The Callao human metatarsal, reliably dated to 67,000 years ago by uranium series, is the oldest human remains discovered so far in the archipelago. This distinction previously belonged to the Tabon man of Palawan, carbon dated to about 26,500 years ago. The Negritos were also among the first inhabitants of the archipelago, but their first settlement in the Philippines is not reliably dated.
There are several opposing theories about the origins of the ancient Filipinos. F. Landa Jocano theorises that the ancestors of the Filipinos developed locally. Wilhelm Solheim’s theory of island formation postulates that the settlement of the archipelago was through trade networks originating in the Sundaland region around 48,000 to 5,000 BC, rather than large-scale migrations. The Austronesian expansion theory postulates that Malayo-Polynesians from Taiwan began migrating to the Philippines around 4000 BC, displacing earlier arrivals.
The most widely accepted theory, based on linguistic and archaeological evidence, is the “out-of-Taiwan” model, which holds that the Austronesians of Taiwan, themselves descendants of Yangtze River Neolithic civilisations such as the Liangzhu culture, began migrating to the Philippines around 4000 BC, displacing earlier arrivals. It is believed that a “jade culture” existed during the Neolithic period, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of exquisitely crafted jade objects discovered in the Philippines dating back to 2000 BC.
Jade is believed to be native to Taiwan and is also found in many other parts of the island world and mainland Southeast Asia. These artefacts are believed to be evidence of long-distance communication between prehistoric societies in Southeast Asia. In 1000 BC, the inhabitants of the archipelago evolved into four types of social groups: Hunter-gatherer tribes, warrior societies, highland plutocracies and port principalities.
The pre-colonial era
Some of the scattered societies on the islands of what would become the Philippines remained isolated, but many evolved into states that developed significant trade and contacts with the peoples of East, South and Southeast Asia, including those of Brunei, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Japan, as well as other Austronesian islands.
In the first millennium, port principalities emerged and grew into maritime states consisting of autonomous barangays, independent or allied with larger nations that were either Malay thalassocracies ruled by datus, Chinese-dependent states ruled by huangs, or Indianised kingdoms ruled by rajahs.
The Kedatuan of Madja-as was established after a civil war that led to the collapse of Srivijaya. The Malay Datus loyalists of Srivijaya defied the invading Chola dynasty and its puppet, the Rajah, called Makatunao, and established a guerrilla state in the Visayas Islands. Their founder, Puti, had bought land for his new kingdoms from the Aboriginal hero Ati, Marikudo.
Madja-as was founded on the island of Panay (named after the destroyed state of Pannai, which was allied under Srivijaya and was located in Sumatra). Later, the Madja-as people often raided the port cities of southern China and waged war against the Chinese fleet.
The Rajahnate of Cebu was a neighbour of the Madja-as in the Visayas, led by Rajamuda Sri Lumay, a monarch with partial Tamil ancestry. This state became rich through the use of the shipping routes between the islands of the archipelago.
Meanwhile, the Rajahnate of Butuan in north-eastern Mindanao achieved great importance during the reign of Rajah Sri Bata Shaja, who came from a Buddhist ruling class that ruled a Hindu nation. This state became powerful thanks to the local goldsmith industry and also maintained trade relations and diplomatic rivalry with the Champa civilisation. The Rajahnates of Butuan and Cebu maintained contacts and traded with Kutai, a Hindu country south of Borneo founded by Indian traders.
The Huangdom of Ma-i, centred on Mindoro and led by Huang Gat-sa-Lihan, was known for its reliability in trade.
In northern Luzon, the Pangasinan Kingdom under Huang Taymey exported horses and money to China, the Ryukyu Kingdom and Japan.
The Tondo Kingdom was ruled by the Lakandula Dynasty and the kingdom became richer thanks to the exclusive rights to trade the Chinese products they marketed in Southeast Asia. These rights were granted to them by the Ming Dynasty.
Around 1300, Islam arrived in the Philippine archipelago and spread. In 1380, Karim ul’ Makdum and Shari’ful Hashem Syed Abu Bakr, a Johore-born Arab merchant, came to Sulu from Malacca and established the Sultanate of Sulu by converting the Rajah of Sulu, Rajah Baguinda Ali, and marrying his daughter. In the late 15th century, Sharif Mohammed Kabungsuwan of Johor introduced Islam to the island of Mindanao and established the Sultanate of Maguindanao. The sultanate’s form of government extended to Lanao.
