The visitor to Metro Manila commonly sees the Philippines as the most westernized of Asian countries and in many ways, it is. But there is also a rich underlay of Malay culture beneath the patina of Spanish and American heritage. National cultural life is a happy marriage of many influences, as the indigenous Malay culture is assimilated and adapted to different strains in a practice typical of Malay temperament. An upsurge of Philippine nationalism stimulated a desire to preserve the ancient heritage without restricting its openness to foreign artistic influence.
The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands. It stretches from the south of China to the northern tip of Borneo. The country has over a hundred ethnic groups and a mixture of foreign influences which have molded a unique Filipino culture.
Before the Spanish explorers came, Indo-Malays and Chinese merchants had settled here. In 1521, the Spaniards, led by Ferdinand Magellan, discovered the islands. The Spanish conquistadores established a colonial government in Cebu in 1565. They transferred the seat of government to Manila in 1571 and proceeded to colonize the country. The Filipinos resisted and waged Asia’s first nationalist revolution in 1896. On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines independent from Spain and proclaimed himself president. After ruling for 333 years, the Spaniards finally left in 1898 and were replaced by the Americans who stayed for 48 years. On July 4, 1946, the Americans recognized Philippine independence.
The Philippines is the third largest English-speaking country in the world. The country is divided into three geographical areas: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It has 17 regions, 81 provinces, 136 cities, 1,494 municipalities, and 41,995 barangays. (Barangay – The smallest political unit into which cities and municipalities in the Philippines are divided. It is the basic unit of the Philippine political system. It consists of less than 1,000 inhabitants residing within the territorial limit of a city or municipality and administered by a set of elective officials, headed by a barangay chairman or punong barangay).
The Philippine archipelago is geographically located between latitude (approximately) 4°23′N and 21°25′N and longitude (approximately) 112°E and 127°E. It is composed of 7,107 islands, with a land area of 299,764 square kilometers. Its length measures 1,850 kilometers, starting from the point near the southern tip of Taiwan and ending close to northern Borneo. Its breadth is about 965 kilometers. The Philippine coastline adds up to 17,500 kilometers. Three prominent bodies of water surround the archipelago: the Pacific Ocean on the east, the South China Sea on the west and north, and the Celebes Sea on the south. This position accounts for much of the variations in geographic, climatic and vegetational conditions in the country.
The topography of the bigger islands – particularly Luzon and Mindanao – is characterized by alluvial plains, narrow valleys, rolling hills and high mountains. The highest mountains are found in Mindanao and Luzon, with the altitudes varying from 1,790 to 3,144 meters. Most of the smaller islands are mountainous in the interior, surrounded by narrow strips of discontinuous flat lowlands which constitute the coastal rims. The shorelines of both large and small islands are irregular.
The Philippines’ fertile land accounts for the more than 900 species of orchids representing 100 genera that have been found. The sampaguita is the national flower.
Among the country’s fauna are some endangered species like the Philippine Eagle, the tarsier, and the mouse deer.
Metro Manila is strategically located in the middle of Luzon, on the eastern coast of Manila Bay and at the mouth of the Pasig River, sprawled over an area of 626 sq.km. Manila sits in the middle of a swampy deltaic plain formed by accumulated sedimentary deposits from the Pasig River and other streams.
The city is between the bay to the west, the highlands to the east, and Laguna de Bay to the southeast. Most of its densely populated areas are found along the Pasig River running across the metropolis dividing it into two sections – the north and the south.
Before the Spanish conquistadores came, a thriving community flourished on the banks of the Pasig River. It was called “Maynilad”, after the nilad plant whose star-shaped flowers clustered in abundance along the low-lying river banks.
The lord of the riverside kingdom was Raha Sulayman who held court on the south side of the river while his uncle, Lakandula, ruled on the north side. The Spaniards were set on conquering this community. After the savage Battle of Bangkusay, where they overtook the natives with their awesome firepower, the Spaniards conquered Manila. In this Battle, Sulayman was killed.
