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Map of the Philippines.
We have been a colonized country. We have passed through all the trials and tribulations of a colonized people. It took us centuries and centuries to fight, to struggle, and to win our fight for the recognition of our independence.
—Lorenzo Sumulong, Filipino Senator, 1960.[1]

The Republic of the Philippines (Filipino:Wikipedia Republika ng Pilipinas) is a country in Southeast Asia that occupies the Philippine archipelago. It consists of 7,641 islands, but geographers delineate it into three main island groups from north to south: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.[2] Its capital city is Manila.

The Philippines is haunted by both religious conflicts and the legacies of its colonial past. While the vast majority of the Filipino population are Christian, especially Catholic Christian, a significant portion of the people of Mindanao follow Islam.[3] This has led to a 40-some-odd-year conflict between the government and religious separatists.[4] There's also a long-running communist insurgency dating back to the Cold War, which persists despite being mostly unsuccessful.[5] The Filipino legal system is heavily shaped by the United States legal system,[6] but this hasn't stopped its slide towards authoritarianism and rising government corruption.[7] The Philippines has also been highly economically dependent on the United States for many decades, and ending that dependence is a constant talking point of its former strongman leader Rodrigo Duterte.[8]

So, why is the Philippines this way? The islands were once home to some fairly typical island cultures, but Islam soon gained a significant following in the Mindanao area through trade with Middle Eastern powers. In 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived to claim the islands for Spain (Portugal was a subject of Spain at the time), and he was soon killed by the natives. That killing only spared the natives for a few decades because the Spanish showed up again in 1543 to rename the islands after Philip II of Spain before showing up in force in 1565 to start building Spanish settlements. The Spanish successfully converted most of the Filipino population to Catholicism save for the Muslims, and the islands became a part of the Spanish Empire for three centuries.

Amid the waning of Spanish power, Filipino rebels launched an anti-colonial revolt in 1896, which soon became involved in the Spanish-American War. The US led the rebels to believe that the Americans were fighting on their behalf, but come the peace settlement, the US simply claimed the Philippines as a conquered colony. Furious, the rebels turned on the United States, beginning the bloody and brutal Philippine–American War, which lasted for decades and eventually ended with an American victory. In 1935, the US granted the Philippines autonomy under President Manuel Quezon. However, a path to independence was interrupted with the American entry into World War II and the invasion of the islands by Japan. More atrocities and war crimes against the Filipinos ensued until the Americans returned in 1944.

In 1946, the Philippines became independent with American consent, but it diplomatically remained an American satellite in many ways. In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos won the presidency, but accusations of embezzling shadowed his term in office and convinced him to declare martial law in 1972 to protect his power. Marcos was a brutal dictator, but his diplomatic support for the US ensured that the Americans never did anything about him. Marcos lost power due to a revolution in 1986, but the return of democracy was plagued with problems like corruption, insurgencies, and political scandals, which persist to this day.

About the name[edit]

The Philippines got its name from Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos during his 1541 expedition there. His name for them, "Las Islas Filipinas", was in honor of Spanish soon-to-be King Philip II.[9] Ol' Philly was the monarch of Spain at its absolute height, ruling an empire that included a massive colonial network in the Americas, Portugal, the Netherlands, and much of southern Italy.[10]

Before using Las Islas Filipinas name, the islands had been referred to by the name Magellan gave them, San Lázaro.[11] The name we're using for the islands now is based on American pronunciation. Due to American influence over the islands, it's the name now used internationally.

There has long been a debate over whether to rename the country as an anticolonialist measure. However, the Philippines is an ethnically diverse country, and many proposed names have been criticized for favoring one region over another.[12]

Historical overview[edit]

The Laguna Copperplate Inscription.

Pre-colonial history[edit]

Like many post-colonial nations, the Philippines never started off as a unified political entity and had no business becoming one. The Philippines had three major ethnic groups in the pre-colonial days: the Negrito, proto-Malay, and Malay peoples.[13] People survived by farming rice and forming basic kinship groups; like many native groups, the early Filipinos didn't have much of a concept of territoriality.[13]

Early Filipino culture was fairly advanced. The Laguna Copperplate Inscription, the earliest written record from the Philippines, dates to about 900 CE.[14] Dating from much earlier, they crafted artifacts from raw materials brought in by trade with Imperial China, many of which were made from jade.[15] By the 1300s, trade with other Asians had led to the creation of many large trading ports across the archipelago's coastlines.[16] Basically, the Filipinos were doing just fine for themselves before the colonial era.

Islam came to the Philippines through interaction with Muslim traders from both the empires of the Middle East and previously converted Indonesians.[17] By 1500 the religion was well established across much of the southern islands. Muslims immigrated to the islands, and they brought with them the concept of a unified state led by a sultan, which influenced the development of states in Mindanao.[13] Of course, that development would be cut short by the invasion of the Spanish.

