The Philippines consists of approximately
7,100 islands, although this number varies depending on whether it is high or low
tide. Two thousand are inhabited. The largest are
Luzon, about 104,000 square kilometres, which contains the capital, Manila;
Mindanao, of about 94,500 Km2,
which includes the second city, Davao. Cebu is part of a group of smaller
islands known collectively as the
The Philippines have been inhabited for thousands
of years. Stone age settlements have been found in several places on the islands. It is
generally thought that, during the last ice age, the lower sea levels resulted in a land
bridge from mainland Asia. After that vanished about 7,000 years ago, there were various
seaborne migrations of relatively small scale between the various islands and the
mainland. The next cataclysmic event came with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan (who,
though Portugues by birth was working for Spain) in March 1521. He was promptly murdered
by Lapu-Lapu, after whom a city is named, in a battle for the Philippine territory. In the
end, `modern' technology won the day. The islands became a colony of Spain, who named it
Filipinas after King Philip II of Spain. Despite a
brief British occupation in the mid Eighteenth century, it remained Spanish until the late
nineteenth century. Indeed there are still regions of the Philippines where (mostly older)
people still speak Spanish.
Agitation for Philippine independence grew in the
nineteenth century. Jose Rizal was born in 1861, and studied medicine, philosophy and
literary science in Spain, France and Germany before returning to his homeland. While
abroad he had published two inflammatory works, effectively calling for Philippine freedom
from Spanish oppression. He founded a reform movement, upon which he was promptly arrested
and exiled. But his ideas had taken root and eventually led to an uprising in 1896. He was
executed by firing squad in December of that year. He
is now revered as the
Philippines' national hero.
In 1898 a war broke out between the USA and Spain.
The Philippines, spotting an opportunity, sided with the US and helped them beat the
Spanish at the Battle of Manila Bay. The Philippines thus attained independence, but
relied heavily on the USA for protection.
The Japanese invaded the Philippines in January
1942. Their harsh rule lasted only two years, until they were ejected by General Mac
on his promised `return'. Since then, the Philippines has been a stable democracy, though
with some fairly colourful characters among the top politicians.
The climate is tropical, with temperatures broadly
between 20 and 30 degrees all year round, though in the Northern highlands (Baguio) it can
get as `cold' as 15 degrees. The climate is affected by the Pacific from the East and the
Asian mainland from the West, leading to some substantial variation across the group of
islands. The monsoon season is generally in December to May.