The Island World of the Philippines

A few days ago I knew very little about the Philippines.  If asked, I would have said it was a group of islands in the South Asian seas, and the home of very nice people, if the staff in my seniors’ residence are anything to go by!  But that was a few days ago . . .

How It All Started

Marnelli is serving our table.  She is a small, cheerful, friendly individual who moves quickly.  I make a casual query about the Philippines.

“Which of those many islands is your home, Marnelli?”

She tries to answer.  Seeing that we do not understand she laughs and says, “I’ll be back.” 

Later in our meal she comes by our table and drops a note. “Here it is, my home address.  That’s a starting point.”

She hustles off on her duties.  I look at the piece of paper she hands me and read aloud:

Visayas Region
E.B. Magalona
Negros Occidental

My tablemates and I look at one another and laugh.  Someone says, “That may explain everything, but I certainly don’t get it!”

More Questions

The search is on.  Marnelli probably does not realize how sketchy my knowledge is of her homeland.  My questions caused surprised looks from her, and her answers are equally surprising for me.

“When did your ancestors come to the Philippines?”

“We have always been there!  We are island people.”

“Marnelli – You know that can’t be right.  People don’t grow out of soil.  You need people to produce people.  From where, and when, did your people come to these islands?

“Search me, Marj – I stick to what I said, we have always been here!  For many, many years we’ve had ‘unwanted callers.’  They push themselves in against our wishes.  They aren’t welcome.  This is our home, and they try to claim it.”

I leave our dining room and go to my suite and my computer.  For several days now I have been searching, learning, collecting theories, and being continually surprised.  It is time to summarize what I have discovered.  Probably I am not alone in the sketchiness of my knowledge of The Island World of the Philippines.

My knowledge is still pretty skimpy, far from complete, but it’s a start, as Marnelli said when she gave me her home address!

Summary of Facts, Ancient History, & Theories and Guesses

In the Western Pacific Sea about five hundred miles off the southeast coast of Asia there is an archipelago.  It consists of seven thousand islands, some very small, some large.  Only one third of these have registered names.  The islands are of volcanic origin, and some of today’s islands still have live volcanoes.  Several have mountain ranges.  The name of this archipelago is the Philippines, and that serves for the name of the country as well.  The modern capital is the city of Manila.  There are two official languages: Filipino and English.

The modern country of The Philippines, and the Filipino people are both well known today.  Getting a grasp of their origin is another matter: information and theories contradict each other.  Here’s an example of what I encountered.

The first aboriginal inhabitants arrived in the Philippines about 25,000 B.C., most likely from mainland Asia.  They were followed by waves of Indonesian and Malayan settlers.  This was stated as a known fact, and was accepted as such.

Probably the only faulty thing in the above information is the assumption that the waves of various settlers were the first humans to come to the Philippines.  Then, about ten years ago, there was a fascinating archeological discovery: fossilized remains of the Callao Man of Cagayan, and the Angono Petroglyphs in Riza.

It is estimated that Callao Man lived, and the Angono Petroglyphs were made, 67,000 years B.C!  These significant scientific discoveries were made about twenty years ago, and required a radical change in the charting of human life in those prehistoric years.  Both finds suggest the presence of human settlements much earlier than previously thought: 42,000 years earlier, to be exact!  This shows human settlements in the Islands much earlier than the arrival of the Negritos and Austronesian-speaking people.

I find five different theories for the origins of the Filipino people, none of which are proven and all of which were the best that people could do with the information they had at the time.  But finding Callao Man—an indisputable fact—greatly changed the dating of human settlements in the Philippines.  Yet the question remains of where he originated.

No matter where they came from, by 1000 B.C. the inhabitants had developed into four distinct tribal groups; Aetas, Hanunoo, Llongots, and Mangyan.  By the early A.D. period, the seafaring people of the islands travelled in balanguys to trade with the Indianized kingdoms in the Malay Archipelago and nearby East Asian principalities.  They came into contact with Buddhism and Hinduism.  Some of these beliefs were carried back to the Philippines and became a part of their culture.

The years and the centuries slid by.  Life for the Island people changed.  The story moved from prehistoric people, to those in a world where history is recorded.  At first it was transferred through generations by word of mouth, and eventually by the written word.

14th Century A.D.

By now there was extensive trade with India, Indonesia, China, Japan and others.  The life of the Filipinos was no longer confined to the seven thousand islands.  Trying to keep some measure of control over their own lives and homes was difficult.  It was a lucrative business for the world powers to drain the Islands for their own benefit, and they did.

About 1521 A.D.

Spain entered the arena and controlled the Philippine Islands for the next 350 years.  Indeed, the Spaniards considered that they owned the Islands.  When Spain lost the Spanish-American War, they were forced to cede the Philippines to the USA.

American Control, and Relationships with the Philippines

The Americans took over the ceded Islands, and started with some of the same ownership attitudes the Spanish held.  Relationships with the Filipinos were rocky – rebellion from the people results in a war.  Over the years, things improved somewhat, but the US has full control until 1934.  During WWII the Japanese drove out General Douglas MacArthur and the Philippines endured occupation by the Japanese: tough times for the Islanders.  On July 4th, 1946 the USA signed the Treaty of Manila, which granted full independence to the Philippines.