Spanish rule[edit]

Spanish defeat at the Battle of Mactan.
El imperio donde nunca se pone el sol. (The empire on which the sun never sets.)
—Common phrase used to describe the Spanish Empire under Charles V and Philip II.[18]


In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines while sailing a mission on behalf of the Spanish Empire. Atypically for a Spanish explorer, Magellan didn't immediately start killing people but instead befriended some of the local native chieftains and enjoyed their hospitality.[19] Naturally, he's the Spanish explorer who got a poison arrow to the leg (Christopher Columbus deserved it more). Relations eventually turned sour after Magellan tried convincing the natives to convert to Catholicism. This led to the Battle of Mactan a month later, where Magellan met his end at the hands of Filipino leader Lapulapu.[20]

This successfully delayed the Spanish conquest, but it didn't prevent it. Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos showed up in 1541 to chart the islands; he was the one who gave the islands their Spanish name of Las Islas Filipinas.[21] The Spanish showed up for good in 1565 under conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi, who had arrived from Mexico. He became the first governor of the Philippines and built the main Spanish settlement in what is now the city of Manila.[22] Spanish soldiers immediately started warring with the Muslims of the south, calling them "Moro" or "Moors" and considering the conflict an extension of the Spanish Reconquista.[23] Other than the Muslims, though, most natives offered little resistance to the Spanish invaders. It also helped that Philip II had explicitly ordered the Spanish colonizers to not repeat the bloody horror of the conquest of the Caribbean and Mexico.[24]

Colonial policies[edit]

Cross planted by Ferdinand Magellan, preserved in Cebu City.

As a colony, Spain hoped to use the Philippines as a springboard to develop trade contacts with Imperial China and Japan and dominate the spice trade in Southeast Asia. The Spanish were most successful in fulfilling their other main objective, which was to convert the Filipinos to Catholicism. The Spanish administration funded several Catholic religious orders like the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Augustinians in their efforts to convert the natives.[24]

Fort San Pedro, one of many built to defend against revolts, pirates, and invaders.

Missionary work among the natives was relatively easy due to the general lack of other organized religions to compete with. The natives also found the wealth and pageantry of the Church appealing, as missionaries adapted their teachings to local customs and emphasized religious festivals and feasts. The Spanish generally took a hands-off approach in ruling the natives, preferring to adopt a more modern strategy of creating a native ruling class, the principales, and using them as a proxy.[24]

Those who resisted conversion launched multiple large-scale revolts against Spanish rule, which the Spanish usually quelled at a great financial expense.[25] The islands also had to be defended from colonial competitors like the Dutch and even the Japanese, making ruling the islands quite expensive.

Due to a general lack of mineral or metal resources on the islands, their main profitability came from trade. Trade attracted many Chinese immigrants, who soon became an essential part of the colony's economy but were generally treated with distrust and persecution by the Spanish rulers.[24] The Chinese soon became more numerous than the Spanish colonizers. The Spanish tried to control them with residence restrictions, systematic deportations, and actual or threatened violence that sometimes degenerated into riots and massacres. However, Spaniards born in the colony generally formed an increasingly large class of elites and mixed-race Spaniards.[26] As the administrative needs of the colony grew more complex, these Filipino-born Spaniards were able to assume greater authority and wealth.

Spanish decline[edit]

Manila Cathedral, 1792.

Spain's decline began due to the empire's constant involvement in many costly wars. One of the worst was the Seven Years' War, which saw colonial warfare in the Philippine islands. Manila itself fell to the British Empire in 1792, which permanently damaged Spanish prestige and proved to the natives that their Spanish overlords were not invulnerable.[27] Waves of rebellions broke out in the following decades, even among the resentful Chinese.[28] Spanish rule wasn't restored fully until 1778. It wasn't until after this that the Spanish finally started promoting economic development in the islands, encouraging the production of cash crops like indigo, tea, silk, opium poppies, and hemp.[28]

Meanwhile, Spanish rule was challenged by the hugely powerful religious orders, which had grown from simple missionary work into being responsible for education and health measures, census and tax records, and even the selection of local administrators and police officers.[29] Their control over the average Filipino's life was absolute, and they generally opposed any Spanish policy they deemed too secular.

Filipino nationalism began shaping up among the various revolts and their discontent with Spanish rule. It was allowed to grow for a brief liberal period starting in 1868 and then intensifying after those liberal reforms were abruptly revoked.[30] Many Filipinos were radicalized when Spain began cracking down on high-profile dissenters by having them arrested and executed.[31]

Philippine Revolution[edit]

The Spanish overlords execute Filipino dissenter José Rizal in 1896.

