The Philippine Islands as described in 1919

"1921 CSC-0056, 50 cents only!" retirednoway "This is the second volume of the four-volume survey contained in the U.S. Coastal Pilot."

This is the second volume of the four-volume survey contained in the U.S. Coast Pilot.


You can tell that it’s an image of an old book. The U.S. Coast Pilot is a mariner’s guidebook. When the Philippines was a colony of the United States, the islands belonged to America. I imagine that it was treated similar to a national park in the United States. The different agencies of the U.S. government worked on it. The U.S. government served the needs of the residents of the islands. To help everyone master the islands, the government sent its ships to survey the archipelago. They managed to conduct four surveys of Philippine waters.

The following (long) description came from the first survey. The survey was conducted for mariners so the book’s content was heavy on topics that would interest mariners (like weather).

The section on typhoons surprised me. It classified Philippine typhoons five ways. Huh, never heard, but it made sense. I wonder if the classification is still used in some form.

Yesterday I wrote the first piece about the things I learned by reading the book. This is the second piece.

As you read the description, it’s fun to note differences because those differences show how much change can happen in 92 years even in a slow-paced context. I’m referring to life here of course. Things here just happen s-o-o-o s-l-o-w-l-y. Na-to-torpe na nga ako. I have to be careful not to dumb down.

The description begins with general info. Remember that this is the American government’s version. When this was written in 1919, the following events just happened:

  • 1898 — America dealt Spain a bloody naval defeat. Spain signs a peace treaty with America. The victor has the upper hand so America forces Spain to give up its overseas possessions. In Asia it was the Philippines and Guam, in the north Atlantic it was Cuba and Puerto Rico.
  • 1913 — Filipino rebels ended intermittent hostilities. Rebels waged a brief war of independence against America from 1899 to 1902. While the top rebel leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, quit battling in 1902, some did not so the skirmishes lasted until 1913. Filipino POWs (prisoners of war) of this three-year war, 1899 to 1902, were exiled to Iwahig Penal Colony, here in Puerto Princesa. There are many excellent accounts of this low-security prison. One of these days I’m going to visit it. Probably chemz.
  • I can just imagine what it must have been like. Modern infrastructure was being erected. Roads and bridges were being built. Ports were being developed. Commerce was expanding. Things were progressing. Against this backdrop it was clear that the waters around the islands needed to be surveyed.

General information about the Philippine islands

This rich and beautiful group of islands, situated in the northern part of the East Indian Archipelago, was discovered by the Portuguese navigator Fernando de Magalhaens (or Magellan) in 1521. Magalhaens, who was in command of a Spanish expedition and was the first to pass through the strait still bearing his name, approached the Philippines from the eastward and entered the archipelago through the Strait of Surigao. He was killed in a skirmish with the natives on Mactan Island, east of Cebu, in 1521. The Philippines were formally annexed to Spain in 1565. The early history of the islands is a record of continual trouble. After the war between the United States and Spain they were ceded by Spain to the United States of America by the treaty of peace signed at Paris, December 10, 1898, and as a voluntary consideration the United States paid to Spain $20,000,000. According to this treaty the Philippine Archipelago comprehends all of the islands within the following limits:

A line drawn from west to east, along or near the parallel of 20° N latitude, through the middle of the navigable channel of Bashi (21° 25′ N latitude, approximately) from the meridian 118° to that of 127° E longitude, thence southward along the latter meridian to the parallel of 4° 45″ N latitude, thence westward along that parallel to the meridian of 119° 35′ E longitude, thence northward along that meridian to the parallel of 7° 40′ N latitude, thence westward along that parallel to the meridian of 116° E longitude, thence by a direct line to the intersection of the parallel of 10° N latitude with the meridian of 118° E longitude, thence northward along that meridian to the point of beginning.

[Really large areas are expressed in coordinates of latitude and longitude; square kilometers or hectares are too small.]

Spain also relinquished on November 7, 1900, to the United States, all title and claim to the islands of Cagayan Sulu and Sibutu and their dependencies, and all others belonging to the Philippine Archipelago and lying outside of the limits described by the treaty of Paris, the United States paying the sum of $100,000.


