Saturday, May 20, 2006

History of the Philippines

The remains of a skull found in a cave in Palawan, dubbed 'Tabon Man', date the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines back at least 22,000 years. Historical theories postulate that the Philippines was populated by waves of mi­grants from mainland South-East Asia, who are the ancestors of present-day Philippine's indigenous tribes.

The first recorded Chinese expedition to the Philippines was in 982. Within a few decades, Chinese traders were regular visi­tors to towns along the coast of Luzon, Min­dom and Sulu, and by around 1100 travellers from India, Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Siam and Japan were also including the islands on their trade routes by the warlike Chief Lapu-Lapu on Macta

A prominent figure who fought against the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, was Jose Rizal. Jose Rizal was excuted in 1896 for inciting revolu­tion. A brilliant scholar, doctor, writer and poet, Rizal had worked for independence by peaceful means. His death galvanised the revolutionary movement, marking the be­ginning of the end for the Spanish.

With aid from the USA, which was al­ready at war with Spain over the island of Cuba, the revolutionary army of General Aguinaldo was able to drive the Spanish back to Manila. American warships defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in May 1898, and the independence of the Philip­pines was declared on 12 June 12 1898.

Unfortunately for the revolutionaries, America's friendship turned out to be only a stepping stone towards the complete domination of the Philippines. In a bloody and little-acknowledged take-over, most of the revolution's heroes, as well as countless Filipino civilians, were killed by invading American troops. Once entrenched, the Americans set about converting the na­tives into carbon copies of themselves, pro­moting American habits, American sports and, most importantly, the English language.

The American presence, or 'tutelage', in the Philippines was always intended to be temporary, however, and the first Philip­pine national government was formed in 1935, under the guidance of the colonial governors. Full independence was pencilled in 10 years later. This schedule was dramatically inter­rupted by WWII, when the Japanese mili­tary took over the islands. The Americans sustained heavy casualties before finally overcoming the Japanese during the bloody Battle for Manila in 1944. At the close of the war, independence was granted in 1946, though America continued to playa significant economic and political role in the fate of its former colony. The most visible sign of this influence was the vast American military presence at Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Field Airbase.

Self-governance proved a mixed blessing for the Philippines. The American-pattern electoral system was open to spectacular abuses. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the Philippines bounced from one party to another (usually similar) party under a string of ineffectual presidents until Ferdi­nand Marcos was elected in 1965.

In 1972, in response to a flagging econ­omy, Marcos declared martial law, which soon became total control. Although previ­ously widespread violence was curtailed, the Philippines suffered from stifling cor­ruption and the economy became one of the weakest in an otherwise booming region.

The 1983 assassination of. Marcos' op­ponent Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino pushed op­position to Marcos to new heights and further shook the already tottering econ­omy. Marcos called elections for early 1986 and for once the opposition united to sup­port Aquino's widow, Corazon 'Cory' Aquino. Both Marcos and Aquino claimed to have won the election, but 'people power' rallied behind Cory Aquino, and within days Ferdinand and his shoe-loving wife Imelda had slunk off to Hawaii, where the former dictator later died.

Unfortunately for Aquino, the coalition supporting her was an uneasy one and she failed to win the backing of the army and other former pro-Marcos elements. She also failed to quash the New People's Army (NPA), which was pushing for a communist revolution; and the Moro National Libera­tion Front (MNLF), fighting for indepen­dence in the south. In 1992 elections, the people replaced her with Fidel Ramos, a one-time ally of both Marcos and Aquino.

Although he had no support from the Catholic Church, the Protestant Ramos was able to secure the ailing energy sector, encourage foreign investment and, in a sur­prise move, even lifted the ban on the Com­munist Party in an attempt to end the guerrilla war draining the resources of the country. This policy seemed to be vindicated in 1996 when a peace agreement was signed with the MNLF.

In 1998, with critics baying for blood and all the same old economic problems pretty much unchanged, Ramos was swapped for the former vice-president and B-grade movie actor Joseph Estrada, who immedi­ately promised to redirect government fund­ing to help fight for the rights of the long­ neglected average Filipino. Sound like an over-the-top movie script? Welcome to the Philippines.

Unfortunately for the masses, President Estrada was most concerned about the rights of one particular Filipino, namely himself! After two years of economic decline, accu­sations of cronyism and soaring fuel prices, Estrada was impeached for accepting mas­sive sums of money from illegal gambling cartels, which, perversely, were also funding the nation's ambulances. Average Filipinos took matters into their own hands on 20 Jan­uary 2001, overthrowing the president in a bloodless uprising largely coordinated by mobile phone. Estrada was replaced by Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroya, who had cleverly distanced herself from the sinking Estrada administration.

With almost half the cabinet also impli­cated, impeachment proceedings against Estrada were promptly dropped, but lawyers have continued to fight to bring the 'actor ­president' to trial. Under Philippine law Estrada could face the death penalty for the crime of plunder, the illegal accumulation of more than P50 million.