During the Spanish colonization, some Filipinos were forced to work for the government. This colonial policy, called polo y servicios, was implemented in the Philippines for more than 250 years. 

What Is Polo?

All male Filipinos, aged 16 to 60 years old, were sent to different places to provide free labor, for 40 days a year. This was reduced to 15 days in 1884. 

Polistas, as the workers were called, were required to do such jobs as building roads and bridges, constructing public buildings and churches, cutting timber in the forest, working in shipyards, and serving in Spanish military expeditions. 

Exempted from forced labor were members of the principalia, or the noble class in the towns of Spanish Philippines. Rich Filipinos also avoided polo by paying the falla, an annual tax then amounting to seven pesos. The law also exempted local officials and school teachers because of their services to the state.

Native Filipinos, recruited under the forced labor system of polo, load cargo and provisions into a waiting galleon.
Illustration by Francisco Mendoza. The World of the Manila-Acapulco Galleons (reprint), Vibal Foundation (2019) 

The Effects of Polo?

Many Filipinos suffered abuse and injustice because of polo. Polistas worked for little to no pay. They were also separated from their families and were forced to work despite hazardous or unhealthy conditions, resulting in injuries and death. This led to a string of revolts, that eventually gave rise to a wider revolution against the Spanish colonial government.


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