Welcome to the Philippines! If you are visiting, or at least plan on visiting, you are on the way to discovering one of the most distinct and unique countries in the world! From it’s rich cultural history, to it’s beautiful natural and man-made attractions, or to just how differently things are done in the country, there is literally something for everyone in the Philippines. It’s just like what the slogan says; It’s more fun in the Philippines!
Philippine written history began with the colonization of the isles by Spanish conquistadors. Before then, the islands had their own separate governments called ‘barangays.’ The barangay system continues at the local level where towns and villages are often classified as such.
The first thing that strikes the tourist visiting the isles is the overall vibrancy of everything. Filipinos have their own way of doing things that can often leave the uninitiated totally surprised. From the dessert halo-halo that is composed of everything under the sun, to the balut that may seem very unappetizing at first, to the colourful jeepney that plies the city streets, everything is done the Filipino way. That’s just the way it is here!
Philippines is known for its international moniker, Pearl of the Orient Seas. This moniker reminds every Filipino that their history is as rich as a rare and elegant pearl. On this article about the Philippine history, let us try to understand how Philippines evolved itself.
Philippines got its name from the name of a Spanish king during the 16th century, King Philip II. The rich history of the country is usually associated with the era of the Spain’s colonization of the then-unknown archipelago, which lasted for more than 300 years. But the truth is that centuries before the Spaniards came, Philippines had one of the most advanced civilizations. Historians agreed that natives had organized system of government, trading activities and religious ceremonies before becoming a colony. The ancient government in the country was organized by 40 to 100 families and was called baranggay. A baranggay had a leader and accompanied by his associates. They also have their respective priests called babaylan. Some experts say that during that time, women were treated on high regards and perhaps, there are conclusions that the ancient Philippines was a matriarchal society because women could become a head of baranggay or a leader of religious rites. Others suggest that egalitarian society was present on that era.
Everything changed when the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan started in 1519. Magellan ‘discovered’ Philippines in 1521 and converted the natives to Catholicism. The people in the island of Sugbu (now known as Cebu) were the first Catholics in the country. King Humabon (who was named Carlos after the baptism) and her wife received a large cross and an image of child Jesus as a symbol of their conversion. The cross and the child image are still preserved up to the present. Although, Magellan and his troops were cordially accepted by the Sugbu natives, resistance was evident in the nearby island. The Spaniards tried to soften such resistance but they failed and it led to the death of Magellan and other members, leaving them with just less than 20 men. Magellan expedition began with 250 crews. The next expedition was headed by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in 1565. Being the first governor-general (leader of the colony) of the Philippines, he established an organized government and gained loyalty even from the natives. This colonization always stood on the objectives of the Western power, the 3 G’s: God, Gold, Glory. For more than three centuries, Spanish imbibed the traditions of Catholicism like celebrating fiesta and religious procession. Mode of dressing, games and other customs changed the Filipinos way of thinking.
For long period of time, no one expected that Spain would be leaving their colony. Due to the changing world power, the Spanish conquerors lost their controls over their colonies in many parts of the world. The United States of America assumed world power. US bought the Philippines from the Spain. This event was unknown on the part of the Filipinos that is why they celebrated independence in June 12, 1898. United States introduced their intention of occupying the country by capturing the first president of the nation, Emilio Aguinaldo. For more than 40 years, the Americans reorganized the system of living of the Filipinos, far from what they have learned from the Spaniards. The perspective of the people changed in terms of modernization and international etiquettes. The changes contributed by the Americans are still observable up to this time, although Spanish traditions are still in the aura. The Americans helped the Philippines to be independent. They give the Filipino public servants the pattern of an organized government, mainly blueprinted in democracy. During the Second World War, Japanese Axis forces (1942-1945) occupied the country but it was short-live. By July 4, 1946, the Philippines gained their real independence from foreign control.
