THE SPANISH CONQUEST
On 16 March 1521 three small ships sailing westward across the Pacific raised the rugged coast of
Samar. They were commanded by Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese seaman in the service of the Spanish
Crown. He had told Charles V that be would find a route for Spain past the barrier of the great American
continent to the Isles of Spice. He was a almost as good as his word. He had worked his ships through the
gusty and treacherous strait which now bear his name. He had driven his crews across the frightening
expanse of the Pacific, where they ran out of provisions and were forced to eat rats and gnaw the very
leather of their rigging to keep alive. And now they had found the Philippines, to the south of which, not
too far away, were the Moluccas, source of the rare aromatic plants which in Europe were almost worth
their weight in gold.
Threading his way through the eastern Visayas, Magellan cast anchor before the flourishing port
of Cebu. Its ruler, Raja Humabun, received him well, and at his urging became both a Christian and a
vassal of Charles, King of Spain and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Did Humabun realize what it
meant to be a vassal? Perhaps, for be had vassal of his own. Lapu-Lapu, Coe of the two lord of Mactan
Island, was his vassal, but not a very obedient one. Magellan thought be would do Humabun a favor and at
the same time impress him with a brilliant feat of arms. He decided to teach Lapu-Lapu a leason.
1 On Friday, April twenty-six, Zula, a chief of the Island of Mactan, sent one of his
sons to present two goats to the captain-general and to say that he would send him
all that he had promised, but that he had not been able to send it to him because of the
other chief, Cilapulapu, who refused to obey the king of Spagnia…
At midnight, sixty men of us set out armed with corselets and helmets, together
with the Christian king, the prince, some of the chief men, and twenty or thirty
balanguais. We reached Mactan three hours before dawn. The captain did not wish to
fight then, but sent a message to the natives by the Moro to the effect that if they would
obey the king of Spagnia, recognize the Christian king as their sovereign and pay our
tribute, he would be their friend; but if they wished otherwise, they should want to see
how our lances wounded. They replied that if we had lances they had lances of bamboo
and stakes hardened with fire…
When morning came forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs and
walked through water for more than two crossbow flights before we could reach the
shore. The other eleven remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land these
men had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred
When they saw us they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries, two
divisions on our flanks and the other on our front. When the captain saw that, he formed
us into two divisions, and thus did we begin to fight…
So many of them charged down upon us that they shot the captain through the leg
with a poisoned arrow. On that account he ordered us to retire slowly, but the men took to
flight, except six or eight of us who remained with the captain… So we continued to
retire for more than a good crossbow flight from the shore, always fighting up to our
knees in the water. The natives continued to pursue us, and picking up the same spear
four or six times hurried it at us again and again. Recognizing the captain, so many turned
upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice, but he always stood firmly like
a good knight together with some others.
Thus did we fight for more than one hour, refusing to retire further. An Indian
hurled a bamboo spear into the captain’s face, but the latter immediately killed him with
his lance, which he left in the Indian’s body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could
draw it but half-way, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear.
When him on the leg with a large cutlass which resembles a scimitar only being larger.
That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him
iron and bamboo spear and with their cutlass until they killed our mirror, our light, our
comfort and our true guide.
Magellan’s defeat and death changed Humabun’s attitude toward the strangers from hospitality to
hostility, and they escaped massacre only by precipitately weighing anchor. Sailing west and south past
Mindanao, they finally reached Tidore in the Mollucas. From Tidore, the flagship Trinidad tired to make
Panama by re-crossing the Pacific. She was forced to double back and fell into the hands of the Portuguese.
But the little Victoria, magnificently handled by Sebastian Elcano, got back to Spain by sailing west. The
eighteen men who brought her into Seville harbor were the first to sail around the world.
Between 1525 and 1542 the Spanish government sent several expeditions to make good its claim
to the Moluccas against the Portuguese. Loaisa set out from Spain itself, Saavedra and Villalobos from
Mexico. All three made their landfall in the Philippines, experienced little difficulty sliding down to the
Moluccas, but failed to find a feasible return route across the Pacific. Villalobos, exploring among the
Visayan Islands, called them, in honor of the prince who was soon to become Philip D. las Phelipinas; and
the name dtuck.
