Sunday, April 19, 2015

Country Overview: The Philippines

This country of islands has me awestruck. It is both breathtakingly beautiful and oppressively crowded at the same time. I look through my pictures and can't comprehend the contrasts I have seen all in one country. I suppose that seems to be a recurring theme, contrast, but this particular nation has certainly surprised me for over two weeks. Just take a look:


These pictures were taken mere miles from one another. This isn't just a poverty versus plenty contrast. This is the result of numerous cultures influencing a people and nation throughout history. This overview certainly will only introduce this fascinating place.

The Basics

The country of the Philippines is dispersed among hundreds of islands, which are grouped into three divisions. I have spent my time on the northern island of Luzon. Before you get jealous, my island experience has involved lots of high rises and traffic jams, not white sand beaches. In fact, I haven't even seen the ocean here. All the more reason to come back on a vacation!

It is estimated that 100 million people live in the Philippines. After spending time in the capital, Manila and the major metropolis of outlying Quezon City, I don't find this hard to believe. Most people I have met speak Tagalog, but also English. That has been a welcome change from Thailand and Cambodia, where I struggled to communicate and get around.

Because of Spanish colonization, most of the population is Roman Catholic. This has been a fascinating shift for me, after three months in countries where Hinduism and Buddhism deeply influence culture. In addition, there is a huge American influence because of the occupation by the U.S. military 1898-1946. Unfortunately, this influence brought more than protection from Japan.

The Philippines and My Project

The presence of prostitution in the Philippines spiked during U.S. occupation. This is difficult to grapple with as an American who respects armed forces that protect freedom. However, as with most insitutions, there is a dark side. The U.S. military has remained a strong presence in the Philippines, and the hub of prostitution in the country exists exclusively for soldiers - retired and active. Unfortunately, it has taken an extreme case last October for the military to respond to this growing problem. I hope that even greater action will be taken.

I'll speak more into this issue in my reflections for all of Southeast Asia, but for now I will say that this country has been extremely difficult for me to visit. I feel a great sense of shame over how my country participates in the exploitation of women and girls. Here are some of the difficult questions that I have been seeking to answer during my visit to the Philippines:

  1. How does the history of occupation by Spain and the U.S. play a role in the current problem of sexual exploitation?
  2. Are the customers here in the Philippines aware of the circumstances that drive women and girls to work in the bars and dance clubs?
  3. How are the families of the women involved in their situation?
  4. What alternatives for employment are available?
  5. How does the influence of Catholicism change the approach of organizations here?

First Impressions

On a lighter note, though, this country is beautiful! I can also honestly say that Filippinos are absolutely the most kind people group I have ever encountered. They are always polite, quick to help, and always show respect to one another. Like I said already, I hope to come back for a visit where I have time to soak up the sun, because this pool is as close as I got to clear oceans!


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