Category Archives: Colonization

How Colonialism Shaped the Filipino Character (2nd of 4 parts)

Filipinos often ask questions like, “What would the Philippines be like today had Spain not colonized the island nation? Would the Filipino character develop the way it is now had the Spaniards not succeeded in putting the natives in chains for more than three centuries?

1    What if the Americans observed the principle that “governments derived their just powers from the consent of the governed” [3] and decided not to stay in 1898 and allow the Filipinos to govern themselves? Americans should have known better. That principle was the driving force of the declaration of their independence in 1776. It is touted to be the model for the right to self-determination, the very right that they deprived the Filipinos of when they colonized the Philippines. The Americans justified their occupation of the islands by saying that the Filipinos were not ready for self-governance. But how sure were they?  And even then, the Filipinos certainly would have preferred to have charted their own destiny as a nation no matter what the consequences may be. The world will never know what would have happened to the Philippines had the Americans gave them the reins of their own government. While it is not certain that the Filipinos would have succeeded, one thing is clear, neither did the Philippines become a better nation because the Americans occupied it.

It would have been a big boost to the Filipino pride if only they were allowed to continue their war with Spain which they were winning at that time when the Spanish and American strategists connived to stage what would later become known as the “Mock Battle at the Manila Bay” which the Americans purportedly won. That plan was concocted  to prevent Manila, the nation’s capital, from falling into the hands of Filipino revolutionaries. Just imagine how big a victory like that would have affected the Filipino psyche. Its character as a nation would have evolved in a much different direction.      But it was not meant to be.

As it was, the Philippines was colonized by Spain and America. The evolution of the Filipino psyche did not go the way it should have had had they not been colonized by Spain and America. And how did that colonization affect the formation of the Filipino character? How did Spanish cruelty and American treachery impact the evolution of Filipino values and traits?

The character of a nation is manifested through the values and traits of its people. These values and traits developed through time and are shaped by the events in the life of the nation. They are also affected by the environment where people live.

Filipinos have positive and negative values and traits. Hospitality and resilience are examples of the positive qualities that can be attributed to these people.


Filipinos are famous for their hospitality. They treat their visitors, especially foreigners, in a very special way, giving them the best of what they have. As host, the Filipino will try his best to make his visitors comfortable and provide them with the best amenities. The Spaniards had a taste of this hospitality when they came to the islands, they loved it and took advantage of it. Although there were places where the natives were hostile to them, generally, they were welcomed.

Sometimes this is mistaken as being subservient. Some contend that their having been colonized for hundreds of years made the Filipinos feel inferior, thus they are gracious to other people especially those coming from other countries. The Filipino is being perceived to have that feeling of inferiority complex, especially in the presence of foreigners because they were programmed by their former colonial masters to obey, serve, and never ask questions. This stereotyping of the Filipino was compounded by the fact that many Filipinos work as domestic helpers abroad.

Those who look at Filipinos in the manner aforementioned are mistaken. They chose to view that trait of these people  using a negative perspective.

Filipinos are just naturally caring and friendly. They are very polite and respectful too. Their hospitality is a manifestation of their innate humanity, not subservience. These people from Southeast Asia are highly-relational. They could easily establish connections with other people. They are highly flexible being able to easily adapt to other cultures. Filipinos embrace people, especially foreigners, for the way that they are and not judge them. If people around the world would be tested for what Howard Gardner describes as “interpersonal intelligence,” the Filipinos would probably top.

This trait did not vanish with the coming of the Spaniards, it was actually reinforced. The Spaniards introduced Christianity to the natives and becoming Christians made them discover more reasons to be loving and caring for others.

Genuine care for others is something very natural among Filipinos. Thus, aside from domestic helpers, there are many Filipino doctors, nurses, caregivers, nannies, and teachers abroad. Filipinos are not egotistical. They can take on menial jobs thinking that “any necessary work that pays an honest wage carries its own honor and dignity” [4]. This is the reason many Filipinos accept these kinds of jobs abroad. But Filipino skilled workers and professionals are also being sought in many countries. There are also a lot of Filipino artists working in different parts of the world. All these are proofs of Filipino intelligence and innate talent.

2Filipinos are also good at communication. This can be attributed to their confidence in speaking and high interpersonal intelligence. Their  good command of the English language, the result of the American occupation, and their being naturally friendly, enable them to easily start a conversation with people from other countries. Their excellence in communication, aside from their being hardworking,  makes them attractive to foreign employers. If there’s a profession where the ability to communicate well and deal effectively with other people is badly needed it is teaching. Thus, many Filipinos work as teachers abroad, not just for the subject English but other fields of learning as well.

These people are also resilient, almost unwilling to give up. Both the natural calamities that have  plagued this nation since time immemorial and their painful experiences as colonized people hardened them. They always get back to their feet after suffering from serious setbacks. Their ingenuity and resourcefulness enable them to find ways to wiggle out of difficult situations. Their trademark sense of humor allows them to laugh their way out of even the hardest of problems.

Another Filipino value that was preserved notwithstanding colonization was close family ties. Perhaps what the despotic rules of Spain and America did was make the Filipino families closer for in times of sorrow and desperation during those long years of being unwillingly chained they had nothing to rely upon but each other. This Filipino trait is indeed epic. They maintain affinity to their relatives up to almost the 4th degree of consanguinity. Parents also allow their children to stay with them even after getting married.

