The earliest archaeological find dates human occupation of the Philippines to around 65,000 years BC, and is based on a single humanoid metatarsal found in 2007, known as Callao Man. The most definitive early signs of the presence of mankind, however, are those of Tabon Man, known through bones and tools, and named after the caves in which successive occupations date from around 22,000 BC.


Little is known of the origins of these early peoples, but interestingly, the unusual practice of jar burial echoes that of the custom found in the ‘Plain of Jars’ found in modern day Laos. How humans came to inhabit the Philippine archipelago remains a matter of much unresolved debate for which a number of theories compete.


The earliest metal tools discovered date to around 500 BC, belonging to an advanced agricultural civilisation that had mastered the irrigation techniques of rice growing. Written language appears in 300 BC and is based upon ancient Indian script.

By the third century AD, trading with neighbouring civilisations in the Malay Peninsula, China, India and Arabia was well established.




Recorded Philippine history begins with the spread of the Gupta Indian Empire, and the establishment of several states who occupied the archipelago, out of which, the most prominent became the Tondo Kingdom, somewhere around 900 AD, under the rulership of Jayadeva, centred upon the area now known as Manilla. Little is known of this kingdom, due to the impermanence of their writings, recorded on perishable leaves, other than the more durable references of its trading partners such as China, India and Champa.

Among other Kingdoms occupying the archipelago were the Rajahnate of Cebu, based on the island of the same name, and the Mai Kingdom of Mindoro.

In 1380, Islam arrived in the Philippines, brought by the Arabian trader, Makhdum Karim, part of the movement that would also see Islam come to dominance in Malaysia and Indonesia.

By 1500 AD, the Empire of Brunei attacked Tondo and established the city of Selurong (Manila) across the river, through which it would exert Islamic influence for a brief time before the arrival of the Spanish, and would in all likelihood have established itself firmly across the whole region had it not been for their intervention.



The vast collection of over 7,000 disparate islands now known as the Philippines gradually became politically merged after the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, working for the Spanish in 1521, and was initially named the Islas de San Lazaro, only later renamed by the Miguel Lopez de Villalobos expedition of 1543 as Las Islas Filipinas after the Spanish King.


In 1565, another Spaniard, Miguel Lopez de Lagazpi, returning fresh from the newly established tyranny of the Spanish conquest of Mexico was sent to establish a colony, and arrived with a contingent of five hundred soldiers and six attendant missionaries, and established the first Spanish settlement at Cebu.

Resistance to Spanish colonisation was led by Rajah Sulayman of Selurong, but was soon defeated. A later ‘plot’, in 1587, by the heirs of Tondo and others, including the ringleader, Legazpi’s grandson Augustin, was also foiled and led to the execution of the conspirators, but a further hundred years of skirmishes would plague their rule until the Spanish achieved a full grip on power throughout the entire archipelago.


As was the way with Spanish colonialism, the zealous spread of Catholicism was a major feature of the occupation, led by the establishment of a cathedral and several monasteries in Manila, which began the wave of mass conversions that spread over most of the islands, establishing the institutions of Christian governance, which would embed Spanish culture within local communities.


Notably, however, the surviving Islamic culture in the far south of the emerging nation wholly resisted the spread of Christianity, a situation that still persists today in the southern islands, particularly in Mindanao and the Sulu Islands, the focus of Islamic separatist activities, which have, in the not too distant past, targeted tourism in these areas and the nearby diving islands of Malaysian Borneo, such as Sipadan and Mabul.


Given the competitive nature of the European powers in the race to carve up the world between them, challenges by rivals would inevitably follow and during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Spanish had to fight off the British, Portuguese and Dutch to retain control, briefly losing Manila to the British occupation of 1762. Following a peace accord in Europe, the Spanish regained the territory two years later.




In the nineteenth century, despite the widespread absorption of Catholicism, which remains to this day a popular and powerful force in the Philippines, the oppressive nature of the Spanish conquest began to foment rebellion, particularly among the educated mixed blood Mestizos.


Initial, ill organised, rebellions were easily overcome, but the execution of 3 Filipino priests for sedition would soon inspire a more considered campaign, from which the most charismatic figure to emerge in its leadership was Dr. Jose Rizal, whose writings inspired the independence movement and is now remembered and revered as a national hero.


The Philippine Revolution began in 1896, and Rizal was promptly arrested and executed. Following his death, the ringleaders were forced to flee Manila and following continued skirmishes, a truce was declared with one of the Independence movement’s most prominent leaders, General Emilio Aguinaldo agreeing to exile in Hong Kong as part of the settlement.


While Spanish promises of reform were ultimately found hollow, events on the other side of the world would play a significant role in the future of the Philippines, as Spain became embroiled in a conflict with the USA in Cuba over the control of sugar, engendering the Spanish-American War.


As a Spanish colony, the Philippine territory was inevitably drawn into the conflict, with the Americans supporting the rebel cause by inviting Aguinaldo out of exile as part of their political strategy to mobilise Filipino resistance, which he successfully achieved, taking control of most of Luzon Island.

As American forces began to arrive on the islands, Aguinaldo took the opportunity to declare Philippine independence, an action that was bold, if premature.


Following the battle for Manila in 1899, the Americans took control of the islands and bought the territory from Spain as part of the settlement agreed at the end of the Spanish-American War. Disappointed by the American betrayal, hostilities between the Filipinos and Americans inevitably ensued in the conflict known as the Philippine-American War.


Unable to defeat American troops in open combat, the Filipino forces adapted their strategy toward Guerrilla warfare. By 1901, the Americans had captured Aguinaldo and, knowing the game was up, he persuaded his forces to cease hostilities, thus ending the brief First Philippine Republic.