During the last years of the 1800s, Filipinos angry with Spanish misrule formed the Katipunan, a militant organization dedicated to overthrowing the colonial overlords.[32] After the revolution broke out in Cuba in 1895, the Katipunan started the festivities in 1896 by attacking Spanish military installations across the archipelago. Unfortunately, the rebels were poorly equipped, and their loyalties were split between their political leader Andrés Bonifacio and rising star Emilio Aguinaldo.[33] While Bonifacio was their ideological leader, Aguinaldo was the only genuinely good military commander the Filipinos had, and he led the only victories in the early stages of the war. Aguinaldo eventually took power in a coup and had Bonifacio arrested.

Once the Filipinos were inevitably defeated in battle, they continued the war as guerrilla fighters who the Spanish proved unable to suppress.[33] After more fighting, the Spanish bought themselves some time in 1897 by bribing Aguinaldo into temporary exile in Hong Kong.[33]

Spanish-American War[edit]

The Spanish fleet gets wrecked at Manila Bay.
See the main article on this topic: Spanish-American War
This Treaty will make us a vulgar, commonplace empire, controlling subject races and vassal states, in which one class must forever rule and other classes must forever obey.
—US Senator George Frisbie Hoar.[34]

Spanish rule in the Philippines came to an abrupt end thanks to the actions of the United States. Uncle Sam was pretty pissed about the Spanish war in Cuba because the island colony had become dependent on American trade, and warfare was cutting into that trade.[35] This escalated rapidly to the point where the United States declared war against Spain in 1898.

In the Pacific, Spain's aging fleet was out of supplies and poorly maintained, meaning that it was no match for the US' modern warships.[36] Shortly after the outbreak of war, the US Pacific Fleet sunk every Spanish ship at the Battle of Manila Bay.[37] The US squadron then took Manila itself with ease.

However, the US had also entered into a functional partnership with the Filipino rebels, receiving useful intelligence from Aguinaldo and his troops concerning Spanish military formations and placements.[38] The Filipinos saw the US as their liberator, an idea that the US commanders found too useful to dissuade.[39] Towards the end of the war, the US revealed its true intentions by shipping troops into the archipelago as an occupying force. Relations between the Americans and Filipinos deteriorated rapidly.[38] Aguinaldo declared Filipino independence as a republic,[40] but the US and Spain cheerfully ignored that during the peace talks. Spain ceded the Philippines as a conquered colony to the United States, fully proving that the US had never been fighting for Filipino independence.[41]

American rule[edit]

US soldiers during the 1899 Battle of Manila.
I have read carefully the Treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.
—American author and badass Mark Twain.[42]

Philippine-American War[edit]

Having been "freed" from Spanish bondage, the Filipinos were naturally not thrilled to see that their old masters had been replaced by new masters. Hostilities with the American occupiers broke out in early 1899 when two American privates on patrol killed three Filipino soldiers in a suburb of Manila for violating American restrictions on troop movements.[43] Despite Aguinaldo's attempts to keep the peace, the skirmish exploded into a full battle in Manila between 19,000 American soldiers and 15,000 Filipino militiamen.[44] The poorly-equipped Filipinos were again unable to face the professional American soldiers in open battle, and consequently losing the engagement and control of Manila.

"Kill everyone over ten." Massacre ordered by General Jacob H. Smith.[45]

Although the Filipinos could not defeat the Americans in open battle, they did prove themselves to be formidable guerrilla warriors. American troops found themselves fighting a determined hidden enemy in an unfamiliar tropical environment, not for the last time. While the Americans proclaimed that their annexation of the Philippines served the cause of liberty,[46] American forces leveled entire cities, burned villages, brutally tortured civilians, and forced people into early makeshift concentration camps.[47] The Filipinos retaliated by torturing and killing American soldiers who they captured. Somewhere between 200,000 and one million Filipino civilians perished in the bloody horror.[48]

Organized resistance occurred under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, but Aguinaldo was himself captured by Filipino Quislings in 1901.[49] He was compelled to swear loyalty to the US military governor of the Philippines, Arthur MacArthur Jr. Arthur MacArthur is notable for having a funny name and because his son Douglas will appear shortly.[50] The disorganized insurgency continued until 1903. The war only ended during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, who proclaimed an amnesty for all combatants.[51]

Moro Rebellion[edit]

Execution of Moro rebels.

Meanwhile, the Muslim peoples (named by the Spanish as Moros) of the southern Philippines had largely stayed neutral since they didn't like the Filipino Christians any better than the Americans. This changed in 1903 due to a series of American fuckups. The Americans abolished Islamic schooling, replaced sharia with secular law, and stomped all over the Moro peoples' religious traditions.[49] As we modern people know from current events and recent history, Muslims typically don't like it when Yankee buts in to change their ways of life. Hence the Moro Rebellion.

