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Philippines flag

Country Overview
The Republic of the Philippines is a nation of islands that covers an area of 117,187 square miles, an area slighter larger than the state of Arizona. It is home to 75 million people. The capital is Manila.

Philippine people are called Filipinos. Most are of Malay descent, with a sizable Chinese minority. As a result of intermarriage, many Filipinos have some Chinese and Spanish ancestry.

About 87 native languages and dialects are spoken in the Philippines. Of these, eight are the first languages of more than 85 of the population. Since 1939, in an effort to develop national unity, the government has promoted the use of the national language, Pilipino, which is based on Tagalog. Pilipino is taught in all schools and is gaining acceptance, particularly as a second language. English is a second language in government and higher education.

The chief unit of currency is the Philippine Peso.

The Philippines is a republic led by a president. Filipinos can vote at age 18. The minimum age to enter the military is 20.

The name, 'The Philippines' is a legacy of Spanish rule, which began in the 1500's and ended in 1898 with the Spanish-American war. The Philippines fought on the American side with independence as the goal, but was instead purchased by the US in 1898. The Philippines finally gained full independence in 1946.

President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Corazon Aquino defeated him in 1986. She restored democratic order, despite seven coup attempts during her term in office, and Marcos fled the country. The current administration is occupied with economic improvement and the eradication of the remnants of bureaucratic corruption.

Various regions of the Philippines are known for intricately woven materials, ranging from the pinya cloth, a sheer fabric made of fibers of the leaf of the pineapple plant, to colorful tapestries and waist cloths hand-woven by different tribes of Western mercerized cotton threads. The bahag (loin cloth) and samal (sleeping mat) are two such items, and are often found in urban homes in use as wall tapestries or table runners. Crochet is a common handiwork as well.

Two traditional instruments played by Filipinos are gongs and the Kutyapi. The kutyapi is a two-stringed plucked lute. Traditional theatre, literature and kundimans (love songs) in the national language have experienced resurgence since Cory Aquino's People Power movement came into power in the eighties.

Social events tend to revolve around food, since Filipinos are extremely proud of their cuisine, which blends South Asian, Chinese, and Spanish influences.

Dishes such as lumpia (egg rolls), pancit (noodles) and the country's most famous dish lechon (roast pig), originated in China. Some traditional dishes are still called by their Spanish names such as mechado (beef with pork fat), and menudo (diced meat and potatoes stewed in tomato sauce).

Filipinos generally eat three meals a day with snacks in between. Morning and afternoon snacks are called merienda. Pulutan (small morsels) are served with alcoholic drinks in the afternoon or evening. Barbecued sticks of meat or seafood are popular evening snacks.

Breakfast is often rice with egg or fish. Soup is a typical popular lunch item. Rice is eaten with every meal.

Dinner is the largest meal of the day. The main dish is generally meat and vegetables cooked with vinegar and garlic, grilled grouper, meat stews and a huge variety of soups - rice, noodle, beef, chicken, liver, and sour vegetable.

Side dishes are common, and include strips of green papaya, fermented fish or shrimp paste and bite-sized pieces of crispy pigskin. Halo-halo is a dessert made from crushed ice mixed with sweets and fruits and smothered in evaporated milk.

Six years of compulsory free education are universal to all Filipinos, from ages six to twelve. Students start elementary school at 7 and education is bilingual, taught in both English and Pilipino. Students start high school at age 13 and graduate at 16. There is no middle school, and they go onto college at age 16.

About 63 percent of students at the secondary level and approximately 85 percent at the upper level attend private schools. Approximately one third of these attend religiously affiliated schools, mostly Catholic.

Filipinos have a deep regard for education, which they view as a primary avenue for upward social and economic mobility. Middle-class parents make tremendous sacrifices in order to provide secondary and higher education for their children. Even poor parents will sell much of what they have to send a child to school. It is expected that an educated child will be able to care better for their parents later in life.

The Philippine government and universities have numerous scholarship programs to provide students from low-income families with access to education. Government expenditures on education have been steadily rising over the past few years. In 1996, the education department established additional 900 elementary schools, finished 1,880 incomplete elementary schools, and established 52 public high schools in municipalities where there had been none.

Forms of recreation for Filipino teens are much the same as in America; going to parties, dances, movies, shopping, etc. The distinction is that Filipino teens tend to go out in groups rather than alone or with just one other person.

Sports, bands and orchestras are not usually a part of school activities. These interests are pursued in after school clubs.
Basketball is played more than any other sport, and by boys more than by girls.

