New Internationalist

Simply… The Philippines

Issue 205

new internationalist
issue 205 - March 1990

[image, unknown] THE PHILIPPINES

A HISTORY...

[image, unknown] 1. EARLY COMMUNITIES

 

The native inhabitants of the islands 2,000 years ago moved around by boat, settling by the sea and along river banks. These tribes developed many different languages and cultures of their own - as well as being heavily influenced by contact with Chinese, Indians and, in the south, Muslims. The extraordinary network of rice terraces still in use in northern Luzon is testimony to the sophistication of their agriculture. And by the sixteenth century they had both literature and a legal tradition.

 

[image, unknown] 2. THE SPANISH CONQUEST

 

Photo: CAMERA PRESS Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan came across the islands in 1521 after sailing round the South American coast in search of a route to China. He was given a friendly welcome and even persuaded the king of Cebu to become a Christian and swear allegiance to Spain. But Magellan was killed trying to subdue one of the other chiefs. Philip II of Spain ordered another expedition to the islands (now named the Philippines in his honour). The conquest which began in 1560 was often violent but not as brutal as in South America. Each expedition was accompanied by missionaries who often took the side of the natives against the soldiers - though later the 'friars' were to prove just as avaricious and exploitative.

 

[image, unknown] 3. GALLEONS AND FEUDAL LORDS

 

The Spanish did not find many riches in the Philippines. There was only one spice, cinammon, and the gold was relatively difficult to mine. The islands' chief importance was a centre for trade with the Chinese. Junks would arrive from China and their contents would be loaded onto Spanish galleons which sailed on to Mexico.

The Spanish only partly hispanicized the local population - many local customs survived. But one of the major Spanish legacies was that of the landlord or hacendero who had a feudal control of the workers on his land - a system which still survives in parts of the Philippines to this day. The greatest resistance to Spanish occupation came in the Muslim areas of the south and the Cordillera region of Luzon, parts of which were never really conquered and still demand autonomy from the central government today.

 

[image, unknown] 4. THE FILIPINOS

At first it was only the Spanish and their descendants who called themselves Filipinos.

But with the opening of the country to world trade in the nineteenth century Manila became a thriving port and a new native elite emerged. They too wanted to be seen as Filipinos and many of the more enlightened demanded reforms from Spain. National heroes such as Jose Rizal started to create a sense of national identity, though they were not revolutionaries, It was left to the working class, the Katipuneros, led by Andres Bonifaclo, to start the armed rebellion for independence in 1896.

 

[image, unknown] 5. INDEPENDENCE DENIED

But events thousands of miles away were to deny them. The US and Spain were in dispute over Cuba and war was declared in 1898. This extended across the Pacific and the US Navy under Admiral Dewey sank the Spanish ships in Manila bay. He had no troops to fight the Spanish on land so he allied himself with the Filipino rebel groups now led by Emillo Aguinaldo. Aguinaldo was able to declare the Philippines an independent republic on June 12 1898.

He was betrayed. US President McKinley (who claimed to have been inspired by a vision) had decided that the Philippines would be a US colony and he despatched troops. The ensuing Philippine-American war which lasted till 1906 cost the lives of one-fifth of the Filipino population before the eventual US victory.

 

[image, unknown] 6. THE US COLONY

Illustration: Deng Coy Miel Many Filipinos now allied themselves with the US occupation. Free trade was established between the US and the Philippines - by 1932 some 85 per cent of Philippine trade went to the US, making the country almost totally dependent. Hundreds of US teachers were shipped in - and English rather than Spanish became the language of business.

But many Filipinos had resisted US colonization from the outset. And by 1934, pressures both at home and in the colony resulted in the US deciding that the Philippines would become politically independent in 1946.

The process was interrupted by World War Two. In 1941 the US abandoned the Philippines to the Japanese. Many Filipinos collaborated with them but others joined guerilla groups like the communist-inspired 'Huks'.

Independence did come in 1946. But there were strings attached. The US demanded naval and air facilities in the Philippines rent-free. And US citizens were granted the same commercial rights as Filipinos.

 

[image, unknown] 7. FIGHTING THE 'COMMUNIST MENACE'

The Huks continued their rebellion but this time against a Filipino government. American advisors and aid flowed in to help fight the 'menace of communism' and the rebellion was subdued, The process of Americanization intensified as many leading Filipinos went to the US for training. Among the nationalists protesting at this was Claro Recto. But his bid for the Presidency in 1957 was sabotaged by the CIA.

By the early 1960s the country as a whole was becoming wealthier but the benefits had not reached the poor. Attempts at land reform had been stifled by a landlord-dominated Congress. And most of the export business was owned or controlled by Americans. There were two major political parties, the Liberals and the Nacionalistas, but there was little to choose between them. Politicians moved freely between one and the other - and elections were won by those who could buy the most votes.

It was the student groups of the 1960s who were to challenge this system. One of the most radical was led by Jose Maria Sison who united in 1968 with a legendary Huk leader, Commander Dante Buscayno, to form the new Communist Party of the Philippines and a year later its military arm, the New People's Army (NPA).

 

[image, unknown] 8. FERDINAND MARCOS

Photo: CAMERA PRESS Meanwhile a very astute politician, Ferdinand Marcos, had been elected President in 1965. In 1969 he disturbed the conventional alternation of power between the elite groups by getting himself re-elected. He and his ex-singer wife Imelda developed an extravagant lifestyle financed by graft and corruption on a massive scale - in close collaboration with a group of equally greedy allies dubbed the 'cronies'.

In 1972, a year before he was constitutionally required to retire, Marcos declared martial law. This offered a stable, strike-free climate which was very attractive to foreign investors. US aid was stepped up and commercial loans flooded in. Much of this money was redirected into the Marcos coffers

 

[image, unknown] 9. PEOPLE POWER

Photo: CAMERA PRESS By the late 1970s the gross excesses and economic failures of the Marcos regime were provoking strong resistance. Mass actions from students and the urban poor met with increasing support from the Church, while in the countryside the ranks of the NPA were swelling daily. In 1981 Marcos lifted martial law and declared himself re-elected in another rigged ballot.

One of the fiercest critics of Marcos, Benigno Aquino, was exiled in the US. In 1983 he decided to return, only to be shot as he stepped off the plane at Manila airport. This was the beginning of the end for Marcos. The millions who mourned Aquino's death had little experience of mass protest and several attempts at unified action failed. But eventually they came together - everyone from the far left to the old political families,

Their chance came with the snap election Marcos called in 1985 in which he ran against Aquino's widow Cory. Marcos rigged a victory but the people took to the streets to defy him and even drew the military to their side. The US finally withdrew its support and Marcos and Imelda fled to Hawaii.

 

[image, unknown] 10. THE MILITARY SOLUTION

Cory Aquino is an undeniably clean politician. But she has done little about the old problems of poverty and injustice. She herself comes from one of the largest landowning families. And, although there was a temporary ceasefire with the NPA, negotiations broke down because she could not offer a convincing land-reform programme. The NPA returned underground and she declared 'total war' on them - a war that is claiming many innocent lives. Some of the military have plotted coups against her. The army, together with the paramilitary vigilante groups they encourage, are turning parts of the country into a battleground. Ironically many people find themselves more oppressed under Aquino than they were under Marcos.

previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page next page


This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7

Comments on Simply... The Philippines

Leave your comment