US response was measured due to the costs of fighting a previous rebellion against the Christian Filipinos. However, unrelenting Moro attacks on US military bases convinced leadership that something had to be done to put down the rebellion. In 1909, Maj. Gen. John Pershing (who would later command US troops in World War I) was dispatched to the islands to adopt a new strategy. Pershing's strategy involved getting the troops out of the bases and sending them on raids into Moro territory to find and kill the rebels.[52] Interestingly, it worked, and the later American emphasis on good government and trustworthy institutions made it stick.[52] Military theorists cite Pershing's operations as the most successful American counter-insurgency.

American "tutelage" and worsening inequality[edit]

US president William H. Taft addresses the Philippine National Assembly, 1907.

With all of the rebellions and domestic opposition to such blatant imperialism, it became clear to the US government that keeping the Philippines as a colony just wasn't gonna work out. The US started drafting representative government institutions for the Philippines, as the Spanish had utterly neglected to provide any basis for local governance. In 1907, the Philippines held its first legislative elections, although open advocacy for independence was initially banned.[53] The United States also negotiated with the Pope to allow for a reduced presence of Catholic orders in the Philippines and eventual separation of church and state.[53] The US ultimately bought out church land in the Philippines for a hefty sum and then resold the land to wealthy Filipino estate holders. That last bit would contribute to problems later on.

Modernizing Manila, 1919.

While the Americans built a republican structure for the islands, they didn't do the best job, and Filipinos themselves abused the system. The Philippines became a one-party state dominated by the Nacionalista Party, which represented the landed elites and was utterly disinterested in social or economic reform.[54] This allowed some severe problems to grow under the surface of the new Philippines. Socioeconomic gaps grew wider and wider, a tiny percentage of landowners controlled almost everything, and the poor got fucked because they were at the mercy of the rich.[54] So it goes.

The biggest social problem was tenancy. Under colonial rule, the Philippines developed an agricultural system similar to the US sharecropping system, where poor farmers were enslaved to a growing debt cycle. Meanwhile, the landed elite stuffed their pockets and laughed themselves silly.[55] The poor farmers weren't too happy with this arrangement, and religious and secular rebellions broke out against tenancy throughout American rule.

Commonwealth status[edit]

President Quezon and his family meet FDR and a US military representative.

There were a few political interests that hastened the process of Filipino independence. Big agribusiness in the US didn't want to compete with cheap Filipino products. Trade unions wanted to exclude Filipino labor, and foreign policy observers feared that the US might someday have to defend the Philippines from aggressively expanding Japan.[56] Combined with the Great Depression, all of that convinced the US to toss aside the Philippines as a mostly autonomous commonwealth in 1935. After winning a mostly uncontested election, Nacionalista Party leader Manuel L. Quezon became the new republic's first president.

The early years of the commonwealth were mostly spent on nation-building initiatives and ironing out the rest of the island nation's plan for full independence. The commonwealth also struggled with the old tenancy problems and rural unrest, ongoing crises would occasionally exploded into violence.[57] The foreign affairs of the Philippines were also still controlled by the United States, and the US military maintained a small presence on the islands.[58] The legislature was always dominated by the Nacionalista Party, which had tight control over the country's political affairs.

Philippines in WWII[edit]

Japanese invasion[edit]

Japanese troops take down the American flag at Corregidor.
[A]fter nine weeks of fighting not even a small amount of aid has reached us from the United States. Help and assistance have been sent to other belligerent nations, but seemingly no attempt has been made to transport anything here... [T]he United States has practically doomed the Philippines to almost total extinction to secure a breathing space.
—Manuel Quezon to Franklin Roosevelt, 8 February 1942.[59]

As part of its opening of hostilities against the United States, the Empire of Japan attacked and invaded the Philippines shortly after Pearl Harbor. The Philippines were strategically important to the Japanese because they served as a forward base for the US in the Pacific and could serve as a launching point for Japanese invasions directed further south.[60] It's all about that map, baby.

The US commander in the Philippines was Douglas MacArthur, the son of Arthur MacArthur. MacArthur had a seemingly formidable force at his service, with 19,000 US soldiers and 60,000 Filipinos backed up by artillery and air forces.[61] Also, in 1926 the United States War College had drawn up War Plan Orange to serve the defense of the islands, which called for a fighting retreat to the Bataan Peninsula on the island of Luzon, which could theoretically hold out against all assault.[61] MacArthur, however, had no intention of following the plan, as he wanted to face the Japanese on the beaches to protect all Filipino land from invasion. MacArthur's overconfidence led to him panicking at the news of the Pearl Harbor attack, hesitating to ready his forces, and then getting caught totally unprepared when the Japanese came for him.[61]

Bataan Death March[edit]

Americans and Filipinos carry their dead comrades.

Too disorganized to face the vast number of Japanese landings that followed, the US military and their Filipino allies had no choice but to follow the contingency plan and withdraw to Bataan. The American and Filipino soldiers held out admirably in the peninsula, but they soon succumbed to disease and lack of supplies brought on by the unplanned and disorganized retreat.[60] FDR ordered MacArthur to flee, and many of the rest of the defenders were taken prisoner by the Japanese.

