Philippines has 110 million people. The country is spread over more than 7,000 islands covering an area of 300,000 km2. Spain and then USA colonised the Philippines. Spanish colonialism in the Philippines began in 1521 with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, who claimed all the islands he saw for Spain. The Philippines came under Spanish rule for the next 300 years. In 1543, a Spanish explorer named the archipelago Filipinas in honour of King Philip II of Spain – hence the name Philippines is used. Spanish colonial rule saw the introduction of Christianity, and today 81% of the population of Philippines are Catholic Christians. It is said that due to the lack of birth control (contraception is frowned on by the Catholic Church) Philippines saw their population grow massively from 6.5 million in 1900 to 110 million in 2021. Jose Rizal is a local hero in Philippine history. He was the embodiment of the people’s pride and of their desire for freedom during the Spanish rule. For having formed an illegal organisation – the Philippine League – and for “inciting his people to rebellion” by his writings, Rizal was condemned to death by a Spanish military court. He was executed in 1896, at age 35. USA became the next colonial power and ruled the Philippines from 1898 to 1946. During World War Two, Japan occupied Philippines from 1942 to 1945. After the Allies (including USA) became victorious over Japan, Philippines became independent in 1946. Self-government had its ups and downs in the next 75 years (till 2021). Today, Philippines is considered to be an emerging market and a newly industrialised country, which has an economy transitioning from being based on agriculture to one based more on services and manufacturing. Many Filipinos go overseas to work, and they transfer a huge amount of funds back to their families in the Philippines.

