• Elmina Fabon Fallar



Magellan’s voyage to the East Indies fired the ambition of many Spaniards for similar expedition of discovery and conquest. They were equally interested in bringing back to Mexico and Spain the gold and spices thought to be abundant in the Isles of the West - Las Islas del Poniente - the Spanish name for the East Indies from the Philippines to New Guinea. King Philip of Spain financed the expedition.

Three centuries of Spain has left a deep impress in the life of the Filipinos. Christianity has taken a deep root and is forever alive in the hearts of the people. As in religion so also in ways and manners, there have been great changes. The Filipino diet and dress were Europeanized. The old Malayan surnames were Hispanized. Spanish dances and songs, sports, festivals, and social customs, were readily introduced and assimilated by the people. The Oriental way of life which the Filipinos had inherited from their forefathers has been refined and enriched by Spain’s social influences.

Christianity is Spain greatest contribution to the Filipinos. It is the living faith which has wrought a remarkable transformation in their lives. The Cross brought the people to a higher plane of life and were united as children of One God. The old tribal wars and quarrels disappeared; their ancestral pagan practices gave way to a human code of morals; and infanticide, human and animal sacrifices, and other brutal sacrifices were abolished. Christianity, also, minimized intemperance, swearing and usury; discourage adultery and polygamy; and elevated marriage to the dignity of a holy sacrament.

With the arrival of Christianity, slavery disappeared in the Philippines. His Holiness, Pope Gregory XIV abolished slavery in the country by a bill issued in Rome on April 18, 1591. History records that other nations discarded the evil institution of slavery centuries later. Czar Alexander II abolished serfdom in Russia in 1861 and President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the Negro slaves in the United States in 1863.

Christianity elevated the Filipino women to a high social position, relatively the highest in the Orient. James A. Leroy, an American historian remarked: “It is perfectly safe to say that in no other part of the Orient have women relatively so much freedom or do they play so large a part in the control of the family or in social and even industrial affairs… There seems every reason for ascribing this relative improvement in the position of women in the Philippines as compared with the surrounding countries in the Orient to the influence of the Christian religion.”

In the early days of the Spanish conquest whenever the Filipinos were converted to Christianity they were given the names of the Christian saints as their first names, with their Malayan names as surname, to wit: Jose Matiyaga, Juan Masipag, Pedro Matapang, Nomie MakaDiyos and Ester Mahinhin. The Spanish officials and friars later found it seemingly difficult to pronounce and remember the native surnames; so they deemed it necessary to Hispanize them.

Governor Narciso Claveria issued a decree on November 11, 1849 ordering the changing of the Filipino surnames to Spanish names. He provided a list of Spanish surnames taken from a Madrid directory, and directed the officials in the towns to give one to every family. So, the Filipinos came to bear the surnames of the families in Spain, such as Rodriguez, Ruiz, Gomez, Villar, de la Vega and Villanueva. Some Filipino families clang to their ancestral names; so their descendants still carry them such as the Apolinarios, the de Jesus, the de Leons, the Franciscos. the Florentinos, the Fernandez’s the Javier’s and the de Juans.