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Title4.7.B- History of Science and Technology in the Philippines
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                            Precolonial Science and Technology
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Page 1



Olivia C. Caoili**


The need to develop a country's science and technology has generally been recognized
as one of the imperatives of socioeconomic progress in the contemporary world. This has
become a widespread concern of governments especially since the post world war II years.(1)

Among Third World countries, an important dimension of this concern is the problem of
dependence in science and technology as this is closely tied up with the integrity of their
political sovereignty and economic self-reliance. There exists a continuing imbalance between
scientific and technological development among contemporary states with 98 per cent of all
research and development facilities located in developed countries and almost wholly
concerned with the latter's problems.(2) Dependence or autonomy in science and technology
has been a salient issue in conferences sponsored by the United Nations.(3)


*Paper prepared for the University of the Philippines Science Research Foundation
in connection with its project on "Analysis of Conditions for National Scientific and
Technological Self-Reliance: The Philippine Situation," June 1986.

**Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, College of Social Sciences
and Philosophy. University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.

(1) For a brief summary of the evolution of government concern for the development of
science and technology, see Olivia C. Caoili, Dimensions of Science Policy and National
Development: The Philippine Experience, Monograph Series No. 1 (College, Laguna:
Center for Policy and Development Studies, University of the Philippines at Los Baños, October
1982), pp. 4-34.

(2) Guy B. Gresford and Bertrand H. Chatel, "Science and Technology in the United
Nations," World Development, Vol. II No. 1 (January 1974), p. 44.

(3) See, for example, UNESCO, Science and Technology in Asian Development:
Conference and Application of Science and Technology to the Development of Asia, New
Delhi, August 1968 (Paris: UNESCO, 1970); United Nations Conference on Science and
Technology for Development, Vienna, Austria, 1979, in Nature, Vol. 280 (16 August 1979), pp.

It is within the above context that this paper attempts to examine the history of science and
technology in the Philippines. Rather than focusing simply on a straight chronology of events, it
seeks to interpret and analyze the interdependent effects of geography, colonial trade, economic
and educational policies and socio-cultural factors in shaping the evolution of present
Philippine science and technology.


Page 19


(57) Blair and Robertson, op. cit., Vol. LI, pp. 38-39.

(58) de la Costa, op. cit., pp. 138-142; Cushner, Spain in the Philippines, pp. 195-197.

(59) de la Costa, op. cit., pp. 143-160; Cushner, Spain in the Philippines, op. cit., pp.
197-209; Mcmicking, op. cit., chaps. XXVI-XXVII; Bowring, op. cit. chap. I.

(60) Carlos Recur, Filipinas; Estudios Administrativos y Commerciales (Madrid:
Imprenta de Ramon Moreno y Ricardo Rojas, 1879), pp. 93-122. Recur observed (p. 110)
that from the commercial point of view, the Philippines was an Anglo-Chinese colony flying
the Spanish flag ("... bajo el punto de vista comercial Filipinas es una colonia anglo-china
con bandera espanola...").

(61) John Foreman, The Philippine Islands (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle
and Rivington, Ld., 1890), chap. 9; Mcmicking, op. cit., chap. XXV.

government by the Spanish government to undertake studies and regulations of mines,
research on Philippine flora, agronomic research and teaching, geological research and
chemical analysis of mienral waters throughout the country.(62) However, little is known about
the accomplishments of these scientific bodies.

Meteorological studies were promoted by Jesuits who founded the Manila Observatory in
1865. The Observatory collected and made available typhoon and climatological
observations. These observations grew in number and importance so that by 1879, it
became possible for Fr. Federico Faura to issue the first public typhoon warning. The service
was so highly appreciated by the business and scientific communities that in April 1884, a
royal decree made the Observatory an official institution run by the Jesuits, and also
established a network of meteorological stations under it.(63) In 1901, the Observatory was
made a central station of the Philippine Weather Bureau which was set up by the American
colonial authorities. It remained under the Jesuit scientists and provided not only meteorological
but also seismological and astronomical studies.

The benefits of economic development during the nineteenth century were unevenly
distributed in the archipelago. While Manila prospered and rapidly modernized, much of the
countryside remained underdeveloped and poor. The expansion of agricultural production for
export exacerbated existing socio-economic inequality, that had been cumulative consequence


Page 20

of the introduction of land as private property at the beginning of Spanish rule. There was
increasing concentration of wealth among the large landowners -- the Spaniards, especially the
religious orders, the Spanish and Chinese mestizos, the native Principalia -- and poverty and
landlessness among the masses. This inequality, coupled with abuses and injustices
committed by the Spanish friars and officials gave rise to Philippine nationalism and eventually
the Revolution of 1896.


(62) There were the Inspeccion General de Minas created by Royal Decree in 1837;
Commission de Flora de Filipinas, 1876; Comision Agronomica de Filipinas, 1881; Comision
Especial de Estudios Geologicos y Geograficos de Filipinas, 1885; and Comision de Estudios
de las Aguas Minero Medicinales, 1884. See Leoncio Lopez Rizal, "Scientific and Technical
Organizations in the Philippine Islands," in NRCP. op. cit., Bulletin No. 3, pp. 155-159.

(63) The meteorological studies done at the Observatory, notably by Jose Algue Sanllei,
became world renowned. Some were subjects of discussion at International Meteorological
Congresses and were published in the Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society in London.
See John N. Schumacher, "One Hundred Years of Jesuit Scientists: The manila Observatory
1865-1965," Philippine Studies, Vol. 13 (1965), pp. 258-286; Valera, op. cit., pp. 1-22.

At the end of the Spanish regime, the Philippines had evolved into a primary agricultural
exporting economy. Progress in agriculture had been made possible by some government
support for research and education in this field. But it was largely the entry of foreign capital
and technology which brought about the modernization of some sectors, notably sugar and
hemp production. The lack of interest in and support for research and development of native
industries like weaving, for example, eventually led to their failure to survive the competition
with foreign imports. Because of necessity and the social prestige attached to university
education, medicine and pharmacy remained the most developed science-based professions
during the Spanish regime.

Science and Technology During the First Republic

There was very little development in science and technology during the short-lived
Philippine Republic (1898-1900). The government took steps to establish a secular
educational system by a decree of 19 October 1898, it created the Universidad Literaria de
Filipinas as a secular, state-supported institution of higher learning. It offered courses in law,


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