A look back at the long fight for Philippine independence as Brampton prepares for the celebration


By Liam McConnell

Published on June 6, 2022 at 10:48 p.m.

The quest for Philippine independence, which was to be celebrated at Brampton City Hall, spanned almost 500 years.

Maligayang Araw from Kalayaan, Philippines!

June 12 is Philippine Independence Day to celebrate the island nation’s escape from the more than 300-year rule of the Spanish Empire, an occasion Brampton plans to celebrate with Halo Halo at City Hall .

The struggle for independence in the Philippines was a centuries-long battle with many outside figures and forces vying for control of the island nation in a conflict that dates back 500 years.

The Spaniards arrived in the Philippines in the form of Ferdinand Magellan’s quest to circumnavigate the globe in 1521. This quest first landed on the uninhabited island of Homonhon before settling on the island of Cebu.

Magellan, as typical of Spaniards of the time, began to convert native Filipinos to Christianity and became involved in local political struggles.

It would prove to be his downfall. He forged an alliance with Cebu chief Rajah Humabon (later christened Don Carlos) and one of two chiefs from neighboring Mactan Island, Datu Zula. Over time, the Spaniards converted some 2,200 inhabitants.

It didn’t go over well with Datu Lapulapu, the other chief of Mactan who resisted conversion. Meanwhile, Zula and Humabon convinced Magellan to attack Lapulapu in the bloody Battle of Mactan. Lapulapu won the battle and killed Magellan, repelling Spanish colonization for 40 years. For this, he is honored as the first hero of the Philippines

However, the Spanish Empire was a lingering lot and returned to the Philippines in 1565 under King Philip II, whose name has been attached to the nation ever since. Miguel López de Legazpi led a crew of 500 men to Cebu and conquered the island despite fierce resistance.

As elsewhere in the Empire, the Spaniards treated the native Filipinos with brutality. Although banned throughout the empire, slavery was permitted on the island of the Philippines. The conflict with the Portuguese Empire put Cebu in lockdown in 1568. As a result, Legazpi jumped to Panay and settled there.

He also sent his grandson, Juan de Salcedo, to lead an expedition to Mindoro to subjugate the Moro Muslim pirates in 1570. Salcedo went to raze Illin and Lubang. Meanwhile, Martín de Goiti led a campaign to overthrow the Kingdom of Maynila.

Over time, the seat of power shifted from Cebu to newly conquered Luzon. For the next 256 years, until 1821, the Viceroyalty of New Spain ruled the Philippines from its base in Mexico City. After Mexico’s own War of Independence, the headquarters moved to Madrid.

The viceroyalty financed the Philippine colony an average of 250,000 pesos per year. While thousands of Spanish subjects flocked to the Philippines during the period of colonization, few intermingled with the indigenous populations, and the vast majority of the current population remains largely of Austronesian descent.

This is partly due to the caste system that the Spaniards imposed on the islands. People of pure indigenous ancestry have been labeled Indians. Others have been tagged:

  • Negritos (Aeta),
  • Sangley (Chinese)
  • Métis of Sangley (Chinese and Austronesian),
  • Spanish crossbreed (Spanish and Austronesian),
  • Tornatras (Spanish, Austronesian and Chinese),
  • Filipino (Spanish of Filipino origin),
  • American (Criollo, Castizo or Mestizo descent born in Spanish America)
  • Peninsulars (from Spain)

These racial divisions were strictly enforced in the Spanish Philippines. Manila was completely segregated, with white citizens (Blancos) living in the walled city of Intramuros.

While this system was banned after independence from Spain and the term Filipino extended to all who inhabit the islands, its echoes endure in Filipino society, creating an enduring social stratum.

During the centuries of Spanish oppression, the Philippines suffered frequent attacks from other empires in the region. Dutch and British ships assaulted the islands competing for resources. Britain went so far as to occupy Manila from 1762 to 1764. However, the city was returned to Spanish hands at the end of the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France.

The Industrial Revolution sparked a similar revolution in Philippine society in the early 19th century. Filipinos began to prosper as their economy pivoted to international trade.

