In terms of scope, An Economic History of the Philippines was a clear sibling of O.D. Corpuz’ earlier works Bureaucracy in the Philippine and Roots of the Filipino Nation. It covered three centuries and an entire archipelago worth of economic change and continuity. This scope is its strength. It allowed him to integrate economic efforts separated by time and regimes, within board patterns of development and, often, underdevelopment.

Probably the most striking deficiency in Corpuz’s book though was its virtual omission of reference to historical studies written between the 1970s and the 1990s. The period’s historiographical focus on local history generated many worthy economic analyses (see for example Jaime Veneracion’s 1986 Kasaysayan ng Bulakan which takes a geographic orientation in economic understanding). To include them would have been to allow the national to build on the regional, enriching his discussion.

Corpuz also noticeably set aside discussion of alternative perspectives. For instance, it is curious how class-oriented economic self-interests, so apparent in histories of the revolution, were absent from his chapter on the Political Economy of the Filipino Republic. It is not that he was unaware of the existing scholarship; he just omitted its discussion. His contention against it can be found in pages 335-7 of an earlier work: his 1989 Roots of the Filipino Nation. A similar clarification of these views his An Economic History would have helped readers understand the contribution of his conclusions.

Perhaps this paring off of such discussions had to do with his intended audience. His was a work supported by his university’s School of Economics and published almost simultaneous with the Asian financial crisis of 1997. It was not, for example, a work funded by its history department and published in light of the Philippine centennial of 1998. Writing for a general audience interested in calibrating modern day economic analyses, Corpuz evaluated history using seemingly trans-cultural and trans-temporal economic categories and criteria.

This economic orientation he firmly linked to understandings of the socio-political system. The orientation was well within his expertise, both in terms of his training at Harvard for his Ph.D. in political economy and government, and his experience as local bureaucrat between 1968 and 1983. Sometimes though, the result was a detailed discussion for administrative policies and their implementation, and broad strokes for everything else.

Again Corpuz’s main contribution to existing scholarship has to do with his scope. Other works on Philippine economic history before as well as after An Economic History are more detailed, are more intrepid in the use of non-archival sources, and, sometimes, are more convincing (compare his conclusions on pre-colonial inter-barangay trade with those of Laura Junker’s Raiding, trading, and feasting), but none match it in scope. Corpuz’ regular syntheses and firm consistency in the direction of his discussion, created an organic study that makes sense of over three centuries of history. It was no mean feat to do this in less than three hundred pages.

For a full dose of Corpuz’s work and of the other sources I mention, see:

Corpuz, Onofre. 1997. An Economic history of the Philippines. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.

_______________. 1989. Roots of the Filipino Nation, 2 vols. Quezon City: Aklahi Foundation.

_______________. 1957. Bureaucracy in the Philippine. Quezon City: Institute of Public Administration, University of the Philippines.

Veneracion, Jaime. 1986. Kasaysayan ng Bulakan. Cologne: Bahay-Saliksikan ng Kasaysayan.

Junker, Laura. 2000. Raiding, trading, and feasting: The political economy of Philippine chiefdoms. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.