The Philippines is located in South East Asia – a stunning archipelago found in the far western Pacific Ocean. The Philippines consists of 7,107 islands, spread over 299,404 km2. Only 2,000 of these islands are inhabited, with around 500 of the islands spanning more than a 1 km2 . The Philippines shares no land boundaries, but Taiwan, Vietnam, Borneo, Indonesia are all located across seas from the Philippines.

As of 2014, the “Republika ng Pilipinas” had a total population of around 100 million people with a wide variety of ethnic groups. Manila is the capital city with a population of 1.6 million people, however the largest city is Quezon City, which has a population of 2,7 milliom. Part of the wider Metropolitan Manila area, Quezon is comprised of 16 cities and is reported to contain around 25 million people – a quarter of the Philippines entire population!

These large cities are typically very busy, and at times can be disorganised, dirty and unsafe. However, there are various universities, historical attractions and churches with in the Metro Manila Area.

The Philippines is the oldest Asian democracy, however in recent years political stability and economic growth has been undermined by corruption and various natural disasters. The Philippines is governed by a democratic republic and lead by their president – presidential elections take place every three years.

In regards to colonial history, the Philippines were concurred by Spain in 1565 and following several revolutions against the Spaniards, the Spanish-American war took place in Manila in 1898. The Americans defeated the Spanish and several Filipino revolutionaries negotiated with the Americans, however in 1901 the Philippine- American war took place and the American era began. In 1941 at the onset of World War 2, the Japanese invaded the Philippines, only to be retaken by the Americans in 1944. In 1946 the Americans agreed to grant independence to the Philippines.

Since independence there has been a string of political instability, corruption, and at times violences. Whilst the Philippines has a stunning natural environment, violence in the southern islands has at times restricted tourism from flourishing. As of 2015, the Department of State had a warning for U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to the Philippines, in particular to the Sulu Archipelago, the island of Mindanao, and the southern Sulu Sea area. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the U.K also advised against all travel to south-west Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago “because of on-going terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao for the same reasons.”

However, over the past 10 years tourism numbers have steadily increased with 4.7 millions international tourists arriving in 2014.







Ethical Travel Issues and advice

Sex tourism:

Child sex tourism (CST) is tourism for the purpose of engaging in the prostitution of children. In the Philippines, The NGO “Terres de Hommes” reports that tens of thousands of children are subject to some kind of sexual abuse through sex tourism or more recently live streaming of sexual abuse. This alarming situation has its roots in the country’s long-standing economic problems, poor education, health and very few, if any, economic opportunities. Nearly 20% of the Filipino population lives below the poverty line.

A recent investigation brought down a network that charged money to stream online video of children being sexually abused. The network was based in the Philippines but and led to 29 arrests in 14 countries. “The investigation in the Philippines has focused on an impoverished village on Cebu island, which is a well-known hub for child prostitution of “alarming” proportions. Its been estimated that up to 80 households in the village are alleged to have been involved in the live streaming of child abuse”.

In 2010, UNICEF estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 Filipino children have been victimised by prostitution rings. The production of child pornography in the Philippines occurs on an industrial scale, and is estimated to generate up to US$1 billion a year. Some victims are sold as forced labor for the industrial and agricultural fields as well. In Mindanao, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the New People’s Army capitalise on highly conflict-afflicted areas by recruiting children. Children can sometimes be orphans of a conflict, targeted by militant groups, as both combatants and non-combatants. The United Nations has declared the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the New People’s Army as leading violators against children in conflict areas.

Also women from rural areas are tricked into travelling to urban areas with promises of well-paid jobs and are then forced into labor, prostitution; working in brothels, bars, sweatshops, and private houses as domestic servitude.

When travelling, keep your eyes open for signs of sex tourism or cyber sex victims or domestic servants. Many child-prostitution places are disguised as massage parlours in touristic locations. A child behaving in an overly sexual manner is another sign of sexual abuse. If some situation or place seems suspicious, report it to UNICEF ‘s Child Protection office. 

Land Displacement:

Roughly nine million Lumads live in the conflict-torn southern island of Mindanao in the Sulu archipielago, where they can assert native title over large swathes of land known as their ancestral domain. Their rights need to be reconciled with the demands of the Muslims, called the Bangsamoro, who want to incorporate some of this land into a proposed autonomous “sub-state”, and the interests of millions of Christian settlers who moved to Mindanao over the course of the twentieth century.

Minority Muslim groups in the southern Philippines – indigenous ethnic people known collectively as Moros – have fought for self-determination for more than 40 years. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and, since 2000, displaced 3.5 million people, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and almost all forest of Sulu is gone, only the eastern portion of Tawitawi is forested.