Realizing its strategic position as a trading center and military outpost, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, head of the Spanish expedition, promptly declared Manila the capital of the new colonies won by Spain. On June 24, 1571, Manila was declared the capital of the entire achipelago. Delighted by this conquest, the King of Spain awarded the city a coat of arms and the grandiose title: “The Noble and Ever Loyal City”. Soon, Manila became a replica of a European medieval city. There were churches, palaces and city halls built in the Spanish baroque style. Work began on building a wall around the city to keep the pirates and Moros at bay. It took 150 years to finish this wall. The end result was an astounding eight foot-thick, three mile-long wall, with two forts and a bastion, 370 guns in place, manned by a force of 5,000 men and 10,000 reserves. This walled city became known as Intramuros.
Beautiful as it was, Intramuros stood as a perfect illustration of the discrimination at that time against the natives called Indios. Although it was built by Indio workers and Chinese artisans, Intramuros was meant only for the clergy and the Spanish nobility. The natives could not enter except to work as servants. Outside the walls, in the arabales or suburbs, lived the Indios, the Chinese and other foreigners. The diversity of trade and culture in the suburbs made it alive and interesting. Tondo, Binondo, Sta. Cruz, and Quiapo bustled with commerce. These places were home to the merchants, carpenters, blacksmiths, carriage makers, masons, and other artisans.
Over the centuries, the Spanish rule was occasionally threatened by attacks from the sea and by internal uprisings. The Chinese, Dutch and British all tried to lay siege on Manila but were unsuccessful. But the 1880′s saw the birth of a reform movement led by Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Lopez Jaena and Jose Rizal (the national hero). This reform movement ultimately led to a revolution and by 1898, the days of the Castilian rule were numbered. The most lasting legacy of the Spanish rule was the Catholic religion which makes the Philippines the only Christian nation in Asia.
But as soon as the Spaniards left, the Americans took over. 1902 was the beginning of the American era, a period characterized by the expansion of public education, advances in health care and the introduction of democratic government. The outbreak of war in the Pacific in 1941 disrupted American rule. Manila was declared an open city and the Americans withdrew their defenses. For three years, Manila was occupied by the Japanese imperial forces. Life at that time was made difficult by strict Japanese military rule. When the American troops entered Manila to liberate it, they had to bomb the city to dislodge the tenacious Japanese. Manila was devastated.
On July 4, 1946, a year after the end of the war, the Philippine flag was hoisted signalling the recognition of Philippine independence.
The Filipino is basically of Malay stock with a sprinkling of Chinese, American, Spanish and Arab blood. The Philippines has a population of 76.5 million as of May 2000 (with a projected population of 88.7 million for 2007), and it is hard to distinguish accurately the lines between stocks. From a long history of Western colonial rule, interspersed with the visits of merchants and traders, evolved a people of a unique blend of east and west, both in appearance and culture.
The Filipino character is actually a little bit of all the cultures put together. The bayanihan or spirit of kinship and camaraderie that Filipinos are famous for, is said to be taken from Malay forefathers. The close family relations are said to have been inherited from the Chinese. The piousness comes from the Spaniards who introduced Christianity in the 16th century. Hospitality is a common denominator in the Filipino character and this is what distinguishes the Filipino. Filipinos are probably one of the few, if not the only, English-proficient Oriental people today. Filipino is the official national language, with English considered as the country’s unofficial one.
The Filipinos are divided geographically and culturally into regions, and each regional group is recognizable by distinct traits and dialects – the sturdy and frugal Ilocanos of the north, the industrious Tagalogs of the central plains, the carefree Visayans from the central islands and the colorful tribesmen and religious Moslems of Mindanao. Tribal communities can be found scattered across the archipelago. The Philippines has more than 111 dialects spoken, owing to the subdivisions of these basic regional and cultural groups.
Some 80 percent of the population is Catholic, Spain’s lasting legacy. About 15 percent is Moslem and these people can be found basically in Mindanao. The rest of the population is made up mostly of smaller Christian denominations and Buddhist.
The country is marked by a true blend of cultures; truly in the Philippines, East meets West. The background of the people is Indonesian and Malay. There are Chinese and Spanish elements as well. The history of American rule and contact with merchants and traders culminated in a unique blend of East and West, both in the appearance and culture of the people of the Filipinos, or people of the Philippines.
