Before we embark on our exploration of the Philippines, let’s clear up some confusion regarding the distinction between the terms Filipino, Pilipino, Pilipinas and Pinoy, thanks to the University of Hawaii’s Center for Philippine Studies:
— Filipino: “Filipino is the Hispanized (or Anglicized) way of referring to both the people and the language in the Philippines. Note that it is also correct to say Filipino for a male and Filipina for a female. Never use or say Philippino, because that doesn’t sound right.”
— Pilipino: “Pilipino, is how the locals from the Philippines refer to themselves, or to their national language. When applied to the language, Pilipino is synonymous with Tagalog. The ‘P’ or ‘Ph’ is used because most Filipino languages do not have the ‘F’ sound.”
— Pilipinas: “Pilipinas, which is the name of the country itself, is derived from the Hispanized word Filipinas, the old Spanish name of the country. The ‘Ph’ is from Philip, the English equivalent of the Spanish King Felipe II.”
— Pinoy: “Pinoy is the shortened, colloquial version for Filipino to refer to the people, but never the language. It becomes Pinay when referring to a female, although Pinoy is also used to refer to both male and female.”
Got it? Good. Now that you have that straight, you should also know that in addition to being graced with a tropical climate the Philippines are located in the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” a not so nice neighborhood that’s particularly prone to earthquakes and typhoons. This has left the Philippines open to natural disaster after natural disaster. A man-made disaster, at least in the last several centuries, has been the fact that the Philippines have had to struggle for independence from not only Western colonial powers (as well as, for a short stretch, the Japanese), but also from homegrown political leaders like Ferdinand Marcos, whose refusal to leave power in the 1980s inspired people to revolt.
This part of the Philippines’ story begins some sunny (most likely) day in 1521, when Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his fleet dropped by and claimed the islands for their King. Over the next few centuries the Spanish used the islands as a naval and trading hub with the idea of bringing more of the region into domain of “the Spanish East Indies.” Along with Spanish traders and naval officers came a veritable typhoon of missionaries that flooded the Philippines, converting most of the population to Christianity — today over 80% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic.
Today the Philippines still carries much more than the memory of its Spanish colonial past. In addition to Spanish architecture and the Spanish names of most streets and towns, an 1849 colonial decree called the Claveria Edict required Filipinos to take a Spanish surname.
Toward the end of the 1800s the Filipino people, having tried several times to cast off Spanish rule, finally achieved a measure of success in the Philippine Revolution of 1896. The movement started in 1896 but really gained momentum while Spain and America
squared off during the Spanish-American War. Revolutionary leaders declared Philippine independence in 1898 and established the First Philippine Republic in 1899. (A song on our music class CD, “Jocelynang Baliwag,” is on the surface a love song to a Filipina woman, but inspired Filipino revolutionaries at the time as as love song for an independent Philippines.) Unfortunately for Filipinos, Spain sold the islands for $20 million to the United States in the treaty that ended the Spanish-American war. When the U.S. didn’t recognize the legitimacy of the First Philippine Republic the Filipino independence movement fought the United States in, as it’s called in the Philippines, “the Philippine-American War.” Filipino forces lost, and the United States took charge of the Philippines, ruling the islands as “an insular area.” (What is an “insular area?” Look in the “more information” section below.) In the 1935, the U.S. changed the Philippines’ status to make it a Commonwealth. (What’s a Commonwealth? Look in the “more information” section below.)
The Philippines seemed to be on its way to independence in 1941 when the Japanese Empire invaded, beginning their surprise assault a mere ten hours after their attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese eventually took the Philippines, installed a puppet government, and made life exceedingly difficult on the islands throughout World War II. The Allies defeated Japanese in 1945; in 1946 the Philippines became independent.
In 1965 Filipinos elected Ferdinand Marcos as president with his wife, the dynamic Imelda Marcos, at his side. He won a second term and wanted a third, but the constitution didn’t allow it. Instead of leaving office in 1972 as he was supposed to, Marcos declared martial law. For the 14 years Marco ruled more or less by decree, holding on to power with U.S. support (sometimes tacit, sometimes otherwise) by portraying himself as the greatest hope to keep Southeast Asian communists and Islamists at bay. In 1983 Marcos’ most prominent rival, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, returning from exile in the United States, was assassinated when he stepped off the plane in Manila. The Filipino people demanded elections. Marcos held them in 1986, neatly defeating Corazon Aquino, Benigno’s widow, but widespread speculation that Marcos fixed the elections led to the “People Power Revolution.” Facing mass rebellion, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and their family fled to Hawaii. Corazon Aquino became president.