At that time, the people of Luzon were collectively known as Lucoes. They made themselves known by participating in trading ventures and military campaigns in Myanmar, Malacca and East Timor, where they were used as traders and mercenaries.
Islam then began to spread from Mindanao in the south to Luzon in the north. Manila on Luzon was Islamised during the reign of Sultan Bolkiah from 1485 to 1521. This happened because the Bruneian Empire subjugated the Kingdom of Tondo by defeating Rajah Gambang and then installed the Muslim Rajah, Rajah Sulaiman I, on the throne and established the Bruneian puppet state of the Kingdom of Maynila. Sultan Bolkiah also married Laila Mecana, the daughter of Sultan Sulu Amir Ul-Ombra, to expand Brunei’s influence in Luzon and Mindanao. The Muslims then began to wage war and carry out slave raids against the Visayans.
Nevertheless, states such as the animist Igorot, the Malay Madja-as, the sinified Ma-i and the Indianised Butuan retained their cultures. Rivalries between the Datus, Rajahs, Huangs, Sultans and Lakans eventually facilitated Spanish colonisation. Moreover, the islands were sparsely populated due to natural disasters and conflicts between kingdoms. Thus, colonisation was facilitated and the small states of the archipelago were quickly integrated into the Spanish empire, Hispanised and Christianised.
The colonial period
In 1521, the expedition of the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan reached the Philippines, claimed the islands for Spain and was later killed in the Battle of Mactan. Colonisation began when the Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi arrived from Mexico in 1565 and established the first Hispanic settlements in Cebu. After settling on the island of Panay and consolidating a coalition of indigenous Visayan allies, Hispanic soldiers and Latin American mercenaries, the Spanish invaded Islamic Manila, where they defeated the Tondo Conspiracy and exiled the conspirators to Guam and Guerrero. Under Spanish rule, they made Manila the capital of the Spanish East Indies (1571).
They also defeated the Chinese warlord Limahong. In response to the Islamic invasion of the Philippines, the Spanish then waged the Castilian War against the Sultanate of Brunei and war was also waged against the Sultanate of Ternate and Tidore (in response to the enslavement of Ternatan and piracy against Bohol and Butuan). Fortresses were also built in Taiwan and the Maluku Islands. These were abandoned and the Spanish soldiers, along with the Christianised indigenous population of the Moluccas, retreated to the Philippines to refocus their military forces as an invasion by the Japanese-born Ming Dynasty loyalist Koxinga, who controlled the fortress of Tungning, loomed. However, the invasion was called off. In the meantime, settlers were sent to the Pacific islands, Palau and the Marianas.
Spanish rule eventually contributed significantly to the political unity of the archipelago’s fragmented states. From 1565 to 1821, the Philippines were ruled as a territory of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, based in Mexico, and then directly administered by Madrida after the Mexican War of Independence. The Manila Galleons, the largest wooden ships ever built, were built in Bicol and Cavite. The Manila Galleons were accompanied by a large naval escort on the voyage to and from Manila and Acapulco. The galleons sailed once or twice a year between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Trade brought in foodstuffs such as corn, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, chocolate and pineapples from Mexico and Peru. In the Philippines, the Marquisate of Buglas was founded and its rule entrusted to Sebastian Elcano and his crew, survivors of the first circumnavigation of the world, and his descendants. New towns were also founded and Roman Catholic missionaries converted most of the inhabitants of the plains to Christianity. They also founded schools, a university, hospitals and churches built in the baroque architectural style of the earthquakes. The Spaniards also decreed the introduction of free public education in 1863. As a result of this policy, the Filipino population grew exponentially.
During his reign, the Spanish suppressed several native uprisings. Chinese and Japanese pirates, the Dutch, English, Portuguese and Muslims from Southeast Asia launched several external military challenges. These challengers were repulsed, although enemy forces surrounded the Philippine archipelago in a crescent from Japan to Indonesia. British troops occupied Manila from 1762 to 1764 as a continuation of the fighting of the Seven Years’ War. Spanish rule was restored by the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The Hispano-Moro conflict lasted for several hundred years. In the last quarter of the 19th century, Spain conquered parts of Mindanao and the Moro Muslims of the Sulu Sultanate officially recognised Spanish sovereignty.
