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Philippine History


Philippines (in Filipino, Republika ng Pilipinas), republic in the western Pacific Ocean, comprising the Philippine Islands and forming part of the Malay Archipelago, an island grouping that extends southward to include Indonesia and Malaysia. The Philippines includes more than 7,100 islands, but most of the land area is shared among the 11 largest islands. The terrain is mountainous and includes many active volcanoes. The location of the Philippines just north of the equator gives the republic a moderate tropical climate suited for the cultivation of export crops such as coconuts and pineapples. Agriculture has long formed the backbone of the economy. After World War II (1939-1945) the Philippines was one of the first nations of Southeast Asia to try to industrialize its economy. It subsequently lagged behind most of its Asian neighbors in economic development. Manila, located on east central Luzon Island, is the national capital and largest city. The republic’s cultural institutions, industries, and federal government are concentrated in this rapidly growing metropolitan area.

The people of the Philippines are called Filipinos. Most Filipinos are of Malay descent. Filipinos of mixed descent (through various combinations of Malay, Chinese, and Spanish intermarriage) have traditionally formed the country’s elite in business and politics. Nearly 83 million people live in the Philippines. The republic has one of the highest population-growth rates in the world. About 40 percent of the population lives in poverty while a wealthy minority holds most political power. The official languages are English and Filipino (formerly spelled Pilipino), which is based on the indigenous Tagalog language. More than 80 other indigenous languages and dialects are also spoken, and the people of the Philippines are divided into regional ethnolinguistic groups. The Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in Asia, a result of its colonization by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. Muslims, often called Moros, live predominantly in the southern islands and form a small but significant religious minority.

Spanish Settlement

The first Spanish settlement was established in the Philippines in 1565, marking the onset of Spanish colonial rule. The Spanish-American War ended in 1898 with the transfer of the Philippines to United States control. In 1946, after more than 300 years under foreign rule, the Philippines became an independent democratic republic. In 1972 Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law, suspending democratic institutions and restricting civil rights. A four-day protest in Manila known as the People Power Movement toppled the Marcos regime in 1986, and a new constitution based on democratic principles was ratified the following year. The Philippines today is forging its place among the newly industrialized nations of Asia and seeking greater integration in the region, while its colonial past means it continues to have many cultural affinities with the West.

Geography of Philippines

The Philippines is bounded on the east by the Philippine Sea, on the south by the Sulu and Celebes seas, on the west by the South China Sea, and on the north by Luzon Strait. The Philippine Islands lie off the southeastern coast of the Asian mainland, across the South China Sea from Vietnam and China. The shortest distance to the mainland, from the northern Philippines to Hong Kong, is about 805 km (500 mi). The Philippine Islands extend about 1,850 km (1,150 mi) from north to south (between Taiwan and Borneo Island) and about 1,100 km (700 mi) from east to west. Malaysia and Indonesia, which each hold territory on Borneo, are the republic’s closest political neighbors.

The Philippines covers a total area, not including its extensive coastal waters, of 300,000 sq km (116,000 sq mi). More than 7,100 islands and islets are included in the Philippine archipelago. The 11 largest islands make up more than 90 percent of the total area. Only about 460 islands are larger than 2.6 sq km (1 sq mi), and about 1,000 are populated.

The Philippines can be divided into three geographic areas: the northern islands of Luzon and Mindoro, the central islands of the Visayan Islands (Visayas) and Palawan, and the southern islands of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. The national borders of the Philippines form a rough triangle. The small Batan Islands north of Luzon form the apex of the triangle. The islands of Palawan, the Sulu Archipelago, and Mindanao (from west to east) form the base of the triangle.

Luzon and Mindanao are the two largest islands, anchoring the archipelago in the north and south. Luzon has an area of 104,700 sq km (40,400 sq mi) and Mindanao has an area of 94,630 sq km (36,540 sq mi). Only nine other islands have an area of more than 2,600 sq km (1,000 sq mi) each: Samar, Negros, Palawan, Panay, Mindoro, Leyte, Cebu, Bohol, and Masbate. The centrally located Visayan Islands include all of these islands except Mindoro and Palawan.

