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Expanded & Updated Edition

Teodoro A. Agoncillo, Fe B. Mangahas

Chapter 1
The Philippines and Its people

Geography (Geography: the science that studies the earth’s form, physical features, climate, population &
other related topics.)

The Philippines is an archipelago lying southeast of the coast of the mainland of Asia. It is located a little
above the equator and thus, belongs to the northern hemisphere. Of approximately 7,107 islands and islets
that compose the archipelago, some 4,000 have no names. Luzon, Mindanao, Negros, Samar, Palawan,
Panay, Mindoro, Leyte, Cebu and Bohol are the 10 biggest islands. The total land area, excluding the bodies
of water surrounded by land, such as Laguna de Bay, Taal Lake, Lake Lanao, and many more like these, is
300,0000 square kilometers. The northernmost island of Luzon is just 100 kilometers away from the island
of Taiwan, formerly called Formosa. North and west of the archipelago lies the South China Sea, to the east
is the Pacific Ocean; and to the south are the Celebes Sea and the waters of Borneo.

The coastline of the Philippines is irregular and stretches for about 36, 289 kilometers, about twice as long
as the coastline of the United States, excluding that of Alaska and Hawaii. In a note verbale submitted by
the Philippine government to the United Nations on March 7, 1955, the Philippines is defined as “a mid-
ocean archipelagic state.” Thus, “All waters around, between and connecting different islands belonging to
the Philippine Archipelago, irrespective of their width or dimensions, are necessary appurtenances* of its
land territory, forming an integral part of the national or inland waters, subject to the exclusive sovereignty*
of the Philippines.” Because of the irregular coastline, the country abounds in good harbors, landlocked
straits, and hundreds of small rivers, bays, and lakes. Manila Bay, which has an area of a little less than
2,000 square kilometers and a circumference of about 190 kilometers, in considered one of the finest natural
harbors in the world. The Philippine Deep, which is found east of the Philippines near and Leyte, is
considered as one of the deepest sea trenches in the world.

A look at the physical map of the Philippines shows that it is mountainous. There are numerous peaks from
north to south, of which Mount Apo in Mindanao is the highest, standing at approximately 2,954 meters
high. The second highest is Mount Dulang-Dulang in Bukidnon, which is 2,938 meters high. The northern
and eastern parts of Luzon have rugged mountains which are volcanic in origin. There are three large
mountain ranges in Luzon. They are the Western Caraballo Mountain Range, the Sierra Madre Mountain
Range, and the Caraballo de Baler. Western Caraballo runs from north to south and divides itself into the
Central Cordillera and the Northern Cordillera. It crosses the provinces of northern Luzon, west of the
Cagayan River. The Sierra Madre begins at the town of Baler in the eastern part of Quezon Province, and
crosses the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela and Quezon. The third mountain range, the Caraballo de Baler,
begins from the town of Baler and ends in the Strait of San Bernardino. This mountain range includes
Mayon Volcano in Albay and Bulusan Volcano in Sorsogon.

Outside of these big mountain ranges are the small mountain ranges of Zambales and the Tagaytay Ridge.
The Zambales range begins at Cape Bolinao, follows the coast of the China Sea, and ends in the Bataan
Peninsula. The Tagaytay Ridge crosses the provinces of Cavite & Batangas. Mount Makiling in Laguna
and Taal Volcano are parts of the Tagaytay Ridge. Mindoro, Panay and Negros have small mountain ranges.


*appurtenance: legal right belonging and passing with a principal property.

*sovereignty: supreme & independent power/authority of a state.
The highest peaks in these parts are Mount Halcon in Mindoro and Kanlaon in Negros. Leyte and Samar
are not as mountainous as the provinces mentioned above. Mindanao, on the other hand, has four distinct
mountain ranges. They are the Eastern Mountain Range, which begins are Surigao and follows the Pacific
Coast; the Central-Eastern Mountain Range which begins at Butuan and extends south to Agusan on the
east and to Pulangui on the west; the Central-Western Range, which begins at Mount Apo, follows the
boundary of Cotabato, and ends in the Zamboanga Peninsula; and the Western Range which begins west of
Iligan Bay and ends on the shores of Basilan Strait.