Challenge for Independence
The challenge of standing by your own feet was not easy for the country. For several decades, Philippines stood up to many struggles which resulted to the creation of five different republics. Each republic represented a particular constitution. The first republic (1898) was formed with Malolos Constitution (Malolos is a town in Bulacan province, Philippines), led by Gen. Aguinaldo. The second was the Commonwealth, supported during the time of the American. In July 1946, the third republic was installed, Manuel A. Roxas being the president. The fourth republic was during the time of the dictator, Ferdinand E. Marcos. He initiated the drafting of a new constitution in 1972, aiming to create a new society. The fifth and present republic began (1986) during the time of President Corazon Aquino, the mother of current president, Benigno S. Aquino III.
During the third republic, Philippines began its journey as an independent state by reparation from the damages brought by World War II and slowly by slowly, healed itself. Filipino people were able to praise their national leaders because of their dedication as public servants. One example was Ramon Magsaysay (term: 1953-1957) who achieved the title, “Champion of the Masses” as he captured the hearts of his countrymen.
In 1960s, Philippines became the second most progressive country in Asia, after Japan. The economy was alive. In other fields, Filipinos became famous, especially in sports. Basketball and boxing were sports dominated by the Filipino athletes. The proofs of the nation’s independence was evident during those times.
In 1972, an announcement from the president struck the whole nation. The president, who was Marcos, declared the infamous Martial Law as ‘protection’ from civil disobedience made by the militants. The proclamation lasted for almost 20 years, which initially should just last for 60 days. During those years, the Philippines became ‘peaceful’ yet horrible country in terms of economy. By the time Marcos was thrown out, the economy of the Philippines was one of the poorest in Asia.
Corazon Aquino took over as the president of the Philippines, although she had no political background. She was the wife of the political martyr, Benigno Aquino Jr. The lady Aquino led the drafting of the new constitution which is until now serving the whole citizenry. The country continued to struggle as an independent nation.
After Aquino administration, four presidents have served from 1992 up to present, namely, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo and the son of Corazon, Benigno III. At the present, Filipino continues to fight for justice and against corruption.
To understand the Philippine people, you must understand their history. Their history is a history of colonization by the Spanish and the Americans and a brief period of independence before the two countries colonized them.
The Spanish brought Catholicism to the isles and the Americans brought English and the democratic system of government. These influences combined with the original Malay culture, created a very vibrant national culture and identity. The modern product is a nation of people who are fluent in English, religious, and very helpful and polite to a fault. Filipinos are very slow to anger, and eager to help anyone in need. They are also very articulate and outspoken.
The Catholic religion has given the Filipinos a deep religiosity that is imbedded in the national consciousness. This was most evident during Pope Francis’ recent visit. Huge crowds greeted him and as one newspaper described it he was given ‘Rockstar treatment.’ A typical Filipino is very religious and prayerful often never missing Sunday Mass. This religiosity further reinforces the Filipinos’ deep love for family ties. Filipino families are often very closely knit. Children have deep bonds with parents and sometimes do not even leave home, even when they can. They also often take care of their aging parents personally instead of handing them over to a nursing home.
The best Filipino trait tourists often enjoy is the Filipinos’ overflowing hospitality and friendliness. Filipinos are known all over the world for being very accommodating to visitors. It is not uncommon to hear tourists moved by the Filipinos’ hospitality. Even Pope Francis himself commented that the Filipinos touched his heart deeply. The old 80’s boy band Menudo even made a song about the Filipino people’s hospitality. It was called; ‘I left my heart in the Philippines.’
The Philippines is currently divided into 81 provinces which comprise the League of Provinces of the Philippines. Each province is governed by a governor and a legislature that is designated through election. This is called the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. The National Capital Region (NCR) which houses Metro Manila and Malacanang, the President’s seat of power, is an exception and does not have a provincial government.
Aside from the NCR, significant provinces north of the country include Bulacan, Cavite, Batangas, and the Ilocos regions. Cavite is the area where independence was first declared by Emilio Aguinaldo, and Ilocos is the home province of former president Ferdinand Marcos.
Down south, the notable provinces are Cebu, Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur and other Mindanao provinces.
Major cities include former capital Quezon city, current capital Manila, Cebu city, Makati city, and Davao city. Makati city is the country’s financial district while Davao city is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It is also home to the native Durian fruit and the national bird, the Philippine Eagle. Manila is the most historic city in the country, dating back to the Spanish era and housing Intramuros and Malacanang.
