The Republika ng Pilipinas is a sovereign island country in Southeast Asia, situated in the western Pacific Ocean. Its capital city is Manila; the most populous city is Quezon City; both are part of Metro Manila.
It is an archipelago which consists of 7,107 islands. The three main islands and geographical divisions are Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. They are represented by the three stars on the Philippine flag. Approximately 1,000 of its islands are populated, and less than one-half of these are larger than 2.5 square kilometers (1 sq mi). Eleven islands make up 95 percent of the Philippine landmass.
The islands, located on the Pacific Ring of Fire and close to the equator, make the Philippines prone to earthquakes and typhoons, with an average of twenty typhoons annually. The last decade has seen an increase in severe typhoons, notably Yolanda (international name Haiyan). Yolanda made landfall in the central Philippines in November 8th, 2013, as a category five super-typhoon. It is the most severe storm to hit landfall ever recorded, which claimed thousands of lives.
The wildlife of the Philippines includes a significant number of endemic plant and animal species. The country’s surrounding waters reportedly have the highest level of marine biodiversity in the world.
The climate is either tropical rainforest, tropical savanna, tropical monsoon, or humid subtropical (in higher-altitude areas) characterized by relatively high temperature, oppressive humidity and plenty of rainfall. There are two seasons in the country, the wet season and the dry season. The seven warmest months of the year are from March to October; the winter monsoon brings cooler air from November to February. May is the warmest month, and January is the coolest. Climate change has affected the country in a big way, resulting in an increase of devastating storms and droughts.
Brief Historical Review
The history of the Philippines is believed to have begun with the arrival of the first humans using rafts or primitive boats, at least 67,000 years ago. Negrito tribes inhabited the isles, which were subsequently joined and largely supplanted by migrating groups of Austronesians. This population had stratified into hunter-gatherer tribes, warrior societies, petty plutocracies, and maritime-oriented harbor principalities. The small maritime states flourished from the 1st millennium.
The first recorded visit from the West is the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan on March 16, 1521, a Portuguese explorer who organized a Spanish expedition to the East Indies. Spanish colonization and settlement began with the arrival of Miguel López de Legazpi’s expedition on February 13, 1565, who established the first permanent settlement of San Miguel on the island of Cebu in central Philippines. The expedition continued northward, reaching the bay of Manila on the island of Luzon on June 24, 1571, where they established a new town and thus began an era of Spanish colonization that lasted for more than three centuries.
Spanish rule achieved the political unification of almost the whole archipelago that previously had been composed by independent kingdoms, pushing back south the advancing Islamic population. Spain created the first draft of the nation that was to be known as the Philippines. The Spanish East Indies were ruled as part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, administered from Mexico City from 1565 to 1821, except for a brief period of British rule from 1762 to 1764. Then, from 1821 until the end of the Spanish–American War in 1898, it was administered from Madrid, Spain.
The Spaniards founded schools, university, and some hospitals in Manila. Universal education was made free in 1863 and remained so until the end of the Spanish colonial era. This measure led to an important class of educated natives, like José Rizal, Philippine’s national hero. Ironically, it was during the initial years of American occupation in the early 20th century, that Spanish literature and press flourished.
The Philippine Revolution against Spain began in August 1896, culminating the establishment of the First Philippine Republic. However, the Treaty of Paris, at the end of the Spanish–American War, transferred control of the Philippines to the United States. This agreement was not recognized by the insurgent First Philippine Republic Government, which on June 2, 1899, proclaimed a Declaration of War against the United States. The Philippine–American War which ensued resulted in massive casualties. Philippine president Emilio Aguinaldo was captured in 1901 and the U.S. government declared the conflict officially over in 1902.
The U.S. had established a military government in the Philippines on August 14, 1898, following the capture of Manila. Civil government was inaugurated on July 1, 1901. An elected Philippine Assembly was convened in 1907 as the lower house of a bicameral legislature. Commonwealth status was granted in 1935, preparatory to a planned full independence from the United States in 1946. Preparation for a fully sovereign state was interrupted by the Japanese occupation of the islands during World War II. After the end of the war, the Treaty of Manila established the Philippine Republic as an independent nation. After the official ouster of the US Bases, US’ presence remains seen in terms of investments and military forces, and its influence in religion, education and technology.
