A Layman's Manual
of Current Issues
SM 60 I From Indio'
to Filipino
As we prepare for a meaningful celebration of National
Heroes Day on the last Sunday of August. let us focus our atten-
tion this time not on particular illustrious Filipinos but on the
Filipino people whose resolute struggle to defend their country
and their freedom in every critical period of their history surely
deserves the admiration and honor we accord to individual heroes.
The name Filipino is of colonial origin. Ruy Lopez de Villa-
lobos, who led an expedition from Mexico which reached Minda-
nao in 1543, gave the Felipinas to the Samar-Leyte islands
in honor of the Spanish prince, Don Felipe, who later became
Felipe II, King of Spain. The name was eventually applied to the
whole archipelago which became known as las islas Filipinas (Phil-
ippine Islands).
But this did not make the inhabitants of these islands instant
Filipinos. The Spanish conquerors called them indios, the com-
mon appellation for all people encountered by tJle Spaniards in
their expeditions in search of a route to India. The term Espaiiol-
Filipino or Filipino· for short was reserved for Spaniards born in
t.lte Philippines to distinguish them from Spaniards born in Spain
(also known as the Iberian peninsula) who were called peninsu-
The Colonial Elite
The peninsulares were the ruling elite, with the Espanoles-
Filipinos occupying a social status below them. Although their
Spanish blood assured them of a place with the elite, Espa-
noles-Filipinos did not have quite the same opportumties for
advancement as their peninsular brothers whether in government,
24 in the religious hierarchy, or in the economic field. It is never easy
Fro,'n Indio to Filipino
to play second fiddle, so Espanoles-Filipinos had an
lent attitude toward the penmsulares. On the one hand, they were
proud to be. Spaniards them; on the other hand they resented
the fact that the peninsulares regarded themselves as the only real
The also had an ambivalent attitude to-
watd Spain. As Spaniards, they considered Spain as mother
country: but they also developed a loyalty to the thE'
land of their birth. The peninsulares had no such ambIvalence.
They might have lived in the Philippines for. many years ,but
always lookeci forward to returning t<? Spain ,",:here theIr
and cultural roots were. On the other nand, whIle the
Filipinos surely longed to visit they more at m
the Philippines where they had theIr .economIc, and   ties,
Besides while they had their place III the rulmg CIrcles III the
colony/ they would probably have ordinary citizens in Spain.
The Espanol-Filipino was both ,a cc;>lonial and an
anti-colonial. As a Spaniard, he was m favor of SpanIsh rule, but 'as
a Filipino who regarded the Philippines his country, resented
colonial poliCies which favored the penmsulares at hIS expense.
The Espanol-Filipino priests who suffered discrimination from the
Spanish hierarchy nurtured anti-clerical feelings while zealously
espousing the Catholic faith. These Espunoles-Filipinos not
for independence from Spain ,but they wanted reforms III
and church policies that would remove the hind1;'ances to
advancement. Their conflicts with colonial power made pOSSIble
an alliance between them and the local elite -- wealthy indios,
Chinese mestizos and Spanish mestizos.
Local Aristocracy
Let us briefly outline the development of each of these three
components prior to their coming together. History tells us that
the Spanish colonizers used the barangay as the basic unit local
administration and recruited cabezas de barangay as barrIO of-
ficials.· As intermediaries between the Spaniards and the people,
these officials were charged with the duty of collecting tribute and
mobilizing labor for government construction projects while them-
selves being exempted from both. They and their families were
given the title of principales, the beginning of a sort of local
aristocracy beholden to the colonial administration. While many a
cabeza and gobernadorcillo (roughly, equivalent to a town mayor,
the highest position open to the indio) ended his term in penury,
many others used tlleir authority to acquire wealth by pocketing
part of the tribute, m.anipulating the polo system for their benefit,
and most important; titling in their names some of the barangay's 25
\ .
old communal lands. Wealth allowed them to acquire Hispanic
culture and to send theil' children to school in Manila and later
even to Spain.

