There was no formal civil registration in the country before the colonizers came. The laws and decrees issued during the early Spanish regime were not concerned with registration of vital events. Censuses were also non-existent so that very little was known about its population. Fragmentary evidence shows that some count on the fighting strength of each barangay was made when tribal wars were frequent. Even the laws and decrees issued during the latter part of the Spanish regime were not concerned with registration of vital events.

However, the Catholic Church required every parish to keep books of records of baptism, marriages and deaths. The various religious orders, especially the Augustinian, Dominican, Franciscan and Recollect Orders, maintained full records of these events and kept these books in their parochial archives. This was the only system of recording of vital events in the country in those years. Unfortunately, most of these carefully preserved early records disappeared except those from 1876 to 1885, inclusive, which are complete. It is interesting to note that the cause of death was often omitted in the early registrations of death.


It was only on 8 December 1889 when the Civil Code of Spain took effect as law that institutions of civil registry and civil marriage were first established in the Philippines. But in less than a month, the same provisions pertaining to marriage, divorce, and civil registry were suspended by an order from Governor General Weyler. (Manual on Civil Registration, OCRG, Manila, 1983, pp.1-2).

The Centro Estadistica (Central Office of Statistics) was created as a dependency of the Direccion General de Administration Civil (Bureau of Civil Administration). Under this set up, the parish priests were required to send to the Central Office of Statistics in Manila, a detailed statements of Births, marriages, and deaths that had occurred in their respective parishes during the year immediately preceding their reports. Registration of Births included the name, and sex of the child and the place of birth. The marriage register covered the full names of the contracting parties, their ages, sexes, races and birthplaces, and some remarks pertinent to the information given. Death records indicated the name, age, sex and place of birth of the deceased. Thus, the organization of this Central Office of Statistics marked the beginning of the scientific treatment of vital statistics in the Philippines. (Manual on Civil Registration, OCRG, Manila, 1983,p. 2).  

Civil Registration in the Philippines underwent further changes during this period.  The Municipal Law or Act No. 82, enacted by the Philippine Commission of 1901 provided in its Section 20 that each municipal Secretary shall maintain the civil registers of his locality.

On 21 October 1901, the Bureau of Archives was created by the promulgation of Act No. 273. Section 3 of the Act provided that one of the duties of the Chief of the Bureau was “ to have the care and custody of such public records in accordance with law or by the direction of the Civil Governor which shall be deposited in the insular archives”. The Bureau thus became the depository of important documents and some civil registry records kept there were referred to as Old Spanish Documents.

The Provision was later incorporated in the Administrative Code of 1916 (Act No. 2659) and subsequently in the Revised Administrative Code of 1917 (Act No. 2711) as part of its Section 2212.

On 8 March 1922, the Bureau of Archives was incorporated as one of the divisions of the National Library. (Act No.3022). The municipal secretaries were required to submit quarterly reports on all registration matters to the Chief of the Division of Archives. These regulations marked the onset of centralization of civil registry records. Records available in the Archives Division were those on Births, marriages and deaths from 1 January 1922 to 31 December 1931. Statistics on births, marriages, and deaths from 1800 to 1899 were kept in the Spanish Document Section of the Archives Division. However, these were not sorted, classified nor catalogued. (Manual on Civil Registration, OCRG, Manila 1983,pp.2-3).