The Philippines in the late 1960s and early 1970s saw a rise of student activism, and President Ferdinand Marcos declaring martial law. The peaceful and bloodless People Power Revolution of 1986, brought about the ousting of Marcos and a return to democracy for the country. The period since then was marked by political instability and hampered economic productivity. However, economic growth has gained pace in recent years, placing the Philippines with among the Next Eleven world’s largest economies in the 21st Century.
The Philippines has a democratic government in the form of a constitutional republic with a presidential system. President Benigno S. Aquino III’s term ends in 2016. The Philippines is governed as a unitary state, with the exception of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
For centuries the Island of Mindanao has been prevalently Muslim. During the last fifty years, migration has been encouraged and supported by the national government. However, the rich agricultural island has remained backward in terms of infrastructure, education and living conditions. Rebel groups have been nurtured in these conditions, notably the secessionist Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. These past seventeen years, the government has been negotiating with these groups for a just and lasting peace. The result was the proposed Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, a new political entity for Muslim Mindanao in an effort to alleviate the conflicts. Emotional debates are ongoing in congress.
Political participation of women in elective posts is 17% or less than 1/3 of the population, according to the Commission on Election. Some of the causes are multiple burdens, gender stereotyping and lack of political education. Two women presidents have been elected – Corazon Aquino (1986-1992) and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2001-2010), but they were heirs of their political families and patriarchal structures.
The economy of the Philippines is currently one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, the 39th largest in the world, according to 2013 World Bank statistics. The Philippines is considered as a newly industrialized country, which has been transitioning from an economy based on agriculture to services and manufacturing. According to the World Bank International Comparison Program 2011, the estimated Gross Domestic Product was $543.7 billion.
The Philippines is among the largest migrant countries of origin in the world. In the last four decades, labor migration became a major contributing economic force impacting in many ways the social fabric of the country. The majority of the Filipino migrants are deployed to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. 90% of the domestic workers are women. While the government creates policies to facilitate the work abroad for the lack of economic opportunity at home, and enacts laws to protect the migrant workers, they remain vulnerable to exploitation, violence and discrimination.
Primary exports include semiconductors and electronic products, transport equipment, garments, copper products, petroleum products, coconut oil, and fruits. Major trading partners include the United States, Japan, China, Singapore, South Korea, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Germany, Taiwan, and Thailand. The Philippines has been named as one of the Tiger Cub Economies together with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. However, major problems remain, like the wide income and growth disparities between the country’s different regions and socioeconomic classes, corruption, and infrastructure necessary to ensure future growth.
Jeepneys are the most popular mode of public transportation in the Philippines; they have also become a ubiquitous symbol of the Philippine culture. Motorized tricycles are especially common in rural areas, and trains are very popular in the bustling metropolis of Manila. Taxis and buses are also important modes of public transport in urban areas. It is important for a growing economy to have good public transportation, especially because so many women and mothers are working outside the home. Poor public transportation can impact the care and safety of families and their small children.
Telecommunications industry was deregulated in 1995, leading to the creation of many service providers for mobile, fixed-line, internet and other services. There are 9 international gateways; satellite earth stations – 3 Intelsat (1 Indian Ocean and 2 Pacific Ocean); and submarine cables to Hong Kong, Guam, Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan. SMS services are very common in the Philippines, from news briefs to multimedia services, and even to spark the EDSA II revolt in 2001 that overthrew the government of President Joseph Estrada. Mobile phones SIMs in use in 2012 was 103 million. Over five million mobile phone users also use their phones as virtual wallets, making it a leader among developing nations in providing financial transactions over cellular networks.
The tourism industry contributes to 5.9% of the Philippine Gross Domestic Product and to 10.2%of national employment, according to data gathered by the National Statistical Coordination Board in 2011. The beaches, mountains, rainforests, and islands are among the country’s most popular tourist destinations. However, there are reports about the presence of the sex tourism industry, including child sex tourism, even though prostitution is illegal.
The Philippines has a population growth rate of 2.04%, one of the highest in Asia. As of July 27, 2014, it reached more than 100 million. The Philippine population is very young. About 31% are minors. The majority of Filipinos are made up of various ethnolinguistic Austronesian ethnic groups, while the Agtas, an indigenous dark-skinned people form a minority. The indigenous population is closely related to indigenous Malaysians and Indonesians. Ethnic groups that have been in the Philippines for centuries before European and American colonial rule have assimilated, such as various Japanese people, Han Chinese, Indian people, etc., and they form a large part of the population.