And They Lived Happily Ever After!

It would be nice if that were completely true, but this is real life we are talking about.  As more than one country will testify, it is easier to be elected than to govern.  For the Philippines it was a long difficult road to independence, and then they had to learn how to govern.  They have had some notable success, as well as some notable failures, continuing to struggle with old problems:

  • Extensive ownership of land and/or resources by the rich, or by foreign sources
  • Pollution so severe in some areas that locals are short of drinking water or fishing spots
  • Widespread corruption to the extent that it is expected that you will bribe if you want to get anything thing done, even by the police
  • Severe shortage of employment for locals in rural areas

Despite all this, the people seem to be happy, loving and optimistic.  They are also realistic about their options:

  • They can stay at home and scratch out a living doing anything available.
  • They can go to a big city and join those competing for a job.
  • They can get a job on a cruise ship and seldom see their family, but be able to send some money home.
  • Finally, they can join what is called “The Philippine Diaspora,” emigrating to another country to live. This means seldom seeing your beloved homeland, probably sending money back to help your family, and making the hard adjustment to a different culture and world.

My interest in the Philippines has steadily grown as my accumulation of information has grown.  The people I know long ago earned their spot in my heart.  Yesterday, Marnelli was answering still more of my questions when she said, “Come to the library, I have something to show you.”

She went to a computer and with a skill that amazed me, showed me where she grew up, went to school, lived and played – using a program whereby you felt you were really there.  I saw her old school, the countryside, the huge spread of the rice field and sugar cane farms owned by the rich.  She zoomed in and picked out the spot where her family’s small home was, and the road she walked to school.  Never again will I wonder what the Philippines looks like.  I visited it yesterday afternoon.

Later in the day I saw her working at the front desk.

“Marnelli – you spent a long time with me.  Did it cause you any trouble?”

“Of course not.  I told them Marj needed help with her essay!”

No wonder I consider Filipinos to be among my friends!  I believe that the years ahead will see them happily advancing down their new road. Hats off to them!!

A Very Final Fact

Filipinos are proud to be the only Christian nation in Asia. The statistics are:

  • 86% Roman Catholic
  • 2% various Protestant denominations
  • 6% nationalized Christian cults

 I prepared this study out of personal interest, a wish to increase my knowledge, and because of the respect I hold for ALL those who work in this Manor to make it my home.


Filed under This & That

10 Responses to The Island World of the Philippines

  1. Eveline Goodall

    Hi Marjorie,

    Well now I know a great deal more about the Philippines! I am so pleased that you have such pleasant staff at Amica.

    I write from Ghent in Belgium. I am travelling with 2 friends from my UofA days. That is 52 years ago now but we have been travelling together again since we turned 60–about every two years. We were in Haarlem for 5 days and did side trips fro there. it is about 38 km outside Amsterdam. Tomorrow we got to Brugges and then back to Amsterdam for a couple of days before I fly once more to Rwanda. I will be doing more sexual health work and helping to establish a business for a women’s cooperative. I will tell you more about that another time. Maybe I will fly out to visit you face to face. I will be back in Canada June 7–that is my body will be back in Canada. The rest of me will take many days to catch up. Much love.Eveline

    • Marjorie

      Nice to hear from you, Eveline, and glad you are still following my blog. It is good to have you back in this country. When you can, contact me on my personal email or phone, and we’ll catch up.

  2. Judith

    Wonderful!! I love the line “Never again will I wonder what the Philippines looks like. I visited it yesterday afternoon.”

    • Marjorie

      Judith – It was quite exciting to have Marnelli use that program and zoom in over the very small town where she grew up, and then over the surrounding countryside. And almost no jobs available. A difficult political situation.

  3. Susan McCalla

    Dear Marjorie,
    Thank you so much for your wonderful, informative and entertaining read on The Philippines. I have learned so much.

    I so love your inquisitive mind and your creative spirit that allows the rest of us to read these delightful muses on life and people.
    As always so nice to read your thoughts!


    • Marjorie

      Thanks, Susan – This was quite a learning experience for me, and I enjoyed the search. What a different part of the world.

  4. Brenda Wallace

    Happy Tuesday, dear friend.
    I enjoyed your essay and, yes, it gave me a better understanding of that land so far away. Our SUZIE PEREZ was a wonderful companion to my folks during their time at the Wentworth. I remember her standing between my mom and dad during a family celebration, attending to their every need well before they requested assistance. She was just one of the team who provided TLC to my folks over the years.

    • Marjorie

      Brenda – Thank you for your comments. You have experienced first hand the help and comfort that can be given by a dedicated companion to the people who need it as well as their families. The Filipinos are among others who search out this type of work. We owe them all our grateful appreciation.

  5. Susan Schofield

    Dear Marjorie,
    Thank you for your very interesting article on the Philippines. Although I have never been there, I have encountered many on the few cruise ships that I have been on. They are always so kind and are mostly employed in the dining room as waiters or cleaning the state rooms. Our mutual friend Beth Hatlelid and her
    husband Lloyd worked there for many years and loved it.

    • Marjorie

      Sue – I am very pleased that you enjoyed the essay on the Philippines. It was very informative for me to do the research. Such a long and often troubled history they’ve had. May the future be easier than the past.