What You Need To Know About The Philippines If You Plan To Do A Mission
*I originally wrote this in 2008 for a class I was taking at Biola University for my Intercultural Studies Degree. I wrote this before I left on my internship. It is a report on the Philippines with various information to show I was prepared before I left to the country for my summer mission trip. Unfortunately I did not get to go in 2008, and instead had to re-plan to go in 2009 which I did and which made me even more prepared to go. I had a great time in the Philippines and was given many opportunities to serve Filipinos for Christ and witness the gospel. I learned a lot about life through this trip and it changed my life. I have updated bits and pieces to be more accurate for today even though I wrote this 7 years ago. This report will help anyone who wants more information about the Philippines or just has a general interest in other countries and experiences. Filipinos who read this will also get an understanding of what an American learned and thinks about their country.
April 5th, 2008
Report on the Country of the Philippines: Research Before I Go On My Internship
I have planned my internship to be in the country of the Philippines in the capitol city of Manila. I will be working with missionaries in evangelization within the urban poor areas. There are many interesting things about this country that I have found out about before leaving on my internship.
The country of the Philippines is an archipelagic nation in South East Asia. It is below Japan and right above Indonesia. Directly left to it is Vietnam. According to the CIA website “the Philippine archipelago is made up of 7,107 islands; favorably located in relation to many of Southeast Asia’s main water bodies: the South China Sea, Philippine Sea, Sulu Sea, Celebes Sea, and Luzon Strait” (cia.gov).
In ancient times it was a region of different tribes and band societies. This pre-Spanish history of the country is very hard to know. According to Woods (2006), “The written materials about the pre-Spanish Philippines are not only scarce, but also written almost exclusively by outsiders” (p. 15). Nonetheless, we know that the Philippines was in contact with traders and merchants from China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the regions around it. Muslims came up through Malaysia and Indonesia and heavily influenced the southern region of the Islands in the area of Mindanao. To this day there are a lot of Muslims in that region and some are fundamentalists and terrorists. There is an Islamic terrorist organization called Abu Sayyaf. This started out as an organization solely for Islamic rebels, but has since become corrupt within its corruption and is now a front for typical organized crime such as kidnapping to hold people ransom. They especially go after white foreigners because they believe they would have a lot of money and rich relatives that would pay the ransom. They still try to kidnap other Filipinos as well. Colin-Jones G. & Colin-Jones Y. (2006) state that,
“The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), is funded through bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and extortion, and its successful raid on Dos Palmas, an island off Palawan, has had a bad effect on tourism in the area. Such groups are not driven by ideology, but may rather be regarded as bandits seeking to make a fast buck. The sooner they are destroyed, the better it will be for tourism” (p. 126). I will not be doing my internship in that area so I am going to be safe from this problem.
In the past, Spain had ruled the Philippines for over 350 years. Ever since the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 in the name of Spain, this nation has battled with self identity and oppression by other people groups. The problems with self identity in this country can even be seen by its own name, the Philippines; the name of Prince Philip of Spain (1542). Even today certain groups in the Philippines want to change their countries name to something else. Another issue that made matters more frustrating to the Filipinos was what happened in the Spanish-American War in 1899. The U.S. took advantage of Spain’s colony of the Philippines and attacked its harbor and took it over for their own control. This led to the Philippine-American War that started in 1899 just after the Americans defeated the Spanish to control the Philippines. Filipino rebels led by Emilio Aguinaldo fought against the United States in hope to be free from outside oppressors. This war was one of the most violent and brutal wars in Filipino and American history and lasted for about 2 years when it ended in 1901.
