By Wallace H. Little
A Potpourri Of Geography, Hygiene And Living Conditions
“How many islands in the Philippine nation?”
“At high or low tide?”
If that conversation has not actually taken place, it surely represents a real situation. Specifically, at low tide, there are approximately 7000 islands. When the tide comes in, about 4000 of them are covered. Of the remainder, about 300 are occupied. The total land areas is 29,000,000 hectares. A Hectare is 100 by 100 meters (10,000 square meters). This is a little larger than a football field in both directions. It includes the islands which are not much more than rocky outcrops, those with no water, the mountain tops, rivers, lakes and the concrete and asphalt jungles called cities, the real jungle as well as the productive farmland. With a total population estimated at 53,000,000, this means each person is “allotted” slightly more than half a hectare to provide sustenance for himself. Actually, it is far less than that, because much of the land is not usable or used in production of food.
In some cities, the density of population is greater than Tokyo. Even in the countryside where this is not so, the conditions of crowding are everywhere present. The Filipino home, regardless of construction materials or where located will usually consist of three rooms. One is essentially a kitchen, where food is both prepared and eaten. The others are bedrooms, with one doing double as duty as sort of a living room. The furnishings will be spare at best. Rather than chairs, most will sit on benches somewhat resembling saw horses, or use the floor. If cooking is done in the house, it will probably be in a metal lined box using wood or charcoal. These are hard to control, and things are lost – such as houses, occasionally including a neighbor’s which was too close. Often the houses are stilts, and in these the cooking is done with the same arrangement under the house. The same danger of burning exists. Running water in houses in the country is rare; a community pump usually serves. Also, there are no bathroom facilities. Latrines are outside the house and many times are common to several houses grouped around them, and often too close to the water supply, contaminating it. The average life-span of the Filipino today is forty-four years.
Rarely will brethren have a refrigerator. Food must be purchased daily, and must be consumed quickly, before it spoils. This is a tropical nation. Preparation o-f a meal is a major household undertaking; it all must be done “from scratch.” Visiting ladies go immediately to the kitchen and lend a hand; they do not wait to be asked, nor do they ask what to do; they just do it.
Filipinos have some very tasty food; but this is not their usual fare, nor is it often that of the brethren. Their main staple is rice. They will eat it three times a day – if they eat three meals. Sometimes there will be something else with it; often it is the only item. Food costs money or must be raised. If they raise it, they eat it; if it takes money and they do not have cash, they get credit if they are able, or if not, go hungry. Some do not get credit.
In the city, a house is apt to be made of hollow block construction, or lacking that, it will probably be of wood. But the basic size will be about the same as in the countryside. Usually the roof is corrugated steel sheets or, lacking these, either nipa palm fonds or cogon grass, tied like wheat sheafs. These are laid on a lattice-like frame, stems toward the ridge pole, and tied into place. Generally a roof like this will last about six months. But they can be replaced in a matter of hours.
The seasons there are really only two: the dry and the wet. During the dry season, there is little if any rain (but the humidity remains very high). During the wet, there is little else but rain. In one month while I was there, it rained 180 inches. Brethren, that is fifteen feet of solid water. And that is a bunch, like getting the Pacific Ocean turned upside down on top of you! Stilts supporting a house keep the water below the floor and the house remains livable.
Typhoons sweep through the Philippines. Sometimes they will do only spot damage, such as the one in November, 1977. At other times, as in 1974, the results can be devastating. Unless you have endured a typhoon (equivalent of our hurricane), they are difficult to describe. But their results are easy to see. Houses flattened; folks drowned; fields flooded and crops ruined; water supplies contaminated; food scarce to non-existent. And in a nation which barely makes it from one meal to the next, there is nothing to “take up the slack.” A real emergency needing benevolence can develop quickly. Some U.S. brethren have been questioning or critical concerning the needs which arise there. Particularly, I am asked why so many appeals are made to the U.S. Christians for help. Undoubtedly some of them are not justified in terms of what Paul wrote on “equality” in 2 Cor 8:14. But it takes little wisdom to understand that a people who are barley making it by the lowest possible standards would have no reserve for an emergency. When we object to helping in a valid need, I am made to wonder where our treasure is (Mt. 6:20, 21).
Generally the farmer will plant and harvest three crops a year. If he is a land owner with several hectares, and works hard, he will provide a reasonable living for his family, by standards there. If he rents the land out, and works at another job, he will collect the land-owner’s share (25%), and combined with the income from his other work, enjoy an even better living. But not many brethren own land. Of those who do farming, the majority are tenant farmers and, thus, must pay the land-owner his 25076 share. Working the same number of hectares as a land-owner, his standard of living will be substantially less. Farmers in the lowlands can often depend upon irrigation to insure making three crops. Upland farming is another matter. Rain alone determines their crop. In a season where a drought has seriously damaged or destroyed one crop, the farmer is reduced to a dangerous condition. He has little if any residue from the previous crop to carry him any longer than to the next subsequent harvest. Whatever extra he may have had, he sold and used for other necessities. Brethren in these situations suffer the same want and privation the non-Christian does. Without a harvest and lacking cash, they do without or submit to the food speculators.
On the income th-y have, the Filipinos do as little traveling as possible, and what they do, will be on jeepneys (World War II jeep frames and engines, with an enlarged, hand-wrought body for passengers), Anything else is inordinately expensive by their standards. Thus, places of worship need to be as close as possible to where the brethren live. To attend, they must walk. That results in several small congregations in a relatively small area. Where we might have one larger and more effective congregation, they may have two or three smaller, weaker ones. This arrangement has been criticized by Americans who do not understand why these extra churches exist. I know one family which regularly walked ten miles eacy way to worship on the Lord’s day, and did this for more than a year, but the Filipinos acknowledge this a rare thing. It would be so among us also.
Their professional training in medicine, nursing, and dietary areas is good. Their training standards are high, and after graduation from school, they must spend another long period of cram-training in preparation for extremely tough board examinations. If the training alone determined the quality of medical care available, and the hygenic level of the people, theirs would be high indeed. But once they are licensed, these highly trained professionals are turned out on a society which has few hospitals or other medical facilities we would even care to go into, to say nothing of being treated in them. They do the best they can, but with medical care, as well as all things there, if you have the necessary money, you are treated; if not, you do without. Hard? Then, what is the solution? They would be glad to learn it.
Life in the Philippines is difficult, but since there are so many of these people, it obviously is not impossible. The Filipino has learned an important truth in life – he is happy in whatever state he is. They are a cheerful people, open-hearted and generous, and their hospitality is worldrenouned. But the difference between what we are accustomed to here in the U.S. and what is available there is so great it needs to be experienced to be explained, and then that often leaves the American stunned. I have been asked on a number of occasions when the churches in the Philippines will become self-supporting. My reply: “Probably not in this generation.” Sound pessimistic? Not really. Do we think we have some better use we can put our excess money to than supporting faithful gospel preachers there in their work?
Truth Magazine XXIII: 10, pp. 167-168
March 8, 1979