Volcanic in origin, the Philippine Islands are the higher portions of a partly submerged mountain chain. The mountains are the principal topographical feature on the smaller islands. The larger islands, particularly Luzon and Mindanao, have a more diversified topography, with fertile river valleys in the interior. Mountain ranges generally parallel the coasts, forming narrow coastal plains. The inland plains and valleys are the most densely populated areas.

On Luzon the Sierra Madre mountains form the longest range of the Philippines, extending along the island’s eastern, or Pacific, coast. The parallel ranges of the Cordillera Central, to the west about 80 km (50 mi) across the Cagayan River Valley, contain Luzon’s highest peak, Mount Pulog, at 2,930 (9,613 ft). Near this peak, mountainside rice terraces have been cultivated for hundreds of years. Farther south the important rice-growing region of the Central Luzon Valley, well irrigated by numerous rivers, extends from Lingayen Gulf to Manila Bay. The rugged Zambales Mountains, containing Mount Pinatubo (1,780 m/5,840 ft), form the valley’s western boundary, leading south to the Bataan Peninsula, the sheltering landmass for Manila Bay. Luzon becomes narrow at its southern end, curving to the southeast in a long, mountainous extension called the Bicol Peninsula. Here a string of volcanoes includes the cone-shaped peak of Mayon Volcano, rising to a height of 2,525 m (8,284 ft) near Legaspi.

Mindanao is similarly formed, with coastal mountain ranges and inland valleys, notably those of the Agusan and Mindanao rivers. The Diuata Mountains bordering the eastern coast form the most prominent range on the island. The country’s highest point, Mount Apo (2,954 m/9,692 ft), rises in the south near the Mindanao River basin. The large Zamboanga Peninsula extends from western Mindanao, hooking southward toward the Sulu Archipelago.

The Visayas include seven major islands, among them the republic’s third largest island, Samar, with an area of 13,100 sq km (5,100 sq mi). The most easterly of the Visayas, Samar is connected by bridge to the adjacent island of Leyte; both islands are relatively undeveloped and have dense jungle forests. To the west are Bohol, site of the tourist attraction known as the Chocolate Hills, hundreds of cone-shaped hills with vegetation that turns brown during summer; Cebu, a long, narrow island and the most densely populated island in the Philippines; Negros, which developed from the mid-1800s as the center of the Philippine sugar industry; and Panay, where many agricultural crops are grown in the rich volcanic soils of the densely populated coastal plain of Iloilo Province. Masbate, in the north central Visayas, is noted for its gold and copper mines.

Most of the Philippine Islands are clustered in a predominantly north-south direction. In the southwest, two island groupings deviate from this predominant direction: the long, narrow island of Palawan and its offshore islands and, farther south, the approximately 900 small islands of the Sulu Archipelago. Both island groupings extend southwest toward Borneo with the Sulu Sea between them. The Sulu Archipelago includes many coral islands and reefs. Palawan Island is believed to be the first Philippine island to have been settled by people who migrated from the Southeast Asian mainland during prehistoric times.

Pacific Ring of Fire

The Philippine Islands are part of the so-called Ring of Fire, an area encircling the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanic activity result from the movements of tectonic plates, or segments of Earth’s crust (see Plate Tectonics). To the east of the islands lies the 10,539-m (34,578-ft) deep Philippine Trench, where one tectonic plate is being forced beneath another in a process known as subduction. This subduction causes frequent earthquakes in the Philippines. Large submarine earthquakes are known to cause tidal waves, or tsunamis, that can strike the coasts.