Strong among Filipinos also is the so-called “bayanihan” (spirit of communal unity). It is something similar to volunteerism. The natives display this trait in many ways but the most famous is the old tradition of neighbors helping a family trying to relocate. Long bamboo poles will be placed under a Filipino traditional house and it will be carried by volunteers to its new location [5]. It did not vanish even now that houses are built using woods and concrete. The concept of “bayanihan” still lives on. It goes on in other forms specially in times of natural calamities. The Filipinos are ready to offer their help, even resources, to their neighbors in need. This is also part of the Filipino’s innate humanity that was strengthened by their having exposed to the doctrine of Christianity.

But Filipinos have negative traits as well.

How Colonialism Shaped the Filipino Character (3rd of 4 Parts)






How Colonialism Shaped the Filipino Character (1st of 4 parts)

184a9-arrival-of-legaspiFor a better appreciation of who and what the Filipino is one has to decipher the Filipino psyche and identify the factors that contributed to its formation. An in-depth analysis of the character of these people would require a thorough examination of their history and racial origins. The Filipinos cannot be figured out by establishing assumptions based on stereotyping and by magnifying them using a supremacist lens.

Those who claim they know the Filipinos simply by stitching together information culled from the Internet are gravely mistaken. Those who formed assumptions about them after reading a news item or two without even checking the credibility of  the ones who made the reports should hold their horses.

The pre-colonial Filipino was a race whose culture and the genetic pool was a mix of  Negrito, Indones, Malay, Arab, Hindu, and Chinese and whose spirit was either strengthened or weakened by the geographics of the island nation and its corresponding climate. There was a genetic and cultural identity flourishing in this part of Southeast Asia before the Portuguese explorer Magellan and his Spanish expedition landed in Mactan in 1521. There was a national identity evolving when the Spaniards, led by Miguel Lopez De Legazpi, came back in 1565 to establish a stronghold in what the Europeans would later on call “Las Islas Filipinas.”

What the discovery of the Laguna copperplate in 1989 accomplished was to prove (or affirm previous findings of historians) that  “a well-organized form of government based on customary law” [1] existed in the Philippines long before the Spaniards came. The pre-colonial Filipino was not a lost soul rescued by the Europeans from the dark ages. It could be the other way around. The coming of the Europeans could have disrupted the original trajectory of the development of that culture and only God knows if they made it better or worse. There was an emerging racial entity when they came and it veered away from its natural course of becoming when the colonizers from the West succeeded in subduing the natives.

For  333 years that the Filipinos were under the mercy of the Spanish conquistadors. There were pocket revolts the Filipinos staged in different parts of the country to  overthrow the invaders from the Iberian Peninsula but were quelled. The most significant of those uprisings was that  one led by Francisco Dagohoy in Bohol that lasted for more than 80 years (1744-1829). Those attempts to vanquish the conquerors from Spain did not succeed because of the following: they were lacking in national character; they were based on limited geographical scales; and they were caused by non-encompassing issues[2].  It was only the 1896 revolution that succeeded  which eventually led to the declaration of Philippine independence in 1898.

But it was short-lived.

The Americans who the Filipinos thought came to help them establish a republic had other agendas. They duped Emilio Aguinaldo, the leader of the revolt against Spain, into believing that they didn’t need any colony and that they came to free the natives from the yoke of Spain. Then, the Filipinos watched helplessly as the Spaniards, too proud to accept defeat in the hands of the Indios they enslaved for centuries, surrendered to the Americans instead and was paid $20,000,000  for all the improvements they made in the Philippine islands during their colonial rule. That’s one of the conditions set  in the Treaty of Paris in 1898 which the two countries concluded without concurring with the Filipino people.

Would the Americans  pay the Spaniards that huge amount (which is worth more than half a billion dollars today) and get nothing in return? Hell no! That’s what experts of geopolitics would say. America, then an emerging world power, needed to flex its muscles in the Pacific. The Philippines was the most ideal place for that.  So, the Americans, contrary to their promise which Aguinaldo admitted later that he  naively believed, declared the Philippines a territory ceded to them by Spain.

It was a painful experience for the Filipinos. After centuries of struggle against Spain they finally had a chance to chart their own destiny as a nation. But the Americans stood in their way. The Filipinos had to  continue their search for that elusive freedom.

When the Spaniards left, the natives fought the more superior American forces.  It was a case of a “David” having to contend with a “Goliath.” But in this version, Goliath subdued David. It wasn’t that way that it ended for the Filipinos. They gallantly stood their ground, fought as fiercely as they could, but eventually lost the Fil-American war after three long years of struggle.

So, the Philippines changed hands – from one colonial master to another, from the Spanish yoke to that of the American.

As a consequence of its being colonized by those two countries in the West, into the nation’s cultural and genetic pool, Spanish and American elements were assimilated. Also, the experiences of the Filipinos in those years of foreign domination have undoubtedly affected the evolution of their character. Even the policies implemented by the Spaniards and the Americans when they took turns in ruling the said nation have strongly contributed to that transformation.

The 20th century saw the emergence of a post-colonial identity, a character, that is distinctively Filipino, a character forged by the mixing of Asian and European influences, by frequent battering from natural calamities, and by the long period of colonization.

How did colonization affect the formation of the Filipino character? How did Spanish cruelty and American treachery impact the evolution of Filipino values and traits?

How Colonialism Shaped the Filipino Character (2nd of 4 Parts)




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