Volcanoes and Earthquakes

There are many volcanoes in the Philippines whose eruptions caused much damage to lives and property.
Twenty-six of the volcanoes are considered active, while the rest are supposed to be dormant or “sleeping”.
The most famous of these active volcanoes are Iraya in Batanes; Taal in Batangas; Banahaw in Quezon;
Mayon in Albay; Bulusan in Sorsogon; Hibok-Hibok in Camiguin Island; and Makaturing in Lanao. Mayon
and Taal are the most active of these volcanoes. They have erupted for no less than 23 times. Mayon is
famous the world over for its perfect cone shape, while Taal is famous for being the smallest volcano in the
world. In 1977, Taal Volcano erupted, which led to the resettlement of the people of Volcano Island to
other places.

The Philippines is within what is called the seismic belt, that is, it lies in the path of earthquakes. Manila
anf many parts of Luzon experienced several earthquakes over the years including that of 1863, which
caused the destruction of many residential houses and government buildings and the death of the famous
priest, Fr. Pedro Pelaez in the Manila Cathedral; that of 1937, which destroyed, partially, or completely,
many big buildings in Manila; that of 1968, when many buildings are partially destroyed while an apartment
building was completely destroyed resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people; and that of 1990, which
registered 7.8 on the Richter scale, killing and injuring thousands of people, and damaging about 20,000
kilometers of densely populated areas in Luzon.

The Philippines has a tropical and maritime climate which is tempered by the breeze from the Pacific Ocean
on the east and the China Sea on the west. Based on rainfall and temperature, there are two major seasons:
the dry season which extends from December to May, and the wet season which extends from June to
November. The period from late November to February is usually cool. May is often the hottest month of
the year, while January is the coldest. Even so, the climate in general is healthful. Miguel Lopez de Legaspi,
the first governor-general of the Philippines, describing it to the King of Spain said, “This country is
salubrious* and has a good climate……”

Generally, typhoons have influence the climate the weather of the country. These typhoons may be
classified in to “remarkable” and “ordinary”. The former have destroyed millions of pesos worth of crops
and property. Typhoons and tropical cyclones most frequently enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility
(PAR) during the months of July to October. Uring in November 1991, Rosing in October 1995, Reming
in November 2006, Ondoy in September 2009, and Pepeng in October 2009.

*salubrious: health-giving; healthy

Natural Resources
Nature has given the Philippines rich soil and plenty of natural resources. The rich valleys and fertile plains
are planted to crops such as rice, corn, coconuts, sugarcane, bananas, pineapples, and varieties of vegetables.
The country has enough water resource for electricity; food such as fish, seaweeds, sea shells; as well as
pearls for jewelry. There is an abundant supply of minerals like gold, copper, silver, lead, zinc, nickel,
manganese & chromium, as well as non-metallic minerals like salt, clay, coal, Sulphur, asbestos,
limestones, gravel & gypsum. Gum resins and limber can be obtained from the country’s vast forests. The
Philippines also has oil. Called “black gold”, its discovery at Malampaya, Palawan has encouraged foreign
and Filipino firms to drill wells for oil. However, despite this natural abundance, conservationists and civil
society have expressed concern over the depletion of forests, abuse and misuse of land resources, and threats
to marine and coastal ecosystems. A significant response by the Department of Environment and Natural
Resources (DENR) was its lobby for Congress to pass the National Integrated Protected Areas System
(NIPAS) Bill in 1992. Now called R.A.7586, the law is premised on the concept of the involvement of local
communities in biodiversity* conservation and habitat management. Thus, indigenous peoples living in the
protected areas are given responsibility over their territories and sustainable livelihood alternatives. Other
laws that protect our environment include the Philippine Clear Air Act of 1999, the Ecological Solid Waste
Management of 2000, and the Clear Water Act of 2004.

Rice is the main crop of the country and is cultivated in large quantities in Central Luzon, Western Visayas,
and Mindanao. Its production, however, remains insufficient due to several factors. First, destructive
typhoons and floods often destroy thousands upon thousands of rice lands leading to government
importation of rice. Second, the agricultural sector remains backward despite government efforts to
modernize it through the introduction of programs like the Masagana 99 technique in the 60’s and the
Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in the recent years; the use of “miracle rice varieties”; the use
of fertilizers and pesticides to increase rice production, which puts toll not only on poor farmers, who
oftentimes cannot afford them, but also on the environment, particularly the quality of soil. Third, the
production shift to sources of biofuels* such as jathropa and other cash crops, which command higher
prices in the market, has also affected rice production in no small way. Fourth, the massive conversion of
farm lands for residential and commercial use has also contributed to low rice productivity, not to mention
the loss of farm labor.