Playing of musical instruments is encouraged by parents, and is a mark of status. Students will frequently be paraded before visitors to display their musical talents, generally on the piano or guitar.

Curfews are rare, as teens tend to go out and return in groups. Filipinos start dating in their teens, but the custom is very different than in the US. The relationships are generally social rather than physically intimate. Sexual intimacy among teens is frowned upon, even among their peers.

HIV, AIDS and sex are not discussed in public.

Drinking is rare among Filipino teenagers. They generally consume soft drinks and fruit juices when out. Because of cultural taboos concerning public drunkenness, there is little desire to get drunk.

At age 18, a middle class girl's parents will often throw a cotillion, or coming out party. These are formal affairs, with dancing, food and a 'court' of the girl's closest friends and cousins.

Most shops operate from 10am to 7:30pm daily and are closed on public holidays. Banks are open 9am to 3pm Monday to Friday and are closed on public holidays.

Basketball is the country's premier sport, and the world's first stamp depicting basketball was issued in the Philippines in 1934.

Television is popular in the Philippines, especially Filipino soap operas.

Families rarely own more than one car in the Philippines, and public transportation is sporadic; so individual entrepreneurs have stepped in to take up the slack.

'Jeepneys', which are similar to jeeps in shape, are unique to the Philippines. They are decorated with bright, cheerful paints by hand, each unique to the individual. The private owners of jeepneys, which can seat up to 14, often make a living by transporting people around.

Another form of transportation is a ride in a motorcycle sidecar. People pay the driver to take them to and from the shops, hailing the ride just as one would a taxi.

The Family
Families in the Philippines tend to be larger than in the US, with an average of three to four children each. If family resources allow it, women often stay home with the children.

Dogs are common pets in the Philippines, but cats are not. Stray cats are considered a nuisance and a threat to carrier pigeons, which are an expensive, but popular hobby.

The nuclear and extended family is the most important source of stability and support in the Philippines. A Filipino concept called "pakikisma" describes the need for comradeship and for decisions to be made by the group. The actions of individual members reflect upon the entire family.

Respect for elders is central to society and the family. Living with extended and elderly parents is more common than in the US.
Many middle and upper class families have live-in maids. Often, one family will serve another as house staff for generations. The hiring family will pay the children's way through school. This is a way for poor people to send their children to school, and is a mutual and cordial arrangement.

Upper-class Filipinos follow the Spanish tradition of having two surnames: one from their father, which is listed first, followed by one from their mother. Most Filipinos have nicknames, which are used by friends and family.

Filipinos often greet each other by making eye contact, then raising and lowering their eyebrows. In conversation, raising of eyebrows is a way of indicating that the speaker has been understood. Men will frequently greet each other with a handshake in formal situations. As physical contact between men and women in public is a recent occurrence, a man will often wait for a woman to initiate a handshake.

Close female friends in the Philippines greet each other with a hug and kiss. Similarly, close male friends may exhibit close physical contact, such as holding hands or walking arm in arm around a friend's shoulder. Filipinos will frequently break eye contact during conversation, as it is rude to stare too long at another person. An extended stare is a sign of dislike or a challenge.

Because of the years of U.S. military presence in the Philippines, most North American gestures are recognized and understood.

A fork and spoon are the standard utensils. The fork is kept in the left hand and used for placing food on the spoon, which is held in the right hand.

Social events often include singing and dancing. Although alcohol is served, Filipinos believe that public drunkenness is shameful. Even when drinking, they maintain self-control. Women in the Philippines usually do not drink alcoholic beverages at social events.

After a dinner party, Filipinos often give their guests some of the leftover food to take home, an ancient tradition known as "pabalon."

Since pointing can easily be perceived as an insulting gesture, Filipinos rarely indicate objects or directions by pointing with their fingers. Instead, they indicate with a glance or by pursing their lips.

"Loss of face" by expressing anger or experiencing any conceivable public embarrassment, is avoided in The Philippines. Direct questions and answers are impolite. As a "face-saving" measure, Filipinos will often say "yes" when they don't actually mean it. For example, a "yes" may be used to disguise a lukewarm response such as "I'll think about it" or an outright "no." A soft and gentle tone of voice is always used.

Approximately eighty percent of Filipinos are Catholic. There are also Protestant, Muslim and Buddhist communities as well.

The National Holiday is Independence Day, June 12. New Year's Day is celebrated with fireworks, and January ninth features the largest procession in the country, the Black Nazarene Procession.

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