1935 and the date for national independence was set for July 4, 1946. World War II and Japanese Occupation 1941 – 1945 Japan had already been at war in Manchuria (1931) and China (1937) long before the Second World War started in Europe when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.
By 1941, Japanese military expansion in the Asia-Pacific region had made confrontation and war with the United States increasingly certain. In preparation for war, on July 26, 1941, General Douglas MacArthur brought the 12,000 strong Philippine Scouts under his command with the 16,000 American soldiers stationed in the Philippines. Even these combined forces were poorly trained and equipped for an adequate defence of the islands against a Japanese invasion. The attack on the Philippines started on December 8, 1941 ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.
As at Pearl Harbour, the American aircraft were entirely destroyed on the ground. Lacking air cover, the American Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines withdrew to Java on December 12, 1941. Japanese troops landed at the Lingayen Gulf on December 22, 1941 and advanced across central Luzon towards Manila. On the advice of President Quezon, General MacArthur declared Manila an open city on December 25, 1941 and removed the Commonwealth government to Corregidor. The Japanese occupied Manila on January 2, 1942.
MacArthur concentrated his troops on the Bataan peninsula to await the relief of reinforcements from the United States that, after the destruction at Pearl Harbour, could never come. The Japanese succeeded in penetrating Bataan’s first line of defense and, from Corregidor, MacArthur had no alternative but to organize a slow and desperate retreat down the peninsula. President Quezon and Vice-President Osmena left Corregidor by submarine to form a government in exile in the United States. General MacArthur escaped Corregidor on the night of March 11, 1942 in PT-41 bound for Australia; 4,000 km away through Japanese controlled waters.
The 76,000 starving and sick American and Filipino defenders in Bataan surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942. The Japanese led their captives on a cruel and criminal Death March on which 7-10,000 died or were murdered before arriving at the internment camps ten days later. The 13,000 survivors on Corregidor surrendered on May 6, 1942. For over three years and right to the day of Japan’s surrender, the Philippines were to suffer grievously under the depredations of military occupation. General MacArthur discharged his promise to return to the Philippines on October 20, 1944.
The landings on the island of Leyte were accomplished massively with an amphibious force of 700 vessels and 174,000 army and navy servicemen. Through December 1944, the islands of Leyte and Mindoro were cleared of Japanese. On January 9, 1945 the Americans landed unopposed at the Lingayen Gulf on Luzon and closed on Manila. The Japanese fought desperately, street by street, to hold the city. From February 3 to 23, its liberation took almost a month. When at last the fighting ended in the old Spanish citadel of Intramuros, Manila was in ruins.
Even after the capture of Manila, the Japanese fought on to the bitter end. The Americans made landings to remove the Japanese garrisons on Palawan, Mindanao, Panay and Cebu. The Japanese made their last stand entrenched in northern Luzon. General Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya, did not surrender in Baguio until September 2, 1945; the same day as General Umezu surrendered formally for Japan on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The liberation of the Philippines was costly. In the Philippines alone, the Americans lost 60,628 men and the Japanese an estimated 300,000.
Filipino casualties are estimated at over a million and, sadly, these occurred mainly in the last months of the war when the final outcome had long been decided in any event. The most serious long term consequence of World War II on the Philippines was to aggravate and embitter its internal social divisions. Prior to his departure for exile in the United States, President Quezon had advised Dr. Jose Laurel to stay behind and cooperate in the civil administration of the Japanese occupation. Whether it was good advice or not, President Quezon had hoped that with the cooperation of Filipinos, the occupation might be less severe.
Following Laurel’s morally ambiguous example, the Philippine elite, with regrettably few exceptions, collaborated extensively with the Japanese in their harsh exploitation of the country. President Laurel and his wartime government was despised. On the contrary, the great majority of the Philippine people mounted a remarkably effective resistance to the Japanese occupation. Investigations after the war showed that 260,000 Filipinos had been actively engaged in guerrilla organizations and an even larger number operated covertly in the anti-Japanese underground.
By the end of the war, the Japanese had effective control in only twelve of the country’s forty-eight provinces. The largest guerrilla organization was the Hukbalahap (People’s Anti-Japanese Army) led by Luis Taruc. He had armed some 30,000 guerrillas who controlled most of Luzon. By war’s end, the members of the resistance firmly believed that the widespread collaboration and corruption of the well-to-do had discredited the ruling elite and that they had thereby forfeited any moral authority to govern. The United States intended to restore the pre-war Commonwealth government.
