Monday, November 21, 2016

9 Things you may not have known about the Philippines

1.  The Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands.

But only 2,000 are inhabited. Luzon is the biggest island, where Manila is located, and also where I am located. Specifically, I’m in the Caliking Barangay, Atok municipality, Benguet Province of Northern Luzon, amidst the Cordillera Mountains, which makes for awe-inspiring mountain views.

2.  Over 171 languages are spoken in the Philippines.

Most people I’ve met so far speak at least 4: Tagalog, English, Kankana-ey or Ibaloi, and Ilocano, the main language here in the North. I’m learning, but it’s challenging because I’ve only found few written resources on the language. The grammar is tricky; for example, the word “I” could be 4 different Ilocano words, depending on the context. Schools all teach English and Tagalog from the elementary level onwards, although a new government initiative is having classrooms taught in the local language, which is problematic in a classroom with students of different native languages, as is often the case here. 

3.  The Episcopal Church has been in the Philippines since 1898.

On September 4, 1898, the first Episcopal service was held for Americans and English-speakers when U.S. Forces occupied Manila. A service for Filipinos was held on Christmas of that year. In 1901, the Philippines was designated as a missionary area and received its first missionary and residing bishop, Charles Henry Brent who, interestingly enough, served as the Chaplain General for the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. 

In 1937, the Philippines transitioned from a missionary area to a diocese of the Episcopal Church of the United States. Fifty-three years later, in 1990, they became independent, forming the Episcopal Church of the Philippines. 

While more than 80% of the country is Roman Catholic, there are 125,000 Episcopalians, and here in the North, some cities are 95%+ episcopalian. According to our Bishop here, the reason is that although the Spanish occupied the Philippines for 377 years, there were 3 regions they were never able to conquer: Mindanao (the Southernmost island with a strong Islamic presence), Intramuros (the Chinese community just outside the walls of the administrative district in Manila), and the Cordilleras in the North. 

Bishop Brent, unlike other Protestant missionaries, did not seek to convert Roman Catholics to Anglicanism, “placing altar against altar,” so to speak. Instead, he worked to establish the church to serve English-speakers, Christians who did not have a church, and indigenous communities where the Catholic Church was not established. So when Episcopal missionaries arrived, they were better able to establish themselves without an existing Catholic presence. 

4.  The Philippines is the 13th most populous country in the world. 

More than 102 million people live here. Half the population lives on Luzon with me. And it feels like it. Well, in the cities anyways; the urbanization rate here is 1.25%. Manila is the most densely populated city in the world! It also has the most malls per capita. Very sprawling as well. Baguio, the nearest city to me, has seen rapid population growth and is now dealing with the problems of congestion and traffic

5.  Sugarcane, coconuts, and rice are the Philippines’ top 3 agricultural products.

Agriculture accounts for just over 10% of GDP here, and I am fortunate to live in the agricultural capital of the country. Benguet province, referred to as “the salad bowl of the Philippines,” supplies most of the vegetables to all other regions. Grocery shopping at the market is always an adventure; I’ve discovered so many new favorite fruits and vegetables! I’m also food tripping in the kitchen -- I’ve made sugarcane syrup from scratch and now incorporate freshly squeezed coconut milk into every dish and drink I can.

6.  The Philippines is currently under a state of emergency.

I was first made aware of this while driving up from Manila to my new home when our car slowly cruised through a Philippine National Police Checkpoint on the highway. Since then, I’ve cruised through many PNP checkpoints and Anti-Hijacking Road Blocks, with policeman armed with M16s peeping inside car windows. 

President Rodrigo Duterte declared the “state of emergency on account of lawless violence” on September 4, 2016, after the bombing by Islamic terrorists in Mindanao two days prior and also conveniently timed with his war on drugs. While police supposedly cannot search your car unless they see illicit substances in plain view, some suspect them of abusing their powers.

7.  The Filipino President endorses vigilante killings.

As part of his controversial campaign platform and now his administration, Rodrigo Duterte’s DU30 program endorses extrajudicial and vigilante killings of drug dealers and users. Police, “civilian police” (or policemen out of uniform taking extrajudicial actions), and “assets” (or regular civilians taking extrajudicial actions), have murdered over 4,000 people since. Of course, the concern is that one could kill someone he had a personal rife with under the pretense that the assassinated was a drug user. I’ve heard violence in the streets has increased significantly and people are refraining more from going out at night.

The President has also been recently accused of ordering murders of political, business, or personal enemies, during his term as Mayor of Davao. And, of course, he’s made plenty of headlines with his, um, spicy remarks towards towards the US ambassador, President Obama, the Pope…. Still, I’ve seen a surprising amount wristbands, arm sleeves, sleeping masks, car window tints, etc. with his logo of a fist emblazoned with “DU30.”

8.  The main mode of transport is jeepney.

If I want to go into the city, I stand on the highway and flag down a jeepney, a vehicle style that evolved from retrofitted military vans Americans left behind after WWII with 2 bench seats facing each other in the back. Jeepney drivers take great care to deck out their ride! Metal horns protrude from the front, a few hood ornaments may be mounted on, and the sides of all of them are painted with a mural depicting the Jeepney driver’s family, Marvel superheroes, an American Western landscape, and the like. The bumper and mudflap will usually have phrase thanking God. My jeepney ride to the city an hour away is only $0.75 USD.

9.  Country/Western culture is huge!

Maybe the mention of “American Western landscape” in the last fact caught your eye. That’s right: Filipinos in the North are about country/western music and culture! I’ve heard more classic country radio here than I have in the South! 


  1. Thank you so much for posting this!! Looking forward to all your updates!!

  2. Amazing! Sugarcane syrup sounds great!

    1. Yes! Will have to do a repeat on that one back in the States! :)

  3. I Love it Kellan, keep posting and have a great time there, we miss you in Alpharetta.
    Frank Brocato