Hospitality, a trait displayed by every Filipino, makes these people legendary in Southeast Asia. Seldom can you find such hospitable people who enjoy the company of their Western visitors. Perhaps due to their long association with Spain, Filipinos are emotional and passionate about life, in a way that seems more Latin than Asian.
Ethnic Groups: 91.5% Christian Malay, 4% Muslim Malay ,1.5% Chinese and 3% other.
Culture and Arts
The major cultural agencies of government are the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Historical Institute, the National Museum, The National Library, the Records Management and Archives Office, and the Commission on the Filipino Language. The Heads of these cultural agencies are all ex-officio members of the NCCA Board and all except the Commission on the Filipino Language are together under the National Commission on Culture and Arts.
The Philippines has a tropical climate with relatively abundant rainfall and gentle winds. There are three pronounced seasons: the wet or rainy season from June to October, the cool, dry season from November to February, and the hot, dry season from March to May.
Temperature in Manila ranges from 21°C to 32°C with a 27°C average. The coolest month is January and the warmest is May. Both temperature and humidity levels reach the maximum in April and May, but these are generally good months for aquasports and mountain trekking. Some of the most colorful festivals are held during these months.
Two official languages — Filipino and English. Filipino, which is based on Tagalog, is the national language. English is also widely used and is the medium of instruction in higher education.
Eight (8) major dialects spoken by majority of the Filipinos: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicolano, Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinense.
Filipino is that native language which is used nationally as the language of communication among ethnic groups. Like any living language, Filipino is in a process of development through loans from Philippine languages and non-native languages for various situations, among speakers of different social backgrounds, and for topics for conversation and scholarly discourse. There are about 76 to 78 major language groups, with more than 500 dialects.
Catholics – 82.9%
Protestants – 5.4%
Islam – 4.6%
Philippine Independent Church – 2.6%
Iglesia ni Cristo – 2.3%
Historically, the Filipinos have embraced two of the great religions of the world – Islam and Christianity. Islam was introduced during the 14th century shortly after the expansion of Arab commercial ventures in Southeast Asia. Today, it is limited to the southern region of the country.
Christianity was introduced as early as the 16th century with the coming of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.
Protestantism was introduced by the first Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries who arrived with the American soldiers in 1899.
Two Filipino independent churches were organized at the turn of the century and are prominent today. These are the Aglipay (Philippine Independent Church) and the Iglesia Ni Kristo (Church of Christ) founded in 1902 and 1914, respectively. Recently, the Aglipay signed a covenant with the Anglican Church. The Iglesia ni Kristo has expanded its membership considerably. Its churches, with their unique towering architecture are landmarks in almost all important towns, provincial capitals and major cities.
The new Philippine Constitution was ratified in early 1987, signalling the country’s return to democracy.
Chief of state: President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III (since 30 June 2010) and Vice-President Jejomar C. Binay (since 30 June 2010); note – the president is both the chief of state and head of government.
Cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the President with the consent of the Commission of Appointments’ elections: president and vice-president elected on separate tickets by popular vote for six-year terms; election last held 10 May 2010.
Bicameral Congress or Kongreso consists of the Senate or Senado (24 seats: one-half elected every three years; members elected by popular vote to serve six-year terms) and the House of Representatives or Kapulungan Ng Mga Kinatawan (214 seats: members elected by popular vote to serve three-year terms. Additional members may be appointed by the President but the Constitution prohibits the House of Representatives from having more than 250 members).
Supreme Court (justices are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Judicial and Bar Council and serve until 70 years of age).
International Organization Participation
APEC, ARF, AsDB, ASEAN, CCC, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G-24, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, NAM, OAS (observer), OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIK, UNTAET, UNU, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, WTO
Philippine education is patterned after the American system, with English as the medium of instruction. Schools are classified into public (government) or private (non-government).
The general pattern of formal education follows four stages: Pre-primary level (nursery and kindergarten) offered in most private schools; six years of primary education, followed by four years of secondary education. College education usually takes four, sometimes five and in some cases as in medical and law schools, as long as eight years. Graduate schooling is an additional two or more years.
Classes in Philippine schools start in June and end in March. Colleges and universities follow the semestral calendar from June-October and November-March. There are a number of foreign schools with study programs similar to those of the mother country.