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PHILIPPINES – GENERAL INFORMATION

                 Fig.1 – Philippines Flag

GEOGRAPHY

The Philippines lie off the southeast coast of Asia between Taiwan and Borneo in the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea. They are composed of 7,107 islands and islets (7,108 at low tide), 2,773 of which are named. The two largest islands, Luzon and Mindanao, account for 65% of the total land area and contain 60% of the country’s population. Between the two lie the Visayas Islands.

The country consists of three main geographical divisions Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – each with its own characteristics, sights, sound and flavors that add to the diverse composition of the country. In the north is Luzon, the biggest island and the country’s major metropolis area where the capital city of Manila, and the Banaue rice terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are located. In the center is the Visayas region where some of the finest beaches and dive spots of the world can be found. At the southern tip of the archipelago lies Mindanao with Mt Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines.

HISTORY

It’s hard to understand the present-day Philippines without knowing a little of its colonial history. The first to arrive were Malay settlers who bartered with indigenous tribes’ people, the descendants of whom now mostly live in remote, mountain and jungle areas. By the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th century the islands had been trading with Chinese merchants for hundreds of years, and Islamic settlers from Brunei lived in the south of the archipelago.

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

The Spanish turned these disparate islands into a nation and their introduction of Catholicism had an impact which continues to be felt, with most Filipinos today identifying themselves as Catholics. Throughout the Spanish era, the mountain tribes struggled against colonial rule. A revolution began in 1896 but saw the Filipino forces defeated. They supported the US in its 1898 war against Spain, but the conflict ended with the Philippines being sold to the Americans. The new occupiers were fiercely resisted for many years, but did improve standards of education and infrastructure. The Americans finally allowed elections in 1935, but just a few years later, the country became a major battleground during the Second World War. The Japanese army occupied the country and many of the major cities (including Manila) were devastated.

After the war, democracy was restored, but it had a rocky path. In 1965 Ferdinand Marcos was elected president and, together with his wife Imelda, he set out to modernize the country and rein in the elite families which had long dominated the Philippines. He declared martial law in 1972, strengthening his grip on power and ruthlessly crushing dissent while plundering the country’s coffers. Marcos was deposed in 1986 at the hands of a popular uprising led by Cory Aquino – wife of assassinated presidential rival Ninoy. Initial euphoria about a return to democracy turned to skepticism as successive administrations were accused of corruption, cronyism and self-interest. Today wealth distribution remains very uneven, which goes some way to explaining the high number of Filipinos working abroad and sending money home.

THE PEOPLE

The Philippines has a population of around approximately 90 million people and an annual growth rate around 2%, making it one of the most populous and fastest growing countries on Earth. 6 million of its 90 million population make up the so called cultural minority group; e.g. the Ifugao, Kalinga, Mangyan of Mindoro, T’Boli of the Mindanao Mountains or the Negrito (the original inhabitants, now numbering only about 30,000) throughout the country. From a long history of Western colonial rule, interspersed with the visits of traders; evolved friendly, hospitable people of a unique blend of East and West. Two third of the population is living mainly from fishing and agriculture.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Government officials are addressed by their titles such as senator, congressman or director. Otherwise, usual modes of address and levels of politeness are expected. Casual dress is acceptable in most places, but in Muslim areas the visitor should cover up. Filipino men may wear an embroidered long-sleeved shirt or a plain white barong tagalog with black trousers for formal occasions, women wear cocktail dresses or long gowns. The Philippines are, in many respects, more westernized than any other Asian country, but there is a rich underlay of Malay culture. This is reflected, for example, in a concern for preserving amor propia (face) which makes direct confrontation a social taboo.

LANGUAGES

Filipino (based on Tagalog) is the national language, although it is the native tongue of less than a quarter of the population. English is widely spoken, Spanish much less so. There are around 170 indigenous languages in total, with hundreds more dialects.

GOVERNMENT

Government of the Philippines is a presidential, representative, and democratic republic where the President of the Philippines is both the head of state and the head of government within a pluriform multi-party system.

TIME ZONE

Philippines is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).

ELECTRICITY

220 Volts, 60 Hz. Luxury hotels in Manila and Cebu also have 110 Volts. Power fluctuations are common in The Philippines. Black outs do occur.

CLIMATE

The Philippines is hot year-round but sea breezes can add freshness during the winter (November to February). The typhoon season lasts from around July to October, although in recent years it seems to have been starting and finishing later – in 2010 for example there was severe flooding in North Luzon as late as November. Rainfall patterns vary across the country. In Manila, Palawan and Coron, for example, most rain occurs in the typhoon season. Other areas (including much of the Bicol region) have no distinct dry season, with the most rain from December to February. The Visayas have only a short dry season from November to January, while in Leyte and Bohol, rainfall levels don’t change much throughout the year. Travelers should therefore check the local climate before making plans.

Most tourists visit from January to May (and particularly the first half of that period) when most of the country is undergoing its best climatic conditions. Surfers, on the other hand, are attracted to the islands during the typhoon season as it brings the biggest waves.