During this time, a sense of Filipino nationalism grew across the islands, driven by the writings of men like Jose Rizal. A renaissance man with the truest definition of the word, Rizal was a physician and writer who ignited this growing national pride.

Rizal and other writers launched a propaganda movement in 1872, following the execution of three priests (collectively known as GomBurZa) in retaliation for the Cavite Arsenal mutiny. He put in place Solidarity to draw attention to Spanish abuses such as the development of humane zoos that portrayed Filipinos as animals.

His writings as the national epic Noli Me Tangere (1887) and its sequel obstructionism (1891), written in Spanish, strongly criticized Spanish colonialism. Rizal returned to the Philippines to launch the Liga Filipina to radicalize the resistance. He was then promptly arrested for rebellion and executed by firing squad in 1896 at Bagumbayan (now known as Rizal Park or Luneta Park)

Andrés Bonifacio and Deodato Arellano founded the resistance group Katipunan soon after and quickly gained thousands of followers. Bonifacio led a revolt near Caloocan known as the Cry of Pugad Lawin, the first shot in the Philippine War of Independence, in August 1896.

By the end of the month, all-out war had broken out in eight provinces with rebellious Katipuneros launching a guerrilla campaign against the occupying Spaniards. Meanwhile, Emilio Aguinaldo’s Cavite-based Katipuneros proved the top performing group.

Aguinaldo declared a second insurgent government in October 1896, following Bonifacio in August. This led to an internal conflict in which Bonifacio was demoted and Aguinaldo elected to the leadership of Katipunan in March 1897. Bonifacio rejected this development and was executed for treason.

At the end of the year, the rebels and the Spaniards were forced to negotiate. Aguinaldo was exiled to Hong Kong and the revolutionaries were paid.

Later in 1898, the Spanish American War broke out between the two empires and the United States attacked Manila. American forces dominated the Battle of Manila Bay, forcing the Spanish out of the Philippines.

Aguinaldo returned to lead the Philippine forces, declaring independence on June 12, now celebrated as Philippine Independence Day.

He led another siege of Manila. In August 1898, Manila was besieged for a third time by American forces in a mock battle. The Spaniards and Americans concluded their war the following December with the Treaty of Paris.

The treaty sold the Philippines to the United States for $20 million. Aguinaldo then declared the First Republic of the Philippines with himself as president. However, the First Republic was short-lived.

The United States refused to accept Philippine independence and invaded in 1899. The Americans fired the first shots in February and crushed the new republic in July.

The Americans continued to occupy the Philippines until 1941, when the nation was invaded once again by the Japanese Empire. However, the United States committed to independence in 1934 and a presidential election was held in 1935.

The government changed from a US military government to a civilian Commonwealth to full independence. The Japanese then showed up after Pearl Harbour. Their brutal occupation lasted until 1945.

Although brief, it caused lasting damage with the deaths of an estimated one million Filipinos. Manila was 80% destroyed, Cebu 90% and Zamboanga 95%.

After their liberation from the Japanese, the Philippines was finally liberated and the nation’s independence was recognized in 1946 after they co-founded the United Nations.

In the 1960s, just before dictator Ferdinand Marcos took over the country, the Philippines set its Independence Day on the anniversary of Aguinaldo’s declaration.

It’s a statement that Brampton intends to celebrate in partnership with the Brampton Filipino Canadians (FFCB)​. The pair will host a Halo-Halo event at City Hall hosted by Mayor Patrick Brown and City Council.

At 11 a.m. on June 12, the Philippine flag will be raised above Ken Whillans Square, hosted by ​Filipino Seniors Club of Brampton. The reception will follow in the Town Hall Conservatory at 11:30 a.m. with food from Fan D Flame and Lunch Box Café and Catering.

Pork skewers, meat and vegetarian spring rolls (lumpiang shanghai), mini empanadas, mini turon, pancit bihon, Filipino desserts and the popular Halo-Halo, the unofficial national dessert of the Philippines.

The celebration will also include performances by ​philippines dayThe Giggle Gang, Lilas Cano and Zandro Cinco.

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