Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Philippines and Monarchy

The Philippines, as we know it today, came into being as a result of the arrival of the Spanish in 1521 under the leadership of the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães), the first to circumnavigate the globe (though not him personally but I assume most know the story) and the man who first laid claim to what became the Spanish East Indies, which included The Philippines. Now, that statement alone may offend some people (what doesn’t these days?) but it is nonetheless true. Of course, the history of the islands we call The Philippines goes back much farther but it was not one country but a multitude of minor warring states, small factions and segments of other larger powers. It was the Kingdom of Spain that grouped together and organized as one political entity what eventually became The Philippines and who contributed to the unique blend that makes up the modern Filipino culture. The multitude of other contributors are all important but, in all that happened for the roughly three hundred years that Spanish monarchs reigned over The Philippines, the country would be something very different if none of that had ever happened. It certainly would not be what it is today. One of the things that is most unique and most admirable about The Philippines is the strength of faith there. It is the only majority-Catholic country in the region and Roman Catholic Christianity plays a central role in Filipino history.

King Philip II of Spain
Obviously, the Spanish monarchy was deeply involved in this. At the time of the arrival of Magellan, when the Spanish flag was first planted on Filipino soil, the King of Spain was Carlos I, better known as Emperor Charles V (“of the German nation”). The arrival of Magellan coincided with the outbreak of the Catholic-Protestant split, begun by Martin Luther, that divided Christendom (or at least the Catholic part of a Christendom already divided between Orthodox and Catholic Christians). As Protestantism spread across Germany and northern Europe, Catholic, and particularly Spanish Catholic (as Spain was then the most powerful Catholic country) footholds in places like America and The Philippines became extremely significant mission fields. Ultimately, this more or less worked and about as many new Catholics were converted in places like Central America and The Philippines as were lost to the Church of Rome to Lutheranism. In The Philippines, as was common with European colonial expansion, the Spanish foothold began with the arrival of Magellan and his alliance with an existing local state against a neighboring enemy. In the case of Magellan, this resulted in a military adventure that ultimately cost him his life but other Spanish expeditions followed that claimed and eventually gained control of the islands for the Spanish Crown and it was Ruy Lopez de Villalobos who, in 1543, named them The Philippines in honor of King Philip II of Spain, Felipe II being the son and successor of King Carlos I (aka Emperor Charles V).

It was not until 1570 that the Kingdom of Manila, on the island of Luzon, was taken and it became the capital city and has remained so ever since. Until 1821 The Philippines were, within the Spanish empire, categorized with “New Spain” which was centered on what is today Mexico. It is interesting to note that Mexico was thus the Spanish colony most connected to The Philippines (in terms of trade and communication) and long after The Philippines were parted from Spain, the contribution of Mexico to the Allied cause in World War II, which consisted of the 201st Squadron (the “Aztec Eagles”) was in driving the Japanese out of The Philippines in 1945. The two countries have a unique connection. However, while Spanish forces were still expanding their control over The Philippines, threats of domination by another power were almost constant due to the key location of the islands astride the South China Sea trade routes. The powerful ruler of Japan, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, demanded that they become vassals of Japan but, of course, Spain was having none of that and Lord Hideyoshi was not in a position to do anything about it. There were attacks by the Dutch and the Portuguese on The Philippines, all basically fighting for control of commerce in the region and there was a very dangerous series of attacks from China. These invasions were not on the part of the Great Ming Empire but rather a notorious Chinese pirate named Limahong who tried to carve out his own pirate-kingdom in the islands. He managed to dominate some of the local rulers in eastern Luzon and attacked Manila but ultimately the Spanish and Filipino forces defeated him.

Empire of Brunei flag
The struggle of the Spanish in The Philippines could also be seen in the context of the larger war between Christian and Islamic forces in which Spain played a key part (North Africa, Malta, Lepanto, Vienna etc). The Empire of Brunei (yes, the tiny state was once an empire) had spread Islam in what would become The Philippines, replacing the earlier religious beliefs of the old states which had been most influenced by Indian culture (like much of Southeast Asia). Spanish and Filipino Catholic forces were thus fighting Islamic states in The Philippines at the same time Spanish and Austrian troops were battling Islamic expansion in Europe and the Mediterranean. However, the lack of political unity meant that the Islamic petty monarchies in the archipelago meant that they fought each other as much as anyone else and this enabled the Spanish to ultimately defeat all of them. In 1578 Spain declared war on Brunei after the local monarch, Sultan Saiful Rijal, refused an ultimatum from a Spanish envoy from The Philippines to allow Christian missionaries into his territory. The Sultan hoped to block the spread of Catholicism in The Philippines as well as to prevent Spain from gaining control of the local trade routes. In the resulting War of Castille, fought mostly by Filipinos on the Spanish side, the capital of Brunei was captured but the Catholic forces were decimated by disease and had to return to The Philippines.

