Philippines – Travel Facts
Spanish Colonialists. Filipinos were claimed by Ferdinand Magellan for Spain in 1521 and began the bloody process of Christianisation. He was eventurally assassinated, but they returned in 1565 and conquered the local tribes one by one and Manila was declared the capital. Real power rested with the unenlightened Catholic friars who acted as sole rulers over their rural fiefdomes. Their waning acceptance of Spanish rule and the increasingly repressive friars evaporated after the Spaniards executed national hero Jose Rizal in 1896. They revolted and won with the help of the Americans already at war with Spain over Cuba in 1898. After the weakened Spanish were driven the Spanish back to Manila, the American defeated the Spaish fleet in Manila Bay and independence was declared
American Rule. The Americans had different ideas, and war broke out in 1899. A drawn-out guerrilla war ensued but the Americans declared victory in 1902. The Americans instituted reforms aimed at improving Filipinos lot. A first Philippino National Government was formed in 1935 with independence slated for 1945.
However the Japanese invaded in WWII instituting a brutal military regime before being defeated by the Americans in February, 1945 in the Battle for Manila. The battle destroyed a city that had been the finest in Asia and resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 civilians.
Independence. Out of the war’s ashes, independence occurred with hardliner Ferdinand Marcos being elected as president. He declared martial law in 1972.
People Power. The 1983 assassination of Marcos’ opponent Benigno ‘Ninoy” Aquino pushed opposition to Marcos to new heights. Marcos called elections in early 1986 and the opposition united to support Aquino’s widow, Corazon ‘Cory’ Aquino. Both Marcos and aquino claimed to have won the election, but People Power rallied behind Cory Aquino and within days Ferdinand and his profligate wife, Inelda, were packed off by the Americans for Hawaii, where the former dictator later died.
The army didn’t back her and she survived numerous coup attempts. She was followed by Fidel Ramos, in 1998 by Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada for 2 1/2 years who was ousted for corruption, and then Gloria Arroya who lasted for 9 years amid her own corruption charges.
Today. Benigno Aquino III, the squeaky clean son of Corazon Aquino (who died in 2009), was elected president in 2010 in a landslide. He is tackling corruption and facing down interest groups.
The Philippino population passed 100 million in 2011, up from 76.5 million in 2000. In 2006, a national family-planning program was introduced that encourages contraception, opposed by the Catholic Church, and it sill is not law.
The Moro Problem. Muslim dissent emanating from out o Mindanao has been the one constant for 450 years of Philippine’s history. The 12,500 strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is the countries largest separatist Muslim group that grabs all the headlines. Ceasefires have been signed in 2001-2008 and negotiations are ongoing.
People and Culture
Filipinos have an unrivalled zest for life. The national symbol, the jeepney is splashed with color and laden with religious icons but really are dilapidated pieces of junk. “All things shall pass and in the meantime, life is to be lived”.
The most important influences on the lives of Filipinos are family and religion. The Filipino family unit extends to distant cousins, multiple god-parents, and one’s gangs of friends. With large families, it is not uncommon for a dozen to live under one roof.
Superstitious, a villager may be possessed by a spirit, and in urban areas, faith healers, psychics, fortune-tellers, tribal shamans, self-help books and evangelical crusaders can all help cast away ill-fortune.
Over one million overseas workers (nurses, construction workers, entertainers, cleaners) combined send home over $15 billion a year (real figures probably much higher). They are a national hero.
Population. The range of ethnic groups speak over 170 different dialects. Mainly of the Malay race, there is a sizeeable and economically dominant Chinese minority. With a population of 100 million, it is expanding at a rapid clip of 2% per year, one of the fastest in Asia. The median age is only 22.5, almost a quarter live in, or around Manila and is becoming increasingly urban.
Environment. The 7107 tropical islands are typically composed of jungle, a critter infested interior, and a sandy coastline flanked by aquamarine waters and coral reef. More populated islands have less jungle and more farmland. There are over 10,000 species of trees, bushes and ferns including 900 species of orchid. 25% is forested but only a small percentage of that is primary tropical rainforest. Many animal species are endangered.
National Parks comprise about 10% of the country but most lack park offices, huts, trail maps and sometimes even trails. There are strict environmental laws on the books but they aren’t enforced.
Only 1% of the coral reefs are pristine and more than 50% unhealthy. The biggest culprit of reef damage is silt washed down form the hills often logged illegally. This causes flooding and landslides (one in Feb, 2006 killed more than 1000 in southern Leyte. Dyanamite and cyanide fishing are common.
Climate, It is hot thoughout the year with brief respites possible from December through February. Most of the country is dry from November to May but this is flipped and the south east. Typhoons are common from June to early December.
Money. The unit of currency is the peso, variously worth about 45 to the $US. Change is often hard to come by so keep those small bills.
Dangers. Most of the dangers are environmental – typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and landslides. Avoid weather hot-spots. Central and southwest Mindanao see frequent clashes between the army and Muslim separatist groups.
Visas are issued on arrival for 21 days free of charge. Often onward airline tickets need to be shown at immigration on arrival.