Not all Filipinos opposed the Americans though, as many understood that a lot of money was being put into the country from the USA. After the Americans won the war against the Filipino rebels they began a process of establishing infrastructure. The United States built many highways, roads, schools, hospitals and more. They built Navy bases to be used by American troops as well. Unfortunately this was impeded when the Japanese took over the Philippines in 1942 until 1945 during World War II. During this time the horrific Bataan Death March took place under the notorious General Yamashita, the Tiger of Malaya. Solis (1995) describes it:
“The Bataan death March began on April 1, 1942, with more than 60,000 Filipinos and 11,000 Americans who had surrendered. They were forced to hike to San Fernando, 120 kilometers away. From there they were taken by train to Capas, Tarlac and made to walk another 13 kilometers to Camp O’Donnel. The 54,000 who survived the march which was nine days of “phantasmagoria of swirling red dust, sweltering horses and moving men…crawling in the fierce sun” suffered added torture, brutality and neglect in the prison camp. By liberation day, only 4,000 Filipino and American prisoners survived” (p. 63).
As you can see the Philippines is a country that has been through a lot of problems. It still is going through problems. Even after the Americans released the country to govern itself on July 4th of 1946, the Philippines has become very corrupt even though it is a democracy. One of the most notorious corrupt leader’s they had was named Ferdinand Marcos who became a dictator. He was president of the Philippines from 1965-1986. He declared martial law in his second term because he claimed that communist insurgency was a threat (which it was, but he was taking advantage of it). Steinberg (1990), quotes Marcos as saying, “I, as your duly elected President of the Republic, use this power to protect the Republic of the Philippines and our democracy” (p. 118). In reality, Marcos used martial law because he did not want to give up his authority since his term was about to expire. During this time there were a lot of human rights violations, but at the same time the economy was booming high so this excused him to many outsiders, especially the United States. Marcos was using the country for his own personal gain.
Eventually in 1986 there was a coup. After many mass protests with Filipino university students in colleges all over the world, and many in the United States, and other protests, people who were tired of Marcos’ dictatorship took up arms and went against Marcos forces. But there was virtually no bloodshed. Marcos fled the country and President Aquino took over who was a woman. Democracy was put back in place, but still the Philippines would be plagued with corruption in the government. The CIA website on the Philippines explains some of the recent history,
“The 20-year rule of Ferdinand MARCOS ended in 1986, when a “people power” movement in Manila (“EDSA 1”) forced him into exile and installed Corazon AQUINO as president. Her presidency was hampered by several coup attempts, which prevented a return to full political stability and economic development. Fidel RAMOS was elected president in 1992 and his administration was marked by greater stability and progress on economic reforms. In 1992, the US closed its last military bases on the islands. Joseph ESTRADA was elected president in 1998, but was succeeded by his vice-president, Gloria MACAPAGAL-ARROYO, in January 2001 after ESTRADA’s stormy impeachment trial on corruption charges broke down and another “people power” movement (“EDSA 2”) demanded his resignation. MACAPAGAL-ARROYO was elected to a six-year term as president in May 2004” (cia.gov).
Today the current political climate in the Philippines is still corrupt in its government and even much of the police are corrupt and will take bribes, and put people in situations in order to get bribes. People still vote for things, but there are a lot of shady things going on behind the scenes. Many of the people know this and figure it’s something they can’t get past and just live life knowing corruption will always be there. The Philippines is very friendly to the United States as our country put a lot of effort into their country in the last century. Filipinos also greatly admire Western culture and the country has become very westernized. There were also many American military bases in the country, but in the 1990’s the country voted to kick them out so they no longer exist there. There are mixed feelings about this issue because many Filipinos realized that with the military bases lots of money was coming into their country and was helping out for their benefit. Other people saw it as imperialism still existing, and they still have very nationalistic feelings of being totally independent from outside forces. Interestingly enough Colin-Jones, G., & Colin-Jones Y. (2006) explain,
“In general, Filipinos are very welcoming toward foreigners. Some people say that they still have a colonial ‘mentality,’ admiring fair skins and regarding imported goods as superior. There also is the stereotypical belief that all foreigners are very wealthy. For many Filipinos it would be a dream come true if they could go live in the United States” (p. 58).