The Philippine Islands include about 20 active volcanoes and many inactive, or dormant, volcanoes. The most active is Mayon Volcano, with recent eruptions in 1993, 2000, and 2001. Mount Pinatubo caused widespread damage when it erupted in 1991 after lying dormant for about 600 years. Mount Apo, the country’s highest mountain, is an active volcano with three peaks.

The principal islands of the Philippines are traversed by large rivers, some of which are navigable. The longest river of the republic is the Cagayan, in north central Luzon. Other important rivers of Luzon include the Agno and Pampanga, crossing the Central Luzon Valley; the Chico, flowing through the Cordillera Central and irrigating the mountainside rice terraces; the Pasig, a commercially important artery flowing through Manila; and the Bicol, the primary river of the Bicol Peninsula. The principal rivers of Mindanao are the Mindanao (Rio Grande de Mindanao), which receives the waters of the Pulangi, and the Agusan.

Laguna de Bay, 13 km (8 mi) southeast of Manila, is the largest lake of the Philippines. Lake Taal, 56 km (35 mi) south of Manila, occupies a huge volcanic crater and contains an island that is itself a volcano, with its own crater lake. Lake Lanao is the largest lake of Mindanao and the source of the Agusan River, which exits the lake in the spectacular Maria Christina Falls.

With its numerous islands, the Philippines has a total coastline of about 36,289 km (22,549 mi). The coastline is irregular, with numerous bays, gulfs, and inlets. Manila Bay, with its superb naturally sheltered harbor, is the most commercially important. Also significant is the wide, unsheltered Davao Gulf of southeastern Mindanao.

The Philippine Islands have a tropical climate. At sea level, temperatures rarely fall below 27°C (80°F). Interior valleys and leeward sides of islands tend to be warmer, while mountain slopes and peaks and windward sides of islands tend to be cooler. Rainfall averages about 2,030 mm (80 in) a year, with more precipitation in coastal plains than in sheltered inland valleys. In the western part of the country, the rainy season occurs during the summer monsoon, from May to November, when the wind blows from the southwest; the dry season occurs during the winter monsoon, from December to April, when the wind blows from the northeast. In contrast, the eastern side of the country receives most of its rainfall during the winter monsoon and has no true dry season. Tropical storms are common from June to October; each year about 20 typhoons strike the Philippines, mostly on the eastern coasts of Luzon and Samar, bringing high winds and flooding that sometimes result in property damage and loss of life.

The Philippines has extensive mineral deposits of copper, gold, silver, nickel, lead, and chromium. Other important, but less plentiful, deposits of zinc, cobalt, and manganese also exist. Copper has been mined extensively and is the leading mineral product, but many of the country’s mineral resources remain unexploited. The Philippines has limited offshore petroleum and natural gas reserves. About 19 percent of the Philippines is forested. Logging has seriously depleted forest cover since the early 20th century. The Philippine waters are abundant with many varieties of fish, which are an important natural resource as a staple of the Philippine diet and an export commodity.

Forests in the Philippines include the banyan, many varieties of palm, trees yielding rubber, and many indigenous trees with extremely hard wood such as apitong, yacal, lauan, camagón, ipil, white and red narra, and mayapis. Bamboo and cinnamon, clove, and pepper plants grow wild, as do hundreds of species of orchid. Abaca, or Manila hemp, is a commercially valuable indigenous plant; its fiber is used in making cordage, textiles, and hats. Mangrove trees and nipa palms grow in coastal swamps. Coarse, hardy tropical grasses have taken over many upland areas that were cleared of their original tropical rain forest.

The Philippines has few species of large mammals. The domesticated water buffalo, or carabao, is common throughout the islands, while a small species of carabao, the tamarau, is found only in interior Mindoro. Small mammals are more numerous, including monkeys, rodents, bats, and shrews; several species of deer, including a dwarf deer; mongooses; and porcupines, found only on Palawan. Reptiles and birds abound in greater variety and number than mammals. The islands have 196 species of birds, including colorful parrots and the endangered monkey-eating eagle. Palawan has many species of birds found nowhere else in the world. Leeches and insects such as mosquitoes and grasshoppers are serious pests in some areas.

