Philippines - Country Overview

The Philippine Islands or simply Philippines is a country in the Southeast Asia comprising over 7,100 named and unnamed islands. This second largest archipelago in the world with a total land area of 0.3 million sq km is strategically located between the South China Sea in the west and the Pacific Ocean in the east. It is rich in mineral resources, mostly unexplored, and is the world’s largest producer of coconuts and the third largest grower of bananas.

International travelers often tend to skip it for its location on the ‘wrong side’ of the mainland Asia. But those who have the spirit of adventure to travel through off the beaten path to reach the Philippines, naturally, get ample rewards. Because the Philippines is a place full of natural wonders – a string of coral-fringed islands strewn across a vast expanse of the western Pacific. The Philippines has wonderful opportunities for diving and snorkeling, including wreck diving around Coron and adventure swimming with the whales and sharks around Donsol. That need not be enough for nature loving travelers; the Philippines always attracts outsiders and insiders alike with its beautiful landscape and rich flora and fauna. Even tired travelers would not mind spending a few extra days not to miss the natural beauty of this far off land. The Chocolate Hills of Bohol in the midst of Bohol Sea and the lush green rice fields and coconut groves adding elegance to the magnificent white sand beaches are simply not to be missed. Of course the best part of the tour can be the friendly people of the Philippines. They are hospitable and warm despite their age old poverty which they are trying to shed off.

The official name of Philippines is Republic of the Philippines. It has a turbulent history because of the rivalry between the Spaniards, Americans and the Japanese spreading over 600 years and the conflict of the original inhabitants of these islands with the invaders... It is a conglomeration of several races trying for centuries to forge political stability, national integration and economic upsurge.

The Philippine Islands became a Spanish colony during the 16th century; they were ceded to the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. In 1935 the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth. Manuel Quezon was elected President and was tasked with preparing the country for independence after a 10-year transition. In 1942 the islands fell under Japanese occupation during World War II, and US forces and Filipinos fought together against the Japanese during 1944-45 to regain control over the Philippines.

On 4 July 1946 the Philippines attained their independence. And then began its tryst with destiny. Successive presidents have been trying to give to the Filipinos political stability and a better quality of life. For various national and international reasons the task remains only half done. At the last General elections held on May 10 Benigno Aquinio III, the only son of late former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and late former President Corazon Aquino got elected for six years as the 15th president of the Philippines whose term began on June 30, 2010 and will end on June 30, 2016.

The Philippine Government today faces threats from armed communist insurgencies and from Muslim separatists in the south.

The country has an estimated population of over 92 million (2009 estimate) with a GDP per capita of US $1,746 (2009 figure). Attempts by successive governments to alleviate poverty have by and large remained a noble but unrealized national goal. This is mostly because of internal instability and also national and international economic down sling, particularly during the last two or three decades, including the infamous Asian economic crisis of 1997. The basic literacy of the country fortunately is high and was estimated in 200 at about 94 per cent. This is because of the country’s policy of compulsory free primary education, and at least partly because of long years of Spanish and American administration that encouraged people to educate themselves. Filipino, based on Tagalog is the official national language. English is the language of administration and government‘s office work.

The country’s economy is based more on industries and services sectors rather than on agriculture. This is despite the fact that the country produces considerable volume of rice, products (highest in the world), sugar, corn, bananas (second largest in the world), pineapple products and mangoes. Agriculture accounts for 15 percent of GDP (2002), industry 32.5 and services over 53 per cent. The service sector includes BPO, a new sector that contributes nearly 4.5 per cent of Philippine GDP and provides employment to more than 442,000 people mainly in IT and telecommunications.

Filipinos are a freedom-loving people, having waged two bloodless revolutions against what were perceived as corrupt regimes. The Philippines is a vibrant democracy, as evidenced by 12 English national newspapers, 7 national television stations, hundreds of cable TV stations, and 2,000 radio stations. Filipinos are a fun-loving people. Throughout the islands, there are fiestas celebrated everyday and foreign guests are always welcome to their homes.

The Philippines is a republic and its constitution was adopted on February 11, 1987. It is a member of the UN, WTO, Asian Development Bank, ASEAN, APEC, the Colombo Plan and IOM.