The military bases were a mixed blessing. With these bases a lot of money did come into the country, but also many people took advantage of the fact that military bases are full of young, lonely men. Many Filipino’s opened up brothels, sex clubs as well as produced a lot of pornography. Since that time, many young helpless Filipina women were taken into sexual slavery and there now exists a large sex trade. There is still a huge prostitution problem in the country and many women are taken advantage of and kidnapped. Many women are traded overseas to places like Hong Kong, Japan, and other places. Many foreigners come to the Philippines to have sex with underage girls and even boys. Women are kidnapped after being scammed. They are told they will have a job working as a waitress or something similar, but in reality they are tricked into prostitution because the women are forced into debt with no way to pay back the owners of the businesses for the price of housing, and their only option is to give sex for money or else harm comes to them.
With this sexual attitude there is also a problem of the production of pornography being distributed around the world made by Filipinos. Filipinos are the main people responsible for much of the sex trafficking and degradation of their society. Foreigners interested in sex are only obliged by Filipinos themselves and the Philippines as a result has become one of the top sex tourist attractions of Asia not much beneath Thailand in popularity. This lifestyle promises easy money which will give lots of wealth. Women in desperate situations become involved in pornography. Many women who are single mothers want a better life for their children and they think the only way to do that is to do porn or become a prostitute. One of the major money making things from pornography has come with the popularity of the internet as there are many internet cafes in the urban areas. Many Filipinas sign up on what seems to be a system of network marketing for webcams. Women pose nude and do sexual acts on webcams for viewers who have paid with credit cards. They become internet prostitutes. This eases up the risk of STD’s since the women have a choice of what goes on and many times are alone on the camera. When I first heard about this I felt heartbroken for these women. These women need answers to life, and that answer is only through Jesus Christ.
My internship has been planned to be within the urban poor areas of the city of Manila. This city is the capitol of the Philippines and is known for their large shopping malls, but even within such a consumer based area, many people are poor and living in shacks. According to Woods (2006),
“The hundreds of thousands of people who have moved to Manila to find their fortune, or simply a better way of life, often end up in slum areas around Manila…Most slum dwellers are squatters who lack such essential services as water and electricity. They are forced to drink water either from the government- supplied tap in the market or from polluted water-ways near by. The urban poor are always present in Manila, even in affluent sections; most of them are either unemployed or work as street vendors” (p. 147).
So you can see that there are a lot of problems in this city, even though it is a very glamorous and a famous place.
Most Filipino movies are also made here as well as TV shows and the country has five popular TV networks based in the city. There are also many theater production companies as well as two ballet companies: Ballet Philippines and Philippines Ballet Theater. There are also orchestras. With these attractions it is easy to forget the hundreds of thousands of poor people within the city boundaries. Fortunately, the church I am going with has a contracts set up with whom I will be a part of that will work in evangelization of these people and hand out food, teach Bible stories to kids, and other such things. Hopefully these efforts will make a difference for some people so they will find God.
There are a few major ethnic groups in the Philippines. Filipinos are descendents of Austronesian speaking peoples who migrated from Taiwan down to the Pacific Islands. There are many different groups of people. According to the CIA website the ethnic populations are: ”Tagalog 28.1%, Cebuano 13.1%, Ilocano 9%, Bisaya/Binisaya 7.6%, Hiligaynon, Ilonggo 7.5%, Bikol 6%, Waray 3.4%, other 25.3% (2000 census)” (cia.gov). The wealthiest ethnic group would have to be the Spanish mixed Mestisos. These people have a high degree of Spanish blood and are usually the upper class people. They have a lighter skin complexion that Filipinos favor as well. Then there are the Negritos which are various small tribe societies which are thought to be the original inhabitants of the islands. There are also a small amount of other Asian ethnic groups such as Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian and others which are minorities. Most Filipinos have Chinese blood in them as well.
