Episode 14 is now available! Recording this one was a special challenge due to sound problems, from me getting over a minor cold to static on the microphone. Nevertheless, I strained every nerve to get it done on time, so here it is. This time you will hear how Spain conquered the Philippines, making it a Spanish colony for more than three hundred years.
(Transcript, added 01/19/2020.)
Episode 14: The Spanish Philippines
Greetings, dear listeners! Or as they say in Tagalog, Mabuhay! On January 16, 2017, the same day that the previous episode went online, this podcast reached a milestone — 10,000 downloads. Counting from the day when the Introduction went up, it took exactly six and a half months to get to this point. Yes, other podcasts have gotten more downloads in less time, but this one is tackling a subject that can be both difficult and obscure, for people who don’t live in the Far East. I suppose when every podcaster gets started, he or she wonders if anyone outside the family will be listening. Well, that has definitely happened here. 60 percent of the downloads came from outside the United States, and in Southeast Asia itself, we have listeners in every country except East Timor. Also, the podcast has gotten popular enough that when you do a Google search for “History of Southeast Asia Podcast,” it will show up on the first page.
I can’t thank all of you enough for listening! The podcast has gotten as far as it has because of all of you. To paraphrase a famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams,”
If you record it, people will come.
Before we get into this episode’s material, we need to brush up on geography, because in this episode, I will be mentioning several places, all of them in the Philippines. The Philippines are one of the world’s largest archipelagoes, with more than 7,000 islands. Officially the figure is 7,107 islands, but in 2016 a government agency called the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority announced that new mapping techniques had revealed 534 new islands, some of which are probably just rocks above the surface of the sea, so from now on we may hear that the Philippines has 7,641 islands. There are two big islands, Luzon in the north and Mindanao in the south. The other islands are smaller, and most are between the two big ones; together the islands in the middle are called the Visayas. I added a map of the Philippines to the Blubrry.com page where this episode is hosted, and to the podcast’s Facebook page; it shows all the islands and cities I will talk about. You may want to keep the webpage open, or download the map with a right-click, so you can see where the places are that the Spanish expeditions will visit.
In the last episode, we introduced Spain and we also pretty much introduced the Philippines, because we haven’t had much to say about those islands since prehistoric man went to them, in Episodes 1 and 2. In 1521 Ferdinand Magellan stumbled upon the Philippines, a place Europeans didn’t know about previously. But instead of gaining anything from this discovery, Magellan got involved in a native quarrel and was killed. Then the surviving members of his expedition eventually found their way to their real goal, the Spice Islands of eastern Indonesia.
We also saw how valuable Indonesian spices were by the reaction of Spain’s King Charles V when the Victoria, one of Magellan’s ships, returned to Spain. Although the expedition had lost the other four ships, and nearly seven eighths of its men had died or deserted, the cargo of spices brought back was worth more than the cost of outfitting the ships and hiring the crew, so the expedition ended up turning a profit. What I forgot to mention last time was that Charles did not give credit for this success to Magellan, but to Juan Sebastian del Cano, the commander after Magellan’s death. He rewarded del Cano with a coat of arms that showed a globe and the Latin motto Primus circumdedisti me, meaning “First to circumnavigate me.”
Though the voyage was Magellan’s idea, he was largely forgotten. Portugal did not want to remember him because it regarded Magellan as a traitor, while Spain viewed Magellan as a foreigner who shouldn’t have been put in a leadership position, because he almost wrecked the whole enterprise. It was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when Magellan’s name was rehabilitated, allowing him to take his place as one of the shapers of the modern world.
Finally, last time we saw that Spain tried for a few years to take the Spice Islands, which had been already claimed by Portugal. If this squabble had taken place in Europe, you can be sure that Spain would have won, because it had more people and resources than Portugal, but Southeast Asia is so far away that logistics decided the matter; more than half of the ships and men sent by Spain didn’t arrive. Finally, with the 1529 Treaty of Saragossa, Spain in effect sold its claim to Portugal for 350,000 gold ducats. And now let’s resume the narrative.
