Geography. The Philippines is a rich tropical archipelago of 7,107 islands stretching gracefully over 1800 kilometers between the fifth and twenty-second degrees north of the equator. Strategically positioned east of the Asian mainland, and blessed with abundant natural resources, the country has attracted traders, explorers and adventurers for centuries.
The country’s total land area is approximately 300,000 square kilometers (115,800 square miles) and its coastline of more than 34,400 kilometers (21,500 miles) is the fifth longest in the world. Its territorial waters cover 212 million hectares.
The Philippines is bounded by three large bodies of water: on the west and north by the South China Sea, on the east by the Philippine Sea and on the south by the Celebes Sea.
The country’s islands are divided into three main groups: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Luzon is the major island to the north where the country’s capital, Manila, is located. The Visayas is a cluster of islands in the middle of the archipelago. Mindanao is the southernmost island group.
As it is located in the Pacific ring of fire – the most volcanic region on Earth – the Philippines has more than 100 seismic faults spanning both Luzon and Mindanao, as well as 22 active volcanoes and 27 potentially active volcanoes. Of these volcanoes, Mount Mayon in Albay, with its nearly perfect cone, is the most active. Taal Volcano in Batangas is considered the world’s smallest volcano.
The Philippines ranks 23rd among the most plant species-rich countries of the world, hosting 13,500 plant species, or 5 per cent of the world total. Almost one-fourth of all these plant species are endemic to the country.One hundred and seventy thousand animal species can also be found in the country. Of the 230 species of mammals in the islands, 98 are endemic. Among the many rare species that can be found in the Philippines are:
- the Philippine Tarsier (Tarsius philippensis, endemic to the Philippines and is the world’s smallest prosimian)
- the White-Winged Flying Fox (Pteropus luecopterus, one of the world’s rarest mammals)
- the Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi, one of the world’s largest eagles)
- the Pygmy Goby (Pandaka pygmea, one of the world’s smallest freshwater fish)
- the Philippine Sailfin Lizzard (Hydrosaurus pustulatus, one of the rarest lizard species in the world)
The Philippines also has one of the richest collections of corals in the world, with 488 out of 500 species found in the Apo Reef in Mindoro and the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.
Due to its proximity to the equator, the Philippines enjoys tropical climate, with a relatively constant temperature year-round. The country has two main seasons: the dry (from December to May) and the rainy (from June to November).
People. The geography and ecological diversity of the Philippines, in addition to the Chinese, American and Spanish influences the country received, have had profound effects on the cultural development of its people – giving rise to the evolution of approximately 111 ethnolinguistic groups that endow the Filipino people with their varying customs and traditions.
Though the national language is Filipino (based largely onTagalog, the language of the largest ethnolinguistic group and the language most widely used in Manila), there are at least 87 other regional languages and a host of dialects in use by the various ethnolinguistic groups throughout the country. English is widely spoken and understood and is the language used for most business and legal transactions. Hokkien, Cantonese and Mandarin are spoken by older members of the Filipino-Chinese community.
At least 80 percent of the 82 million Filipinos are registered Catholics. About 5 per cent of the population is Moslem, majority of who live in Mindanao. Ethnic Chinese account for about 1 per cent, while the rest of the population is composed of other faiths, including Protestants and other smaller denominations.
Even amidst such diversity in the population, however, warmth, hospitality, and love of life and laughter shine as constant traits of Filipinos throughout the country.
HISTORY. Archeological evidence from the southwestern sector of the country point to the existence of man in the archipelago as far back as 50,000 years ago. Flake tools discovered in the Tabon Caves in Palawan and stone tools recovered in the Cagayan Valley suggest that man inhabited the archipelago from at least the late Pleistocene or early Post-Pleistocene period (the last Ice Age)
The Tabon Man skullcap, the earliest known fossil evidence recovered in the country (also in the Tabon Caves in Palawan), suggest that the earliest inhabitants of the archipelago were representatives of modern man, or Homo sapiens sapiens.
Three of the country’s most famous and treasured artifacts, recovered from Butuan in Agusan del Norte, the Manunngul Cave in Palawan and the Ayub Cave in Maitum, Saranggani Province, provide glimpses of the culture of early man in the Philippines.
The Butuan Boat, wooden boats excavated in Southern Mindanao that have been dated to as early as 320 AD, reveals that the ancient Philippine maritime technology predated European boat construction. Called Balangay, a reference to the smallest political unit in Philippine society, these boats are evidence that early man in the Philippines was seafaring and was relatively technologically advanced. Of the nine boats that are known to exist, three have been excavated so far.
