History and Culture


Overview of Philippine History

The human fossils found in Tabon Cave, Palawan which dated back to 22,000 years ago suggest that tribes called Negritos or Aetas have been the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines.

The first written document of Philippine history is the Laguna copper plate, which was dated 900 A.D. and was written using the Indonesian Kawi script in a strange mixture of Sanskrit, Altjavanish, Altmalaiisch and old Tagalog.

Archaeological evidence shows a rich pre-colonial culture that included skills in weaving, shipbuilding, and mining. Around 3,000 B.C., immigrants from Indonesia and Malaysia followed in several waves, settling along the coasts of the islands, and eventually moving inland to form small communities and develop their own cultures. In the 14th century, Arab traders introduced Islam in Mindanao and extended as far north as Luzon.

On March 16, 1521, the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, sailing under the Spanish flag, landed on the Southern Philippine islands. Magellan died in a battle on MactanIsland near Cebu, presumably at the hands of the warrior chieftain Lapu Lapu.

There were four other Spanish expeditions to the Philippines between 1525 and 1542. Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, commander of the expedition of 1542, gave the islands to the then Spanish Infante, later King Philip II, from where it got its current name. So commenced 300 years of Spanish Rule.

The Spanish–American War started in April 1898, when the Philippines was still part of the Spanish East Indies. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris on August 12, 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. The interim U.S. military government of the Philippine Islands experienced a period of great political turbulence, characterized by the Philippine–American War. Beginning in 1901, the military government was replaced by a civilian government — the  Insular Government of the Philippine Islands — with William Howard Taft serving as its first Governor-General.

Following the passage of the Philippine Independence Act in 1934, a Philippine presidential election was held in 1935. Manuel L. Quezon was elected and inaugurated as the second President of the Philippines on November 15, 1935. The Insular Government was dissolved and the Commonwealth of the Philippines was brought into existence. The Commonwealth of the Philippines was intended to be a transitional government in preparation for the country’s full achievement of independence in 1946.

After the Japanese invasion and subsequent occupation of the Philippines  during World War II, the United States recaptured the Philippines in 1945. According to the terms of the Philippine Independence Act, the United States formally recognized the independence of the Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946.


For an entertaining presentation of the history of the walled city Intramuros and Manila, we highly recommend the book Manila, My Manila (A History for the Young) written by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin published in 1990 by The Bookmark Inc.



Overview of Philippine Culture

The Indigenous peoples of the Philippines consist of a large number of Austronesian ethnic groups. They are the descendants of the original  Austronesian inhabitants of the Philippines, that settled in the islands thousands of years ago, and in the process have retained their Indigenous customs and traditions.

In 1990, more than 100 highland peoples constituted approximately 3% of the Philippine population. Over the centuries, the isolated highland peoples have retained their Indigenous cultures. The folk arts of these groups were, in a sense, the last remnants of Indigenous traditions that flourished throughout the Philippines before the Islamic and Spanish contacts.

The highland peoples are a primitive ethnic group like other Filipinos, although they did not, as a group, have as much contact with the outside world. These peoples displayed a variety of native cultural expressions and artistic skills. They showed a high degree of creativity such as the production of bowls, baskets, clothing, weapons and spoons. These peoples ranged from various groups of  Igorot people, a group that includes the Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Isneg, Kalinga and Kankana-ey, who built the Rice Terraces thousands of years ago. They have also covered a wide spectrum in terms of their integration and acculturation with Christian Filipinos. Other Indigenous peoples include the Lumad peoples of the highlands of Mindanao. These groups have remained isolated from Western and Eastern influences.

For more information regarding the Indigenous peoples of the Philippines, please visit the website of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) at www.ncip.gov.ph.


The first Philippine coin — the “Golden Ring of exchange” or “Tumbaga”, was a circular tube earring made of red gold. It first appeared in the first century B.C. and was in use until the 16th century.

Philippine coin collectors consider the so-called “Piloncitos” as the earliest coins — tiny beads of gold in different sizes, which had circulated in the country in the 9th-12th centuries during the pre-colonial kingdom of Ma-yi. There is not many left, since most of the coins were melted down into jewelry.


These are all a part of the Gold Collection of The Money Museum of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines). The collection grew significantly in the 1980s, with discoveries from Butuan, Surigao and Samar. Today, it is one of the most important collections in Southeast Asia, although it is only a fraction of what is with private collectors.


This collection of the museum traces the history of changes in the country’s money, from its primitive means of commercial exchange up to the examples of contemporary coins and banknotes. The collection is divided into several periods, which were the most significant in the Philippines’ development.

Hundreds of festivals or fiestas are celebrated in the Philippines annually. These celebrations are a way of life for Filipinos. While most festivals are religious in nature, some reflect ancient historical and pagan traditions and others are a mixture of both. While some fiestas are restricted to barrios or baranggays in honor of their patron saint, some are celebrated by the entire town, while others nationwide. Among the most popular are the Ati-atihan of Kalibo, Sinulog of Cebu, and Maskara of Bacolod which are all celebrated to honor the infant child Jesus or Santo Nino; the Moriones is on Easter weekend, a time when residents of Marinduque dress up in colorful masks and costumes of Roman soldiers, re-enacting the Lenten passion play on their streets; the Flores de Mayo which is celebrated nationwide in May culminating in a parade of girls dressed in white showing their devotion to the Virgin Mary and other saints; and the Kadayawan sa Davao where a street parade, dances and performances are held in honor of Mt. Apo with a fantastic display of local fruits called durian and waling-waling orchids; and many others.

Manila, considered as the center of the Philippine art world, houses some of the finest museums and galleries in the country. There are botanical, geological, zoological, archaeological, historical, and ethnographic collections as well as restored works of art made by Philippine artists from the 19th century up to the present.

A Directory of Museums in the Philippines may be accessed through this link


The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the overall policy making body, coordinating, and grants giving agency for the preservation, development and promotion of Philippine Arts & Culture, together with the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and conferred by the President of the Philippines, have instituted the National Artist Awards recognizing Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions in the various fields of Philippine arts, namely, Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film, Broadcast Arts, Architecture and Allied Arts.


The list of Philippine National Artists may be accessed in the following links -