Spanish Influence in the Philippines

The Spanish have had a huge influence on Filipino culture. Here is a little bit about the Spanish reign over the Philippines and some interesting things that Spain introduced to the Filipino way of life.

History of Spain in the Philippines

The time that the Philippines was under Spanish rule makes up a major part of their history. Spain had control of the Philippines for more than 300 years, so it’s no surprise that there are many Filipino customs, traditions, and cultural norms that can be traced back to the Spanish. They left their mark probably more so than any other foreign nation to which the Philippines was subjected.

Spain was one of the most powerful nations in the world around the 1500s. At this time, different nations would race each other to be the first to settle in and claim different areas. According to historians, there were three objectives for taking the Philippine islands. First and foremost, it was seen as an opportunity to spread the Roman Catholic church, which had become quite powerful in Europe. The other objectives may have been to gain wealth through the spice trade in Asia, and also to gain political power by conquering and laying claim to as many lands as possible.

A man from Portugal named Ferdinand Magellan, set sail under the Spanish flag, where he eventually discovered the Philippine islands. He was warmly received by some native tribes but conflict arose with others. He established Catholicism in some areas, including Cebu (where about 800 natives were baptized). Spain continued to send expeditions to the Philippines until 1564. Conflict and war erupted between the two nations. Spain eventually took the Philippines by force in battle, one island at a time, until the whole country was conquered. The Philippines remained under the control of the Spanish until 1898.

Here are a few specific ways that Spain influenced the Philippines during its reign.


It is no surprise that over this long period of time, the Spanish language made its way into the Filipino dialects. Today it is estimated that about 20% of Tagalog words are Spanish. In fact, the common Tagalog greeting “Kumusta” was derived from the Spanish “Como esta”  (How are you). Here are a few very common words that came from Spanish (the spellings have been Filipino-ized):

  • Diyos (God)
  • Eskwela (school)
  • Gwapo (handsome)
  • Kalye (street)
  • Kabayo (horse)
  • Kwento (story)
  • Karne (meat)
  • Pamilya (family)
  • Sapatos (shoes)
  • Bintana (window)
  • and many, many more. . .

Numbers and Money

The Spanish money system (based on pesos) was adopted into the Filipino lifestyle as well as the use of Spanish numbers in business and money transactions. Today, using Spanish numerals is the marketplace norm.


Did you know that the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia? That’s because when the Spanish took over, they brought their long tradition of Catholicism with them. It was part of the Spanish conquest to convert all the natives to Christ through their Catholic tradition. Today as a result, the Catholic church still remains a very powerful force in the Philippines. For example, divorce is illegal there because of the Catholic church’s influence in the government and law-making. Filipinos still celebrate and participate in many Catholic holidays and customs. Practically everywhere you go you will see big Catholic cathedrals. In many homes, you’ll see pictures of the virgin Mary or the last supper, and many people carry around rosaries with them. On public transportation are plastered posters of Jesus and Mary and religious sayings. Because of the Spanish conquest, there is a strong tradition of Christianity among the Filipino people.

Last names

One very interesting thing that the Spanish  changed about the Philippines was the use of native last names. In 1849, the Governor sent out an order that all families were to choose a new last name from a list of Spanish last names (in order to create a more organized system of keeping track of people). As a result, today there are many Spanish last names still in use, such as Garcia, Cruz, Reyes, Mora, Vasquez, Valdez, Flores, Ramos, Perez, Villanueva, Ortiz, etc. However, there were some Filipinos who did not want to change their native last names, and so today there are still some native names remaining. Examples of native Filipino last names include Macaraeg, Matapang, Masipag, Dimaguiba, Guinto, Magsaysay, Makapagal, Batungbakal, etc.

Capital City and Country Name

Also interesting to note is that the Spanish were the ones who appointed Manila as the capital city of the Philippines. They also named the islands “Filipinas” after Prince Philip os Asturias, who later became the King of Spain.