The archipelago comprises over 3,000 islands, with a combined area of about 114,400 square statute miles. Luzon in the north and Mindanao in the south are the two largest islands of the group. Besides these two there are only 29 islands with areas greater than 100 square statute miles, the most important of which are Samar, Negros, Panay, Palawan, Mindoro, Leyte, Cebu, Bohol, and Masbate. The islands are generally mountainous and heavily wooded, and contain many volcanoes. Mount Apo, in Mindanao, 9,609 feet high, and Mount Pulog, in Luzon, 9,593 feet high, are probably the highest points in the archipelago.

[Just over 3,000 islands? Is that a typo or was the number of islands intentionally counted that way? The Philippines has over 7,100.]

Natural Disasters

[Next it describes natural disasters. Disasters are intimately related to the place’s geography–where it’s located in the planet–and geology–the islands are volcanic in origin.]

Earthquakes of severe character have been experienced in the Philippine Islands. The most disastrous of recent times was that of 1863, when 400 persons were killed and 2,000 wounded in Manila, and 46 public buildings and 1,100 private houses were seriously injured or destroyed. Other serious earthquakes have occurred in 1610, 1645, 1658, 1675, 1699, 1852, 1880, and 1911, when on January 30 there was an explosion of gas in the crater of Taal volcano, devastating the country surrounding Lake Taal. Active volcanoes exist in the Babuyan Islands, Luzon, Negros, Mindanao, and Camiguin.

Currently, the most recent serious earthquake occurred in 1990. The Philippines is part of the Ring of Fire. One of the earth’s tectonic plates is named after it–the Philippine plate.

Tectonic plates are useful for explaining earthquakes.

"Tectonic Plates of the world" retirednoway
Tectonic Plates of the world. The Philippine Plate is incorrectly named in the diagram.


Lands that happen to be at the boundaries of tectonic plates are volcanic. This map shows the locations of the 26 active volcanoes in the Philippines.

"There are 26 active volcanoes in the Philippines" retirednoway

There are 26 active volcanoes in the Philippines

Did you spot any active volcanoes in Palawan?

No and that’s another reason to live here.


This topic is important to mariners so it’s long and detailed. If you’d rather skip it, jump to the section on typhoons.

The climate of the Philippines differs but little from that of other islands in the same latitude. The range of the thermometer at sea level varies from about 60° to about 100° F (16° to 38° C).

The year may be divided into three seasons: The first, cool and dry, commences in November; the second, hot but still dry, commences in March, the greatest heat being experienced from April to the end of May ; and the third, which is exceedingly wet, continues from June to November.

This is a first! I’ve always been taught in school that the Philippines has two seasons: a wet and a dry. The wet season runs from July to November and the dry, from December to June.

This division of seasons does not apply to coasts exposed to the northeast monsoon, where the wet and dry seasons are to some extent reversed. In the southern portion of the archipelago the wet season is also much less distinct. During the rainy seasons inundations are frequent, and traveling in the interior is difficult. The greater part of the group comes within the range of typhoons, and terrific storms occur. The local thunderstorms that come in the months of May and June, the period of greatest heat, are also at times very severe. The endemic complaints of the country are
malaria and other fevers, diarrhea, beriberi, and a few others. The islands have also been visited by epidemics of cholera, bubonic plague, and smallpox. The mortality is, as a rule, low, considering the number of inhabitants and their mode of life.

Prevailing winds

The two regular monsoons that are met with in the China Sea prevail to a certain extent over the Philippine Islands, the Sulu Sea, and the northern part of the Celebes Sea, but they blow with diminishing force as lower latitudes are reached.

The northeast monsoon (amihan) ,which is the more uniform and steady of the two, prevails for six months from November to April. On the west coast of Luzon northerly winds predominate during November, December, and January, and easterly winds during February, March, and April. In April southeasterly winds are nearly as prevalent as easterly. The northeast monsoon is the season of dry and fine weather, except on the coast directly exposed to it. The high land of the Philippines naturally interrupts the regular course of the wind, and under the land calms are frequent, and often a light wind blows from westward, while in front of the open channels it blows hard, especially off Cape Calavite (Mindoro). In the Sulu Sea the east or northeast monsoon is not a steady, fresh breeze, but often variable.

The southwest monsoon (habagat) is less uniform, being more interrupted by storms, most of which occur during this season. For the six months from May to October the prevailing wind is southwesterly, May being the month in which the winds veer from east to southwest, and October is the month of change from southwest to north.