Travelling in the Philippines
Perhaps one of the most memorable parts of a trip through the Philippines is travelling in the country itself. Getting from point A to point B has never been more unique and distinctly Filipino!
The visiting tourist will find that there is more than enough local airlines to ferry him or her to the various island destinations from Boracay to Palawan. If travelling by air is not your thing, there are also a lot of local ferries that can take you to the islands by sea. The way by sea can be a sightseeing delight. It is not uncommon to spot some dolphins or a giant tortoise ( locally known as a ‘pawikan’ ) swimming beside the ferry.
But perhaps the most creative and Filipino way to travel is by land. The undisputed king of the Philippine roads is the jeepney. Riding one of these things is a unique experience indeed!
The jeepney is a product of Filipino resourcefulness. It was a product borne from all the US military jeeps left over from World War 2. Instead of discarding them as junk, the Filipinos converted them for domestic use.
Since then, the jeepney has literally taken over all the major highways in the country. They are often gaudily designed with all sorts of paintings, drawings, and decorations. They also offer the cheapest form of public transportation. Because of this it has become the most frequently used mode of transportation.
Many of it’s critics believe that it must be phased out due to the increasing traffic and air pollution of the city. Others suggest that it be modernized for the times and converted. An E-jeepney, a more eco-friendly version of the jeepney has been proposed. Whatever the result, the jeepney has become a longtime symbol of the country.
A country with more than 7,000 islands, Philippines is haven for sun worshippers and beach lovers. And with its rich history with the vibrant blend of Chinese, Malay, Spanish, among others – you’ll discover a unique culture in the Philippines. For most intrepid global travelers, Philippines reminds you of Latin America. After all, the country was under Spanish rule for more than 300 years and a stronghold of Christianity – the biggest Catholic nation in Asia.
Due to its archipelagic nature, each region in the country has their own flavor. The stunning landscape and preserve history in Luzon, the pristine beaches in the Visayas, and the unique blend of cultures in Mindanao. Due to security reasons brought by Islamic terrorism, traveling to Mindanao is prohibited.
This Asian country is easy to navigate even for first-time visitors. Used to be American territory, English is widely spoken. Even in the rural areas, locals can speak a little English – very convenient for visitors.
A warm country, Philippines offers all year-round exploration. Meeting locals is one of the best things one should experience. Known for their friendliness, rooted in their culture is their warm hospitality. This is one of the main reasons why visitors keep coming back to Philippines – the feeling of home among locals.
You can see the Taal Vulcano on the picture below. It is the second most active volcano in the Philippines with 33 historical eruptions. All of these eruptions are concentrated on Volcano Island, an island near the middle of Taal Lake.
A presidential decree gave way for every town in the Philippines to have its own festivals to help promote local tourism. Philippine festivals are marked with lots of food, street dancing, flamboyant costumes, in a midst of various religious activities like processions and church vigils. These fiestas were created by Spanish friars to attract the locals in the mountains and to join the fun and in the end, to convert to Christianity.
Festivals or fiestas are big events in the Philippines. It is one of the many reasons people go home and family reunions are always held. Every household must prepare a feast and accommodate everyone – whether they know him or her or not.
Festivals also draw many tourists – to enjoy the fun and to immerse to local culture. The main festivals are those in the Visayan region, honoring the Holy Child Jesus, Santo Niño. There are two main festivals – the one in Cebu called Sinulog and in Kalibo, the Ati-Atihan Festival.
Other festivals to check out are Baguio City’s Panangbenga Festival (similar to California’s Rose Parade), Bacolod City’s MassKara Festival (prompts you of the Carnival of Venice), and Davao City’s Kadawayan Festival.
On the picture you can see the MassKara Festival. This festival is held every year in the third week of October in Bacolod. You see people wearing masks with smiling faces and dancing and music in the streets
What to know about the Philippines
To make sure that your visit is not just enjoyable but hassle-free, there are some important facts that you have to know like money and power compatibility. Traveling means bringing along your important gadgets from laptops to phones.
