Puneet Varma (Editor)

Captaincy General of the Philippines

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Alfonso XIII


Date dissolved

European settlement
April 27, 1565

Captaincy General of the Philippines

Spanish dollar, Philippine peso

The Captaincy General of the Philippines (Spanish: Capitanía General de las Filipinas; Filipino: Kapitanyang Heneral ng Pilipinas) was an administrative district of the Spanish Empire. The Captaincy General encompassed the Spanish East Indies, which included the Philippine Islands and the Caroline Islands. It was founded in 1565 with the first permanent Spanish settlements.


For centuries all the political and economic aspects of the Captaincy were administered in Mexico City by the Viceroyalty of New Spain, while the administrative issues had to be consulted with the Spanish Crown or the Council of the Indies through the Royal Audience of Manila. However, in 1821, following the independence of Mexico, all control was transferred to Madrid.

Early explorations

After a long tolling voyage across the Pacific Ocean, Ferdinand Magellan reached the island of Guam on March 6, 1521 and anchored the three ships that were left of his fleet in Umatac Bay, before proceeding to the Philippines, where he met his death during the Battle of Mactan. Antonio Pigafetta, the expedition's chronicler and one of only 18 original crew members to survive Ferdinand Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe, recorded all details of the voyage.

Miguel López de Legazpi, arrived in Umatac in 1565 and claimed the island of Guam for Spain, before proceeding to the Philippines, where in a short period of time they successfully incorporated to Spain's Empire Cebu, Samar, Mazaua, Leyte, and Bohol, before conquering Manila.

Later (in 1569), Miguel López de Legazpi transferred the Spanish headquarters from Cebu to Panay, where they found allies, who were never conquered by Spain but were accomplished as vassals by means of pacts, peace treaties, and reciprocal alliances. On 5 June 1569, Guido de Lavezaris, the royal treasurer in the Archipelago, wrote to Philip II reporting about the Portuguese attack to Cebu in the preceding autumn. A letter from another official, Andres de Mirandaola (dated three days later, on 8 June), also described briefly this encounter with the Portuguese. The danger of another attack led the Spaniards to remove their camp from Cebu to Panay, which they considered a safer place. Legazpi himself, in his report to the Viceroy in New Spain (dated 1 July 1569), mentioned the same reason for the relocation of Spaniards to Panay. It was in Panay that the conquest of Luzon was planned, and launched on 8 May 1570. Two of Lepazpi's Lieutenant-commanders, Martín de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo conquered Luzon's northern region.

Several Pacific islands were claimed by Spain during the 16th century, including the Caroline Islands by Toribio Alonso de Salazar in 1526, Palau by Ruy López de Villalobos in 1543, Bonin Islands by Bernardo de la Torre in 1543, New Guinea by Yñigo Ortiz de Retez in 1545, Solomon Islands by Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa in 1568, New Hebrides by Pedro Fernandes de Queirós in 1606, Marquesas Islands by Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira in 1595, and Vanuatu by Pedro Fernández de Quirós, although Spain did not make any serious attempt to establish permanent settlements in them until the 18th century.

Spanish settlement and creation of the Captaincy

In 1574 the Captaincy General of the Philippines was created as a dependency of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. In 1584, the Real Audiencia of Manila is established by King Felipe II, who appointed as its President the same governor of the Captaincy General of the Philippines. The Captaincy had its capital in Cebu from 1565 to 1595, and in Manila from 1595 until 1898.

As part of the extensive governmental reforms during the early Bourbon period throughout the overseas possessions, an Intendencia was established in Manila by Royal Decree of July 17, 1784 that handled issues regarding the government finances and to promote the economy. Ciriaco González Carbajal was appointed as Oidor of the Audiencia of Manila and was instructed to abide by the Royal Ordinance of Mayors of 1782, that had been enacted in Rio de la Plata. Carbajal proposed the establishment of more Intendencias in Ilocos, Camarines, Iloilo and Cebu, and although they were created on November 24, 1786, they were later abolished by the Royal Decree of November 20, 1787. A month earlier, on October 23, the Intendencia of Manila had been attached to the Captaincy General of the Philippines.

Until 1822, all General Captains were civilians, but after that year they were always chosen among the military. Throughout the second half of the 19th century, there were established many dependent local government offices and military settlements, very numerous due to a large number of islands and the extent of the districts.

Territorial Divisions

Until the second half of the 18th century, there were 24 provinces, 19 alcaldías mayores and five corregimientos:


  • Mariveles
  • Cavite
  • Zamboanga
  • Mindanao Moro
  • Ogtong (Oton)
  • Alcaldías mayores

  • Albay
  • Camarines (later divided)
  • Tayabas
  • Cagayán
  • Ilocos (later divided)
  • Pangasinan
  • Pampanga
  • Bulacan
  • Tondo
  • Laguna
  • Balayán
  • Leyte
  • Panay
  • Caraga
  • Negros
  • Calamianes
  • Mindoro
  • Marianas
  • Cebú
  • Other administrative units established afterward

  • Zambales (separated from Pangasinán)
  • Bataan (separated from Mariveles and from Pampanga in 1754)
  • Nueva Écija (separated from Pampanga)
  • Nueva Vizcaya (separated from Cagayán in 1839)
  • Ilocos Norte (divided in two from Ilocos in 1818)
  • Ilocos Sur (divided in two from Ilocos in 1818)
  • Camarines Norte (divided in two from Camarines in 1829)
  • Camarines Sur (divided in two from Camarines in 1829)
  • Samar (separated from Leite)
  • Misamis (separated from Mindanao Moro and from Cebú)
  • Iloílo (separated from Panay)
  • Antique (separated from Panay)
  • Abra (separated from Ilocos Sur in 1846)
  • Nueva Guipúzcoa (separated from Caraga in 1847)
  • Ticao and Masbate (separated from Albay in 1846)
  • La Unión (separated from Pangasinán and Ilocos Sur in 1850)
  • Lower territories of Agno (Military outposts)
  • Established during the 19th century

    Until the second half of the 19th century, there existed the administrative units:

  • Luzon Island (20 administrative units): Tondo, Bulacán, Pampanga, Zambales, Bataan, Nueva Écija, La Unión, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Pangasinan, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Tayabas, Abra, Cagayán (including Babuyan Islands), Nueva Vizcaya, Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur.
  • Mindoro, Marinduque, Luban, Ilin (one administrative unit): Mindoro.
  • Batán (one administrative unit): Batanes.
  • Panay Island (three administrative units): Cápiz, Iloilo, Antique.
  • Negros (one administrative unit): Negros.
  • Samar (one administrative unit): Samar.
  • Leite (one administrative unit): Leite.
  • Calamianes (one administrative unit): Calamianes.
  • Cebú (one administrative unit): Cebú.
  • Mindanao (four administrative units): Caraga, Misamis, Zamboanga, Nueva Guipúzcoa
  • sultanate of Sulu
  • Joló
  • Marianas (one administrative unit): Marianas capital Agaña, Guam).
  • Palau
  • Bonin Islands
  • Spratly Islands
  • Caroline Islands
  • Marshall Islands
  • Special Districts (four): Benguet, Ticao and Masbate, Comandancia del Corregidor, Lower territories of Agno.
  • Spanish rule in the Philippines ceased in 1898 after the war with the United States, which annexed most territories, although the administrative jurisdictions remained intact.

    Most of the remaining territories in the Pacific Ocean were sold to Germany during the German-Spanish Treaty of 1899.


    Captaincy General of the Philippines Wikipedia