The oldest human fossil remains are found in Palawan, on the western fringe of the archipelago. These remains are about 30,000 years old, suggesting that the first human migrations to the islands took palce during the last Ice Age, when land bridiges connected the archipelago to mainland Asia and Borneo.
The islands were eventually inhabited by different groups that developed domestic trade linkages. The archaelogical evidence shows a rich pre- colonial culture that included skills in weaving, ship-building, mining and goldsmithing. Contact with Asian neighbors date back to at least 500 B.C. Trade linkages existed with the powerful Hindu empires in Java and Sumatra. These linkages were venues for exchanges with Indian culture, including the adoption of syllabic scripts which are still used by indigenous groups in Palawan and Mindoro. Trade ties with China were extensive by the 10th centuray A.D. while contact with Arab traders reached its peak about the 12th century. By the time the Spaniards arrived, Islam was well established in Mindanao and had started to influence groups as far north as Luzon.
Many existing health beliefs and practices in the Philippines are rooted back in the pre-colonial period. This includes magico-religious elements, such as beliefs in spirits and sorcery as causes of illness, as well as empirical aspects such as the use of medicinal plants. Archaelogical sites in the Philippines have yielded skeletal remains showing intricate ornamental dental work and the use of trephination (boring a hole into the skull as a magical healing ritual).
Today's traditional medicinal practitioners can trace their origins back to the pre-colonial period - the psychic surgeons, with their flair for drama, parallel the pre-hispanic religious practicioners (babaylan and catalonan) who also played roles as healers.
The Spanish Occupation
When the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines, the indios (natives) had reached different levels of political development, including simple communal groups, debt peonage (often erroneously described as slavery) and proto-feudal confederations.
The Spaniards imposed a feudal system, concentrating populations under their control into towns and estates. During the first two centuries of their occupation, the Spaniards used the Philippines mainly as a connecting point for their China-Acapulco (Mexico) trade. The country's economic backwardness was reinforced by Roman Catholicism, which was practiced in a form that retained many pre-colonial elements such as animism while incorporating feudal aspects of the colonizers' religion such as dogmatism, authoritarianism and patriarchial oppression. The Spaniards wer never able to consolidate political control over the entire archipelago, with Muslims and indigenous resisting the colonizers most effectively. Among the groups that were subjugated, there were numerous localized revolts throughout the Spanish occupation.
In the 19th century, the Philippines was opened to world trade, allowing the limited entry of liberal ideas. By the late 19th century, there was a distinct Filipino nationalist movement which erupted into a revolution in 1896, culminating with the establishment of Asia's first republican government in 1898.
Spain laid the foundation for a feudal health care system. The religious orders built charity hospitals, often next to churches, dispensing services to the indio. Medical education was not extended to the indio until late in the 19th century, through the University of Santo Tomas. This feudal system of the rich extending charity to the poor persists to this day among many church-run as well as non-sectarian institutions.
The U.S. Occupation (1898-1946)
The first Philippine Republic was short-lived. Spain had lost a war with the United States. The Philippines was illegally ceded to the United States at the Treaty of...