Main Article: Quo Vadis Philippines?

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Balangay Replica Modern scientific tools such as geology, plate tectonics, archaeology, linguistics and genetics are increasing our understanding of Philippine early history. Many old theories – some of which are still taught in Philippine schools – are discredited, while many new theories are not yet fully proven.The territory that became the Philippines rose from the sea sometime in the past due to plate tectonics. The earliest prehistoric finds in the Philippines are Callao Man and Tabon Man. How the Melanesian Agta came to the Philippines is not fully clarified, old theories of land bridges are now seen as obsolete.The majority of Filipinos are of mainly Austronesian descent – the term Malayo-Polynesian being outdated.The Austronesians settled the entire Pacific and the area where the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are now. Madagascar and South America were also reached by Austronesian sailors. There are two theories of how Austronesians settled the Pacific, the out of Taiwan and Sundaland theories. One way or another, Austronesians already lived in the Philippines in the first millenium B.C.

Trade with India led to Indianized Kingdoms in Southeast Asia starting in the first millenium A.D. There are indications that it had to do with looking for gold or with the blockade of the Silk Route by the Huns. From the 7th to 11th centuries, Sri-Vijaya was a major power ruling from Sumatra, influencing the entire Malay area including the Philippines. The Kingdoms of Butuan and Tondo are evidence of Hindu cultural influence in the Philippines. The Kingdom of Tondo traded with Ming China. There may have been Japanese trading posts in Northern Luzon.

The second large Indianized empire in the Malay world was Majapahit on Java which existed from the 13th to 16th centuries. Yet following the old trade routes from the Orient via the Indian subcontinent, Islamic missionaries arrived in Southeast Asia starting from the 11th century onwards. Brunei became Islamic in the 15th century, during which the Sultanate of Sulu was also founded while that of Maguindanao was founded in the 16th century.

Brunei expanded its power in the late 15th century and established Kota Selurong or Maynila as a colony on the other side of the Pasig River around 1500, making the Kings of Tondo vassals. Other powers were getting interested in the Asian region by that time. The Spice Route was blocked by the newly founded Ottoman empire, forcing Europeans to find new ways, while Portugal and Spain still had a lot of energy from the recently succesful Reconquista. The Portuguese reached Sri Lanka in 1505, Malacca in 1511, Timor, Neu Guinea and Ternate in Indonesia 1512 and cornered the Spice Trade.

The Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 divided the world between Spain and Portugal along a line which more or less defines were Brazil ends today and Spanish South America begins. The areas east of that line were reserved for Portugal, which is why Magellan sailed the other way around in 1521. He died in the Philippines but his men reached the Portuguese areas after him. Soon after a war erupted between Spain and Portugal, after which the Treaty of Zaragoza in 1529 made clear the the Moluccas belonged to Portugal and the Philippines belonged to Spain. In 1545, the Potosi silver mine in Bolivia was opened. It was the main source of silver for the galleon trade which started in 1565, even before Legazpi subjugated Manila in 1571. Limahong attacked Manila in 1574 and there was the 1578 war of Spain against Brunei which ended with a decisive Spanish victory, securing their control of the business.

16th century Portuguese Spanish trade routes

The galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco changed many things. Southern Chinese traders came to Manila to trade Oriental goods for Spanish gold and silver. In China, Spanish silver became a major economic factor, especially from the 1750s onward. Charles Mann’s book “1493” shows how most plants in the Filipino song Bahay Kubo are not of native origin. According to that book, Filipino communities existed in Mexico City, with their own Catholic processions. That there was strong Mexican influence on the Philippines has been detailed by many authors. The Dutch entered Southeast Asia and attacked Manila unsuccesfully in 1646, but they did supplant the Portuguese in their areas. The British arrived in Asia starting in the late 18th century, occupying Manila from 1762-1764 and helping Ilokano rebel Diego Silang – and his widow Gabriela – against the Spanish. Yet they were not able to dislodge the Spanish or the galleon trade.

The late 18th century brought upheaval to Europe and America – the United States became independent, the French revolution started, the Napoleonic wars destabilized Spain and led to revolution in many of its colonies including Mexico. The galleon trade thus ended in the early 19th century. The only colonies Spain had left in Latin America were Cuba and Puerto Rico. The Spanish East Indies to which the Philippines belonged, which were ruled from Manila but also included the Marianas and the Caroline Islands among others, now was to be ruled directly from Spain.

Tagalog dress, early 1800s By the early 19th century, the territory of the Philippines and the people living on it were clearly defined. The state apparatus that the colonial government had put in place until then was rudimentary, more about keeping order and getting taxes especially in form of polo y servicio (forced labor) paid. In the pacified areas of the country, Spanish priests and the local principalia took care of most matters by themselves.The beginnings of a state were there, those of a nation were yet to come.Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 10. May 2015 with special thanks to sonny for contributing many inputs and Karl Garcia for constructive feedback.

Part of the Philippine History Series.