Philip, having succeeded to the Spanish throne, decided to concede the Moluccas to the
Portuguese but to colonize the Philippines. Accordingly, an expedition of 350 men in four ships was filled
out in Mexico and placed under the command of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Set out from the port of
Navidad on 20 November 1564, carrying instructions from the Audiencia’ of Mexico which set forth the
objectives of the voyage.
2 You shall make it the object of your voyage to search for and discover the Islands
of the West near the Moluccas but you must not by any manner of means come
into the Moluccas islands themselves in order not to violate the treaty between His
Majesty and the Most Serene King of Portugal. Rather, you must make for the island near
them, such as the Philippines and others which do not come under the treaty referred to
but are within the democration of His Majesty and are reported to be also spice-
producing. With the advice of the pilots in your company you shall steer a straight
course so as to reach those islands and thus fulfill the aims which His Majesty principally
has in mind, namely, to make known to the natives of those parts our holy Catholic faith
and to determine the return route from thence to this New Spain, in order that by trade
and intercourse and other lawful means which can in conscience be employed his
patrimony and royal crown of Castile may be enhanced and the spices and other riches
there obtainable be brought hither…
Upon your reaching the said Philippine Islands and other islands adjacent to them
and the Moluccas–without entering among the latter, as has been pointed out–you shall
endeavor to discover and explore what ports they have and to obtain accurate information
regarding their inhabitants and resources, the character and way of the people, what trade
and commerce they engage in and with nations, at what price spices are valued among
them and what kind of spice they have, what the selling price is of the merchandise and
trade goods you are bringing hence with you, and what other articles may profitably be
sold. You shall make every effort to enter into and maintain friendly and peaceful
relations with the natives…informing them of the good will and affection which His
Majesty bears them, giving them suitable presents and treating them as well as possible.
You shall barter the trade goods and merchandise you are bringing with you for spices,
drugs, gold and any other articles of value and in demand which they may have; and if
the land should seem to you so well provided that you pugt to settle there, you shall found
a settlement in the region and place which appear to you most suitable and where the
inhabitants are most friendly, and this friendship you shall cultivate and faithfully keep.
When Legazpi appeared before Cebu (27 April 1565), the Cebuanos made as though to resist him.
He landed, took the town and sacked it. One of the soldiers, turning over the contents of an abandoned
house, found a small wooden image of the Child Jesus, left behind, in all probability, by Magellan’s men.
Legazpi thought it a good omen, and called the new Spanish settlement Nombre de Jesus. The Portuguese
in the Moluccas tried to make him abandon it, pointing out that the Philippines lay, without the shadow of
a doubt, within the demarcation of Portugal as a agreed upon in the Treaty of Tordesillas. But Legazpi
refused to budge, and only the increasing difficulty of obtaining provisions from a barren and hostile
hinterland compelled him to move his main camp to the nearby island of Panay. From there (May 1570) he
sent his second in command, Martin de Goiti, to reconnoiter a seaport to the north named Maynila, about
whose wealth and advantageous location he had received intelligence from traders. One of Giu’s men left
us an account of how, having found the narrow entrance guarded by the island now called Corregidor, they
saw it widen into a spacious protected harbor, at the eastern end of which, on a tongue of land between the
Pasig River and the sea, stood the sea, stood the fortified town of Maynila.
