Chapter 5

Geography of The Philippines Icon

April 15, 2022

If the Bashee or Batanes Islands be included, the area of the Philippinian Archipelago extends to the 21st parallel of north latitude.

But neither southwards or northwards does Spanish rule extend to these extreme limits, nor, in fact, does it always reach the far interior of the larger islands. From the eastern to the western extremity of the Philippines the distance is about go of longitude.

  • Luzon has an area of 2,000
  • Mindanao has an area of over 1,500 square miles

These together are larger than all the rest.

The next seven largest islands are Palawan, Samar, Panay, Mindoro, Leyte, Negros, and Cebu ; of which the first measures about two hundred and fifty, and the last about one hundred square miles. Then come Bojol and Masbate, each about half the size of Cebu; twenty smaller islands, still of some little importance; and numerous tiny islets, rocks, and reefs.*

The Philippines are extremely favoured by their position and organisation.

Their extension from north to south over 16° of latitude, obtains for them a variety of climate which the Dutch Indies, whose largest diameter, their extent in latitude north and south of the equator being but trifling, runs from the east to the west, by no means enjoy. The advantages accruing from their neighbourhood to the equator are added to those acquired from the natural variety of their climate;

The produce of both the torrid and temperate zones, the palm-tree and the fir, the pineapple, the wheat ear, and the potato, flourish side by side upon their shores.

The larger islands contain vast inland seas, considerable navigable rivers, and many creeks running far into the interior; they are rich, too, in safe harbours and countless natural ports of refuge for ships in distress.

Another attribute which, though not to be realised by a glance at the map, is yet one of the most fortunate the islands possess, is the countless number of small streams which pour down from the inland hills, and open out, ere they reach the ocean, into broad estuaries ; up these water-courses coasting vessels of shallow draught can sail to the very foot of the mountains and take in their cargo.

The fertility of the soil is unsurpassed; both the sea around the coasts and the inland lakes swarm with fish and shell-fish, while in the whole archipelago there is scarcely a wild beast to be found. Luzon surpasses all the other islands, not only in size, but in importance; and its fertility and other natural superiority well entitle it to be called, as it is by Crawfurd, “ the most beautiful spot in the tropics."

Luzon stretches itself in a compact, long quadrangle, 25 miles broad, from 18° 40’ north latitude to the Bay of Manila (14° 30’); and then projects, amid large lakes and deep creeks, a rugged promontory to the east, joined to the main continent by but two narrow isthmuses which stretch east and west of the large inland Lake of Bay.

Many traces of recent upheavals betoken that the two portions were once separated and formed two distinct islands. The large eastern promontory, well nigh as long as the northern portion, is nearly cut in half by two deep bays, which, starting from opposite points on the south-eastern and north-western coasts, almost merge their waters in the centre of the peninsula; the Bay of Ragay, and the Bay of Sogod.

In fact, the southern portion of Luzon may be better described as two small peninsulas lying next to one another in parallel positions, and joined together by a narrow neck of land scarcely three miles broad. Two small streams which rise nearly in the same spot and pour themselves into the two opposite gulfs, make the separation almost complete, and form at the same time the boundary between the province of Tayabas on the west, and that of Camarines on the east.

The western portion consists almost entirely of the first-named district, and the eastern is divided into the provinces of North Camarines, South Camarines, and Albay. The first of these three is divided from Tayabas by the boundary already mentioned, and from South Camarines by a line drawn from the southern shore of the Bay of San Miguel on the north to the opposite coast. The eastern extremity of the peninsula forms the province of Albay ; separated from South Camarines by a line which runs from Donzol, on the south coast, northwards across the volcano of Mayon, and which then, inclining to the west, reaches the northern shore, A look at the map will make these explanations clearer.

There are 2 seasons:

  • wet
  • dry.

The south-west monsoon brings the rainy season, at the time of our summer, to the provinces which lie exposed to the south and west winds. On the northern and eastern coasts the heaviest downpours take place in our winter months) during the northeastern monsoons. The ruggedness of the country and its numerous mountains cause, in certain districts, many variations in these normal meteorological conditions.

