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The Transitional History of the Philippine Government.

Pre-Spanish Philippines

Prior to the establishment of Spanish Colonialism, the Philippine islands were composed of many small settlements and villages, each referred to in the local language of Tagalog as a Barangay.

The word Barangay refers to a community of more or less 50 to 100 families and has its linguistic roots in the Malayan word balangay which means "boat". This connection to the Malayan word for "boat" supports contemporary theories on the origins of the Philippine people, that being, each original coastal Barangay formed as a result of a single or a group of colonist boat(s) arrival from another place of Malayan origin.

Each colonist unit would have arrived independently and formed together to create one Barangay unit. Each Barangay possessed all the characteristics of statehood and was autonomous, but on occasion several Barangays would unite into a confederated body for purpose of mutual defense.


Each Barangay unit was ruled by a tribal chief referred to in the Tagalog dialect as a Datu. Other areas of the Philippine Islands carried other titles for the Barangay chief such as Hadji, Sultan or Rajah, this usually being determined by the cultural origin of the Barangay unit, or the religious conversion of its people. Each chief carried the complete governmental authority on his shoulders and was responsible as law giver, judge, military head and chief executive. The chief was always assisted by a council of elders referred to as Maginoos in the Tagalog dialect. Datu selection was made by inheritance of title, wisdom based on experience and previous action record, wealth or physical/combat ability. The effective state of government in the pre-Spanish Philippines was that of de-centralized Monarchy.

Social Tiers

In the Philippine monarchy system there were four basic social tiers of people. At the highest tier of government were nobility (maharlika), followed by the free-men (timawa), the serfs (aliping namamahay) and the slaves (alipin). Like most hierarchal societies, the number of bodies increase down the chain of command, thus there were more free-men than nobility, and more serfs than free-men, and so forth.

Rule of Law

Unwritten laws consisting of traditions and customs that were passed from generation to generation held great respect and held widespread adherence. Even to this day the adherence to tradition can be plainly seen amongst the Philippine people.

There are two well known and often taught (but apparently incorrect) pre-Spanish written law codes in the Philippine Islands. The first being the "Maragtas Code" often reported to have been written in approximately 1250 A.D. by Datu Sumakwel of Panay. The second often reported to have been written in approximately 1433 A.D. by Datu Kalantiaw, also of Panay.

Special Note: These famed documents have been shown by reputable historians (such as W. H. Scott) and others to actually NOT be based on original documents. The notion is based on the titled book "Maragtas Code" by Pedro Alcantara Monteclaro published in 1907. Pedro's book is a collection of Story Teller Myths and hand-me-down knowledge compiled together and spiced up for the reader's sake. According to the author himself it was not meant to be accepted as an absolute historical record. It is thought that all references to the Maragtas Code actually originate from this book. Please view an excellent article by Paul Morrow on the Subject.

However, the standards of law in the pre-Spanish Philippines can be assumed to be equal with that of other early stage monarchy based governments from around the world. 

History Navigator:

Ancient History | Maragtas Code | Spanish Colonialism
American Supervision | A Repbulic of their Own 

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