Coastal and inland waters teem with marine life, including thousands of species of fish as well as mollusks such as clams. Pearl oysters are abundant around the Sulu Archipelago, and Sulu pearls are renowned for their quality. Coral reefs and sponges are also found in many offshore areas.

Environmental Issues

Deforestation poses the most direct threat to the remarkable biodiversity of the Philippines. Largely due to loss of habitat, more than 380 animal species are threatened or endangered. Water pollution has damaged the fragile marine ecosystems of the country’s coastal wetlands, mangrove swamps, and coral reefs. Serious air pollution is another environmental concern, primarily in Manila.

The Philippines has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. At the current rate of deforestation, about 1.4 percent annually, the country’s virgin forests are in danger of disappearing by 2010. The clearing of forests has contributed to soil erosion, a serious problem in the Philippines due to heavy monsoon rains. The Philippine government imposed restrictions on logging in the late 1970s and banned logging in virgin forests in 1991, but illegal and often corrupt activities undermine these efforts. Reforestation programs have met with limited success. About 8 percent of the land in the Philippines is designated for preservation in parks and other reserves.

People of Philippines

Population 87,857,473 (2005 estimate)
Population density 295 persons per sq km
763 persons per sq mi (2005 estimate)
Urban population distribution 61 percent (2003 estimate)
Rural population distribution 39 percent (2003 estimate)
Largest cities, with population Quezon City, 2,160,000 (2000)
Manila, 1,673,000 (2000)
Caloocan, 1,157,881 (1999 estimate)
Official languages Filipino (based on Tagalog), English
Chief religious affiliations Roman Catholic, 84 percent
Muslim, 5 percent
Other, 11 percent
Life expectancy 69.9 years (2005 estimate)
Infant mortality rate 24 deaths per 1,000 live births (2005 estimate)
Literacy rate 96.3 percent (2005 estimate)

Filipinos are primarily descended from Malayan peoples who migrated to the islands thousands of years ago. During the past several centuries, a significant number of people have migrated from China. Some people of Spanish descent settled in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period (1565-1898). The term Filipino originally described a person of Spanish descent born in the Philippines. In the 19th century it began to refer to the Christianized Malays who constituted the majority of the population. Although the term remains closely associated with this group, it also can describe any citizen of the Philippines.

The Philippines had a population of 65,036,621 in 1990. The estimated population in 2005 was 87,857,473. The population is growing by about 2 percent a year, giving the Philippines one of the world’s highest population-growth rates. The high birthrate contributes to a predominantly young population; in 2001 about 57 percent of the population was under the age of 25. The average population density is 295 persons per sq km (763 per sq mi). However, the distribution of the population is uneven; some areas are virtually uninhabited, while others are densely populated. The percentage of the population living in rural areas has steadily declined in recent decades. It decreased from 68 percent in 1970 to 57 percent in 1990. By 2000 urban dwellers outnumbered rural residents, with only 42 percent of the population living in rural areas.

Principal Cities

Manila is the capital of the Philippines and the country’s chief port, main commercial and cultural center, and largest city. Other important cities include Quezon City, which is part of the Manila metropolitan area, and served as the country’s capital from 1948 to 1976; Davao, a provincial capital and a seaport; Cebu, a seaport and the trade center for a farming and coal-mining region; and Zamboanga, also a seaport.

Cultural Groups

Filipinos are generally divided along linguistic, geographic, and religious lines. Different linguistic groups developed as a result of the original settlement patterns. As the Malayan peoples spread throughout the archipelago, they dispersed into separate groups that each developed a distinct vernacular, or regional language. The primary religious groups are Christians and Muslims.