Luis Taruc and the Huks had well known socialist sympathies and communist associations. Despite their political affiliations, the Huks fully expected the American forces to treat them as allies and war heroes in recognition of their resistance and contribution to the war effort. Instead, the U. S. Army military police set out to disarm them as dangerous insurgents. MacArthur had Taruc arrested and jailed Republic of the Philippines 1946 – 1965 President Quezon died in exile in Saranac Lake, New York on August 1, 1944. Sergio Osmena became President of the Philippine Commonwealth and came ashore at Leyte with MacArthur.
Osmena’s Nacionalista Party had split with Manuel Roxas leading the newly formed Liberal Party. Roxas had served in Laurel’s government and a bitterly divisive election campaign centered on his conduct during the war. Roxas won the election on April 23, 1946 to become the first President of Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946. Relations between the Republican government and the Hukbalahap were confrontational and often violent in the post-war years, especially as landlords returned to reclaim the estates they had abandoned during the occupation.
Roxas was in turns conciliatory and repressive in his dealings with the Huks. In 1948 he extended a general amnesty to all those arrested for collaboration with the Japanese and, in the same year, declared the Huks a subversive and illegal organization. Roxas died of a heart attack in April 1948 and was succeeded by Elpidio Quirino. Quirino attempted to negotiate with the Huk leader Taruc but the effort came to nothing. Huk strength reached its peak with as many as 15,000 armed men during and for a time following the 1949 presidential election campaign.
Quirino and the Liberals were returned to office. Quirino’s Secretary of Defense, Ramon Magsaysay, succeeded in his policy to put down the Huks militarily and gain popular support for the civil authority. He imposed strict discipline on the military police to restrain their abuses of civilians. At the same time, the Huks lost their popular support through their indiscipline. Many had become nothing more than common robbers and bandits. The Huks finally lost the sympathy and respect of the people with the murder of President Quezon’s widow and her family.
Magsaysay ran for the Nacionalista Party in 1953 and took two-thirds of the vote to defeat Quirino. Magsaysay enjoyed a popular presidency. He started many small but important local projects building roads, bridges, wells and irrigation canals. He established special courts to resolve landlord-tenant disputes. Taruc surrendered to the government in May 1954 signalling the decline of the Huk threat. Carlos Garcia became President when Magsaysay died in an airplane crash on March 17, 1957. Garcia was reelected President in 1957 in the warm afterglow of Magsaysay’s popularity.
The Liberal Party recovered its strength under Diosdado Macapagal who won the 1961 presidential election. Soon after taking office, President Macapagal proclaimed June 12 a national holiday in celebration of Philippine Independence. General Emilio Aguinaldo, who first proclaimed Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898, was the guest of honour at the first Independence Day celebrations held on June 12, 1962. Marcos Dictatorship 1965 – 1986 Ferdinand Marcos ran for the Nacionalista Party in 1965 and delivered Macapagal a resounding defeat.
Marcos initiated an ambitious spending program on public works; building roads, bridges, health centers, schools and urban beautification projects. He maintained his popularity through his first term and in 1969 was the first President of the Philippine Republic to win a second term in office. His popularity declined precipitously in the second term. The criticism of Marcos grew directly from the dishonesty of the 1969 campaign and his failure to curb the bribery and corruption in government. There was also a more general discontent because the population continued to grow faster than the economy causing greater poverty and violence.
The Communist Party of the Philippines formed the New People’s Army and the Moro National Liberation Front fought for the secession of Muslim Mindanao. Marcos took advantage of these and other incidents such as labour strikes and student protests to create a political atmosphere of crisis and fear that he later used to justify his imposition of martial law. The popularity of Senator Benigno Aquino and the Liberal Party was growing rapidly. Marcos blamed communists for the suspicious Plaza Miranda bombing of a Liberal Party rally on August 21, 1971.
A staged assassination attempt on the Secretary of Defense, Juan Ponce Enrile, supplied the pretext for the declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972. Benigno Aquino was amongst the first of the 30,000 some opposition politicians, journalists, critics and activists detained under martial law. With civil rights and the Philippine Congress suspended and his enemies in detention, Marcos brought in a new constitution in 1973 that replaced the Congress with a National Assembly and extended the term of the President to six years with no limit on the number of terms.