The Manunggul Jar and the Maitum Jars point to the fact that early man in the Philippines believed in some form of afterlife. These elaborately designed secondary burial jars are also a testament to the artistic skill of the early Filipino.
Being situated at the northeast end of Southeast Asia, the archipelago was not in the direct path of the great traditions that influenced the rest of the region before the colonizers came. Thus, some of the cultural influences that have left deep and lasting marks on its Southeast Asian neighbors, such as Chinese and Islamic influences, have left less evident marks on Philippine society. And while the Arabs were probably the first to trade in the islands, it is contact with the Chinese, beginning in the early 13th century, which became regular and enduring.
Islam followed in the wake of the Arab penetration of Southeast Asia, and when it reached the southern part of the archipelago in the late 14th century, the new Muslims and their institutions received reinforcement and support from the neighboring lands where Islam had already taken root. By the 15th century, a sultanate had been established in Sulu, and in time Islam’s reach extended to Luzon. Muslim expansion beyond Sulu and Mindanao, however, would be arrested in Manila with the coming of the Spanish conquistadores.
Ferdinand Magellan led the expedition that first strayed into the islands in 1521, and a successful retracing of the route was made by Legaspi in 1564, whose expedition reached Manila.
The archipelago was thus claimed for the Spanish Crown and soon, the population, except for those in the Muslim areas of Mindanao, would come under the effective control of the Spanish invaders. Manila would eventually become the capital of this new kingdom, formally named “El Nuevo Reyno de Castilla,” and popularly called “Filipinas.” The old, autonomous barangays (typically comprising some 30 to 50 families each), were consolidated into larger political units and lost their independence. A civil government was established, and alongside it, the ecclesiastical establishment, whose clergy and prelates were not subject to the jurisdiction of civil laws and authorities. The political, social and cultural life of the people would be molded under the direction of the Spanish Empire for more than three centuries, and foremost among its enduring legacies would be Catholicism. Today, the Philippines is the only predominantly Roman Catholic country in Asia.
Filipinos increasingly chafed under the oppressive rule of the colonizers and finally, in 1896, staged the first nationalist revolt in Asia against the Spaniards. The main trigger for the revolt was the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal, one of the leaders of the reform movement and the Philippines’ national hero. On 12 June 1898, the leaders of the revolution declared the country a sovereign state and proclaimed the first Republic of the Philippines, with General Emilio Aguinaldo as President.
This independence was short-lived, however, as Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States for US Dollars 20 million in the Treaty of Paris. The new Republic resisted American colonial ambitions, which led to the two-year Philippine-American War in 1899. The war ended with the capture of General Aguinaldo, and the American pacification of the entire country followed.
Under the American rule, agriculture, commerce and trade rapidly developed. Among the significant changes they introduced were the American political system, a professional civil service, the English language and American system of education, the improvement of the banking system, and the modernization of the transportation and communication system.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, however, Japan occupied the Philippines. The country was liberated in 1945, and the United States formally granted its independence on 04 July 1946. Manuel Roxas was proclaimed President.
In 1972, then President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. A modified parliamentary government was also adopted. Martial Law was finally lifted in 1981, but political repression and economic deterioration became its legacy, resulting in the historic “People Power” revolution of 25 February 1986. This led to the proclamation of Corazon C. Aquino as President.
President Aquino moved to restore all the democratic institutions in the country. A Constitution, ratified on 2 February 1987, provided for a tripartite system: an Executive, a Legislative, and a Judiciary. One fundamental change in the new Constitution is the provision limiting the President’s term-of-office to one term of six years, without the eligibility for re-election. The Aquino administration also restored the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of assembly.
On 30 June 1992, Fidel V. Ramos became the 12th President of the Republic. President Ramos, a hero of the 1986 EDSA Revolution, anchored his government on the twin themes of people empowerment and global excellence as the engines of growth and social equity as embodied in his Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan, more popularly known as “Philippines 2000.”
On the centennial year of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence, Joseph Ejercito Estrada became the 13th President of the country. In his inaugural address on 30 June 1998, President Estrada resolved to prioritize the creation of an environment of peace and order in which business would do well. He also vowed to work to assure food security for the majority of the Filipino people.
On 20 January 2001, Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became the 14th President of the country after her predecessor was ousted through a mass protest similar to the historic 1986 EDSA Revolution. In her inaugural address, she focused on her core program of government which covers the fight against poverty, the improvement of moral standards in government and society, true reforms in party politics and programs, and the promotion of work ethics.
In 2004, President Arroyo was elected to a full six-year term-of-office in an election that, for the first time, allowed Filipinos overseas to vote.
R. Constantino, A Past Revisited.
F. Landa Jocano, The History of the Filipino People.
O.D. Corpuz, The Roots of the Filipino Nation.