The Philippines

The Philippines is (are?) made up of 7100 islands, has about the same land area and population as Britain, and is the only Christian country in Asia. That's because after it was ruled by the Spanish from the sixteenth century until 1898, the Americans took over after winning the Spanish-American war. Thanks to the American influence, the Philippines is the fourth largest English speaking nation in the world after the U.S., the U.K. and India. In 2016 the brutal new president, Rodrigo Duterte, announced plans to pull his country out of America’s orbit and adopt an “independent” foreign policy. “I am anti-West,” he explained. “I do not like the Americans. It’s simply a matter of principle for me.” Duterte’s grievance is rooted in history - see this article.


Boracay is a small island just off the northwest tip of Panay. It a popular destination with westerners - they come here for the beach and the relaxed, traffic-free atmosphere (there are no cars on the island, only a few motorbike taxis. Here's the sandy path that runs beside the main beach past the many hotels and restaurants.

And here's one of those motorbike taxis.

Here is a newsletter about the Boracay that I wrote just after returning home to Hong Kong.

1/11/94. Just back from Boracay, a tiny island just north of Panay in the Philippines and about 300 km south of Manila. Actually, Boracay is more like two islands which used to be separate but between which a bank of sand accumulated over the years. It's that fine white sand, now covered with palm trees and humble Philippine dwellings, which is Boracay's claim to fame - Boracay is one of the top tourist attractions in the Philippines.

We took off for Boracay via Manila on Saturday 22 October, via Manila. This was just a day or two after typhoon Theresa made a direct hit on Manila, knocking down many power lines. Maybe we were lucky that our flight was just delayed rather than cancelled, or maybe we were not so lucky as Manila airport was without electricity for air conditioning and was very hot and humid (at least 35°C). Worse, they decided it would be a good idea to X-ray everyone's baggage (don't they normally do that before the flight rather than after?) so we were wilting in the baggage hall for one and a half hours waiting for our bags. By the time we left the airport it was about 2:40 pm and the next flight was scheduled to leave the domestic airport at 3:00 (check in closing at 2:45). The domestic airport is about 5 minutes' drive from the international airport .... except when (as is usually the case in Manila) the traffic is at a standstill. Maybe we were lucky that a representative of our travel agency appeared and drove us quickly to our destination ..... or maybe we were not so lucky, for we were driving on a four lane highway, in the fast lane..... of the oncoming traffic! Catherine would have become frantic at this point if she had not already become frantic at the airport, waiting for our bags. Anyway, with lights flashing and cars swerving to avoid us, we made it just in time.

The flight from Manila to Caticlan, near Boracay, was uneventful - though the airport at Caticlan is so small and simple that they have to blast a siren every time a plane lands as a signal to the local people to get their sheep and pigs off the runway (I wish I had got a picture of the boy walking a huge pig on a lead across the runway as we waited for our return flight). From Caticlan to Boracay, transport was by motorbike with sidecar, followed by outrigger canoe. These tricycles and canoes are one of most memorable images of our trip - the Filipinos take pride in their beautifully decorated trikes and the outrigger canoes are graceful, fast and perfect for the quiet seas of this island nation.

"Take a trip around the island while the weather is good" said the boat owners but, having read all the guidebooks and heeded their advice not to trust the Filipinos too much, we assumed this was not really so urgent. So we spent the first couple of days on the beach and by the time we were ready to tour the island the weather had changed, of course, - still pleasant but too rough to enjoy a boat trip or snorkeling. We had a good time anyway and look forward to going back.

However our enthusiasm was dampened just before we left when we tried to deliver a letter that a colleague of Catherine had given her. It was for a guy called Jackie - we found the address all right though the name was no longer "Jackson's Place". The woman there didn't want to tell us much, just that Jackie had been shot dead with two bullets in the back two years ago. We traced a friend of Jackie and he gave us more details- Jackie was a Belgian with a strong character and had made a lot of enemies on the island. Jackie never went out in the evenings for he feared being attacked. A contract had been set up for his assassination - a soldier from Manila did the deed. The going rate for assassinations in the Philippines is about US$400, or about five months pay for a soldier of the Philippine army. The chief suspects for the making of the contract are a Swiss person who had been Jackie's partner until Jackie threw him out, or else island people after Jackie's land. After Jackie's death the fences around his property were immediately torn down and locals chanted and waved knives as they circled the house each night until, six months later, Jackie's Filipino wife ran away in fear, without even selling the place. It seems that 2 or 3 whites are assassinated on the island every year, and that all the whites live in fear.

Like most of the resorts on the island, our resort was guarded by several guards carrying guns and rifles. We were careful and had no trouble, except that it's difficult to relax once you've learned of the tensions between the whites and the very poor local people. But some tourists like to play "Robinson Crusoe" and live in very simple accommodations with no security - thefts are common. We had nothing stolen exactly bit we were stupid enough to put a deposit on a beautiful model boat which the street vendor was supposed to bring to our hotel the following day after carefully boxing it for us - he never showed up, of course.