The term Filipino was first used in the 1590’s, and the first time it was used it referred to the Tagalogs, Visayans, Aetas, and other natives of the Philippines. Thus, it is safe to state that the natives of the Philippines themselves, being the first people to be called Filipinos, were the first Filipinos and the original Filipinos.
The first usage of the term can be found in the book Relación de las Islas Filipinas, which the Spanish Jesuit missionary Fr. Pedro Chirino wrote beginning in 1590 and which was published in Rome, Italy, in 1604.
The other books that also used the term to refer to the natives of the Philippines were Labor Evangelica (Madrid, 1663) by Fr. Francisco Colin; Historia de las islas e indios de Bisayas … 1668 (Samar, 1668) by Fr. Ignacio Francisco Alcina; and Descripción de las islas Philipinas (Manila, 1738) by Fr. Juan Francisco de San Antonio. The missionaries also called, aside from Filipino, the natives naturales (natives), nativos (natives), and indios (Easterners). Those terms became the unifying identities of the natives.
However, since the Spaniards were bigots, most of them preferred the term indio to refer to the natives during their rule of the Philippines (1565-1898). They used it to demean the natives by giving it bad connotations like “monkeys,” “uneducated,” and “undeserving of civilization.”
A Question of Identity
The manner of using the term Filipino to refer to the natives of the Philippines is similar to the manner of giving a new-born baby his name.
When a baby is born, his parents give him a name; for example, Mark. Although the baby is not yet conscious that his name is Mark and that he is thus called, that name is already his identity. It would be senseless to assert that because the baby is not yet aware of his name, his name is not yet his identity and that his name will only become his identity once he becomes aware that it is indeed his name.
Only the brainless will say: “This baby is named Mark, but his name is not yet his identity because being a baby, he is not yet aware of his name.”
When the Spaniards called the natives of the Philippines Filipinos during the early decades of their rule, the term Filipinos became one of the identities of the natives, even if the natives were not yet aware that they were already called thus and that it was already one of their new collective names as one people.
The Baby Has Grown: “We are Filipinos!”
In the 1880’s, Jose Rizal and his fellow natives of the Philippines living and studying in Spain and other countries in Europe called themselves Filipinos. In a letter to his Austrian friend Ferdinand Blumentritt dated April 13, 1887, Rizal said:
“They are creole young men of Spanish descent, Chinese half-breeds, and Malayans; but we call ourselves only Filipinos” (The Rizal-Blumentritt Correspondence. Centennial Edition, Part 1, Manila: Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission, 1961, p. 72).
Being the first generation of enlightened Filipinos, Rizal and his fellow natives of the Philippines staying in Europe felt that they needed a common identity to refer to themselves; thus, they called themselves Filipinos. The term evidently meant “natives of the Philippines.” They were the first natives of the Philippines to call themselves thus.
It was only in the 1880’s that the natives had become conscious that the term Filipinos was their common identity and that they should call themselves thus.
The baby had grown and finally become aware of his identity.
An Outlandish Language
When the Spanish colonial officials called the archipelago las Islas Filipinas, that designation became the name of the archipelago. If someone will claim that “the Spaniards already called the archipelago las Islas Filipinas, but it was not yet the name of the archipelago,” then he is banging his head against a thick, concrete wall.
One would be speaking a nebulous language, if he stubbornly insists on erecting the following inutile claims:
“The natives were already called Filipinos, but they were not yet called Filipinos.”
“The natives were already called Filipinos in the early decades of Spanish rule, but they must only be called Filipinos beginning in the 1880’s—when they finally became conscious that their identity was Filipinos.”