The major Philippine products for export include coconut oil, fresh bananas, pineapples, sugar, gum resins,
and abaca, among others. Among the country’s growing industries are mining, lumber, metal, woodcraft,
furniture, and petroleum. The Philippines is also among the world’s supplier of semiconductors and
manufactured goods like ignition wiring sets and other wiring sets used in vehicles, aircrafts, and ships;
cathodes* of refined copper; and microprocessors. Clothing and clothing accessories are also produced in
the country. The United States of America remains our top market for exports flowed by Japan, Hong,
Kong, and the People’s Republic of China. Other big markets of Philippine products are the Netherlands,
Germany, Singapore, Malaysia, Republic of South Korea, and Taiwan (National Statistics Office, 2007).

*Biodiversity: different forms of life existing in a particular environment.
*Biofuel: fuel derived from some plants
*Cathode: the electrode by which electric current leaves a polarized electrical device.

Based on the latest figures from the National Statistics Office (2008-2009), the Philippines has one of the
fastest-growing population with a birth rate of 26.42 births/1,000. Life expectancy stands at 67.89 years for
men and 73.85 for women. There are approximately 92 million Filipinos today as projected by the NSO.
Concentrated in the more urbanized sections of the country, 84% of the population is functionally literate.
As of 2009, the estimated of 35 million Filipinos are employed. 34% of employed Filipinos are engaged in
agriculture (hunting, forestry & fishing); 15% work in the industry sector (mining & quarrying,
manufacturing, electricity, gas & water, and construction); while 51% are employed in the service sector
(wholesale & retail trade, repair of vehicles; household goods; hotels & restaurants; transport, storage, and
communication; financial, real estate, renting and business activities; education, health & social work, etc.)
These figures raise the question whether the country is truly on its way towards industrialization of not.

The majority of the Filipinos belong to the Austronesian ethnic group. Due to early trade contacts &
subsequent colonization by the Spaniards and later by the Americans, Filipinos today are a mixture of races.
The offspring of a native Filipino and a foreigner, whether Chinese, Spaniard, American is called mestizo.
With the phenomenal growth of the Filipinos working abroad (OFW’s) the mestizo group has expanded to
include Arabs, Japanese, Koreans, and Europeans. There are around 170 spoken languages with almost all
of them belonging to the Austronesian language family. Among the major languages are Bicolano, Bisaya,
Cebuano, Chabacano, Hiligaynon/Ilonggo, Ilocano, Kapampangan, Maguindanaon, Maranao,
Pangasinense, Tagalog, Tausug, and Waray. Filipino is the national language with Filipino and English as
the official languages of the country.

The Philippines is a constitutional republic with three co-equal branches: executive, legislative, and
judiciary. The executive branch, headed by the President and Vice President, administers the functions of
the government through the cabinet that is made up of departments and headed by department secretaries.
The legislative branch, which is responsible for enacting bills into laws, is composed of the Senate (Upper
House) and the House of Representatives (Lower House), led by the Senate President and the Speaker of
the House, respectively. The judiciary consists of the systems of courts with the Supreme Court as the
highest court in the land the headed by the Chief Justice.

For administrative purposes, the Philippines is subdivided into regions and provinces, except for
Metropolitan Manila. Each province is headed by a governor and has its own legislative body called
Sangguniang Panlalawigan. The provinces, in turn, are composed of cities and municipalities. Cities and
municipalities are further divided into barangays. A barangay is the smallest political unit of the country
and headed by a barangay captain.

The country has undergone five constitutional changes since the Malolos Constitution of 1899 which set
up the First Filipino Republic with Emilio F. Aquinaldo as president. These constitutions are:

[1] the 1936 Constitution, which served as the basis for the transition Commonwealth government with
Manuel Quezon as president followed by Sergio S. Osmena;

*Constitution: the body of fundamental principles by which a state is organized and governed.