Geographic Location

The Philippine archipelago lies in Southeast Asia in a position that has led to its becoming a cultural confluence, a land where Malays, Chinese, Spaniards, Americans, Arabs, Indians and others have interacted and interacted to forge a unique cultural and racial mosaic of people known to the world as Filipinos. The archipelago, the second largest in the world, numbers some 7,100 islands and the Filipinos claim an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles from their shores. Over half the islands do not have any name as yet.

The Philippines occupies an area that stretches for 1,850 kilometers from about the fifth to the twentieth parallels north latitude and from approximately 118 to 128 east longitude. The total land area is almost 300,000 sq km. Only approximately 1,000 of its islands are populated, and less than one-half of these are larger than 2.5 square kilometers. Eleven islands make up 94 percent of the Philippine landmass, and two of these -- Luzon and Mindanao -- measure 105,000 and 95,000 square kilometers, respectively. They, together with the cluster of the Visayan Islands that separate them, represent the three principal regions of the archipelago that are identified by the three stars on the Philippine flag. Topographically, the Philippines is broken up by the sea, which gives it one of the longest coastlines of any nation in the world. Most Filipinos live on or near the coast, where they can easily supplement their diet from approximately 2,000 species of fish.

Off the coast of eastern Mindanao is the Philippine Trough, which descends to a depth of 10,430 meters. The Philippines is part of a western Pacific arc system that is characterized by active volcanoes. Among the most notable peaks are Mount Mayon near Legaspi, Taal Volcano south of Manila, and Mount Apo on Mindanao. All of the Philippine islands are prone to earthquakes. The northern Luzon highlands, or Cordillera Central, rise to between 2,500 and 2,750 metres. Together with the Sierra Madre in the northeastern portion of Luzon and the mountains of Mindanao, the highlands host rain forests that provide refuge to numerous upland tribal groups. The rain forests also offer prime habitat for more than 500 species of birds, including the Philippine eagle (or monkey-eating eagle), some 800 species of orchids, and some 8,500 species of other flowering plants.

The country's most extensive river systems are the Pulangi (Rio Grande), which flows into the Mindanao River; the Agusan, in Mindanao which flows north into the Mindanao Sea; the Cagayan in northern Luzon; and the Pampanga, which flows south from east Central Luzon into Manila Bay. Laguna de Bay, southeast of Manila Bay, is the largest freshwater lake in the Philippines. Several rivers have been harnessed for hydroelectric power.


Land Area

The Philippines is a huge archipelago comprising over 7,000 islands with a total land area of 300,000 sq km. The 11 largest islands contain 94% of the total territory. The largest of these islands is Luzon at about 105,000 sq km. The next largest island is Mindanao at about 95,000 sq km. The archipelago is around 800 km from the Asian mainland and is located between Taiwan and Borneo. About 65 per cent of the land mass is mountainous and the rest, mostly coastal strips accommodate most Filipinos.



With an estimated population of about 92 million people, the Philippines is the world's 12th most populous country. It is estimated that there are an additional 11 million overseas Filipinos worldwide. Multiple ethnicity and culture is found throughout the islands. The country’s tropical climate sustains one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world. The majority of Philippine people are descendants of Indonesians and Malays who migrated to the islands in successive waves over many centuries and largely displaced the aboriginals. They have played an important role in commerce for many centuries since they first came to the islands to trade. Arabs and Indians also traveled and traded in the Philippines in the first and early second millennium. As a result of intermarriage many Filipinos have some Asian mainland, Spanish, American, Arab or Indian ancestry. After the mainland Asians, Americans and Spaniards constitute the two largest minorities in the country.



The history of the Philippines can be divided into four distinct phases: the pre-Spanish period prior to 1521; the Spanish period from 1521 to 1898; the American period from 1898 to1946 and the post independence period from 1946 onwards.

The first people in the Philippines, the Negritos, are believed to have come to the islands about 30,000 years ago from Borneo and Sumatra crossing then-existing land bridges. Subsequently Malays came from the south in successive waves, the earliest by land bridges and then by boats across seas. Chinese merchants and traders arrived and settled in the ninth century, sometimes traveling on the ships of Arab traders, introducing Islam in the south. The Malays, however, remained the dominant group until the Spanish came in the 16th century.

The Spanish period started with the coming of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan reaching the Philippines and claiming the big archipelago for Spain in 1521. He was killed shortly thereafter in the conflict between him and succeeding Spanish groups who reached the Philippines following him. Until around 1810 the Philippine Islands were under the administrative control of the Spanish America when there was considerable migration from North America to the Philippines. This period was the era of conversion of Filipinos to Roman Catholicism. A Spanish colonial sociopolitical system was introduced with a local government centered in Manila.

