Introduction to the Philippines

Introduction to the Philippines

The Philippines, officially known as the Republic of the Philippines, lies in Southeast Asia, in the western Pacific Ocean. Its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire and its tropical climate make the Philippines prone to earthquakes and typhoons but have also endowed the country with natural resources and made it one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world. An archipelago comprising 7,107 islands, the Philippines is categorized broadly into three main geographical divisions: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Its capital city is Manila.

With a population of more than 92 million people, the Philippines is the 7th most populated Asian country and the 12th most populated country in the world.

The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islandswith a total land area, including inland bodies of water, of approximately 300,000 square kilometers (120,000 sq mi). Its 36,289 kilometers (22,549 mi) of coastline makes it the country with the 5th longest coastline in the world.It is located between 116° 40′, and 126° 34′ E. longitude and 4° 40′ and 21° 10′ N. latitude and is bordered by the Philippine Sea to the east, the Soutch China Sea to the west, and the Celebes Sea to the south. The island of Borneo is located a few hundred kilometers southwest and Taiwan is located directly to the north. The Moluccas and Sulawesi are located to the south-southwest and Palau is located to the east of the islands.

Most of the mountainous islands are covered in tropical rainforest and volcanic in origin. The highest mountain is Mount Apo. It measures up to 2,954 meters (9,692 feet) above sea level and is located on the island of Mindanao. The longest river is the Cayagan Riverr in northern Luzon.

Situated on the western fringes of the Pacific ring of Fire, the Philippines experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity. Around 20 earthquakes are registered daily, though most are too weak to be felt. The last major earthquake was the 1990 Luzon earthquake. There are many active volcanoes such as the Mayon Volcano, Mount Pinatubo, and Taal Volcano. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991 produced the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century. Not all notable geographic features are so violent or destructive. A more serene legacy of the geological disturbances is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River. The white sand beaches that make Boracay a popular vacation getaway are made of coral remnants.

Safety and Security

The Philippines is generally a safe country to visit or to live. The southern island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago are, however, a security concern. The US State Department advises that travellers should exercise extreme caution in both central and western Mindanao as well as in the Sulu Archipelago.

Just as in any major city, crime is a significant concern in Metro Manila. As a rule of thumb, visitors should exercise good judgment and remain aware of their surroundings. Crime happens everywhere and the Philippines is certainly no different.

Climate

The Philippines has a tropical maritime climate and is usually hot and humid. There are three seasons: tag-init or tag-araw, the hot dry season or summer from March to May; tag-ulan, the rainy season from June to November; and tag-lamig, the cool dry season from December to February. The southwest monsoon (from May to October) is known as the Habagat, and the dry winds of the northeast monsoon (from November to April), the Amihan.Temperatures usually range from 21°C (70°F) to 32°C (90°F) although it can get cooler or hotter depending on the season. The coolest month is January; the warmest is May.

The average yearly temperature is around 26.6°C (79.88°F).In considering temperature, location in terms of latitude and longitude is not a significant factor. Whether in the extreme north, south, east, or west of the country, temperatures at sea level tend to be in the same range. Altitude usually has more of an impact. The average annual temperature of Baguio at an elevation of 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) above sea level is 18.3°C (64.9°F), making it a popular destination during hot summers.Likewise, Tagaytay is a favored retreat.

Sitting astride the typhoon belt, most of the islands experience annual torrential rains and thunderstorms from July to October,with around nineteen typhoons entering the Philippine area of responsibility in a typical year and eight or nine making landfall.Annual rainfall measures as much as 5,000 millimeters (200 inches) in the mountainous east coast section but less than 1,000 millimeters (39 inches) in some of the sheltered valleys.

Best time to visit

The first half of the year, from January to May, is the best time to visit the country. November to February is cool, while March to May is hot and dry. June to October is rainy, with the months between July and September characterised by typhoons. The average all-year round temperature is 78F or 25C. The average humidity is 77%.

Visa Information

For visa information, please see our separate posts.

Customs

Visitors may bring in, duty free, their personal belongings, two cartons of cigarettes or two tins of pipe tobacco and up to one litre of alcohol. Balikbayans have separate rules and should check with the Embassy or Consulate in their home city.

Currency regulations

You may bring in to, or take out of, the Philippines a maximum of P10,000.00. It is illegal for any incoming or outgoing passenger to bring in or out Philippine Pesos in excess of P10,000.00 without prior authority from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Any violation of this rule may lead to its seizure and civil penalties and / or criminal prosecution. (BSP Circular 98-1995)

You may bring in foreign currency or monetary instruments. This is perfectly legal as long as you declare any foreign currency in excess of US$10,000.00 or its equivalent in other foreign currencies to a Customs Officer or the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Violation of this rule may lead to seizure and sanctions, fines and / or penalties.

For more information about Customs Regulations, please visit http://www.customs.gov.ph/bustravel.php

Currency

The currency in the Philippines is the Peso (PhP) and the Centavo. 100 centavos = P1. Coin denominations are: 1, 5, 10, and 25 centavos, P1, and P5. Bill denominations are : 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1, 000 pesos.

The exchange rate (09/25/12) is:

1$ = 41.76 peso

1 EUR = 54 peso

Most large stores, restaurants , hotels and resorts accept major credit cards including American Express , Visas and MasterCard. Traveller’s checks preferably American Express are accepted at hotels and large department stores. Personal checks drawn on foreign banks are generally not accepted.

