Early history

The earliest evidence of human inhabitants on the island include the 40,000-year old Tabon Man of Palawan and the Angono Petroglyphs in Rizal, both of whom appear to suggest the presence of human settlement prior to the arrival of the Negritos or Austronesians. The Negritos began to settle on the islands 30,000 years ago, before the end of the last ice age.

Speakers of the Malayo-Polynesian languages, a branch of Austronesian, began to arrive in successive waves beginning 6,000 years ago, displacing the early settlers. At around 300-700 C.E., they began to trade with Indianized kingdoms in the Malay Archipelago, adopting influences from both Buddhism and Hinduism.

There was no unifying political state encompassing the entire Philippine archipelago. Instead, the region was dotted by numerous semi-autonomous barangays under the sovereignty of competing thalassocracies ruled by Datus, Rajahs or Sultans or by upland tribal societies ruled by chieftains. Maritime states such as the Kingdom of Maynila and Namayan, the Dynasty of Tondo, the Madya-as Confederacy, the Rajahnates of Butuan and Cebu, and the sultanates of Maguindanao and Sulu existed alongside the highland societies of the Ifugao and Mangyan.  Some of these small states were part of the Malayan empires of Srivijaya, Majapahit, and Brunei.

Colonial era

In 1521, Portuguese-born Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived at Samar and Leyte, and claimed the islands for Spain. Colonization began when Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi, arrived from Mexico in 1565, and formed the first European settlements in Cebu. In 1571, the Spanish conquered the kingdom of Maynila and Tondo and established Manila as the capital of the Spanish East Indies. The colony was governed as a territory of the Viceroyalty of New Spain from 1565 to 1821, and administered directly from Spain from 1821 to 1898.

A map found on board the Na SA de Covadonga, after it was taken by Commodore Anson in 1743, showing the route of the Manila-Acapulco galleon sailing through the Philippine Islands.

The fragmented nature of the islands made it easy for Spanish conquest. The Spaniards merely pitted the divided peoples against each other. The Spanish then attempted to bring political unification to the Philippine archipelago via the conquest of various local states but they were unable to subjugate the Sultanates of southern Mindanao nor the highland societies of northern Luzon. Nevertheless, the Spanish introduced elements of western civilization such as the code of law, western printing and the Gregorian calendar alongside new foodstuffs such as maize, pineapple and chocolate from Latin America. From 1565 to 1821, the Philippines was governed from Mexico City via the Royal Audiencia of Manila, before it was administered directly from Madrid after the Mexican revolution. The Manila Galleons which linked Manila to Acapulco traveled once or twice a year between the 16th and 19th centuries. The Spanish military fought off various indigenous revolts and several external colonial challenges, specially from the British, Chinese pirates, Dutch, and Portuguese. Roman Catholic missionaries converted most of the lowland inhabitants to Christianity and founded schools, universities, and hospitals. In 1863 a Spanish decree introduced education, establishing public schooling in Spanish.

Contemporary period

After the War, the Philippines faced the plauge of political instability. Since 1946, remnants of the Hukbalahap communist rebel army continued to roam the rural regions, disgruntled after the government had rejected their contribution during World War II. Attempts at reconciliation were established by former President Ramón Magsaysay. In the 1960s, nationalistic policies were initiated by Diosdado Macapagal that included recognition of the legacies of Aguinaldo and José P. Laurel.

A statue of the Virgin Mary was built on the EDSA Shrine, after the People Power Revolution.

The 1960s were a period of economic growth for the Philippines, which developed into one of the wealthiest in Asia. Ferdinand Marcos was elected president. Barred from seeking a third term, he declared Martial law on September 21, 1972. Using the crises of political conflicts, the tension of the Cold war, a rising Communist rebellion and an Islamic insurgency as justifications; he governed by decree, along with his wife Imelda Marcos. After being exiled to the United States, opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr. (Marcos’ chief rival) was assassinated at the Manila International Airport (also called the Ninoy Aquino International Airport) on August 21, 1983. In 1986, the People Power Revolution occurred. The people gathered and protested in EDSA, instigated by the Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, who was opposed to the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. After losing the subsequent election to Corazón Aquino (the widow of Benigno Aquino) who became the first female president of the Philippines and the first female president in Asia, Marcos and his allies departed to Hawaii in exile.

The return of democracy and government reforms after the events of 1986 were hampered by national debt, government corruption, coup attempts, a Communist insurgency, and an Islamic separatist organization. The economy improved during the administration of Fidel V. Ramos, who was elected in 1992. However, the economic improvements were negated at the onset of the East Asian financial crisis in 1997. The 2001 EDSA Revolution led to the downfall of the Philippine president, Joseph Ejercito Estrada. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took leadership in 2001 following the impeachment of the Estrada government.