Are Filipinos Asians or Pacific Islanders? Is the Philippines part of Southeast Asia, Oceania or the Pacific Islands?
Officially, of course, Filipinos are categorized as Asians and the Philippines as part of Southeast Asia. But describing Filipinos as Pacific Islanders isn’t necessarily wrong either. In fact, for a long time, Filipinos were known as Pacific Islanders.
The Philippines used to be called the Philippine Islands of the Pacific, and when the Americans first arrived more than a century ago, they described the Philippine Islands as ‘orphans of the Pacific.’
They might well have been referring to the geographical distance of the country from mainland Asia. Composed of more than 7000 islands, the Philippine archipelagic state was a political creation of Western colonizers. It was Spain during the 16th century that united the major islands of the Philippines—if it hadn’t occupied the islands, the Philippine nation state wouldn’t have existed.
What would have happened if the country hadn’t been united? Luzon, the largest island in the north of the Philippines, could have become a territory of China or Taiwan, while Mindanao in the south could have become a province of Malaysia or Indonesia. The formation of a bigger nation state composed of the Philippine Islands, Taiwan and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia could have been another possibility.
Philippine society evolved differently from other Asian nations. For example, the Philippines (aside from Timor Leste) is the only Christian-dominated nation in Asia. The blending of Western and native cultures created a unique society that’s neither Western nor Asian.
Many Filipinos are unsure about their identity and although they believe they’re Asians, many also feel closer to the West, especially the United States. Indeed, they seem to be prouder of their Western upbringing than their Asian identity. This colonial mentality has been identified as one of the negative traits of many Filipinos.
Southeast Asia is defined as a purely geographical concept in the Philippines and Filipinos often don’t appreciate nor understand the cultural and religious practices of their neighbours. They’re also unaware of Indochina politics.
The Philippines was used as a launch pad by the United States during the Vietnam War. But while panic swept the rest of the region when Cambodia and Thailand almost went to war over a border dispute, the Philippines didn’t express any sense of alarm over the situation.
To Filipinos, their place in Southeast Asia is just an accident of geography. This is unfortunate, because the Philippines’ detachment from mainland Southeast Asia could have been maximized to exert political leadership in the region. By not being involved with the numerous squabbles in Indochina, the Philippines could have played the role of objective arbiter in the various regional conflicts and disagreements.
But Filipinos seem to be more interested in political events in the West. Instead of ignoring their neighbours, Filipinos should embrace their connection with Southeast Asia.