Callao Man was discovered in 2007 and helps us to trace evidence of mankind in the Philippines as far back as 67,000 years ago. Although the evidence continues, the next notable trace of mankind comes from the Laguna Copperplate Inscription which dates back to 900 A.D.
Prior to the arrival of the Spanish the more than 7,000 islands in the archipelago were occupied by small kingdoms and communities with trading very much at the heart of their existence.
The modern day history of the Philippines is defined by arrival of the Spanish and more especially the explorer Ferdinand Magellan who landed in the region in 1521. It wasn’t until 1565 that the expedition led by Miguel López de Legazpi built a fort in Cebu. By 1571 the Spanish had landed in Luzon where they built the settlement of Intramuros, the present day Manila.
Spanish rule from this point was to last for three hundred years and drew together the disparate independent kingdoms and communities that had existed before. The Spanish conquistadors brought with them friars who introduced Christianity to the islands, especially in the north. They were less successful in the south where, especially in Mindanao, they were driven back by Muslims who had arrived through the trade routes.
The Philippines gained its name from the original title ‘Las Islas Filipinas’ which itself is named after King Philip II of Spain The island chain stretches from China in the north to Indonesia in the south and as a result was an important commercial and strategic hub for east west trade.
The Philippines grew in prosperity and were relatively peaceful until 1762 when the British captured Manila. They handed it back in 1764 under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.
The independence movement started in the mid-1800s and in 1872 a rebellion broke out in Cavite, after the execution of three Filipino priests. The revolution was put down but the seeds were sown. A writer, José Rizal, is credited with promoting nationalism through reform rather than revolution. It did him little good though, and in 1896 he was executed; a move that merely inflamed the movement.
In 1898 war broke out between Spain and the United States of America (USA) over an incident in Cuba. On 30th April 1898 an American flotilla defeated the Spanish in a naval battle in Manila Bay. This was the excuse for Filipino revolutionaries to attempt to take Manila and on 12th June their leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, declared the Philippines independent.
He was ahead of himself and, as part of the USA and Spanish peace treaty, the Philippines were ceded to America. On 4th February 1899 war broke out between the United States and the Filipino rebels. The war lasted until 1902 and was very costly in civilian lives with many atrocities committed on both sides. But when Aguinaldo was captured he was convinced that resistance was futile and ordered his troops to end the war. Most did but not all and a guerrilla war continued at a low level until 1913, especially in the Muslim south.
In 1900 the Taft Commission was sent by the US president William McKinley tasked with the job of establishing laws and a political system. William Howard Taft went on to become the first civil governor in July 1901 and subsequently Governor-General.
The Americans wanted to Americanise the Filipino’s (they largely failed) and their rule was paternalistic. In 1907 a bicameral legislature was inaugurated with a lower Philippine Assembly. It was at this point that the Nacionalista Party (NP) was founded which wanted independence but was largely accommodating of the Americans; the party remains a force to this day.
On 30th July 1934 a Constitutional Convention was held and on 8th February 1935 the constitution of the Republic of the Philippines was agreed. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the changes and on 14th May 1935 it was ratified by popular vote.
On 17th September 1935 presidential elections were held and Manuel L. Quezon became the second President of the Philippines (the first was Emilio Aguinaldo between 1899 and 1901). On 15th November the semi-independent Commonwealth Government was inaugurated with a promise by the Americans that the Filipinos would have full independence by 1945.
In December 1941 the Japanese invaded the islands and remained until 2nd September 1945 when they formally surrendered. In the interim more than one million Filipinos had lost their lives although the Filipino army and remnants of the American forces had shown the effectiveness of guerrilla warfare against their enemy.
Fresh elections were held in April 1946 and Manual Roxas became the first president of an independent Philippines. America ceded sovereignty over the country on 4th July 1946. Roxas died two years later and his Vice president, Elpidio Quirin, took over and went on to win the 1949 election. His government defeated a communist insurgency and started the work of rebuilding the country after the devastation of World war Two.
Quirin’s former Defence Secretary, Ramon Magsaysay took over in 1953 but was killed in an aeroplane crash in 1957, he was replaced by the less popular Carlos P. Garcia who lasted for four years before being replaced by Diosdado Macapagal in 1961.
A series of well-meaning but relatively non-descript presidents where then succeeded by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1965 who went on to rule until 1986. Marcos started well, building roads and schools along with other works projects. In 1969 he was re-elected but a communist uprising in Mindanao (the Moro National Liberation Front or MNLF) caused him to declare martial law. Although the economy continued to grow, civil rights suffered and corruption was rife.
Marcos introduced a new constitution in 1973 which changed the government from presidential to parliamentary and consequently allowing him to remain in power. Martial law was lifted in 1981but the state was corrupted and the opposition boycotted the 1981 presidential elections.
In 1983 opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. was assassinated as he returned to the country which triggered a series of events leading to a snap presidential election in 1986 in which Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino stood for the opposition. Although Marcos was declared the winner it was clear that the election was fraudulent and key figures withdrew their support from Marcos. He was forced into exile and President Corazon Aquino was installed on 25th February 1986.
President, Aquino oversaw the promulgation of a new constitution limiting the powers of the presidency and establishing a bicameral legislature. Unfortunately her government was seen as weak and suffered from seven coup attempts.
Aquino was replaced in 1992 by Fidel V. Ramos who worked for national reconciliation. His government did gain a peace agreement with the MNLF after 24 years of insurgency but another group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continued the armed uprising. His government also improved the infrastructure of the country, especially the electricity supply, and privatised a number of industries. Ramos did not seek re-election and in 1998 he was replaced by Joseph Estrada with 39.86% of the vote.
Estrada did achieve a gentle improvement in the economy despite the Asian Financial Crisis but he is better known for declaring all-out war against MILF. In 2000 Estrada was impeached for corruption and was forced from office in January 2001.
Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, daughter of the late President Diosdado Macapagal, was sworn in on 20th January 2001 and won a complete term when the country held a presidential election June 2004. Average economic growth was 4.5% under Arroyo, the highest for decades and the country also managed better than most in surviving the 2008 economic crisis. However the president’s tenure was seen as being corrupt and after leaving office, on 18th November 2011, she was arrested and charged with electoral sabotage and other offences.
Benigno Aquino III (the son of Corazon Aquino) became the latest in a string of Aquino’s to achieve political office when, on 30th June 2010, he became the fifteenth President of the Philippines.
The President and Vice President are elected on separate tickets by popular vote for a single six year term.
Parliament consists of a bicameral Congress. The Senate consists of 24 members; half elected every three years to serve six year terms. The House of Representatives has 287 members of whom 230 members represent districts as well as 57 party list members, all are elected to serve for three years.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places the Philippines at joint 101st out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 35 (where 100 is least corrupt).