The Philippines is named after King Philip II, the monarch who ruled Spain in the 16th century, when Spain claimed the archipelago as a colony. The name was coined, when Philip was still a prince, by the Spanish conquistador Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, who sailed from Mexico in 1542 in hopes of reaching the Philippines but was unable to find a way back.

Formal Name: Republic of the Philippines (Republika ng Pilipinas). Short Form: Philippines (Pilipinas). Term for Citizen(s): Filipino (s). The symbolic name for the Philippines, Juan dela Cruz, is not a Filipino invention. It was coined by R. McCulloch-Dick, a Scottish-born journalist working for the Manila Times in the early 1900s, after discovering it was the most common name in blotters.

Brief History of the Philippines

Several waves of Malay peoples arrived in the Philippine archipelago from Southeast Asia long before the arrival of Europeans. These tribal societies and petty principalities coexisted with links to China, the East Indies, and countries in the Indian Ocean. Discovered by Magellan, who was killed there in 1521, the islands were named Las Filipinas (the Philippines) in 1559 by the Spanish explorer Ruy L. de Villalobos in honor of Prince Philip of Asturias, who later became King Philip II of Spain. The first Spanish settlements came in 1564, and a colonial capital, established at Manila in 1571, quickly became the key transit point for trade between Mexico and the Far East. Under Spanish rule, a majority of Filipinos became Catholics, except in the southwest islands where the people remained Muslim. In the shadow of a tepid colonial administration, the Catholic Church grew in power and wealth. [Source: Jose Florante J. Leyson, M.D., Encyclopedia of Sexuality |~| ]

Independence: The Philippines attained independence from Spain on June 12, 1898, and from the United States on July 4, 1946. The Philippine Islands became a Spanish colony during the 16th century; they were ceded to the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. A nationalist movement gained strength in the late nineteenth century, leading to an armed uprising in 1896, the Spanish-American War, and defeat for Spain. In 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States for $20 million. When the nationalist movement declared the islands an independent republic, the United States refused to accept the declaration. A six-year war followed between 1899 and 1905, in which American troops brutally repressed the guerrilla uprising. In 1916, the Filipinos elected a Senate and House of Representatives, but the President was an American Governor General. In 1935, a Philippine Commonwealth, modeled on the U.S. constitution, was established. |~|

In 1935 the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth. Manuel Quezon was elected president and was tasked with preparing the country for independence after a 10-year transition. Japan brought the United States into World War II by attacking and then occupying the Philippines in December 1941. In 1942 the islands fell under Japanese occupation during World War II, and US forces and Filipinos fought together during 1944-45 to regain control. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

On July 4, 1946, the Philippines became the first Asian colony of the United States to gain independence, in accordance with an act passed by the United States Congress in 1934. In the 1970s, Muslim (Moro) secessionists fought repeatedly for their autonomy from the Christian majority on the island of Mindanao. In 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law to combat riots by radical youth groups and terrorism by leftist guerrillas and outlaws. Despite some land reform and control of inflation, opposition continued, as a high population growth rate was aggravated by both poverty and unemployment. Opposition to Ferdinand Marcos continued despite his lifting of martial law and his election in 1981 to a second six-year term as president. The 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino, the prominent opposition leader, sparked demonstrations calling for the resignation of the president. When Marcos declared himself victor in the bitterly contested elections of 1986 despite widespread charges of fraud, Corazon Aquino, the widow of Benigno Aquino, proclaimed herself president and announced a nonviolent “active resistance” to overthrow the Marcos government. |~|

A 20-year rule by Ferdinand Marcos ended in 1986, when a "people power" movement in Manila ("EDSA 1") forced him into exile and installed Corazon Aquino as president. A weak economy, widespread poverty, and communist insurgents kept the political scene unstable between 1987 and 1990. Aquino’s presidency was hampered by several coup attempts that prevented a return to full political stability and economic development. Government forces were able to put down an attempted coup in 1989 with help from the United States military stationed in the Philippines. = |~|

In 1994, the government signed a cease-fire agreement with Muslim separatist guerrillas, although some rebels have refused to abide by the agreement. Fidel Ramos was elected president in 1992. His administration was marked by increased stability and by progress on economic reforms. In 1992, the US closed its last military bases on the islands. Joseph Estrada was elected president in 1998. He was succeeded by his vice-president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in January 2001 after ESTRADA's stormy impeachment trial on corruption charges broke down and another "people power" movement ("EDSA 2") demanded his resignation. = |~|

Macapagal-Arroyo was elected to a six-year term as president in May 2004. Her presidency was marred by several corruption allegations but the Philippine economy was one of the few to avoid contraction following the 2008 global financial crisis, expanding each year of her administration. Benigno Aquino III was elected to a six-year term as president in May 2010. The Philippine Government faces threats from several groups, some of which are on the US Government's Foreign Terrorist Organization list. Manila has waged a decades-long struggle against ethnic Moro insurgencies in the southern Philippines, which has led to a peace accord with the Moro National Liberation Front and ongoing peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The decades-long Maoist-inspired New People's Army insurgency also operates through much of the country. The Philippines faces increased tension with China over disputed territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea. =

Colonialism and Historical Themes in the Philippines

The islands of the Philippines in ancient times had the closest links culturally to Southeast Asia and China. With the exception of Mindanao, and the islands south of it, influence from the islands that now make up Indonesia is thought to have been minimal.