With pay raises and selective promotions, he made the armed forces under General Fabian Ver his personal political machine. With his wife and friends, he established monopolies and cartels in the agricultural, construction, manufacturing and financial sectors that extracted billions from the Philippine economy. By the time Marcos was finally forced from power in 1986, the Philippines was a poorer country than when he first took office in 1965. After five years in detention, a military court found Benigno Aquino guilty of subversion in November 1977 and sentenced him to death.
Aquino, though, was too well-known and prominent to execute. He developed heart disease in prison and in May 1980 he was released for treatment and exile in the United States. In order to gain the implicit endorsement of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church for his regime, Marcos ostensibly lifted martial law on January 17, 1981 – although all of the orders and decrees issued under martial law remained in effect. Pope John Paul II visited the Philippines in February 1981. A new election was scheduled for June 16, 1981. The opposition boycotted the election and Marcos won a huge majority for another six year term as President.
After three years in exile, Benigno Aquino decided to return to the Philippines. On his arrival at Manila International Airport from Taiwan on August 21, 1983, a military escort took Aquino from the aircraft and shot him in the back of the head as he came down the stairs to the tarmac. Lakas Ng Bayan: The People’s Power/EDSA Revolution 1986 The murder of Benigno Aquino was the beginning of the end for the Marcos dictatorship. The brazen assassination of the Philippine’s foremost opposition leader was headline news around the world.
It went almost unreported under the Marcos controlled media in the Philippines. The media silence was deafening and accusation enough by itself. Despite the limited news coverage, two million mourners attended the funeral ceremonies in the largest political demonstration to that time in Philippine history. Something had snapped in the Filipinos’ passive acceptance of the dictator’s repression. Aquino’s murder brought together the different elements of the opposition in a common cause to reclaim their political freedom and dignity.
The assassination precipitated a loss of confidence in the business community. Capital began to leave the country at the rate of US$12 million a day. By October 1983, the Central Bank of the Philippines was forced to notify its creditors that it could not meet its obligations on its debt of US$24. 6 billion. The default called in the International Monetary Fund to disclose the true state of the nation’s finances. The country was bankrupt. The Peso suffered a 21% devaluation. In 1984 the economy contracted by 6. 8% and again by 3. 8% in 1985.
At first, Marcos appointed Chief Justice Fernando to investigate the Aquino assassination. The Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin, was asked to sit on the Fernando Commission. He publicly expressed his doubts in the military’s version of events and refused to join the Commission. The Commission collapsed. Next, Marcos appointed an old friend and retired judge, Corazon Agrava, to head a five member Commission of investigation into the assassination. The Agrava Commission released majority and minority reports in October 1984.
Both reports concurred that the assassination had been a military conspiracy but they did not agree on the actual persons and numbers involved. Judge Agrava’s minority report absolved General Fabian Ver and named only seven conspirators. The majority report named 26 conspirators including General Ver. The majority report resulted in indictments against the 26 named conspirators. The trial began February 22, 1985. It soon became clear that the prosecution had chosen to ignore the findings of the Agrava Commission and was proceeding according to the military’s story.
As the sham in the court unfolded there were growing protests and calls for Marcos to resign. On November 3, 1985, with the economy imploding and his credibility at home and abroad in tatters, President Marcos made the surprising announcement of a snap election during a live interview on American television with David Brinkley. With his own formidable political machine firmly installed and his opposition unprepared and disorganized, Marcos was confident that a repeat of the 1981 election, in which he had taken 86% of the vote, could restore his legitimacy.
At first, the snap election was called for January 17, 1986 then changed to February 7. On December 2, 1985, General Ver and all 25 co-defendents were acquitted of complicity in the Aquino assassination. The next day, December 3, 1985, Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino declared her candidacy for President with her running mate for Vice-President, Salvador Laurel. Although the Aquino and Laurel families had been long standing rivals in Philippine politics, behind the scenes, Cardinal Sin had arranged a political match of convenience to defeat Marcos.
Since her husband’s murder, Cory Aquino, the simple housewife, had become the unifying moral symbol of opposition to Marcos. Balancing Cory’s lack of political experience, Salvador Laurel was an accomplished politician who led the United National Democratic Organization (UNIDO); a coalition of opposition groups in the National Assembly. The election was officially organized and conducted by the government’s Commission on Elections (COMELEC). The National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) was an organization of 300,000 volunteers determined to protect the electoral process from fraud and abuse.
