The Philippines and East Timor

The Philippines

Philippines map
Philippines map
Lonely Planet: Introducing the Philippines

Located on the eastern side of the Southeast Asian community is the archipelago state of the Philippines. With more than 7,100 islands, many volcanic peaks, and an expanse of coastal waterways, the Philippines is home to more than 108 million people in a combined land area about the size of Arizona. The Philippines were a Spanish colony. The name is taken from Spain’s sixteen-century King Philip II. Spain relinquished its claim on the Philippines to the United States in 1898 after its defeat in the Spanish-American War. The people of the Philippines wanted independence at that time and fought a bitter war with the United States in which more than a million people died.

A depiction of the Battle of Paceo during the Philippine–American War.
A depiction of the Battle of Paceo during the Philippine–American War.

The United States allowed the Philippines to become a commonwealth in 1935. The independence movement was placed on hold while the Japanese invaded and controlled the Philippines during World War II. After the war was over, the United States granted the Philippines its independence in 1946.

Environmental Forces

The islands of the Philippines are of volcanic origin. They are mainly mountainous and covered in tropical rainforest. The highest mountain, at 9,692 feet, is Mt. Apo, which is located on the southern island of Mindanao.

Mindanao (in red)
Mindanao (in red)

The Philippines has a number of active volcanoes. The northern island of Luzon is home to the Taal Volcano, Mt. Pinatubo, and Mt. Mayon. The Pacific tectonic plate reaches the southern edge of the Philippine plate where it meets up with the Eurasian Plate. The juncture of tectonic plates creates a similar situation to that of Tokyo, which is at the opposite end of the Philippine plate. Active seismic forces result in many earthquakes. As many as twenty earthquakes a day can be registered here, though many are too weak to be noticed. In 1990, an earthquake on the island of Luzon registered at a magnitude of 7.8 and killed more than 1,621 people, causing extensive damage.

Luzon’s Mt. Pinatubo volcano has been active in recent years. Before 1991, the mountain attracted little attention, was heavily forested, and was home to tribal indigenous people. The volcano had a colossal eruption in 1991 that was recorded as the second largest in a century, after Alaska’s 1912 Novarupta eruption. Mt. Pinatubo began giving signs of an eruption, which were heeded by the government. Thousands of people were evacuated from the area, which saved many lives. The eruption caused billions of dollars in damage. More than eight hundred people were killed, and more than two million were directly impacted. The eruption destroyed more than eight thousand homes and the overall effects of the volcano were felt around the world.

Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption forced billions of tons of magma, ash, sulfur dioxide, minerals, and particulates into the atmosphere and onto the earth’s surface. The sun was blocked out, temperatures dropped, and ash piled up in nearby areas, causing extensive damage to roofs, roadways, and agricultural lands. The damage from the eruption was amplified by the fact that a full-scale typhoon hit the country on the same date, bringing torrential rainfall and wind that mixed with the ash in the air to create extremely dangerous environmental conditions. The damage had a massive impact on the entire economy of the Philippines.

Mt. Pinatubo

The eruption severely damaged civilian infrastructure and US military bases in the region. The Subic Bay Naval Base was fifty miles to the southwest of Mt. Pinatubo’s summit, while Clark Air Base was less than sixteen miles to the east. Enormous clouds of ash covered everything. As a result of the damage to the operations at the bases, the United States Air Force evacuated and moved all air base personnel and military assets to bases in Guam, Okinawa, or Hawaii. The United States ultimately abandoned Clark Air Base, while Subic Bay reverted to the Philippines. There are thirty-seven volcanoes in the Philippines, of which eighteen are still active. Mt. Mayon is the most active volcano at the present time. It has had forty-seven eruptions in recorded history. The eruption in 1993 killed sixty-eight people and caused the evacuation of sixty thousand more.

Mayon is the Philippines' most active volcano.
Mayon is the Philippines’ most active volcano.

Due to the volcanic nature of the islands, mineral deposits are abundant. The country is estimated to have the second-largest gold deposits after South Africa. The Philippines has also harnessed some of the geothermal energy from volcanic activity and is the world’s second-biggest geothermal producer.

TRT World: Philippines invests in geothermal exploration | Money Talks

Earthquakes and volcanoes are not the only serious natural concerns of the Philippine Islands; they are also directly in the center of the Western Pacific’s major typhoon belt. As many as twenty typhoons occur yearly in the area of the islands, and as many as half hit the islands directly. The 1991 typhoon Thelma/Uring killed as many as eight thousand people. The 1911 typhoon dumped over forty-six inches of rain in a twenty-four-hour period. Flooding is usually the main problem with typhoons and is the number one killer related to typhoon deaths. Typhoon activity also brings precipitation to the islands and the region. The Philippines are in the major path of typhoons in the Pacific and will continue to combat the effects of these powerful forces of nature.