Charles V did not give the Philippines much attention. Nor could he pay attention, because he wore too many hats — besides being king of Spain, he was also the Holy Roman Emperor and the chief Catholic monarch in the wars of the Reformation. On paper he ruled at least a third of Europe and three quarters of the Americas. There wasn’t any Spanish activity in Asia during the 1530s because Charles was too busy conquering Peru in the New World, and fighting the French, Turks and Lutherans at home. Still, Portugal was making good money in the Far East, and Spain was determined to get a piece of that pie. To do so, Spain would need a base somewhere in the Far East, and because Spain had gone to the Philippines first, a Spanish claim here would be more valid than one in Indonesia. Moreover, the Philippines were conveniently close to China, and they were full of potential converts to Catholicism, no small matter when the Protestant Reformation was taking away millions of Church members back in Europe.
In 1542 Spain made its first attempt to colonize the Philippines, by sending an expedition across the Pacific from Mexico. This expedition had six ships and somewhere between 370 and 400 men, and was commanded by Ruy López de Villalobos. They reached Mindanao’s eastern shore, and set up an outpost on that spot, but then they quickly ran out of food, and had trouble with hostile natives. In addition, Portugal knew that Spain was up to something, and twice the Portuguese governor of the Moluccas sent a ship to the colony, with a letter demanding to know why they were trespassing on Portuguese territory; each time, Villalobos wrote a letter back that said they were not trespassing, because the Philippines were Spanish territory. Eventually the colonists grew mutinous, and Villalobos realized they would need reinforcements and more supplies, so he sent one of the ships, commanded by Bernardo de la Torre, back to Mexico, but like the previous Spanish expeditions, it failed to catch the winds it needed to cross the Pacific from west to east. With their options running out, the Spaniards abandoned the colony and sailed to the Moluccas, where they tried to take refuge, but instead the Portuguese arrested them and threw them in jail. Most of them, including Villalobos, never saw Europe again. The Mindanao colony had only lasted for a few months, and its only accomplishment was that it gave the islands a permanent name. For twenty years after Magellan, Spain had called the islands Islas del Poniente, meaning Islands to the West, because they got to the islands by crossing the Pacific, while Portugal, which approached the islands from the west, called them Lihas Do Oriente, the Eastern Islands. Now somebody in the colony, probably Villalobos or de la Torre, renamed them Las Islas Felipinas, in honor of Crown Prince Philip, the future King Philip II of Spain. And that is how the Philippines got their present-day name.
I don’t think Villalobos chose that name with the approval of the natives. For one thing, there is no “F” sound in Tagalog and the languages related to it. Though Filipinos can pronounce the letter F, they are not used to it, and may use a P instead. Today the Tagalog name for their country is Pilipinas, not Philippines or Filipinas, and in recent years Filipinos have debated over whether they would rather be called Filipinos or Pilipinos. Former president Ferdinand Marcos got involved in that argument by proposing that the country be renamed Maharlika, after the guerrilla unit he was in during World War II, and that prompted one Philippine newspaper to ask its readers: “Would You Like to Be Called a Maharloko?” The Spanish name has persisted because the Filipinos never agreed on what to replace it with, or whether they should replace it at all. In that lack of unity you can see why the Spaniards succeeded in taking over. Those who came after Magellan realized that an agreement with one chief applied to only one group of natives, and conversely, they could gain control over the whole archipelago by keeping the natives divided.
A generation went by before Spain tried again; by then Charles had retired and his son Philip was now king. Of course Philip would be interested in a place named after him. Another expedition was launched from Mexico’s Pacific coast in 1564; preparations for it had taken three years, and were kept secret so the Portuguese wouldn’t find out. This time four ships and 360 men were sent. In the past, such an expedition would have been led by a military man, a conquistador, but curiously, the leader was an elderly Mexican bureaucrat, Miguel López de Legazpi. Wikipedia claims he was born in 1502, while my other sources give 1510 as his birth year, so he was either 62 or 54 years old when the expedition left Mexico. What we do know is that several Spanish officials thought Legazpi’s appointment was a bad joke, and they said he was unfit to lead because of “advanced senility.” In response to the critics, he humbly said, quote, “There are many men more qualified than I, yet none more willing to serve the king.” End quote. He proved to be wise, honest and tough, the right qualities to have here. The number two man of the expedition was Legazpi’s cousin, an Augustinian friar named Andrés de Urdaneta; because he was an expert in geography, Urdaneta served as the chief navigator as well as the chaplain.