It had close connections to the Roman Catholic Church and its organization reached down to the local parishes where priests and nuns did much of NAMFREL’s work. The campaign was a travesty of vote buying, violence and intimidation. In many electoral districts between 10 and 40 percent of the voters’ names were struck from the registration lists. On voting day, NAMFREL did its best to guard the polling stations and ballot boxes but still it had much evidence of widespread ballot stuffing and stolen ballot boxes to report.
Most of all, NAMFREL pushed for quick tabulation and reporting of the vote to limit the chances for tampering with the results. As the vote was counted, COMELEC’s tabulations reported Marcos in the lead while NAMFREL’s results reported an Aquino-Laurel majority. The day after the election, on February 8, the Roman Catholic Church declared the election a fraud. On Sunday, February 9, the computer workers at COMELEC headquarters noticed the discrepancies between the numbers they were processing and the numbers coming out in official announcements.
In the first of many courageous acts of public defiance over the next two weeks, the workers stood up and bravely filed out of the COMELEC computer centre in protest. The election count dragged on for several days with both candidates claiming victory. Marcos referred to the National Assembly, which he controlled, for a decision on the election result. The National Assembly declared the election in favour of Marcos on Saturday, February 15. Cory Aquino refused to concede defeat and called on her followers to rally the next day in Manila’s Rizal Park.
Close to a million supporters attended the rally on Sunday, February 16, to hear Cory outline a national campaign of civil disobedience. She called for a boycott of the businesses owned by Marcos’ crony capitalists and for a general strike to begin on February 25; the day of Marcos’ inauguration. Tensions grew. Aquino’s boycott was taking hold. Marcos intended to deal with Aquino’s civil disobedience and general strike by reimposing martial law. Plans were underway for the arrest of Aquino and 10,000 members of the opposition. On Wednesday, February 19, the United States Senate passed a resolution condemning the election.
New rumours began to circulate on Thursday that members of the Reform the Armed Forces Movement within the military were plotting a coup to preempt a declaration of martial law. On Saturday afternoon, February 22, Defence Secretary Enrile and the Vice-Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos, made their way to the Ministry of Defense at Camp Aguinaldo in Metro Manila and sent out their appeal to the military to join them in revolt. With only a few hundred soldiers to defend them, they held a press conference at 7 PM calling on President Marcos to resign.
The main traffic artery in Metro Manila is a wide boulevard named Epifanio de los Santos Avenue; known locally as EDSA for short. In eastern Metro Manila, the two military camps, Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame, are located directly across from each other on either side of EDSA. EDSA is the main access to both camps. At 11 PM that Saturday night, Agapito Aquino, brother of Benigno, went on the Church operated Radio Veritas and asked the people to protect the rebels. By midnight there were 10,000 people on EDSA chanting, “CORY! CORY! CORY! “. A few hours later, Cardinal Sin went on Radio Veritas to repeat the call for support.
Through the night, fifty thousand, a hundred thousand, a million people came out and, by morning, EDSA and access to the military camps was thoroughly jammed. A column of tanks rolled along EDSA on Sunday morning to dislodge the rebels. The tanks stopped when they reached the crowds. The people stood their ground and would not let them through. The soldiers would have to kill large numbers of unarmed civilians to get at the rebels. This the soldiers had not expected and were not prepared to do. Radio Veritas was the only radio station broadcasting news of the revolt to the opposition.
At 6 PM Sunday evening the transmitters for Radio Veritas were blown up. Another radio station quickly joined the cause and at 11:45 PM Radio Bandido was on the air carrying news of the revolt. Nuns provided security blocking the entrance to the station. Early Monday morning at 6 AM a formation of helicopter gunships approached Camp Crame. The huge crowds occupying EDSA below could do nothing to stop an airborne attack. After several tense minutes of thunderous hovering, the gunships landed in Camp Crame and their crews threw in their lot with the rebels.
Later that morning at 9 AM, rebels took over the government’s main broadcasting complex in Quezon City. The tide had turned. Defections were now taking place throughout the armed forces. The air force refused an order from General Ver to bomb and strafe Camp Crame. A lone helicopter flew over the Presidential residence at 11 AM and fired six rockets into the Malacanang Palace. The naval base at Cavite reported to the rebels that warships were on station at the mouth of the Pasig River and standing by for orders to shell the Malacanang Palace.
