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Palau Was Once a Part of the Philippines

Palau participated in the Malolos Congress of 1898. 
IMAGE LEO ALTMAN
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For a brief time in history, Palau was administered by Spain from the Philippines. 

Today, the Philippines is one of Palau’s diplomatic best friends not only because of the two country’s shared history but also because of how the Philippines vigorously supported Palau’s quest for independence throughout the years. When it lobbied for independence in 1978, Palau only had three strong international supporters: Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

How Palau Was Considered Part of the Philippines

Anthropologists theorize that the islands of Palau were populated thousands of years ago by natives from the Philippines. This would explain how the two countries have so much in common in their languages.

But Palau only became part of the Philippines when the Spaniards colonized them along with the Philippine archipelago. 

Some people might argue this is stretching the truth too far, because if that was the only reason Palau became part of the Philippines, then we could say the Philippines was also part of Mexico by way of Spanish colonization. 

That’s a valid argument. 

But in 1898, Palau sent a representative to the Malolos Congress, which drafted Asia’s first constitution. In this map of the Philippines from 1857, Palau (Islas Palaos) is shown as part of Spain’s territories in the Pacific. 

 

Map of the Philippines in 1857

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
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The map shows the Philippines as the Spanish viewed and administered it until 1898. Palaos is Palau, Guajan is Guam, and Carolinas is Micronesia. An interesting label on the map is Agaña, which is described as the “Capital and residence of the governor of this archipelago, a dependency of the Captain-General of the Philippines.”

Spain viewed the Philippines and Palau, along with the rest of the Carolinas and Marianas, not as separate countries but as part of the Spanish East Indies. 

According to Manuel Quezon III, historian and great-grandson of President Manuel Quezon, the sprawling set of islands known as the Spanish East Indies (in contrast to the Dutch East Indies, which was the pre-independence name for Indonesia), was ruled from Manila.

From 1574 to 1899, Palau was part of the Spanish East Indies, which also consisted of the Philippines, the Marianas, and the Carolines (formerly Nuevas Filipinas). In those centuries, the Spanish East Indies were headquartered in the Philippines, which was Spain’s crown jewel in the Pacific, being the largest territory it owned. 

So, was Palau part of the Philippines? To the minds of the convenors of the Malolos Congress, the answer was yes. Why did they include Palau in the Malolos Congress, give it voting rights, and consider it part of the Philippine struggle for independence against Spain? Why did they leave out other territories in the Pacific such as the Marianas and Guam? 

Palau was as much part of the Philippines as the Malolos Republic was Asia’s first republic. But where the Malolos Constitution failed to realize an independent Philippine state was also where Palau stopped becoming part of it. 

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In 1899, Spain sold Palau to Germany as part of the Carolinas. In World War I, Japan annexed Palau from Germany and administered it until World War II when it was captured by the Americans. In 1947, Palau was formally recognized as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (a U.N.-owned trust territory administered by the U.S.). 

In 1979, four of the countries that formed the Trust Territory decided to form the Federated States of Micronesia. Palau declined to participate and opted to become a separate independent state. Among its most vigorous supporters was the Philippines. 

The Philippines and Palau have maintained close relations ever since. 


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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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