philippines flag red white blue yellow

Country of the Week: The Philippines

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

This week we’ve made the trip all the way to Southeast Asia to visit the Philippines. With one of the most unique histories and cultures in the region, it’s truly a country like no other.

  • Capital: Manila
  • Largest City: Quezon City
  • Population (2016): 102,593,100 (12th)
  • Total Area: 300,000 km² (73rd)
  • Official Languages: Filipino, English
  • Currency: Philippine peso (₱) (PHP)
philippines island boat water beach

The Philippines is home to miles and miles of beautiful coastline

History

The early days of Filipino history were a complicated web of different societies all at various stages of advancement. Among the most successful were those that took advantage of the geographic position by turning their focus to the sea, thus becoming maritime states. It wasn’t until the late Middle Ages (in European terms) that distinct powers began to rise and Filipino civilization truly flourished. These included the Kedatuan of Madja-as, the Rajahnate of Cebu, the Kingdom of Tondo, and many more. For years they fought and traded, turning the land into a regional hub of commerce and culture.

In the 1300’s, the Islamic faith came to the archipelago and soon multiple Sultanates were established. As a result, the Philippines were home to a wide array of different cultures and faiths. This diversity would increase greatly in the 1500’s with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan (who while Portuguese, claimed Spanish colonial ownership over the islands). Soon after, the Spanish began to found settlements along the coast, incorporating many regions and their inhabitants into the vast Spanish Empire while coming into conflict chiefly with the Islamic societies.

For nearly three centuries, Spain ruled in the Philippines and, despite numerous rebellions, brought a measure of unity to the previously fractured land. In the latter years of colonization, the country began trading with far-off nations – resulting in the sudden wealth of many merchants and traders.

As is the case with most colonies, calls for independence eventually became too loud to ignore. While initially the ire was directed at the Spanish, it soon passed to the Americans who were granted control of the Philippines following their victory in the Spanish-American War. After an attempt to form its own government, the Philippines was defeated by the US – following which many regions deemed troublesome were suppressed.

In 1935, the Philippines took a step towards full independence when it was granted the status of Commonwealth. Though things were looking up, World War II proved devastating for the country. Invaded by Japan, the islands soon became a key battleground between the US and the Empire. By the end of the war, over 1 million Filipinos had died.

Following the war, the Philippines immediately became a founding member of the UN and were granted full independence less than a year later. After various power struggles and pockets of communist resistance weakened the government, Ferdinand Marcos was elected President in 1965. About to lose power in 1972, he declared martial law and continued to rule as a dictator for many years. Eventually he fled the country after a fraudulent election provoked the wrath of the populace. Marcos’s legacy remains a tricky one to define. He was responsible for the repression of opposition, human rights violations, and took vast sums of wealth for his personal gain, though some view him as a benevolent dictator who helped advance the status of the Philippines on an international scale.

The return of democracy in 1986 also came with a wide array of domestic problems (including separatists, insurgencies, economic hardship, and more). While economic growth was turned around, the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 impacted the Philippines harshly. Since then the country has recovered and generally experienced solid growth. While problems such as widespread corruption and an ongoing struggle against Islamists remain, the Philippines can be considered a success story in the Southeast Asian region.

rice fields philippines mist mountains

Rice fields like this are found throughout the country

Culture

The Philippines is one of the more unique countries in Southeast Asia culturally speaking. While there is a distinct Filipino culture that has been cultivated through centuries of tradition, years of colonialism have resulted in many Spanish and American influences. Nearby countries have also impacted the Filipino way of life, including China, Malaysia, and many others. Throw in a high amount of Islamic migration to the islands and you have one of the most diverse countries in the world.

The Philippines are also known for a unique system of values. These are generally based around acceptance into a group and social harmony. Other important values are kinship, friendship, optimism with regards to the future (with a healthy dose of pessimism to the present), and faith (among others).

Cuisine in the Philippines is as diverse as its cultural influences are plentiful. Dishes are generally similar in nature to nearby countries, though slightly less spicy. In addition, Western utensils are used instead of chopsticks.

Many different sports have found an audience in the Philippines including basketball, soccer, American football, rugby, and various martial arts. Overall however, it’s basketball that commands the most interest. In addition, boxing has garnered a wide audience predominantly due to the success of boxer-cum-Congressman Manny Pacquiao.

food seafood philippines fish vegetables

An example of a Filipino style meal

Geography

The Philippines is made up of 7,107 different islands of varying size. These islands are divided into three groups – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Unsurprisingly this has resulted in miles of coastline – the 5th highest in the world to be exact. The islands are volcanic, with mountainous terrain commonplace throughout the Philippines. Beyond this, many islands are dominated by large swathes of tropical rainforest.

There are also many large cities found throughout the Philippines that house the country’s large population. The largest is Quezon City (nearly 3 million people) with the capital Manila in second. Other cities numbering over 1 million are Caloocan and Davao City.

city manila philippines dusk light skyscrapers

Manila – the capital of the Philippines

Did you know?

  • The name of the country comes from King Philip II of Spain
  • The karaoke machine was invented by a Filipino (though they failed to patent it and the Japanese can take credit for that)
  • The flag’s position varies. The red is on the top during war, blue for peacetime
  • It is considered the texting capital of the world
  • The world’s longest snake (reticulated python) can be found in the Philippines
  • It’s the only country in Asia considered Christian
  • The ancient yo-yo was initially used as weapon
  • It’s rude to open gifts right after you get them in the Philippines
  • Cockfighting remains popular in the country
  • Notable Filipinos (or people of Filipino descent) include: Manny Pacquiao (boxer), Bruno Mars (singer), Rob Schneider (actor), and David Alaba (soccer player)
boat river philippines jungle water

Boating down the river in Bohol

Last Word

It’s hard to deny that the Philippines long history has helped craft what is one of the most unique and diverse countries in Asia. Stay tuned for more this week as we travel to the country’s must-see destinations and learn more about its currency.

Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE).

Stay informed. Stay Current.