3 The town was situated on the bank of the river, and seemed to be defended by a
palisade all along its front. Within it were many warriors & the shore outside was
shore outside was crowded with people. Pieces of artillery stood at the gates, guarded by
bombardiers, linstock in hand. A culverin-shot from us and close to the houses of the
natives were four Chinese ships. Immediately the Chinese came in their skiffs to visit the
master-of-camp. They brought him brandy, hens, winnowed rice, a few pieces of silk, and
knick-knacks of little value. They complained to the master-of-camp of the Moros of
Menilla, saying that the latter had taken away by force the helms of their ships and the
best of their good without paying for them. The master-of-camp received them kindly;
but, desiring to be at peace with all, he waived that question. Then, having dismissed the
Chinese, he sent the interpreter ashore to tell King Soliman that he wished to confer with
him, and to make arrangements therefore. The interpreters returned quickly, and said that
they would meet at the edge of the water, and that Raxa Soliman would come thither. The
master-of-camp immediately landed with the Spaniards to meet him. Immediately an
uncle of the ruler, who also bore the title of king, advanced with so large a following that
he was though to be Soliman himself. He embraced the master-of-camp and appeared to
be a man of good intentions. Soon after came the other ruler, his newphew Soliman, who
was a younger man than he who first came. Soliman assumed an air of importance and
haughtiness and said he was pleased to be the friend of the Spaniards but he latter should
understand that they were not painted Indians. He said that they would not tolerate any
abuse, as had the others; on the contrary they would repay with death the least thing that
touched their honor. This speech having been made through the interpreter, the master-of-
camp gratified the chief with kind words; then after they had embraced each other and
made a friendly compact, the Mono entered his fort…
The next morning the Mono Mahomete returned with the same ambassador who
had first come. The latter bore a message from Raxa Soliman to the effect that he had
been informed that a tribute was to be asked of him and that consequently he would not
allow the Spaniards to enter the river. The master-of-camp – as one desirous of peace and
in view of the orders of the governor to make peace with the said town of Menilla–in his
requested the messenger to tell his lord not to believe such reports, for hitherto he had not
asked for any tribute from him. He added that they would see each other again and make
a friendly settlement which would be to his taste. Then he dismissed the messenger, and
he himself, after a little thought, went ashore with only the Spanish and Moro interpreters
without notifying any one of what he was going to do. He entered the palisade, whose
gates were guarded by many Moros, and was led by the Moros straightway to a small
house, where he was bidden to await King Soliman. As soon as the latter heard that the
master-of-camp was within the fort, he hastened to him, and both went to a house where
they made a friendly compact after the fashion of the land, namely, in this wise: the
master-of-camp drew blood with the two chiefs, uncle and nephew, both called raxa,
which in the Malay language signifies king. The Moros drank the blood of the master-of-
camp mixed with wine, and the master-of-camp drank that of the Moros in a similar way.
Thus the friendship was established on the terms that the Moros of Menilla were to
support the Spaniards who came to settle there, and ding this they should pay no other
The blood compact did not allay Soliman’s suspicious that the Spaniards meant to impose rule and
tribute on him, nor the Spaniards’ fears that Soliman was plotting a treacherous attack. Cannon shot from
one of Goiti’s ships precipitated hostilities. The Spaniards and their Visayan auxiliaries stormed the town,
which the defenders left burning. Goiti, returned to Panay to report. At his recommendation Legazpi
decided to transfer his headquarters to Manila. On 19 May 1571 he took formal possession of Soliman’s
town, and on 24 June gave it a city charter and a gridiron street plan which it has preserved to this day, and
made it the capital of the Philippines. He died the following year and was succeeded by Guido de
The conquistadores, fanning out from Manila, experienced little difficulty in subjugating the
unorganized clan settlements of the lowlands of Luzon. The most enterprising and successful of them was
Legazpi’s grandson, Juan de Salcedo, who took for his province the Ilocos, in the northwest of the island.
There, in 1574, his presence of mind saved Manila from capture by a Chinese corsair named Limahong.
Here is a contemporary account of the episode by one of Salcedo’s officers; Miguel de Loarce.
4 He [Limahong] steered a course for Manila which took him past the Ilocos coast
where Captain Juan de Salcedo was getting settled and where as lieutenant gover-
nor he had just founded Villa Fernandina… Seeing this fleet sailing past some distance
from shore and suspecting its objective to be Manila, Captain Juan de Salcedo promptly
decided to go in pursuit of it, outstrip it if possible, and so alert Manila. Taking 54
Spaniards with and leaving the rest with suitable instructions, he embarked with all
speed; but since his boats were small and he had to stop from to time to get a meal on
shore, he did not arrive in time to give warning and save the city from injury.