CNN: A look inside super Typhoon Haiyan

Most of the Philippines is covered in tropical rainforest. There are rugged mountains, beautiful beaches, lush valleys, and plains.

Soar Over the Chocolate Hills in the Philippines | National Geographic
Note: This video mentions millions of years.

The largest plain is in the Central Luzon region and produces most of the nation’s rice supply, earning itself the nickname “Rice Bowl of the Philippines“. Rice is cultivated in other areas of the country, including the Cordillera mountain range, as seen in the amazing video below:

Soar Over the Lush Rice Terraces of the Philippines | National Geographic

The Philippines’ rainforests and its extensive coastlines make it home to a diverse range of birds, plants, animals, and sea creatures.

Philippine tarsier (Tarsius syrichta), one of the smallest primates.
Philippine tarsier (Tarsius syrichta), one of the smallest primates.
The Philippines is home to many beautiful butterflies.
The Philippines is home to many beautiful butterflies.
The Philippine eagle is also known as the monkey-eating eagle.
The Philippine eagle is also known as the monkey-eating eagle.
Watch an Endangered Philippine Eagle Chick Grow Up in Rare Video | Nat Geo Wild

The Philippines is also home to coral reefs, one of which is considered nearly pristine due to its isolation:

Explore One of the Most Pristine Coral Reefs in the World | National Geographic

Political Geography

The Philippines can be divided into three main geopolitical regions: LuzonVisayas, and Mindanao. The northern island of Luzon is home to the nation’s national capital region with Quezon, the largest city, and Manila, the capital. Both cities are a part of metropolitan Manila, which has a population of more than twenty million. The northern island of Luzon is home to half the population of the country. The central Philippines consists of the Visayas Island group, including the islands between the Sulu Sea and the Philippine Sea. The southern region of the country is anchored by the large island of Mindanao.

Island regions of the Philippines
Island regions of the Philippines

The government of the Philippines is a constitutional republic with an elected president. With independence in 1946 came various leaders who have shaped the political landscape of the Philippines. After recovering from the devastation of World War II, the country prospered during the 1960s and showed positive economic gains. The political scene entered a difficult political era with the election of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1965, which turned into an authoritative dictatorship. During his time in power, the economy became sluggish and social unrest began to arise in opposition to his leadership.

Barred by law from being elected for a third time, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972 under the premise that there was too much political conflict with Communist elements and Islamic insurgencies. Marcos ruled with his wife Imelda Marcos until 1986, when conditions worsened and the two were implicated in the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino. Corruption, vote rigging, and the dictatorial actions of President Marcos caught up with him through mass protests, which eventually led to his removal from office. He left the Philippines for his exile in Hawaii. It was later alleged that during his twenty years in office, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos had embezzled billions of dollars of public funds and moved them to bank accounts in Switzerland, the United States, other countries, and into fictitious money-laundering corporations. Ferdinand Marcos died of illness in 1989 in Honolulu.

Imelda Marcos returned to the Philippines to run for public office and even attempted a failed run for the presidency. Imelda was known for her thousands of shoes, which she had acquired while in power. Many of them are in a shoe museum in the Philippines. She was also known for her extravagant spending trips around the world.

Epimetheus: Was Ferdinand Marcos a Villain or Hero?(History of the Philippines, Marcos Biography)

Several different political leaders have come to power since the Ferdinand Marcos era. Political stability has been difficult to achieve. The national leadership has faced Islamic insurgencies, attempted coups, corruption in the government, and a high national debt. These issues continue today but a modest level of stability has encouraged economic growth.

Cultural Geography

The Philippines is a diverse country with hundreds of ethnic groups. Many tribal groups, as well as a large number of immigrants from Asia, Spain, and the United States, have made the Philippines home. Together with Spanish influence, mixed ethnic groups have been created. They are an example of the confluence of cultures that make up the country. The Philippines is the only country in Asia where Roman Catholicism predominates, other than recently independent East Timor.

The Igorot (Tagalog for ‘mountaineer’) live in the mountains of Luzon, Philippines.
Sama-Bajau women from the southern Philippines in traditional clothing
The Ati are a Negrito ethnic group that live in the Philippines.
The Ati are a Negrito ethnic group that live in the Philippines.

Christians make up about 90 percent of the population. All but 10 percent identify themselves as Roman Catholic. A modest Muslim population is prominent in the southern island of Mindanao and neighboring islands. Islamic fundamentalism has increased the insurgency in the region, causing political and economic turmoil and conflict. People of Chinese heritage often follow Buddhism, Taoism, or Chinese folk religions. Various tribal groups still follow their cultural animist beliefs and have traditional shaman religious leaders.