One of the four ships got separated from the squadron as they crossed the Pacific; still, the other three were enough to complete the mission. They stopped at Guam, and because Guam had proven to be a useful place to resupply, they claimed that island for Spain. Then they reached the Philippines in February 1565, and first went to two islands near Cebu, Samar and Bohol. Here Legazpi won over the support of the natives by making a blood compact with a chief on each island. This was a ritual where the two men involved cut their wrists, poured their blood into a cup, and drank it mixed with wine, and then they were considered brothers afterwards. Next they went to Cebu, which we saw in the last episode was home to a kingdom modeled after the Indonesian states.
The current ruler of Cebu, Tupas, refused to submit to Spanish authority, or even talk. The Spaniards were also dismayed to see that the natives had abandoned the Christianity they had so quickly accepted from Magellan. Therefore Legazpi ordered his men to bombard the native village with cannon, setting the huts on fire, and two hundred Spanish soldiers came ashore to occupy the village. The natives ran away, taking their rice and livestock with them, but later they were allowed to return after a blood compact was sealed between Legazpi and Tupas. In the meantime, the soldiers searched the huts, and they found a doll in a wooden box, wearing a fancy Spanish costume. This was a small statue of the Christ child, probably given by Magellan to the wife of Humabon, more than forty years earlier. To the Spaniards the excellent condition of this image was seen as a miracle, and a sign that Christianity would survive in the Philippines. Legazpi built a wooden shrine for the doll, and in the seventeenth century a stone church replaced the shrine. I am mentioning this because the Christ child image is the only artifact from Magellan’s expedition that has lasted to our time.
Legazpi now had a base; next he needed a line of communication with the rest of the Spanish Empire, so he ordered Urdaneta to take one of the ships into the north Pacific, and try to find a way back to Mexico. Early in this podcast series, we noted that the winds and currents of the Indian Ocean change according to the monsoon cycle, so to sail successfully in the Indian Ocean, you have to travel at the right time of the year. We saw how that affected trade between India and Southeast Asia. However, in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, latitude, rather than the season, determines what direction ships can sail in. Here the winds of the tropics normally blow from east to west, and are called tradewinds because merchant ships rely on them, but in the temperate zone, above 30 degrees north latitude, the prevailing winds blow the other way, from west to east. By heading north until the ship’s latitude was in the upper thirties, Urdaneta found the winds that had evaded previous ships. With those winds he headed due east until he came to California, and then he followed the North American coast southward until he reached the Mexican port of Acapulco. The return trip had taken four months, a month longer than the trip west because of the California detour.
It looks like Urdaneta planned this course before the expedition got started, and shared it with the captains of all four ships. We believe this because Urdaneta did not make the first successful west-to-east crossing of the Pacific; one of those captains beat him to it. This was Alonso de Arellano, captain of the San Lucas, the ship that had strayed off from the squadron. The San Lucas had also made it to the Philippines, wandered around for a while, and when it did not find the other three ships, Arellano returned to Mexico, by taking a course very similar to Urdaneta’s. In fact, Arellano’s course was better; he took his ship farther north than Urdaneta did, caught a stronger wind and got home quicker. Now that Urdaneta and Arellano had proven it was possible to come back, Spain could send reinforcements, when needed. The ships that traveled west after this carried women and children among the passengers, a sign that Spain was planning to stay.
Back on Cebu, food was running short, and Portuguese ships were spotted offshore — not a good sign! And Legazpi had nearly as much trouble getting along with the Cebuanos as Magellan did. He and Tupas had a falling out when Tupas gave him a girl, whom he said was his niece. He expected the girl would become Legazpi’s bedtime companion, but Legazpi was too pious for this; instead of accepting her, he had her baptized and married to one of his crewmen. The offended Tupas vowed never to become a Christian, and Legazpi realized that Cebu was not a secure place for the colony’s capital. In 1569 the Spaniards packed their bags and moved to the western island of Panay, which had more food and friendlier natives; the Indonesian-style state on this island, the Kedatuan of Madja-as, submitted to Spanish rule without a fight.