There are between 120 and 170 languages spoken in the country. Most of them have several varieties (dialects), totaling over 300 across the archipelago. Since the 1930s, the government has promoted the use of the national language, Filipino, based on Tagalog. Visayan languages (also called Bisaya or Binisaya) are widely spoken throughout the Visayas and in some parts of Mindanao. Ilokano is the lingua franca of Northern Luzon, excluding Pangasinan.
English is considered an official language for purposes of communication and instruction. It is widely spoken and understood, especially in the urban context.
Education in the Philippines is based on both Western and Eastern ideology and philosophy influenced by the United States, Spain, and its neighboring Asian countries. Literacy in the country is very high, with female literacy at 96.1% and male literacy at 95%.
Philippine students enter public school at about age four, and complete the education with college. Public education is sponsored by the government, but there is also private schools. Elementary public school is free, although the burgeoning population challenges the capacity of government school infrastructures.
Educated women like Maria Ylagan Orosa and Fe del Mundo had contributed greatly to the country. Maria Orosa (1893–1945), from Taal in Batangas, was a pioneer in food technology, nutrition, and preservation. She was credited for inventing banana ketchup, Calamansi Nip (a powdered form of calamansi), and Soyalac (powdered soya beans). She wanted to make every Filipino family self-sufficient in terms of food, health, and nutritional needs. After doing odd jobs to support her education in the US, Orosa earned degrees in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Food Chemistry, and Pharmacy.
Fe del Mundo (1911–2011), born in Manila, was the first woman to be admitted to Harvard Medical School at the US, in 1936 — over ten years before the school officially began admitting women. She was also the first woman to be named National Scientist of the Philippines in 1980, and founded the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines.
The Philippine islands were greatly influenced by Hindu religions, literature and philosophy from India in the early centuries of the Christian era. As a result of Spanish colonization, Christianity is the major religion, with more than 80% of the population being Roman Catholic, just second in Asia after East Timor. However, the Philippine state is secular; there is separation between church and state.
As of 2012, Muslims were a minority reported as comprising 5–11% of the population, most of whom live in parts of Mindanao, Palawan, and the Sulu Archipelago – an area known as Bangsamoro or the Moro region. Most Muslim Filipinos practice Sunni Islam according to the Shafi’i school. There are also some Ahmadiyya Muslims in the country.
Philippine traditional religions are still practiced by an estimated 2% of the population, made up of many aboriginal and tribal groups. These religions are often syncretized with Christianity and Islam. Animism, folk religion, and shamanism remain present as undercurrents of mainstream religion, through the albularyo, the babaylan, and the manghihilot. Buddhism is practiced by 1% of the population. Taoism and Chinese folk religion is dominant in the Chinese communities. There are smaller number of followers of Hinduism, Sikhism, and Judaism and Baha’i. Less than one percent of the population is non-religious.
There is some collaboration between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant Churches, one instance is the Celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, promoted together with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. A common interest is issue based, like mining. Both the Catholic Bishops Conference and the National Council of Churches are calling for the repeal of the Environment and Mining Act. They argued that the allegedly economic benefits promised by the transnational corporations would result in displacement of communities, mainly indigenous peoples, along with an increase of health risks and environmental damage.
Pope Francis visited the country in January of 2015. Millions of people attended the masses, included non-Roman Catholic leaders. His message of mercy and compassion was to comfort the people devastated by the typhoon and earthquake in the Visayas. He visited Tacloban, where around 90% of the city in Leyte province was destroyed and more than 14.5 million people were affected. About one million people remain homeless one year after typhoon Yolanda.
In the Philippines, women study theology and can be ordained in several protestant churches. Women also serve as bishops (The United Church of Christ in the Philippines), church’s presidents (Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches), deaconess, theologians, and Christian educators. A regional magazine called “In God’s Image Now” is a venue for feminist theology in Asia, and many contributors are from the Philippines. The Association of Women in Theology is present both in the national and some regions in the Philippines as well.