The Americans, having secured the islands, set about transforming the economy and, by 1907, allowed Filipinos to have a sense of inclusion by the setting up of a Philippine Assembly. 

In 1916, the Americans initiated a process aimed towards eventual independence and a largely Filipino-run civil service was created.


In 1934, a constitutional convention established the framework of a future independent nation and an interim Commonwealth government was established the following year, with Presidential elections won by Manuel L Quezon’s Nacionalista Party and a date of July 4th, 1946 set for the achievement of full independence. 



Just when Filipinos were optimistically preparing for self-governing nationhood, the initially European event of World War II began to shape Global events. In December 1941, the Japanese famously bombed Pearl Harbour, bringing America into the conflict. 

However, the Japanese bombardment and invasion of the very same day upon the Philippines, is generally less well known and often overlooked, perhaps because it led to the largest ever surrender of US troops in American History. Filipino President Manuel Quezon took refuge in the USA for the duration of the war, setting up a government in exile.


Following the surrender, 80,000 American and Filipino soldiers were brutally abused and force-marched to a prison camp, a journey which would see many thousands die, in a Japanese war crime, known as the Bataan Death March.


The typically extreme brutality of Japanese conduct during the Second World War is widely known, and the occupation of the Philippines was no exception. A puppet government was set up under the nominal control of President Jose Laurel, known to posterity as the Second Philippine Republic, but aside from many of the country’s elite who collaborated to protect their interests, the majority of Filipinos remained loyal to their exiled government and the US.


Filipino resistance to the Japanese occupation was widespread, and increasingly successful after overcoming initial fragmentation. Communications with the US military were established and supplies clandestinely brought in by US submarines, with vital information of great use to a future American counter invasion being passed back.

By the time of the American landings on the island of Leyte in late 1944, Filipino resistance forces were widely causing havoc to the Japanese throughout most of the country, but the battle for Manila would cast a stain of memory, which persists to this day.


Prior to the war Manila had been widely regarded as one of Asia’s most lovely cities, and indeed when the prospect of the inevitability of American surrender became obvious, to preserve the city, they had offered no resistance to Japanese entry.


When the Americans returned however, the Japanese had no such respect, and their determination to fight to the last man would ensure that battle for Manila would virtually entirely destroy the once great capital.


The destruction of Manila, and the high civilian death toll from American shelling was compounded by even worse suffering, as the Japanese, by now sensing the inevitability of defeat, set about a series of vengeful massacres upon the civilian population, with estimates of Filipino dead ranging between one hundred thousand and half a million. 



On the 9th of June, 1945, the legitimate Philippine government met for the first time since 1941, presiding over a ruined country. Following the formal Japanese surrender and the end of the Second World War on September 2nd, 1945, fresh elections were held in April 1946, with Manuel Roxas declared the new President.


Amazingly, despite the whole intervening episode of global warfare, the United States were able to hand over sovereignty of the Philippines over on the 4th of July, 1946, the exact date promised in the 1930’s reforms.


However, the economic ruin of the country ensured that the new government was wholly dependent upon American Aid, in return for which the Philippines granted a 99 year lease on American military bases within its territory.


In an effort to put the past behind them, a general amnesty to collaborators was issued and the reconstruction of the country begun, though the efforts were complicated by communist uprisings.


Following the sudden death by heart attack of Manuel Roxas, the Presidency passed through a number of successors until the arrival of one of the country’s most famous characters, Ferdinand Marcos, and his equally famous wife Imelda, renowned mainly for her vast shoe collection.



Elected in 1965, Marcos initially boosted the economy and instituted laudable public works. Re-elected in 1969, the blatant self-serving corruption of his administration began to turn the populace against him.


Conscious of the two term rule of the constitution, and using the deception of exaggerated imminent communist threats, Marcos declared Martial Law on September 21st, 1972, and proceeded to amend the constitution, allowing him to remain in power beyond the next scheduled election of 1973.


Many opposition figures were arrested and killed, and many others sought exile. Press freedoms were curtailed and a curfew imposed. During his rule, the economy prospered and Marcos, his wife and inner circle corruptly siphoned billions of dollars into personal funds.



Martial Law was lifted early in 1981, but the election of the same year was boycotted by the opposition, allowing Marcos a further six years of power. Following the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, popular dissatisfaction with Marcos coalesced around Aquino’s widow, Corazon.

Marcos held a snap election in 1985 but the result in Marcos’ favour was dismissed as a fraud. By February 1986, the masses were out on the streets in a movement which became known as 'People Power'.


When government troops flatly refused to open fire on the people, as ordered, Marcos fled to the United States. Corazon Aquino assumed the Presidency and set about working on a new constitution to prevent further abuses of power.


Aquino’s government survived several coup attempts, and during her period in office American Military presence in the Philippines finally came to an end, in late 1992. 

Since that time the Presidency has passed though many more hands, and the Philippines has continued to flourish as a democracy, even allowing Imelda Marcos back into the country, following the death of her husband in the US, and despite the billion dollar corruption of former times, she was even elected to parliament in 2010. 


Since the year 2000, the country has been embroiled in renewed conflict with the Muslim separatists of Mindanao, a prolonged struggle which dates all the way back to the Spanish invasion, and despite recent peace accords, still remains a troublesome source of culture clash between the Christian north and Islamic far south.


However, despite the occasional continuing radical Islamist attacks, the visit of Pope Francis in 2015 and the attendant mass outpourings of popular devotion, confirm the modern Filipino identity as Asia’s only Christian nation.