The major languages spoken in the Philippines which are listed on the CIA website are the following: “Filipino (official; based on Tagalog) and English (official); eight major dialects – Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinan” (cia.gov). Almost everyone speaks English in the Philippines, especially the educated. People also understand some Spanish because of the Spanish colonial rule had a huge affect on their language as Tagalog uses many Spanish loan words. There are also a significant amount of English loan words with the increase of technology and communication in the world.
Nonverbal language is also used in different ways in the Philippines than it is used in the United States such as their use of smiles. Colin-Jones G., & Colin-Jones Y. (2006) explain, “Filipinos are often regarded as happy, smiling people – but the smile conveys many different feelings, apart from contentment. They smile when they are embarrassed, confused, apologetic, critical, or in disagreement. They want to avoid confrontation, and are concerned about ‘losing face’” (p. 163). So Filipinos will smile if they cannot help you, or don’t understand you so you will not be angry. They also smile if you make a mistake to wait for you to recover. One should not assume the Filipino is laughing at them. They are simply helping you save face.
Eye contact is the same as American use of eye contact in the Philippines, but there are other interesting nonverbal uses of communication. Filipinos say “yes” with their eye brows. When asked a question it is normal for Filipinos to answer “yes” by raising their eye brows up and down one time. Also, Filipinos point with their lips when giving directions. They shape their lips in a “kissing” type of motion and turn their heads in the direction of wherever you want to go or wherever something is you are looking for. A westerner can often become confused by this as eye brow raising and lip pursing is seen as flirtatious in western culture.
With the Tagalog language the basic greeting is “Kamusta?” and that simply means “Hello, how are you?” Filipinos will also say “Hey” like Americans too. Another interesting word is “Hoy!” This word means “Come here!” It is usually said to get a friend’s attention who is far away or to speak to a child. You never say this to an elder or someone in a position of respect. To get a Filipino’s attention you can also say “Ssst!” or “Tssst!” It is not much unlike the American word of “Psst!” to get someone’s attention. With Filipinos, friends always use “tssst” to get each other’s attention. Also, using hand gestures to attract a person over to you would be to move your hand about chin height and wave as if saying goodbye in a downward motion. It is funny because in America this means “goodbye,” but in the Philippines it means “come here” or “over here.” Never use your fingers and curl them upwards to get someone to come over to you. That is seen as very impolite and rude. And do not snap your fingers to get anyone’s attention either. In America these may be common ways to get a person;s attention, but in the Philippines these are things you do to get a cat or dog’s attention, not a human’s. It is really offensive!
Filipinos are very indirect and they seek to save face in every situation. Their culture is a shame based culture and collectivistic in most senses. But the American influence of individualism is clearly coming around. Filipinos will not ask too many questions if it will make them look like they don’t know what they are doing. So knowing this I will have to make sure I tell Filipinos things they need to know so they can do things right if they are helping me in case I wanted a repair done or something. Otherwise they might just guess and break something. This happens a lot to foreigners.
Filipino society is very conservative outwardly and women dress modestly and so do the men. There is a huge influence of western culture that causes men and women to dress “American”, but generally Filipinos dress conservative and most of the time they are wearing t-shirts and shorts, because the weather is so hot and humid. But even with the weather so hot, the higher class Filipinos dress nicely and wear pants and women wear skirts and they wear nice shoes. Most other Filipinos wear sandals called “tsinelas”. But the “very conservative” attitude is changing a lot with the newer generation of young people who want to be more “liberated.”
Rice is the staple food of the Philippines. Without rice, a Filipino cannot live. Rice provides a significant amount of the nutrition they eat each day. Many Filipinos are poor so most of what they have to eat is rice. They eat rice at every meal. Other types of foods Filipinos eat are fish, chicken, and beef, many different kinds of tropical fruits and also vegetables. They even eat the bones of fish and put them in soup as to not waste food because some Filipinos are so poor they cannot always afford to have what Americans would think are “good slices of meat.” Many of the Philippines dishes are influenced by this philosophy or historic reality, yet they have made such “poor dishes” into delicacies truly unique to their country. Most of these foods are sold in the markets. Since the Philippines are many islands surrounded by water there is a big fishing industry.
