Resettlement Patterns in Spanish Colonialm System in the Philippines Essay

Spain and Portugal were the two superpowers who pushed through their ultimate goals to discover the rest of the world. These nations, with their greed for material wealth, set colonies in the Americas, Africa and East Asia to establish their powers to greater heights.

Because of a high demand for exotic spices in Europe, Spain was forced to circumnavigate the world in search for the Spice Islands (Muruku Islands) with an ultimate goal which was to accumulate wealth through mercantilist trade and to expand the rule of Spain throughout the corners of the globe.

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Because of this, Spain met the islands of the Philippines. The rediscovery of our country by Magellan on March 17, 1521, marks a new age in our history. After this discovery, Spain sent various expeditions for the conquest and colonization of our country, namely the Loaisa expedition (1525), the Cabot expedition (1526), the Saavedra expedition (1527), the Villalobos expedition (1542), and the Legazpi expedition (1564).

It was the Legazpi expedition which succeeded in colonizing our country and establishing Spanish rule.

Spain had three aims in colonizing our country, namely (1) to spread Christianity, (2) material wealth, and (3) to acquire political glory.

Under Spanish rule our country developed religiously, economically, politically, and culturally. Our land acquired a national name ¬¬¬¬- Filipinas. Our people came to be known as Filipinos. Towns, cities, provinces, schools, hospitals and charitable institutions were established. New plants and animals, the Christian religion and Spanish civilization, and new industries were introduced. Domestic and foreign trades with China and Japan were fostered. Communication and transportation were improved.

Our country during the Spanish reign was a crown colony of Spain, in the sense that it belonged to the Spanish crown. From 1565 to 1821, our archipelago was governed by the Viceroy of Mexico in the name of the Spanish king. All officials, royal decrees, and troops for the Philippines came from Mexico. It was also the Mexican viceroy, not the king of Spain, who sent the annual subsidy to Manila to cover up the annual deficit of the Philippine government. In 1821 Mexico won her independence from Spain, so that from this year to 1898, Spain directly ruled our country.

Spain as a colonizing power was marred by certain defects such as (1) inefficiency and corruption in the colonial government, (2) abuses by the friars, (3) racial discrimination against our people, (4) denial of human rights to Filipinos, and (5) inequality of Spaniards and Filipinos before the law.

These colonial defects, however, were offset by the good things done by Spain in our country. By and large, we owe her a lasting debt of gratitude. She gave the majority of the people a great religion, taught us how to build more durable buildings, roads, and trade facilities, introduced new crops and livestock and better methods of farming, and brought our people into contact with the western culture.

Settlement Patterns Before and During the Spanish Period

During the Pre-Colonial period, the social unit in the Philippine islands was the barangay which comes from the Malay term balangay meaning boat. They were headed by a datu or the village chief. Barangays were generally small and consisted of thirty to one hundred houses and the population varied from one hundred to five hundred persons. The largest barangay was Manila which had two thousand inhabitants at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Communities were coastal, near-coastal and riverine in orientation. This was because the principal sources of protein came from the seas and rivers; people rely more on fishing than on hunting. People travelled principally by water, the movement of the population were across rivers and along the coasts. Trails followed by the streams; neither roads nor any wheeled vehicles were there. It was in the coastal communities that were more accessible to traders where a higher degree of development emerged. A higher cultural level was attained due to contact with traders from China, India and Arabia.

The economy of the barangay communities deeply relied on agriculture. There was an abundance of rice, coconuts, sugar cane, cotton, hemp, bananas, oranges, and other fruits and vegetables. Land cultivation was done through the kaingin system or by tilling. Pigafetta, the chronicler of Magellan, noted that there was an abundant produce of the land in Cebu as well as in Palawan. Productivity was increased by the use of irrigation ditches, as evidenced by the world-famous Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao. Aside from agriculture, pre-colonial Filipinos had other industries such as animal-raising, lumbering, weaving and gold and silver mining. The absence of a political unity involving all or the majority of the people of the archipelago allowed the Spanish conquistadores to impose their will on the people step by step even with a few hundreds of colonial troops at the start. The successful voyage of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi to the Philippines was a prequel to the long term colonization of the country under the imperialist Spain.