Soon after he moved, Legazpi learned that Luzon, the big northern island, was the best place of all for a capital. It had the most land, it had the most people, it grew the most rice, and last but not least, it had an excellent harbor — Manila Bay. Legazpi sent an expedition to Manila Bay — two Spanish ships and several native canoes, carrying 120 Spanish soldiers and 600 native warriors, led by Martin de Goiti. We saw in the last episode that Brunei, the Moslem state ruling Borneo, claimed mastery over Manila, and officially the current ruler of Manila, Rajah Suleiman, was a vassal of Brunei. Rajah Suleiman agreed to let the Spaniards set up an outpost in his territory if it would be used to defend Manila Bay against invaders. But soon after that, relations between the two sides broke down. It isn’t clear what caused the fighting, but the Spaniards and Moslem Filipinos began shooting at one another, and the Spanish troops attacked and burned down Manila, before returning to Panay.
Around the same time, a fleet of ships arrived from Mexico, with money, supplies and mail for the Spaniards. The mail included a letter from King Philip, appointing Legazpi first governor of the new colony. Encouraged by this, Legazpi sent another force to Manila in 1571; this time, instead of making deals with the locals, they expelled Rajah Suleiman and took Manila Bay for Spain. Again, the lack of native unity was the reason why the Spaniards won, and Rajah Suleiman told them so. Quote: “You must understand that there is no sole authority in this land. Everyone has his own opinions and does what he likes.” End quote.
Legazpi then moved to Manila and began building a new Spanish city on the site; today it is called Intramuros, meaning “Within the Walls,” and is the oldest part of modern Manila. When I saw Intramuros, it reminded me of St. Augustine, Florida, which isn’t really a surprise, because both cities were founded by Spain around the same time, so they even could have had the same architects. One year later, in 1572, Legazpi died of old age and illness. He lived just long enough to know that the mission he had led was a complete success.
In the Spanish Empire’s organization the governor of the Philippines was placed under the governor of Mexico, who was called the viceroy of New Spain. So officially the Philippines were a colony of a Spanish colony. If you’re familar with the history of the conquistadors in the Americas, you know that what the Spaniards wanted most of all was a resource that was both valuable and extractable, like gold or spices. In the Philippines they did not found much wealth like this, but the trade that already existed between China and Manila pointed to another opportunity. Henceforth Spain would make its Pacific fortune from commerce, not from plundering indigenous peoples. In addition, Spain had recently discovered huge deposits of silver in Mexico and Bolivia, and Portugal now had a permanent trade port on the Chinese coast, Macao. Because China did not have much silver, the Chinese would gladly accept silver in payment for whatever the Spaniards wanted to buy, and Portugal would let Spanish ships use Macao’s port facilities as long as they paid their way with silver. In fact, it was the New World’s silver that made Macao profitable, and Spanish ships defended Macao when Portugal lost the rest of its Far Eastern trading network in the seventeenth century.
Spain controlled the economy of the Philippines very strictly. Colonial officials did nothing to develop the resources of the islands, and the only communications and commerce allowed between the Philippines and other Spanish colonies went on a round trip voyage every year, from Acapulco to Manila and back. Most of the time they had just one galleon making the trip — two at the most — so we call this the Manila galleon trade. Because of the importance of this voyage, they built the largest ships possible at this time. A Manila galleon could displace as much as 2,000 tons; by contrast, the ships Magellan had for his voyage ranged from 75 to 120 tons, bath toy boats compared with what was crossing the Pacific now.
The ship going west was mostly loaded with Mexican silver, which was used in Manila and Macao to buy silks, porcelain, and other imports from China, and then they loaded the galleon with as many of these goods as would fit for the return trip. Since demand for space on the Manila Galleon always exceeded supply, the amount of cargo each merchant could send was strictly regulated. For the westbound trip, as much space as possible was needed for silver, and merchants were only allowed to send cargo west if they went with it as passengers, meaning they ran the risk of not getting a ticket for the return trip later. The system was terribly inefficient, and the loss of a galleon brought a year of financial hardship. For example, in 1596 a typhoon caused the eastbound galleon to run aground in Japan. This was forty-five years before the Japanese would expel the foreigners from their country, and at this point they already distrusted Spain, so when the Spaniards demanded they give back all that Chinese merchandise, they kept it instead. Despite the risk and inefficiency, the Manila galleon trade continued its lonely rhythm for the next two and a half centuries.