Towards the latter half of the nineteenth century, European educated Filipinos began to criticize the excesses of the Spanish rule that gave rise to a new sense of nationalism among them. At this crucial juncture the Americans defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay on May 1, 1898 at the Spanish-American War. Emilio Aguinaldo leader of the Philippine revolt against Spaniards now declared independence from Spain on June 12, 1898.

Following Spain’s defeat in the hands of America the former ceded Philippines to America. Armed resistance against American occupation at that time was a normal feature especially by the Muslims in the south. The US administration of the Philippines was always declared to be a transitional phase preparatory to the establishment of an independent democratic government. In 1935 Philippines became a self governing commonwealth of America. In 1942 when the war drums of the Second World War was being heard Japan occupied Philippines. Following surrender of Japan at the end of World War II the Philippine Island became the independent Republic of the Philippines in July 1946.

The early years of independence were marked by US–assisted post war reconstruction. The communist-inspired Huk Rebellion was successfully suppressed under the leadership of the Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay. The succeeding administration of Carlos P. Garcia (1957 t0 61) and Dias dado Macapagal (1961 to65) sought to expand Philippine ties with their Asian neighbours, implement domestic reform programmes and develop and diversify economy. The president ship of Ferdinand E. Marcos from 19965 to 1986 was marked by suppression of democratic institutions following declaration of emergency citing growing lawlessness. The leading opponent of President Marcos, Benigno Aquino was murdered shortly after his return to Philippines from America after treatment.

The next Presidential election held in February 1986 was won by Aquino’s widow Corazon and Marcos fled the country. Muslim insurgent activities during her president ship came to an end through a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (Muslims) signed on Sept.2, 1996 providing for a Muslim autonomous region in Midano Island in southern Philippines. The next President was Estraada who was forced to resign for corruption charges. Estrada’s supporters tried to overthrow his successor president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In November 2001 the peace agreement with the Muslim militants collapsed and violence resurfaced, and there was even a coup attempt against Gloria’s government. On the expiry of the fixed six year term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the General elections were held on May 10, 2010 for electing persons for 17000 positions from the president to municipal councilors. Benigno Aquino III the only son of late former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and late former President Corazon Aquino has been elected as the president to remain in office till June 30, 2016. The turbulent histories of the country and rivalry between families of leading politicians have been, at least partly responsible for the slow economic and social development of the Philippine Islands.

The Philippines is the third largest English speaking country in the world. It has a rich history combining Asian, European, and American influences. Prior to Spanish colonization in 1521, the Filipinos had a rich culture and were trading with the Chinese and the Japanese. Spain's colonization brought about the construction of Intramuros in 1571, a "Walled City" comprising European buildings and churches, replicated in different parts of the archipelago. In 1898, after 350 years and 300 rebellions, the Filipinos, with leaders like Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo, succeeded in winning their independence.

In 1898, the Philippines became the first and only colony of the United States. Following the Philippine-American War, the United States brought widespread education to the islands. Filipinos fought alongside Americans during World War II, particularly at the famous battle of Bataan and Corregidor which delayed Japanese advance and saved Australia. They then waged a guerilla war against the Japanese from 1941 to 1945. The Philippines regained its independence in 1946.

Filipinos are a freedom-loving people, having waged two bloodless revolutions against what were perceived as corrupt regimes. The Philippines is a vibrant democracy, as evidenced by 12 English national newspapers, 7 national television stations, hundreds of cable TV stations, and 2,000 radio stations.

Filipinos are a fun-loving people. Throughout the islands, there are fiestas celebrated everyday and foreign guests are always welcome to their homes.



The Filipino is basically of Malay stock with a sprinkling of Chinese, American, Spanish, Indian and Arab blood. The Philippines has a population of about 92 million as of 2009, and it is hard to distinguish accurately the lines between stocks. A long history of Western colonial rule, interspersed with the visits of merchants and traders, evolved a people of a unique blend of east and west, both in appearance and culture.

The Filipino character is actually a little bit of all the cultures put together. The spirit of kinship and camaraderie that Filipinos are famous for is said to be taken from Malay forefathers. The close family relations are said to have been inherited from the Chinese. The piousness comes from the Spaniards who introduced Christianity in the 16th century. Hospitality is a common denominator in the Filipino character and this is what distinguishes the Filipino. Filipinos are probably one of the few, if not the only, English-proficient Oriental people today. Filipino is the official national language, with English considered as the country's unofficial language for administrative work. It is the third largest English speaking country in the world.