CLOTHES TO WEAR

Lightweight cottons and linens are worn throughout most of the year, with warmer clothes useful on cooler evenings. Rainwear or umbrellas are advisable for the rainy season.

LOGISTICAL

Entry & Exit Requirements:

U.S. citizens may enter the Philippines for purposes of tourism without a visa if they present their U.S. passport valid for at least six months the date of their entry into the Philippines, and a return ticket to the United States or an onward ticket to another country. Upon your arrival, immigration authorities will annotate your passport with an entry visa valid for 30 days. If you plan to stay longer than 30 days, you must apply for an extension at the Philippine Bureau of Immigration and Deportation’s (BI) main office at Magallanes Drive, Intramuros, Manila, or at any of its provincial offices. If you know you will stay in the Philippines for more than 30 days, you can obtain a fifty-nine (59) day visa at the Philippine embassy or consulate closest to you before traveling to the Philippines. Once in the Philippines, you can apply for a twenty-nine day extension. If you are coming to the Philippines for purposes other than tourism, please check the Embassy of the Philippines website for visa requirements. You may be denied entry or be given a fine if your purpose for entry is other than tourism and you do not possess the correct visa.

U.S. citizens may obtain a multiple-entry transit 9(b) visa to permit travel from one country to another via the Philippines. Travelers must obtain a transit visa from a Philippine embassy or consulate prior to traveling to the Philippines—transit visas are not issued upon arrival in the Philippines. The transit visa generally is valid for one month and allows the traveler to remain in the Philippines for up to three days. The transit visa is not convertible to any other type of Philippine visa and cannot be extended. U.S. citizens holding an approved transit 9(b) visa should possess the following to qualify for entry to the Philippines: a passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry into the Philippines, a confirmed onward ticket to another destination, and a valid visa for the country of final destination, if a visa is required.

Persons who overstay their visas are subject to fines and detention by Philippine immigration authorities. Please remain aware of your visa status while in the Philippines and strictly follow immigration laws and regulations. Travelers departing the country from international airports must pay a Passenger Service Charge in Philippine pesos. Visit the Embassy of the Philippines website for the most current visa information. Certain foreigners must apply for an Emigration Clearance Certificate (ECC) from the Bureau of Immigration before they may depart the Philippines.  For more detailed information on how this applies to many temporary visitors and to certain immigrants, please visit the BI website.

Special requirements exist for the entry of minors who are not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian and who do not possess a valid visa. The Bureau of Immigration recently strengthened its enforcement of penalties for these requirements. Children under 15 years of age unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian must obtain a “waiver of exclusion” before entering the Philippines. These waivers are available from Philippine embassies and consulates or from the Bureau of Immigration and Detention in Manila. Please check with these entities for further details. At this writing, children attempting to enter the Philippines without a waiver of exclusion will be assessed a fee of 3,120 pesos upon arrival (payable only in pesos). The Bureau of Immigration will retain a photocopy of the child’s passport.

HIV/AIDS RESTRICTIONS: The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors. Philippine law prohibits discrimination in travel and residency matters based simply on an individual’s actual or perceived HIV status.  Please verify this information with the Embassy of the Philippines at 1600 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036, telephone 202-467-9300 before you travel.

Embassy Locations:

Embassy of the United States of America

1201 Roxas Boulevard
Manila, Philippines 1000

Tel: (632) 301-2000

Fax: (632) 301-2017
http://manila.usembassy.gov

Embassy of Canada in Philippines

Levels 6-8, Tower 2, RCBC Plaza
6819 Ayala Avenue
Makati City 1200

Tel: (63-2) 857-9000
Fax: (63-2) 843-1082

http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/philippines/contact-contactez.aspx?lang=eng

HEALTH

Adequate medical care is available in major cities in the Philippines, but even the best hospitals may not meet the standards of medical care, sanitation, and facilities provided by hospitals and doctors in the United States. Medical care is limited in rural and more remote areas.

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost several or even tens of thousands of dollars. Most hospitals will require a down payment of estimated fees in cash at the time of admission. In some cases, public and private hospitals have withheld lifesaving medicines and treatments for non-payment of bills. Hospitals also frequently refuse to discharge patients or release important medical documents until a bill has been paid in full. A list of doctors and medical facilities in the Philippines is available from the U.S. Embassy in Manila. In the past, the Philippines has seen outbreaks of dengue and schistosomiasis. The CDC website has additional information about both diseases.

Schistosomiasis is transmitted by waterborne larvae and is endemic in the Philippines. The disease presents a risk on Mindanao, Bohol, and Samar, as well as the provinces of Sorsogon (the southern tip of Luzon Island) and eastern Mindoro Island. Travelers should avoid freshwater exposure in these areas.

For information on how to reduce the risk of contracting dengue, please visit the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) website.

