What is a Filipino?

Filipinos are Orientals, but for centuries they have been in contact with Western civilization. President Sergio Osmeña, probably indulging in oratorical emphasis, has said that they are “equally at home in the traditions and civilizations of both East and West.” He describes his people as “the most occidental of Orientals and the most oriental of Occidentals.” In them East and West meet.

Filipinos belong to the brown race, and they are proud of it. They cherish a story that accounts for the difference in the races. According to Malay folklore, long ages ago the gods who dwelt upon the earth shaped clay after their own image and baked it. In the first trial they baked it too long and it came out burned—the Negro. They tried again. This time they removed the clay too soon—the white man. The third time they were successful; they produced just the right product—the brown man.

What are now the Philippine Islands were probably once a part of the land mass of Asia. The original settlers may have come from interior Asia by land; one strain may even have come from Africa. They were pigmies. Some had marked Negroid characteristics—black skin and kinky hair. Descendants of these little peoples, now called Negritos, may be found in small numbers to this day in the deep forests and mountains of the interior, living in almost the same primitive way as did their prehistoric ancestors.

Tall Indonesians from the south, coming by boat, drove these firstcomers back from the shores into the interior. Succeeding waves of immigrants of shorter stature—Mongoloid Malayans—came from neighboring islands and from the mainland.

After the thirteenth century, Chinese who had been trading with the Malays since the first years of the Christian era began to settle in the islands and intermarry with Malay women. Late Spaniards and then Anglo-Saxons introduced their blood into the strain. These intermarriages have produced a small “mestizo” (mixed) class which has contributed much to the social and political life and development of the country. The first president of the Philippine Commonwealth, Manuel Quezon, was a Spanish mestizo; the present president, Sergio Osmeña, has Chinese blood in his veins.

Filipino women have always enjoyed a position of respect and esteem. They are good managers of their homes and are entering the professions in increasing numbers. They won the vote in 1937 and many hold public office. Family ties are strong—a Filipino household not infrequently includes three or four generations, uncles, cousins, and relatives more distantly removed.

Although the majority of Filipinos are still more or less unskilled agricultural workers, there are many men and women who have distinguished themselves, often in spite of early poverty. Able statesmen and jurists are found in all parts of the islands, teachers and doctors, engineers and businessmen, musicians, artists, and writers.

This success has been partly the result of their own efforts and talents. It is due also to the opportunities which the United States has helped to open up to them. These opportunities a grateful people have already repaid by their loyalty in two World Wars.

Where does he live?

The present war has taught us a vast amount of geography. Few people nowadays confuse Manila with Havana or the Philippines with the Hawaiian Islands. Five years ago such mistakes were not uncommon. Only too well do we realize now that the Philippine Islands lie on the other side of the Pacific, over 6,200 miles from San Francisco, nearly 5,000 miles from Pearl Harbor.

There are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, but only 462 of them are more than one square mile in area. The total land area is over 115,000 square miles, larger than the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware together. The islands extend for 1,150 miles from 4° to 22° north latitude, entirely in the tropics.

The main island is the northernmost, Luzon, which contains twenty of the country’s forty-eight provinces. Manila, the capital and commercial center of the country, is located on the west shore of central Luzon inside Manila Bay, one of the finest harbors in the entire Far East. Bataan is the province and peninsula separating the bay from the China Sea. Corregidor is the little island fortress a few miles south of Bataan which guards the entrance to the bay.

Mindanao, second largest island, lies at the southern end of the group. Off its western tip is strung the Sulu Archipelago. Mindanao is the least densely populated part of the country, Sulu one of the densest. It was in Davao, a province in southeastern Mindanao, that the Japanese had entrenched themselves in agricultural and commercial enterprises before the war. Mindanao and Sulu are the stronghold of the Filipino Moslems, called Moros.

The central islands, known as the Visayas, include Leyte and Samar, where the first landings of the liberation forces were made in October 1944; Cebu, the most densely populated island; Negros, great sugar-producing area; Panay and Bohol. In these islands a strong guerrilla organization held out against the Japanese all during the enemy occupation. Palawan is the long island off to the southwest which points toward Borneo and the Netherlands East Indies.

The good earth

Agriculture is an important industry in the fertile river valleys and coastal plains. The chief products are: rice, the principal food of the people; tobacco, smoked by the Filipinos and exported to foreign markets; sugar, the most valuable prewar export crop; coconuts, whose trees provide some of the loveliest scenery in the world and whose products furnish food, drink, and housing for the local population as well as important exports; Manila hemp, or abaca, which makes the best rope in the world; and numerous vegetables and fruits, such as the Philippine mango, which is one of the most delicious of fruits.

Moreover, there is an abundance of excellent standing timber, containing a wide variety of commercial woods. The good earth contains many valuable minerals—gold, silver, copper, chromite, manganese, coal, iron, and others. It is possible that further explorations will disclose still more. The waters around the islands abound in a wide variety of fish. If the fishing industry were better organized, it could provide a sure and varied source of food for the local population and an important export.

The Philippines is one country in the Far East which, as a whole, does not have a population problem. The islands could easily support several times the present population of nearly 18,000,000 people. But while there is much good agricultural land still untouched, certain areas are already crowded. Among these are parts of Luzon—the northwest coast, the Cagayan Valley in the north, and the central plains—Cebu, and the narrow coastal plains of some of the other islands.

In small part, the reason for this poorly balanced agricultural development is the existence of large estates owned by either wealthy landlords, whose families have held the lands since pre-Spanish days, or by church orders, which amassed great wealth during Spanish rule. Most of these are located near urban centers like Manila, or along fertile coasts or river valleys where the land and natural transportation facilities favored early agricultural development.

More important among the difficulties of attracting tenants to other good farming areas has been the natives’ attachment to the lands their forefathers worked. Moreover, many of them inherited the debts of those forefathers and are therefore almost slaves to the land. The lack of good roads, sanitary facilities, and other improvements has also prevented the development of many other good agricultural areas.

However, the Philippines have never known famine. They had never known widespread hunger until the Japanese came. But this little land of sunshine and plenty has had an unhappy history. Peace-loving peoples of the world face a tremendous job today in trying to ensure that that history shall not be repeated in the Philippines or anywhere else.