[2] the 1943 Constitution of the Japanese-sponsored government which recognized the Second Republic
under Pres. Jose P. Laurel;

[3] the 1935 Constitution, which set up the 3rd Republic under Pres. Manuel A. Roxas, followed by Elpidio
R. Quirino, Ramon F. Magsaysay, Carlos P. Garcia, Diosdado P. Macapagal, and Ferdinand E. Marcos (for
his 1st term)

[4] the 1973 Constitution that extended the term of Pres. Marcos beyond the provision of the 1935
Constitution, and set up the Fourth Republic; and

[5] the 1987 Constitution during the presidency of Corazon C. Aquino (as the first president of the Fifth
Republic), to that of Fidel V. Ramos, the short-lived administration of Joseph E. Estrada, and that of Gloria

Filipino Traits and Values

The Filipino people have many common traits*. Perhaps the most important trait of the Filipinos is
hospitality. They welcome visitors, whether Filipino or non-Filipinos, with open arms and warm hearts.
Visitors are given the best in the house and they would go to the extent of incurring debts to make their
visitors contented, happy, and comfortable. Filipino hospitality is unequaled and known to the world over.

Filipinos maintain close family ties. The family is the unit of society and consists, at least until very recent
times, of the parents, the grandparents, and the children. The head of the family is the father, but it is really
the mother who governs. The mother does a lot of things for the family: she is the first teacher of the
children; she is the treasurer of the home; the accountant, the censor, the laundrywoman, and the cook.
Thus, in many Filipino families, even the father calls his wife “Mama” or “Mommy.” He dutifully hands
over his salary or earnings to the wife, who in case of the father’s illness, works to support the whole family.
Present-day women’s rights advocates in the country, however, call this “double-burden”. The problem of
the family is not the problem of the parents alone; it is the problem of all the adult members of the family.
If Juana, one of the children, wants to continue her studies, say in the high school, the older brothers and
sisters help the parents in sending her to school. If she finds employment, she in turn helps her parents,
brothers, and sisters to send the younger children to school. Thus, cooperative work within the family circle
is not uncommon.

Respect for the elders is one of the best Filipino traits. Filipino parents exercise moral influences over their
children. The latter obey their parents willingly and help them in their work. The younger men and women
do no, as a rule, disturb their elders when the latter are talking or conversing with other people. Even among
strangers, respect is shown by slightly bowing the head or by using some words of respect. The Tagalog
“po” is commonly used by almost everybody to show respect even to a younger man (or woman) if the
latter is a stranger.

The Filipino is sentimental. This sentimentalism is shown in many ways. For example, someone from the
province pays his friend from another province a visit. The visiting friend brings along with him gifts for
the host’s family. These gifts are called pasalubong. When it is time to go, the friend may feel deeply sad
to depart from the friend’s house. Kindness is never forgotten. The friend who is left behind also feels sad
and gives the departing friend some pabaon like food or anything to give to the departing friend’s family.
Leaving home for another country or even for places within the Philippines is usually accompanied by
much crying and silent tearful goodbyes.


*Trait: distinguishing feature of character of a person or a group of people.

Filipino as a people have several values. Values are those aspects in life that include customs, traditions,
etc., which the people regard as necessary and important in their dealings with one another. One of these
values is pakikisama, a sense of togetherness or comradeship. Pakikisama refers to doing somebody a good
deed, such as helping a relative or neighbor build a house, or helping someone look for a job, and so on. If
one does these, he/she is said to be mabuting makisama. If one does the opposite, he/she is called masamang
makisama. Pakikisama does not mean doing crooked or dishonest things in order to look good to others.
Pakikisama is a positive value and means doing somebody a good turn or being helpful without ulterior

Utang na loob or debt of gratitude is another famous Filipino value. A person who receives favor from
another, whether this person is a friend or a stranger, is expected to pay this debt of gratitude by returning
the favor in the same measure, if not, more. A friend who fails to return a favor is called walang utang na
loob or an ingrate. People who lack utang na loob are disliked or avoided.

Hiya or kahihiyan is another Filipino value. It means sense of shame. To the Filipino, just like other Asian
peoples, hiya is something that a person must possess to a high degree. A person without hiya is called
walang hiya or shameless. Because of this value, a Filipino would sometimes do something foolish in order
to save his/her face. Thus, because of hiya, a poor Filipino peasant will contract debt or borrow money from
relatives, neighbors, or friends in order to have a feast for the baptism of a son or daughter. On other
occasions, many Filipinos borrow money to spend on food and other things to celebrate a town fiesta at the
expense of the family budget. Out of shame or hiya, they do not want neighbors to think that they could not
afford to spend for the event.

Chapter 2
The Philippines IN ANCIENT TIMES

On the average, we Filipinos find it difficult to believe or even imagine the existence of an ancient and
evolved people as our ancestors. These ancient Filipinos possessed a culture of their own comparable to
other civilizations in Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia for that matter. The lack of awareness of our
ancestry resulted to feelings of inferiority to other cultures and dependence on the influences brought in by
colonizers and foreigners as sources of our identity as a people.

