Colonialism, how did the PH benefit?



AN old sound-bite from President Ramos goes something like, “the British ruled us for just two years . . . it may have been better if they had stayed longer.” Indeed, for two years from 1762-1764, the British had a Governor General in Manila to look after Manila and Cavite, which they had taken as a result of the Seven Years’ War, a conflagration involving most of the world’s major powers at the time (Spain being one), sparked off by yet one of the many disputes between Britain and France over their respective North American colonies. But then as a result of some political horse trading in 1764, the Spanish from New Spain (Mexico) came back again to rule for another 134 years.

The British Empire at the time covered most of Canada and 13 colonies of the United States, parts of India and what is now Bangladesh, various cities in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America, and a scattering of small islands all over the place. It later expanded to cover half the world’s population and about one-third of its land mass. It can therefore be said that the British were experienced colonizers. Most of this colonization was based on trade supported by military force and included swapping opium for tea. The Empire at its peak accounted for half the total trade of the world.

These days colonization, like “sexism” and “racism,” is an unpopular thing. It is viewed mainly as unfair exploitation and has attracted a lot of negative press highlighting subjugation, slavery and the rape and pillage of the natural resources of various sovereign states. Some of the great powers of the time were better at colonizing than others. Spain was primarily notable in terms of “giving back,” for the introduction of the Catholic Church and adoption of Catholicism by the local “heathens.” It is here that President Ramos has a point. Whilst there is little doubt that the British in their colonizing efforts raped and pillaged as much as any of the other powers, it is also fair to say that they gave back and that their “give backs,” even though some of them were self-serving to feed British industrial capacity (railways), are sustained in very many cases to this day.

In their tramping around the world, they put in place parliamentary systems of government, legal systems that work, infrastructural administrative systems, postal services and educational systems which, at a glance, appear to be counter to the colonialist model of exploitation, rape and pillage. They also built railways; Argentina, China, Thailand, Chile, Brazil, Mexico (not formal colonies), India, South Africa, Uganda, Malaysia, the USA and Canada. They built roads and established marine passenger transport and air routes. They set up and ran the Chinese customs and postal services for over 100 years even though China was not officially a colony.

Lest the reader think that I am trumpeting Britain’s colonial achievements—that is not my point, albeit it is saddening to see such a fall in the UK’s position in the world over the last 70 years. But then everything is cyclical. I wonder what would be different in the Philippines of today had, as President Ramos implies, the British indeed stayed for longer, prevented the reoccupation of New Spain and resisted the Americans, who themselves do not have a particularly good track record of successful colonization.

It may have been that there would be a parliamentary system of government today, a good education system, a working postal service and an objective legal system, as well as infrastructures that actually operate to support economic development. Interestingly, British colonization did not generally require that any particular religion be adopted; they were not great ones for missionary efforts although Anglican Christianity was a preferred option.

The Philippines would also have become a member of the British Commonwealth which encourages trade between its members such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the other 50 member states, among which their trade is 50 percent more than that with non-members. Members are generally ex-members of the British Empire; they have no legal obligation to one another. Instead, they are united by language, history, certain common cultures, and the shared values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. That these countries can still formally associate with one another is, to my mind, a testament to the fact that British colonialism was nothing like 100 percent bad.

So I agree with the observation of President Ramos that despite the many negative aspects of colonialism, had the Philippines “suffered” the British type for a period significantly longer than the two years it did, then it would indeed be a very different place today. We may even be playing cricket and driving on the left-hand side of the road!

Mike can be contacted at


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  1. We are where we are. Colonialism by its word has no place in the modern times. It is simply exploitation, maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of colony in one territory by a political power from another territory. It is unequal relationships between the colonial power and the colony and often between the colonists and the indigenous population. Whoever is the colonizer should be ashamed of themselves. People need not colonize but migrate and hope to live a better life. Lastly, colonizing another country is a by product of greed. There are countries who did not colonize but are prosperous and have decent people. Equally there are countries who were not colonize but are better off.

  2. Looking at SG, HK, MY and other British territories, I agree with FVR. The two years of British ocupation was not enough. Oh well…

  3. I agree one hundred percent we were destined with the best. One big question! WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE WEALTH IN INDIA? You will find it in England’s Tower of London.

