The Philippines

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Puerto Princesa and Manila, Philippines

I have always been curious about the Philippines since my career had me call on many physicians and work with many representatives that were Filipino.  The majority of the Filipino’s I know are kind and thoughtful which made me eager to experience this country.

The Philippines is a conglomeration of greater than 7500 islands.  We were only going to see 2 so bare that in mind.  The Philippines is the 12th most populated country in the world with 100 million people.  It was interesting coming from a very Asian feeling country of Bali to the very Spanish influenced country of the Philippines.  One felt more as if we were in St. Augustine, FL. than in SE Asia.  In 1519 the Philippines were discovered by Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer leading a Spanish fleet. The Philippines were named after the Spanish King Phillip II.  This started the Spanish influence throughout the country.  

During the Spanish occupation the Philippines were the center of trade for Asia.  China and Japan did not want any foreign presence in their countries so the Chinese would send their goods to the Philippines and they would sell these goods to the European countries.  In the late 1800’s when the US was getting tired of the Spanish in Cuba and here, an incident happened that started the Spanish-American War.  In Havana Harbor a navy ship, USS Maine, exploded and sunk in 1898.  Dewey came to the Philippines to fight the Spanish, help the Philippines declare “independence” supposedly and in the end Spain gave up Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico to the US.  

The US and Spain are not the only occupiers of the Philippines though.  During WWII Japan brutally occupied them.  Their prisoner of war camps are still known for this brutality. The Bataan death March, Manila Massacre and a visit to the Plaza Cuartel in Puerto Princesa where 150 American POW’s were put in a trench and burned to death with only 11 escaping is verification.  These stories fully awakens your awareness to these atrocities.   Starvation, long marches, torture and murder is accurately recorded.  Furthermore the bombing of Manila was devastating for the population.  

Finally after WWII the Philippines were recognized as an independent nation.  The government worked well despite a communist faction continually rebelling.  The turning point was the election of Ferdinand Marcos.  Marcos declared Marshal Law in 1972 and this persisted until 1986.  At this time he superseded the constitution and ruled as a dictator.  After the murder of Marco’s political opponent Ninoy Aquino in 1986 a million people took to the streets, protested for 4 days and Marcos fled to Hawaii.  The People Power Revolution was a success.  

Overall the Philippines are the 6th richest country in SE Asia.  Sadly when traveling the cities and countrysides this is very difficult to believe.  The historically corrupt government has not seemed ro benefit their people at all.  One example was our tour guide.  She had been a university professor for 25 years and gave tours when she was free.  She said she was still impoverished.  She explained that there are the rich and the poor.  When we saw numerous subdivisions being developed I questioned this saying there must be more middle class due to the demand for these small but nice residences.  Her confirmation was that they could be purchased only due to Filipinos that leave the country, work and send their earnings back to their families.  Most family members have this resource.  It is one of the largest generators of income in the Philippines amounting to 8.9% GDP or $34 Billion Dollars in 2018 alone.    

This circumstance is due to not enough jobs in the country for the number of people.  The most sought after skills are those for cruise ships, restaurants, day care-any skill that can easily be leveraged in America.   Since they have been influenced by the American occupation they have above average English speaking skills.  The families are desperate to have their youth leave and earn more than the $10 per day earned here.  We heard tales of one of our stewards meeting his 2 month old daughter for the first time, in Milwaukee we had a family that had bought a woman from a Philippine family and she was held captive for decades until it was discovered and the Milwaukee couple was imprisoned and finally a story of the young mothers that go off to provide day care for an American family while her mother raises her own children in the Philippines.  This mother is enthusiastic to be able to raise her grandchildren when her daughter most likely has to leave and make the same sacrifice. The cycle of life here.

Besides these financial difficulties the Philippines sit on the Ring of Fire.  They experience the most typhoons than any other country.  Furthermore earthquakes are frequent.   The shanties we saw barely standing did not seem to have a chance against nature.   

All of these hardships are very apparent in the Philippines.  The housing for the masses are metal roofs, no running water and are rustic to say the least.  Most of the people seem kind but there is more and more crime, desperation and drugs.  Since Rodrigo Duterte became President in 2016 it is estimated that between 5,000-10,000 individuals have been killed by the government, supposedly due to drug involvement.  All of this makes me nervous and sad but when we stepped off of our ship to enter our buses, we had 2 police escorts to spend 8 hours with us, “to help us navigate the traffic”.  I have to be honest with you-I didn’t believe that for a minute!

Some interesting sites are available in both cities we visited.  When we were in Puerto Princesa, riding the motorized tricycles could get you anywhere around town.  This town is where WWII comes to life with the Plaza Cuartel park and the WWII museum.   For nature lovers they claim that Puerto Princesa is the cleanest and greenest in the Philippines.  There are beaches but more interesting about 2 hours outside of town is a new 7th natural wonder.  This is located in the Subterranean National Park and is a UNESCO site.  A world famous 8 kilometers underground river runs northwest of the city.  Due to challenging roads and traffic leave extra time for this adventure.  Puerto Princesa is a nice, small city to visit and enjoy.

As for Manila there are many activities in this large capital city OF 12 million residents.  I would caution you to be escorted or at least know exactly where you are going.  The old city I found engaging and safe.  It has a golf course by the old city wall which seemed humorous.  Fort Santiago is located inside the walls as well as San Agustin Church which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.  For nature lovers a couple hours away is Tagaytay Ridge.  On this ridge you can overlook the world’s smallest volcano surrounded by  a lake.  It was an exhausting drive with traffic and tricycles everywhere but interesting.  Most WWII enthusiasts went to Corregidor Island at the entrance of Manila Bay.  This little island was fiercely fought over by the Japanese and MacArthur.  Furthermore there is a lot of history about MacArthur being in Manila repeatedly-even as a child and he also had a mistress here.  Finally one needs to give their respects to the national hero Dr. Jose Rizal at Rizal Park.  Dr. Rizal wrote of his love for the Philippines through his novels, essays, articles and poems.  The Spanish government did not appreciate this and executed him by firing squad in 1896.  He was only 35 years old.  The Filipino’s anger towards this act helped start the Philippine Revolution where they declared independence in 1898.  To learn more of that time period reading Miguel Sujuco's Ilustrado’s is enlightening.  My most enjoyable pre travel read was Dusk by F. Sionil Jose.  This helped me understand the history and complexities of the Philippines when the Spaniard's occupied the country.  Either by reading or visiting there is a lot to understand about the Philippines. The history is complex. Obviously  it offers a lot for all. 

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