Philippine history, many argue, did not begin with the coming of the
Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Rather, it began
in the 13th century, when 10 datus from Borneo, each with a hundred of
his kinsmen, landed in what is now known as Panay Island in the Visayas.
Yet, it was Magellan and succeeding expeditions from Spain, who put
the Philippine archipelago on the map of the world. The intrepid Magellan
was dubbed as the discoverer of the Philippines after he landed in Homonhon
Islet, near Samar, on March 17, 1521. He was later killed in Mactan Island
of Cebu in a clash with native warriors, led by a chieftain named Lapu-Lapu.
The Philippines was a prize catch for Spain which, at that time, was
locked in a fierce struggle for world colonization with Portugal. The archipelago,
named Filipinas for Spain's Philip II, was composed of 7,107 islands
and islets spanning 1,854 kilometers from north to south. The Philippines,
also a window to the New World, stretched from China to the north and the
Indonesian archipelago to the south. The northernmost tip of the country,
Y'ami of the Batanes Island group, is 241 kilometers south of Taiwan, while
the southernmost tip, Sibutu of the Tawi-Tawi group of islands, is just
14.4 kilometers north of Borneo.
The Philippines, in fact, is at most strategic location, making it
a natural hub for commerce. Manila and Cebu are premiere centers of trade
in the region. To the east is the vast Pacific Ocean and beyond it, the
New World. To the west are the kingdoms of Indochina, including Cambodia
and Thailand; while southwest is Malaysia.
There are three major geographical groups in the country: Luzon,
Visayas, and Mindanao. The northern portion of the archipelago
is composed of the largest island, Luzon. The Visayas region is made up
of about 6,000 islands, including Panay, Leyte, Samar, Cebu, and Bohol.
Mindanao is the second largest island and encompasses about 400 smaller
Spanish colonizers succeeded in introducing Christianity in
Luzon and Visayas but were unsuccessful in Mindanao, where Muslims staved
off Spanish efforts.
Spain's rule lasted from the 16th to the 19th century but was marked
with a series of revolts. When three Filipino priests were executed for
national activities, a group of reformists formed the Propaganda Movement
that would later paved the way for the Philippine Revolution. A young doctor-writer,
Jose Rizal, was arrested and later executed by Spanish officials
for his scathing criticisms of Spanish rule in the Philippines through
two novels. Rizal, who was just 30 years old when he was executed, would
later be recognized by historians as Asia's first nationalist. His contemporaries
include Gandhi and Dr. Sun Yat-sen.
The Philippine Revolution was launched after Rizal's death and was
led first by Andres Bonifacio and then by Emilio Aguinaldo.
Philippine independence was proclaimed on June 12, 1898, on the balcony
of Aguinaldo's home in kawit, Cavite. However, the Philippines was annexed
by the Americans by means of the Treaty of Paris with Spain on December
10, 1898. This brought about the Filipino-American War. The Philippines
then remained an American colony for nearly 50 years. In 1935, a semiautonomous
Philippine Commonwealth was inaugurated in Manila, with President Manuel
L. Quezon and Vice-President Sergio Osmena. This became the Philippine
goverment in exile during the war.
From 1941 - 1945, the Philippines came under the Japanese empire. A
puppet goverment, the Second Philippine Republic, was established, with
President Manuel A. Roxas. This was the first fully independent and internationally
recognized Filipino goverment.
The Philippines then became the showcase of democracy in Asia and had
peaceful transition of power through many successive presidents - Roxas,
Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal, and Marcos. On September 21, 1972,
President Marcos declared Martial Law and pushed through a new constitution
in 1973, which prolonged his stay in power. He jailed his political rivals,
dismissed Congress, silenced media critics, and ruled as a virtual dictator
in what he called "Constitutional Authoritarianism."
On August 21, 1983, his arch-rival, former Senator Benigno "Ninoy"
Aquino, returned home from three years of self-exile abroad. At the airport,
Aquino was shot dead by a military assasin. This galvanized the Filipino
people to fight the dictator. And on Febuary 22, 1986, Defense Minister
Juan Ponce Enrile, Deputy Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Fidel V.
Ramos, and reformist military officers broke away from the Marcos camp
and prepared to fight a bloody confrontation with Marcos and his loyalist
forces. They were supported by the "People Power Revolution"
of Febuary 22-25, 1986, which forced Marcos and his party to flee to Hawaii
on board the US Air Force planes.
Mrs. Corazon "Cory" Aquino became the Philippines' First
Lady President on February 25, 1986. She was succeeded by President Fidel
V. Ramos in 1992.