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Philippines: Historical highlights

Philippine Flag Art

Early times

Archeological evidence suggests that the Negritos, a broad term for indigenous people of dark complexions, reached the Philippines around 25,000 years ago by a land bridge from the Asian mainland. Waves of Indonesians followed by sea from 3,000 BC, and Malays got a firm foothold around 200 BC, followed in later centuries by waves of Chinese settlers. Most of today’s Filipinos have grown out of intermarriages between indigenous and Malay people. Modern Filipino culture, including language and cuisine, was heavily influenced by the Malays, who also introduced arts, literature, and a system of government.

The colonial era

The Spanish first arrived in 1521, but did not gain control for several decades. Bands of conquistadors, newly arrived from Mexico, fanned out from Intramuros to conquer Luzon and the Visayas in the 1570s. They met ineffectual opposition, and soon entrenched themselves as lords of great estates worked by the Filipinos. The friars who accompanied them rapidly converted the population, building churches, schools, roads, and bridges, while accumulating vast land holdings for the Catholic Church.

Philippines historical timeline

c.40,000 BC - Migrants cross land bridge from Asian mainland and settle in the archipelago.

AD 900 - Chinese establish coastal trading posts over the next 300 years.

late 14th century - Muslim clergy start to bring Islam to the Philippines from Indonesia and Malaya.

1521 - Explorer Ferdinand Magellan lands on Cebu and claims the region for Spain. Lapu Lapu (Rajah Cilapulapu), in defending his island of Mactan, slays Magellan.

1543 -Next Spanish expedition led by Ruy de Villalobos lands in Mindanao. He names the archipelago “Filipinas,” after Crown Prince Felipe II.

1872 -Uprising in Cavite, south of Manila. Spain executes Filipino priests Jose Burgos, Mariano Gomez, and Jacinto Zamora, martyrs to the cause of nationalism.

1892 -Jose Rizal founds La Liga Filipina, is arrested and exiled to Dapitan, Mindanao. Andres Bonifacio founds the Katipunan with aim to revolt.

1896 -Spanish colonists imprison and kill hundreds of Filipinos in Manila. Bonifacio and the Katipunan launch the Philippine revolution. Rizal is executed.

1898 -The United States defeats Spain in war. Treaty between the United States and Spain grants the US authority over the Philippines.

1941- -Japanese land on Luzon, overrun Manila. Roosevelt rejects Philippine neutrality.

1944 -MacArthur and Osmeña land in Leyte and begin the Allied effort to retake the archipelago.

1945 -Allies recapture Manila, which is subject to intense bombardment. Much of the city is destroyed.

1946 -On July 4, the Philippines is granted independence.

1972–81 -Martial law imposed. President Marcos accumulates a vast fortune. His wife, Imelda, dominates Manila government.

1984 - “Parliament of the street” holds frequent anti-Marcos demonstrations. Spiraling economic crises.

1986 -Violence escalates before elections, at least 30 are killed on election day. Election rigging enrages Filipinos and millions join in uprising against Marcos regime. On February 26, Marcoses flee. Corazon Aquino elected to presidency.

1991 -Dramatic eruption of Mt Pinatubo. Americans pack up and leave the Philippines.

1992 -Fidel Ramos, Aquino’s defense secretary and a strong ally who backed her during coup attempts, wins presidential election. His pragmatic leadership defies traditional perceptions of inept Filipino government. Foreign investors return.

2002 -US military joins the Philippines in large-scale exercises in the southern Philippines to rescue kidnapped American tourists.

2010 -Benigno Aquino III, son of former president Corazon Aquino, wins the presidential race; a year later his government holds landmark talks with Muslim rebels.

2012 -China and the Philippines clash over Scarborough Shoal in the contested South China Sea, seeding a high-level diplomatic dispute. Breakthrough ceasefire and agreement in the long-running dispute with separatists in the south.