In the 19th century, Philippine ports opened up to world trade and changes began to take place in Philippine society. Many Filipino-born Spaniards (criollos) and those of mixed ancestry (mestizos) became wealthy, and an influx of Latin American settlers opened up government positions traditionally held by Iberian-born Spaniards (peninsulares). The ideals of the revolution began to spread to the islands as well. The discontent of the criollos led to the Cavite Mutiny in 1872, the precursor of the Philippine Revolution.
Revolutionary sentiments were stirred up in 1872 after three priests – Mariño Gómez, José Burgos and Jacinto Zamora (collectively known as Gomburza) – were accused of sedition by the colonial authorities and executed. This was to inspire a propaganda movement in Spain organised by Marcelo H. del Pilar, José Rizal and Mariano Ponce, who campaigned for political reform in the Philippines. Rizal was eventually executed on 30 December 1896, charged with rebellion. As the attempts at reform met with resistance, Andrés Bonifacio founded the secret society Katipunan in 1892, which sought independence from Spain through armed insurrection.
Bonifacio and the Katipunan launched the Philippine Revolution in 1896. A faction of the Katipunan, the Magdalo of Cavite province, eventually challenged Bonifacio’s position as leader of the revolution and Emilio Aguinaldo took over. In 1898, the Spanish-American War began in Cuba and reached the Philippines. Aguinaldo declared the Philippines’ independence from Spain on 12 June 1898 in Kawit, Cavite, and the following year the first Philippine Republic was established in the Church of Barasoain.
The islands were ceded by Spain to the United States after the latter won the Spanish-American War. Under the Treaty of Paris of 1898, compensation of US$20 million was paid to Spain. As it became increasingly clear that the United States would not recognise the fledgling First Philippine Republic, the Spanish-American War broke out, the First Republic was defeated and the archipelago was administered by an island government. The war resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of combatants as well as several hundred thousand civilians, mainly due to a cholera epidemic.
The Americans then took action against other rebellious constituent states: especially the Sulu Sultanate, which was in decline, as well as the rebellious Tagalog Republic, the Cantonal Negro Republic in the Visayas and the Republic of Zamboanga in Mindanao. At this time, there was a revival of Filipino culture, with the spread of Filipino cinema and literature. In 1935, the Philippines was granted commonwealth status with Manuel Quezon as president. It designated a national language and introduced women’s suffrage and land reform. Plans for independence in the next decade were interrupted by World War II, when the Japanese Empire invaded the Philippines and the Second Philippine Republic was established by José P. Laurel as a collaborating state.
During the war, many atrocities and war crimes were committed, such as the Bataan Death March and the Manila Massacre, which culminated in the Battle of Manila. In 1944, Quezon died in exile in the United States and was succeeded by Sergio Osmeña. The Allied forces then employed a strategy of island hopping in the Philippine archipelago and recaptured territory conquered from Imperial Japan.
From mid-1942 to mid-1944, the Filipino guerrilla resistance was supplied and encouraged by US Navy submarines and some parachute drops, allowing the guerrillas to harass the Japanese army and take control of the rural jungle and mountain areas – about half of the Philippine archipelago. While remaining loyal to the United States, many Filipinos hoped and believed that liberation from the Japanese would bring them the freedom and independence already promised.
Finally, the largest naval battle in history by gross tonnage, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, occurred when Allied forces began to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese Empire. Allied troops defeated the Japanese in 1945. By the end of the war, it is estimated that more than one million Filipinos had died.
On 24 October 1945, the Philippines became a founding member of the United Nations, and the following year, on 4 July 1946, it was recognised by the United States as an independent state under President Manuel Roxas. Disaffected remnants of the communist Hukbalahap continued to roam the country, but were shot dead by President Elpidio Quirino’s successor, Ramon Magsaysay. Magsaysay’s successor, Carlos P. Garciainitiated the first Philippine policy, continued by Diosdado Macapagal, with the shifting of the Independence Day celebration from 4 July to 12 June, the date of Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration, while pursuing the claim to the eastern part of North Borneo.
In 1965, Macapagal lost the presidential election to Ferdinand Marcos. At the beginning of his presidency, he launched many infrastructure projects, but was accused of massive corruption and embezzlement of billions of dollars in public funds. Towards the end of his term, Marcos declared martial law on 21 September 1972. This period of his rule was marked by political repression, censorship and human rights abuses, but the United States always supported this initiative. His wife Imelda continued to lead a lavish life while the majority of Filipinos lived in poverty.