My own tinkering -NOT an actual flag
Brunei still regards this as a great victory but it prevented Brunei from gaining control of Luzon and ended the largest foreign supporter of the Islamic forces still fighting the Spanish in Mindanao. The Spanish Governor-General of the time, Don Francisco de Sande, also worked to disestablish the large Spanish encomiendas (similar to feudal estates) where exploitation of the Filipinos was not uncommon. He enacted a law forbidding Crown appointees from owning such encomiendas. At one point, Spanish forces were so successful that footholds were established in the Maluku Islands of what is now Indonesia and on Formosa (what is now Taiwan) but these later had to be abandoned due to the threat of a Chinese attack on The Philippines themselves. Over the years, despite some alarms, Spain was able to protect The Philippines successfully from outside attack and to maintain control and protect commerce and communications throughout the many islands. This, however, points to one of the great misunderstandings of modern Filipino history or, at least, how it is told in relation to Spanish colonial power.

No people, whoever they are, enjoy being ruled by outsiders and there were plenty of examples of injustice on the part of Spain (and later the United States) for the Filipinos to have legitimate grievances over. However, while many today may not wish to acknowledge the fact, The Philippines were simply never presented with an option of being independent or subject to the colonial rule of a foreign power. The islands were not united, were not one country or one people before the Spanish and even if they had been, were too sparsely population because of rampant tropical diseases to ever be able to survive on their own. Thus, the only choice The Philippines ever had was which imperial power was going to have jurisdiction over them. If Spain had not ruled The Philippines, someone else would have and that fact was clear at the outset of the colonial period and would reoccur throughout Filipino history.

British King George III
Along with occasional attacks by Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese raiders (which decreased over time until stopping altogether) the Spanish were employed in suppressing numerous local rebellions over the centuries. Sometimes, such rebels could find outside support but of the sort that only would have resulted in a change of flags over the capitol building in Manila rather than actual independence. One often overlooked example was the British seizure of Manila in 1762 during the Seven Years’ War (that’s the French & Indian War to Americans). The Spanish government did not even know it had happened until the war was over. British troops operating out of India invaded The Philippines and captured Manila within 10 days from the surprised garrison. So, from 1762 to 1764 The Philippines were actually under the reign of King George III of Great Britain and Ireland before being returned to King Carlos III of Spain after the war when the peace settlement was arranged. The British had promised considerable support to anti-Spanish rebels led by Diego Silang (and later his wife who led the rebellion after Diego was killed). Diego Silang led an uprising and was rewarded with the rank of a local governor by the British Governor-General but the British never secured control of all of The Philippines and were effectively bottled up in Manila, unable to send him the promised troops and the rebels forces were crushed by the Spanish and pro-Spanish Filipino forces. Even if they had been successful or if the treaty negotiations had gone differently, it would not have meant independence for The Philippines but only that the Union Jack rather than the Cross of Burgundy would have flown over Manila.

Queen Isabel II statue, Intramuros
In 1821, with the independence of Mexico, The Philippines seemed to be under the jurisdiction of the Viceroy of New Spain and were from then on under the direct oversight of the government in Madrid. The royalist struggles in Spain between the Carlists and Cristinos also reached all the way to The Philippines though not in a violent way. In the 1850’s the people of Manila donated money to erect a statue of Queen Isabella II of Spain which was placed in what is now Lawton Plaza in 1860 (what was then near the Alfonso XII theatre). This statue became very symbolic of the monarchy in general in The Philippines. In the “Glorious Revolution” of 1868 Queen Isabella II was overthrown and a very liberal Governor-General of The Philippines was appointed named Carlos Maria de la Torre (according to one source he had been a Carlist but, if so, his politics must have changed dramatically). He wanted all traces of the former monarchy removed and ordered the statue destroyed, however, the man entrusted to do the job was a loyalist and hid it away instead. Although he proved to be exceedingly popular with the local population, the Governor-General was replaced with Rafael de Izquierdo y Gutierrez in 1871, appointed by the new Italian King of Spain Amadeo I. He preferred the “iron fist” to the “velvet glove” of his predecessor.