To give another example of the inefficiency involved, the winds of the north Pacific tend to push ships north as well as east, so a galleon sailing from the Philippines usually made landfall in northern California. From there they had to go south along the barren California coast for several more weeks. Because of that, and because the trade winds allowed a straighter course on the westbound journey, it typically took three months to sail from Acapulco to Manila, but four to six months to sail back; both the ships and crews were often physical wrecks by the time they reached Acapulco. Today California is one of the most desirable places in the world to live, but to get to California from Mexico, you have to sail against both the winds and the currents. Of course you can hike overland from Mexico to California, but in those days Europeans didn’t think that was possible, because maps showed California as an island, not joined to the rest of North America. For those reasons, two hundred years went by — until 1769 — before Spain built settlements in California, so the Manila galleon would have rest stops on the final leg of its voyage.
Two Manila Galleons made the crossing in 1587. The first ship, the Nuestra Señora de Esperanza, stopped at Morro Bay, near present-day San Luis Obispo, California, because two Indians were spotted as the ship passed this part of the coast. A landing party of Spaniards and their Filipino servants came ashore; when they found no Indians, they set up a cross to claim that land for Spain. Suddenly the Native Americans returned and attacked the party, killing one Spaniard and one Filipino before they were driven off by musket fire; then the Spaniards left, sailing on to Acapulco. In 1995 a plaque was placed at Morro Bay by the Filipino American National Historical Society, marking the spot where Filipinos first set foot on land that would someday become the continental United States. The other Manila Galleon of 1587 was named the Santa Ana, and I will tell you in a few minutes what happened to that vessel.
Around sixty to seventy Chinese junks came to Manila with Chinese-made goods every year. Usually they arrived in December and January, and returned to China with their silver payments in March. The cargoes they brought included tools, nails, pots & pans, gunpowder, saltpeter, furniture, jewels, and all kinds of foods. Whatever did not go into the Manila Galleon for its eastbound voyage was eagerly bought by the residents of Manila. Some of the Chinese sailors and passengers remained behind when their ships went home, and they formed a Chinese community that grew rapidly; by 1600 there were about eight thousand Chinese in Manila, living alongside a few hundred Spaniards. Most of them became barbers, tailors, shoemakers, masons, painters, weavers, blacksmiths and other skilled workers, forming the middle class of Philippine society. Foreigners and non-Christians had to pay extra taxes, and to avoid this, the Chinese took Filipina wives, accepted baptism, or did both. They sometimes joined the Church in disturbingly large groups; for example, four hundred of them were baptized in one day. In 1603 a Chinese riot caused the Spaniards and Filipinos to panic; before it was over, 23,000 Chinese were massacred. The remaining Chinese fled the city, causing an economic slump that lasted until Spain reluctantly invited them back. More incidents of anti-Chinese persecution happened later, in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Spaniards could not do without Chinese services, but the size and character of the Chinese community kept them in a state of constant apprehension.
Over the course of the 1570s, Spain gained control over most of Luzon and the Visayas. The only serious resistance came from the Moslems in the south, and from a Chinese pirate named Limahong. Unlike the typical pirate captain who just has one ship, Limahong had a whole fleet, and used it in an unsuccessful attempt to set up his own kingdom in northern Luzon. In 1574 he even besieged Manila with this fleet.
Other Europeans besides the Spaniards tried to gain a foothold in the Philippines, or meddled in the Manila Galleon trade. Portugal continued to dispute and threaten the Spanish colony until 1580, when King Philip II also became the king of Portugal. In 1579 Sir Francis Drake, the famous English privateer, came by. He was sailing on the second expedition around the world, and he earned his keep by attacking Spanish shipping as he went along. Drake’s ultimate goal was to capture the Manila Galleon, and while he never found that prize, he captured a 120-ton treasure ship full of gold and silver off the coast of Ecuador, and that was the next best thing.
