From WikiPilipinas: The Hip 'n Free Philippine Encyclopedia
The word encomienda comes from the Spanish word encomendar which means "to entrust". The Spanish conquistador Legaspi distributed 98 encomiendas among the first Spanish colonists, following the practice that begun in the Americas during the time of Christopher Columbus. Under the encomienda system, the native inhabitants in a given geographic region were entrusted to an encomendero or trustee as a reward for his service to the Spanish Crown. This system was not a land tenure. The encomendero had specific responsibilities such as, to protect and to educate the natives in reading, writing and Catholic doctrines. In return, the encomendero was authorized to collect tribute from the natives and to recruit workers for the polos y servicios. The encomendero also had no political authority or jurisdiction over the Filipinos but he could be appointed to a post in the colonial government.
Although the intent of this system was to organize the colony and indoctrinate the natives in Catholicism, it became a tool of oppression and exploitation by the encomenderos. The encomienda was used as a pretext to seize the lands of the natives, arbitrarily increase the tributes and forced the natives into slavery. Moreover, encomiendas which was a privilege granted for a lifetime, became a hereditary grant. Through an order of the Spanish king, encomiendas were extended to two life terms, that is, granting to the encomendero's children. Later it was extended to three life terms in favor of the grandchildren. Through several generations, the number of encomiendas decreased as the encomenderos and their descendants died or returned to Spain, and their encomiendas reverted to the government. In 1650, there were about 241 private encomiendas, but 200 years later, only 11 were held by the encomenderos' sons and their descendants.
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