These prisoners met with a horrific fate. The Japanese forced about 80,000 prisoners to march into prison camps, and that forced march was characterized by extreme brutality and neglect of the prisoners' basic needs.[62] Many were shot, stabbed, or beheaded, while the luckier ones got off with just torture or severe beatings.[63]

Japanese occupation[edit]

US propaganda in support of Filipino resistance.

The death march survivors faced severe conditions in the POW camps, and some 26,000 Filipinos and 1,500 Americans died in them.[63]

Meanwhile, the Japanese tried to keep the Filipino civilians compliant by promising the islands' independence. To this end, they set up a puppet government controlled by the old elite landowners (who naturally turned Quisling). This government proved to be even more authoritarian and overtly one-party controlled than the last one.[64] The Japanese also treated Filipino civilians horribly, conducting several huge massacres and killing about 131,000 people.[65] Combined with forced labor, military resistance, poor conditions, and war-related famine, the death toll rises to around 527,000.[66]

The Japanese also abducted thousands of Filipina girls as "comfort women", most of whom were around 15 or younger.[67] When the girls weren't forced to do hard labor, they were kept in camps to be raped about 20 to 30 times a day.[67]

Under these conditions, it was only natural that Filipino civilians strongly resisted the occupation. Around 260,000 Filipinos were involved in resistance warfare, and they were so damn effective that the Japanese, by the end of the war, only controlled 12 out of the islands' 48 provinces.[68] One of the most powerful resistance armies was the Hukbalahap or "The Nation's Army Against the Japanese". The "Huks", as they're called, were a peasant organization motivated by socialism and communism, and they carried out numerous attacks against the Japanese. Kill those fascist bastards! The Huks were also notable for including women in their activities, although women were generally used for organization and medical care.[69] Other guerrilla groups considered the Huks far more brutal than they, but the Huks were often the most effective due to their peasant history of uprisings and resistance.[70]

American return[edit]

MacArthur and the Americans return to the Philippines.
I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.
—Gen. Douglas MacArthur, landing at Leyte, 1944.[1]

Eventually, the Japanese became overstretched, and they were soon outmatched by the greater industry and numbers of the Americans. By 1944, the US had fought its way across the Pacific and was ready to retake the Philippines. It began with the largest naval battle in history at Leyte Gulf, as the Japanese launched one last desperate attempt to keep hold of the waters around the islands.[71]

US troops then landed on the islands and swept south to north, committing vast numbers of soldiers into what would become the largest land campaign of the Pacific War and a larger campaign than those in North Africa and southern France.[72] MacArthur commanded the campaign, and he was aided by intelligence from the Filipino resistance, intelligence that was comprehensive to the point where MacArthur knew all of the Japanese war plans and even what Japanese troops generally ate as their meals.[73]

Still, the Japanese decided to sneak in just one more war crime towards the end of the campaign. During the fighting in Manila, Japanese forces indiscriminately massacred around 100,000 Filipino civilians as a last hurrah.[74] Fuck.

Independent era[edit]

Philippines independence ceremony, 1946.

Postwar problems[edit]

The Philippines had endured great cruelty and destruction at the hands of the Japanese occupiers. The legacy of that horror was one of the main issues confronting the newly-independent Philippines. The country's elite classes had largely collaborated with the Japanese, inflaming class tensions and infuriating the working poor. Before he departed for exile in the United States, President Quezon had advised Dr. Jose Laurel to collaborate in the hopes that the Japanese would be more lenient; this only served to encourage the rest of the ruling class to join in the Japanese exploitation of the Philippines.[75] The issue of what to do with collaborators plagued the Filipino government.

The elites prevailed when newly-elected president Manuel Roxas (a wartime collaborator) pardoned the collaborators, which fueled further resentment and fury.[76]

Huk Rebellion[edit]

Huk rebels in the countryside.

Meanwhile, the communist Huks, who had formed the backbone of resistance against the Japanese, expected to be treated as war heroes by the United States and the new Filipino government.[75] They were enraged when they were instead persecuted and ordered to disarm amid Cold War anti-communist panic. Rather than disband and take the betrayal lying down, the Huks instead fled into the mountains with their weapons and encouraged peasant support for a leftist revolt against the hated elite government.[77] No one can chain the Hulk Huk!

The Huk gained enormous support for their new cause of fighting for tenants' rights against the rich scumbags who had mistreated them for so long. Although starting off strong, the rebellion's support faltered when it made the political mistake of assassinating Aurora Quezon in 1949; the former first lady had been quite popular.[78] The US, meanwhile, was in full domino theory mode, and they supplied arms and military advisors to the Filipino government to stop the Huks. Eventually, the Huk Rebellion lost complete support due to their racism towards the Negrito peoples and their brutality towards people who weren't considered among the elite classes.[77] They surrendered in 1954.

