From a long history of Western colonial rule, interspersed with the visits of merchants and traders, the 7,107 islands of Philippines today has evolved as a unique blend of the east and the west, both in appearance and culture. Today regarded as the third largest English speaking country in the world, the country has a rich history combining Asian, European, and American influences.
The Filipinos had a rich culture and were trading with the Chinese and the Japanese before the landmark event, Spanish colonization in 1521 altered the destiny of the island country. The Spanish colonization being a strong denominator in the history of Philippines, it brought about the construction of Intramuros, a “Walled City” comprised of European buildings and churches, replicated in different parts of the archipelago. A series of political rebellions then continued for as long as 350 years, at the end of which in 1898, the Filipinos succeeded in winning their independence. It is worth mentioning over here that this independence of the nation was fuelled by leaders like Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo.
1898 became a landmark year in the history of Philippines as in this year; Philippines became the first and only colony of the United States. However, The U.S. refused to recognize any Philippine right to self-government. As a result, Aguinaldo declared war against the United States for denying them independence on February 4, 1899. Following the Philippine-American War, the United States brought widespread education to the islands. Filipinos fought alongside Americans during World War II, particularly at the famous battle of Bataan and Corregidor which delayed Japanese advance and saved Australia. They then waged a guerrilla war against the Japanese from 1941 to 1945. However, the country was able to regain its independence in 1946. In this way, the freedom-loving Filipinos have waged two peaceful, bloodless revolutions against what were perceived as corrupt regimes, resulting in the vibrant democracy of today’s Philippines. Today, there are as many as 12 English national newspapers, 7 national television stations, hundreds of cable TV stations, and 2,000 radio stations in Philippines, which ensures that democracy is restored to the country.
Based on the agriculture industry, Philippines has gradually evolved today as one of the fastest growing economies in the whole of South East Asia. The service sector in Philippines is growing at a steady pace, keeping in tandem with the country’s phenomenal productivity in agriculture and industry.
Pimarily an agricultural region producing copra, maize, hemp, rice, sugar, and tobacco, the land of Philippines was also notable for mining activities as researches have found out that the mountains of the islands contain substantial amounts of chrome, copper, gold, iron, lead, manganese, and silver. Fishing, centered in Manila Bay and the Sulu Archipelago, has been yet another significant occupation, especially for the tribesmen scattered across the archipelago. However, the prospects of fishing as an industry like that of the agricultural and mining industry in Philippines is quite bleak, due to expensive funds and equipments. Important sectors of the Philippine economy, apart from agriculture, mining and fishing, include food processing, textiles and garments, and electronics and automobile parts.
While most industries of Philippines are concentrated in the urban areas around metropolitan Manila, natural gas resources have been discovered in recent times off the islands of Palawan, which are sure to add to the country’s substantial geothermal, hydro, and coal energy reserves.
Basically an agricultural economy with commerce, trade, and industry contributing to its growth and development, farming with the primary crops “palay” and “corn” and also minor crops like rootcrops, vegetables and fruits as well as cattle and swine raising are considered among the other major economic activities. Besides, the country’s oranges and mangoes are now major crops being exported fresh to Asian countries.
Philippines was less severely affected by the Asian financial crisis of 1998 than its neighbouring south-east asian countries like Singapore, Malaysia etc. This was possible because there were the annual remittances of $7-8 billion from overseas workers. Besides, no sustained runup in asset prices or foreign borrowing happened over here, prior to the crisis. Therefore, from a 0.6% decline in 1998, GDP expanded by 2.4% in 1999, and 4.4% in 2000. By the end of 2001, however, the country showed an economic slump in face of a global economic slowdown, but it soon recovered in the successive years, as GDP growth accelerated to 4.3% in 2002, 4.7% in 2003, and about 6% in 2004, reflecting the continued resilience of the service sector, and a much improved exports and agricultural output.
Despite all these facts and figures, Philippines’ high annual population growth rate and unequal distribution of income, its higher oil prices, higher interest rates on dollar borrowings, and higher inflation happen to be solid roadblocks to its consistent economic progress. Keeping these in mind, the government has to take a higher, sustained growth path to make appreciable progress of the economy.
