Life in the Philippines – bagyo and Baguio – storms and strawberries

Manila Bay hidden by an incoming rain squall

One of the difficulties for the foreigner in the Philippines is the similarity of some words or sounds in Tagalog. Tagalog is the Austronesian language of the Tagalog people, generally from central Luzon. Its vocabulary has been much influenced by Spanish and English, and it is the basis of a standardized national language of the Philippines (Filipino). The other national language, mercifully, is English. All Republic Acts in the Philippines are written in Tagalog and English.

Two words that to me sound alike are Baguio and bagyo. Baguio is a mountain city of some 350,000 residents that was initially established as a hill station by the United States in 1900 at the site of an Ibaloi village known as Kafagway. It has grown over the past 100 years or so and is known as the summer capital of the Philippines. Famous for its cool air, pine trees, fruit and vegetables and strawberries in particular, it is one of the major towns in the Philippines that does not have air-conditioning installed everywhere.

Bagyo however is a storm. We have just had four or five days of a storm here in Metro Manila, brought about by a combination of the Habagat and a Low Pressure Area (LPA) in the Pacific east of Luzon.

There are two kinds of winds and seasons that occur here every year. The Amihan refers to the northeast monsoon and the Habagat, the south western monsoon.

The habagat blows up from the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) and generally brings with it a lot of moist air. When there is an LPA in the Philippine Sea to the east of the Philippines, the habagat is intensified, as was the case over the past four or five days. FLood warnings were at the yellow level for three of the four days in Manila, Bataan and Zambales, with orange warning signal for Bataan and Zambales over a day. This season is normally over the period June to October (the wet season).

The amihan usually occurs over the period October to March and generally there is a little rainfall associated with it but more characteristically, there is a lowering of the temperature in the Philippines as the wind carries cool air that originates in Siberia and Mongolia which passes across China to blow down to Southeast Asia. This makes Christmas, January and February the best time, temperature and humidity wise, in the Philippines.

I also believe that habagat and amihan are two characters from Philippine mythology. I shall investigate that later.