Christian Filipinos are the largest and most politically powerful group in the Philippines. They live primarily in lowland areas, specifically coastal areas and inland plains. They speak many different regional languages and dialects and are categorized into ethnolinguistic groups. Intermarriage and internal migration have helped to reduce language barriers over the years. The largest groups are the Tagalogs, who predominate in central and southern Luzon, including Manila; the Cebuanos, who live in Cebu, Bohol, eastern Negros, western Leyte, and in some coastal areas of Mindanao; and the Ilocanos, who predominate in the coastal areas of northern Luzon. Other major groups are the Ilongos, who speak Hiligaynon; the Bicolanos, who speak Bicol; the Waray-Waray; the Pampangans; and the Pangasinans.

Muslim Filipinos, also known as Moros or Moro Muslims, constitute the second largest group with a common cultural identity, although there are many linguistic and cultural differences among them. The Moros are of Malayan or Indonesian descent and comprise ten major ethnolinguistic groups, the largest of which are the Maguindanao, Maranao, Tau Sug, and Samal. The Maguindanao, who live mainly on Mindanao, are the largest Muslim group in the country. The Maranao, meaning “people of the lake,” live principally around Lake Lanao on Mindanao. The Tau Sug and Samal live in the Sulu Archipelago. Although the majority of Muslim Filipinos live in the southern islands, communities of Muslims live in other areas of the country as well.

The upland tribal groups are the third largest cultural group in the Philippines. The islands include more than 100 upland tribes, ranging in size from 100,000 to fewer than several hundred members. The members of the Aeta and Agta tribes are considered to be the indigenous people of the Philippines. They are descendents of perhaps the first humans who settled the islands during prehistoric times, before the Malayan migrations. They are commonly known as Negritos (a term assigned to them during the Spanish colonial period) and are one of the world’s few remaining Pygmy people, who are characterized by shorter-than-average height. Their communities are located mainly on northeastern Luzon. Although most of them were absorbed into the Malay population through intermarriage, some retreated to the mountains as the Malayan settlers increased in number. Those who retreated retained a hunting-and-gathering way of life augmented by a type of nomadic farming known as slash-and-burn agriculture, whereby they created temporary crop fields by clearing and burning small areas of forest. Other upland peoples of Malayan descent followed a similar settlement pattern. Through centuries of relative isolation, these groups have preserved their traditional ways of life and distinct cultures. They are engaged in subsistence hunting, fishing, and farming. Most maintain indigenous belief systems based on animism (the worship of nature deities and other spirits).

People of Chinese descent comprise the largest non-Malay group, making up about 1 percent of the population. Chinese people have settled in the Philippines for centuries. They originally came as traders, and during the colonial period they began to form an important merchant class. Many recent arrivals from China live in the Philippines as semipermanent residents, while others become Philippine citizens. Intermarriage between Chinese and lowland Filipinos is common. People of mixed Malay and Chinese descent are known as mestizos. Unlike Chinese who do not intermarry or become citizens, mestizos have always been readily accepted in Philippine society. They formed the first Filipino elite during the colonial period, and today they continue to form an economically and politically important minority.

The Philippines has the only predominantly Christian population in Asia, reflecting Spain’s colonization of the islands in the 16th century. About 94 percent of the people are Christians, about 5 percent are Muslims, and the remainder are Buddhists, animists, or nonbelievers.

About 84 percent of all Filipinos are Roman Catholic. Another 10 percent belong to other Christian denominations, most notably the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church), an independent Catholic church whose adherents are known as Aglipayans. Founded by Filipino priest Gregorio Aglipay and formally organized in 1902, this church broke from Rome’s authority as part of the Filipino struggle for clerical equity. Smaller groups of nearly every Christian denomination also exist, notably Protestants and revivalist groups. Another Filipino-founded church, the evangelical Iglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ), was founded in 1914 and began to attract a significant membership after World War II.

