Philippines Table of Contents

The Philippines, like most other Southeast Asian nations, has one dominant city that is in a category all by itself as a "primate city." In the mid-1980s, Metro Manila produced roughly half of the gross national product (GNP) of the Philippines and contained two-thirds of the nation's vehicles. Its plethora of wholesale and retail business establishments, insurance companies, advertising companies, and banks of every description made the region the unchallenged hub of business and finance.

Because of its fine colleges and universities, including the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and De La Salle University, some of the best in Southeast Asia, the Manila area was a magnet for the best minds of the nation. In addition to being the political and judicial capital, Manila was the entertainment and arts capital, with all the glamour of first-class international hotels and restaurants. Because Manila dominated the communications and media industry, Filipinos everywhere were constantly made aware of economic, cultural, and political events in Manila. Large numbers of rural Filipinos moved to Manila in search of economic and other opportunities. More than one-half of the residents of Metro Manila were born elsewhere.

In the early 1990s, Manila, especially the Makati section, had a modern superstructure of hotels and banks, supermarkets, malls, art galleries, and museums. Beneath this structure, however, was a substructure of traditional small neighborhoods and a wide spectrum of life-styles ranging from traditional to modern, from those of the inordinately wealthy to those of the abjectly poor. Metro Manila offered greater economic extremes than other urban areas: poverty was visible in thousands of squatters' flimsy shacks and wealth was evident in the elegant, guarded suburbs with expensive homes and private clubs. But in Manila, unlike urban centers in other countries, these economic divisions were not paralleled by racial or linguistic residential patterns. Manila and other Philippine cities were truly melting pots, in which wealth was the only determinant for residence.

Whether in poor squatter and slum communities or in middleclass sections of cities, values associated primarily with rural barangays continued to be important in determining expectations, if not always actions. Even when it was clearly impossible to create a warm and personal community in a city neighborhood, Filipinos nevertheless felt that traditional patterns of behavior conducive to such a community should be followed. Hospitality, interdependence, patron-client bonds, and real kinship all continued to be of importance for urban Filipinos.

Still another indication that traditional Philippine values remained functional for city dwellers was that average household size in the 1980s was greater in urban than in rural areas. Observers speculated that, as Filipinos moved to the city, they had fewer children but more extended family members and nonrelatives in their households. This situation might have been caused by factors such as the availability of more work opportunities in the city, the tendency of urban Filipinos to marry later so that there were more singles, the housing industry's inability to keep pace with urbanization, and the high urban unemployment rates that caused families to supplement their incomes by taking in boarders. Whatever the reason, it seemed clear that kinship and possibly other personal alliance system ties were no weaker for most urban Filipinos than for their rural kin.

Urban squatters have been a perennial problem or, perhaps, a sign of a problem. Large numbers of people living in makeshift housing, often without water or sewage, indicated that cities had grown in population faster than in the facilities required. In fact, the growth in population even exceeded the demand for labor so that many squatters found their living by salvaging material from garbage dumps, peddling, and performing irregular day work.

Most squatters were long-time residents, who found in the absence of rent a way of coping with economic problems. The efforts of the government in the late 1980s to beautify and modernize the Manila area led inevitably to conflict with the squatters who had settled most of the land that might be utilized in such projects. The forced eviction of squatters and the destruction of their shacks were frequent occurrences.

Two types of organizations have intervened in support of squatters: nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and syndicates. The NGOs had a variety of programs, each one representing only a small minority of the actual squatters, but they sustained pressure on the government and demanded land titles and an end to forced evictions as well as help in housing construction. The syndicates were extra-legal entities that provided an informal type of government in the late 1980s, levying fees of as much as 3 billion pesos a year, or about US$120 million. The syndicates allocated land for lots, built roads and sidewalks of sorts, maintained order, and occasionally even provided water and light. In other words, they acted like private developers, although their only claim to the land was forcible seizure. Both the authoritarian Marcos government and the democratic Aquino government found it hard to handle the squatter problem. All proposed solutions contained difficulties, and probably only a major economic recovery in both rural and urban areas would provide a setting in which a degree of success would be possible.

The growth of other urban centers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, could signal a slowdown in the expansion of Metro Manila. This situation has been caused, at least in part, by the policies of both the Marcos and the Aquino administrations. The Marcos administration encouraged industrial decentralization and prohibited the erection of new factories within fifty kilometers of Manila. In an effort to relieve unemployment, the Aquino administration spent billions of pesos on rural infrastructure, which helped to expand business in the nearby cities. Cities such as Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, and General Santos on Mindanao, and especially Cebu on Cebu Island experienced economic growth in the 1980s far exceeding that of Manila.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress