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Jonathan P.


June 24,
PI 100

Social Stratification of the Philippine Colony

During the period of Spanish colonial rule, the Filipino population was divided
into different social classes. It was a way to differentiate the ruling classes from
those of common birth, and to ensure that the seat of power rests on the hands of
the Spanish. The social stratification present during those times is similar to the one
we have today. Unlike the stratification present in contemporary times, however, it
was not possible for one to move across the different classes.
There are four bases for classifying a particular individual to a social class.
These include (1) property and wealth, (2) education, (3) race or skin color, (4)
place of birth. The first two grounds for social classification are self-evident. Those
who have great wealth and are educated belong to the upper echelons of society
while those who lack neither belong to the lower caste. Considerations on race and
birthplace, on the other hand, were practiced because we were a colony subjugated
by foreign rule.
Thus, it is not surprising that pureblooded Spaniards born in the Iberian
Peninsula topped the social pyramid. They were called the peninsulares due to their
birthplace and were Spaniards on an extended visit to the country. The peninsulares
were the wealthiest and most politically powerful among all the social classes with
them holding the highest positions in government. Birthplace also played a major
factor in social classification since the Philippine-born insulares or creoles did not
have the same opportunities as their peninsular brothers. While they remained
pureblooded Spaniards, they were regarded as a lower class and received
discrimination from their peninsular brothers despite holding positions of power.
These two compose the higher ranks of public office and thus, formed only a small
percentage of the population.
During centuries of Spanish rule, it was not uncommon for Spaniards to bear
children through intermingling with the native population. At first, these mestizos
were often the illegitimate offspring of Catholic friars that see through the religious
exploitation of the Philippines. However, wealth-seeking Spaniards eventually
married into the local aristocracy called the principalia. The principalia were a group
of natives descended from the ruling elites of pre-colonial times. They were relatives
of the datu or maharlikas. These people retained some privileges of rule and
maintained local positions of government. Intermarriages between the principalia
and these Spaniards elevated the formers rank in the social hierarchy while giving
the latter an access to indigenous wealth.

Below the ranks of the principalia and Spanish mestizo were those who were
fruits of intermarriage between the native indio and Chinese traders. They formed a
social group called mestizo-sangley. The mestizo and principalia formed the middle
class and were able to afford education and send their children to universities here
and abroad. As such, these educated men became the ilustrados. An important
consideration in the analysis of colonial society is that wealth and education were
inseparable facets of social structure. According to the reading, Who is Filipino?,
education was almost exclusively the prerogative of wealth. The rich were wise and
the wise were rich. While the mestizo and principalia formed a larger population
than the Spanish rulers, their numbers were still dwarfed by the overwhelming
number of Chinese traders and native indio.
The Chinese formed a social class near the bottom of the pyramid. They were
hardworking traders who the Spaniards discriminated against and the indios
laughed at but were nonetheless a wealthy group of people. They had family-owned
establishments and were business minded in all of their affairs. This culture even
persisted in modern times wherein people of Chinese descent own several of the
successful enterprises here in the country.
The bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid was occupied by the vast majority
of natives called the indio. They were poor laborers of Malay ancestry who were
exploited by the Spanish conquerors and felt the full brunt of colonial rule. These
people were heavily taxed and overworked while possessing a few rights. They
could not vote or be elected in public office and were relegated as a subdued class
meant to serve their Spanish masters. The indio was kept ignorant about the
workings of the world and were blinded with religious fervor by the abusive friars.
They were kept at bay through fear mongering and threats of eternal fire or attacks
by the Muslim moors and other hooligans.