The modern Philippines has been shaped very much by its colonial experience, which some Filipinos describe as “300 years in a convent under Spain followed by 50 years in Hollywood.” The archipelago endured 381 years of Spanish and American rule. However, some places like Mindanao and even the interior of Luzon were never controlled.

The Philippines is the third largest English speaking country in the world. It has a rich history combining Asian, European, and American influences. Prior to Spanish colonization in 1521, the Filipinos had a rich culture and were trading with the Chinese and the Japanese. Spain's colonization brought about the construction of Intramuros in 1571, a "Walled City" comprised of European buildings and churches, replicated in different parts of the archipelago. In 1898, after 350 years and 300 rebellions, the Filipinos, with leaders like Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo, succeeded in winning their independence. [Source: Philippines Department of Tourism]

A well-used adage here is that the Philippines spent 400 years in a convent then 50 years in Hollywood, referring to Spanish then American colonial rule. In 1898, the Philippines became the first and only colony of the United States. Following the Philippine-American War, the United States brought widespread education to the islands. Filipinos fought alongside Americans during World War II, particularly at the famous battle of Bataan and Corregidor which delayed Japanese advance and saved Australia. They then waged a guerilla war against the Japanese from 1941 to 1945. The Philippines regained its independence in 1946.

Whereas the economic legacy of colonialism, including the relative impoverishment of a very large segment of the population, left seeds of dissension in its wake, not all of the enduring features of colonial rule were destabilizing forces. Improvements in education and health had done much to enhance the quality of life. More important in the context of stabilizing influences was the profound impact of Roman Catholicism. The great majority of the Filipino people became Catholic, and the prelates of the church profoundly influenced the society. *

Influence of History, Spain and America on Filipino Culture

According to the Philippines Department of Tourism: Filipinos are a freedom-loving people, having waged two peaceful, bloodless revolutions against what were perceived as corrupt regimes. The Philippines is a vibrant democracy, as evidenced by 12 English national newspapers, 7 national television stations, hundreds of cable TV stations, and 2,000 radio stations. Three centuries under Spanish rule followed by 50 years of American influence has made the Philippines an Asian country unlike any other. Through a thick layer of Spain and America, you can glimpse the Filipino soul trying to express its unique, cultural identity through creativity. [Source: Philippines Department of Tourism]

Through music and dance: Our love of sosyalan (socializing), dancing and music, culminate in the province-wide street party and town talent show – the fiesta (festival). Usually a celebration of the earth’s bounty, be ready to dance in the streets to tribal drum rhythms (listen for the Latin influence). Or simply marvel at elaborate floats blooming with the season’s harvest and the town folk’s crafty work. From masquerades to mud fests, pilgrim processions to pageant parties, our island-style parties are open to everyone.

Through art: Naturally artistic, you’ll see our penchant for color and craftsmanship even outside museums and galleries. Pay attention. It can be seen in our handicraft, design, fashion. Spot it in our churches or our parks. It can be loud like our jeepneys or as clean as our embroidery, as brash as our tribal tattoos or as delicate as Lang Dulay’s weaving.

Through food Our distinct cuisine came from the comfort food that reminds Filipinos of family, home, and simple joys. Its many-layered flavors are expressed differently from kitchen to kitchen. So try to get invited as often as you can! Take the national dish, adobo (pork stewed in garlic, soy sauce and vinegar). It has as many recipes as we have islands. But we all share it. With islands so diverse, Philippine culture is a buffet or fun and festivity.

There is common saying that the Philippines endured 300 years of Spanish rule and 50 years of Hollywood. One Latin American journalist wrote that “self-awareness acquired with independence from Spain has been inseparable from a sense of backwardness and self-doubt. Describing her childhood, Imelda Marcos said, "I knew how to eat an apple before I knew the banana. I knew the American anthem instead of my own anthem."