Nevertheless his arrival was so opportune that through him, by God’s grace, the city and
the land was saved.
Limahong entered Manila Bay on the eve of St. Andrew. Before he could be
sighted from the city or its environs, that very night, he sent four hundred men with their
officers to effect a landing, instructing them to fall upon the city before daybreak while
he came up with reinforcements. But a strong offshore wind prevented the landing craft
from beaching that night, by God’s favor, for have taken the city. As it was, they came
ashore at eight o’clock in the morning one league from Manila and on the same side of
Limahong came before daybreak, ranged his ship before the stockade and sent
some six hundred troops ashore. They set fire to the city, so much so that some, leaping
over the barrels, managed to enter the stockade, though they never got out again. And the
defenders put up such a fight that they threw back the assult with 200 Chinese dead. Only
two Spaniards were killed, Ensign Sancho Ortiz and Captain Francisco de Leon. No one
Seeing the valor of the Spaniards and realizing that they were a different breed of
men from those with whom he had done battle up to that time, Limahong recalled his
men and returned to the port of Cavite, where he tarried two days burying his dead. Then,
setting sail, he made off in the direction he had come.
One of Legazpi’s first cares after landing at Cebu was to dispatch a ship to seek what all previous
Spanish expeditions across the Pacific had failed to find–the way back. He committed this enterprise to
Fray Andres de Urdancia, the superior of the Augustinian friars accompanying the expedition. As a young
man, prior to his taking the religious habit, Fray Andres had followed the sea. He had shipped on Loaisa’s
expedition to the Moluccas, and was one of the few to return from it. Philip II himself called him out of his
Mexican convent to join Legazpi as part chaplain, part pilot. He now took the San Pedro and steered it
through San Bernardino Strait northeast until, near the 39th
parallel, he came upon a region of westerly
winds. They bore him to the California coast, whence it was a simple enough matter to drop down to the
Mexican port of Acapulco. He had found the route by which violating the Tordesillas Line. He had made it
possible to retain the Philippines as an outpost of the Spainish Empire.
News now began to get to Spain of how Legazpi’s men had fared on the other side of the world.
Hernando Riquel, notary of the expedition, wrote to a friend in Mexico of the way the conquest was
starting to pay off. A copy of the letter found its way to Seville, and by 1572 people in the streets were
reading all about it in the broadsheets which were the newspapers of the time.
5 To perpetuate these settlements, the Governor has distributed a few villages of
Indians in the district of this city of Manila & a settlement has been made of what
each tributary has give in the year, which is a fringed cloth four ells long and two wide (it
is fine stuff of which they use to clothe themselves), and a hen; this they can give without
pain. At present matters are conducted lightly with regard to them; later, when they are
able to bear the yoke, they will give tribute of more importance.
But Riquel did not tell the whole story, for tribute was not always extracted from the natives
“without pain.” Indeed, if we are able to believe the Augustinian friars who came with the expedition, it
was more often than not with pain, tears and blood that the country was–in the euphemism Philip II
preferred to instead of “conquer”–pacified.
6 This is how this land and the towns thereof are being pacified. A captain with
soldiers and interpreters goes to a town which is either known only by report, or
which other Spaniards have already plundered. They tell the towns-people that if they
want to be friends of the Spaniards they must pay tribute at once. If the people say yes,
they stop to work out what each man must give, and demand that he give it immediately.
Sometimes the people refuse to give what is asked; then sack the town. They also think
they have a right to sack it if the people do not wait for them but abandon their houses.
They do all this without performing any service for them in return, without telling them
for what purpose they have been sent by His Majesty, and without giving them any
The war council consider it grounds for a just war if the natives say they do not
want the friendship of the Spaniards or if they build fortifications to defend themselves.