Prince Yamagata Aritomo
Insurgents rose up again and began to increasingly become better organized and more politically astute during what would prove to be the last years of the reign of the Spanish Crown over the Philippines. What has become known as the Philippine Revolution began and only intensified as the years passed. Yet, not every agent of the King of Spain was harsh in his dealings with the Filipinos. Governor-General Ramon Blanco is an example, a man who tried to be lenient with the rebels. However, local conservatives forced him out of office and when the rebel leader Jose Rizal was killed by royalist Filipino troops the former Governor-General took his sword and sash and presented them to the rebel leader’s family as an apology for their loss. Yet, again, no government recognized the Filipino rebels and during this time of difficulty for Spain there were numerous other powers that envisioned taking The Philippines for themselves. The two who seemed most eager were the Empires of Germany and Japan. In 1894 Prince Yamagata Aritomo, later Prime Minister of Japan, offered the Spanish 40 million pounds sterling to sign over ownership of the archipelago to the Japanese. During the Spanish-American War, the German East Asian Squadron kept a close watch on the conflict at Manila in case any opportunity should present itself for Germany to step in and take control of the Philippines.

The child King Alfonso XIII would be the last monarch The Philippines would ever have. Unrest continued to grow, aided in no small part by the number of people from Latin America who came to the islands whether in private occupations or in government positions, bringing with them a background in republicanism and opposition to Spain. Despite the best efforts of the Queen-mother, acting as regent, in 1898 war broke out between Spain and the United States, mostly over American support for the rebellion in Cuba. The Philippines was a place hardly anyone in America had ever heard of or thought about. Yet, during the war it stood out as an inviting target. Spanish control had been pushed back practically to the walls of the old city itself, (known as Intramuros) in Manila. After a brief battle, mostly a show for honor’s sake, the Spanish surrendered and, so to speak, tossed the Americans the keys as they were leaving. The Spanish flag was lowered, never to be raised again and, to the frustration of the Germans and Japanese, the United States stepped in as the new colonial power, the Spanish being paid about $20 million for their lost territory.

King Juan Carlos in the Philippines
That was the end for monarchy playing a national part in The Philippines. The rebel government of Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence (as a republic) the same year the Spanish-American War started but neither the U.S. nor any other power recognized his government and after American troops were attacked by Filipino rebels it was the start of another brutal counter-insurgency campaign. The only other brush with monarchy that The Philippines would have was during World War II when the country effectively became a colony of the Empire of Japan. Though a collaborationist regime was in nominal control there was no doubt that the Japanese were really in charge. Yet, oddly enough, The Philippines is probably the only country that counts itself amongst the Allies that regards its collaborationist regime as being legitimate, something the Japanese have always pointed to as proof that the Filipinos remain fond of their time within the Empire of Japan (the situation would be similar to the King of Norway recognizing Vidkun Quisling as a legitimate prime minister for comparison). Shortly after the war, as a republic of course, The Philippines finally became an independent country.

Queen Sofia during her most recent visit to The Philippines
Fortunately, relations between The Philippines and the Spanish monarchy have improved since the colonial era. In 1974 Prince Juan Carlos and Princess Sofia, on behalf of the government of Generalissimo Francisco Franco which they were soon to succeed, visited the Philippines and were received by President Ferdinand Marcos. The statue of Queen Isabella II, which had narrowly avoided destruction in the 1860’s had been put on display again in 1896 at the Malate Church in Manila. It was blown down by a typhoon in 1970 but five years later, on the occasion of a visit by King Juan Carlos, it was restored and put on display again, this time at the Isabel II gate to Intramuros where it still stands today as an illustration of the restoration of friendship with the Spanish monarchy. Members of the Spanish Royal Family have visited a number of times since, Queen Sofia making her fourth visit to The Philippines in 2012. Ties between Spain and The Philippines have increased over the years but solely in the areas of history and culture rather than politics with the only active royalist presence in the islands being those attached to the Islamic former states that pre-dated Spanish rule.


  1. Hey there. Have been following your blog after accidentally crossing in and looking for a monarchist point of view.

    For your "tinkering" flag of a monarchist Philippines, here's a link for the flag (which is actually the Royal Philippine Company's flag of 1733-1834)

    We also have these links for your reference:


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