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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 20:21 GMT 21:21 UK
Swimmers rare in land of water
Filipinos struggling in water
Many Filipinos are unable to swim
test hello test
By BBC News Online's Charlotte Parsons

Victims of Philippine ferry disasters often die for the simplest of reasons - they do not know how to swim.

In a nation comprised of some 7,000 islands, scuba-diving businesses complain of being unable to recruit locals because they cannot pass a simple swimming test.

Most would know basic swimming but dare not venture into deeper water

Edgardo Maranan, Philippines consul
Philippines expert Dr John T Sidel said the problem lies with the education system.

"Think of why [Westerners] know how to swim," said Dr Sidel, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

"We have lessons at school. I myself was drown-proofed at an early age. You also learn at summer camp. That doesn't happen in the Philippines."

This does not mean Filipino youngsters grow up avoiding the water - far from it.

Dr Sidel said playing in rivers and even diving are popular pursuits, "but in terms of being able to swim 500m, that's a different matter".

No numbers

There is no record of the number of Philippines citizens who are unable to swim.

And although the archipelago provided the World Health Organisation with statistics on various other causes of death, it failed to give figures on the number of citizens who drowned.

Joanne Cincenten of the World Congress on Drowning 2002 described the omission as "a political statement".

"It's an indication of not attending to a detail," she said. "They're not even carrying statistics so you can't even see what the size of the problem is."

Children at a swimming lesson
Most Western children attend swimming lessons
The Philippines consul said swimming does not need to be formally taught in schools because local youngsters teach themselves.

"We are near so many bodies of water," consul spokesman Edgardo Maranan said.

"Children just jump in the rivers and learn the rudiments."

But he conceded that they tend to avoid getting in over their heads.

"Most would know basic swimming but dare not venture into deeper water," he said. "They would not be able to swim for any great distance."


Mr Maranan added that the government encourages swimming by providing city dwellers with public pools.

But Dr Sidel said such pools are few and far between.

"There used to be a beautiful public swimming pool in Manila," Dr Sidel said.

"But it has stood empty for 30 years. If you want to find a public pool in Manila, good luck."

See also:

11 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines ferry fire kills 23
13 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines ferry disaster
23 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Hundreds rescued as ferry sinks
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