In 2011, Sister Mary John Mananzan, a missionary Benedictine nun, was nominated for the 100 inspiring people in the world by Women Deliver, for integrating feminism into faith in the Philippines. She was the co-founder and chairperson of Gabriela, a coalition of women’s organizations that promotes women’s rights.
Situation of Women
Before the Spanish colonization began in the 16th century, women in the Philippines occupied a relatively high status in the community. The indigenous Filipino woman enjoyed the customary law of naming their children, inherited property, engaged in trade and industry, or succeeded the village chief in the absence of a male heir.1 Indigenous communities gave equal importance to male and female offspring, dividing inheritance equally among children, and ensuring education for both.2 Both were taught to do housework. Women had full rights to engage in business of their own3, maintain property brought into marriage4, with their social and spatial mobility no more restricted than the men’s. There was no historical record of prostitution, and divorce law was equal in granting rights to each party.5 Women also had significant political roles as lawgivers and governors.6 As of 2015, there are 4 women members of the Senate from a total of 23.
Women assumed an important role in the traditional religion. The babaylan (shaman or traditional healer), a religious functionary usually performed by a woman, mediated between the human and spirit world.7 The babaylan functioned as the repository of the people’s knowledge, healer, keeper of the people’s faith, and as one of the three pillars of society, together with the Datu (village head) and the Panday (blacksmith). The tradition of the babaylan or maaram (‘wise one’ in Hiligaynon) is alive until today, such as in the province of Antique, Panay Island.8
The Spanish colonizers introduced feudalism which led to the subordination of women to men in the whole archipelago. Women were conditioned through religion to become sweet, docile, obedient and self-sacrificing.9 The indigenous woman became a sheltered, over-protected, timid maiden who receive an education confined to church, kitchen and children.10 Her most basic right, the control over her own body with its reproductive choices, has not been regained up to this time.
Nevertheless, there were women who resisted Spanish colonization just as many babaylans who resisted Christianity. During the 1896 Philippine revolution for independence against Spain, they served as informants, involved in the revolutionary propaganda and as keepers of documents. Some took up arms like Teresa Magbanua of Panay Island who later acquired the rank of general, and Gabriela Silang who assumed her husband’s military post upon his death.11
Filipino women are brave and resourceful. At this day and age, women take on the role of breadwinner as they go abroad as service crew, domestic helper, or skilled professionals in the medical field. The country reels under the staggering social cost when women leave the home to work abroad. The government declares an annual income from the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) of 26 Billion US Dollars, increasing every year as more men and women go abroad to work.
The United States colonial rule in the late 1900s only intensified the exploitation and oppression of women under a colonial and semi-feudal society, which maintained the old landlordism and introduced capitalist production for export. More women were displaced from the land by joining the army of cheap reserve labor and the service sector as domestic helpers. Prostitution became organized with cabarets in haciendas (plantations) and night clubs around the US military bases.
Japanese militarism arrived in the 1940s which disrupted production, occasioned hunger, destroyed properties, and dislocated and broke up families. Rape and abuse of women was widespread, with many forcibly abducted to military camps to serve as ‘comfort women’ for the ‘sexual release’ of Japanese soldiers. Some Japanese apologized for that. Japan today invests in the Philippines and helps through Official Development Assistance.
Today the Philippine economy is still agrarian, export-oriented and import-dependent, struggling to become an industrialized economy. Despite having had two women presidents, the majority of Filipino women remain poor, and are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. The Philippine Constitution provides for equal rights, yet Filipino women in practice are discriminated against and treated as subordinates in the home, in church and in society.
Filipino women in their particular socio-cultural locations, experience various forms of oppression. An indigenous, uneducated, young woman from the hinterlands would be more vulnerable to the lure of being trafficked and prostituted, or to become an overseas worker who is a potential victim of sexual abuse. Poverty aggravates the vulnerability of women to violence and exploitation, and makes it even more difficult for victims of abuse to find redress. Philippine society still measures a woman’s worth by her virtues of self-sacrifice, obedience to authorities, and social propriety in silence. Church teachings in general uphold and promote these ideals for women to emulate and live by.
