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

M. A. D. L I G A Y A

Filipinos often ask questions like, “What would Philippines be like today had Spain not colonized the island nation? Would the Filipino character developed 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? The 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…

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

For 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 Filipino cannot be figured out by establishing assumptions based on stereotyping and by magnifying him using a supremacist lens.

The pre-colonial Filipino was a race whose culture and 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 and character 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 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. 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 (1744-1929). Those attempts to vanquish the conquerors from Spain did not succeed because of the following: they were lacking in national character; based on limited geographical scales; and 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 agenda. 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? The answer is a resounding NO. 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 said he  naively believed, declared 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 on 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. The Filipinos gallantly stood their ground 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?





On the Poll That Says “Most Filipinos trust US, not China” – A Case of National Amnesia or Triumph of US Indoctrination?



There is something more to that poll that says “most Filipinos trust US, not China” than meets the eyes. It affirms two things. First, Filipinos suffer from a national amnesia and second, the Americans completely succeeded in indoctrinating the people whom then US President McKinley referred to as “savage warriors” and “little brown brothers.1

Majority of Filipinos trusting the US is a classic case of amnesia. It seems to support the perception that Filipinos tend to have short memory so much so that they easily forget the lessons of history.

Others would dismiss the idea that Filipinos have short memory. It’s just that the Christian in them would make them easily forgive and forget.

But have Filipinos really forgotten the atrocities committed against them by the Americans during the Philippine-American War (1898-1901)?” Or is it a case of them not knowing what really happened.

The world today, even the Filipinos themselves know little (or nothing) about what has been described by historians as the “first Vietnam”, where US troops first used tactics such as strategic hamleting and scorched-earth policy to “pacify” the natives2.

It’s very convenient for people from other countries to criticize Duterte, the Philippine president, for his stance against the Americans. If only they would bother to scan the pages of Philippine history they would know.

Like the Filipinos, the rest of humanity is suffering from amnesia…selective amnesia that is. It’s difficult to fathom why the world chose to remember only the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Second World War and forget about the wrongdoings inflicted by the US and the other colonial powers upon the people they colonized.

The world thinks that Duterte’s anti-American sentiment stemmed only from the supposed attempt of the president of the US (Obama) to lecture him in an international gathering about the alleged extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. There was more to it… much more than the irony that the leader of a country who massacred thousands of Filipinos, including children and women, would take the moral high ground to lecture about “killings.”

For the most steadfast  of the Duterte critics from other countries and the Filipinos who have forgotten their history here are links you can check…

But despite all of the wrongdoings inflicted upon them by the Americans, why then, according to the poll, Filipinos trust the US more than China?

That’s the result of years of American indoctrination.

Education is a powerful tool of indoctrination. Today’s generation of Filipinos are the offsprings of the children taught by the Thomasites (American teachers named after the ship, the USS Thomas, which brought them to the Philippines) to accept their rule. They did not only teach those young Filipinos the three R’s but also indoctrinated them about the greatness of America, its ways, ideas, values, culture3.

The indoctrination of that  generations of Filipinos after the Philippine-American war was a tremendous success. “One look at our society say it all: the preference for American products, the promotion of materialism and hedonism, and a general obsession for all things American. No matter how Filipinos try to deny it, the Americans have succeeded in molding us into their ideal “little brown brothers.4

The funny thing is Rappler, citing a survey conducted in 2013 by the Pew Research Center, said that “Filipinos like the US even more than Americans5.”

And would it be wrong to presume that none of the history books distributed in Philippine schools during their occupation of the archipelago ever mention about the brutal campaign the Americans waged in the Philippines to pacify the Filipinos?

“Until the lions have historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters,” says an African proverb.

President Duterte showing (during the most recent ASEAN meeting held in Laos) photos where US soldiers could be seen posing with  dead Filipino Muslims was just a right thing to do. With that act both the Filipinos and the world were reminded of some basic historical truths about the US.

What basic historical truths are those?

The US did not come to liberate Philippines from Spain but to join the competition for empire among the wealthy and powerful countries of the West and to establish a strong presence in the Pacific that would enable them to protect their economic interests.1 They duped Emilio Aguinaldo, the leader of the revolt against Spain, into believing that they didn’t need any colony. 6

The double-crossing of Aguinaldo was completed when the US concluded with Spain the Treaty of Paris without concurring with the Filipino people.6

The US was not at all benevolent to Filipinos. “The atrocities of American troops included: the torture of suspected rebels; refusing to take prisoners; wholesale massacres of entire villages of men, women and children and starvation resulting from relocating large populations.7

Worst of all, the new colonial masters extinguished the flames of Filipino nationalism.

When the US decided to flex its muscles in the Pacific by colonizing the Philippines, Filipino nationalism which was struggling to develop was nipped in the bud. That dark period in the history of Filipino people was referred to as the “Era of Suppressed Nationalism6. Advocate independence from the US and the Filipinos would get either death penalty or a long prison term (Sedition Law, 1901). A simple display of the Filipino flag (Flag Law, 1907) would also get them into trouble6.

The young Filipinos today should be given an honest-to-goodness account of what really happened during the American occupation, particularly in its early years. They need to be presented with an objective analysis of the REAL reasons the Americans came, how it affected the development of Filipino nationalism and how their presence shaped Philippine politics.

It’s not to teach them to hate the Americans but for them to become aware of their past and decide whether or not US should be trusted.

Historical awareness will give the young Filipinos a better understanding of their identity. It will enable them to develop a proper perspective in appraising the current state of things in the country.


[1] Brewer, Susan (2013, October 22). Selling Empire: American Propaganda and War in the Philippines. The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 40, No. 1, October 7, 2013. [Cited 2016 October 29] Available from:

[2] American Occupation of the Philippines . [Cited 2016 October 28] Available from: retrieved 10-28

[3] Simbulan, D. The modern principalia, the historical evolution of the Philippine ruling oligarchy, Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press; 2005.

[4] Eight Dark Chapters of Filipino-American History We Rarely Talk About (FilipiKnow) [Cited 2016 October 29] Available from:

[5] Filipinos like the U Even More Than Americans Do – PEW Research (Rappler) [Cited 2016 October 2016] Available from

[6] How colonialism shaped the Filipino character (Blog post) [Cited 2016 October 2016] Available from

[7] Ablett, Phillip. Colonialism In Denial: Us Propaganda In The Philippine-American War [Cited 2016 October 2016] Available from

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