The Spanish Period-Part 1


As none of the expeditions prior to 1565 had succeeded in taking over the Philippines, King Charles I stopped sending colonizers to the Philippine Archipelago. But when Philip II succeeded his father to the throne in 1556, he instructed Luis de Velasco, the viceroy of Mexico, to prepare a new expedition to be headed by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Sto-ries of the riches of the Far East were just too tempting to do otherwise as the Portuguese were making inroads. 

On February 13, 1565, Legazpi’s expedition set foot on the island of Cebu. After a short struggle with the natives, he proceeded to Leyte, then to Camiguin and to Bohol. There Legazpi made a blood compact with its chieftain, Datu Sikatuna (image above, left) and was able to obtain spices and gold in Bohol due to this new alliance with Sikatuna. On April 27, 1565, Legaspi returned to Cebu; destroyed the town of Raja Tupas and establish a settlement. On orders of the King Philip II, 2,100 men arrived from Mexico. They built the the port of Fuerza de San Pedro which became the first Spanish trading outpost and stronghold for the region. 

Hearing of the riches of the Kingdom of Maynila, further north in the island of Luzon, an expedition of 300 men headed by Martin de Goiti sallied forth to Maynila (now old Manila). Along the way, they found the islands of Panay and Mindoro, eventually landing in Maynila on May 8, 1570. 

This expedition was at first welcomed by the Maynilans and an alliance was quickly established with its ruler Rajah Suliman (or Soliman, image right). Soon after, the locals sensed the true objectives of the Spaniards and a battle ensued between them. Because the Spaniards were more heavily armed they were able to subdue Maynila. Hearing of this victory, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived to join Goiti in Maynila. It was then that Legazpi made peace with Rajahs Soliman, Lakandula and Matanda. It was through these new alliances that Legazpi in 1571 ordered the cons-truction of the Walled City of Intramuros and proclaimed it as the seat of government of the newly-established Spanish colony and the capital of the archipelago. 

Through largely outnumbered, the Spaniards who came to colonize the Philippines took control of the islands through a strategy of divide and rule. At that time, even as the different kingdoms, rajanates and sultanates in the islands functioned as units of govern-ance, each existed independently of the other and the powers that each of their rulers en-joyed were confined only within the boundaries of their realms. No higher political ins-titution united them all and the Spaniards quickly took advantage of this situation. They used rulers who were friendly to them to subdue those who were not. 


Spanish kings who ruled a colony in the Far East named after their predecessor – King Philip II (image, left) was accomplished through the viceroys of Mexico – another Spanish colony established in the Americas. But when Mexico gained its freedom in 1821, they adjusted this ar-rangement by appointing governor-generals instead. 

Moreover, a special government body in Spain that over-saw matters pertaining to colonies also assisted these kings in the business of governing the empire. Over the centuries this body became known by many names – the Council of the Indies (1565-1837); the Over-seas Council (1837-1863); and finally, the Ministry of the Colonies (1863–1898). Through this mechanism, the kings of Spain implemented their decrees and imposed the legal codes of Spain even whilst many provisions could not apply to different condition in the colonies. 


To understand how the kings of Spain ruled their global empire is also to understand how these councils exercised legislative and judicial powers on their behalf and the structure and mechanisms that were devised and put in place covering the span of their rule over three centuries. These devices were, in the case of their Philippine colony: 

The Political Structure: Spain established a centralised colonial government composed of a national government and local governments that administered provinces, cities, towns and municipalities. With the cooperation of the local governments the national government maintained peace and order, collected taxes and built schools and other public works. 

The Governor-General: As representative of the king the office-holder was highest-ranking official. A governor-gen-eral saw to it that royal decrees and laws emanating from Spain were implemented in the colony. He had the power to appoint and dismiss public officials (except those per-sonally chosen by the King) and also supervised all gov-ernment offices and the collection of taxes. The governor-general exercised certain legislative powers, as well. He issued proclamations to facilitate the implementation of laws.

The Residencia: This body was a special judicial court that investigated the performance of a governor- general who was about to be replaced and submitted a report of its findings to the King. 

The Visita: For nearly 272-years, the Council of the Indies in Spain sent government officials called the ‘Vistador-General’ to observe conditions in the colony. Like The Residencia, the Visitador-General reported his findings directly to the King. 

The Royal Audiencia: Apart from its judicial functions, the Royal Audiencia served as an advisory body to the governor-generals and enjoyed the power to check and a report on his abuses. The Audiencia also audited the expenditures of the colonial government and sent a yearly report to Spain. The Archbishop of Manila and other government officials could also report the abuses of the colonial government directly to the Spanish king. Des-pite all these checks, however, an abusive governor-general (and there were a few) often managed to escape stiff fines, suspension, or dismissal by simply bribing the Visitador and other investigators. 

The Provincial Government: The Spaniards created local government units to facilitate administration of the different provinces of the archipelago. There were two types: the alcadia and the corregimiento. The alcadia, led by an alcalde-mayor, governed the pro-vinces that had been fully subjugated. The corregimiento, headed by a corregidor, govern-ed provinces that were not yet entirely under Spanish control. The alcalde-mayors repre-sented the Spanish king and the governor-general in their respective provinces and man-aged the day-to-day admistration of provincial governments, implemented laws and su-pervised the collection of taxes. Though they were paid a small salary, each enjoyed pri-vileges such as the indulto de comercio, or the right to participate in the galleon trade which more than made up the difference. 

The Municipal Government: Each province was divided into several towns or pueblos headed by Gobernadordcillos, whose main concerns were efficient governance and tax col-lection. Four lieutenants aided the Governardorcillo: the Teniente-Mayor (chief lieute-nant), the Teniente de Policia (police lieutenant), the Teniente de Sementeras (lieutenant of the fields) and the Teniente de Ganados (lieutenant of the livestock). 

The Encomienda System: Spain owed the colonization of the Philippines to Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. In efforst to hasten the subjugation of the archipelago, King Philip II instructed Legazpi to divide it into large territories called encomiendas. As an act of gratitude to his conquistadors, the King made them the first encomenderos in the colony. As the King’s representatives in the encomiendas, the encomenderos functioned as territorial overseers whose duties included the right to collect taxes; protect the people in the encomienda; maintain peace and order; promote education and health programs; and, help the mission-aries propagate Christianity. 

As regards their last of duties, much can be said how it contributed to the eventual re-awakening of the Filipinos desire for freedom and independence from the shackles of sub-jugation. 

|Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3| HOME

This entry was posted in Bulwagan Foundation Trust, Philippine History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Spanish Period-Part 1

  1. Lariza Keira G. Shi says:

    Cool! I’m going to research all my Civics Project here!

  2. Lyda Pettway says:

    I rarely comment, however after browsing a ton of remarks here The Spanish Period-Part 1 | The
    Bulwagan Foundation Trust. I do have a couple of questions for you if you do not mind. Is it just me or does it look like a few of the comments appear like they are coming from brain dead folks?
    😛 And, if you are writing at other online sites, I’d like to follow you. Would you make a list of the complete urls of your social community sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s