A Brief History Of The Philippines

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This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, December 29, 2004 was originally posted on January 04, 2005.

DAY 438:  December 30 is Rizal Day in the Philippines, a national holiday celebrating the death of Filipino revolutionary Jose Rizal, who, like Cuban rebel Che Guevarra, got his start in medicine.  An optometrist-turned-national hero, Rizal led the rebellion against Spanish rule with his controversial eye-opening books like Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) crying for Filipino independence.  For his insurrection he was sentenced to death and thus became a martyr of the Filipino patriots who continued the fight against the Spanish. 

The Philippines, which were named after King Philip of Spain, has come a long way since the days of Jose Rizal.  It being Rizal Day 2004, our goal in the beginning of the morning was to try and finish up the sites in the Baguio area and then head to Rizal Park back in Manila to catch the tail end of festivities if time allowed.  However, with so much history in the Philippines, we barely had enough time to cover it all.

“LOOK, THE FAMILY NAME IS EVERYWHERE,” my uncle pointed out when we drove through the nearby city of La Trinidad, a city whose name still carried the Spanish legacy that Rizal spoke against.  “Trinidad” is of course Spanish for “Trinity,” which is of course the name of Carrie Anne Moss’ character in The Matrix trilogy; people can make fun of me for saying I’m named after a girl, but I’d like to point out that Trinity is a girl that kicks ass.

La Trinidad is not famous for anything Matrix-related; it is famous for its strawberry fields, which was what we went to see just after sunrise.  Gardeners walked back and forth through the rows of strawberries and other vegetables, while vendors on the side sold their latest picks and their derivative products.  From there we went back to Baguio to see the holy Lourdes’ Grotto, the view from Mines View Park, and the presidential summer mansion where ABS-CBN and GMA news vans were gearing up for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s end-of-year statements.  We drove the scenic mountain roads and ended up at Camp John Hay, a former U.S. military based-turned-country club that my uncle raved about.

“So who is John Hay?” I asked him.

“I don’t know.  You ask questions,” he told me as we parked in the lot of the Mile Hi Center, a strip mall in the Camp John Hay complex.

“Sino ba John Hay?” I asked at the first store we entered, a sporting goods store.

“John Hay,” the guy answered.  “John Hay Milton.”

“Sino John Hay Milton?” JayPee asked.  He didn’t know either.

The guy shrugged his shoulders and asked a co-worker if he knew.  I thought it was the beginning of a wild goose chase, but the cashier pulled out a history book that they sold, which answered my questions.  John Hay Milton was the U.S. Secretary of State at the time the Philippines became a United States colony after the Spanish-American War.  It was for him that the military base was named after, despite the fact that he had never set foot in the Philippines at all.  John Hay Milton was an important guy nonetheless, for it was he who was in charge of foreign relations at a time when the US stopped living the shadows of its English roots and was becoming a superpower on its own.


CAMP JOHN HAY WAS NOT JUST A RESORT of big condos and a golf course; at its core was the “Historical Core,” which preserved the history of the former military base, from its days as a retreat for the Spanish to the time that the Americans took over and established a R&R base for their soldiers stationed in the south Pacific.  When World War II came around, the Philippines was attacked by the Japanese within hours of the famous Pearl Harbor bombing in Hawaii.  U.S. General Douglas MacArthur fought for the Philippines, was defeated and retreated, but vowed, “I shall return.”  Meanwhile the Japanese took over Camp John Hay and used it as their own command post and to hold American and Filipino POWs.  In 1945 MacArthur came back as promised, and in the fashion of Carrie Anne Moss’ Matrix character, kicked some ass, and liberated the Philippines from the Japanese.

Most of this history I learned on the historical nature trail just outside the Bell Amphitheater and the Bell House (with its kitschy totem pole of significant Americans in the Philippines), both named after Major General Franklin Bell, commanding officer of the Philippine department of the U.S. military.  Although the United States granted the Philippines pseudo-independence in 1946, it wasn’t until much later that the U.S. pulled troops out of Camp John Hay.  In 1991, the U.S. handed the base over to the Philippine Ministry of Tourism, who transformed it into a getaway place for Filipinos, foreign ex-pats and tourists alike. 

The Bell House, at the center of the “Historical Core,” was big and worthy for a big American general, even with the lack of the original furniture because the Americans took it back.  The resident house guard/guide was a happy old Filipino man named Reynaldo, who led me and my notepad around the house, from the living room to the master bedroom.  A former Philippine marine, Reynaldo had served as a military escort for the Marcos family from 1970 to 1978, but resigned after nine years of service for the reason he told me, because he realized how corrupt his leader was and wanted to get out.


