More than four hundred years ago, on the Philippine island of Mactan, the European explorer Ferdinand Magellan was killed by a tribal chieftain, Lapu-Lapu. Filipinos at this time lived in many separate communities, linked by a well-developed system of trade and some loose political compacts, with widespread literacy. Little of the written record from this period survives, however, for the later Spanish authorities determined to expunge all pagan writings.
A few decades after Magellan's death, Spanish conquerers returned in force and colonized the Philippine archipelago, but throughout the next three centuries the new rulers had to deal with uprisings from the native population that were increasingly frequent and increasingly more large scale. Although suffused with heavy religious and millenarian overtones, Filipino resistance to foreign domination was a constant theme of these years. But resistance was not universal. Some Filipinos found that they could secure privileges for themselves by cooperating with the colonizers. And the popular uprisings were often directed as much at this domestic elite as at the Spanish.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Philippine resistance coalesced for the first time into a national struggle: the Revolution of 1896. Sidetracked for a while in 1897, fighting resumed a year later, but as the revolutionaries delivered the final blow to their Spanish masters, a new colonial ruler appeared: the United States. Filipinos fought valiantly for their independence, but the superior arms of the U.S. troops and the insurgents' own political weaknesses made the result a foregone conclusion.
The attitude toward the U.S.-Philippine War was unanimous in neither country. In the Philippines, while many gave their lives to repel the foreign colonizer, others collaborated with the U.S. against their compatriots. Generally these were the same elite individuals who had just a short time before served the Spanish. In the United States, while much of the population was roused to the jingoism of colonial conquest, a powerful minority spoke out eloquently for Philippine freedom.
During World War II, the Japanese conquered the Philippines from the United States and once again Filipinos fought back. And also once again, some Filipinos—by and large the same elite—collaborated with the foreign ruler. When the U.S. forces returned, the elite switched sides again.
In 1946, Washington granted the Philippines independence, keeping a long-standing promise in good part as a result of pressure from U.S. domestic economic interests. But although colonialism was thus coming to an end, Filipinos were not to be truly sovereign. U.S. economic and military domination of the Philippines would continue though the country was now nominally independent. The peasantry of the Central Luzon region of the country, many the veterans of the anti-Japanese struggle, opposed this "neocolonial" situation. And they opposed even more strongly the exploitation they suf-