The Philippines boasts a unique and diverse geography

The Philippines is composed of over 7000 islands, out of which only approximately 2000 are inhabited, lying in the western Pacific Ocean. The nation is south of Taiwan and east of Vietnam, bounded in the west by the South China Sea and in the south by the Sulu and Celebes Seas. Given its complex history, marked by successive waves of human migration and periods of colonisation, the Philippine archipelago has given rise to multiple ethnicities and dialects. In the period since independence, achieved in 1946, the nation has faced successive decades of political instability, internal armed insurgencies and corruption. Since 2010, however, the nation has witnessed a period of sustained economic growth and increased efforts to curb corruption under President Benigno Aquino III. Macroeconomic fundamentals have improved, as has transparency, and the country’s biodiversity, natural resources and young demographics have been increasingly recognised as assets.

Geography

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, the country’s 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 17 highly urbanised cities and one municipality.

The nation’s strategic positioning as a gateway between the Pacific and the rest of Asia, in particular its proximity to the region’s two largest economies, China and Japan, provides it with several vital sea routes for trade and commerce. However, China’s expanding footprint in the region and dispute over territory in the South China Sea is putting bilateral trade between the two nations at risk.

Climate

The climate in the country 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, which began in late 2015, has had devastating effects on agriculture and water supply, leading to damages estimated at around P4bn ($88.8m) as of February 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. Typhoon Koppo was the strongest to hit the archipelago in 2015. Earthquakes are also common.

Population

The Philippine population is the 12th-largest in the world and the seventh-largest in Asia at an estimated 99.14m in 2014, according to the World Bank; and the Philippine Statistics Authority estimated it hit 101.6m at the end of 2015. The country is also estimated to have entered its “demographic window” in 2015, with 70% of its population being of working age and a current median age of 23.4 years. Population growth stands at 1.9%, a figure that has proved contentious following the controversial approval of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Healthcare Act in 2012, which is aimed at addressing the country’s high birth rate. Additionally, around 12m Filipinos live and work overseas, forming one of the world’s largest diasporas and generating a remittance inflow of $25.76bn in 2015, according to the central bank.

HISTORY: 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. 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 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.

Major Changes

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 economy, 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 Movement 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 Aquino, come to power. His administration’s efforts to stamp out corruption and attract more foreign investment, although not fully realised, have been praised by the local and international business community.

Religion & Culture  

Boasting the 3rd-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 (around 81%) 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. The vestiges of US and Spanish occupation remain, and have had a distinct influence on the archipelago’s culture.

Language

Although as many as 175 native languages and dialects are spoken throughout the Philippines, only two languages are official: Filipino, which is largely derived from Tagalog, and English. Tagalog belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian group of languages, but its modern-day variant is heavily influenced by Spanish. Filipinos’ generally high level of knowledge of English has been an important asset, keenly sought after by multinational companies.

Education

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 a 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. The first group of senior high school students are set to enter the labour market by June 2016. By constitutional 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 system.

Natural Resources

Natural resources are plentiful in the Philippines. Named by the Asian Development Bank as the world’s fifth-most-mineralised country in the world, 30% of the country’s total land area of 30m ha are believed to contain metallic mineral deposits, including nickel, cobalt, silver, gold, salt and copper. The rich minerals found in the country are mostly a result of its volcanic geology and its position along the Ring of Fire. The volcanoes also contribute significant geothermal resources, making the Philippines the world’s second-largest producer of geothermal energy producer, after the US.

Despite abundant resources, mining has remained an underdeveloped sector, with only 1.5% of the country’s land area covered by mining permits, and with the sector contributing only about 3% of GDP. Similarly, while many countries in the region have seen significant development of oil and gas deposits, the Philippines has remained largely dependent on energy imports. With total production of 3.07m barrels of oil at the Galoc oilfield and 130.35bn standard cu feet at Malampaya in 2014, the two projects are the most prolific energy assets developed thus far. Nowadays, coal is the dominant energy type, and several coal-fired facilities are being built throughout the country. However, the Philippines is endowed with renewable energy sources, particularly geothermal.

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This article is from the Country Profile chapter of The Report: The Philippines 2016. Explore other chapters from this report.