The dry season lasts in Manila from November till June (duration of the north-east monsoon); rain prevails during the remaining months (duration of the south-west monsoon). The heaviest rainfall occurs in September; March and April are frequently free from wet. From October to February inclusively the weather is cool and dry (prevalence of N.W., N., and N.E. winds); March, April, and May are warm and dry (prevalence of E.N.E., E., and E.S.E. winds); and from June till the end of September it is humid and moderately warm.

There has been an observatory for many years past in Manila under the management of the Jesuits. The following is an epitome of the yearly meteorological report for 1867, for which I am indebted to Professor Dove: *

Barometrical Readings. The average height of the mercury was, in 1867, 755-5; in 1865, 754.57 ; and in 1866, 753.37 millimetres.

In 1867 the difference between the highest and lowest barometrical readings was not more than 13.96 millimetres, and would have been much less if the mercury had not been much depressed by storms in July and September. The hourly variations amounted to very few millimetres.

Daily reading of the Barometer. — The mercury rises in the early morning till about 9 A.M., it then falls up to 3 or 4 P.m.; from then it rises again till 9 P.m., and then again falls till towards day-break. Both the principal atmospheric currents prevalent in Manila exercise a great influence over the mercury in the barometer ; the northern current causes it to rise (to an average height of 756 millimetres), the southern causes it to fall (to about 753 millimetres).


The heat increases from January till the end of May, and then decreases till December. Average yearly temperature, 270.9 C. The highest temperature ever recorded (on the 15th of April at 3 P.M.) was 37.7 C.; the lowest (on the 14th of December and on the 30th of January at 6 A.M.), 190.4 C. Difference, 180.3 C.

Thermometrical Variations. The differences between the highest and lowest readings of the thermometer were, in January, 130.9; in February, 14°2; in March, 15°; in April, 149.6; in May, 119.1; in June, 90.9; in July, 9°; in August, 9° ; in September, 10° ; in October, 119.9; in November, 110.8; and in December, 110.7.

Coldest Months. — November, December, and January, with northerly winds.

Hottest Months.—April and May. Their high temperature is caused by the change of monsoon from the north-east to the south-west. The state of the temperature is most normal from June to September; the variations are least marked during this period owing to the uninterrupted rainfall and the clouded atmosphere.

Daily Variations of the Thermometer.—The coldest portion of the day is from 6 to 7 A.M.; the heat gradually increases, reaches its maximum about 2 or 3 P.m., and then again gradually decreases. During some hours of the night the temperature remains unchanged, but towards morning it falls rapidly.

The direction of the wind is very regular at all seasons of the year, even when local causes make it vary a little. In the course of a twelvemonth the wind goes round the whole compass. In January and February north winds prevail ; in March and April they blow from the south-east; and in May, June, July, August,

and September, from the south-west. In the beginning of October they vary between south-east and south-west, and settle down towards the close of the month in the north-east, in which quarter they remain tolerably fixed during the two following months. The two changes of monsoon always take place in April and May, and in October. As a rule, the direction of both monsoons preserves its equilibrium ; but in Manila, which is protected towards the north by a high range of hills, the north-east monsoon is often diverted to the south-east and north-west. The same cause gives greater force to the south-west wind.

The sky is generally partially clouded ; entirely hot days are of rare occurrence, in fact, they only occur from January to April (during the north-east monsoons). Number of rainy days in the year, 168. The most continuous and heaviest rain falls from June till the end of October.

During this period the rain comes down in torrents; in September alone the rainfall amounted to 1.5 metre, nearly as much as falls in London in the course of the whole year, 3,072.8 millimetres of rain fell in the twelvemonth ; but this is rather more than the average.

The evaporation only amounted to 2,307.3 millimetres; in ordinary years it is generally about equal to the downfall (taking the yearly averages, not those of single months).

The average daily evaporation was about 6:3 millimetres.

The changes of monsoons are often accompanied with tremendous storms; during one of these, which occurred in September, the velocity of the wind was as much as 37 or 38 metres per second. (An official report of the English vice-consul mentions a typhoon which visited the island on the 27th September, 1865, and which did much damage at Manila, driving 17 vessels ashore.)

The Philippines are divided into provinces (P), and districts (D). Each district is administered by an alcalde of 3 classes

  1. De termino (A1)
  2. De ascenso (A2)
  3. De entrada (A3)

by a political and military governor (G), and by a commandant (C). In some provinces an alcalde of the 3rd class is appointed as coadjutor to the governor. These divisions are frequently changed.

