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The Philippines is a rich tropical archipelago of 7,107 islands stretching gracefully over 1800 kilometers between the fifth and twenty-second degrees north of the equator. Strategically positioned east of the Asian mainland, and blessed with abundant natural resources, the country has attracted traders, explorers and adventurers for centuries.

The country's total land area is approximately 300,000 square kilometers (115,800 square miles) and its coastline of more than 34,400 kilometers (21,500 miles) is the fifth longest in the world. Its territorial waters cover 212 million hectares.

The Philippines is bounded by three large bodies of water: on the west and north by the South China Sea, on the east by the Philippine Sea and on the south by the Celebes Sea.

The country's islands are divided into three main groups: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Luzon is the major island to the north where the country's capital, Manila, is located. The Visayas is a cluster of islands in the middle of the archipelago. Mindanao is the southernmost island group.

As it is located in the Pacific ring of fire-the most volcanic region on Earth - the Philippines has more than 100 seismic faults spanning both Luzon and Mindanao, as well as 22 active volcanoes and 27 potentially active volcanoes. Of these volcanoes, Mount Mayon in Albay, with its nearly perfect cone, is the most active. Taal Volcano in Batangas is considered the world's smallest volcano.

The Philippines ranks 23rd among the most plant species-rich countries of the world, hosting 13,500 plant species, or 5 per cent of the world total. Almost one-fourth of all these plant species are endemic to the country.

One hundred and seventy thousand animal species can also be found in the country. Of the 230 species of mammals in the islands, 98 are endemic. Among the many rare species that can be found in the Philippines are:

• The Philippine Tarsier (the world smallest monkey)

• The White-Winged Flying Fox (Pteropus luecopterus, one of the world's rarest mammals)

• The Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi, the world's largest eagle)

• The Pygmy Goby (Pandaka pygmea, the world's smallest fish) The Philippine Sailfin Lizard

• (Hydrosaurus pustulatus, one of the rarest lizard species in the world)

The Philippines also has one of the richest collections of corals in the world, with 488 out of 500 species found in the Apo Reef in Mindoro and the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.Due to its proximity to the equator, the Philippines enjoys tropical climate, with a relatively constant temperature yearround. The country has two main seasons: the dry (from December to May) and the rainy (from June to November).

Written by Arlene Wright

The reactions of visitors from Western countries who are making their first trip to the Philippines are nicely described by Alfredo and Grace Roces in their book, Culture Shock Philippines. Often Westerners will feel pleasantly surprised to find that English spoken is widely, and the trappings of American lifestyle are everywhere – from Hollywood films to fast-food chains.

For many though, a delayed shock follows. They may feel that while they are speaking the same language, they are not communicating. This is because, unlike other Asians, Filipinos have a Western veneer that can give a misleading or false impression. But if visitors to the Philippines learn to understand the social amenities and the culture do’s and don’ts, they can minimize misunderstandings, recognize friendly overtures, and avoid social gaffes.

The complexity and contradictions in Filipino culture are due, in large part, to the foreign values imposed by three hundred years of Spanish Catholic mores, and fifty years of American free enterprise. Filipinos are gregarious, happy, generous people, and it is not difficult to win their friendship. But visitors can be taken aback by a Filipino’s reaction to a serious situation. In particular, while the Westerner might adopt a solemn or angry tone, the Filipino’s reaction is usually to give his most relaxed smile, or even loudest laugh – but this does not mean he is enjoying himself. Filipinos, like most Asians, also stress public harmony and seem to have “ultra-sensitive” feelers for hints of potential personal clashes. Direct confrontation is frowned upon and public conflict is taboo because someone is bound to lose face and this would lead to further trouble.

Filipinos are extremely tolerant people and their hospitality is almost limitless. A little understanding and insight will open doors and arms. To really know the Filipino, and to really feel at ease in the Philippines, visitors need to probe past the Western veneer, and then an entirely different world will reveal itself.

by Arlene Wright

Many Filipino cultural values reflect the desire to be together as a group. One example is pakikisama. This is the ability to get along in a group, and to enjoy camaraderie and togetherness. One who understands pakikisama will yield to group opinion and sacrifice individual welfare for group welfare. Another value that binds groups together is utang na loob. This is the Filipino obligation to repay a debt or favor upon request, and repay it with interest. Every Filipino has utang na loob to someone, while others have utang na loob to him. Filipinos also believe strongly in suki, which is the building of personal bonds between businesses and customers and loyal patronage.

In the spirit of group togetherness, Filipinos love to eat and celebrate with family and friends. When Filipinos move into a new house, for example, they believe it is not proper to live there unless it is blessed in the presence of friends who will wish them prosperity. There is a religious ritual, sometimes a shower of coins tossed for good luck, and then there is a feast. Another type of special feast is the despidida, which is given in honor of someone who is leaving for a long period of time. Anyone who comes into a windfall of money is also encouraged to share a bit with family and friend as balato; and to celebrate with a blow-out, which could be treating friends at a restaurant or a feast at home. When guests depart, the Filipino custom of giving them a parcel of food as a send-off gesture is called pabaon. And travelers (even to nearby towns) are expected to return with “greeting gifts” called pasalubong for family and friends.

Like other Asians, Filipinos believe strongly in saving face. This is why, in response to an invitation, when a Filipino says yes, it might mean “yes”, but could mean “maybe”, or even “I don’t know.” It is often difficult for Filipinos to bring themselves to say no, and it is a good idea to confirm a dinner invitation several times to ensure that they did not say yes because they could not find a proper way to say no. Also tied to saving face are amor propio, which means self respect; and hiya, which means shame. A Filipino would be thought of as lacking amor propio if, for example, they accepted criticism weakly or did not offer honored guests the proper hospitality. Hiya is felt by those whose actions are seen as socially unacceptable, and one of the ultimate insults in Philippine society is to be labeled walang-hiya, which roughly translates to being shameless. Everyone is expected to have hiya, and to win the respect of others by conforming to community norms. Those who change allegiances for personal convenience are seen as double-faced, and labeled balimbing (after the many-sided fruit). Also, in order to save face, Filipinos are not allowed to express anger or resentment, so their hostility can take the form of withdrawal of cheerfulness from someone who has displeased them. This silent treatment is known as tampo. After a “cooling off” period, it is important to respond to this person with a friendly overture or relations will deteriorate.

Another value that is common in Philippine culture is bahala na; which means, literally, leaving things to God. It indicates the Filipino’s fatalistic view of life, and is a way of coping with conflicts that can result from tight kinship within groups. By adopting this attitude, one lets the circumstance take care of itself.


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