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6 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Philippines

Updated: May 28, 2021

1. The Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands.

Luzon is the largest island, where Manila is located, and also where I am located. Specifically, I’m in the Caliking Barangay, Atok municipality, Benguet Province of Northern Luzon, amidst the Cordillera Mountains, which makes for awe-inspiring mountain views AND the best arabica coffee.

2. Over 171 languages are spoken in the Philippines.

Most people I’ve met so far speak at least 4: Tagalog, English, Kankana-ey or Ibaloi, and Ilocano, the main language here in the North. The grammar is tricky; for example, the word “I” could be 4 different Ilocano words, depending on the context. Schools all teach English and Tagalog from the elementary level onwards, although a new government initiative is having classrooms taught in the local language, which is problematic in a classroom with students of different native languages, as is often the case here.

3. The Episcopal Church has been in the Philippines since 1898.

On September 4, 1898, the first Episcopal service was held for Americans and English-speakers when U.S. Forces occupied Manila. A service for Filipinos was held on Christmas of that year. In 1901, the Philippines was designated as a missionary area and received its first missionary and residing bishop, Charles Henry Brent who, interestingly enough, served as the Chaplain General for the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.

In 1937, the Philippines transitioned from a missionary area to a diocese of the Episcopal Church of the United States. Fifty-three years later, in 1990, they became independent, forming the Episcopal Church of the Philippines.

While more than 80% of the country is Roman Catholic, there are 125,000 Episcopalians, and here in the North, some cities are 95%+ Episcopalian. Although the Spanish occupied the Philippines for 377 years, there were 3 regions they were never able to conquer: Mindanao (the Southernmost island with a strong Islamic presence), Intramuros (the Chinese community just outside the walls of the administrative district in Manila), and the Cordilleras in the North.

Bishop Brent, unlike other Protestant missionaries, did not seek to convert Roman Catholics to Anglicanism, “placing alter against alter,” so to speak. Instead, he worked to establish the church to serve English-speakers, Christians who did not have a church, and indigenous communities where the Catholic Church was not established. So when Episcopal missionaries arrived, they were better able to establish themselves without an existing Catholic presence.

4. The Philippines is the 13th most populous country in the world.

More than 102 million people live here. The urbanization rate here is 1.25%. Manila is the most densely populated city in the world! It also has the most malls per capita. Very sprawling as well.

5. Sugarcane, coconuts, and rice are the Philippines’ top 3 agricultural products.

Agriculture accounts for just over 10% of GDP here. Benguet province, referred to as “the salad bowl of the Philippines,” -- and where the best arabica coffee beans are grown -- supplies most of the vegetables to all other regions.

6. The main mode of transport is jeepney.

If you want to go into the city from the coffee farm, stand on the highway and flag down a jeepney. It's a vehicle style that evolved from retrofitted military vans Americans left behind after WWII with 2 bench seats facing each other in the back. Jeepney drivers take great care to deck out their ride! Metal horns protrude from the front, a few hood ornaments may be mounted on, and the sides of all of them are painted with a mural depicting the Jeepney driver’s family, Marvel superheroes, an American Western landscape, and the like. The bumper and mudflap will usually have phrase thanking God.

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