Democratic period[edit]

Magsaysay's inauguration, 1953.

One of the main factors contributing to the end of the Huk revolt was the election and inauguration of Ramon Magsaysay. He styled himself as a man of the people and promised to improve the plight of the peasants. He did his best to fulfill this promise, too, buying land and handing it out to poor farmers and spending on infrastructure projects to modernize the countryside.[79] On the bad side, he encouraged the movement of Christians into the Muslim south to assimilate the region, which only inflamed religious tensions in the country.

Magsaysay and his successors also pushed for increasing respectful distance from the United States, getting the US to return land they held but didn't need, and getting the US to turn over control of the government institutions it still ran.[79]

Then things started to go bad again in 1965 when Ferdinand Marcos won the presidency. Ferdinand was a bad dude, and he was previously known for probably having one of his father's political rivals assassinated by a sniper rifle.[80] However, Marcos was a good lawyer and orator, so he got himself off the murder charges and then into the presidency. He won popularity through his charisma and ability to build something of a personality cult based on exaggerated wartime heroism.[81] Once in office, it soon became clear that Marcos was embezzling shitloads of money from the state, building an estimated $10 billion fortune, and living a lavish playboy lifestyle.[82] He neglected the peasants again, and economic growth slowed while crime rates and gangsterism exploded.

The Huks reestablished themselves in 1968 and began their rebellion anew amid worsening conditions. Shortly after, they were joined by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which rose up to wage an Islamic insurrection against the government.[83] The optimistic atmosphere of the previous presidential administrations devolved into political riots, police crackdowns, and terrorist attacks. Marcos blamed the leftists and suspended habeas corpus after a major bombing in 1971. The evidence, however, indicated that Marcos himself was behind the bombing and had done so to kill members of the opposition.[81]

In 1972 Marcos used bribes and threats to force an amendment to the constitution allowing himself to remain in office past the limit of two terms.[81]

Marcos dictatorship[edit]

Marcos visits Washington DC.

Fearing that he would lose his election for a third term, Marcos signed Proclamation No. 1081 near the end of his second term, suspending the elections and putting the Philippines under martial law.[84] Under the president's command, the military arrested opposition politicians, journalists, and student and labor activists, keeping around 30,000 people in what amounted to a concentration camp.[85] Most of the well-off Filipinos and the elites supported the move since they feared the rising crime rates and the two rebellions in the countryside. However, his crackdown only served to intensify the resistance to government rule.

Marcos proved to be a ruthless ruler. His regime extrajudicially executed around 3,200 people,[86] tortured 35,000 people, and "disappeared" 77 people.[87] Especially disgusting was the tactic of dumping mutilated and tortured corpses on the streets to sow fear among the people.[88]

While the people suffered, Marcos placed greater and greater parts of the Filipino economy under his cronies' control.[85] He and his wife continued looting the government for cash to fuel their fine living. Bad economic decisions made under the crony system resulted in Filipino agriculture's failure and eventual collapse, intensifying peasant suffering.[85]

Marcos' main political adversary was Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, a popular liberal politician from an elite family. Unfortunately, he spent most of his life after 1972 in prison before eventually being released to the US in 1980 to receive treatment for heart problems.[89] He then became a major force in exile before committing to return to his homeland in 1983. Imelda Marcos contacted him to pointedly "warn" him that the communists might kill him if he returned, but Aquino resolved to do so anyway.[90] Sure enough, Aquino was shot upon arriving at Manila airport.

People Power Revolution[edit]

People Power demonstration in Manila, with a flag of Ninoy Aquino.

Aquino proved more powerful dead than alive. The government's botched attempts to cover up their responsibility for his death turned him into a martyr and discredited the Marcos dictatorship completely.[90] Meanwhile, Marcos himself was suffering from ailing health, although any doctors who revealed this were murdered.[91]

The People's Power movement, which Aquino started, gained massive popular support in the wake of these developments. Due to the human rights activism of Pope John Paul II, even the Catholic Church ended up turning against Marcos and speaking out against his murderousness,[90] with the church-run Radio Veritas having played a pivotal role in rallying Filipinos to EDSA. Responding to US public opinion, Ronald Reagan advised Marcos that there wouldn't be any help from his administration, to the point that United States senator United States Senator Paul LaxaltWikipedia told Marcos to "cut and cut clean". Under pressure from the States, Marcos called for a snap electionWikipedia ostensibly for the populace to choose his successor, but the blatant show of fraud and electoral violence from Marcos's camp, and most especially the walk-out of 30 computer technicians under the Commission on Elections (COMELEC)'s employ who clearly wanted nothing to do with the deliberate rigging of election results only served to infuriate the Filipino people, who asserted that Aquino's widow, Corazon Aquino, was the real victor. The National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), an accredited poll watcher, had Aquino winning with 7,835,070 votes against Marcos's 7,053,068 votes.