Evidences, both material ad non-material, demonstrate that the ancient Filipinos were a productive and
creative people. They produced their own unique technology and culture that were appropriate to their given
natural environment, climate, and geography. Hence, Filipinos were already a civilized people long before
the encounter with the West.

Early Settlers
Some theories on Philippine prehistory suggest that the Philippines and the rest of the islands in Southeast
Asia may have been sites of human evolution between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago. One theory* says
that during the Ice Age*, the waters around what is now the Philippines fell about 47.5 meters below its
level. Because of this, large areas of land came to the surface and formed “land bridges” to mainland Asia.
It is said that it was during this period that the first settlers, a small group of hominid, came to the
Philippines. Most likely, they were hunters and gatherers on an exploration trip. The earliest stone tools and
animal fossils found in Cagayan Valley in northern Philippines were dated back to at least 200,000 years
ago. Although no human fossils were found yet, the artifacts suggest their existence. Collectively, they were
called Cagayan Man or Homo Erectus philippinensis. They had similar characteristics as the Java Man of
Indonesia and Peking Man of China.

In 1962, a skull cap of man was discovered in the Tabon Caves of Palawan. From this skull, archaeologists
learned that man had been in the Philippines for at least 22,000 years. The cave where the Tabon Man was
found was dated back to half a million years old and had been occupied for more or less 50,000 years. A
piece of charcoal which dated back to 30,000 years was also found which may indicate the first use of fire
in the archipelago. The prehistoric people had a primitive culture characterized by the use of stone
implements. They hunted animals such as the pygmy elephant and rhinoceros. In some languages of the
Philippines, including Tagalog, the word for elephant is gadya. This shows that once upon a time there
were elephants in the Philippines. The early Filipinos lived in caves. They also gathered food from their
immediate environment. They wore clothing made from materials that they got from nature.

*Theory: a set of facts, propositions, or principles offered to explain things or occurrences that are observed.

*Ice Age: a period in the Earth’s history when ice sheets covered the surface of the earth causing the sea
levels to drop to 200 meters, to the level lower than they are today.

*Prehistoric: the period before written records; divided into the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, on the basis of
the materials used for weapons and tools.

Some 25,000 to 30,000 years ago, another kind of settlers, the ancestors of the Negritos (Aeta, Ati,
Dumagat), came to the Philippines by crossing the “land bridges”. They were said to have come from the
south, by way of Palawan and Borneo. Another Negrito migration occurred a little later by way of Sulu and
Mindanao. These immigrants used blow gun, bow and arrow. They practiced dry agriculture similar to the
kaingin system that is practiced today by some hill and mountain people. Their tools were made of tone.
Their clothing consisted of bark trees and their houses were made of leaves and branches of trees.

More than 7,000 years ago, long after the ice that covered the world melted, the resulting rise in the sea
level ushered in the arrival of another group of people, the Austronesians. They came to Southeast Asia by
boats from Southern China. They had brown skin (kayumanggi) and an early stone are culture.

Much later, some of them came to the Philippines from Indochina and South China also by boats. They
built their houses with pyramidal roofs. They practiced dry agriculture and produced yams, rice, and gabe.
Their clothing consisted of pounded bark of trees with various printed designs. The Kalingas, the Gaddangs,
the Bagobos, the Apayaos, the Igorots, and the Ilongots, all indigenous groups of Luzon; the native
Visayans; the Tagbanuas of Palawan, the Bagobos, the Bilaans, the Manobos, and the Tirurays of
Mindanao, are probably descendants of this group.

By 500 to 800 B.C., the early Filipinos knew how to make copper and bronze implements. They irrigated
their rice lands and built the first rice terraces in the Philippines. Another migration allegedly occurred
about 300 or 200 B.C., or more than 2,000 years ago. Those who came to Luzon by way of Palawan and
Mindoro were said to have known irrigation, smelting, and manufacturing of weapons, tools, utensils, and
ornaments made of iron and other metals. This Austronesian migration continued up to the beginning of
the Christian era in the 13th century. The latest group was more advanced than the previous immigrants.
They had a syllabary or alphabet that might have come from India. These Austronesians were the ancestors
of the settlers that traded with ancient China and early southeast Asian communities. They would later lay
the foundation of Islam in Sulu and Mindanao.

