Five Countries That Tried to Invade the Philippines But Failed

Spain, Japan and the United States of America have always been regarded as the main imperialists that severely altered the course of Philippine history. However, alternative perspectives on Philippine Studies will show that many other countries were interested, whether directly or not, in controlling the country too either for commercial gains or territorial expansion.

Other than the official view on history perpetrated by the Philippine educational system which is highly biased on Spain, and later on the USA, there are many other fascinating dimensions of Philippine history that may be discovered if links with other countries are considered.

Here are five countries that were interested to control the country’s affairs, politically, economically or culturally:

1) France

In 18th century, when Spain was desperate in subjugating Muslim Mindanao the way it controlled Luzon and Visayas, other Western imperialists were also making their presence felt in the archipelago.

France, meanwhile, was exerting effort to establish a solid commercial relationship with Sulu, the base of power in Muslim Mindanao. The French desire to have a control in the Muslim base was manifested in their will to purchase Basilan, another Muslim-dominated island in Southern Philippines, from Sultan Pulanun in 1844 and 1845.

2) Great Britain

Western imperialists certainly saw the magnitude of the potential of Southern Philippines, particularly Sulu, as they tried to penetrate and to control the resources of the region. Like France, the initial purpose of Britain was commercial. However, they also “demanded territorial concessions as exemplified in the cession of Balambangan and the first cession of North Borneo territories of the Sulu Sultan to the British in the 1760s.”

The entry of Britain, alongside the presence of Spain, put confusion and great pressure on the political leadership in Sulu. Datu Bantilan (Muiz-ud-Din) during the 1740s dethroned his brother Azim-ud-Din I because the latter was pro-Spanish. Datu Bantilan considered the British as the “lesser evil” since they did not want to overhaul “Sulus’ beliefs, political institutions, and culture.”

Furthermore, at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States of America annexed the Philippines. Great Britain encouraged such annexation, but “wished to be given first option to purchase the islands.”

3) The Netherlands

It was very popular among Western imperialists that Spain was successful in subjugating a vast portion of the Philippine archipelago. It was thought that Spain had been reaping big profits from this. Similarly, the Dutch wanted to dominate the Philippines as well because of the possible benefits they would derive. However, “plans for a straight conquest of the Philippines never rose above the theoretical stage.” Dutch leaders, though, saw the potential of conquering the Philippines as an “attempt to gain Chinese trade.”

The goal of the Netherlands did not fully materialize because Antonie van Diemen, a Dutch official, found out that Spain considered the Philippines more as a burden than a profit. Dutch authorities “did not want to hear of territorial expansion, unless it was necessary for trade.”

4) Belgium

Edouard André, a successful Belgian businessman in Manila, was publicly thanked by Rear Admiral George Dewey for working for the Americans during the Spanish-American War. Later on, André reported on the abundance of resources and commercial potentials of the Philippines. This prompted the strong Belgian desire to inherit the Philippines from Spain. King Leopold II of Belgium “had high hopes for a Belgian protectorate or at least a joint Belgo-American condominium in the archipelago.” But this did not push through because President McKinley of the USA already showed intent in controlling the Philippines.

Even after the Treaty of Paris in December 1898, the Belgians still tried to have a major role in the Philippines. Since it was already highly impossible, they put much effort “to replace the Spaniards as caretakers of Roman Catholic interest in the islands.” However, the “Belgianization of the Filipino church” did not materialize in spite of Belgium’s tremendous efforts.

5) India

The specific interaction or motives by India to the Philippines is still vague, and it is not yet determined if India tried to colonize the Philippines or if it just controlled the country for cultural or economic expansion.

But it is rather clear that the “Indianization” of the Philippine archipelago is one of the lesser known periods in Philippine history. However, cultures, traditions and customs from India was highly embedded in the country’s imprints. Probable reason for the vanishing of Indian marks on Philippine religion was the systematic destroying of Spain to the animistic symbols and idols that can hinder the full Christianization of the archipelago. What was not erased though is the supremely popular Bathala (God of the Gods), which was derived from Sanskrit Battara (noble God).

As what Malcolm Churchill said, “Viewing the totality of pre-Spanish Philippine society, it seems likely that we of the twentieth century have projected four hundred years into the past the present-day absence of pervasive Indian elements and concluded that what is not today could not have been then. The evidence suggests that we should reexamine this view and revise our conclusions about pre-Hispanic Philippine society.”


Abubakar, A. Muslim Philippines: With Reference to the Sulus, Muslim-Christian Contradictions, and the Mindanao Crisis.

Blumberg, A. A Belgian View of the Philippines: 1899.

Churchill, M. Indian Penetration of Pre-Spanish Philippines: A New Look at Evidence.

Majul, C.A. The Role of Islam in the History of the Filipino People.

Roessingh, M.P.H. Dutch Relations with the Philippines, 1600-1800.

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Crazy about popular culture, pre-colonial, and Spanish-era studies. Fan of Christina Aguilera and Katrina Halili.