According to the National Statistics Office and the Philippine Commission on Women, 1 in 5 women aging 15-49 have experienced physical violence. However there is also sexual, psychological and economic violence, and human trafficking. The Philippines has enacted several laws protecting women from violence – Anti-Sexual Harassment, Anti-Rape and Rape Victim Assistance and Protection, Anti-Trafficking in Persons, and Anti-Violence against Women and Children with Women’s and Children’s Desks and Services. In spite of these laws, the implementation is very limited.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines has provided education and training for women leaders of the member churches to eliminate violence against women. The Baptist, Methodist and United Church women’s organization took on a continuous campaign on violence against women and children. The “Fly with the Wings of a Dove” campaign went on for three years covering Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, targeting women, men and youth in the communities. In the island of Romblon, the Ecumenical Women’s group made a Memorandum of Agreement with the local police and the local office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which encouraged women to go the authorities when facing violence. An effective campaign involves a combination of studying the Bible, law, advocacy, liturgy, and networking with other women organizations and local authorities.
In February 2015, more than 3,000 students, teachers and nuns from a school in Manila, joined the One Billion Raising campaign, dancing in the streets for the end of violence against women and girls.
1 Mary John Mananzan, The Woman Question in the Philippines (Manila: Institute of Women’s Studies, 1997), 3.
2 Pedro Paterno, La Antigua Civilizacion Tagalog, Madrid: Tipografia de Manuel Fernandez, 1887, p. 241, cited in Mananzan, The Woman Question, 2.
3 Ibid., 3.
4 Robert Fox, “The Philippines in Pre-historic Times” in Journal of History 2: 457-458, cited in Mananzan, The Woman Question in the Philippines, 2.
5 Bunda, A Mission History…, 35. It does not mean however, that there is no prostitution because historical records could not prove it.
6 Mananzan, The Woman Question, 3.
7 Ibid., 39. See Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, “Roots of Feminist Thought in the Philippines” in Review of Women’s Studies 5-6,(1996), for her contextualization of the babaylan; Scott, Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino, 117-136, on the Visayan Religion at the Time of Spanish Advent; and Rowena Reyes-Boquiren, “Towards Ginhawa: A Historical Perspective on the People’s Concept of Mission” in Re-routing Mission: Towards a People’s Concept of Mission – A Philippine Perspective, ed Liza Lamis (Quezon City: NCCP/CCA, 2004), 1-23.
8 Bunda, A Mission History…, 40.
9 Mananzan, The Woman Question…, 4.
10 Mary John Mananzan, Essays on Women (Manila: Institute of Women’s Studies, 1989), 34-35.
11 Bunda, A Mission History…, 58.
History of the World Day of Prayer in the Philippines
Protestant Christianity arrived in the Philippines during the late 19th century and the early 20th century. These Christian denominations were introduced by North-American missionaries during the American occupation. Wives of these missionaries introduced the World Day of Prayer in the Philippines. The WDP celebrations brought together the church women leaders of the different Protestant denominations. In 1947, the United Evangelical Council of Church Women, today known as the Church Women United of the Philippines (CWUP), was organized. Its main activity was the observance of the World Day of Prayer. For the past 70 years, the CWUP coordinates the celebration of the World Day of Prayer in the Philippines through its WDP National Committee.
Members of the WDP National Committee of the Philippines are composed of women representatives from nine (9) women organizations of member churches of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. These are: Episcopal Church Women, Federation of Baptist Women’s Missionary Unions, Inc., Kalipunan ng kababaihang UNIDA Ekyumenikal, Philippine Lutheran Women’s League, Salvation Army Women’s Ministries, National Christian Women’s Association of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Kapisanan ng mga Kababaihan ng IEMELIF, Women of the Philippine Independent Church, and United Methodist Women’s Society of Christian Service.
WDP has participated in church assemblies together with the Fellowship of the Least Coin to promote ecumenism. We have helped the survivors of natural and human made calamities through pastoral visits and financial support, like the victims and survivors of the oil spill in Guimaras Island in 2004 or from the typhoon Milenio and Frank that swept through Visayas in 2007. In Mindoro, a women’s group used the rehabilitation money to buy seeds for their farms. It is a revolving fund for women.
Church Women United Philippines supports younger women for ecumenical leadership. We are concerned about HIV and AIDS, Violence against Women and Children, and Human Trafficking. These are the best avenues for nurturing interest and ecumenical cooperation wherever the name of the Creator is proclaimed.