Long before Miguel Lopez de Legazpi conquered the Philippines in November 1564, the Filipinos have been found to be wearing clothes made of silk. In his expedition to the Philippine Island, he found out that the “silks in which the local datos or rajas were clothed clearly came from outside the islands.”
The silk merchandise found in the island came mostly from China. The Chinese ship which brought goods into the Philippines was also called silk ship because it was loaded with various silk products. “Silk in every stage of manufacture and of every variety of weave and pattern formed the most valuable part of their cargos”. These included the “delicate gauzes and cantonese crepes, the flowered silk of Canton called primavera or “springtime” by the Spaniards, velvets and taffetas and the nobleza or fine damask, rougher gro-grains and heavy brocades worked in fantastic designs with gold and silver thread. Of silken wearing apparel, there were many thousand pairs of stockings in each cargo - more than 50,000 in one galleon - skirt and velvet bodices, cloaks and robes and kimonos. And packed in the chests of the galleons were silken bed coverings and tapestries, handkerchiefs, tablecloths and napkins and rich vestments for the service of churches and convents from Sonora to Chile. Nearly all these were of Chinese workmanship”.
The Philippines then was not completely dependent on China for the supply of silk. Sericulture and the art of silk cloth weaving were already undertaken during the nineteenth century. Historical data indicated that the “culture of silk and cotton, for instance, was fostered to insure raw materials for the newly established textile factories, so we would be exporting not raw but finished products. Within the first three decades of the 19th century, the value of Philippine exports jumped from P500,000 to P2,674,220”. This was supported by the historians’ findings that women wore “tapis either of Indian cloth or Chinese silk but of Philippine manufacture” during the said period.
Silkworm rearing for cocoon production was successfully demonstrated in La Trinidad, Benguet prior to World War II. The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) had successfully reared two Japanese silkworm strains, Ichat White and Nismo Yellow. These same strains were reared in Batac, Ilocos Norte in 1936, which grew eventually into a commercial scale in the surrounding area. The industry collapsed during the war and was not revived in post-war years as the land areas were converted to rice, corn and tobacco which received government subsidy.
For two and a half years after World War II, an American entomologist, Charles S. Banks, managed a 500-hectare mulberry plantation in Canlaon, Negros Occidental. Several Japanese sericulturists, under the direct supervision of Mr. Banks, engaged in silkworm rearing, reeling of cocoons for raw silk production, handloom weaving and silk fabric dyeing.
In the early 1950s, Upi Agricultural School in North Cotabato was claimed to have extensive mulberry plantations and engaged in cocoon reeling and handloom weaving. In 1969, the BPI again took active part in silkworm rearing by introducing imported silkworm eggs from Japan. The Mountain Province Development Authority (MPDA) embarked on mulberry cultivation during the same period but was abolished in the early 1970s, and the physical facilities and activities in sericulture were transferred to the management of the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI).
At present, the development of the silk industry is spearheaded by the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA), with the joint cooperation of PTRI, the Sericulture Research and Development Institute (SRDI) of the Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University (DMMMSU), the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB) and other state universities and colleges (SUCs).