Filipinos are very hospitable. If someone visits a Filipino’s home, the Filipino will always have some food to give to the guest. The guest has to receive the food no matter what, even if they are not hungry. This is polite. If you are not hungry you can ask for it to take with you to go. This is how Filipinos show their manners and are polite. When you visit a friend’s house in the Philippines make sure you are hungry because every time you go to a house you will be fed. Filipinos enjoy company and they will even ask questions that come off as too personal in American culture such as, “How much money do you make at your job?” when they don’t know you that well. This is not to be taken as rude, but showing a general interest in the people who they are talking with.
The national religion of the Philippines is Catholicism making the country the first and only “Christian influenced” nation in Asia. Almost every Filipino claims to be Catholic even if they don’t go to church. There are other religions such as Animism which is practiced more by the indigenous, rural tribal societies who have original religions that predate the Spanish. After Spanish rule witchcraft was also adopted into their superstitions. Shamanism, and sorcery have always been a part of their societies and Western witchcraft ideas and superstitions also became a part of it. With these religions there are a few Millenarian groups that mix indigenous beliefs with Roman Catholicism. In the south in the region of Mindanao there is a small Muslim concentration and the group Abu Sayyaf. The terrorist organization for Islamic Fundamentalism is active there. There are a small amount of Buddhists as well. Various Christian denominations have also arrived in the Philippines because of American rule and allowance of missionaries to arrive. Along with genuine Christian missionaries various cults such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others have also arrived. This is unfortunate, and another religion based off of these cults that has gained popularity in the Philippines is Iglesia Ni Kristo, which was founded by Felix Y. Manalo, a Filipino who used religion for his gain. The INC could be considered the Filipino version of Mormonism. It is a cult.
With all of these religions there is still Protestantism in the country. Woods (2006), says that
“President McKinley’s [(The American president during and after the Philippine-American War)] decision to keep the Philippines included a religious component, the need to evangelize and convert the local population. He gained support for his decision from major denominations in the United States because they saw the Philippines as a new mission field where they would have the freedom to do missionary work. The rejection of Catholicism by many Filipinos because of the abuses of the church made them open to embracing a new religion” (pp. 124-125).
Unfortunately this turned into the spread of the social gospel which focused more on changes of the institution instead of changes in individuals’ lives. Today most evangelical Christians are Pentecostal. This probably has to do with their superstitious nature and emotional culture which leads them to seek after the supernatural experiences that Pentecostals practice. There are still a small amount of other evangelical denominations. Christianity in the country is viewed in a positive light since the majority of Filipinos are Catholic. They are open to talk about Jesus Christ, but there is still some strong opposition against Protestantism and what they call “born again Christianity” which they label to anyone who is not a Catholic. This included mainliners and baptists as well as mistakenly applied to cults.
When I stay in the Philippines the climate is going to be very hot and humid. I will arrive in Manila and catch another flight to Bacolod and Boracay later and then go back to Manila before leaving to the USA. There are about 240 airports in the country, but they are mostly small. The main one is in Manila where I will arrive. The CIA website lists the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Davao, Liman, Manila, Nasipit Harbor having ports and terminals (cia.gov). The U.S. Embassy is in Manila as well. Knowing all of the information in my research I can better be effective as an agent to serve Christ with the small Fil-Am church in Southern California I am going with.
(2008) CIA – The World Factbook – Philippines. Retrieved April 5th, 2008, from the CIA Web site: http://www.cia.gov
Colin-Jones, G., Colin-Jones, & Y. (2006). Culture Smart! Philippines. New York, New York: Random House.
Steinberg, D. (1990). The Philippines a Singular and a Plural Place. San Francisco, California and Oxford: Westview Press.
Solis, M. (1995). Pilipinas A to Z. Salinas, California: Srmnk Publishers.
Woods, D. (2006). The Philippines: A Global Studies Handbook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc.