To know where the Philippines is going, it is important to know how it came to be. How the islands that became the Philippines were settled is a subject of numerous theories. The earliest documented trace of a civilization is the Laguna copperplate, dated to 900 A.D. and mentioning Tondo for the first time. Tondo was also known to have contact with the Ming dynasty. Around 1500, the Sultanate of Brunei established a city known as Kota Selurong on the opposite bank of the river Pasig. This city was also called Maynila, possibly due to a native plant growing there.

After first landing in the Philippines in 1521, the Spanish eventually conquered the Manila Bay area and founded the city of Manila on the place where Kota Selurong was in 1571. After some initial difficulties and insurrections, Manila became the capital of the Spanish East Indies which included the Philippines, Guam, the Caroline islands, parts of what is now Taiwan and the Moluccas under the Viceroyalty of New Spain which was in Mexico City. The galleon trade between Acapulco and Manila persisted for around 250 years, loading silver from Potosi and Mexico to be traded for oriental goods taken to Manila by Chinese merchants. Inspite of  numerous revolts, Chinese pirates and Muslim sultanates in the South that were never fully under Spanish control and regularly conducted slave raids, and a short British occupation of Manila in the late 18th century, the Philippines was ruled via Mexico until it became independent in the early 19th century.

Direct Spanish rule brought many changes, especially from the mid-19th century onwards, when public schooling was introduced and the Suez canal was opened, leading to more educated and affluent people in the country. John Crawfurd said in his book History of the Indian Archipelago, (1820) that the “Philippines alone did improve in civilization, wealth, and populousness under the colonial rule”. Increasing opportunities led Filipinos seek first more autonomy, then finally independence. A revolution broke out in 1896, also the start of the Spanish-American war.

The United States had supported the revolution, but then bought the Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines from Spain in 1898, while Cuba was released into independence. The Philippine-American war broke out between the newly declared Philippine Republic and the United States and lasted for three years, with the last rebel groups surrendering years later. From 1901-1913, the United States fought the Moro Wars against the Muslims in the South of the Philippines. The United States consolidated their colonial rule over the Philippines, then gave autonomy in 1935.

The Philippine Commonwealth prospered from 1935 onwards, only to be interrupted by the Japanese invasion. After returning to the Philippines, the United States released the country into independence in 1946, with United States bases that stayed until 1991 and preferential trade agreements that lasted until the early 1970s. President Ferdinand Marcos, who had been voted into power twice in 1965 and 1969, declared Martial Law in 1972. Even if Martial Law was officially lifted in 1981, Marcos rule was a de facto dictatorship marked by numerous human rights abuses.

The murder of Marcos rival Benigno Aquino Jr. at Manila International Airport in 1983 fueled a mass movement that culminated in snap elections in 1986 and the People Power movement that made his widow Corazon Aquino President in 1986 via the February revolution on EDSA where Minister of Defence Juan Ponce Enrile and Philippine Constabulary chief Fidel Ramos switched sides. Under the new Constitution, “Cory” ruled for six years until 1992, a time marked by numerous military coups and troubles. President Fidel Ramos took over in 1992 and ruled until 1998.

Former actor Joseph Estrada, also known as “Erap”, was voted into the Presidency due to his popularity in 1998. Numerous scandals caused him to face impeachment in 2000, a new mass uprising know as EDSA Dos caused him to be ousted and replaced by his Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2000. Arroyo’s reelection in 2004 was marred by the Hello Garci scandal. Numerous scandals caused President Arroyo to become very unpopular. In the hope of a better future, the Filipino people voted the son of Benigno and Corazon Aquino into power in 2010.

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III brought economic progress and modernization into the country and also was able to reduce corruption, but had enormous difficulties in dealing with entrenched political forces. His term has been beset by political crises since the beginning, the most severe one being the recent massacre of 44 Special Actions Forces policemen in Mamasapano in course of killing the international terrorist Marwan who was hiding in the area. Autonomy for Filipino Muslim areas after more than 40 years of conflict is being questioned as a result.

The coming 2016 election is seen as the most important election, especially in view of the progress the country has made. The Asian region is becoming more important. China is making a grab at islands also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam, which may cooperate more in the near future. Malaysia was heavily involved in the negotiations for the Bangsamoro Basic Law which is designed to give autonomy to Filipino Muslim regions. The United States is the Philippine’s major ally. In this situation the question is – where is the Philippines going next? Into what future?

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, April 23rd 2015