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.
PHILIPPINES – THE STORM
On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, resetting all record books. Starting in the western Pacific, it was clear long before it came ashore, that if would be different. In anticipation, some 800,000 people were evacuated from their homes in the central Philippines, which sat directly in the path of the storm. But there was no way of preparing for its power. At its height, Haiyan was off the charts, registering 8.1 on the 8-point Dvorak scale used to measure theintensity of tropical cyclones based on satellite data. The storm was more than 300 miles wide. Unlike most other tropical storms, which weaken before they hit land, Haiyan struck the central Philippines near peak strength, with sustained winds estimated at 195 miles per hour and gusts up to 230 m.p.h. If confirmed, that would make Haiyan the most powerful tropical storm ever recorded to make landfall.
The islands of Leyte, Samar, Cebu and Panay were lashed by winds and rain and inundated by a coastal storm surge, reportedly in excess of 16 feet at Tacloban on Leyte. Haiyan’s strength and the wall of seawater it broughht ashore overwhelmed the Philippine government’s disaster preparations. Officials put the death toll at around 2,500, a figure many aid workers believe is too low, while some 670,000 Filipinos have been displaced. The economic cost of the storm could be as much as $14 billion. But after a disaster of this scale, accurate numbers can take days, if not weeks, to tally as rescuers pick their way to isolated coastal villages cut off form the world. The UN estimates that over 9.5 million people were affected by Haiyan.
Tacloban was ground-zero for the devastation. Roads were strewn with downed power lines and tin roofs. Hungry children had outstretched hands carrying homemade signs that read only HELP. Closer to the city, haphazard piles of debris and corpses were visible – some in body bags, and some exposed on the sodden ground. Lines of battered survivors carried water bottles and backpacks, waiting for handouts of food and water. Many survivors were left with little more than their lives. In Dsanbantayan, a cluster of villages on the northern tip of Cebu Island, west of Tacloban, damage was just as bad.
Slowly, too slowly, aid began to reach the worst-hit areas, some of it from the US military, which dispatched naval ships to the area, including an aircraft carrier. But getting help to people has proved extraordinarily difficult. Seaports have been obliterated, roads destroyed and airstrips badly damaged. In Tacloban, where food and water were running low, damage to the airport meant that pilots have been forced to land by sight, slowing the pace of deliveries. Disease will spread from the lack of sanitation and from the bodies left out in the open. Frustration on the ground grew and soldiers struggled to maintain control. The secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross had never seen people so desperate to get food.
Haiyan’s sheer power ensured that the storm would be deadly, but other factors contributed to the calamity. The Philippines sits in the Tornado Alley of typhoons – from 5-10 hit the country annually on average, and about half of the strongest typhoons, hurricanes and tropical cyclones measured at landfall over the past 10 years have hit there. The intense winds coupled with the narrow shape of the bay funneled a tremendous storm surge into Tacloban, inundating a city of 220,000, leaving no safe place for evacueen to flee.
Nature’s wrath was compounded by man-made issues like extreme poverty and rapid poplation growth in the Philippines, much of it in vulnerable coastal areas, ensuring that more people and property would be in harm’s way. A 2012 report named the Philipines as the third most vulnerable nation to climate-change effects. The damage could have been even worse had the storm hit low-lying Manila, with its metro population fo 12 million. In cities like Tacloban – which has nearly tripled in populationover the past 40 years – many houses have wooden walls and grass roofs, which provide no shelter from a storm. While the Philippines has been enjoying rapid economic growth recently, it has invested too little in hard infrastructure. It has far lower percentage of paved roads than its neighbors and low score in fixed phone lines and electricity access. These basic failures turn a natural disaster into a total catastrophe.
Haiyan was so terrible, people looked at climate change as another culprit. As sea and air temperatures increase, tropical storms potentially have more energy to draw, making them stronger and more deadly. In truth, global warming likely played only a small role, if any, in turbocharging the storm. While sea-level rise, which has been increasing faster in most of the Philippines than the global average, would have added slightly to the massive storm surge, and warmer temperatures might have given it a bit more power, the typhoon would have been devastating in the absence of climate change. The link between golbal warming and tropical-storm strength and frequency is still muddy, especially in the Pacific, where poor historical records of past storms make it more difficult to know if things reallh are getting worse. But scientist have more confidence about the decades ahead if global warming can’t be curbed – stronger tropical storms. They knew the storm was coming in Tacloban, but weren’t prepared for the storm surge.