Lying south of Taiwan and east of Vietnam, the Republic of the Philippines is an archipelago of over 7000 islands. The country’s geography and complex history has given rise to a diversity of cultures and languages across the country’s 1000 inhabited islands.
While political instability has sometimes undermined the nation’s progress, the Philippines’ young and educated population coupled with its leadership’s new-found focus on eliminating corruption and red tape has led to renewed attention from international investors in recent years.
GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE: An archipelago made up of 7107 islands, only about 1000 of which are inhabited, the Philippines is located in the western Pacific Ocean on several vital sea routes linking it directly to the two largest economies in the region: China and Japan. It is bordered on the west by the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea, on the east by the Philippines Sea and to the south by the Celebes Sea.
The country is separated into three distinct administrative and economic regions, represented by the three stars on the Philippine flag. The northern region of Luzon, home to the capital city of Manila, is the economic hub of the country and its industrial base. Visayas comprises the Philippines’ central islands, and Mindanao makes up the southern region.
Like all tropical countries, the Philippines has hot, humid weather and is dominated by a long rainy season that lasts from June until November. In those six months, the south-west monsoon brings plenty of rain and at least 15 typhoons a year.
The Philippines is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire and is therefore subject to numerous active volcanoes and earthquakes. The most recent major eruption was at Mount Pinatubo in 1991, killing about 800 people and affecting another 2.1m, and costing more than $100m in damages and relief. The country also experiences an average of 20 earthquakes a day.
POPULATION: The Philippines is 12th-most-populous country in the world at 95.8m in 2011, with that figure expected to jump to 101.2m by 2014. The country has a median age of 22.2, and the UN has predicted that the working-age population will start becoming particularly prominent in 2015.
The country’s robust annual population growth of 2% is a contentious issue and a comprehensive reproductive law aimed to address the growth rate has been debated throughout 2011 and into 2012. Additionally, around 11% of the country’s citizens live and work overseas, and the remittances they send back to their families in the Philippines account for a significant part of the economy.
HISTORY: The Philippines’ long and complex human history dates back at least 67,000 years, to the first known human remains. Until the 10th century, several tribes and speakers of Malayo-Polynesian languages (a branch of Austronesian) occupied the islands and remained relatively isolated for millennia. In the 10th century CE, the Tondo dynasty formed one of the first unified political states emerging from the islands, which lasted until Spanish colonisation in the 16th century.
Ferdinand Magellan’s arrival in 1521 started the long history of Spanish influence on the country. Though Magellan was later killed in battle by forces loyal to island tribal leader Lapu-Lapu, survivors returned to Spain and inspired additional expeditions.
It was Ruy López de Villalobos that, in 1544, claimed the islands of Samar and Leyte for King Philip II of Spain, naming them Las Islas Filipinas (the Philippine Islands) in his honour. Finally, when Miguel López de Legazpi arrived in 1565, the Spanish established a permanent settlement in the archipelago. As their influence expanded, so did Las Islas Filipinas, encompassing more islands.
The Spanish colony largely thrived for over three centuries, unifying nearly the entire archipelago and bringing with it a Catholic culture that has remained deeply engrained to this day. Repeated attempts to overthrow Spanish rule were suppressed for years, and even the Philippine revolution in 1896 was largely unsuccessful until it received support from the US.
The First Philippine Republic was formally established in 1899, but its time was short-lived. After the brief Spanish-American War, the US purchased Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines from Spain for $20m through the Treaty of Paris. The ensuing Philippine-American War ended in 1901, but the Philippines did not receive commonwealth status until 1935. The Japanese occupied the Philippines throughout most of Second World War until 1946 when the Philippines became an independent nation through the Treaty of Manila.
Throughout the following decades, the Philippines became more important in the regional economy, resulting in a period of prosperity that largely continued under President Ferdinand Marcos. But allegations of corruption, his declaration of martial law in 1972, and the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino led to his ouster through the peaceful People Power Movement of 1986. The movement brought Corazon Aquino, widow of Benigno Aquino, to power.
Subsequent decades saw periods of economic success, though political stability has oftentimes been a concern. The elections of May 2010 saw the late president’s son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, come to power. His efforts to stamp out corruption and attract more foreign investment have been lauded by the business community, both domestic and international.
RELIGION & CULTURE: The influence of American culture in the Philippines will seem prominent to newly arriving visitors, from the presence of numerous fast food restaurants and vast malls to Filipinos’ affinity for rock, basketball and boxing. But the vestiges of Spanish rule still remain. Food, language and religion are all heavily influenced by four centuries of Spanish occupation.
Indeed, Spain’s heavy Roman Catholic influence makes the Philippines one of two Asian countries with a majority Christian population (the other being East Timor). Over 90% of Filipinos identify themselves as Christian: 81% say they are Roman Catholic, 5% Protestant, while the remainder follow other Christian denominations. Muslims comprise about 5% of the population, primarily in and around the southern Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
LANGUAGE: Although over 180 native languages and dialects are spoken throughout the Philippines, only two languages are official: Filipino, which is largely based on Tagalog, and English. Tagalog belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian group of languages, but Spanish heavily influences its modern-day variant.
One of the Philippines’ greatest assets is its people’s command of the English language. Combined with their seemingly innate hospitability and adaptability, Filipino workers are largely sought after by global companies.
A combination of Tagalog and English, aptly named Taglish, is very popular amongst young Filipinos and can be heard on radio and television programmes.
EDUCATION: The Philippines boasts a reputation of having a better educated population than many of its regional counterparts. By constitutional decree, education receives the largest portion of budgetary spending, placing it as a high priority.
Largely modelled after the American system, students attend six years of primary school followed by four years of secondary education. Reform of the education system has been debated for years, and there have been recent efforts to lengthen primary and secondary education from 10 to 12 years, bringing the country in line with most international norms.
Tertiary education normally consists of a typical four-year programme, also similar to the American system. Over 2.7m Filipinos attended the country’s 2000-plus higher education institutions in 2010.
NATURAL RESOURCES: Natural resources are plentiful in the Philippines. Lying beneath its natural splendour are significant deposits of nickel, cobalt, silver, gold, salt and copper. The rich minerals found in the country are mostly a result of its volcanic history. The volcanoes also contribute significant geothermal resources, placing the Philippines as the second-largest global geothermal energy producer behind the US.
While many neighbours have seen significant development of oil and gas deposits, the Philippines has remained largely dependent on energy imports. However, the exploration and development of at least 15 new energy blocks is set for 2012. With an estimated 2.7trn cu feet of reserves, the Malampaya gas-to-power project is the most prolific energy asset developed thus far. Promising areas in the Benham Rise off the north-east coast and numerous areas in the South China Sea have received significant attention, though the latter areas are contentious due to numerous territorial disputes with the Philippines’ Asian neighbours.
Of the country’s total land mass of 298,170 sq km, only 19% is arable, 16% of which is used agriculturally. The islands’ most important crops include rice, corn, sugarcane, coconut, abaca and tobacco.
Rice and corn are the Philippines’ most important sources of food. The country must still import additional rice from neighbouring countries in order to ensure food security for its growing population. The current administration has stated as one of its aims that it wishes the Philippines to be self-sufficient in rice by 2013.