The population is estimated at 5 million.

Despite a long period of Spanish rule, the Spanish language has scarcely acquired any footing. A great diversity of languages and dialects prevails.

The most important are:

  • Bisaya
  • Tagálog
  • Ilocáno
  • Bícol
  • Pagasinán
  • Pampángo


Name | Dialect | Population | Pueblos — | — Abra | Ilocano | 34,337 | Albay | Bicol Bataan | Tagalog, Pampango . . . . . . Batangas | Tagalog . . . . . . . . . . . Benguet | Igorrote, Ilocano, Pangasinan . . . Bontoc | Suflin, Ilocano, Igorot Bulacan | Tagalog Cagayan | Ibanag, Itanes, Idayan, Gaddan, Ilocano, Dadaya, Apayao, Malaneg Camarines Norte | Tagalog, Bicol Camarines Sur | Bicol Cavite | Spanish, Tagalog Ilocos Norte | Ilocano, Tinguian. … Ilocos Sur | Ilocano | Tagalo… . . . Ibanag, Gaddan, Tagalo . Tagalo, Spanish . . . . Igorrote, Ilocano ….. Tagalo, Spanish, Chinese . Tagalo . . . . . . . . . . . Tagalo, Pangasinan, Pampango, Ilocano Gaddan, Ifugao, Ibilao, Ilongote, .. Pampango, Ilocano · · · · · · · Pangasinan, Ilocano …… Pampango . . . . . . . Tagalo, Ilocano, Ilongote .. Gaddan .. Tagalo, Bicol …. Different Igorrote dialects .. Ilocano . . . . . . . . Zambal, Ilocano, Aeta, Pampanga,

Tagalo, Pangasinan ……

64,437 16 26,3727 81,047 31 109,501 17 134,767 12 105,251 18

7,813 2 29, 2009 121,251 26

8,851 48 323,683 28 44,239 12 84,520 12 32,9618 193,423 24 263,472 26

6,9501 3,609 6,640 93,918

5,723 88,024 11


P. Antique (Panay) Bisaya . . . . .

88,874 13 P. Bojól .i.. Bisaya . . . . . .

187,327 26 Burias . . . . Bicol . . . . . . .

1,7861 P. Capiz (Panay). Bisaya . . . . . . . . .

206,288 26 P. Cebu: … Bisaya . . .

318,715 44 P. Iloilo (Panay). Bisaya . . . .

565,500 35 P. Leite . . . . Bisaya. . . . . .

170,591 28 D. Masbate, Ticao. Bisaya..

12,4579 P. Mindoro… Tagalo. ..

23,050 10 P. Négros…. Cebuano, Panayano, Bisaya. . . . . 144,923 31

D. Romblon . . . Bisaya. . . . . . . . . . . 21,5794 Ga3. P. Sámar . . . . | Bisaya. . . . . . . . . . . . 146,539 28

MINDANAO. D. Cotabatú … Spanish, Manobo . . . . . . . .! 1,103 / 1 a3. D. Misamis j… Bisaya . · · · ..

63,639 14 G a3. D. Surigao j..

24,104 12 D. Zamboanga j.. Mandaya, Spanish ….

9,608 a3. D. Daváo . . . . | Bisaya . . . . . . . .

1,537 |

               DISTANT ISLANDS. 

G a3. P. Batanes . . . | Ibanag . . . . . . . . . . . G a3. P. Calamianes. |

                     Coyuvo, Agutaino Calamiano . 

G. P. |(Marianas).. Chamorro, Carolino …….

siano : : : : 17,703

8,381 | 6 17,703 5 5,940 | 6

The statistics of the above table are taken from a small work, by Senor Barrantes, the Secretary-General of the Philippines.

; but I have arranged them differently, to render them more easily intelligible to the eye.

Although Senor Barrantes had the best official materials at his disposal, too much value must not be attributed to his figures, for the sources from which he drew them are tainted with errors to an extent that can hardly be realised in Europe. For example, he derives the following contradictory statements from his official sources :—The population of Cavite is set down as 115,300 and 65,225; that of Mindoro at 45,630, and 23,054; that of Manila at 230,443, and 323,683 ; and that of Capiz at 788,947, and 191,818.