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Philippines Crossroads of Southeast Asia

Posted by Delbert on July 26th, 2007

Philippines Crossroads of Southeast Asia

In 1274, Khublai Khan, grandson of the great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan, having conquered most of China, decided to attack Japan and expand the Mongol Empire beyond the shores of China.  The invading armada consisted of 900 ships and 23,000 troops.  But bad weather stopped the Mongols and the invasion was aborted.  In 1281 the Mongols tried again, this time with an armada of 4,000 ships.  However, a strong hurricane wiped out the invading Mongols.  The Japanese believed that it was a divine wind — kamikaze — that saved Japan from the Mongol invasion.

Had the Mongols succeeded in colonizing Japan, they probably would have continued their aggressive advance southward to Southeast Asia; thus, expanding their empire from Syria and Eastern Europe all the way to Southeast Asia including the Philippine archipelago.
Khublai Khan died in 1294 and his dream of expansion died with him.

It is interesting to note that our ancestors known as Malayo-Polynesians — a sub-family of the Austronesians — migrated from south China 5,000 years ago by way of Taiwan.  Today, the Malayo-Polynesians who set foot on the shores of northern Luzon, have populated a vast area of the world that covers a distance of 11,000 miles from Madagascar to Hawaii, almost half the circumference of the world.

The earliest known arrival of other cultures was in the 9th century when Muslim traders from Malacca, Borneo, Sumatra and the Middle East started coming to Sulu and Mindanao.  However, there were accounts that traders from the Mediterranean may have traveled to southern Philippines as early as 600 BC.  Southern Philippines close proximity to the routes of the Spice Trade — which goes back to the time of King Solomon — gives credence to this account.

During the 11th century, Chinese traders started coming to the Philippine archipelago.  They traded mostly in Luzon; however, they went as far as Butuan and Sulu.  In 1405, Emperor Yung Lo of the Ming Dynasty in China claimed the island of Luzon — the Chinese called it Lusong and placed it under his empire.  The biggest settlement of Chinese was in Lingayen — derived from the Chinese word “Li-King-Tung” meaning CÅ“to look backward and forward which is now the capital of Pangasinan. Lingayen also became the seat of the Chinese colonial government in Luzon.  When Yung Lo died in 1424, the Chinese colonial government was dissolved.  However, the Chinese settlers, known as Sangleys in Lingayen remained and prospered.  Most of them hispanized their names during the Spanish era.

Ninety seven years after Emperor Yung Lo died, in 1521, Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines and claimed it for the Spanish Crown.  He named it Islas de San Lazaro.  Another discovery made in 1521 was Mexico.  Hernan Cortez conquered the Aztec empire and wasted no time colonizing it.  The colony was named Nueva Espana (New Spain).  Thousands of Spaniards were encouraged to settle in Mexico with promises of land and wealth.

In 1542 the Spanish explorer Ruy Lopez de Villalobos led an expedition to the Philippine archipelago and named it Las Islas Filipinas after Philip II, the future king of Spain.  However, Villalobos wasn’t too enthused in colonizing the far-flung archipelago. He did not stay too long and left.

In 1565, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, a Spanish-born Mexican functionary, led an expedition to Filipinas with the intent of colonizing it.  At first, he established his capital in Cebu.  In 1569, using Cebu natives — called Pintados for the tattoos on their bodies — Legazpi ordered one of his lieutenants, Martin de Goiti, to attack Maynilad in Luzon, a thriving settlement frequented by Chinese and Arab traders.  Goiti pretended to have come in peace and the native chief, Rajah Soliman, gave him and his men a sumptuous feast. During the feast, Goiti and Rajah Soliman entered into a blood compact. The following day, Goiti attacked and captured the settlement.   In 1571, Legazpi arrived “triumphantly” in Manila.

Thus, the Spanish colonization of the Philippines started.  For 250 years — from 1565 to 1815 — Filipinas was ruled by the Viceroy of Nueva Espana nder the authority of the Spanish Crown.

The 250 years under direct Mexican administration had created a strong cultural link between the two colonies of Spain.  The Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade thrived.  It was the only trade route linking the Philippines and the other colonies of Spain.  Each year, two galleons crossed the vast Pacific Ocean from Manila to Acapulco.  It took one year for each galleon to complete a round trip.

When war broke out between Spain and the British Empire in 1762, Britain attacked the Spanish forces in the Philippines.  Spain surrendered the Philippines and Britain immediately established a military government in Manila.  However, the British presence in the Philippines only lasted until 1763 when the Treaty of Paris ended the war.  Britain gave the Philippines back to Spain.  It’s interesting to note that when the British withdrew, many of the Sepoys — mercenaries from India — mutinied and refused to leave.  Many of the them took Filipina brides and settled in what is now Cainta, Rizal.

In 1815, during the Mexican Revolution, Spain took direct control of the Philippines and it also ended the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade.  The period under direct Spanish rule was also the turbulent years in the Philippines.  Revolutionary ideas began to flourish among a new class of Filipinos — the ilustrados — which eventually ignited the Revolution of 1896.

The American presence started in 1898 when Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States for $20 million.  Thus began the Americanization of the Philippines, a period of time that ended when the Philippine gained its independence in 1946.

For the last two millenia, the 5,000-year-old Malayo-Polynesian culture of the Philippines has been enriched with the introduction of Asian, Arabic, Middle Eastern, Indian, European, Mexican, and American cultures.  Strategically located at the crossroads of southeast Asia, the Philippines has become a melting pot of the world’s cultures.

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