Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

The Philippines

Capital: Manila (on Luzon)

Size: 116 000 sq m Popn: 64 259 000

Main islands - Luzon, Samar, Leyte, Mindanao, Negros, Panay, Cebu, Boho, Mindoro, Palawan

Others include - Batnes Islands, Babuyan Islands, Polillo Islands, Catanduanes, Lubang, Marinducque, Masbate, Busuanga and the Calamian Group, Semirama Islands, Cuyo Islands, Camotes Islands, Dumaguete, Dinagat, Sarangani Islands, Basilan, the Sulu Archipelago, the Pangutaran Group, the Tapul Group, the Samales Group, the Tawitawi Group


The first inhabitants of this group of over 7000 islands in the South China Sea were probably from the Malay Peninsula. They were semi-nomadic and survived by hunting and fishing when the first European visitors, the crew of the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, arrived in 1521. Magellan was killed in fighting with the islanders but his crew went on to become the first people to circumnavigate the earth. The islands were conquered by Spain in 1565 and the Roman Catholic religion was introduced during the reign of Philip II, son of the Charles V, after whom they were named. This replaced Islam which had been brought by Arab traders and missionaries.

During the C19th, there were several armed revolts against Spanish rule and in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, a Spanish armada was sunk by the USA in Manila Bay and the islands were ceded to America. Philippine nationalists proclaimed their independence but were put down by US forces. Around 200 000 mostly civilian Filipinos (a fifth of the population) and 4 000 American soldiers had died by the time fighting ended in 1901. An increasing degree of self-government was granted in 1916 and 1935 and although the Philippines were under Japanese occupation from 1942-5, they became a fully independent republic in 1946. A series of presidents from the wealthy estate-owning elite held power, giving little help to the peasants, who formed a left-wing guerrilla movement, the Hukbalahap.

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos, leader of the Nationalist Party, defeated President Diosdado Macapagal. He began rapid economic development and some land reform and was re-elected in 1969 despite growing opposition from communist insurgents and Muslim separatists in the south. Poverty and unemployment were made worse by the high rate of population growth and in 1972, Marcos declared martial law, suspended the constitution and began to rule by decree. He was allowed to retain power by several referenda but his authoritarian regime was criticized for corruption. In 1977, the opposition leader, Benigno Aquino, was imprisoned sentenced to death for alleged subversion. Martial law was relaxed and the 1972 ban on political parties lifted in 1978 and Marcos won an overwhelming victory in the elections for an interim national assembly. In 1981, martial law was entirely lifted and hundreds of political prisoners released. In a referendum, Marcos gained approval for a partial return to democratic government with himself as president, working with a prime minister and executive council, but political and economic conditions worsened, and unemployment and the national debt increased.

In 1983, Benigno Aquino was shot dead at Manila airport when returning from self-imposed exile in the USA and Marcos was widely suspected of being involved. The government retained power in the national assembly elections of 1984 but the opposition had significant gains. Early in 1986, the main anti-Marcos movement, the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO) chose Benigno's politically inexperienced widow, Corazon, as its candidate for the presidential elections. Marcos had been persuaded to hold these as a way of retaining US economic and diplomatic support but observers witnessed large-scale fraud and there were over 100 deaths. Marcos was declared the winner by the national assembly although this result was disputed by an independent electoral watchdog.

Corazon Aquino started the peaceful protest known as 'People's Power' which was backed by the Roman Catholic Church and gained huge popular support, and President Marcos came under strong international pressure, from the USA especially, to resign. Aquino was also supported by the army, under Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Fidel Ramos and defence minister Juan Enrile, and Marcos and his wife, Imelda, went into exile in Hawai'i. Aquino became president and dissolved the national assembly which supported Marcos. Her government was conciliatory, working with a coalition cabinet team made up of opposition politicians and military leaders. She released 500 political prisoners and gave an amnesty to the communist guerrillas of the New People's Army in an attempt to end the 17-year insurgency, and introduced a rural employment economic programme with some land reforms which were opposed by property owners. Marcos supporters staged a series of coups and the new administration faced strong opposition from Enrile who was dismissed in November 1986.

In February 1987, a national plebiscite overwhelmingly approved the new 'freedom constitution', giving Aquino a mandate to rule until at least June 1992. Her People's Power coalition won over 90% of the elected seats in the congressional elections but in August 1987, a coup attempt led by Colonel Gregorio 'Gringo' Honasan, who had close links with Enrile, led to 53 deaths. Government policy shifted to the right, tougher measures against the NPA were instituted and the 1988 Land Reform Act was diluted. The USA, which had given approximately $1.5 billion in aid from 1985-9, provided air support to foil a further coup by Honasan in December 1989. Aquino declared a state of emergency and survived another coup attempt in October 1990.

In June 1991, the Mount Pinatubo volcano, 56 miles north-west of Manila and dormant for six centuries, erupted, killing at least 343 people and making between 100 000 and 200 000 homeless. The US air bases at Clark Field and Subic Bay were temporarily evacuated and much of the rice-growing land was buried by volcanic ash. In September, the Philippines' senate voted against renewing the US lease on Subic Bay although this would have provided up to 45 000 and over $2 billion in aid over ten years. Aquino supported the renewal but opposition was strong, with critics of the base alleging that its existence was contravening a clause in the constitution which banned nuclear weapons and that its presence had encouraged prostitution.

After six years of exile, Imelda Marcos, now a widow, returned in November 1991, posted bail against seven charges of tax evasion, and declared herself as a presidential candidate. In January 1992, President Aquino confirmed that she would not stand for re-election and in June, Fidel Ramos was announced as her successor.

Filipino Names

Spanish rule has meant that Hispanic surnames are very common amongst Christian Filipinos but people in the more remote, mountain areas which were never truly conquered retained native naming patterns. So many people were using saints' names that it was becoming very confusing and in 1849, the governor general, Narciso Claveria, introduced a system under which officials distributed family names alphabetically to people in the towns.


Mang Gore Pitík Pito

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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