Those who do this are killed or made prisoners, and their houses plundered and burned.
This is why war was waged on Betis and Lubao, and on the strongholds stormed by Juan
de Salcedo, and on the town of Cainta, where the night before the battle a native who had
climbed to top of a palm tree called out, “Spaniards, what did out fathers do to you, or
what debt did they owe you, that you now come to rob us?” and the war in Papagan’ was
no different. In all these wars the Spaniards killed many, and captures many and sold
them into slavery, particularly in the Papagan war, where they say the natives challenged
the Spaniards to fight. But the fact is that an all of them there was no resistance to speak
With no more pacification than the foregoing, the land has been divided and
continues to be divided in to encomiendas. An encomendero takes a number of his
comrades with him to be town or towns which have been assigned to him, and this is the
proclamation that he makes to them: “Understand that I am your master, for the Governor
has given you to me, I will see to it that other Spaniards do you no wrong.” Most of them
give no further account of themselves than this, with no mention made of either God or
King. Forthwith they proceed to demand tribute, each one as much as he is able to extort,
It is easy to sympathize with the conquered, compelled at sword’s point give whatever was
demanded of then: but it is only fair to look at the matter also from the conquerors’ point of view. In a
pathetic memorial of 1581 they laid predicament before the King.
7 We have rendered service in the conquest and pacification of these islands and
their settlement some of us ten years, other twelve, others fifteen, & this with only
the grant-in-aid which Your Majesty’s treasury officials of New Spain gave us for the
first and only time in Mexico when we crossed over to these parts. Since this did not last
us very long, owing to the many expenses we incurred in pacifying these natives, we felt
free to rob them and impose on them in other ways thus burdening our consciences
simply in order to support ourselves. This is why our souls are so guilt-ridden, and
because we see no way of freeing ourselves from guilt in our present state of utter
poverty, we live in great anguish of mind, not knowing which way to turn, realizing that
the chief means by which we can assure our souls’ salvation is beyond our reach.
How derive revenue from a conquered people without violating simple justice? The solution to
this problem which the architects of Spanish imperial policy gradually elaborated was the encomienda. The
term, derived from the verb encomendar, to entrust is almost the exact equivalent of our “trust territory.” It
signified a royal grant to a deserving colonist not of property but of jurisdiction over a definite territory and
its native inhabitants. By the terms of this grant the encomendero undertook the defense of his encomienda
from external attack, the maintenance of peace and order within it, and the support of missionaries who
teach Christian doctrine to the people. In consideration of these services he acquired the right to collect
tribute in the amount and form determined by the royal government. So much we may clearly read in a
Philippine encomienda grant of 1598.
8 By these presents, in the name of His Majesty, I grant in encomienda to you, the
said Captain Toribio de Miranda and Captain Antonio Freyle the natives of the town and
encomiendas which Juan Gutierrez del Real, deceased, held on the coast of Caraga, the
island of Cibabao, Catubig, Calbiga and the Mapono River with its highlands and hills,
for you to hold enjoy jointly and eually, the one as well as the other, in the same manner
and form as they were held and enjoyed by the said Juan Gutierrez del Real, in
accordance with the law of succession regarding Indians ordained by His Majesty, with
the obligation or instructing them in our holy Catholic faith to the end they might attain to
a true knowledge of it, and this matter I charge your conscience and discharge that of His
Majesty and mine in his royal name…and most of all I enjoin you to treat said natives
well, preserving them all vexation and trouble…
The first bishop of the Philippines was a Dominican, Fray Domingo de Salazar. He was a disciple
of the great Bartolome de las Casas, and, like him, a resolute defender of native rights. Almost from the
time he took possession of his see (1581) he waged a relentless campaign against the injustices which the
colonists imposed on the Filipinos. He directed his embarrassing attentions, in particular, on the
encomenderos who exacted tribute without rendering the corresponding services of defense, government
and religious instruction. In 1591, he caused to be read from the pulpits of Manila twenty-five
“conclusions” which he had drawn up regarding the proper administration of encomiendas. The following
are the most important ones.
