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
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.
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%
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%
Women parliamentarians: 25% (compared to 17% for Canada)
Sources: A Third World Guide. Instituto del Tercer Mundo (Third World
The Oxfam Handbook of Development and Relief, Human Development Report
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