On the evening of Sunday, February 23, American Secretary of State George Shultz advised the Philippine Ambassador in Washington that if Marcos did not step down, the Philippines was headed for civil war. In Manila, it was already Monday afternoon on February 24 when the American Ambassador delivered the same message at the same time to Marcos personally. (Manila is 17 hours ahead of Washington local time. ) Marcos also received a message from President Reagan that he and his family and close associates would be welcome to live in the United States.
By the morning of Tuesday, February 25, almost the entire armed forces had peacefully deserted Marcos in support of Cory Aquino. In the suburban Manila nightclub, Club Filipino, Associate Justice Teehankee swore in President Corazon Aquino and her Vice-President Salvador Laurel at 10:30 AM, February 25, 1986. Two hours later, Marcos also took office in a separate ceremony at 12:30 PM in the Malacanang Palace. With the singular and ironic exception of the Ambassador from the Soviet Union, the diplomatic community did not attend the Marcos ceremony.
The television broadcast of the ceremony was cut shortly after it began. In the afternoon, angry crowds began to gather outside the Malacanang Palace. Marcos telephoned Enrile to ask if he could have American protection for his family and friends leaving the Palace. At 9:05 PM, American helicopters evacuated Marcos and 120 others to the safety of Clark Air Base. Marcos thought he would repair to Laoag; his political base in northern Luzon. At the insistence of President Aquino, Marcos and his party left the Philippines at dawn the next morning for Guam and then Hawaii.
Return to Democracy 1986 – 1998 President Corazon Aquino inherited a country that was bankrupt and impoverished and, after twenty years of dictatorship, its public institutions had been subverted and corrupted. She took power in a jubilant mood of wild enthusiasm and tremendous expectations for the future. Even amongst her allies who had joined with her to defeat Marcos, many had doubts whether the simple housewife had the political acumen for the enormous task of national reconstruction her administration faced.
Aquino immediately restored the basic civil liberties of free speech, freedom of assembly and a free press. She released 500 political prisoners. She dismissed most of the incumbent provincial governors and city mayors loyal to Marcos and replaced them with her own appointments. Similarly in the armed forces, she retired most of the general staff. A new constitution was ratified by referendum in February 1987. The new constitution replaced the National Assembly with a bicameral legislature and limited the president to a single, six year term in office.
Aquino entered into negotiations with the communist NPA and Muslim MNLF that greatly eased the threat of the insurgencies. Still, at least for her critics, Aquino showed an unwillingness to address the underlying economic and social problems that divided Philippine society. Members of the Reformed the Armed Forces Movement led six coup attempts against the Aquino government between 1987 and 1989. These were the same people who had risked their lives to put Aquino if office and who were now in revolt against her over the compromises with the insurgencies and the slow pace of promised social reforms.
Whatever her shortcomings, Corazon Aquino deserves full credit for restoring democratic process to the Philippines. On May 11, 1992 she presided over a fair, open and mainly peaceful election that resulted in the lawful and orderly transfer of the presidency to her Secretary of Defense, Fidel Ramos on June 30, 1992. If Fidel Ramos stands for anything at all, it is integrity. He was one of the original founders of the Reformed the Armed Forces Movement that had resisted the political subversion of the armed forces under Marcos and who, with Enrile, led the military revolt against the dictator.
It is doubtful whether the Aquino government could have survived the attempted coups without Ramos as Secretary of Defence; resolved, as he was, to a non-political, professional armed forces even against his former friends and colleagues in the military. President Aquino worked to restore constitutional stability in the Philippines. In his term, President Ramos worked to establish economic stability. He set out to improve the nation’s long neglected energy, communications and transportation infrastructure and to introduce the economic and financial reforms needed for a competitive industrial economy.
As he approached the end of his term, Ramos was complimented on his solid and competent performance as President by the encouragement from several quarters, including Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada, that he should seek to amend the 1987 constitution to allow himself a second term. True to character, after lengthy consideration, Ramos decided it was still too soon to open the constitution for amendment. On May 11, 1998, the former movie star Joseph Estrada won the second democratic presidential election since the EDSA revolution.
In the election of President Estrada to succeed President Ramos on June 30, the Philippines passed another important test of its democratic institutions. Estrada was the popular choice for President and not the preferred candidate of the outgoing President or of the political establishment. Genuine commitment to democratic government demands the unconditional acceptance of the lawful, constitutional process – regardless of its outcome. As Filipinos everywhere this year celebrate General Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration of national independence 100 years ago, the institutions of democracy in the Philippines do indeed seem secure at last.