The Philippines: A Brief History
Mactan Lapu Lapu Shrine

Lapu-Lapu Shrine, Mactan

Legend has it that Philippine history started during the 13th century, when 10 datus or chieftains, led by Datu Puti, sailed from Borneo to Panay Island in Visayas. Long before, several tribes had settled into the Philippine archipelago, respectively the Negritos from Austronesia (said to be the forefathers of the Aetas), the Indones from Southeast Asia, and the Malays, also from Austronesia. However, it was the arrival of Portuguse conqueror Ferdinand Magellan in the early 15th century that put the Philippines on the map.

The feisty Magellan and his men, under the command of the King of Spain arrived in Homonhon Island on 1521 and waged a war against the natives. He was killed by Lapu-Lapu, then chieftain of Cebu’s Mactan Island.

With its strategic location and natural riches, the Philippines became the target of Portugal and Spain’s goal of world colonization, and subsequent conquerors were sent under the command of the King of Spain. It was the arrival of explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi on Cebu in 1565 that began the three-century colonization of the Philippines by Spain.

Calle_Crisologo,_Vigan_after_rain editted

Calle Crisologo

In honor of King Philip II of Spain, the Philippines was then named Filipinas. It was this colonization that brought about the first Legal Code and Catholicism in the country, the Philippines’ primary religion up to present. The Spaniards were unsuccessful in their conquest to introduce Christianity to Mindanao though where majority of Muslims lived, and thus remains predominantly Muslim at present.

Spanish architecture was also adopted for many cities and today, remnants of old Spanish architecture can be seen in many universities and towns in the Philippines including Intramuros, Manila; Taal, Batangas; Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Ilocos Sur; Quezon; Laguna; and many others.



Oppression was widespread during the Spanish rule. However it was only during the early 19th century, upon the execution of three Filipino priests collectively known as Gomburza (a sobriquet for their last names Gomez, Burgos and Zamora) that rigorous revolts against the government were initiated by the natives. As Filipino patriots burgeoned (foremostly Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero), the hunger for independence adamantly grew among Filipinos. When Rizal was executed in 1896, revolutionaries led by Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo successfully ousted the Spanish government. Philippine Independence was declared on June 12, 1898 in Aguinaldo’s home in Kawit, Cavite.


American rule

treaty of paris

Treaty of Paris

However, this independence was short-lived, because on 1898, under the Treaty of Paris, the Philippines, once again became a colony, this time under American rule. The Filipino-American war was waged, yet the Philippines remained a US colony for five decades.

In 1935, the Americans granted President Manuel Quezon the authority to lead the country under a semi-autonomous commonwealth political system.


The brief Japanese occupation

pearl harbor

Pearl Harbor

A succeeding republic government under President Manuel Roxas was established in
1943 in the midst of Japanese occupation, which began after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Though only a puppet government, historians consider this the first independent and recognized government of the Philippines.

In 1942, under the Japanese empire, Manila was established as the Philippines’ capital. The Japanese continued to occupy the country till September 2, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered to Philippine guerrilla forces and American military allies, headed by General Douglas MacArthur.

First Asian independent democracy and the Martial Law

people power

Martial Law

In 1946, the United States proclaimed Philippine independence, thus making it Asia’s first independent democratic nation. A democratic government, patterned after the American political system continued under several presidents: Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal and Marcos. However, on 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed Martial Law, which halted all democratic activities in the country and changed the constitution to one of dictatorship. Critics of the government were either imprisoned or killed. One of them, Senator Benigno “Ninoy”Aquino, was exiled to the US.

Determined to restore democracy in the country, Aquino returned to the country on 1986 and was assassinated at the airport. With the leadership of then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos, military officers and the Filipino people communed and trooped to the streets of EDSA and held the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, a move that finally ended Marcos’ authoritarian rule.

The restoration of democracy to present time


Cory Aquino

Aquino’s wife, Corazon Aquino, upon the prodding of Filipinos, was installed as the president on February 25, 1986 – the country’s first ever female president. She governed the country up to 1992, followed by President Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and at present, Ninoy Aquino’s son, President Benigno Aquino III.

Today, the country remains in a peaceful democracy however tangible the architectural and cultural influence of its past colonizers are.

Relive the country’s rich history with a hotel stay in one of its historic towns. Chat with one of our representatives to find the best hotel rates in Ilocos, Cebu and Manila!


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