Made up of 7107 small islands, The Philippines is a little piece of paradise. Famous for its nice beaches, its amazing rice terraces and worldwide impressive volcanoes, this country situated in the Far East is a little gem.
The Philippines, named after King Philip II of Spain, is a sovereign island country. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with about 100 million people living on 300 000 km2. The Philippines was a Spanish colony for some 300 years before being taken over by the United States in 1902. In 1946 it was finally recognized as an independent country.
12 million Filipinos live abroad, creating a large diaspora across the world. 3067 Filipinos are registered as living in Belgium according to the Belgian National Institute of Statistics while the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimated that more 10 000 Filipinos live in Belgium. Amongst them is April, a master’s student from the University of Antwerp who has agreed to share his view of his native land with us. April is from Quezon City, one of the most well-known cities of the Philippines. He has been studying in Belgium for 8 years now.
What are your three favourite things about your country?
“The food, Christmas, the musicality of Filipinos.” Consisting of Austronesian cuisine mixed with influences from Spanish, Malay, Chinese and American cuisine, amongst others, Filipino cuisine is very diverse.”
What do you think about the development of The Philippines?
“It’ll take a while because of corruption in government. There’s rampant and systemic corruption at all levels of government. And Filipinos still tend to vote on the basis of personality and personal appeal, with the result that the same names and families are in power.”
In what fields do you feel like your country could improve?
“Governance, education, agriculture. Basic education leaves much to be desired in the Philippines. Public schools still have a reputation of not being up to par. There are many colleges and universities but only a few of them are of quality. Most of the country consists of rural areas. People tend to go to the cities to find work, but if agriculture is given attention, perhaps people will stay put in their areas and will work to develop them.”
What can you tell us about the economy of the country? Do you think the government is using the country’s resources in the best way? We know that the country is a big exporter of coconuts, in fact the biggest in the world, but what about the rest of the economy?
“I think it’s still the case that the economy is kept afloat by remittances from Filipinos working abroad (OFWs or Overseas Filipino Workers). We need more local industries, I guess, and less corruption.”
There are many Filipinos in Belgium. Would you say there is a Filipino diaspora in Belgium? If yes, how do you feel about it?
“Yes, there are Filipinos everywhere. It’s like a fact of life. (My Dad also worked in Saudi Arabia for a long time to support us.) People leave their home country, because they want a better future for their families and themselves. They have nothing in the Philippines and they know their chances of becoming successful there are slim. So I completely understand why they go abroad. Why they chose Belgium, on the other hand, is not so self-evident. Most people go to the US. But I guess each person has a story to tell.”
After so many years living abroad, how do you feel about your identity as a Filipino?
“That I’m Filipino has become clearer to me here. There might be a lot of things that are wrong in the Philippines and maybe it’s unfortunate that I’m here and not there to help out. But I’m proud to be Filipino. It has become clearer to me that I come from this background and yet, at the same time, I’ve also been educated in Western traditions. I come from a background which is different from the other students, being a Filipino coming from a developing country and former colony, but also as a Catholic.”