The Philippines and Spain: AD 1521-1898
Like the other island groups of southeast Asia, the Philippines have very early human inhabitants – perhaps even as long as 60,000 years ago. In more recent history the main outside influences are Chinese, Hindu and – from the 15th century – Muslim. But no external power tries to dominate or unify the scattered islands (more than 7000 in the archipelago) until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.
Magellan, sailing on behalf of Spain, is the first European to reach the Philippines (in 1521). But the first permanent Spanish settlement is established in 1564 by Miguel López de Legazpi.
Legazpi, appointed governor general, makes his capital at Manila in 1571. In the same year he names the new colony the Philippines in honour of the Spanish king, Philip II.
Until the end of the 17th century Spanish rule is often precarious, with the main threat coming from the Dutch (as a rival colonial power in the far east) and from the Muslims (whose presence in the southern islands has preceded that of the Spanish). The Muslims are known to the Spanish as Moros, linking them with Spain’s historic Muslim enemies in Europe – the Moors of Morocco.
The colonizing of the Philippines for Spain is carried out as much by Roman Catholic friars as by any state administration. In addition to the Jesuits (the main missionary presence elsewhere in the east), the orders of friars active in the Philippines include the Franciscans, the Dominicans and the Augustinians.
This most distant part of the Spanish empire remains within the fold longer than the more economically important regions of Latin America. Indeed the Philippines are a Spanish province for well over three centuries, until ceded by Spain to the United States in 1898 after the Spanish-American War.