Writer’s note: This article also appeared on Manila Standard Today. Read here.
In his book The Revenge of Geography, Robert Kaplan pointed out the essence of geography as one of the defining factors of the fate of a nation. While he did emphasize that geography shouldn’t be used to determine and predict a nation’s future, it sure can give us an understanding of the events that transpired in a nation’s history and the “geographical” factors that influenced these events.
He particularly provided a dichotomy of Egypt and Iraq (Mesopotamia), two of the world’s earliest and richest civilizations, and how geography played a role in shaping the government and the overall destiny of these two nations. According to Kaplan, Egypt has always been relatively peaceful than Iraq because it lies “parallel and peaceful to routes of human traffic” while Iraq is a “frontier village, right-angled and obnoxious to the predestined paths of man.”
Another interesting analysis in Kaplan’s book is his differentiation of Germany and the United Kingdom. Germany’s lack of natural shields on the east and west has made it insecure of its borders, hence resorting to constant militarism to defend and promote its boundaries. Great Britain as an island, however, doesn’t need to worry about this so much because it has an ocean and seas to ward off its invaders. Its geography has also urged the nation to steer focus on its navy. Indeed, the British naval power has reached every corner of the world as evidenced by its continuing influence in several nations in all continents (yes, including Antarctica). However, Britain’s detachment from continental Europe has left Germany to become the regional power and leader, a notion that may be disputed by some but proved by the current times.
Looking at the Philippines on a map, one can instantly notice the consequences our geography has on the Philippine economy, government and politics, and culture. As an archipelago of 7,107 islands (unlike Britain and Japan which are composed of fewer islands) with no fewer than 120 languages, the Philippines has been plagued by notions of regional disunity and detachment. Truly, there are people in the countryside who pejoratively refer to the Philippine capital as “Imperial Manila” to express the idea that all national affairs – whether in economy, politics or culture – are decided based on what’s happening in Metro Manila regardless of the rest of the country. Indeed, one cannot deny that there seems to be a glaring disparity on government and public attention between a typhoon that is set to hit Luzon particularly Metro Manila and a typhoon threatening the southern Philippines. Moreover, the ongoing Muslim insurgency in Mindanao and crisis in Sabah (both of which necessitate a separate article) are a testament to the role played by geography in the country as well. All of these make one wonder whether or not the country truly is a one nation or just a country of several disunited nations.
The country’s fragmented features and its geographic location have made it also at risk for natural disasters such as volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and typhoons. In fact, 20 typhoons are expected to visit the country each year. These natural hazards cost millions of pesos and cause numerous fatalities and injuries every year.
Our geography redeems itself, however, by gifting Filipinos with several untapped natural resources and a rich biodiversity. Our lush and arable lands from Luzon to Mindanao, if cultivated efficiently, can allow for our agricultural industry to flourish and feed all hundred million of Filipinos. The country is also known to sit on an estimated $1 trillion worth of mineral wealth, a value about the size of the overall South Korean economy! Our territorial waters are located in some of the earth’s rich fishing centers such as the disputed Panatag shoal and Benham Plateau, an area to the east of Isabela also known to contain oil and natural gas riches. This is not to mention the country’s vast pool of human resource, who are not only highly skilled and educated, but are globally competitive as well.
The Philippines may be geographically fragmented but each fragment needs the others for it to function – just as the need of Metro Manila for the rice produced in Central Luzon, Western Visayas and Central Mindanao; and the need of shipyards in Subic, Cebu and Batangas for steel, nickel, copper and other metals unearthed in mineral rich lands of Palawan, Cotabato, Surigao, Ilocos Norte and Nueva Ecija. Our ethnicities, therefore, shouldn’t stand in our way towards unity and cooperation. Instead, we can build this country using our rich cultural backgrounds to establish a distinct Filipino nation with an important place and role in the world.
This country can become great again; geography is on our side. Indeed, when former First Lady Imelda Marcos explained her “masterplan for the country” by drawing a world map, her words were: “This is the Philippines… This is China, this is Russia… This is the east, the west. And the equator. As anyone could see, the Philippines was right at the center of the globe. I’m surprised nobody saw this. As Chairman Mao said, you can change ideologies anytime, but you can never change geography. Geopolitics! This is what will make the Philippines great and beautiful again.”
But the road to greatness is never easy. Hurdles and obstacles should be expected along the way. Many times, the nation will fall. Stand up anyway. We lose only if we stop trying. There will be other nations who will trample on us, bully us and fight us with weapons of destruction. I say we fight them with our cleverness and wit because we’re mature enough to know that we gain nothing from war. They are not our worst enemies. The Philippines’ nemesis is the Philippines. It’s the battle within each of us that will challenge all our goals and dreams for the country.
The Philippines will become great again. Geography is on our side. Time is on our side. But it is us, Filipinos, who can make that happen.