The Philippines is home to more than one hundred eighty native languages and dialects. English and Filipino were declared the official languages of the Philippines in 1987. The name Filipino was derived from the term las Islas Filipinas (“the Philippine Islands”), the name given to the archipelago in 1543 by the Spanish explorer and Dominican priest Ruy López de Villalobos, in honor of Philip II of Spain.

Tagalog is the main language spoken. Filipino is a version of Tagalog that is used in many of the urban areas. English and Tagalog are used in different parts of the country.

Filipino cuisine has evolved over several centuries from its Malayo-Polynesian origins to become a mixed cuisine with many Hispanic, Chinese, American, and other Asian influences that have been adapted to local ingredients.

Lumpia are a type of spring roll that is usually deep fried.
Lumpia are a type of spring roll that is usually deep fried.
Ube halaya is a dessert made from mashed purple yam.
Ube halaya is a dessert made from mashed purple yam.
Adobo is meat, seafood, or vegetables marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and pepper.
Adobo is meat, seafood, or vegetables marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and pepper.
Atchara is a side dish of pickled papaya strips similar to sauerkraut.
Atchara is a side dish of pickled papaya strips similar to sauerkraut.

East Timor (Timor-Leste)

East Timor map
East Timor map

Use the Google map below to explore Timor-Leste:

Discovering Timor-Leste – Lonely Planet travel video

Timor is an island of southern Indonesia not far from Australia. Much of the country is mountainous, and the climate is tropical. The northern coast has a number of coral reefs.

The scenery of Dili, Timor-Leste.
The scenery of Dili, Timor-Leste.

The island is divided by its colonial history. The eastern half was a Portuguese colony beginning in the sixteenth century. Portuguese colonizers introduced Christianity in the form of Roman Catholicism. The western half was associated with Indonesia, which was a Dutch colony during the colonial era. The Japanese occupied the Dutch colony during World War II but had to give it up after they surrendered in 1945. Indonesia received its independence in 1949 and laid claim to the whole island of Timor. East Timor made a declaration of independence in 1975 but was occupied by Indonesia. A bitter civil war erupted. A year later, Indonesia declared it its twenty-seventh province. The civil war resulted in the deaths of as many as two hundred fifty thousand people. It wasn’t until 1999 that Indonesia finally ceded its political control over East Timor. The Australian military has been instrumental in securing East Timor for independence and has been serving as a peacekeeping force for internal security for the past decade. The United Nations (UN) recognized East Timor as a sovereign independent country in 2002. The official name of the country is listed as Timor-Leste.

Guardian Australia: East Timor independence: a short history of a long and brutal struggle
Note: Violence is mentioned and a dead person is shown from a distance.

Timor-Leste has a population of about 1.25 million (as of 2020). About 98 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. The only other predominant Catholic country in Asia is the Philippines. About 90 percent of the population still works in agriculture. The largest export is coffee and Starbucks is a major purchaser. Nearly half the population lives in extreme poverty.

Mountain village in East Timor

The country has had a difficult time establishing a stable government and reducing conflict. Almost all its infrastructure was damaged in the civil war and rebuilding has been slow. Poor and impoverished due to the civil war over independence, the country does have some opportunity derived from the large natural gas field in the vicinity. East Timor has been working to gain control of its maritime boundaries to benefit from offshore natural resources.

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Next: 9.1: North Africa and the African Transition Zone

Additional information and image credits:

Phillipines map By OCHA, CC BY 3.0,
Battle of Paceo By Kurz & Allison –, Public Domain,
Mindanao By JL 09 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Pinatubo By Dave Harlow, USGS – CVO Photo Archives – Pinatubo, Philippines, Public Domain,
Mayon By Tomas Tam, Attribution,
Regions By seav, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Tarsier CC BY-SA 3.0,
butterfly By Anaxibia – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Philippine eagle By The Wandering Angel – Angry Bird!, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Subanen people By Theglennpalacio – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Ati woman By Ken Ilio – Tribal Portrait, CC BY 2.0,
Lumpia By The original uploader was Wiendietry at Indonesian Wikipedia. – Own work by the original uploader, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Chicken adobo By Jack Lawrence –, CC BY 2.0,
Atchara By Obsidian Soul – Own work, CC0,
East Timor – East Timor
Timor map By OCHA, CC BY 3.0,
Dili coast By Surface Forces –, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Mountain village By Nick Hobgood – Flickr, CC BY 2.0,

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