The Muslim population of the Philippines lives mostly in the southern islands of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. Islam predated Christianity in the region, spreading to the Sulu Archipelago in the 14th century and Mindanao in the 15th century. Islam had some adherents as far north as Manila by the time the Spanish arrived. After 1571, when Spanish forces defeated the Muslim ruler of Manila, Muslims were largely confined to the south.

Spanish colonial authority depended on locally based Catholic religious orders to help maintain political control, and this interdependency made the church a powerful institution in the islands. Although there is an official separation of church and state in the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Church continues to have an influential role in political life.

More than 80 indigenous languages and dialects are spoken in the Philippines. These languages and dialects belong to the Malayo-Polynesian group of the Austronesian language family. The most widely spoken are Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Bicol, Waray-Waray, Pampangan, Pangasinan, and Maranao.

English and Filipino (formerly spelled Pilipino) are the official languages. Filipino is largely based on Tagalog, with many words adopted from other languages, including English and Spanish. It was made the national language in 1987 in an attempt to address the fact that no two of the indigenous languages are mutually comprehensible. Filipino is a required subject in schools, but English is more commonly used in higher education. English is also commonly used in government and commerce. Some Filipinos are trilingual, speaking an indigenous language, Filipino, and English. Many Filipinos continue to primarily speak their indigenous language, rather than Filipino. Very few people speak Spanish, despite the country’s colonial history. Spanish never became a widely used or learned language in the Philippines, in contrast to the Spanish colonies in the Americas, because the Spanish friars used the vernacular to introduce Catholicism to the indigenous population. Arabic and various dialects of Chinese are spoken by a small minority of the population.


Education in the Philippines is free and compulsory for children ages 6 through 12. Filipino and English are the primary languages of instruction. The literacy rate is 96.3 percent of the adult population, with little variation between males and females.

During the Spanish colonial era, only the elite population had access to education. After the United States gained control of the Philippines in 1898, a strong emphasis was placed on public education. The idea that free and compulsory education would democratize society took hold in the Philippines. English replaced Spanish as the language of instruction and as the national medium of communication. Since independence in 1946, the Philippine government has opened schools in even the remotest areas. Literacy rates in some languages have slowly improved. However, significant differences in quality of education continue to exist between rural and urban areas.

Virtually all children aged 6 to 12 are enrolled in school, and attendance is compulsory. Enrollment for ages 13 through 16 is 82 percent. At the university level, enrollment stands at 31 percent of the relevant age group. Institutions of higher learning include the University of the Philippines (1908), in Quezon City; Adamson University (1932), the University of the East (1946), Far Eastern University (1928), Feati University (1946), and the University of Santo Tomás (1611), all in Manila; Bicol University (1969), in Legaspi; the University of Mindanao (1946), in Davao; Saint Louis University (1911), in Baguio; and Southwestern University (1946), in Cebu.

Social Structure

Family relationships are the basic building block of Philippine society. Each Filipino is at the center of a large circle of relatives, usually extending to third cousins. Marriage is rarely permitted for members of the same kinship circle. The kinship circle is customarily enlarged through compadrazgo, or ritual co-parenthood, the Catholic custom of selecting godparents to sponsor one’s child at baptism. In the close-knit Filipino family, members are provided assistance when needed and expected to give their first loyalty to their kin. In rural areas the barangays (villages) contain sitios, or clusters of households, of an extended family. The social support provided by these close-knit communities is reflected in the absence of such institutions as retirement homes and orphanages.

Filipino women, usually called Filipinas, have more social equality than women in most countries in Southeast Asia. Since precolonial times, their social status has been generally equal to that of men. In the bilateral kinship system that is traditional in the Philippines, descent is traced equally through both male and female lineages. Because a woman’s lineage is equally valued, her rights to property and inheritance are not questioned. Today educated women in the Philippines are strongly represented in politics, business, and the professions. At home women usually manage the family income and are the primary caretakers of children.

