An archipelago of 7107 islands that spans an area of 300,000 sq km, the Republic of the Philippines lies south of Taiwan and east of Vietnam, and is bounded in the west by the South China Sea and in the south by the Sulu and Celebes Seas. With a complex history marked by successive waves of migration and periods of colonisation and occupation, the Philippines is home to a host of ethnicities and languages across its roughly 1000 inhabited islands. In the period since independence, achieved in 1946, the nation has faced successive decades of political instability, internal armed insurgencies and corruption.
Nevertheless, the country began witnessing sustained economic growth and increased efforts to curb corruption during the six-year term of former President Benigno Aquino III, who ended his presidency in mid-2016. Long time Davao City mayor, Rodrigo Duterte, won the 2016 election, which was characterised by a historic 82% turnout rate, and took office on June 30, 2016. The new president has chosen a hard-line approach on crime and drug abuse that has not been exempt from controversy. His government aims to push forward major infrastructure investments in order to improve internal and external connectivity. In addition, President Duterte has promoted closer economic and political ties with China that might serve to ease the tensions surrounding territorial disputes the South China Sea. In October 2016, during a state visit, he signed trade deals and cooperation agreements with Xi Jiping, his Chinese counterpart, most of which are geared towards addressing infrastructure bottlenecks. Macroeconomic fundamentals have continued to improve, as has transparency, and the country’s biodiversity, natural resources and young demographics have been increasingly recognised as assets.
The Philippine archipelago, which is positioned in the western Pacific Ocean, is divided into three distinct administrative and geographic regions. The northern region of Luzon, home to the capital city of Manila, is the economic, financial and administrative centre of the country and its industrial base. Visayas comprises the Philippines’ central islands, where much of the country’s abundant biodiversity and tourism destinations are located, whereas Mindanao, its second-largest island, makes up the southern-most region and is a largely rural economy. The country is subdivided into 18 regions, with the Metro Manila area accounting for 16 urbanised cities and one municipality, and accounting for 36.5% of the country’s GDP. The Philippines’ positioning as a gateway between the Pacific and the rest of Asia, and in particular, its proximity to the region’s largest economies, China and Japan, provides it with several vital sea routes for trade and commerce.
The climate is predominantly hot and humid, marked by a rainy season from the months of June to November. During that period, the south-west monsoon brings plenty of rain and can bring several typhoons every year. The other two pronounced seasons are cool and dry weather from November to February, and hot and dry weather from March to May. The El Niño weather phenomenon in 2015 had devastating effects on agriculture and water supply, leading to damages estimated at around P7bn ($148.1m) as of May 2016.
The Philippines’ location on the Ring of Fire along the Pacific Rim, and its proximity to the equator makes the nation subject to numerous active typhoons and earthquakes year-round. Typhoons Lawin and Nina were among the strongest to hit the archipelago in 2016. Earthquakes are also common, and on February 2017 the country experienced a 6.7 magnitude earthquake in Surigao de Norte province.
The Philippine population is the 12th-largest in the world and the seventh-largest in Asia. According to the 2015 census, the latest official census, it was 101m in August 2015. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) estimates it will hit 101.6m by the end of 2017. According to 2015 census data, the country is also estimated to have entered its “demographic window”. It is expected that by the year 2020, 70.6m out of the projected 109.94m inhabitants are going to fall between the ages of 15 and 64.
The PSA also estimates a labour force participation rate in October 2016 of 63.6%. Additionally, more than 10m Filipinos live and work overseas, forming one of the world’s largest diasporas,generating a remittance inflow of $26.9bn in 2016, according to the central bank, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) HISTORY: By the 10th century CE successive groups of Austronesian people had migrated to the island, bringing with them influences from Malay, Hindu and Islamic societies. Additionally, fluid trade with China led to significant cultural influence that has been maintained to this day.
The arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, who landed at Cebu, in the Philippines in 1521 signalled the beginning of over three centuries of colonial rule over the archipelago under Spain, which named the archipelago after King Philip II. The arrival of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565 initiated permanent Spanish settlements, which oversaw the Philippines’ transition into Spain’s stronghold in the region. The Acapulco-Manila route connecting Spanish possessions in Mexico with Asia became the first inter-continental route in the new world. The Spanish colony largely thrived for over three centuries, unifying nearly the entire archipelago and establishing a Catholic culture that remains to this day. As a result of unrest created by widespread oppression under Spanish rule, repeated attempts to overthrow the colonial power were suppressed for years, and the 1896 Philippine Revolution was largely unsuccessful until it received support from the US during the Spanish-American War.
The First Philippine Republic was formally established in 1898, but its time was short-lived as the Spanish-American War ended in the US purchase of Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines from Spain for $20m through the Treaty of Paris. The subsequent Philippine-American War that ensued ended in 1902, with the Philippine Republic effectively dissolved and marking the beginning of the US occupation. The Philippines would not receive commonwealth status and self-government privileges from the US until 1935.
For most of the Second World War the Japanese occupied the Philippines. Only in 1946 did the Philippines become an independent nation through the Treaty of Manila. Following over a decade of reconstruction, the Philippines gained prominence in the regional economic sphere, resulting in a period of prosperity that largely continued under President Ferdinand Marcos. However, widespread allegations of corruption, authoritarianism, his declaration of martial law in 1972 and the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr, led to his ouster through the peaceful People Power Revolution of 1986. The movement brought Aquino’s widow, Corazon, to power. Cyclical economic instability characterised most of the following quarter of a century as the Philippines faced political and social unrest. The May 2010 elections saw Aquino’s son, President Benigno Aquino, come to power, and his administration initiated efforts to tackle corruption and attract foreign investment, initiatives that incumbent President Duterte seems keen to sustain despite controversial rhetoric at times.
Religion & Culture
Boasting the third-largest Catholic population in the world, the Philippines sharply contrasts with the rest of South-east Asia. The greatest influence of Spanish rule, Roman Catholicism makes the Philippines one of only two Asian countries with a majority Christian population (the other being East Timor). Over 90% of Filipinos identify as Christian, with the majority saying they are Roman Catholic and the rest split between Protestant and other Christian denominations. Muslims make up around 5% of the population, primarily in and around the south in Mindanao.
Having been one of only a handful of countries in the world to have a basic 10-year school system, the K-12 programme was signed into law by President Aquino in May 2013 to bring Philippine education up to par with the rest of the world. The new 12-year curriculum will see two additional senior high school years, as well as a mandatory kindergarten year, added to the traditional 10-year model, which included six years of primary school followed by four years of secondary education. By decree, education receives the largest portion of budgetary spending, with this high-priority status being a legacy of the US having established a system of universal and free basic education. Tertiary education at the country’s 2000-plus higher education institutions normally consists of a typical four-year programme, modelled on the US education system.
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