These theories of migrations, however, are still subjects of debates. The artifacts are not enough to warrant
definite conclusions about Philippine prehistory.

Economic Life
The ancient Filipinos practice agriculture, which was the main source of their sustenance. Rice, coconut,
sugar cane, cotton, banana, hemp, orange and many kinds of fruits and vegetables were raised. Land
cultivation was done into ways: the kaingin system and tillage. In the kaingin system, the land was cleared
by burning shrubs and bushes. The cleared land was then planted to crops. In the tillage system, the land
was plowed and harrowed, then followed by planting. Pigafetta, the historian of the Magellan expedition
which reached the Philippines in1521, said that he found in Sugbu (Cebu) such foodstuffs as sorgo, orange,
garlic, gourd, lemon, coconut, sugar cane and many fruits.

The ancient Filipinos practiced irrigation. They increased their crop production by irrigating ditches. The
rice terraces in Banawe, Mountain Province attest to this ancient practice. The ditches of these rice terraces
are stone-walled and run for thousands of feet up the mountain side. If viewed from a distance, the whole
rice terraces give the viewer the picture of a huge stairway to the sky. It is estimated that if placed from end
to end, the length of the Banawe rice terraces would total about 19, 213 kilometers or almost half-way
around the world from the North Pole to the South Pole. The rice terraces of Banawe are one of the Wonders
of the World.

Aside from agriculture, the ancient Filipinos engaged in industries such as fishing, mining, shipbuilding,
poultry and livestock raising, logging, pottery, and weaving. Textiles like sinamay were woven with threads

obtained from banana and cotton plants. The ancient Filipinos also domesticated chickens, native ponies,
carabaos, pigs and goats. Fishing was a common industry because most of the settlements were along rivers
and seas. Antonio de Morga, a Spanish official in the judiciary who wrote about the early Philippines, said
that “this industry [fishing] is quite general in the entire country and is considered a natural activity for the
self-support of the people.” Various methods of catching fish were used, such as the use of nets, bow and
arrow, lance or spear, the wicker basket, hook and line, corrals, and fish poison.

Mining was also another important industry before the coming of the Spaniards. In 1569, Miguel Lopez de
Legazpi reported to the Viceroy of Mexico that there was “more or less gold….in all these islands; it is
obtained from rivers and, in some places, from mines which the natives work.” He mentioned Paracale in
Camarines Norte, the Ilocos, the Visayas, especially Cebu, and along the Butuan River in Mindanao, as
places were “very good gold” could be found.

Shipbuilding and logging were also thriving industries. Morga testified that many Filipinos were “proficient
in building ocean-going vessels.” This skill can perhaps be explained by the abundance of thick forests in
the archipelago that are rich in hardwoods, and by the fact that the Philippines, being surrounded by water,
naturally produced good sailors. The Filipino shipbuilders built all kinds of boats for travel, war and
commerce. The Spaniards later classified these boats into banca, lapis, caracoa,virey, prau, and vinta.
These boats carried products between Manila in Luzon and Cebu in Visayas and as far as Butuan and the
rest of Mindanao.

No currency was used in trading. Goods were bought and sold through the barter system called baligya.
For example, a goat is exchanged for a big basket full of fish. Sometimes, the Filipinos would exchange
gold for products sold by the Chinese, who trusted the Filipinos and consigned their goods to be paid only
upon their return trip to the islands. Commerce extended far and wide into nearby foreign lands such as
Borneo, Malaya, Thailand, Cambodia, Sumatra, and India.

Social Life
The ancient Filipinos were divided into social classes. These were the nobles, the freemen, and the
dependents. The nobles, composed of the chiefs and their families, were the early society’s upper class.
They were highly respected in their community. In the Tagalog region, the nobles usually carried the title
of Gat or Lakan. One finds these words today in some surnames like Lakandula (Lakan Dula), Lakanilaw
(Lakan Haw), Gatmaitan (Gat Maitan), Gatchalian (Gat Saiian), Gatbonton (Gat Bunton), and many others.