In March 2014, the Philippine government and the country’s largest Muslim rebel group signed a peace that grants mostly Muslim areas of Mindanao greater political autonomy in exchange for an end to armed rebellion. However, other rebel groups keep fighting for full independence. The region is also home to the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist network with international links.

To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Land displacement:

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Ethical Photography:

Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.

Taking photos of the friendly people of the Philippines is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.

Ivory Trade:

In 2007, the wildlife trade and monitoring network TRAFFIC, described the Ivory Trade in the Philippines as “ most worrying”, not much has chnaged. The most recent ETIS analysis, presented to CITES in March 2013, claimed that the Philippines were among the nine top countries and territories identified to be most heavily implicated in major illegal ivory trade flows. The Philippines were highlighted as a “major transit points in the illicit trade,” and also noted “a new carving industry producing religious sculptures and artefacts has recently been identified in the Philippines that may be linked to an export trade to Italy, the Holy See and perhaps other destinations.” (WWF International, 2013).

The problem is so rooted into the burocarcy and regular life that even the illegal ivory traders had acussed customs officers of seizing illegal ivory only when someone hadn’t made a payoff. Ivory is particularly popular among the Philipinos whom see it as a religious offering. Particularly in Cebu, the link between ivory and the church is so strong that the word for ivory, garing, has a second meaning: “religious statue.”

In 2009, 5.4 tons of illegal ivory was seized by customs agents in Manila. Another load of 7.7 tons was seized in 2005, and 6.1 tons bound for the Philippines was seized by Taiwan in 2006.

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Endangered Species and Wildlife Trafficking:

Several widespread but threatened species occur on the islands, including the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) and vulnerable rufous-lored kingfisher (Todirhamphus winchelli). The critically endangered Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) was historically found on Lolo (as well as Luzon, Mindoro, Masbate, Samar, Negros, Busuanga, and Mindanao), but the only remaining populations are found on Mindoro, Negros, Mindanao, and Busuanga – the current wild population may be as low as 100 creatures.

Wildlife trafficking. According to the Philippines’ Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources from 2010 to 2013 wildlife trafficking exploded by a 1,600% with a high number of confiscated reptiles, birds, serpent eagles, white bellied sea eagles, monitor lizards, and crested goshawks.

Climate Change:

Philippine cities are already experiencing unprecedented amounts of rainfall. In Tacloban City, rainfall increased by 257% from 1998 to 2011. More rainfall leads to more flooding and can trigger landslides in upland communities. There is a decrease of rice yield associated with the increase of temperature. On top of this, the Phillipines is hit with around 20 typhoons, about 8-9 making land fall each year.

In Mindoro Occidental floods, storm surges and sea level rise has exposed communities on the Municipality of Sablayan, exposing the communities lying along its 80-kilometer coastline.

In the area, WWF-Philippines is implementing a Climate Change Adaptation Project, aimed at building-up the resilience of coastal communities and the marine ecosystems of the Apo Reef Natural Park for long-term climate change adaptation. This ensures that food production and other economic development activities carry on in a sustainable manner.

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Unsustainable fishing methods:

Dynamite Fishing or Blast: Illegal and unsustainable fishing methods have shattered coral reefs and depleted fish populations all over the Coral Triangle. Explosions are used to kill or stun fish for easy collection. Dynamited reefs turn into coral into rubble, destroying the pristine ecosystems.

Bottom Trawling: involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to these nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path. All evidence indicates that deep water life forms are very slow to recover from such damage, taking decades to hundreds of years – if they recover at all. (GreenPeace Philipines , 2014)

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Reef Damage:

The popularity of the Philippines for divers is undisputable. The Phillipines area itself is home to 9 percent of the world’s total reefs, the country’s marine biodiversity is remarkable. In total, 464 species of hard corals and 1770 species of reef fish exist in the region. Some of the diving options are:

  • WWII Shipwrecks
  • Mantas
  • Thresher Sharks
  • Whale Sharks
  • Macro Diving
  • World Heritage Site –
  • Tubbataha Reef

Snorkelling and scuba diving has steadily increased in the past decades – the Philippines are world famous for the natural Marine Life and Reef systems. With such an increase in tourists numbers to diving in the region, the health of the coral reefs and native marine fauna can decrease. In many cases, inexperienced divers cannot control their buoyancy or improperly secured gear can damage the coral. If you are looking to go diving in the Philippines, be sure to book with a tour operators that demonstrates a responsible tourism policy and supports the health of the local ecosystems.

Useful Information

Because of the geographical location near the equator, the Philippines have a Tropical Rainforest Climate all over the country. The two main characteristics of this climate are high temperatures & high atmospheric humidity. Both the high temperatures and the humidity are the whole year through. In theory rainfall can be expected in every month of the year, although the rainfall differs greatly through the year:

In the period June – October it’s raining cats and dogs! The influence of the southwest monsoon is very clear. In the period December – May it is not monsoon season. The “trade wind”, is coming from the northeast and brings hardly rainfall. In the period June to November is typhoon season.