This culminated in a vast campaign of civil resistance and protest in 1986 called the People Power Revolution.[92] The show of public opposition combined with Marcos' near total loss of support led to the dictator and his family fleeing the country and seeking refuge in the United States. Cory Aquino was installed as the country's new president.[93]

It has been said that the People Power Revolution served as a catalyst for similarly non-violent calls for regime change especially in the Eastern Bloc and elsewhere, which was one of the key moments during the twilight years of the Cold War.[94] While there had been some speculation if not outright conspiracy theories alleging CIA involvement in the revolution,[95] this has been either downplayed or completely debunked as a simple case of an angry mob getting fed up at their erstwhile Führer who chickened his way out of the country afterwards.[96]

The Philippines today[edit]

No happy endings[edit]

MILF militant, who despite the acronym is not a lusty older woman.

Of course, Marcos' fall from power didn't mean things got better. There were, after all, two minor civil wars going on. New president Corazon Aquino sat down to hash out a lasting settlement with the Moro separatists to the south, having promised to fight for their rights in return for their support for the anti-Marcos revolution.[97] Negotiations produced the Jeddah Accord in 1987, signed in Saudi Arabia and granting full autonomy to the Muslim-majority provinces in the Philippines.[98] A later agreement ensured that former Moro separatist fighters would be able to reintegrate into society and even participate in government.

However, the more radical Muslim insurgents had wanted full independence and the freedom to create their own Islamic theocratic state. They rejected the peace agreement and formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),[99] a name with an acronym that we, the esteemed editors of RationalWiki, are certainly too mature to make any crass jokes about.

The low-intensity communist insurgency that began in World War II and intensified during the Marcos years also continues with few signs of genuinely ending.[100]

Meanwhile, after Corazon's term, political corruption and violence remained a problem, resulting in another peaceful revolution,[101] more looted state funds and falsified elections,[102] and a massacre of dozens of reporters in 2009.[103]

Duterte and the drug war[edit]

Duterte shows a chart of alleged drug cartel activity.
Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them. If Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have [me].
Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.[104] How does Godwin's Law work here?

In 2016, the Philippines mirrored its longtime sponsor, the United States, in electing a whacko wannabe strongman as president. The Filipino version is named Rodrigo "The Punisher" Duterte, who gained a reputation as being fanatical in his quest to crush crime.[105] His opponents warned that he'd unleash a wave of state terror the way he'd done in Davao, the city of which he was mayor. However, the Filipino people were tired of decades of ineffective governance and violent crime.

Sure enough, Duterte proved to be just as bad as the opposition feared. Duterte called for a war against drugs and criminals, encouraging police to shoot on sight and telling civilians that they should join in.[106] The result was a huge wave of violence that has seen an estimated 6,600 people murdered in the streets for minor alleged crimes. Filipino police have effectively been given a license to kill anyone they suspect of crimes, often with no evidence, oversight, or investigation.[104]

Despite claiming that he hasn't authorized extrajudicial killings, Duterte demonstrates his support for the campaign through his actions and speeches. In June 2017, he said, "If you are still into drugs, I am going to kill you. Don’t take this as a joke. I’m not trying to make you laugh. Sons of bitches, I’ll really kill you."[104] What a guy.

Government and politics[edit]

Filipino House of Representatives during the 2011 State of the Union address.

Basic structure[edit]

The Philippines is a presidential democratic republic with a bicameral legislature. Despite its diverse and geographically separated population, the country is governed as a unitary state save for the autonomous Muslim region.[107] Other than that, its government is based mainly on the United States.

The current constitution was heavily revamped after the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos to safeguard against similar lawlessness. Many sections of the constitution were directly inspired by Marcos' actions, such as the ban on appointing presidential spouses to government positions (Imelda Marcos collected titles and powers), the requirement that the public must be informed of presidential illnesses (Marcos killed doctors who revealed his poor health), and a ban on the president owning companies that do business with the state (a key part of Marcos' fortune).[108] Also, the Filipino Congress can override presidential declarations of martial law with a simple majority vote, and the Supreme Court must review and validate any declarations of martial law or assumptions of emergency powers. Basically, fuck Marcos.

Threats to democracy[edit]

Protest against Duterte in front of the Filipino consulate in New York City.
How is it possible for a country that ousted a dictator three decades ago to bring a strongman back to power? Just like the Marcos regime, the Duterte administration has been called out for detaining members of the opposition, planting evidence to arrest activists, threatening to shut down media organisations, and filling his cabinet with military men.
—Nicole Curato, Associate Professor at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra.[109]

Despite the numerous post-Marcos safeguards, Filipino democracy is sadly still not secure. Duterte has become the greatest threat to the Filipino republic since Marcos, finding ways to suppress those journalists he hates, such as bringing spurious lawsuits against them and organizing extrajudicial hate squads to harass them and threaten them with rape or murder.[110]

Duterte's lawless war on drugs has caused a greater breakdown in the Filipino government's concern for the rule of law and human rights. Despite its historical vulnerability to corruption, the Filipino police have gained much more influence over the government and much more power to pursue crime and harass opposition to Duterte's agenda.[111] Less restrained police may actually enhance drug crime, as richer drug criminals can bribe into the police structure without anyone outside to catch them.