Philippine power is 220 volts at 60 Hertz using symmetric attachment plugs. These plugs are US-Style with flat blades. Most electronics, like those from Europe -that uses 220 -240 volts at 50 Hertz- may need to have an adapter to make them work while in the Philippines. Before you book, inquire from your hotel if they offer power plug adapters in their rooms to make your stay more comfortable.
Since Philippines has a higher voltage, be careful to avoid damaging your gadget. The good news though is that most laptops automatically adjust to the voltage. Better yet, the next time you buy electronics, choose those with universal/dual voltage.
Philippine peso is the local currency. As a country with the most number of overseas workers, foreign exchange shops are scattered everywhere especially in big cities like Manila, Cebu and in popular destinations like Boracay and Palawan. You can easily convert your own local currency (no need to buy US dollar) at the airport or in malls. Some banks also offer these services. Be careful when converting your currency in black markets, the exchange may be high but the risk of receiving fake money is high.
With different influences, sampling local cuisine is a must in the Philippines. Filipinos often say their cuisine is a mix of Spanish and Chinese but in general, Philippine food is sour-based and sometime too salty. Their national dish, sinigang, broth of meat or shrimp in tamarind soup while another dish, adobo is braised pork or chicken (or both) in soy sauce and vinegar sauce.
Dining in Philippines is not a problem. You don’t have to be stuck with local food since there are restaurants serving international cuisine. For fast-food, do not be shocked to see rice in their menu…or restaurants offering unlimited rice.
The best time to travel to the Philippines is from October to March. The weather is perfect and it is cooler – these are also the coldest in most countries, thus a perfect time to avoid winter! During the summer months of late March-early June, beaches and other attractions can be packed with local tourists on their school holidays. July to September is also monsoon season – frequent rains and even typhoons.
Healthcare in the Philippines
Philippines is the top “exporter” when it comes to medical labor with thousands of medical practitioners from nurses to doctors migrating from the Philippines to other countries. With this, healthcare in the country is not an issue especially if you are traveling in cities.
Majority of medical practitioners speaks good English, giving you assurance in case of emergencies or sickness. They are highly trained, with most of them spent some time in the US for their practice.
Philippine hospitals are either public or private. In terms of standards, public hospitals in the Philippines are staffed with outstanding doctors, but the main concern is the facilities. Hence, it is more advisable to ask for medical treatment in a private hospital where modern equipment and facilities are present. Cost is relatively affordable for non-Filipinos.
If you need some medicines, pharmacies are easy to fine in the Philippines as stand alone stores or conveniently located in malls. In major cities, there are quite a number of drugstores that are open 24/7. Philippines is very strict with prescription drugs – you to visit a doctor, write the prescription and present it to the pharmacies upon purchase.
Communication in the Philippines
With the advancement of modern communications, getting in touch with Philippines from overseas is mostly via emails or chat like Skype. Many establishments have Wi-Fi while it is easy to find an Internet café. Most hotels also have their own business centers with computer and Internet connection. Still, it is not that hard anymore to call the Philippines. Though most people are more comfortable communicating through emails, you can contact Philippines easily by phone.
Philippines’ country code is 63, then add the one or two digit area code (“2” for Manila and “32” for Cebu) and then the local number. Depending on your home country, you may need to dial an exit code; for example if you are calling from the US, you need to dial “011”. If you are calling a mobile phone in the Philippines, dial 63 then start with “9”, omitting the first “0” digit of the number. The total digits for landline after dialing the country code should only be between 8-9 (including the area code) and 10 digits for a mobile phone.
There are many mobile carriers in the country led by Globe and Smart followed by Sun Mobile (mostly in Cebu) and Talk n Text. It is easy to have a temporary cellphone in the Philippines since majority of the population are on prepaid. You can buy load credits for your phone for as little as $.50!
Traveling to the Philippines whether you are for a short or long-term trip is very easy. The country is used in hosting international tourists and you will surely feel at home after a day or two. The wide usage of the English language in the Philippines is a major factor for the comfort and convenience of international tourists.