Throughout the year calms or light winds occur more frequently at night or early morning, the average least force of wind being about 6 or 7 a.m. ; the greatest force is usually during the hours of greatest heat, from 1 to 4 p.m. The average daily velocity of the wind is greatest in September, being nearly double that for December, the month of least wind.

It’s really for mariners, isn’t it? A foreigner thinking of retiring here would find that information useful though.

Storms and gales

During the rainy season local tempests or tornadoes, accompanied by thunder and lightning, are frequent. They occur from May to October, and occasionally in April and November, and usually in the afternoon or night. These rains, while sometimes fierce and in torrents, are usually of short duration.

The gales of the Philippines are known by the local names of colla and baguio. The latter, generally known as typhoons, are the most severe storms of this region, and will be described separately. Colla is the native name for a storm caused by an atmospheric depression to the north or northeast of Luzon, and accompanied by brisk or strong winds from south to southwest, continuing for several days, with violent squalls at intervals. Collas occur more frequently in June or July.

I’ve never heard of colla. And I did a double-take on baguio. I think it should be spelled bagyo with the accent on the first syllable.

Similar depressions appear in the lower latitudes (4° to 12° N) during the months of December, January, February, and March, causing brisk northeasterly winds, accompanied by rain in Mindanao
and the central islands, sometimes extending to southern Luzon.


These storms which are similar to the cyclones of the Indian Ocean and the hurricanes of the West Indies, generally have their origin eastward or southeastward of the Philippines, whence their course is westward or northwestward, the average direction appearing to be about west by north. Some of the storms that cross the Philippines break up in the China Sea, while others reach the China coast or recurve northward and northeastward. Some do not cross the Philippines, either recurving before reaching the islands or having their origin in the China Sea.

About 20 of these storms are recorded annually, but few of these are destructive in the archipelago, and the destructive area of any one storm is usually quite limited. Very few typhoons occur during the months from January to April, inclusive, but February is the only month in which none have been recorded. They are most prevalent in the months from June to November, inclusive, and one-fifth of all the typhoons occur in September.

"These are the tracks of the 21 typhoons that occurred in 2008." retirednoway

These are the tracks of the 21 typhoons that occurred in 2008.

Typhoons are rarely encountered in latitudes below 9° N.

That happens to be the latitude of Puerto Princesa. Another reason to live here! Now for what surprised me–five classes of typhoons.

With respect to their relation to Manila, typhoons may be divided into five classes:

1. Typhoons which cross the archipelago north of Manila. If not distant, they are the most dangerous. They are more frequent from July to October, and never occur from December to May. The winds blow from north to northwest and from west to southwest. If the distance is less than 180 miles (290 kilometers), the influence usually lasts in Manila not more than two days.

2. Typhoons which cross south of Manila. These are felt with much less intensity at Manila than the preceding, even when at the same distance. The winds blow from northeast to southeast. They are more common in November, October, May, and December.

3. Typhoons which recurve into the Pacific to the east of longitude 121° E without crossing the meridian of Manila. The effect of these is similar to a distant typhoon passing to the northward,
except that the strong wind, and wind and rain squalls from the southwest, continue at times for five or six days. These are very frequent in September and quite frequent in August and July.

4. Typhoons formed in the China Sea, to the west of the Philippines. These are the least felt in Manila, as they generally move northwesterly away from the archipelago. These are fairly frequent from June to October, inclusive.

5. Typhoons which recurve in the China Sea between the parallel of 10° and 20°, passing first to the south and afterwards to the north of Manila. The influence of these storms is usually prolonged for six or eight days, accompanied by continuous rains and brisk winds, which veer from north to northeast and east-southeast while the vortex crosses to the south. When, after several days, the typhoon recurves to the northeast this is accompanied by a rapid veering of the winds to the southwest and west. But a small number of such storms have been recorded, scattered in various months from March to December.

Interesting, isn’t it? Typhoons are classified by their behavior and then their likely impact is discussed.

This is how the tracks of all storms in 2009 in the eastern Pacific ocean look like:

"2009_Pacific_typhoon_season_summary" retirednoway

2009_Pacific_typhoon_season_summary (image:

How to enlarge an image

Click on the image and then click on the image’s final resolution (encircled).

"How to enlarge an image" retirednoway

How to enlarge an image


2 responses to “The Philippine Islands as described in 1919

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