  4. The author merely suggested that the British influence in engineering, education, governance and infrastructure could have been better building blocks for a prosperous country. More than half the world including the US, Canada, Australia and Singapore where colonized back then. Of course a lot of countries ended up being poor but we can not deny the fact that we cannot regulate and govern our nation. Wala ng gumagana ngayon. Aminin din natin that we never had the expertise on anything and we need to learn from sophisticated countries.

    • How would we know? We were doing fine back then, we had our own system of government and trade, a more or less egalitarian kind of society, our own spiritual beliefs. It was the damaging effects of colonization that messed everything up. We were forced to conform to a form of government, culture, and religion that just wasn’t us. Kung wala sana nakialam, we might have just continued with our way of life—environment-friendly, federal, progressive. Sure we may not have the industrialized standards of the so-called First World, but who needs that if we achieved sustainability and progress in our own way of life. We had many expertise; don’t think otherwise. It’s just an effect of years of colonial ideology that makes us think we were backward and incompetent.

  5. Calling The Manila Times—this should be a red flag. The author simplified the issue by saying colonization cannot be all bad since it has put in place certain beneficial systems in the countries it has systematically abused and exploited. As if other peoples of the world could not have built their own nations. As if they deserved severe oppression just so they could one day be like the British or the Spanish or the Americans. Just so one day they could happily play cricket. Such is the world view of this author. Obviously he needs a re-education. Can this article be any more insensitive?? Incredibly surprised that it was even published.

    • Now, that is among the things that got imported into Pilipinas. Freedom of expression. If Pilipinas were still ruled by Gat-this or Gat-that, the system may just be “property-oriented”…. like children are the property of the parents, and the wife is property of the husband.

      Of course, it may still be possible that the “Gat-” model for Pilipinas becomes more humane because Pilipinas is the only Christian country of South East Asia. Or go farther and it becomes the “gat-” model for Pilipinas becomes more humane because Pilipinas was a country that was Moslem before Spain arrived. Or imagine some more and atttribute the reason to because Pilipinas was visited by aliens from a planet of another universe.

  6. Justaskingseriously on

    Colonialism by any other name still smells rotten. How did PH benefit? Given the blink-of-an-eye stint of British rule of Manila and Cavite, the answer after 253 years is equally a blink: nil. Speculation on what if and what could have been is for idle hands and idle minds.

    Mindanao is the backdoor to the Philippines. Malaysia is RP’s backdoor neighbor. Is Malaysia a proxy for Great Britain? Are the MILF and their cohorts agents of the British SPECTER? Peace in Mindanao is impossible if British imperial secret service are still at their stinking business.

    • Since Malaysia is England-colonial… then you have the link you’re looking for why England is the reason for SAF-PNP/44. But isn’t it USA’s fault for SAF/PNP44? Oh, wait… USA was formerly English-colony…. so talagang talaga England is reason for SAF/PNP-44. Sina Deles at Ferrer, sina Iqbal, Murad at Jaffar… mga maliit na bagay lang ang mga taong iyan.

  7. To the Author,
    Your flippant treatment of British colonialism does nothing to appease the problems that afflict the peoples of the countries that have to live with the aftermath of the disruption caused by the neglect and disregard for lifestyles by this barbarous policy. Surviving family members of slave ships deliberately scuttled to collect insurance, with all ” cargo” on board, from such gracious institutions as Lloyds of London, will hardly embrace you delight in their gifts to the world. Indeed the middle east situation currently can be sheeted home to the arrogant attitude of European nations, sitting down and dividing up the world after ww1. Europe adopted the old Roman tactics of divide and rule after the fall of the Empire, not for a minute accepting that their own empires will also meet the same end. Colonisation, the imposition of others values on innocent people with total disregard of human rights, cannot be an acceptable form of government.

  8. What under the British?! Are you kidding me? You Brits made the ones you colonized ignorant. The only thing that Ramos (the pres), likes about it is that the Philippines will be a protestant country. The Americans let us alone, for being Catholic, having a Hispanic culture and they taught us how to be proud, free, independent and be educated.
    The ones you occupied hates Chriistians and now they are the problem of the world.
    Viva España and God Bless America!