  1. In about 2,000 words, I will describe major events that affected the Philippines from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1900 – USA won the brief Spanish-American War two years earlier in 1898, and Spain cedes control of the Philippines to USA; for this and other territories, USA pays a sum of US$20m to Spain. Local Filipinos under General Emilio Aguinaldo claimed independence and fought the USA in the Philippine-American War.
  3. 1902 – Philippine-American War formally ends. General Emilio Aguinaldo is captured. Convinced of the futility of further resistance, he swears allegiance to USA and issues a proclamation calling on his compatriots to lay down their arms, officially bringing an end to the war. Following this, USA civil government replaces military rule in the Philippines. Some independence forces fight on until defeat of the Moro resistance in the south in 1913.
  4. 1914 – (1918) World War One. The Philippines pledge assistance to the USA war effort. This took the form of an offer to supply a division of troops, as well as providing funding for the construction of two warships. A locally recruited national guard was created and a significant number of Filipinos volunteered for service in the USA Navy and Army.
  5. 1935 – A plebiscite approves the establishment of Commonwealth of Philippines, with transition to full independence after a 10-year period. The Commonwealth would have its own constitution and be self-governing, though foreign policy would be the responsibility of the USA, and certain legislation required approval of the USA president. Presidential elections were held, and candidates included Emilio Aguinaldo and Manuel Quezon. Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmena were proclaimed the winners, winning the seats of president and vice-president respectively.
  6. 1941 – (1945) World War Two. Japan launched a surprise attack on the Philippines on the morning of 8 December 1941, just 10 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Aerial bombardment was followed by landings of ground troops. Japan defeats USA in the Philippines. USA’s General Douglas MacArthur had to leave the Philippines and said he will be back. Manuel Quezon establishes a government in exile. In the Philippines, Japan established a puppet state with Jose Laurel as its president, and it was unpopular.
  7. 1942 – (1945) The Japanese occupation of the Philippines was opposed by large-scale underground guerrilla activity. Atrocities and war crimes were committed by the Japanese. USA’s General Douglas MacArthur reinvades the Philippines, and the Allied troops defeated the Japanese in 1945. By the end of the war, it is estimated that over a million Filipinos had died. The Philippines was the bloodiest theatre of the war for the Japanese, with at least 498,600 Japanese troops killed in fighting the combined Filipino resistance and American soldiers, a larger amount of casualties compared to the second-placed theatre, the entirety of China, which caused the Japanese about 455,700 casualties.
  8. 1945 – The return of the USA government in 1945 was welcomed by nearly all the Filipinos, in sharp contrast to the situation in nearby Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). The collaborationist “Philippine Republic” set up by the Japanese under Jose Laurel was highly unpopular, and the extreme destructiveness of the Japanese Army in Manila in its last days solidified Japan’s image as a permanent target of hate. The pre-war Commonwealth system was re-established under Sergio Osmena, who became president in exile after President Manuel Quezon died of tuberculosis in 1944.
  9. 1946 – Elections were held with Manuel Roxas becoming the first president of the independent Republic of the Philippines. USA ceded its sovereignty over the Philippines as scheduled. President Manuel Roxas’s administration granted general amnesty to those who had collaborated with the Japanese in World War Two, except for those who had committed violent crimes.
  10. 1947 – A military assistance pact was signed granting the USA a 99-year lease on designated military bases in the Philippines.
  11. 1951 – Peace treaty signed between the Philippines and Japan. The Philippines receives US$800m in reparations payments.
  12. 1965 – A lawyer and politician of many years, Ferdinand Marcos is elected by a big majority as president. Early in his presidency, Marcos initiated numerous infrastructure projects.
  13. 1969 – Ferdinand Marcos is re-elected president amidst allegations of electoral fraud. He is the first president of the Philippines to get a second term as president. He supports the USA policy in Vietnam. Muslim separatists in the south begin guerrilla war.
  14. 1972 – (1981) Amid the growing popularity of the opposition, President Ferdinand Marcos declares martial law to stifle dissent. Marcos justified the declaration by citing the threat of Communist insurgency and the alleged ambush by defence secretary Juan Ponce Enrile. Parliament is suspended, opposition politicians are arrested, and censorship is imposed. This period is marked with human rights abuses and corruption. Based on the documentation of Amnesty and similar human rights monitoring entities, the dictatorship was marked by 3,257 known extrajudicial killings, 35,000 documented tortures, 77 ‘disappeared’, and 70,000 incarcerations. Some 2,520 of the 3,257 murder victims were tortured and mutilated before their bodies were dumped in various places for the public to discover – a tactic meant to sow fear among the public. Together with his wife Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand Marcos was accused of corruption and embezzling billions of dollars in public funds.
  15. 1973 – New constitution gives President Ferdinand Marcos absolute powers.
  16. 1977 – Opposition leader Benigno Aquino is sentenced to death, but Marcos delays execution.
  17. 1980 – Benigno Aquino is allowed to travel to USA for medical treatment.
  18. 1981 – President Ferdinand Marcos officially lifted martial law. However, he retained much of the government’s power for arrest and detention. Marcos wins presidential elections – most opposition parties boycotted the election. Corruption and nepotism as well as civil unrest contributed to a serious decline in economic growth and development under Marcos, whose own health faced obstacles due to lupus and failing kidneys.
  19. 1983 – Benigno Aquino returns to the Philippines, but is shot dead at the airport tarmac as he leaves the plane amid suspicions of official military involvement. Ferdinand Marcos’ cronies were charged with this crime but were acquitted.
  20. 1986 – A snap election was called, and Ferdinand Marcos is opposed by Benigno Aquino’s widow Corazon. Marcos declares himself the winner, but Corazon Aquino disputes the result. The allegedly fraudulent election result was rejected by local and international observers. Millions join in an uprising against the Marcos regime, dubbed “people power revolution”. The Catholic Church, a coalition of old political opposition groups, the business elite, the left wing, and even factions of the armed forces all began to exert pressure on the Marcos regime. Cardinal Jaime Sin declared support for Corazon Aquino, which encouraged popular revolts. General Fidel Ramos and Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile withdrew their support for Marcos. In the capital Manila, the military abandon Marcos. Marcos and his family flee to Hawaii with the help of USA.
  21. 1986 – (1992) New Corazon Aquino government says Marcos looted 5 to 10 billions of US dollars during his rule. President Corazon Aquino had wide popular support but no political organisation. General Fidel Ramos and Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile had large stakes in what they saw as a coalition government. The coalition unravelled quickly, and there were several attempts, including unsuccessful military coups, to oust Corazon Aquino. The return of democracy and government reforms beginning in 1986 were hampered by national debt, government corruption, six coup attempts, a persistent communist insurgency and a military conflict with Moro separatists. Corazon Aquino survived her fractious term and was succeeded in the 1992 election by Fidel Ramos, who had served loyally as chief of staff of the armed forces and secretary of national defence under Aquino.
  22. 1989 – USA jets assist the Philippine government forces to suppress an attempted coup.
  23. 1990 – More than 7 years after former opposition leader Benigno Aquino was gunned down at Manila’s international airport, under President Corazon Aquino, 3 military officers and 13 soldiers were convicted in his assassination and sentenced to life imprisonment. The military personnel were also convicted in the slaying of Rolando Galman, described as a small-time hoodlum, who had initially been accused of killing Benigno Aquino but was later found to have been framed. Galman was riddled by bullets on the airport tarmac seconds after Aquino was killed with a single shot to the head. The military personnel were further ordered to pay US$300,000 to Aquino’s heirs and US$22,300 to the heirs of Rolando Galman, the framed man.
  24. 1991 – USA abandons Clark Air Base after volcanic eruption smothers the base with ash.
  25. 1992 – (1998) Corazon Aquino’s defence minister Fidel Ramos wins the presidency. President Fidel Ramos’ pragmatic leadership worked at coalition building and overcoming the divisiveness of the Corazon Aquino years. Foreign investors return. USA closes Subic Bay Naval Station. In an act of reconciliation, President Fidel Ramos allowed the remains of Ferdinand Marcos (he had died in exile in the USA in 1989) to be returned to the Philippines for burial in 1993. Efforts by supporters of President Fidel Ramos to gain passage of an amendment that would allow him to run for a second term were met with large-scale protests supported by Cardinal Jaime Sin and Corazon Aquino, leading Fidel Ramos to declare he would not run again.
  26. 1998 – (2001) Former film star Joseph Estrada, who had served as Fidel Ramos’s vice president and enjoyed widespread popularity, was elected president in 1998. Within a year, however, Estrada’s popularity declined sharply amid allegations of cronyism and corruption and failure to remedy the problems of poverty. Once again, street rallies supported by Cardinal Jaime Sin and Corazon Aquino took place. Then, in 2000 Senate investigators accused President Joseph Estrada of having accepted bribes from illegal gambling businesses. Following an abortive Senate impeachment trial, growing street protests, and the withdrawal of support by the armed forces, President Joseph Estrada was forced out of office in 2001.
  27. 2001 – Joseph Estrada is charged with plundering more than US$80m from state funds while in office. Eventually found guilty and jailed for life – he wins pardon by President Gloria Arroyo in 2007.
  28. 2004 – (2013) Gloria Arroyo wins presidential elections. Arroyo’s closest rival is film star Fernando Poe, Jr., a friend of Joseph Estrada. Gloria Arroyo narrowly defeated Poe, taking 39.5% of the vote to his 36.6%. President Gloria Arroyo’s 9-year administration was marked by economic growth but was tainted by graft and political scandals.
  29. 2005 – A taped conversation between President Gloria Arroyo and an election official surfaced during the 2004 elections implying she influenced the official election results. Calls for her resignation and demonstrations followed soon after. In September 2005, Congress voted down the filing of an impeachment against Arroyo.
  30. 2005 – Influential Cardinal Jaime Sin, who led the two peaceful revolts that toppled Presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada, dies aged 76.
  31. 2007 – Former President Joseph Estrada is convicted of plunder, the first ever in the history of the Philippines. President Gloria Arroyo granted executive clemency to Joseph Estrada.
  32. 2010 – (2016) Benigno Cojuangco Aquino III, a bachelor, son of past president Corazon Aquino and her late husband Benigno Aquino, wins the presidential race. First automated national elections used in the Philippines. Economic growth continued during his administration, which pushed for good governance and transparency.
  33. 2012 – Parliament defies the Catholic Church to vote for state-funded contraception, approving a bill that has been debated for 13 years. The chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, Renato Corona, was removed from office after an impeachment trial and conviction by the Senate for failure to declare his assets of US$4.2m. The vote was a watershed moment in Philippine politics, marking the first time an upper-level official has been impeached and removed through official channels.
  34. 2014 – Philippines Supreme Court approves a birth control law, which requires government health centres to distribute free contraceptives. The bill marks a defeat for the Catholic Church, which campaigned strongly against it.
  35. 2016 – Populist former mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte is elected president. He is the first president to come from Mindanao. Under his presidency, the government launched a 24-hour complaint office accessible to the public through a nationwide hotline 8888, and changed the nationwide emergency telephone number from 117 to 911. President Rodrigo Duterte launched an intensified anti-drug campaign; by August 2019, the anti-drug death toll for the Philippines is 5,779.
  36. 2016 – The Philippines Government welcomes the ruling in a case it brought before an international tribunal which concluded that China’s claim to much of the resources in the South China Sea had no legal basis.
  37. 2020 – (to 2021) COVID-19 pandemic caused more than 24,000 deaths in Philippines.
  38. 2021 – Philippines has 110 million people.

