In this short article, I will share interesting facts about the relationship between Spain and the Philippines. These two countries started as friends and have remained friends, overcoming the test of time, despite being on different continents and in different time zones.
History shows that Spain and the Philippines have shared a very long and productive past. Spanish colonization was influential in shaping the culture of the Philippines. Even today, the strong, amiable ties between these two countries remain tight as we all move towards globalization and a more sustainable future.
The Philippines was a Spanish colony for over 300 years. The Spaniards first set foot on Philippine soil, on Limasawa Island, in March, 1521. Ferdinand Magellan (Magallanes), a Portuguese explorer at that time, led the successful expedition of Spain to the Philippines. The trip was conducted as a service to the King of Spain, Philip/Felipe II, so the Philippines was named after him.
The expeditions boosted Spain’s objective of actively participating in the spice trade. In fact, during Spain’s rule, much of the Philippine economy depended on the galleon trade which made the Philippines the center of trade in Asia between the 17th and 18th centuries. All sorts of products from China, Japan, Moluccas, and India were sent to the Philippines in exchange for silver.
However, during its 300+ years rule, Spain also instituted economic reforms that eventually favored the Spanish population. Those actions eventually led to both violent and non-violent combat. Dr. Jose Rizal is a national hero in the Philippines because of the non-violent revolt he led against the Spaniards. Andres Bonifacio, another national hero, founded the Katipunan group and led the revolution against the Spanish government.
Eventually, the Philippines declared independence from Spain on June 12, 1898, inaugurating its first president, General Emilio Aguinaldo. From then on, the country was officially known as the Republic of the Philippines. The Philippines continues to observe June 12 as a national holiday that commemorates its liberation from Spanish colonialism. The centennial anniversary of Philippine independence in 1998 was a huge milestone celebration in the Philippines. King Emeritus Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain even attended some of the festivities.
Dr. Jose Rizal
Dr. Jose Rizal, as mentioned previously, is a national hero in the Philippines. He was instrumental in awakening the Filipinos’ interest in the unjust practices of the Spanish regime. He wrote two influential novels, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo, detailing the dark era of Spanish rule. Dr. Rizal was an intellectual who had the privilege of living and studying in Spain. He was eventually arrested by the Spaniards, put on trial, convicted of sedition, and sentenced to die by firing squad. Dr. Jose Rizal was executed on December 30, 1896. His silent opposition and his death created even more resistance and animosity toward Spanish rule.
Rizal Park in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is home to a large monument to Dr. Jose Rizal. A monument on the Avenida de las Islas Filipinas in Madrid, Spain also honors his legacy. Both monuments are close to the hearts of Filipinos.
Spanish influence is evident across the country and in Filipinos’ lives. Some historical sites commemorate the long, and strong, ties with the Spanish. Baroque and Gothic architecture can be seen in places like San Agustin Church, the wall of Intramuros in Manila, and in Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur. Prominent academic institutions, like the University of Santo Tomas founded in 1611 and Santa Isabel College founded in 1632, were also established during the Spanish regime.
In terms of the Philippines’ gastronomic journey, asado and guiso (stew), learned from the Spaniards, continue to be a reliable methods in cooking. Spanish dishes such as albondigas (meatballs), lechon/cochinillo (roast pork), paella (rice), calamari (squid), and caldereta (beef stew) are still widely prepared and enjoyed. And, desserts such as queso (cheese), flan, mantequilla (butter), brazo de Mercedes (log), and ensaimada (our version of a non-flaky croissant) continue to be staples on every Filipino table.
Christianity continues to be the strongest religion in the Philippines, with approximately 90% of Filipinos practicing Christianity. Children are baptized, attend catechism, and receive Holy Communion. Catholicism, as a religion, also continues to be an important subject in the academic curriculum.
The influence of the Catholic faith can also be seen in the absence of divorce in the Philippines. Catholic priests, Cardinals, the Church, and even some statesmen refuse to entertain bills about divorce.
The Catholic/Christian faith, in general, has also offered a reliable way of life. Rituals and habits, such as attending church on Sundays, remain important, even today. Many Filipinos also enjoy special religious celebrations, like town fiestas that celebrate the Feast Days of important saints and Christmas. On Christmas, the Misa de Gallo/Simbang Gabi or the Novena of Nine Nights is still a country-wide practice. And Filipinos exchange gifts (aguinaldo) at their Noche Buena or Christmas Eve gathering, just like the Spanish.
Annual commemorations of Holy Week/Semana Santa (the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ) are also widely observed. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are national holidays in the Philippines. On these days, people gather to visit seven different churches in a tradition known as Visita Iglesia. Churches and their communities also organize processions. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is then celebrated with young girls dressed as little angels. I was once a little angel myself!
As a Spanish colony, Castellano, or Spanish, was the primary language in the Philippines during the Spanish regime. As events unfolded, and society transformed, Spanish became voluntary. Today, Spanish is an optional elective in the Philippines’ school curriculum. Though Spanish is no longer widely spoken in the Philippines, the Spanish-based creole languages, Chavacano and Zamboangueño, are still spoken in the southern part of the Philippines (Zamboanga).
There are also many Tagalog words that originated from Spanish. During my first assignment in Madrid as part of a multinational IT and consultancy firm, my ex-colleagues were surprised to discover that I know some Spanish words even though I am not a Spanish speaker! Many Filipinos can count numbers (uno, dos, tres), state the time (la una, las dos, las tres, las cinco y cuatro), indicate some directions (derecho, recto, atrás), and say the days of the week and months of the year in Spanish. Aside from that, many of our day-to-day words – like those used for kitchen utensils, appliances and furniture – are also derived from Spanish.
Instituto Cervantes is also well-established in the Philippines. This global nonprofit promotes Spanish as a major secondary language and Spanish culture as an integral part of education.
Spain and the Philippines continue to share strong diplomatic ties represented by the embassies of each nation. Filipinos who migrate to Spain are entitled to dual citizenship by virtue of the Republic Act (RA) 9225. Official documents, such as drivers’ licenses, can be awarded to Filipino holders simply by converting Philippine documents into Spanish. And numerous bilateral agreements and treaties exist. These include the Treaty on Civil Rights and Consular Powers (1948); the Treaty on the Validity of Academic Degrees and the Exercise of Professions (1949); the Agreement on Cultural, Sports and Educational Cooperation (2007); the Treaty on the Transfer of Convicted Persons (2007); and the Agreement on Cooperation in the Fight Against Transnational Crime (2015). Such treaties both protect and promote the relationship between these two sovereign nations.
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