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History, Spanish Settlement and Rule

Sulu Archipelago, patronato real, Japan Current, Miguel Lopez, gobernacion

The first permanent Spanish settlement in the Philippines was established on Cebu in 1565 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, a Spanish expedition commander. This settlement, at present-day Cebu City, became the capital of the new Spanish colony, with Legazpi as its first governor. In 1571 Spanish forces defeated the Muslim ruler Rajah Soliman, who controlled an area of Luzon that contained an ideal harbor for Spanish trade. There Legazpi named Manila as the new capital of the Spanish colony. Within a few years Spanish authority extended over much of Luzon and the central Visayan Islands. As a by-product of this conquest, Spain discovered the best route back to New Spain was via the Japan Current, which took sailing ships north past Japan and then south along the American coasts. This new route compelled the newly emergent power in Japan, the Tokugawa dynasty, to close Japan to outside contact for 250 years.

The Philippines was Spain’s only colony in Asia. It was ruled as a gobernacion, a territory administered by a governor, and was officially subordinate to the Spanish viceroy of New Spain. Spain initially had three principal objectives in colonizing the islands: to secure a share of the spice trade in the Moluccas, to provide a base from which to convert Asians to Christianity, and to convert the people of the Philippine Islands. Spain never realized the first two objectives and only partially succeeded in the third. Most of the lowland population was rapidly converted to Christianity, while the upland tribes were only nominally converted. The Muslims of southern Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago were never baptized and actively resisted Spanish rule for more than 300 years.

As in Spanish America, the various Roman Catholic religious orders—Augustinians, Franciscans, Dominicans, and Jesuits—were in charge of the conversion of the population to Christianity. In accordance with the terms of the patronato real, or royal patronage of the Catholic Church, the government assumed the financial burden of evangelization, paying a stipend to each missionary and subsidizing missionary work. It acquired in return the privilege of nominating the occupants of all important ecclesiastical posts and regularly assigned to friars, or parish priests, civil as well as religious functions. Over time, the religious orders also gained large areas of land through donations from the Spanish colonial elite (the principalia, or “principal ones”), and many indigenous parishioners worked for the friars as tenant farmers.

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Article key phrases:

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