The Republic of the Philippines is a sprawling archipelago set in the western Pacific Ocean.
The Philippines is an incredibly diverse nation in terms of language, religion, ethnicity and also geography. Ethnic and religious fault-lines that run through the country continue to produce a state of constant, low-level civil war between north and south.
Beautiful and fractious, the Philippines is one of the most interesting countries in Asia.
Capital and Major Cities:
Manila, population 1.7 million (11.6 for metro area)
Quezon City (within Metro Manila), population 2.7 million
Caloocan (within Metro Manila), population 1.4 million
Davao City, population 1.4 million
Cebu City, population 800,000
Zamboanga City, population 775,000
The Philippines has an American-style democracy, headed by a president who is both head of state and head of government. The president is limited to one 6-year term in office.
A bicameral legislature made up of an upper house, the Senate, and a lower house, the House of Representatives, makes laws. Senators serve for six years, representatives for three.
The highest court is the Supreme Court, made up of a Chief Justice and fourteen associates.
The current president of the Philippines is Benigno "Noy-noy" Aquino.
The Philippines has a population of more than 90 million people and an annual growth rate around 2%, making it one of the most populous and fastest growing countries on Earth.
Ethnically, the Philippines is a melting pot.
The original inhabitants, the Negrito, now number only about 30,000. The majority of Filipinos are from various Malayo-Polynesian groups, including the Tagalog (28%), Cebuano (13%), Ilocano (9%), Hiligaynon Ilonggo (7.5%) and others.
Many more recent immigrant groups also live in the country, including Spanish, Chinese, American and Latin American people.
The official languages of the Philippines are Filipino (which is based on Tagalog) and English.
More than 180 different languages and dialects are spoken in the Philippines. Commonly used languages include: Tagalog (22 million speakers), Cebuano (20 million), Ilocano (7.7 million), Hiligaynon or Ilonggo (7 million), Bicolano, Waray (3 million), Pampango and Pangasinan.
Due to early colonization by the Spanish, the Philippines is a majority Roman Catholic nation, with 80.9% of the population self-defining as Catholic.
Other religions represented include Islam (5%), Evangelical Christian (2.8%), Iglesia ni Kristo (2.3%), Aglipayan (2%), and other Christian denominations (4.5%). Approximately 1% of Filipinos are Hindu.
The Muslim population live mostly in the southern provinces of Mindanao, Palawan and the Sulu Archipelago, sometimes called the Moro region. They are predominantly Shafi'i, a sect of Sunni Islam.
Some of the Negrito peoples practice traditional animist religion.
The Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands, totaling about 300,000 sq. km. (117,187 sq. mi.) It borders on the South China Sea to the west, the Philippine Sea to the east, and the Celebes Sea to the south.
The country's closest neighbors are the island of Borneo to the southwest, and Taiwan to the north.
The Philippine islands are mountainous, and seismically active. Earthquakes are common, and a number of active volcanoes dot the landscape, such as Mt. Pinatubo, the Mayon Volcano, and the Taal Volcano.
The highest point is Mt. Apo, 2,954 meters (9,692 ft.); the lowest point is sea level.
The climate in the Philippines is tropical and monsoonal. The country has an average yearly temperature of 26.5°C (79.7°F); May is the warmest month, while January is the coolest.
The monsoon rains, called habagat, hit from May to October, bringing torrential rain which is abetted by frequent typhoons. An average of 6 or 7 typhoons per year strike the Philippines.
November to April is the dry season, with December through February also being the coldest part of the year.
Prior to the global economic slowdown of 2008/09, the economy of the Philippines had been growing at an average of 5% annually since 2000.
The country's GDP in 2008 was $168.6 billion US, or $3,400 per capita.
The unemployment rate is 7.4% (2008 est.).
The primary industries in the Philippines include agriculture, wood products, electronics assembly, garment and footwear manufacturing, mining and fishing. The Philippines also has an active tourism industry, and receives remittances from some 4-5 million overseas Filipino workers.
Electrical power generation from geothermal sources could become important in the future.
History of the Philippines:
People first reached the Philippines about 30,000 years ago, when the Negritos immigrated from Sumatra and Borneo via boats or land-bridges. They were followed by Malays, then Chinese beginning in the ninth century, and Spaniards in the sixteenth.
Ferdinand Magellan claimed the Philippines for Spain in 1521. During the next 300 years, Spanish Jesuit priests and conquistadors spread Catholicism and Spanish culture across the archipelago, with particular strength on the island of Luzon.
The Spanish Philippines was actually controlled by the government of Spanish North America prior to Mexican independence in 1810.
Throughout the Spanish colonial era, the people of the Philippines staged a number of uprisings. The final, successful revolt began in 1896, and was marred by the executions of Filipino national hero Jose Rizal (by the Spanish) and Andres Bonifacio (by rival Emilio Aguinaldo). The Philippines declared its independence from Spain on June 12, 1898.
However, the Filipino rebels did not defeat Spain unaided; the United States fleet under Admiral George Dewey actually had destroyed Spanish naval power in the area in the May 1 Battle of Manila Bay.
Rather than granting the archipelago independence, the defeated Spanish ceded the country to the United States in the December 10, 1898 Treaty of Paris.
Revolutionary hero General Emilio Aguinaldo led the rebellion against American rule that broke out the following year. The Philippine-American War lasted three years and killed tens of thousands of Filipinos and about 4,000 Americans. On July 4, 1902, the two sides agreed to an armistice. The US government emphasized that it did not seek permanent colonial control over the Philippines, and set about instituting governmental and educational reform.
Throughout the early 20th century, Filipinos took increasing amounts of control over governance of the country. In 1935, the Philippines was established as a self-governing commonwealth, with Manuel Quezon as its first president. The nation was slated to become fully independent in 1945, but World War II interrupted that plan.
Japan invaded the Philippines, leading to the deaths of over a million Filipinos. The US under General Douglas MacArthur was driven out in 1942, but retook the islands in 1945.
On July 4, 1946, the Republic of the Philippines was established. The early governments struggled to repair the damage caused by World War II.