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Last updated : Nov 2009
Philippines History
Philippines History - TravelPuppy.com
The earliest residents of the Philippines were The Negritos. Other tribes followed from Malaysia and Indonesia. The Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, sponsored by the King of Spain, arrived here in 1521 and named the islands after Philip II of Spain. The Friars converted the many to Christianity and nowadays the Philippines is the only majority Christian country in South-East Asia. The first settlement was set up in Cebu in 1565 by the Spanish explorer, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. He then moved north and conquered the Muslim Rajah Sulayman, setting up a Spanish base in Manila in 1571. Under the leadership of General Emilio Aguinaldo, a revolution in 1896 against Spanish rule led to the establishment of the first Filipino Republic in 1898. The Philippines later came under The United States control and in 1935 a constitution was written giving the Philippines self-government.

The Japanese occupied the islands during World War II, only gaining independence in 1946. During the next twenty years, a succession of presidents kept strong links with the United States. Ferdinand Marcos of the Nacionalista party secured the presidential elections in 1965 and started a programme of speedy economic development. In 1972 and before his 2 terms in office were over, Marcos declared martial law and suppressed all political antagonism. He then went on large-scale looting of the country’s exchequer to fill his family’s foreign bank accounts. Opposition to Marcos developed in 2 forms: the Communist Party, which launched an armed insurrection based in the southern islands, especially Mindanao and the ‘constitutional’ opposition led by senators such as Benigno Aquino.

In the mid-1980s, the armed faction of the Communist Party, the New People’s Army (NPA), delivered major insurrections right across the Philippines in both rural and urban regions. The turning point for Marco's rule came after the murder of Benigno Aquino on his return from exile in 1983. Public opinion quickly rallied behind his widow Corazon Aquino. Massive demonstrations and non-violent protests, popularly named ‘People Power’ confronted Marcos. Then U.S. President Ronald Reagan faced with growing support in favour of Corazon Aquino withdrew his backing from Marcos. The Filipino military, the last bastion of support for Marcos, followed suit. Ferdinand Marcos left the country in February 1986 for Hawaii where he died in exile in September 1989.

His widow Imelda Marcos has since been sentenced to 24 years imprisonment for ‘political graft though she remains free pending appeal. With virtually no political experience, it took some time for Corazon Aquino to settle into the presidency. The most pressing problems were the relations between the new government and the military. The army busied itself plotting against Aquino and by the end of 1989 made no less than six coup attempts. All were quashed and Aquino kept most of the military on her side. She achieved this by her hard line support in the counter-insurgency campaign against the NPA, whose campaign has since all but fizzled out.

Since the end of World War II, the United States had maintained 2 large bases on Luzon Island at Subic Bay (navy) and Clark Air Base. The agreement allowing their use was to expire in 1991. In 1991 this problem was resolved in part by the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo, which had been dormant for 600 years. Clark Air Base, some 16 kilometres or 10 miles from the eruption, was so heavily damaged it was abandoned. After an agreement between the 2 governments in 1994, the US pulled out of Subic Bay. In October 1991, the Philippines senate accepted a deal between the government and the USA, allowing for a complete withdrawal by 1994. The president at this time was Fidel Ramos, Aquino’s loyal Defence Minister and a key figure in Filipino politics.

There were still many problems with small Islamic insurgent groups, especially the Moro National Liberation Front. Some conflicts were settled in 1996 after successful negotiations but sporadic fighting still continues. Following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA, much attention has been put on the Abu Sayyaf group. A faction mainly active in the southern part of the archipelago believed to be affiliated with Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda (The Base) terrorist network.

The Philippines were one of the major victims of the Asian currency crisis in 1997. (see Business Profile section). Just months before the scheduled presidential election in May 1998, the crisis gave the opposition candidates a significant potential advantage. One of these opponents, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, of the new political party, Laban ng Masang Pilipino (Struggle of the Filipino Masses, LMP), won by a comfortable margin.

Though there was plenty of support for Estrada among the urban poor, he proved to be an incompetent and corrupt leader. He was thrown out of office in January 2001 by the Supreme Court and replaced by his deputy, Gloria Arroyo. She is the daughter of Diosdado Macapagal, a president during the early 1960s. Gloria Arroyo has presided over steady economic improvement and was elected to a second term in office in 2004.