M A N I L A C I T Y G U I D E
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Little is known of the society and history of the Philippines prior to the arrival of Europeans. Archaeological evidence shows a rich pre-colonial culture dominated by trade with Asian neighbors and with the powerful Hindu empires in Java and Sumatra. Trade ties with China were extensive by the 10th century, while contact with Arab traders reached its peak about the 12th century. By the time the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, Islam was well established in many parts of the island group.
Upon arrival, the Spanish really went out of their way to make their presence felt. One way they did this was to attempt (with reasonable success) to totally eradicate the terrible 'pagan' Filipino society. It wasn't all sangria and skittles, however, as the first attempt at colonization ended with the swift death of explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. The Spanish grabbed what they could and high-tailed it out of there. Over 40 years later, with the Magellan incident just a bad memory, Spain headed in again. In 1565 Miguel de Legaspi made a more determined--and more successful--entry to the country on Cebu Island. Six years and innumerable skirmishes later, the Spaniards shifted base to Manila.
It is thought that the port of Manila, at the mouth of the Pasig River, was founded around the 12th century. The area along the river was by this stage already the site of exchange between local, Chinese and Arab traders. When Legaspi's Spanish arrived, trade along the river was being controlled by a local leader named Sulayman. He evidently wasn't too happy about the arrival of the Europeans, torching everything in sight before fleeing to Tondo, across the river, to prepare a fighting force. The Battle of Bangkusay Channel on 3 June, 1571, was fiercely fought, but the defenders' spears and arrows were no match for Castilian muskets and cannons. Sulayman fell in combat and his death marked the beginning of Spain's 327-year rule. Right after the Battle of Bangkusay Channel, Legaspi set about building Spanish Manila and spreading the Good News--and feudalism--far and wide. During the first two centuries of their occupation trade was still the priority, with the Spaniards using the Philippines mainly as a connecting point for their China-Acapulco (Mexico) trade route.
With defeats in Europe adding to the decline in Spanish power, the Philippines became politically unstable through the 18th and 19th centuries. When the Spanish executed Jose Rizal--a noted scholar, doctor and passive supporter of independence--it sparked a huge revolt that destabilized the Spanish even further. When the Americans went to war with the Spanish two years later in 1898, they abruptly ended Spanish rule in the Philippines. The Americans now occupied Manila and used it as their base for a newer form of cultural imperialism--or 'tutelage' as they quaintly called it. The Philippines was quickly remodeled in America's own image. WWII was a stumbling block for the Americans, with the Japanese occupying the islands throughout the conflict. At the close of the war--with the American presence re-established--independence was granted.
Although the Americans were more enlightened than their Spanish predecessors, there was still considerable resistance to their active presence in the country. When independence was attained the U.S. imposed certain conditions, including the establishment of U.S.-style political parties, the retention of U.S. military bases and the signing of economic agreements allowing the U.S. continued control over the Philippines economy.
In 1972 elected President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, which soon became total dictatorial control. His government was riddled with corruption, cronyism and economic mismanagement. When Marcos' main opponent, Benigno Aquino, was assassinated in 1983, opposition to his rule reached unprecedented heights with rioting on the streets of Manila. Marcos called an election in 1986 which both he and his rival, widow Corazon Aquino, claimed to have won. 'People Power' won out in the end as tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Manila in a defiant display of support for the popular opposition leader. Within days Marcos and his shoe-fetishist wife Imelda went into comfortable exile in Hawaii. Aquino was unable to stem the tide of corruption endemic in the post-Marcos Philippines, and she eventually gave up power to Protestant Fidel Ramos. His rule ended the communist guerilla war that had been raging in the Philippines, but he too fell to a groundswell of popular support for aging B-grade movie actor Joseph Estrada in 1998. There is much to be done before the Philippines emerges as an economic power, however the pace of change in the huge nation indicates that anything is possible.
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