The Filipino society, split up into numerous barangay units, faced the impossibility to put up an effective armed resistance against the well-equipped and prepared conquistadores; an almost “bloodless” conquest of the Philippines was then accomplished. It was Legazpi who in 1565 and thereafter succeeded in hoodwinking a large number of barangay chieftains typified by Sikatuna in quelling recalcitrant barangays with the sword and in establishing under the cross the first colonial settlements in Visayas and subsequently in Luzon.The kind of society that developed in more than three centuries of Spanish rule was colonial and feudal. It was a society basically ruled by the landlord class, which included the Spanish colonial officials, the Catholic religious orders and the local puppet chiefs.

The masses of the people were kept to the status of serfs and even the freemen became dispossessed. In the classic fashion of feudalism, the union of church and state suffused the entire colonial structure. All colonial subjects fell under friar control from birth until death. In the material base as well as in the superstructure, friar control was total and most oppressive in the towns situated in vast landed estates owned by the religious orders. In the colonial center as well as in every province, the friars exercised vast political powers. They supervised such diverse affairs as taxation, census, statistics, primary schools, health, public works and charities. They certified the correctness of residence certificates, the condition of men chosen for military service, the municipal budget, the election of municipal officials and police officers and the examination of pupils in the parochial schools.

The Encomienda and Hacienda

Encomiendas are grants from the Spanish crown to a Spaniard to exercise control over a specific place including its inhabitants. It is from the Spanish word “encomendar” which literally means to entrust. Thus, a definite number of “souls” or inhabitants of a territory were entrusted to the care of an encomendero. The encomienda grant can only be passed up to the third generation and was then given back as the crown’s property. There were three kinds of encomiendas: (1) the royal encomiendas, belonging to the king of Spain, (2) the ecclesiastical encomiendas, belonging to the church, and (3) private encomiendas, belonging to private individuals who were rewarded for their services to the crown. The encomienda was an administrative unit with powers to collect tribute and to use the personal services of the inhabitants of their encomiendas. In return, the encomenderos were supposed to look after the welfare of the natives and to give them some education.

Theoretically, each encomendero, in whose care a native settlement, was entrusted a threefold responsibility: (1) to protect the natives by maintaining peace and order within the encomienda, (2) to support the missionaries in their work of converting the people to Catholicism, and (3) to help in the defense of the colony. In return for these services, the crown authorized the encomendero to collect a tribute of eight reales or its equivalent in kind from all 19 to 60 year old males in the encomienda. At least one-fourth of the total collection went to the encomendero, another portion to the friars, and the rest to the government.

What seemed to be beneficial for the natives’ development was turned the other way around. The encomienda system was generally characterized by greed and cruelty. The encomenderos exercised their powers to the full but for the most part ignored their duties and treated the natives as slaves. They saw the grant as nothing more than an opportunity to enrich themselves and used every opportunity open to him, whether in the collection of tributes or in the unlawful exaction of numerous services. Antonio de Morga writes: “They employ the indios in building houses and large vessels, grinding rice, cutting wood, and carrying it all to their houses and to Manila and then pay them little or nothing for their labor.”

Regarding the collection of tributes, the encomenderos forced the natives to pay a higher rate of tribute; they collected according to their personal whim. When gold was abundant and money was scarce, they demanded cash or reales; when the reales were plentiful and there was scarcity of gold, they asked for gold even when the poor Filipinos were coerced to buy them. Encomenderos sometimes seized the entire quantity of his rice from the Filipino without leaving him a grain to eat. Many Filipinos died of starvation, especially during famine and drought due to the scarcity of rice and they were forced to eat coconut and banana shoots. If the Filipinos resisted, they were publicly fogged, tortured or jailed. The unjust collection of tributes was one of the primary causes of intermittent uprisings in the Philippines.