The marine environment of The Philipines is part of the Coral Triangle, an outstanding marine paradise home to nearly 600 different species of reef-building corals alone. The total region of the Coral Triangle includes the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and Solomon Islands. This area nurtures six of the world’s seven marine turtle species and more than 2000 species of reef fish supporting large populations of commercially important tuna, fueling a multi-billion dollar global tuna industry. Unfortunately, the once sprawling rainforests and oceans of the Philippines have being strongly depleted. Major threats include overfishing, climate change, damaging storms, and destructive fishing.

The Phillipines area itself is home to 9 percent of the world’s total reefs, the country’s marine biodiversity is remarkable. In total, 464 species of hard corals, 1770 species of reef fish, and 42 species of mangroves have been recorded to date. More than 40 million people — 45 percent of the country’s total population — live within 20 miles of a coral reef. Along with Malaysia, the Philippines is a major supplier of fish to the LRFFT, a US$1 billion industry in the Coral Triangle.

In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected that global sea level is expected to rise by 18-59cm by 2100. The Philipines coast’s vulnerability is shown in the Coastal Vulnarability Index prepared by the Environmental Science for Social Change, a Jesuit research organization in the Philippines.Between 3 and 32% of an area’s coastal zone could be lost due to flooding the primary effect of sea level rise. This would turn from 8 to 52 million people into flood refugees. Many species, including endemic tigers, panthers, squirrels, rats, cats and monkeys, are already endangered in will be even more with their low-lying coastal zones or in hinterland regions wiped out. Erosion is already taking its toll in many of the sandy beaches that compose the shoreline of the country.

Slash-and-burn farming in the hills is common practice in many areas of the Philipines. In Palawan, a growing population of Filipino migrants from other Islands has made slash-and burn farming a whide spread practice: chopping down forests, burning the forest residue and planting crops.

The Filipinos tend to be very conservative and hospitable and will insist on you to eat and/drink in their houses, a full belly is no excuse when visiting a Filipino household. Be ready to answer a lot of personal questions which they don’t consider rude even if you just meet them.

You will be surprise to see most of the locals bathing on the beach with a t-shirt and short pants, rather than a bathing suit; modesty is essential to the behavior of young Filipinas, especially in the provinces. Shorts and T-shirts are fine for women anywhere, but bikinis are only for the beach, and even then, it’s considered bad form to wander through a resort’s restaurant or souvenir shop without covering up first (a sarong is perfect for this). Topless sunbathing is unheard of among Filipinos, and tourists in popular resorts such as Boracay who remove their clothes are likely to attract an amazed, gossiping crowd of locals.

In the rural areas offensive behavior includes overt displays of affection between partners in public places and snooping into the houses of local folk without permission from the owners.

A bad habit is throwing trash (wrappers, bags, etc) like it is nothing, specially riding on a car or public transportation.

For the average Filipino, no meal is complete without fish. Fish and seafood are main sources of nutrition and this has always been reflected in the Filipino culinary culture. Filipino cuisines such as the paellas, adobo, sinigang and tapa, all have seafood as main ingredients. Critics describe much of the Philippines’ cuisine as focused on relatively mundane meals and fast food, one things is for sure, Philippine food is not the most popular among non-Filipinos.

Other favorites are: lechon (baby pork), kare kare (Kare-kare is a Philippine stew made from a base of stewed oxtail, pork hocks, calves feet, pig feet, beef stew meat; and occasionally offal, or tripe), sinigang (soup or stew characterized by its sour and savoury taste most often associated with tamarind), kwek kwek (popular fried, grilled and boiled street food), adidas (chicken feet that are declawed and marinated in a vinegar and soy) balut (a developing duck embryo that is boiled and eaten in the shell) and green mangoes are dipped in a salty shrimp paste called bagoong.

Although the official language of the Philippines was, for many years, Spanish, the legacy of the American administration during the first half of the 20th century has been that its two official languages today are English (making it the 3rd largest english speaking country in the world) and Filipino (derived from Tagalog). Other languages are spoken in the different Islands: Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Ilokano, Pampango, Pangasinense, Tagalog, Waray. Other recognized auxiliary languages are Arabic and Spanish (which can be spoken by the older generations).

Religion in the Philippines is heavily influenced by its history as a part of the Spanish Empire. As well as naming the country after its King (Philip II), Spain also exported its religion, and today around 80% of the country’s citizens are Roman Catholic Christians. Of the remaining people, 10% are from other Christian denominations and around 5% are Muslim, mainly based in the South West in the country.