Legacy of Colonialism on the Philippines: A Few Rich and Lots of Poor

Many of the most intractable problems in the Philippines can be traced to the country's colonial past. One major source of tension and instability stems from the great disparity in wealth and power between the affluent upper social stratum and the mass of low-income, often impoverished, Filipinos. In 1988 the wealthiest 10 percent of the population received nearly 36 percent of the income, whereas the poorest 30 percent of the population received less than 15 percent of the income. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The roots of the disparity between the affluent and the impoverished lie in the structure established under Spanish rule, lasting from the first settlement under Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565 to the beginning of United States rule in 1898. Friars of various Roman Catholic orders, acting as surrogates of the Spanish government, had integrated the scattered peoples of the barangays into administrative entities and firmly implanted Roman Catholicism among them as the dominant faith — except in the southern Muslim-dominated portion of the archipelago. Over the centuries, these orders acquired huge landed estates and became wealthy, sometimes corrupt, and very powerful. *

Eventually, their estates were acquired by principales (literally, principal ones; a term for the indigenous local elite) and Chinese mestizos eager to take advantage of expanding opportunities in agriculture and commerce. The children of these new entrepreneurs and landlords were provided education opportunities not available to the general populace and formed the nucleus of an emerging, largely provincially based, sociocultural elite — the ilustrados — who dominated almost all aspects of national life in later generations. *

Peasant Revolts in the Philippines

The peasants revolted from time to time against their growing impoverishment on the landed estates. They were aided by some reform-minded ilustrados, who made persistent demands for better treatment of the colony and its eventual assimilation with Spain. In the late nineteenth century, inflamed by various developments, including the martyrdom of three Filipino priests, a number of young ilustrados took up the nationalist banner in their writings, published chiefly in Europe. During the struggle for independence against Spain (1896-98), ilustrados and peasants made common cause against the colonial power, but not before a period of ilustrado vacillation, reflective of doubts about the outcome of a confrontation that had begun as a mass movement among workers and peasants around Manila. Once committed to the struggle, however, the ilustrados took over, becoming the articulators and leaders of the fight for independence — first against Spain, then against the United States. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Philippine peasant guerrilla forces contributed to the defeat of the Spanish. When the Filipinos were denied independence by the United States, they focused their revolutionary activity on United States forces, holding out in the hills for several years. The ilustrado leadership chose to accommodate to the seemingly futile situation. Once again, ilustrados found themselves in an intermediary position as arbiters between the colonial power and the rest of the population. Ilustrados responded eagerly to United States tutelage in democratic values and process in preparation for eventual Philippine self-rule, and, in return for their allegiance, United States authorities began to yield control to the ilustrados. Although a massive United States-sponsored popular education program exposed millions of Filipinos to the basic workings of democratic government, political leadership at the regional and national levels became almost entirely the province of families of the sociocultural elite. Even into the 1990s, most Philippine political leaders belonged to this group. *

Members of the peasantry, for their part, continued to stage periodic uprisings in protest against their difficult situation. As the twentieth century progressed, their standard of living worsened as a result of population growth, usury, the spread of absentee landlordism, and the weakening of the traditional patron-client bonds of reciprocal obligation. *

National Heroes in the Philippines

Chief Lapu-Lapu was responsible for killing Ferdinand Magellan, the Spanish explorer who annexed the Philippines islands as a colony of Spain on behalf of King Philippe in 1521. He is somewhat ironically regarded as a "national hero" as the first activist against colonial oppressors. The irony comes from the fact that lapu-lapu is the Filipino word for the grouper fish. [Source: Canadian Center for Intercultural Learning]

Three key members of the resistance against Spanish rule at the end of the nineteenth century are probably the most widely accepted "national heroes", namely Jose P. Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and General Emilio Aguinaldo. Jose P. Rizal, an international scholar, writer and poet is probably the most important national hero. Although a pacifist, he was arrested for complicity in the revolutionary movement and executed in 1896. This sparked off a violent revolutionary independent movement, which collapsed at the end of the Spanish American war of 1898 with the Americans taking over as the colonial power. Although Rizal was already a national hero, the Americans were particularly anxious to highlight Rizal’s non-revolutionary pacifist credentials and his reputation has grown steadily ever since.

Many pro-American Filipinos (probably a majority of Filipinos) regard U.S. General Douglas MacArthur as a Philippine national hero for his role in the Battle of Leyte Gulf that pushed the Japanese out of the Philippines during the Second World War. However, his actions against the Filipino freedom fighters after the war have tainted his reputation and status as a national hero.

From independence in 1945, right up until the present, the key elite families have controlled the presidency, and have continued to hold many of the sources of power. Presidents Magsaysay, Ferdinand Marcos, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada ("Erap") were exceptions and thus, were regarded as popular heroes while in office. President Magsaysay (who died in plane crash in Cebu in 1957 while still in office) is the only one to have maintained his unblemished reputation and popular national hero status.

Benigno Aguino, Jr., "Ninoy", as he is usually referred to, is regarded as a national hero in spite of his violence-riddled search for power in the late 1960s and 1970’s, almost matching Marcos’ record. Ninoy Aquino had returned in 1983 from medical exile in the United States to challenge the Marcos regime when he was assassinated by the military upon his arrival at Manila International Airport (subsequently renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport). His widow, President Corazon Aquino reluctantly led the opposition party against Marcos and the KBL in the rigged election of 1986, which was followed by the popular "people’s power" revolution. The Marcos’s fled to Hawaii and Cory Aquino became President to much popular acclaim. Many ordinary Filipinos, quite possibly a majority, still regard Cory Aquino—the reluctant politician—as a national hero.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.