Meanwhile, the Duterte regime jails opposition politicians and activists,[112] turns vigilante death squads against those who speak out against Duterte,[113] and attempts to order opposition media outlets to shut down.[114]

Foreign relations[edit]

Duterte with US president Donald Trump in Manila, 2017.

United States[edit]

The Philippines has had a close relationship with the United States ever since the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. The two countries have signed numerous defense and alliance pacts, born mainly out of the Cold War and fears of communist nations nearby, such as China or Vietnam.

Despite the violent colonial history between the two nations, the Philippines is the most pro-American country globally, with roughly 85% of Filipinos holding a positive opinion of the United States and its foreign policy.[115] That was despite the US' reputation sinking among other nations, mainly as a result of the idiotic decisions of President George W. Bush. Most Filipinos also say they support continued US military presence in their nation and believe that the US alliance is vital in defending them from China.[116]

On a diplomatic level, however, relations between the two powers have suffered greatly due to the attitudes of current president Duterte. Duterte has focused on building ties with Russia and even China, and he has scrapped some of the old defense agreements with the United States.[117]


Filipinos tend to have a much more negative view of China, which has been one of their country's chief rivals in the past, and China's past support of the Communist insurgencyWikipedia doesn't help matters. This has largely unchanged despite Duterte's attempts to establish closer alignment with China.[116] One of the most pressing issues in their relationship is a series of ongoing disputes concerning islands in the South China Sea. Matters reached a head in the volatile 2012 Scarborough Shoal standoff, where the Philippines apprehended eight Chinese fishing boats in disputed waters.[118] The Philippines also occasionally protests Chinese construction activities in the disputed waters, most recently in May 2020.[119] China tends to ignore these protests because what will the Philippines do about it?


Easter Holy Week festival.


The Philippines is quite proud of its identity as one of the only Christian nations in Asia (alongside Timor-Leste). Roughly 81% of the Filipino population are Catholic, while 11% are Protestant or another Christian denomination, and about 5.6% are Muslim.[120] About 2% of Filipinos have reverted or maintained belief in the pre-Christian and pre-Islamic tribal religions, while a very small number of Filipinos identify themselves as atheists or irreligious.[121] Although a wide range of specific beliefs, the various indigenous religions of the Philippines generally follow the same framework of ideas, such as a parallel spirit world inhabited by ancestors and nature spirits.[122]


The Catholic Church has held significant power in the Philippines ever since the region's conversion to the religion by Spain. Catholicism is a central part of the Filipino national identity. The Catholic clergy formed one of the backbones of early nationalist efforts and the resistance against the Marcos dictatorship.[123] Catholic clergy has also spoken against Duterte, as some Catholic priests have been killed in that maniac's irresponsible drug war.[124]

Catholic festivals are major occurrences in Filipino life, often involving devotion expressed toward the Virgin Mary.[125] Many Catholic holidays are also recognized as government holidays. Catholic iconography is also common throughout the Philippines, and many towns and cities are named after saints.[126]

Mosque in Marawi, Mindanao.

However, Christian morality often finds its way into government, with Filipino legislators frequently bringing up Biblical proscriptions against homosexuality and other "sins",[127] most notably former boxer turned politician Manny Pacquiao who took his conversion to evangelical Christianity to intense levels of crankery.[128] The Philippines is the only UN member country where divorce is still illegal, although Muslims can divorce under the auspices of their religion as sharia law is recognised in the country.[note 1] Other than that, the most allowed is the annulment of a marriage. This process lasts up to 10 years in the Philippines' overburdened judicial system. It costs the equivalent of over US$ 3,000, which is the equivalent of an average net annual salary in the country.[130][131] The country is, however, legally secular.


Islam reached the Philippines in the 14th century with the arrival of Muslim traders from the Middle East and Indonesia. Contemporary Muslims are known as "Moros", the name given to them by the Spanish, based on the term "Moor." Most Muslims in the Philippines are Sunni, but Islamic practice here seems to have also adapted to previous indigenous religions, such as the practice of making offerings to ancestors.[126] Most Muslims live in or near Mindanao.

For historical reasons, Moros tend to be hostile to the Filipino government, making gathering state data about them difficult.[132]


See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Such is their recognition of sharia that child marriages could take place, case in point folk singer Freddie AguilarWikipedia who engaged in what is arguably a paedophilic relationship with a teenager and took advantage of sharia law in order to get around civil code restrictions.[129]


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