9 First Conclusion. Tribute may not be collected from those encomiendas where
religious instruction has not been & is not being given; which desire no temporal
or spiritual benefit or advantage from their encomenderos; and which, aside from
exacting tribe from them, the encomenderos leave in exactly the same condition as they
were before. Most of the encomiendas in this diocese belong to this class. If the
encomenderos do nothing more for them than they have collected or may in future
collect. The same obligation falls on those who ought and could prevent them from
collecting such tribute, but allowed, agreed or permitted them to do so.
.Second Conclusion, this concerns those encomiendas in which no religious
instruction whatever has been or is being given, or so little of it, or for so short a time,
that it is as though they never had it. If, as a result of the activity and good example of
their encomenderos, the inhabitants have been pacified and gentled to the extent one may
safely go about and live among them and they are disposed to receive religious
instruction if someone can be found to give it to them. Then the encomenderos may
rightfully collect part of the tribute, say one-third, or one-half in the case of small
encomiendas, understanding by “small” those with three hundred inhabitants or less. This
concession is made as a contribution to the support of the encomenderos and the expenses
they may have incurred in the said pacification.
Third Conclusion. Everything collected from the natives before the state of affairs
describe above was arrived at must be returned by those who collected them and those
who permitted their collection, as indicated in the First Conclusion.
Fourth Conclusion. Whatever has been collected over and above the one-third of
the tribute, or may in future be collected before the provision of adequate religious
instruction, must likewise be restored by those who collect them or permitted their
Fifth Conclusion. The full tribe may be collected in those encomiendas where
adequate religious instruction has been provided, where all or most of the inhabitants are
Christians, and where those who are not are such by their own choice. But it must always
be borne in mind that the non-Christians may not be compelled or forced to pay tribute,
but only persuaded to do so on the grounds that the services rendered are for their benefit
as well as that of the rest. And even this is on the understanding that they do not
positively and formally refuse to be Christians, for in that case the tribute may not be
demanded of them, at least not in full; and if they give anything it must ba freely….
Twelfth Conclusion. Although encomiendas are granted to encomenderos as a
reward for the services they have rendered to our lord the King, the principal aim and
object of His Majesty in granting them neither was nor is nor can be merely that the
natives should pay them tribute and be of services to them, but that the encomenderos, in
exchange for the tribute which they collect, should acknowledge the obligation of
providing the natives with teachers of Christian doctrine, of looking after them, of
protecting and assisting them, of preventing their being ill treated, and of being
answerable for them when necessary. It follows from this that encomiendas are and ought
to be established more for the benefit of the natives than of the encomenderos, and that
encomenderos cannot be called, because they are not, lords of the natives, but rather their
advocates, tutors and protectors.
Doubtless many of the encomenderos simply laughed at the good bishop for being an incurable
idealist. But there were others who look their responsibilities seriously, and even without his urging
discharged the conscience of the King. Salcedo, for instance, the first encomendero of the Ilocos, seems to
have established a pattern of paternal rule which his immediate successors strove to follow. The result are
summarized in a sworn statement given by a headman of the province, Don Diego Manumbo, at the
Agustinian missionaries stationed there.
10 He said that from the time a magistrate and friars and clergymen were assigned to
these no longer receive from one another the vexations & injuries they used to the
freemen from the chiefs, the little people from the great. Indeed, they have gone steadily
from good to better, and today, because there are religious in all the provinces and the
magistrate visits them regularly, no one can complain of being ill treated; rather, they are
for the most part at peace and contented and many of the adults, and all the children,
Christian. This peace they did not enjoy before the establishment of the missions and the
civil government. Then, because there was neither respect for the law nor fear of God,
any warrior or chief who had a mind to do so went out on the trails and into the farms of
the other natives to kill them and rob them. After the coming of so many religious and of
a magistrate to these provinces this is no longer done, and people can go safely from one
place to another both by land and sea. This is the true state of affairs here at present.