It is tempting, but misleading, to fall in line with the oft-quoted descriptions of the Philippines as a misplaced Latin-American enclave adrift in the South China Sea. At first glance, the reasons are obvious enough: architecture, national character, lifestyle, religion, even the cuisine all seem to echo their kinship with the Caribbean or maybe Mexico. (Thor Heyerdahl could perhaps find a more primitive explanation than merely the quirks of more or less recent history). Western affinities notwithstanding, however, the country remains firmly Asian in family loyalties, consciousness and aspiration.

Down the millennia, the mountainous archipelago of 7,107 islands scattered across the Pacific between Borneo and Taiwan remained largely untouched by the waxing and waning of the mighty empires throughout the rest of the continent. The 16th – century conquistadores searching for the Spice Route found neither Hindu temples nor Buddhist monasteries, and the handful of Muslim sultanates in the south proved no match for the conversionary power of the Sword and the Cross. Thus arose the only predominantly Catholic nation in Southeast Asia, whose Baroque churches and fervent festivals have nonetheless never completely lost their foundations in an earlier folk culture. Traits inherited from the early Malay settlers – easy-going charm, warmth, generosity, joie-de-vivre – remained too, blending with Hispanic pride and eloquence, a hint of noli me tangere, a soupcon of Latin capriciousness and musicality before acquiring an enthusiastic veneer of Americanization (from language to lifestyle).

Its wealth of natural resources (golf, copper and other metals, limestone, gypsum, coal, timber, fish, pearls and geothermal energy) are confidently expected to provide the Philippines with the basis for economic success as its new democracy exorcises the ghosts of the Marcos era. Priority industries, including electronics, garments, leather goods, furniture, processed foods and building construction, are supported by agriculture in a market-oriented system backed by public investment. Improvements to rural infrastructure and community projects, though hampered by geography, aim to reverse the drift to the vast conurbation surrounding the capital, Manila.

The triangular-shaped archipelago is divided into three main island groups: Luzon, consisting of Manila, Palawan, and Quezon in the north; the Visayas (Bohol, Cebu, and Negros) in the center; and Mindanao (Zamboanga and Davao) in the south. From the millennial rice terraces of Banaue to the stilted sea-gypsy settlements of Zamboanga, a scenario of tree-clad mountains, sandy beaches, fertile coastal plains, lakes and rivers frames a dozen active volcanoes and as many dormant or extinct ones forming part of the Pacific ‘ring of fire’. The primeval dipterocarpaceous forests are the home of an array of tropical flora and a veritable zoo of exotic birds and beasts.

The cuisine of the Philippines is one of Asia’s most eclectic. Borrowing cheerfully from Malay settlers, Chinese immigrants and Spanish colonizers and even embracing the hamburger philosophy of the Americans, it has welded the cornucopia of tastes into a love coconut. Seafood is ubiquitous, too, whilst the crowning glory of any grand local celebration is a Polynesian-style spit-roast pig or lechon.

Template by - Abdul Munir - 2008