Haciendas grew out of the encomienda system and the hacienda system is still being used today; however, haciendas during the Spanish occupation era were given as incentives to deserving Spanish friars who will act as land lords. It has the characteristic of a feudal system which was prevalent in Europe during those times. Encomienda and hacienda system were forms of colonial appropriation but they were never the same and one did not necessarily lead to the other. The exploitative relations are based on and grow out of the ownership by the landlord of the tracts of land from which the tenants derive their livelihood. The hacendero has the right of inheritance and free disposition, two rights not covered by an encomienda grant.

The exploitations of the hacenderos are more disguised than that of the encomendero through a fiction of partnership, hence the term kasamahan to denote a joint venture and the reference to the tenant as kasama or companion. Instead of tribute-paying, the system denotes sharing of the crops in terms of sharing of risks. The hacenderos will most likely require the lion’s share of the crops but in terms of the expenses for maintenance of the hacienda, the tenants are to pay more.

The Center and the Periphery of the Colonial System

With the pacification of the Filipino natives, Spain made a colony that will supply the crown with goods for its financial gain. Spain did this by exploitation of the natives so as to produce a product surplus. With the help of the personal greed of Spanish colonial administrators, friars, and officials, the natives, though living in subsistence, were made worse.

Bureaucracy in the Philippines during the Spanish period may be divided into different levels of administration, from the national, provincial, city, municipal, and barrio levels. On the national level, with its seat of power in Manila, Intramuros, the governor general (gobernador y capitan-general) became the spokesman and the representative of the King of Spain to the Philippines. He was the commander-in-chief of the military and the navy. He was also the vice-real patron who supervises the work of the Catholic Church to spread the gospel of Christianity in the colony.

His great powers were checked by the Real Audiencia (Supreme Court), the archbishop and the civil officials who denounced to the king whatever abuses the governor general might have committed. On the provincial level, heading the alcaldia or provincia was the alcalde mayor for the pacified provinces and districts. The corregimientos or unpacified military zones were headed by the corregidores. Only a Spaniard can be an alcalde mayor or a corregidor.

The city government was called as the ayuntamiento and was headed by one or two alcaldes ordinarios. On the municipal level, the gobernadorcillo headed the pueblo or municipio. A Filipino or a Chinese mestizo can be head of the municipio; this was the highest government position a Filipino could attain during the Spanish regime.

Barrio government rested on the cabeza de barangay whose main role was to be tax and contributions collector for the gobernadorcillo. All royal officials had the responsibility of keeping peace and order. To check the abuse of power of royal officials, two Castillan institutions, the residencia and the visita were employed. The residencia was the judicial review of a residenciado (one judged) conducted at the term of his office, a visita on the other hand was conducted by an officer sent from Spain and might occur at any time within the official’s term. Residencia and visita were supervised by juez de residencia and visitador-general respectively; its objective is to ensure faithful and efficient service on the part of the government authorities. If proven guilty of public misconduct, an official may be fined, dismissed from office, expelled from the colony, or imprisoned.

However, Filipino natives still didn’t escape the exploitation of the government officials. The tribute collectors often abused their offices by collecting more than the law required and appropriating the difference. Many who did not pay, or could not pay were tortured or imprisoned. Others fled to the mountains only to have their houses burned or looted by the Spaniards in punishment for their defiance.

In addition to the unjustified tribute, men between the age of sixteen and sixty were required to serve for forty days each year in the labor pool or polo, a form of forced labor. The polistas were seldom paid and death lurked to them and their families. Still another exploitative device was the bandala which was a kind of annual quota for the compulsory sale of rice, hemp and other farm products to the government usually without payment and seldom paid at very low prices.


Agoncillo, Teodoro A. History of the Filipino People. Eighth edition, Quezon City: Garotech Publishing, 1990.

Constantino, Renato. The Philippines: A Past Revisited. Manila, 1975.

The Philippine History & Government. Mobcco. Circa 1970s
Riple, Simoun. Philippine Society and Revolution. 1970`

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