The Roots of Filipino Monarchy


The roots of Philippine monarchy, nobility, and political dynasties

1. The royal natives of Maynila and Tondo

Before the 15th-century Spanish colonization, the archipelago was partitioned into distinct ethnic groups called “Barangay,” each with its monarchy and ruling clan. Among these, Tondo and Maynila were the most influential kingdoms.

A Lakan ruled the Kingdom of Tondo in the north (Luzon island). The barangays were ruled by Datus. Rajah Sulayman III was the ruler of the Kingdom of Maynila who fought against Spanish invaders in 1571. 

In the southern region of Mindanao, there were also monarchs known as Rajahs under the Sultanate of Sulu.

Among the Maranao and Maguindanao peoples, traditional monarchy persisted, with their rulers holding titles of nobility such as “Sultan” or “Datu.”

Rajah Sulaiman Karamat governed the Kingdom of Buayan in Mindanao and endeavored to unify several Muslim tribes in the region to resist Spanish colonization during the early 1800s.

Monarchy persisted, with titles of nobility such as “Sultan” or “Datu.”


2. Spanish nobility in the Philippines

As a colony, Spain supported the local ruling class. The Spanish crown bestowed the “honorific titles” of Don and Doña. It was the colonizer’s way of gaining the loyalty of the native elites with nobility rights.

Over time, the practice of bestowing honorific titles was extended to the wealthy elite, including the sangley (Chinese Mestizo).

Nevertheless, these titles were not hereditary but developed into customary titles. This practice ceased after the Second World War.

In 1887, the young Alfonso XIII, with his parents, King Alfonso XII and Queen Maria Christina, visited the Philippines. It was the only opportunity for Filipinos to connect with its apparent monarchial roots.


3. The “Imeldific” Imelda Marcos

At the height of Ferdinand Marcos’s influence, his wife Imelda embraced a persona reminiscent of nobility. This was evident in her lifestyle and demeanor.

Imelda has a vast collection of opulent jewelry befitting of a queen.

The couple often wore the “presidential sash,” adopted from the Spanish period. American governors and early Philippine presidents wore them as a symbol of authority.

The Marcos family was also portrayed in commissioned “royal portraits” wearing royal sashes. In some European countries, only the royals were allowed to wear specific colors of sashes.

The Marcos family wore red as a symbol of democracy and patriotism.

1968 Diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Thailand. (Photo: Public Domain)

Imelda Marcos among European royalty

In 1971, Emperor Reza and his Empress of the Kingdom of Persia (Iran) hosted the most fabulous party in history. Sixty-nine heads of state were invited.

The guest list included one emperor, eight kings, five queens, five emirs, seven sheiks, four princes and dukes, one royal princess, two governor generals, two heirs apparent, four princesses, fifteen presidents, three vice presidents, and four prime ministers.

The Philippines was represented by the First Lady Imelda Marcos, who journalist Barbara Walters dubbed as simply “The wife of a president.”

The “Imeldific Imelda” donned a tiara which she later wore upside down as a hairpiece—like Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Grace of Monaco, and Queen Farah—Imelda Marcos exuded a regal presence and demeanor that suggested nobility.

Imelda Marcos, who evidently had aspirations of nobility, may have paved the way for Filipino royalty—if her husband had permitted it, akin to Pahlavi’s self-proclamation as Emperor of Iran.


The 1971 Persepolis festivities celebrating the 2,500 founding of the Kingdom of Persia was the largest and most prominent gathering of dignitaries in modern history.

4. The Political Dynasties in the Philippines

The political dynasties in the Philippines date back to the Spanish colonial period. By granting nobility titles to the local ruling clans, Spain implemented a feudal system that allowed wealthy families to control lands, the economy, and significant power and influence.

Since then, generational politics in the Philippines has been significantly influenced by corrupt practices such as nepotism and even violence meant to eliminate opponents and preserve their dynastic power.

The political dynasties of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao

Luzon’s most notable political dynasties include the descendants of Ferdinand Marcos, the Cojuangco family, and the Binay and Estrada clans.

In the Visayas region, the Durano and Garcia families in Cebu are the most prominent, while it’s the Espina family in the eastern Visayas.

Mindanao’s most prominent political dynasties are the Ampatuan, Alonto, and Dimaporo, who has held their position for generations.

The most notable political dynasties are Marcos and Cojuangco families.


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