On 21 August 1983, Marcos’ main rival, opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr. was assassinated on the tarmac of Manila International Airport. Marcos eventually called a presidential election at short notice in 1986. Marcos was declared the winner, but the results were widely seen as rigged, leading to the People Power Revolution. Marcos and his allies fled to Hawaii and Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino, was recognised as president.
The return to democracy and government reform from 1986 was hampered by national debt, government corruption, coup attempts, disasters, an ongoing communist insurgency and military conflict with the Moro separatists. Under the Corazon Aquino administration, US forces withdrew from the Philippines due to the rejection of the US Base Expansion Treaty, leading to the formal handover of Clark Air Force Base in November 1991 and Subic Bay in December 1992 to the government. The administration also had to deal with a series of natural disasters, including the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991. After the introduction of a constitution limiting presidents to a single term, Aquino did not seek re-election.
Fidel V. Ramos, who won the Philippine presidential election in May 1992, succeeded Aquino. During this time, the economy was known as the “Tiger Economy in Asia”, with an average GDP growth rate of 6%. However, political stability and economic improvements, such as the peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996, were overshadowed by the outbreak of the Asian financial crisis in 1997. During his presidency, the death penalty was reintroduced in light of the 1993 rape case of Eileen Sarmienta and Allan Gomez, and the first person executed was Leo Echegaray in 1999.
Ramos’ successor, Joseph Estrada, took office in June 1998 and managed to bring the economy from -0.6% in 1997 to 3.4% in 1999 amid the Asian financial crisis. The government declared war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in March 2000 and neutralised the camps, including the insurgents’ headquarters. Amid ongoing conflict with the Abu Sayyaf, allegations of corruption and a stalled impeachment process, Estrada’s government was ousted by the 2001 EDSA revolution and replaced by his vice-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on 20 January 2001.
Under Arroyo’s 9-year government, the economy grew from 4% GDP growth in 2002 to 7% in 2007 with the completion of infrastructure projects such as the LRT Line 2 in 2004 and managed to avoid the Great Recession. Nevertheless, it has been associated with corruption and political scandals, such as the Hello Garci scandal around alleged vote rigging in the 2004 presidential election. 34 journalists were killed in the Maguindanao massacre on 23 November 2009.
Benigno Aquino III won the 2010 national elections and became the 15th President of the Philippines. He was the third youngest person to be elected president and the first to be single. This came after the 2010 hostage crisis in Manila, which led to very tense relations between Manila and Hong Kong for a while. In the years before, the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement was signed on 15 October 2012, as a first step towards the creation of an autonomous political entity called Bangsamoro. However, territorial disputes in East Sabah and the South China Sea have intensified. The economy performed well with GDP growth of 7.2%, the second fastest in Asia. Aquino signed the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, commonly referred to as the K-12 programme, on 15 May 2013 to improve the country’s education system. On 8 November 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit the country and severely devastated it, especially in the Visayas. On 28 April 2014, during US President Barack Obama’s visit to the Philippines, the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed. From 15 to 19 January 2015, Pope Francis made an apostolic and state visit to the Philippines to visit the victims of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). 204]  On 25 January 2015, 44 members of the Philippine National Police – Special Action Force – were killed after a confrontation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, causing an impasse in efforts to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law. On 20 December 2015, Pia Wurtzbach won the title of Miss Universe 2015, becoming the third Filipina to win the Miss Universe title after Gloria Diaz in 1969 and Margarita Moran in 1973. On 12 January 2016, the Supreme Court of the Philippines upheld the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement, paving the way for the return of US Armed Forces bases to the country. On 23 March 2016, Diwata-1 was launched to the International Space Station (ISS). It is the country’s first microsatellite and the first satellite built and designed by Filipinos.
Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of the PDP-Laban won the 2016 presidential election and became the first president of Mindanao. Camarines Sur representative Leni Robredo won the vice presidency. On 12 July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favour of the Philippines in its case against China’s claims in the South China Sea. On 1 August 2016, the Duterte administration established a 24-hour complaints line accessible to the public through a national telephone line, 8888, and changed the national emergency number from 117 to 911. After winning the presidency, Duterte said, “If you know drug addicts, kill them yourself because it would be too painful to force their parents to do so.” In October 2016, 100 days after Duterte took office, the death toll in the Philippine drug war exceeded 3,000.