A true blend of culture where east synergizes with the west, Philippines has acquired a cultural character with a little bit of all the cultures put together. Divided geographically and culturally into regions, each regional group of the Filipinos is recognizable by distinct traits and dialects. The sturdy and frugal llocanos 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, all speak distinct dialects of their own. In this way, Philippines has more than 111 dialects spoken, owing to the subdivisions of these basic regional and cultural groups. Housing Indonesian Malay people as well as some Chinese and Spanish elements, the country has been famous for its “Bayanihan” or spirit of kinship and camaraderie and hospitality that the Filipinos are said to acquire from their forefathers. The influence of the Chinese has incorporated in them the concept of close family relations, while the characteristic piousness comes from the Spaniards who introduced Christianity in the 16th century. Regarded amongst the English-proficient Oriental people, they have Pilipino as the official national language, while English is considered the country’s unofficial one. As a matter-of-fact, Philippines is currently the third-largest English speaking country in the world.
An integral part of the culture of the Filipinos, the “fiesta” is quite a cultural denominator of Philippines. The culture of the Filipinos indicates that good times or bad times, come what may, the fiesta must go on. Each city and barrio having at least one local festival of its own, (usually celebrating the feast of its patron saint), there is always a fiesta going on somewhere in the country. The most pompous and elaborate among all these is Christmas, a season which the fun-loving Filipinos celebrate with all pomp and pageantry one can imagine.
Speaking about religion, the Filipinos have historically embraced two of the great religions of the world – Islam and Christianity. Introduced during the 14th century, shortly after the expansion of Arab commercial ventures in Southeast Asia, today Islam in Philippines is limited to the southern region of the country. On the other hand, Christianity, which was introduced in the 16th century with the coming of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, remains a predominant religion in the country with a large chunk of Catholics (82.9%) and a small number of Protestants (5.4%). Protestantism was introduced to the Philippines history much later (1889) by the first Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries arriving with American soldiers in the country.
The churches of Philippines, with their unique towering architecture, are landmarks in almost all important towns, provincial capitals, and major cities. As an important fact, two of the much prominent Filipino independent churches were organized at the turn of the century, namely, the ‘Aglipay Independent Church’ (founded in 1902) and the Iglesia Ni Kristo’ or ‘Church of Christ’ (founded in 1914). While the Aglipay has recently signed a covenant with the Anglican Church, the Iglesia ni Kristo has expanded its membership considerably.
With exotic beach destinations in Philippines like Boracay, Pagudpud, Mactan Island, Panglao, Camiguin and more, with a rare and exotic marine life adorned by flora and fauna, with an exciting range of water sports ranging from scuba-diving and snorkeling to sea kayaking and white water rafting, Philippines, along with its other neighbouring South-east Asian countries, happens to be a treasure trove for foreign tourists. As a matter-of-fact, the islands of the Philippines is said to be the most sought after wedding destination where traditional meets exotic, modern meets mythical and above all, east meets west.
Foreign tourists all over the globe vie with each other to experience the fabulous wedding packages at Shangri-la’s Mactan Island resorts. The Pansukian Tropical Resorts, on the other hand, are sought after every year with their offerings of enchanting honeymoon packages. And why not, for 7,107 islands, a coastline twice the length of that of the United States, the warm crystal blue waters of both the China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the long, white sand beaches and a variety of marine life would be tempting enough for anyone in the world!
Philippines can also boast of a fascinating wildlife with a huge array of endangered endemic Philippine animals, including 108 African animals, man-eating Philippine crocodiles and the endangered “dugong”, or sea cow. The country can also boast of a spectacular marine life as the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park of Philippines teems with coral species, coral genera, seagrass species, large marine life, dolphins, marine turtles; and seabirds. “The Bird Island of Central Philippines” is a critical stopover of up to 50,000 migrating water birds flying the East Asian migratory flyway yearly. Speaking of the distinctive beauty of the flora, there is the Ninoy Aquino Park and Wildlife Nature Center in Quezon Avenue, Philippines, that boasts of about 38 species of trees and shrubs, representing 2,443 trees commonly found in Philippine forests.
Besides, the idyllic settings of the Philippines’ make it a remarkable golfing destination for the elite and up market crowd. Gifted with unique golfing enclaves, from lush valleys to mountaintops, seaside resorts, or just within the cityscapes, Philippines can boast of proud sites of some of the world’s most prestigious international and local tournaments. These include the Johnnie Walker Classic, the World Amateur Golf Championships, the World Cup, The Asian PGA, and the Philippines Open. With all these attributes and much more, the country can very well be Asia’s Beach Capital in the true sense of the term.