Philippines: Pearl of the Orient Seas and Ecotourism Marvel

Story and Photo By Henrylito D. Tacio

Davao City, 23 July 2010. “Nuestro perdido Eden,” wrote national hero Jose P. Rizal. “The pearl of the Orient Seas,” hailed some historical scribes. “The second-largest archipelago in the world,” writes The Lonely Planet, which also described the country as “one of the great treasures of Southeast Asia.”

 Treasure of white sands and blue waters in Philippines.

Treasure of white sands and blue waters in Philippines.

Welcome to the Philippines, my native land. “Often overlooked by travelers because of its location on the ‘wrong’ side of the South China Sea, the Philippines rewards those who go the extra distance to reach it,” The Lonely Planet notes. “And because it’s off the beaten path, the Philippines is a great place to escape the hordes who descend on other parts of Southeast Asia.”

The Philippines comprises 7,107 islands, with Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao as the three main islands. The total length of its coastlines is 36,289 kilometers or twice that of the United States. Most of its islands are “abound with white-sand beaches, exotic tropical vegetation and beautiful lakes and rivers,” wrote All-Asia Travel Guide. 

With a total land area of 104,688 square kilometers, Luzon is the world’s 17th largest island (excluding continental masses of lands like Australia). Mindanao is the 19th largest island as it has a total land area of 94,631 square kilometers.

 Breathtaking rice terraces.

Breathtaking rice terraces.

The Philippines is home to some of the world’s marvelous creations. The Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao has been called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” The total outline of this architectural wonder, or “stairways to the sky,” is about 13,500 miles long, or about half the globe’s circumference and ten times the length of the Great Wall of China.

Mayon Volcano in Albay has the distinction of having the world’s most perfect cone. Upon seeing the Bicol landmark in 1903, distinguished British traveler-writer A. Henry Savage Landor wrote: “Mayon is the most beautiful mountain I have ever seen, the world-renowned Fujiyama (Mt. Fuji) of Japan sinking into perfect insignificance by comparison.” 

 Taal volcano in the distance.

Taal volcano in the distance.

Another global record: Taal Volcano, a 406-meter-high crater, is said to be the world’s smallest volcano. It is described as “a crater within an island within a lake” because it stands as an island at Taal Lake. The lake was formed after the volcano, with used to be much larger, collapsed. 

Mount Apo, a dormant volcano situated in the boundaries of Davao City, Davao del Sur and North Cotabato, is the county’s highest peak (2,954 meters or 10,311 feet above sea level). Mount Apo is flat topped, with three peaks, and is capped by a 500-meter wide volcanic containing a small crater lake. Its name means “master” or “grandfather.”

Actually, there are 200 volcanoes in the country, 22 of them are said to be active. Camiguin, for instance, has more volcanoes than municipalities. The province has only five municipalities (Catarman, Guinisiliban, Mahinog, Mambajao, and Sagay) but it has seven volcanoes (Mount Vulcan Daan, Mount Mambajao, Mount Karling, Mount Uhay, Guinisiliban Peak, Tres Marias Mountain, and Mount Hibok-Hibok). As such, it has earned the distinction of having the most numbers of volcanoes per square kilometer than any other island on earth (it has a total land area of 238 square kilometers).

The world’s deepest part of the ocean is the Marianas Trench, which is over 11,000 meters below the sea level. This makes the Mindanao Trench as the world’s second deepest spot underwater.  The spot, about 34,440 feet (10.497 meters) is in the floor of the Philippine Sea.

The Tubbataha Reefs is considered as the world’s richest bio-geographic area. In fact, it was declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as a World Heritage Site. The two atolls are located 92 nautical miles southeast of Puerto Princesa City covering 33,200 hectares.

Also in Palawan is the world-famous St. Paul Subterranean National Park, a massive white rock mountain which rises 1,028 meters above sea level and stretches towards Cleopatra’s Needle.  Its main feature is the underground river, with its 8.2 kilometers (five miles) of labyrinthine caves carved by rainwater and the waves of South China Sea. 

 Amazing Chocolate Hills in Bohol.

Amazing Chocolate Hills in Bohol.

The Philippines is also world famous for its Chocolate Hills in Bohol.  It is a series of 1,268 perfectly symmetrical, haycock-shaped hills (each hill rises 30 to 120 meters above the surrounding plateau). A national geologic monument, the hills which are spread out in the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan never fails to amaze guests and visitors.

The highest waterfalls in the country is Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel, Davao Oriental.  It is a series of 84 falls (count them!) appearing like a “stairway to heaven” with various heights among the steps.  One step is measured 72 feet and another is 67 feet.  Overall, the falls is 1,100 feet of cascading energy and 20 meters in width – all these in the midst of a virgin forest. 

Now, let’s talk about its people. Filipinos were introduced to the English language in 1762 by British invaders, not Americans. Today, the Philippines is the world’s third largest English-speaking country, next to the United States and United Kingdom. 

 Street Dancers

Street Dancers

Many foreigners have noted that the Filipino population has Asia’s highest rates of inventors and international beauty queens. Two Filipina beauties, Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran, were chosen as Miss Universe in 1969 and 1973, respectively. The Miss International crown was worn by Gemma Cruz in 1964, by Aurora Pijuan in 1970 and by Melanie Marquez in 1979.

Dr. Fe del Mundo, the first Asian to have entered the prestigious Harvard University’s School of Medicine, is credited for her studies that led to the invention of incubator and jaundice relieving device. 

Dr. Abelardo Aguilar reportedly discovered the antibiotic erythromycin from the Aspergillus species of fungi in Iloilo in 1949. In 2000, Rolando dela Cruz developed an ingenuous formula that could easily remove deeply grown moles or warts from the skin without leaving marks or hurting the patient.  The one-chip video camera was first made by Marc Loinaz, a Filipino inventor from New Jersey.

Pure- or part-Filipino celebrities in Hollywood include Dean Devlin, Von Flores, Tia Carrere, Paolo Montalban, Lea Salonga, Ernie Reyes Jr., Nia Peeples, Julio Iglesias Jr., Lou Diamond Phillips, Phoebe Cates and Rob Schneider.

The first Filipino act to land a top hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in the 1960s was the group Rocky Fellers of Manila. Latina-American pop star Christina Aguilera lost to Filipina vocalist Josephine Roberto (also known as Banig) during the International Star Search years ago. In a mid-1999 MTV chat, she said that competing against someone of Banig’s age was “not fair.”  

The first Asian and/or Filipino to snatch America’s Pulitzer Prize was Philippines Herald’s war correspondent Carlos P. Romulo in 1941. (He was also the first Asian to become United Nations Secretary-General.) The first two Filipino-Americans to garner the same award 56 years later were Seattle Times’ Alex Tizon and Byron Acohido, who is part-Korean.

“What’s still most impressive to me about the Philippines is the friendliness of the people, their sense of humor...,” wrote Honolulu journalist John Griffin in a 1998 visit to Manila.

 St Paul subterranean underground river

St Paul subterranean underground river

This is what The Lonely Planet said: “Throughout the archipelago you’ll find people are friendly and curious, wanting to know where you’re from – often shouting out their guess at where you’re from – and where you’re heading. At times when you’re not feeling in the best mood yourself, for example when you and 25 others are squashed in the back of a jeepney built for 10, if you glance around you’ll always find lots of smiles and laughter that will instantly lighten your mood.”

Now, imagine a world without the Philippines!