In 1587 another English privateer, Thomas Cavendish, made the heist that Drake had missed; he ambushed the Santa Ana, the second Manila Galleon for that year, off the southern tip of Baja California. Because his three ships were too small to carry all the loot, Cavendish loaded the ships with as much of the Santa Ana’s cargo as would fit. The value of this haul was estimated at £150,000, or more than $47 million in today’s US dollars. Then he set the Santa Ana on fire, took three boys and four crewmen with him that could be useful, marooned the rest of the 190 crew and passengers on a beach where they had water and food, and set off across the Pacific. After Cavendish was gone, the burning Santa Ana drifted to shore, where the survivors put out the fire and repaired it enough to carry them to Acapulco. The expedition of Cavendish would be the third to sail around the world, after those of Magellan and Drake.
Finally, in the early 17th century the Dutch raided the Philippines, capturing not only Spanish ships but also Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese traders visiting the archipelago. The Dutch didn’t lose interest in the Philippines until they gained control over the more lucrative Spice Islands.
Meanwhile in the Spice Islands, the Spaniards got a foothold there, 45 years after they had agreed to get out. In 1574, the natives of Ternate, the island with the Portuguese base on it, became so angry at Portuguese clumsiness and cruelty that they expelled their masters. The Spaniards immediately moved in and set up their own outpost on the island, which lasted until the Dutch took it in 1663. As for the Portuguese, they found the sultan of Ternate’s rival, the sultan of Tidore, willing to have them, now that they were not on Ternate anymore, so they built a fort on Tidore. In effect, the Spaniards and the Portuguese switched places.
Outside of Manila, the Spaniards most often seen were the missionaries. Five Catholic orders divided the islands between them. The Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans evangelized Luzon, while the Jesuits and the Recollects, a strict branch of the Augustinians, worked on the Visayas and Mindanao. Thanks to their work, today’s Filipinos are more than 80 percent Catholic, making this one of the only two Christian nations in the Far East; the other is East Timor. The missionaries made little headway in the southwest, however, because Islam was already established there. In fact, from a Christian point of view, Spain arrived just in time; if the Spaniards had come after 1600, Moslems probably would have converted the whole archipelago to Islam, the way they had done in Indonesia. The Spaniards called the Philippine Moslems Moros, meaning Moors, reusing the name of their medieval opponents in Spain and North Africa. The Moros in turn declared a jihad, or holy war, raiding Christian coastal communities and stubbornly defending their territory. The Moros have persistently struggled against every government ruling the Philippines since that time, including the present-day one; they have never accepted any authority but their own.
Among the Moro leaders, the toughest was the sultan of Sulu, who ruled the Sulu Islands, a chain of small islands between Mindanao and Borneo. In the previous episode we saw that the Sultanate of Brunei was in charge of this area, but the sultan of Sulu declared independence from Brunei in 1578. In addition, the sultan of Sulu claimed rule over Palawan, western Mindanao, and north Borneo, or as Malaysia calls it today, Sabah. The Spaniards thought they had pacified all of Mindanao by 1638, and maps showed the whole Philippines as part of Spain, but the sultan of Sulu regained his independence in 1646. Then in 1662, Spain lost Zamboanga City, its base on western Mindanao, to another Moro ruler, the sultan of Maguindanao. Though Spain retook Zamboanga in 1718, more trouble with the Moros would come in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The truth of the matter was that Spain never had a firm grip on Mindanao, due to Moro resistance.
All right, I am going to finish on that note. The Spanish Empire has a peculiar history; there is a detailed beginning to it, and a detailed end, but not much happened in the middle. For that reason, I called it “a hollow empire,” when I wrote a paper about the Spanish Empire’s role in Latin American history. After the early 1600s, we are definitely in that hollow middle, making this a good place to stop. We have just completed four episodes where we talked mostly about events that happened on the islands of Southeast Asia, so now it is time to catch up on what was happening on the mainland at the same time. We will start by returning to the conflict between the Thai states that began at the end of Episode 10, and now it’s going to get a lot bigger, because the Burmese will jump into it.
Finally, here are the usual reminders. If you enjoyed this episode, consider making a donation to support the podcast, using the Paypal button on this episode’s Blubrry.com page. And I see that we have gotten a couple more reviews on iTunes. Keep those reviews coming; they generate interest in the podcast, even when they don’t come with a five-star rating. If you are on Facebook, like the History of Southeast Asia Podcast page, so you won’t miss a new episode when they go up. Finally, tell your friends; even in the 21st century, word of mouth advertising can be the best kind. Again, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!