Under Aquino the Philippines struggled with government corruption, national debt, communist insurgencies and Islamic separatists. Though the economy improved under the next president, Fidel Ramos, the 1997 Asian economic crisis hit the Philippines hard. Charges of corruption dogged the next president, Joseph Estrada, until Filipinos ousted him in the 2001 EDSA Revolution (also known as the Second People Power Revolution), replacing him with Gloria Arroyo. In May 2010, Benigno Aquino’s son, known as “Noynoy,” because president.
Today the Philippines has a relatively stable democracy; there are still separatist organizations, like the Moro National Liberation Front, but the government is negotiating with them rather than engaging in battle. (Other active militant groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf, still exist but haven’t been able to unseat the government.) The Philippines’ economy is relatively stable too, though the country relies heavily on Filipinos abroad sending support (called “remittances”); more foreign currency comes to the Philippines as remittances than through direct foreign investment.
With all this relative stability, maybe the Philippines will put its colonial legacy behind it, emerge from the shadow of government corruption to become one of the world’s most dynamic economic powers? Some self-proclaimed “bulls” say so. Whether or not their country’s economy booms, Filipinos have survived difficult days long enough to earned the right to emerge from whatever shadow from which they want to emerge and to proudly exclaim about their naturally rich land, as their Department of Tourism’s slogan declares, “Pilipinas Kay Granda!” (Wait. Scratch that.)
Wikipedia on the Philippines | More about the distinction between Filipino, Pilipino and Pinoy | The three main geographical divisions of the Philippines: Luzon (the most powerful and populated island group, boasting both Manila and the Philippines most populous city, Quezon City), Visayas (with Cebu City and its primary language, Cebuano) and Mindanao (known for its unspoiled tropical scenery and its Muslim population) [What are The Ten Secrets of North Luzon? Number 5…Wonder Boy!] | Life was rough in the Philippines during World War II (these links for grown-ups only): the Bataan Death March and a Newsreel report on the Battle of Manila | More about Ferdinand Marcos and People Power | Did Imelda Marcos really have 2,700 pairs of shoes? | A fascinating film about Imelda Marcos: “I’ve been very misunderstood….” | What is the EDSA Revolution? (EDSA is an acronym derived from Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, the major highway that encircles Metro Manila…..) | Scared of that creepy Burger King guy? Try Jollibee.
Even more “more information”: (a bonus section on “insular areas” and “commonwealths”)
What is an insular area? | Did you know the U.S. has an Office of Insular Affairs? | Some examples of current insular areas are:
— American Samoa (officially unorganized, although self-governing
under authority of the U.S. Department of the Interior)
— Guam (organized under Organic Act of 1950)
— Northern Mariana Islands (commonwealth, organized under 1977
— Puerto Rico (territory with commonwealth status, organized under
terms of Puerto Rico-Federal Relations Act)
— United States Virgin Islands (organized under Revised Organic Act
What rights do citizens of a U.S. insular area have?:
— native-born inhabitants are not constitutionally entitled to U.S.
citizenship but Congress has decreed they may vote and run for
office in U.S. districts in which they’re a resident (except
American Samoa, whose people are U.S. nationals but not U.S.
citizens, meaning they can be employed in the U.S. without
immigration restrictions but can’t vote or hold office outside of
— Residents don’t pay U.S. federal taxes but most pay taxes to the
territorial government at U.S. federal tax rates
— Insular areas don’t choose electors in U.S. presidential
elections but they do elect voting members of the U.S. Congress
— Products made in insular areas of the U.S. can be labeled “Made
in the USA.” Interesting….
— What is a
U.S. Commonwealth?: According to the U.S. State Department, “The term ‘Commonwealth’ does not describe or provide for any specific political status or relationship. It has, for example, been applied to both states and territories. When used in connection with areas under U.S. sovereignty that are not states, the term broadly describes an area that is self-governing under a constitution of its adoption and whose right of self-government will not be unilaterally withdrawn by Congress.” The U.S. currently has two Commonwealths: Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.
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