Ethnic Groups of the Philippines

History of the Spanish Community in the Philippines

21 May 2012

MADRID, Spain – The pressures, to which the Spanish community in the Philippines was subjected to, throughout history a notable peculiarity as compared to other Spanish migrant groups. On one hand, during the modern age, the Philippines became a secondary destination for Spaniards who arrived via Latin America. This made migration irregular and limited. On the other hand, it was only during the second half of the 19th century when regular and direct migration to the Philippines existed for Spanish, as a colonial strategy to revive the economy.  The change in government in favor of the U.S. brought about a dramatic reorganization for the Spanish community and at the same time stopping migration. The period between wars marked definitely the Spanish colony with the destruction of Manila and the areas where the Spaniards resided. From this period, regular Spanish migration to the Philippines stopped. At present, the Spanish community is not only very few in numbers and scattered, but it is practically unprotected as well. Associations and organizations for social protection for Spaniards are rare and insufficient.

Despite the fact that the Philippines have been a destination for the Spanish since the 16th century, (Spanish) migration did not have the same characteristics as compared to Spanish migration in other colonies, like Latin America. Likewise, people had to move to places that are near geographically, from Europe to North Africa. That was the case historically, in spite of being a colony; migration of Spaniards to the Philippines was minimal. On the other hand, the profile of Spaniards who migrated to the Philippines was well defined since the beginning – they were the government officials, the regular and secular clergy, and the military, most of the time coming from the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

During the mid-19th century, the situation changed, following the change in the statute of the Philippines and of a major decision to strengthen the economic hold of Spain in overseas regions (colonies). New migrant groups appeared, media allowed the access to better understanding of news coming from Spain, and it became possible to return as media streamlined travelling to the other side of the world. This process was halted in 1898 when Spain lost its sovereignty over the Philippines. From then on, migration to the Philippines was limited to already established relations, until it finally stopped. To date, the situation where the present-day Spanish community in the Philippines finds itself is represented by the institutions and organizations that monitor relations and provide protection for its members:

           Health Care:                  Sociedad Española de Beneficencia
           Medical:                         Hospital Español de Santiago
           Business/Trade:          Cámara de Comercio Española
           Social:                            Casino Español

These institutions form the Consortium Hispano-Filipino, a group of all the Spanish institutions in the Philippines with the purpose of uniting the Spanish community in the archipelago.


The establishment of the Spanish community in the Philippines constituted a new cosmopolitan society that represents in its purest form the concept of the “New World”, the same way that happened in Latin America. More than a geographic concept, the New World was a society, transcontinental in size, composed of American, European and African races, capable of moving forward with the socio-political changes that took place in Europe. Due to many reasons, the same thing happened in the Philippines, a political entity created in Asia under a Spanish administration which equally combined a cosmopolitan, Malay, Chinese and Spanish community”

“The mixed races in Asia stand out over the mixed races in America. If the latter group built a mixed society on a continental scale, the former group already outlined the mixed society on a global level, as symbolized by the travels that people or families made due to global economy. During the early decades of the 17th century, mixed races in Asia and newly-baptized Christians explored the new and dangerous road of cosmopolitanism.”

Nevertheless, in contrast to Latin America, the Creole community in the Philippines avoided facing directly the dilemma of political Independence. Likewise, many of the Spanish creoles preferred to stay loyal to Spain before venturing out on a military scene where they lacked resources. In effect, the military forces in the Philippines never completely rebelled against Spain, and the wealthy creoles also remained divided in terms of choosing alliances. However, during the 19th century, numerous uprisings and revolts occurred led by creoles who aimed for the Independence of the Philippines: the conspiracy between the Bayot brothers (1822), the works of the Filipino count, Luis Rodriguez Varela, the Novales revolt (1823), the conspiracy between the Palmero brothers (1828), the numerous political figures sent into exile, and the change in military force management. The victorious Spanish revolution of 1868 would only have increased the liberal demands of the creoles who had seen how Filipinos were admitted to the courts of Cadiz since 1812.

This is where one has to set the concept of the “Filipino”. The term Filipino refers initially to the Spaniards in the Philippines. With the propaganda movement towards the end of the century, the concept was extended to include the ordinary people in the Philippine Archipelago with the purpose of creating a nation under the form of a Philippine Republic. The “Fil-Hispano” concept refers to the involvement of Hispanic and Filipino elements in situation parity, while “hispano-filipino” refer to the result as a consequence of the relationship of the two groups. That is to say, in anthropologic terms, the community born in Spain but settled in the Philippines must be described as “hispano-filipina”, while the Philippine Creole or mestizo community must be known as “hispanofilipina”. This is solely applicable anthropologically, since culturally the Hispanic influence in the Philippines does not only concern a certain community but rather the ethnic groups in the Archipelago. Said groups have absorbed the Hispanic culture and have amalgamated it to indigenous habits, practices and customs.

Philippine Creole classes were not established with exclusively European elements, but a degree of mixing occurred in many lineages. Miscegenation was even more consistent among government employees and Spanish soldiers or Spaniards coming from the Viceroyalty of New Spain with the indigenous community, especially in the military prisons of Cavite and Zamboanga, and in the major cities in the country. As a result of this inter-racial relation, many of the characteristics of the Filipino community differ from the rest of the population in Southeast Asia. Among the principal Spanish lineage in the Philippines, the following stand out: Roxas, Zóbel de Ayala, Roces, Soriano, Ynchausti, Elizalde, Tuason, Legarda, Ziálcita, Gomez, Rocha, Romero, Pardo de Tavera, Aboitiz, Azcárraga and Gurrea.

Translated by June Reyes.