Please note: Some medications may not be permitted in the country. Please check if the medication you are bringing is permitted in the country you are visiting.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

BANKS & CURRENCY

Philippine Peso (PHP; symbol Php or P) = 100 centavos. Notes are in denominations of Php 1000, 500, 200, 100, 50 and 20. Coins are in denominations of Php 10, 5, 2 and 1, and 25, 10, 5 and 1 centavo.

MasterCard and Visa (and to a lesser extent American Express and Diners Club) are accepted in major establishments throughout the larger cities of the Philippines. Elsewhere acceptance is less reliable. In locations with no ATMs, you may be able to get a cash advance on a credit card for a hefty fee from travel agents or other establishments.

ATMs are widely available in cities and major tourist areas, but may not be present on smaller islands or in mountain areas. It is best to check ahead before relying on the presence of ATMs.

Traveler’s cheques may be cashed at most banks, and are accepted by some tourist-oriented hotels, restaurants and shops. This process can, however, be long-winded and frustrating. To reduce the difficulties, visitors are advised to take traveler’s cheques in US Dollars and to carry their receipt of purchase as well as their passport when cashing them.

Banking hours: Mon-Fri from 9am till 3pm

COMMUNICATION

International Dialing code is +63. Cell phones (GSM) are widely used by the public, both within the metropolis and in major cities throughout the country. Short messaging system (SMS), or more commonly known as text messaging, is also a very common and acceptable form of communication. High speed internet is available in the major business districts of Metro Manila and dial up service available in most major centers around the country.

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food & Drink: 

Unlike a lot of Asian cooking, most Filipino dishes make only moderate use of spices; instead, sour or vinegary flavors are more common. One exception is the fiery cuisine of the Bicol region to the southeast of Manila, which uses a lot of chili and coconut milk. Throughout the country the diet is based around fish and meat (particularly pork), and vegetarians may have trouble explaining what they want. Rice is a staple and served with almost every meal.

While most restaurants have table service, there are also many small carenderias where you choose from a selection of pre-prepared dishes in large pots. For the less adventurous, there are also European-style restaurants and American fast food outlets.

Specialties: 

  • Lechon(roasted whole pig) is prepared for fiestas and family celebrations
  • Kare-kare {an oxtail stew in peanut sauce served with bagoong (fermented shrimp paste)}
  • Sinigang (meat or fish in a pleasantly sour broth).
  • Adobo (braised pork and chicken in a tangy soy sauce with vinegar and garlic).
  • Seafood, which may be grilled, boiled, fried or steamed and served with kalamansi (the local lemon), bagoong (a fish paste) or vinegar with labuyo (the fiery native pepper)

Note: 

Waiter service is common in bars and there are no strict regulations regarding the sale of alcohol.

Regional drinks: 

Locally brewed beer, such as San Miguel
Philippine rum

NIGHTLIFE

Throughout Asia you’ll find Filipino cover bands playing in hotels and bars, and this affinity for music is reflected in Manila’s lively nightlife – as well as in the universal popularity of karaoke (known as ‘videoke’).

A night out could involve anything from the VIP area of an up market super club to a table in a grungy bar with a band playing Pinoy (Filipino) rock or folk music. Manila’s transvestite revues (some of them very glamorous) are also popular with tourists, while the Cultural Center of the Philippines provides more highbrow entertainment such as ballet, opera and classical music.

Outside of Manila, nightlife options are much more restricted. In many towns the best you can hope for (outside of the annual fiesta) is a cover band in a bar, playing folk, country or reggae tunes. Exceptions tend to be university towns, such as Baguio, which has many places to sample live music. As the second city, Cebu also has a vibrant club scene.

SHOPPING

The Philippines has inherited from the US a passion for shopping centers, and every urban area of any size has at least one of these air-conditioned havens. There are also, however, plenty of more traditional covered and open-air markets.

It’s usually cheaper to buy handicrafts in their place of origin, but Manila offers opportunities to get them all in one place. The Tiendesitas shopping centre has 12 pavilions, each with a different selection of goods (from antiques to fashion and furniture), while Divisoria flea market offers a more chaotic shopping experience. Outside of the capital, Baguio is noted for its silver and handicraft stores, while Cebu City’s Carbon market rivals Divisoria.

Typical souvenirs include the barong tagalog (hand-embroidered dress shirts made from pineapple fibres), brassware from the south, guitars from Cebu, painted papier-mâché horses from Laguna, rattan furniture, woven grass mats (banig), antique wooden figurines of saints, carved rice guardian figures from the Cordillera mountains, pearls from Mindanao or Palawan, terracotta pots and abaca (Manila hemp) placemats.

 Shopping hours: 

Mon-Sat 1000-2000, but these can vary. Most department stores and supermarkets are open Sunday and there are some 24-hour convenience stores.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

Gratuities are not included as a part of our service. However, we would like to reiterate that tipping is NOT mandatory and is entirely at your discretion, based on your level of satisfaction for the services that you have received. Having said that, most service providers do expect gratuity. We are pleased to provide you with the suggested guideline, that you may use at your discretion.

LAUNDRY

Most hotels will arrange affordable laundry services for guests.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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