Philippines Land and Sea

U.S. and Philippines Flags
By: James Harris

The legend of how the Philippines were born is unique. Before there was the land, there was nothing but sea and sky and a great bird flew in the sky. By and by the great bird grew tired of its endless flight and began to search for a place to rest its wings. When it found none, it provoked a war between the sea and sky. The raging sea hurled a tempest of great waves at the sky. The sky threw down a rain of giant boulders and gemstones. The boulders became great continents. The gemstones became the islands of the Philippines. Eventually, lush forests of bamboo grew up on the islands. The great bird returned and, landing on the tallest bamboo tree, began to peck it open. From it emerged MALAKAS, the strong one, and MAGANDA, the beautiful one. These were the first Filipinos.

The Philippine Islands lie in Southeast Asia. There are over 7,100 islands that make up the Philippine Islands. They cover roughly 496,500 square miles. The total land area is about 117,000 square miles. Only about a thousand of its islands are populated, and less than half of these are larger than one square mile. Eleven islands make up 34 percent cent of the Philippine land mass. Two of these, Luzon and Mindanao, measure 41,000 and 37,000 square miles respectively. The Philippines have more than 500 species of flowering plants. The climate is tropical, and generally hot and humid all year round. About 60% of the Philippines receive between 70 and 100 inches of rainfall annually. Population was estimated at over 80 million in 2000.

English, Filipino (Tagalog), and Spanish are the official languages, with Filipino as the national language. It is spoken by over 55% of the people. Over 90% of the population is Christian, mostly Roman Catholic, with roughly 5% Muslim.

From the hills of Ilocos and the tall forests of the Cagayan in the North down through the green plains of Tarlac and Pampanga stretches Northern Luzon, the broadest land mass on the Philippines' largest island. Like the rest of the nation, it is a tapestry of varied landscapes and cultures. To the far Northwest lies Ilocandia, hemmed in on one side by the China Sea, on the other by mountains. The Conquistadors came here in search of gold, brings with them a rich Hispanic culture that is still very much a part of the country side. They found a rugged people that transformed the land into an agricultural heartland. The field of Ilocos produces most of the garlic used in the Philippine cuisine.  To this day the people of Ilocos are considered the epitome of industry and frugality. They have migrated to other parts of the Philippines and throughout the world and carried this hardy spirit with them. Also there are the Igorot people who carve rice terraces by hand out of the mountainsides of Luzon's peaks. Many of the terraces rise to an altitude of 5000 feet, completely encircling entire mountains.

The Southern stretches of the mountain provinces are rich in minerals - gold, silver and copper. The lowlands to the West are lined with the white sand beaches of the China Sea. To the East lie the Pacific Ocean and the equally rich waters off the coast of Isabela and Quezon. Here, for these people, the sea, with its more than 2000 species of fish, provides food and livelihood. Rice is the mainstay of the Philippine diet. The central plains are the rice bowl of the Philippines, with hundreds of thousands of acres under rice cultivation.

Manila is the seat of the government, the fashion center, the intellectual pacesetter, the fountainhead of all religious and educational movements, and one enormous shopping arcade. Manila is one for traffic jams and its asphalt jungle; gaudy and ruthless but irresistible. Manila was a Malay settlement trading with Chinese and Annamese when its documented history began. The Spanish documents recount that the Manilan's were charming people, exquisitely clean, fond of colorful cloths, addicted to jewelry and merriment and very pleasant and generous.

South of Manila, the island of Luzon twists and turns like a green serpent. Just South of Manila, is Laguna de Bay, the largest inland body of water in the Philippines. It covers 355 square miles and is used by the many fishermen who fish day and night on the lake.

The fertile farm land of Laguna Province is a series of gentle plains and quiescent volcanoes. Neighboring Cavite Province is also largely agricultural, but both provinces have a wide agro-industrial base and an expanding industrial foundation. Batangas Province to the South was formed by lava from the province's once formable Taal Volcano. Batangas is also considered one of the Philippines' finest cattle ranching regions. Sugar Cane fields are found in this region and also in other regions of the Philippines.

The emerald islands of Visayas are the "Old South" of the Philippines. This is a tropical paradise where the fruit fall from the trees and the fish all but jump into the net. It has a warm climate for easy living and causal temperament. It is a place of smiling women and elegantly simple houses of bamboo and palm. It is a land where song and dance is a language as much as is the dialect of each island. The 2 Eastern islands are rich in farms, forests and fish. They are Samar and Leyte. Like Leyte, the island of Bohol is a major producer of copra. The port of Cebu City on the nearby island of Cebu is the Philippines' second largest city and a major shipping depot for copra, sugar, logs and fish. It also ships mangos, grapes and other fruits of the Visayan belt. The Negros and Panay Islands is the sugar bowl of the Philippines, whose lowland plains stand tall with sugar cane in fields that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Mindanao is a vast island with some areas still uncharted. It is an island of fertile plateaus and mineral rich mountains. Mighty waterfalls and towering rain forests are found everywhere. There is rich timberland in the Northern regions also deposits of nickel, silver and gold. Farther to the West and South are the green fields of banana, pineapple and abaca plantations. Farther to the West, the Sulu Sea yields pearls and coral and hundreds of varieties of fish. Off the Eastern coast is the Philippine Trough, this descends to a depth of more than 35,000 feet. It is the second deepest ocean trench in the world. Crocodiles are found mainly in Mindanao, while only 3 varieties of poisonous snakes are widespread. They are the Coral Snake, Pit Viper and a type of small Cobra. Large Pythons are also found.

Palawan and the 1,769 small coral islands that speckle the sea comprise the rest of the Philippine Islands. Lang and narrow it stretches to the Southwest, almost touching the shores of Borneo. This is rugged country. Along the Western coast is a line of mountain ranges have peaks that rise more than 6,000 feet. Giant birds have nests in the caverns and niches of its peaks. Much of the land is fertile with streams and rivers that crisscross the ranch land. The land in the North is developed into cattle ranch land. Palawan is rich in wildlife, some unique to the island. The tiny Mouse-deer, or Pilandok, can be found nowhere else in the world. It is the smallest known species of hoofed mammal.

Just South of Luzon and North of Palawan lay Mindoro, the country's 7th largest island, having an area of 3,758 square miles. The island is largely mountainous with peaks rising above 8,000 feet. Much of the island is covered with forests, but a wide lowland area is used for agriculture farms. The Tamaraw, a tiny but fierce wild buffalo, can be found only on Mindoro Island.

The islands of the Philippines are a variety of different type of places and people. The people are always smiling and friendly to everybody and I wouldn't hesitate to go anywhere in the Philippines.