Unit of measure

The Metric System is used in most trade and legal transactions.

Electricity

220 volts a/c is the common standard. 110 volts a/c is also used, especially in major hotels.

Clothing

People in the Philippines dress for the weather. Casual attire during the day for women are light blouses and shorts. For men collared T- shirts worn over slacks. In the evening skirts are substituted for shorts and the T-shirts are tucked in.

For Men Only: If you have to attend any occasion which would usually require a jacket and a tie, there is a wonderful substitute; the barong tagalog. It is an embroidered shirt that is considered formal dress. It will cost around PhP1,000.00 and is worth every centavo.

Water

Whilst the water supply in Metro Manila and other major cities is considered potable, we recommend drinking bottled water.

Telephone services

Telephone service is modern and you can direct dial to anywhere in the world.Some provders are:

Bayantel – Bayan Telecommunications, Philippines.
Globe Telecom –  One of the leading mobile phone companies in the Philippines.
PLDT – Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company.
Smart – One of the leading mobile phone companies in the Philippines.

Some Important Telephone Numbers: (24-Hour Hotline)
Police & Fire: 757 or 116
Emergency Number.: 501- 650 or 501- 728
Directory Assistance: 114
National Operator: 109
International Operator: 108

Business hours

Most businesses are open from 08:00 to 17:00 weekdays and 08:00 till noon on Saturdays. Banks are open from 09:00 AM till 15:00 Mondays through Fridays. When banking in the Philippines, it is advisable to have your passport with you for identification.

The post offices are open from 09:00 AM to 17:00 PM weekdays only. Stamps can usually be purchased from the Concierge Desk at most major hotels as well.

The standard lunch hour is noon to 13:00. Most businesses and government offices are closed for lunch.

Time difference

Local time in the Philippines is GMT plus 8 hours.

Airport tax

Unlike many other countries, an additional Passenger Terminal Fee is levied on all passengers. This fee is never included in the price you paid for your ticket, and you will therefore need to pay this at the airport. The fees are as follows, passengers embarking for:
1. International travel : PHP 750
2. Domestic travel: PHP 200
Place of payment: Airport of departure.
Exempt:
1. Children under 2 years of age.
2. Transit passengers remaining in the transit area and not leaving the airport.
3. Crew members.

Language

There are 175 individual languages in the Philippines, 171 of which are living languages while 4 no longer have any known speakers. According to the 1987 Philippines Constitution, Filipino and English are the official languages. Filipino is a de facto version of Tagalog, spoken mainly in Metro Manila and other urban regions. Both Filipino and English are used in government, education, print, broadcast media, and business.

Native Languages (2010)

Tagalog 22 million
Cebuano 20 million
Ilokano 7.7 million
Hiligaynon 7 million
Waray-Waray 3.1 million

 Religion

The Philippines is a secular nation having a constitution separating the state and church. However, more than 90% of the population are Christians: about 80% belong to the Roman Catholic Church while 10% belong to other Christian denominations. The Philippines is one of two predominantly Roman Catholic countries in Asia, the other being East Timor. Between 5 and 10% of the population are Muslim, most of whom live in parts of Mindanao, Palawan, and the Sulu Archipelago—an area known as Bangsamoro or the Moro region.

Flora and Fauna

The Philippines’ rainforests and its extensive coastlines make it home to a diverse range of birds, plants, animals, and sea creatures. Around 1,100 land vertebrate species can be found in the Philippines including over 100 mammal species and 170 bird species not thought to exist elsewhere. Endemic species include the tamaraw of Mindoro, the Visayan spotted deer, the Philippines mouse deer, the Visayan warty pig, the Philippines flying lemur, and several species of bats.

The Philippines lacks large predators, with the exception of snakes, such as pythons and cobras, saltwater crocodiles and birds of prey, such as the national bird, known as the Philippines Eagle, which scientists suggest as the largest eagle in the world. The largest crocodile in captivity was captured in the southern island of Mindanao. Other native animals include the palm civet cat, the dugong, and the Philippines tarsier associated with Bohol. With an estimated 13,500 plant species in the country, 3,200 of which are unique to the islands, Philippine rainforests boast an array of flora, including many rare types of orchids and rafflesia. The narra is considered as the most important type of hardwood.

Philippine maritime waters encompass as much as 2.2 million square kilometers (850,000 square miles) producing unique and diverse marine life and is an important part of the Coral Triangle. There are 2,400 fish species and over 500 species of coral. The Apo Reef is the country’s largest contiguous coral reef system and the second-largest in the world. Philippine waters also sustain the cultivation of pearls, crabs, and seaweeds.

Deforestation, often the result of illegal logging, is an acute problem in the Philippines. Forest cover declined from 70% of the country’s total land area in 1900 to about 18.3% in 1999.Many species are endangered and scientists say that Southeast Asia, which the Philippines is part of, faces a catastrophic extinction rate of 20% by the end of the century. According to Conservation International, “the country is one of the few nations that is, in its entirety, both a hotspot and a megadiversity country, placing it among the top priority hotspots for global conservation.”

Map

Ph regions and provinces

Philippine regions and provinces courtesy of Wikipedia

Text adapted from Wikipedia.

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