Next to the nobles were the freemen who may be regarded as the society’s middle class during the ancient
period of Philippine history. The members of the lowest class were dependents called alipin among the
ancient Tagalogs. The low social status of the dependent was acquired by captivity in battle, by failing to
pay one’s debts, by inheritance, by purchase, or by being pronounced guilty of a crime. Among the
Tagalogs, the dependents were classified into aliping namamahay and aliping sagigilid. The namamahay
had his own house and family. He served his master by planting and harvesting his master’s crops, by
rowing the master’s boat, and by helping in the construction of the master’s house. On the other hand, the
sagigilid had no house of his own, he lived with his master, and could not marry without the latter’s consent.
Among the Visayans, the dependents were of three kinds: the tumataban, who worked for his master when
told to do so; the tumarampuk, who worked one day a week for his master; and the ayuey, who worked
three days a week for his master.

Dependents were further classified in three levels or grades: first, as full dependent (whose parents were
both dependents); second, as one-half dependent (with one parent as dependent); and third, as semi-
dependent (with one parent being one-half dependent and the other free). These levels were not permanent.
Anyone could move up or down a level upon payment of debts or by purchase. Thus, there were no slaves
in the real sense of the word- only dependents due to debts or captivity from war or battles.

Women’s Position in Society

The Filipino women, before the arrival of the Spaniards, enjoyed high position in society. As a custom,
women were the equal of men in ancient Filipino society. They could own and inherit property and sell it;
they could engage in trade in industry; and they could succeed to chieftainship of her community or
barangay in the absence of a male heir. Wives also enjoyed the right to give names to their children. The
names usually were derived from an event or from the physical features of the child. Thus, a beautiful girl
was names Si Maganda; a very healthy boy was named Si Malakas, and so on. The men respected the
women. To show this respect, the men, when accompanying women, usually walked behind the latter. This
was done not only to show respect for the women, but also to protect them from any harm that may come
from behind.

Marriage Customs
In most cases, a woman of one class married into the same class. Thus, a noble married a woman from a
noble family; a woman from the freemen class married into this class; and the man from the lowest class
married into his own class. However, there were exceptions when a man, for example, showed bravery and
courage in battle, or when he had become powerful enough to lead the people of his community.

A man could marry as many women as he could support. His children by his first wife were considered the
legitimate* children and could, therefore, inherit his property. The so-called illegitimate children were not
given the right to inherit from their father.

Courtship during that period of Philippine history was long and difficult. A man served the parents of the
girl he loved for years. He chopped wood, fetched water, and did errands for the girl’s parents. When
accepted by the latter, the marriage was then arranged. The man was required to give a dowry, called bigay-
kaya, which usually consisted of a piece of land or gold. To the parents of the girl, the man must give a gift
called panghimuyat. To the girl’s wet-nurse, the man must also give a gift called bigay-suso. These
arrangements were made by the parents of the bride and the groom. The marriage ceremony was simple. It
consisted of the groom and the bride drinking from the same cup. Then an old man would announce that
the ceremony was about to begin. A priestess would bow to the assembled guests and then would take the
hands of the couple and join them over a plate a plate of uncooked rice. She would then shout and throw
the rice to the guests. The latter would respond with a loud shout and the ceremony was over.

The community called barangay was the basic unit of government. It consisted of 30 to 100 families. The
Tagalog word “barangay” was derived from the Austronesian balangay, a boat which transported the
Austronesian immigrants to the Philippines. The Spaniards changed the letter “I” in balangay to “R” and
pronounced it the Spanish way: barangay. Each barangay was independent and was ruled by a chieftain. It
was the primary duty of the chieftain to rule and govern his people justly and to promote their welfare. The
subjects, on the other hand, served their chieftain in times of war with other barangays and helped him in
tilling and sowing the land. They paid tribute to him. This tribute was called buwis, the Tagalog word for
“tax”. The chieftain’s children and other relatives were highly respected in the community and were
exempted from paying tribute and from rendering personal services to the chieftain.

*Legitimate: in accordance with the law or rules

*Dowry: a property or money brought by a bride to her husband or vice versa.

The chieftain was powerful and exercised the powers of the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. In
war, he was the supreme commander. However, he was aided by the council of elders in his role as
lawmaker. This council gave the chieftain some wise pieces of advice in order to guide him in the
administration of justice.

Relations existed between barangays. They traded with one another. Sometimes, alliances were concluded
between barangays for mutual protection against a common enemy. An alliance was sealed through a ritual
called sanduguan or blood compact. This entailed drawing of blood from the arms of the contracting parties,
mixing their respective blood in a cup of wine, and drinking the mixture. Having drunk each other’s blood,
the contracting parties then became “blood-brothers.”