Rise of the' Mestizo,
Another sector that would become a component of the local
elite   Chinese mestizos. Since the Chinese community
was composed mostly of men (they regarded their stay in the
Philippines as temporary and habitually left their families behind
in China), many Chinese took native wives. The fruits of these
unions were the Chinese mestizos. The Chinese mestizos were the ·
beneficiaries of the business acumen, experience, and affluence of
their fathers. Soon there were mestizo gremios (guilds) prospering
. alongside and even competing with Chinese gremios.
The Spaniards, though dependent on Chinese artisans and
merchants for their needs, were always suspicious of them,
restricting their movement within the country and periodically
expelling large numbers. The Chinese mestizos did not suffer from
such restrictions or prejudices. Brought up as Catholics by their
native mothers, they ,blended culturally with the native popula-
tion. Already. prospering on their own, they were in a position to
take advantage of the new economic opportunities offered by the ,
periodic anti-Chinese drives of the colonial administration. They
took over retailing aIld artisanry, then wholesaling, and finally be-
came large land-owners, yielding commerce to the Chinese when
the latter returned. With economic power came education and
Hispanic culture.
As the main sector of the local economic elite, the Chinese
mestizos resented the barriers to their further enrichment that
colonial policies posed, for example the indulto de comercio, a
privilege sold by the central government to most alcaldes mayores
(Spaniards) which allowed the latter to engage in commerce within
their respective jurisdictions and therefore limited the mestizo's
economic opportunities. As landowners interested in acquiring
more lands or as lessees of portions of friar estates, they viewed
with resentment tht:: pJssession of these vast land areas by religious
Hispanization as Filipinization
, By the 1800s, out of a population of four million there were
some 240,000 Chinese mestizos, 20,000 Spanish mestizos and
10,000 Chinese. The term mestizo at that time referred to Chinese
mestizos, not to Spanish mestizos who were designated as mesti-
26 zos-Espanoles or simply Espaiioles, if they passed for white . 'I lit·
From Indio to Filipino
Spanish mestizos of this period were no longer regarded with. con-
tempt as in earlier times when most of them were the frults of
clerical and military liaisons with native women. The later genera-
tion of Spanish mestizos were the children of Spaniards who had
married into the elite principalia or Chinese-mestizo families.,
The local elite composed of Chinese mestizos, Spanish mes-
tizos and wealthy indios became acceptable in the circles of
Espanoles-Filipinos by virtue of their affluence and Hispanization.
Thus, in effect Hispanization became the passport to Filipiniza-
tion. Moreover, the grievances of the local elite against the Spanish
administration were also those of -the Espafioles-Filipinos, The
term Filipino was growing in scope though still based on 'wealth
and Hispanic culture.
From the Hispanized local elite emerged the ilustrados (the
enlightened), beneficiaries of higher education in the Philippines
and abroad, usually Spain, They articulated the grievances of their
class against colonial political, economic and sO'cial structures that'
impeded their economic advancement, deprived them of political
rights and denied them social equality with the Spaniards, They
demanded reform!; and acceptance of the Philippines as an integral
part of Spain, and of themselves as Filipinos but citizens of
Spain. They now appropriated the name Filipino, changing itt;
original connotations.
Filipino as Anti-Colonial Term
Since the ilustrado demands were articulated in behalf of all
their countrymen and the people recognized many of these de-
mands as corresponding to their own, the term Filipino was
eventUally accepted by the people as a symbol of their national
unity. With the people's active involvement in the struggle against
Spanish rule, separation rather than assimilation became the na- ·
tional goal and Filipino became the name of a distinct people. The
term was separated from its colonial moorings and was proudly
borne by a people who had earned it by their historic struggle for
freedom from colonial rule. From a term designating a section of
the colonizers, it had become the symbol of a colonized people's
P.S. A few years ago, certain quarters tried to float the idea of
changing the name of our country to Maharlika, coincidentally
pf(!fiid.ent Marco!';' nom de guerre during the Japanese occupation.
An appeal to OlJr nationalist 5 ntim nts wa.s ade, The colonial
rigi n or th IHUll(' ,Filipino Wfl.'l br ugh up and Sri nokJ t mdo- 27

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