The Filipinos are divided geographically and culturally into regions, and each regional group is known by distinct traits and dialects - the sturdy and frugal llocanos of the north, the industrious Tagalogs of the central plains, the carefree Visayans from the central islands, and the colorful tribesmen and religious Moslems of Mindanao. Tribal communities can be found scattered across the archipelago. The Philippines has more than 111 dialects spoken, owing to the subdivisions of these basic regional and cultural groups.

The country is marked by a true blend of cultures; truly in the Philippines, East meets West. The background of the people is Indonesian and Malay. There are Chinese and Spanish elements as well. The history of American rule and contact with merchants and traders culminated in a unique blend of culture, appearance and personality to the people of this island nation.

Hospitality, a trait displayed by every Filipino, makes these people legendary in Southeast Asia. Seldom can you find such hospitable people who enjoy the company of their Western visitors. Perhaps, due to their long association with Spain, Filipinos are emotional and passionate about life in a way that seems more Latin than Asian.

The Spaniards introduced Christianity (the Roman Catholic faith) and succeeded in converting the overwhelming majority of Filipinos. At least 83% of the total population belongs to the Roman Catholic faith.

The American occupation was responsible for teaching the Filipino people the English language. The Philippines is currently the third-largest English speaking country in the world.



Religions in the Philippines are spiritual beliefs held by Philippine citizens. Religion holds a central place in the life of the majority of Filipinos, including Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Protestants and Animists. It is central not as an abstract belief system, but rather, rituals, ceremonies, and adjurations that provide continuity in life, cohesion in the community and moral purpose for existence. Religious associations are even part of the system of kinship ties, patron-client bonds and other linkages outside the nuclear family.

Christianity and Islam have been superimposed on ancient traditions and acculturated. The unique religious blends that have resulted, when combined with the strong personal faith of Filipinos, have given rise to numerous and diverse revivalist movements. Generally characterised by anti-modern bias, supernaturalism, and authoritarianism in the person of a charismatic messiah figure, these movements have attracted thousands of Filipinos, especially in areas like Mindanao, which have been subjected to extreme pressure of change over a short period of time. Many have been swept up in these movements, out of a renewed sense of fraternity and community living.

Based on 2000 census the religious breakup of the Filipinos is as follows:

Roman Catholic - 80.9 %
Muslim - 5.0 %
Evangelical - 2.8 %
Iglesias in Krista - 2.3 %
Aglipayan - 2.0 %
Other Christians - 4.5 %
Others - 2.4 %



The Climate of the Philippines is a tropical monsoon climate dominated by a rainy season, a dry season and a cool season that spreads from November-February. The summer monsoon brings heavy rains to most of the archipelago from May to October, whereas the winter monsoon brings cooler and drier air from December to February. Manila and most of the lowland areas are hot, sunny and dusty from February to May. Even at this time, however, temperatures rarely rise above 37 °C (99 °F) in Manila. The highest temperature recorded in the Philippines was 42.2 °C in Tuguegarao, Cagayan Valley on April 29, 1912 and on May 11, 1969. The absolute minimum temperature of 3.0 °C was recorded in January of 1903 in Baguio.

Annual average rainfall ranges from as much as 5,000 millimetres (200 in) in the mountainous east coast section of the country to less than 1,000 millimetres (39 in) in some of the sheltered valleys. Monsoon rains, although hard and drenching, are not normally associated with high winds and waves. But the Philippines sits astride the typhoon belt, and the country suffers an annual onslaught of dangerous storms from July through October. These are especially hazardous for northern and eastern Luzon and the Bicol and Eastern Visayas regions, but Manila gets devastated periodically as well.



There are two official languages --- Filipino and English. Filipino which is based on Tagalog is the national language. English is also widely used and is the medium of instruction in higher education. Eight (8) major dialects spoken by majority of the Filipinos are: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinense.

Filipino is the native language which is used nationally as the language of communication among ethnic groups. Like any living language, Filipino is in a process of development through loans from Philippine languages and non-native languages for various situations, among speakers of different social backgrounds, and for topics for conversation and scholarly discourse. There are about 76 to 78 major language groups, with more than 500 dialects.