Western culture

During the Spanish rule, westernized culture gradually began to seep into the Filipino way of life. Western music, dance, art, recreation and customs were adopted by Filipinos. Even their beliefs and perspectives about life experienced a bit of a drift away from Eastern muslim philosophies to a  more westernized perspective. One example of this was the abolishment of slavery. Classes between the rich and poor, however, remained.


During the Spanish reign, they established Catholic-run schools. Friars and nuns were the teachers at these schools. The Filipino people were literate before the Spanish ever arrived, but the Spanish added new subjects to their academia such as math, Spanish, and business. In time, the Spanish also set up colleges (segregated by gender). One of the more well-known of these colleges is the university of Santo Tomas, which was established back in 1611.


The Spanish brought with them their own cuisine and many of these foods were adopted into the Filipino diet. Here’s a list of some of them:

  • Corn
  • Flour
  • Squash
  • Avocado
  • Sausage
  • Beef
  • Guava
  • Sapodilla (Chico fruit)
  • Papaya
  • Cabbage
  • Cocoa
  • Potatoes (white)
  • Ham
  • Coffee
  • Beer
  • Bread (made from wheat flour)
  • Pickles
  • Sardines

The Spanish also introduced forks, spoons, plates, and cups to the Philippines. To this day, forks and spoons are used when eating (but not knives). However, some Filipinos still prefer to eat the truly native Filipino way, without utensils.

(Contributed by Rebecca, Philippines Baguio Mission, 2009-2011)


Jenny Gazzingan

Thank you for the information you’ve posted, sir. It helped me a lot in making my occasional paper for school.

Rhea Jane Gravo

Thank you very much for this information,,it really helped me a lot.

Tot Man Kid

This was really helpfull!

edwin ramos

I just finished my bestfriend’s homework with the help of these.


You could probably add more information about the food.


This website was very beneficial. it is a very helpful to everyone that uses this website. I have used it for all my Caribbean History works and it had help me a lot.


This was so helpful! Thank you so much! I’m working on a research project for school and this just made the process so much easier!

Joseph Flores

Awesome my DNA results point 3% genetic communities for Philippines and Guam.

Comments (12)


I intellectualy enjoyed reading your comprehensive peace because it was very “revealing” and full of Spanish borrowings/diffusion of abstract and concrete examples. Nevertheless, while the Spanish brought avocados, corn, and chocolate-these foods were originally from the Americas (as you probably know). Sinceramente,
Maestro/Linguista J. Jaramillo
P.S.: I look forward to reading your other ethnolinguistic pieces!

I appreciated reading this ethnolinguistic piece because you used a substantial amount of Spanish examples to reveal Spanish diffusion to the Philipines. Nevertheless, in terms of food-the Spanish brought corn, cocoa, potatos, chile, beans etc from the Americas (as you probably know)

Your ethnolinguistic piece was very revealing in that you produced numerous examples across many categories, such as customs, greetings, and foods to support your thesis. Nevertheless, with respect to food, corn, potatoes, cocoa, chile, and beans are from the Americas so they were a midpoint from the New World to the Philippines (as you probably know but it does not hurt to emphasize this.)

This site was very helpful. The meaning of the change of las names.

Sir Thank You For the information because i used it in my school project .


Thank you very much sir me and my group mates are very happy to use this information for our debate tomorrow 🙂

The Spanish era of the Philippines lasted for 333 years. This was helpful

Just wanted to clarify, there is no slavery in the Philippines during the precolonial times. Filipino precolonial people were dubbed as “freemen” when violated the rules of the tribe. In fact, Spanish introduced feudalism that became the source of exploitation of power.

this is pretty fine mate you helped my son thanks mate

Its a very useful study that help me to help my best friends doing her module. Its a clear discussion .We are happy that the ways of life during Spanish colonialism was revealed. Thank you!

Apreal Mae Campanilla

What about the entertainment they influenced

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