There’s a reason why Southeast Asia is the ideal hub for tourism and also business because it’s filled with vast resources, diverse people and untapped potential. Southeast Asian countries aren’t homogenous, but because of their long deep ties for centuries, they have been exchanging cultures and ways of life since the prevalence of international trade in the early century. 

International trade provided an opportunity for rapid industrial development and transformation of the primarily agricultural economies of all Southeast Asia countries. In a short period, this historical action led these countries to adapt to modern industrial economies. 

What defines the Philippines in Southeast Asia? 

To set the Philippines apart from its southeast countries, we take a look and identify what sets itself apart from the rest. For us to deep into this, we have to immerse ourselves in the story behind Filipino culture.  More of this is in the latter part of this blog.

What are the countries in Southeast Asia? 

The countries include Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines, each with its individual life, culture and way of being. 

Filipinos fishing
The Philippines is one of the top fish-producing countries in the world.

What’s the story behind Filipino culture?

The Philippines is known as the melting pot of West and East cultures. Due to its years of colonization by different countries, cultures are immersed in every Filipino. These colonizers influence their Filipino values. 

Digging into the past, the first country that invaded and colonized the Philippines for almost 300 years was Spain. It was the longest time of colonization, therefore, had the most impact on Filipino values and traits. 

After the Spanish-American War, the Philippines were recolonized by The United States. The second country to colonize the Philippines was the United States of America from 1898-1941. This explains the western influences & associations over time. 

When World War II started, Japan occupied the Philippines from 1941-1945. Through the help of the Philippines and United States forces, they were to overpower Japan. After they defeated Japan, the United States officially gave the Philippines independence in 1946.

Since then, it has been an independent country. The Philippines have its own cultures and traditions originating from the indigenous times, such as the location of its many mountainous islands and fantastic food. Still, the countries that colonized or occupied the Philippines had the most cultural impact.

Why did these countries colonize the Philippines? 

Each of these countries had primary reasons for their colonization. All of them saw the Philippines’ potential in how they could advance their agenda. 

Philippines churches

Spain had three objectives in its policy toward the Philippines as its only colony in Asia: they wanted to acquire a share in the spice trade from the Philippines’ neighbouring countries, such as India, etc. Next, they expanded their missionary efforts in China and Japan and converted all indigenous Filipinos to Christianity.

Philippines association with other nations

The United States’ goal was to colonize the Philippines’ strategic location in the Pacific Ocean. After taking the Philippines from Spain, the country was turned into a port and coal replenishment station. Not only that, but it also benefitted the US economy by opening trade with ease in China. During that time, European economics flourished. All of it was due to the continent’s imperial success, which allowed them access to easier trading from foreign lands.  Through this, the United States emerged as an imperial and colonial powerhouse. It continued to seize the economic benefits brought by the Philippines. The Philippines gave the US access to highly valued natural resources. Its abundance is one of the reasons why they wanted to hold a grasp on the country. 

Filipino navy

Next, Japan invaded the country because it was an American colony then. It was an essential military target back then as it was an important location for America. During that time, it was used in transporting oil from the Dutch East Indies and French Indochina to Japan. It was made clear that all of these countries saw potential due to their strategic locations, resources and people. It was a back, and fourth sharing of culture, which led to withstanding influences you can still see throughout the country. 

Different nationalities having conversation

The Philippines enormously benefitted from the various languages used by these countries. 

Although, there was a low penetration of the Spanish language because it was only used by the Filipino elites then. Only a small percentage of Filipino can only speak Spanish after their colonization. That said, there was still a considerable influence, especially on all the Filipino languages. It never left. It still had notable effects on the linguistic development of many Filipino languages. 

The Filipinos aren’t strangers to the English language even before the Spanish colonization. English was first introduced during the Seven Years’ War when Britain invaded and occupied Manila and Cavite in 1762.  We saw the significance of the English Language due to American colonization. The arrival of Thomasites in 1901, right after the re-colonization of the Philippines, was a crucial period of colonial transition that led Filipino leaders and elites and the American government to discuss the formation of a Philippine national language.

At this time, the American style of public education was introduced in the Philippines. 

As a result of the colonization, a national variety called Philippine English was formed. This was one of the fastest to develop in the postcolonial world. It was a success, and English became part of contemporary Filipino culture. With English as a medium language, when the American style of public education was introduced, more than 20% were able to speak and understand before the mid-20th century. 

It did not only stop there after World War II, but English was also the dominant language in all Philippines mass media, such as print, radio, television etc.  Even right after when the Philippines gained independence. By 1987, when the constitution was revised, Filipino and English were introduced as the Philippines’ official co-languages. 

The English language has been a part of Filipino cultural heritage. Due to its strong influence on the culture and life of every Filipino, the Philippines ranked 2nd in English Proficiency in Asia, next to Singapore. It also ranked 27th worldwide for 2020. English has been a withstanding success and paved the way to be a part of modern culture in the Philippines.

That’s why abundant English speakers and competitive labour costs made the Philippines an ideal choice for outsourcing. For example, in 2005, when the Internet was growing fast, American Online had 1,000 Filipinos in the former US Air Force’s Clark Air Base in Angeles City to answer inquiries from around the globe. 

Filipino working professionals at home

What are the Filipino work culture and attitude?

Filipinos are known for their service-oriented behaviour towards their family and peers. As mentioned in a separate article that we’ve written, 

Through the Bayanihan spirit, the Filipino people were able to help the country. This innate spirit led them to overcome the struggles even in the past.

We see it when Filipinos often migrate and work abroad to sustain their family’s needs. They’re willing to sacrifice their time to work as overseas’ workers in the Middle East.  As a result, we appreciate Filipino work ethic and values in everyone’s home and community.