When the Spanish took over the islands in the mid-1500s, their fierce religious orders "froze the Filipino masses to permanent impotence . . . The natives were of no consequence to the Spaniards, except as a source of revenue . . . The settlements were brought under Spanish rule easily . . . the drama of religious ceremony, and the decisive factor of firearms . . . combined to bring about the establishment of Spanish rule." - (Onofre D. Corpuz)
"a non-labouring class, they never dirtied their hands". Even when the commonest of Spaniards arrived on the galleons they were immediately elevated in status to noblemen. Although credited with building the great Catholic cathedrals and massive missions throughout the Philippines, in actuality the Spanish didn't do the building. Known to "never dirty their hands", the Spanish gave the orders, the natives did the work. The historian Corpuz explains: "The Spanish were essentially a non-producing class . . . They were priests, soldiers, office holders and their families. Their arrival in the colony transformed every Spanish into a nobleman, who disdained manual labour."
Harmonious by nature, the indigenous Filipinos were easy prey for the Spanish conquistadors who spared no cruelties in gathering the masses "under the bells". The feudal system forced on the natives had a drastic impact on their self-sufficient communities. Under Spanish rule, the indigenous families had to cultivate, not only enough food and crops for their own sustenance, but also great portions which they were forced to hand over to the warlords. Euphemistically, the Spanish called these forced portions "tributes". Corpuz explains: "The tributes and labour services of the Filipinos were the chief economic support of Spanish rule."
The Spanish religious orders and charitable groups were originally assigned encomiendas (Spanish for commissions). The grants gave the Spanish warlords the absolute right to control all the Filipinos living within the boundaries of the encomiendas, and the right to force them into labour up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, and collect the resulting "tributes" (50 per cent of their crops). Under the "share-cropping" that took place on the vast haciendas throughout the islands, the indigenous Filipinos were routinely deceived. Corpuz explains: "In the matter of the payment of the tributes, the natives were regularly cheated by the Spanish assessors and collectors." Corpuz goes on to say it was easy "to cheat the native cultivators through intimidation, arbitrary prices and the use of crooked weights and measures." Through the tricks and devices of the Spanish, many indigenous families fell into a life of bondage with the warlords. "After harvest, the individual farmer was left with a share that almost invariably made it impossible to put aside anything for savings" (Corpuz). The Filipinos would also lose their traditional lands. "The encomienda grants were for limited periods but were repeatedly extended for the religious orders ... Somewhere along the way, probably starting in the late 1700s the "encomenderos" became owners, and not merely holders of the plantation-sized tracts" (Corpuz). The Spanish were cruel and cunning in usurping the traditional lands.