The Philippines


The Philippines was born of water and fire. Its seven thousand islands of

volcano and reef rim Asia's storied southeast, north of the Spice Islands

(Indonesia), south of Cathay (China), east of the Khmer and the Mekong

headlands (Indochina). The vast South Pacific washes its eastern shores,

bringing typhoons (storms), and, in centuries past, waves of invaders

seeking spices, gold, converts and markets. Filipinos are the children of

many migrations, of the indigenous Aeta, Igorot and Malay, of later Chinese

and Indian traders, of the invading Spanish and American.


Land. Volcanoes dominate the land. Luzon, Mindanao, Samar, Panay, Negros and

Cebu are the largest and most populated islands. The country's combined

coastlines are longer than that of continental United States. Rainforests,

once covering much of the land, house a diversity of plant and animal life,

including one of the world's most majestic eagles. Inland seas and corral

reefs teem with aquatic life. The mountains hide rich deposits of gold and

silver. Fertile plains are grown to rice, corn and coconut, the staple

foods, and increasingly to crops that bring foreign exchange - sugar,

tobacco, pineapples, bananas, flowers, gourmet vegetables.


People and History. First to settle the islands were the indigenous Aetas

and Igorots. Then came waves of migrations from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Settlers from Borneo established Islamic communities in Mindanao, the

Visayas and Manila in the 12th century. Lying on the busy South China Sea

trade route, the islands were host to Chinese, and Indian traders.

Ferdinand Magellan landed in 1521 and claimed the islands

for Spain, naming it after King Philip. Lapu-lapu, chieftain of Mactan

killed Magellan in battle. Spain secured possession of the islands in the

1560s, although the Igorots, Aetas and Islamic Mindanao were never fully



Spain made the Philippines their trading post in the lucrative East Asia

market. Gold, although abundant, was not easily extracted as in Peru. Thus,

the Spaniards did not bother to Hispanize the population. Peasant uprisings

erupted continuously during the colonial period but nationalist stirrings

emerged distinctly in the 1870s, led by the local elite and educated

classes. In 1896 the underground organization Katipunan rose up in arms.

Independence was declared on June 12, 1898, making the Philippines Asia's

first republic. However, the United States eyed the islands' strategic

location and vulnerability. In the guise of helping the Filipinos defeat the

Spaniards holed up in Fort Santiago, American forces landed in Manila.

Unknown to the Filipinos, Spain had ceded the country, along with Cuba and

Puerto Rico, to the Americans in the Treaty of Paris.


The subsequent Philippine-American war was particularly ruthless. Although

the leaders of the republic were captured in 1901, guerrilla war continued

well into the next decade. The Americans introduced public education and the

teaching of English. Retaining land ownership patterns and accelerating

export production, they laid the basis for the Philippines' export oriented



The Philippines was a crucial battleground in World War II and was occupied

by the Japanese from 1941 to 1945. Among Allied cities in Asia, Manila was

the most devastated. Before granting independence in 1946, the Americans

ensured their presence by tying up war reparation with the signing of unfair



From 1946 to 1972, government changed hands regularly between the Liberal

and Nationalista parties, both dominated by the landed and urban

manufacturing classes. The rural areas seethed with unrest as peasants and

farm workers agitated for agrarian reform. Ferdinand Marcos won the

presidency in 1965.


National protest erupted in the late 60s and early 70s. A secessionist

rebellion wracked the southern island of Mindanao. Marcos declared martial

law in 1972. His reign would last until 1986. In 1983 exiled opposition

leader Benigno Aquino was murdered upon arrival from America. Protest

swelled. In 1986, Marcos called for an election. After he claimed victory

against Cory, Aquino's widow, amidst massive cheating, opposition groups

declared civil disobedience. Marcos was toppled from power on February 25 1986.


Aquino's presidency was a period of difficult transition to democracy.

Various power groups vied for dominance. The exiled opposition moved to

regain their holdings and acquire those left by Marcos. Military reformers

staged several coups. Social movements advocated for democratic and economic

reforms. The Philippine Senate voted to remove US military bases from

Philippine soil.


Fidel Ramos won the presidency in 1992. He has since pursued economic

reforms to court investments and accelerate economic growth. In August 1996,

he concluded peace talks with the Muslim rebels. Today, the Philippines is

at a crossroads. The economy is growing at a significant pace. But long

standing problems of poverty, political reform and social inequality poverty

remain largely unsolved. Changes are happening at various levels of society,

propelled in a large part by the dynamism of Philippine civil society. More

than 30,000 organizations are active in local development, health delivery,

community education and organizing and institutional and political reform.


Philippine Facts

Population: 67.9 million (1994); Urban 86%

Major cities: Metro Manila (capital), 12 million (1994); Cebu 1.2 million,

Davao 1.1 million

Health. One physician for every 8,120 inhabitants. Safe water access to 70%

of population

Education. Literacy: 94%(male); 93% (female).

Economy. Per capita GDP: US$2,550 (1992) compared to $20,520 for Canada.

Status of Women Women's share of paid economic activity:36% (compared to 49%

in Canada)

Women parliamentarians: 25% (compared to 17% for Canada)


Sources: A Third World Guide. Instituto del Tercer Mundo (Third World

Institute) Montevideo,

The Oxfam Handbook of Development and Relief, Human Development Report

1995, UNDP


Overseas Filipinos


At present there are at least 3 million Filipinos residing or working

overseas. More than one million are in North America. Economically,

overseas Filipinos have become a potent force, claiming more than 10 percent

share of the Philippines gross national product. Present in virtually all

corners of the world, they have helped introduce the Philippines to the

world and establish a global Filipino culture. One important issue overseas

Filipinos face is how to gain more political clout to reflect their economic

contribution. A key advocacy is to win voting rights and legislative



There are more than 25,000 Filipinos in Calgary and area. They are active in

many economic and social sectors. The existence of more than 30 Filipino

associations reflect the diverse regional, religious and political groupings

of the community. The challenge is how to draw unity from this diversity in

order to pursue common concerns and to sustain and strengthen the community

as a distinct social and political force.


by: Cha Cala and Chuchi Antonio