The chieftain of a barangay made the laws of the community. When he had a law in mind, he called in the
council of elders to give their opinion. If the elders approved the proposed law, the chieftain ordered a town
cryer, called umalohokan, to announce to the community the approval of a law. With a bell in one hand,
the umalohokan would ring it as he went along to call the attention of the people. Then he explained to new
law to them. Any person violating the law was immediately arrested and brought before the chieftain for

Most disputes during the ancient times were decided peacefully. The court of justice was composed of the
chieftain as judge and the elders of the barangay as members of the “jury”.* If conflicts arose between
members of different barangays, the differences were resolved by arbitration*. A board composed of elders
from neutral barangays acted as arbiter.

The trial of a case was usually held in public. The accuser and the accused face each other with their
witnesses. The witnesses usually took an oath to prove their honesty. The oaths took such forms as, “May
the crocodile devour me if I tell a lie”; “May I die here and now if I do not tell the truth”; and so forth. Then
the parties to the litigation presented their arguments and their respective witnesses. The man who had more
witnesses was usually judged as the winner. If the defeated person contested the decision of the chieftain,
the latter openly sided with the winner and compelled the loser to accept his decision. The loser had no
other alternative than to accept the decision of the chieftain.

The trial by ordeal was not unique to the ancient Filipinos. It was also done in Europe to determine who of
the disputants was right or telling the truth. As practiced in the Philippines, the trial by ordeal consisted of
ordering the suspects, in the case of theft, to dip their hands into a pot of boiling water. The suspect whose
hand was scalded the most was judged guilty. Another form of trial by ordeal was holding lighted candles
by the suspects. The suspect whose candle died out first was the guilty party. Another form of trial by ordeal
consisted of ordering the suspects to plunge into a deep river with their lances. The one who rises to the
surface first was pronounced guilty. Still another form was ordering the suspects to chew uncooked rice.
The one whose saliva was thickest was the culprit.

*Jury: people deciding on a case.
*Arbitration: the judging of a dispute between people or

*Litigation: the act of contesting a point of law in a court; court case or proceedings.


When the first Spaniards came to the Philippines in 1521, they found the early Filipinos with a culture* that
was different from theirs. Some aspects of this old culture were undoubtedly Malay, but the other aspects
were probably the result of a different environment.

Among the ancient Filipinos, the male clothing consisted of the upper and lower parts. The upper part was
a jacket with short sleeves called kangan. The color of the jacket indicated the rank of the wearer: the chief
wore a red jacket, while those lower in rank wore either black or blue. The lower part of the clothing was
called bahag, which consisted of a cloth wound about the waist, passing down between the thighs.

The women were usually naked from the waist up. They wore a saya or skirt. Among the Visayans, this
lower part was called patadyong. A piece of white or red cloth, called tapis, was usually wrapped around
the waist or the chest.

The ancient Filipinos had no shoes. They walked about barefooted. Men usually wore a headgear called
putong, a piece of cloth wrapped around the head. The color of the putong showed the number of persons
the wearer had killed. Thus, a man wearing a red putong had killed at least one man, and the one wearing
an embroidered putong had killed at least seven men.

The ancient Filipinos wore ornaments* made of gold and precious stones. Women as well as men wore
armlets called kalumbiga, pendants, gold rings, earrings, leglets, and bracelets. Gold was common, so the
ancient Filipinos used it not only in making rings, armlets, and bracelets, but also fillings in between the
teeth. These fillings were made to adorn the teeth.

The body was also adorned by tattooing including the face. The women also tattooed their arms and faces
to make themselves beautiful. Among men, however, tattooing had another use. It was used as a man’s war
record, that is, the more a man was tattooed the more he was admired by the people of his community for
his bravery in battle. According to the first Spanish missionaries who wrote about the ancient Filipinos, the
Visayas were the most tattooed people of the Philippines. For this reason, the Spanish missionaries called
the Visayans, pintados or painted people.

The Filipino house of today in the barrios is no different from the typical ancient Filipino house. The ancient
house was built in bamboo, wood, and nipa palm.

*Culture: customs and achievements of a particular time or people; refined understanding of the arts and
other human intellectual achievement.
*Ornament: a decorative object or detail that adds quality or distinction to a person, place or thing.
*Pendant: a hanging ornament, especially one attached to a necklace or bracelet.

*Tattoo: to make a design on the skin by pricking it with a needle and staining it with an indelible ink.