© Comasters July 2021.

  • Jim KABLE
    Posted at 17:50h, 02 July

    Jeff: You have made no mention of the half-a-million Filipinos murdered by the US when it took control of The Philippines in 1898. And then refused to hand over power to the Filipinos. Making the US an imperialist coloniser – taking control at the same time – of Cuba. It made a mess of the country – especially in the post-war era when it had two huge US bases – Subic Bay for the US Navy and Clark Air Base for its airforce. Drugs and prostitution surrounded both – hollowing out the clean soul and spirit of the country. People go abroad to work not because they want to – but because the US essentially destroyed its economic heart with corruption! I have a cousin whose nursing wife is from Baguio – the highlands’ capital in the north of the country established by the US around the turn of the 20th century – because of its cool climate – in an otherwise tropical country. It is beautiful – if you check it on line!

    • comasters1
      Posted at 17:03h, 03 July


      The Philippine-American war lasted three years (1899 to 1902) – about 4,200 Americans and 20,000 Philippine combatants died, whilst 200,000 Filipinos died due to violence, famine and disease. My blog post starts from 1900, so there is only a small mention of this war.

      In the main, USA took over the colonial power of Spain. Colonialism was still rife in 1900s. It began to taper off in the 1920s and 1930’s. Japan even thought in 1930s they could rid of European imperialism in South East Asia, but the Japanese Military turned out to be even more cruel than the European conquerors.

      Governments in Philippines since independence in 1946 have not been very effective. Corruption and internal fight made governments weak for decades. Yes, many Filipinos go overseas to work for better prospects.

      I have been to Manila. It has the good sections and the not so good parts. The people in general speak English and are friendly. Baguio is known as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines”, with its cool climate making it a spot to escape the chaotic scenes in Manila.