FERDINAND MARCOS RULED THE PHILIPPINES shortly after the new independent government had been established.  In 1965 he was elected president and with his great power came no responsibility; he became somewhat of a megalomaniac over the decades, declaring martial law and rigging elections for 21 years so that he could live a much better life than the average Filipino, and so that his wife, former beauty queen Imelda Marcos, could buy a lot of shoes.

“So have you seen all of Imelda’s shoes?” I asked Reynaldo.

“No,” he said laughing.

Marcos’ dictatorship ended in 1986 when, as the conspiracy theory goes, he had his rival, Senator Benigno Aquino shot in the back as he disembarked from an airplane upon his return of a nine-year period in exile for his insolence.  It was this murder that set the stage in motion for major political reform; the people and the National Assembly saw behind the 1986 elections that Marcos also tried to rig, and declared Marcos’ opponent the winner, one Corazon Aquino, widow of the murdered senator.  From then on, the Philippine government started its way towards a more democratic nation.


THE REIGN OF MARCOS IS OVER; it was visually evident when we drove out of Baguio towards Manila and saw that the big statue of Marcos’ head that had carved at the side of a mountain had been partially dismantled already.  (The statue of Marcos’ head did live on in JayPee’s references to Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies:  “Marcos’ secret volcano lair” and “Mini-Marcos.”)  However, the Philippines is not out of turbulent times, with the violence still going on today in the southern island of Mindanao.  The current President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo now faces threats from within, from several Communist insurgent and Muslim extremist groups that all have acronyms that I didn’t make up:  the NPAs (New People’s Army), the ASGs (Abu Sayyef Group), and the MILFs (Moro Island Liberation Front, not the American Pie way).  These groups have been responsible for terrorist bombings and kidnappings of tourists in a show of brawn for their cause. 

U.S. President George W. Bush, in his “War on Terror,” had deployed U.S. troops to the Philippines to fight the terrorist threat, but the Philippine government strongly opposed it, under grounds that it would just be history repeating itself — US troops using the Philippines again for their own military strategy.  The Philippines vowed they could handle their own problems with their own army, and upon a visit to the General Gregorio H. Del Pilar Philippine Military Academy on the way home, I saw that it was quite possible.  The military academy was the Filipino version of West Point, a training ground for soldiers, and a tourist attraction for me, with its tanks, monuments, planes (picture above), a tree house, and flag at half-mast for the victims of the Asian Tsunami.


THERE WAS SO MUCH TRAFFIC ON THE WAY HOME to Manila that we didn’t arrive back at my uncle’s house in the Parañaque district until late, when I met up with my other cousins, Judiel, Joey and Jessica.  With the traffic, we had missed out on any of the Rizal Day festivities, but so be it; my brain was already full of so much historical information to report about, it might have forgotten how to tie my own shoelaces. 

SAVE THE DATE; DAY 503 IS COMING.  MARCH 5, 2005, NYC.
DETAILS AND TRAILER COMING SOON…






Next entry: Peter Parker’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve

Previous entry: Baguio Bakla




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Comments for “A Brief History Of The Philippines”

  • woo-hoo!  FIRST!

    well, guess you’re out of baguio now.  i was going to ask you to take a picture w/this huge statue of a lion.  i forgot what it’s called, but that’s all i remember from baguio (haven’t been there in 20 years). 

    happy new year everyone!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  04:08 PM


  • Trailer teaser is getting a bit old already. Gimmie, gimmie!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/03  at  04:13 PM


  • A friend of mine’s father was killed by Marcos in Seattle - very scary man with a helluva reach…

    The picture of y’all in the flowers looks like you were placed in there and you photoshopped it - funny. I have one of those too!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/04  at  01:53 AM


  • mmm strawberries - saw some at the market yesterday and was going to buy them until I thought about the pesticides China uses, and what fertilizers, and combined with the general non-hygenic nature of the market, I gave it a pass despite the US 15 cent price for a pint of them.  *sigh*  I think too much!

    Posted by Liz  on  01/04  at  03:31 PM


  • LIZ:  Sure beats the hundred dollar Japanese melons!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/04  at  03:43 PM


  • La Trinidad baby!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/05  at  02:27 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Peter Parker’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve

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Baguio Bakla




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