Way of Life

One of the most notable characteristics of Filipino society is its strong family and community relationships. These are strengthened by the traditional Filipino concept of utang na loob, in which an act of voluntary assistance creates an obligation that the receiver must attempt to repay through reciprocal assistance. This often creates a long-term relationship of giving and receiving between individuals or families, and some obligations can last for generations. The social values of loyalty, support, and trust are deeply embedded in the Philippine identity. Respect for others, especially elder members of society and people in positions of authority, is taught from an early age.

In Philippine villages, houses are traditionally constructed of bamboo and nipa palm thatching and raised above the ground on poles. Simple wooden houses with galvanized iron roofs are also common. Except in the remotest areas, rural houses are equipped with electricity and indoor plumbing. More services and modern facilities are available in towns and cities. The influence of Western culture is more evident in urban areas, where lifestyles tend to be more modern.

Farming, fishing, and forestry are the primary occupations in rural areas. Many of the rural poor are employed as tenant farmers and landless agricultural workers. Most urban residents are employed in the service sector or in manufacturing. There is a growing middle class of government employees, teachers, and small-business owners.

The Philippine diet usually consists of boiled rice or ground corn, vegetables, fresh or salted fish, and fruits. A locally made beverage is tuba, a fermented coconut wine.

Traditional sports include arnis, a kind of fencing with wooden sticks, and sipa, a game much like volleyball except that the players use only their feet to move the ball. Cockfighting and boxing are popular spectator sports, and American influence is seen in the wide popularity of baseball and basketball. Christian holidays such as the annual patron-saint fiestas and the crucifixion reenactments at Easter are important and well-attended community events.

Social Issues

Significant economic divisions exist in the Philippines. About 37 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 1997. The wealthiest 10 percent of families earn more than twice as much as the poorest 40 percent. The wealthy upper class, which includes landowners and business executives, enjoys a high standard of living. Some wealthy people live in large homes in guarded subdivisions. Meanwhile, many rural families cannot afford to provide basic essentials such as clothing and medicine for their children. Income in urban areas is generally higher than in rural areas, drawing a constant flow of migrants to the cities. Some migrants live as squatters, dwelling in crowded slum areas in makeshift housing that lacks running water, sewerage systems, and electricity. They tend to work as vendors, street hawkers, and unskilled laborers.


The arts of the Philippines reflect a society with diverse cultural influences and traditions. The Malayan peoples had early contact with traders who introduced Chinese and Indian influences. Islamic traditions were first introduced to the Malays of the southern Philippine Islands in the 14th century. Most modern aspects of Philippine cultural life evolved under the foreign rule of Spain and, later, the United States.

In the 16th century the Spanish imposed a foreign culture based in Catholicism. While the lowland peoples were acculturated through religious conversion, the Muslims and some upland tribal groups maintained cultural independence. Among those who were assimilated arose an educated elite who began to establish a modern Filipino literary tradition.

During the first half of the 20th century, American influence made the Philippines one of the most Westernized nations in Southeast Asia. The cultural movements of Europe and the United States profoundly influenced Filipino artists, even after independence in 1946. While drawing on Western forms, however, the works of Filipino painters, writers, and musicians are imbued with distinctly Philippine themes. By expressing the cultural richness of the archipelago in all its diversity, Filipino artists have helped to shape a sense of national identity.

Many Malay cultural traditions have survived despite centuries of foreign rule. Muslims and upland tribal groups maintain distinct traditions in music, dance, and sculpture. In addition, many Filipino artists incorporate indigenous folk motifs into modern forms.

The indigenous literature of the Philippines developed primarily in the oral tradition in poetic and narrative forms. Epic poems, legends, proverbs, songs, and riddles were passed from generation to generation through oral recitation and incantation in the various languages and dialects of the islands. The epics were the most complex of these early literary forms. Most of the major tribal groups developed an original epic that was chanted in episodic segments during a variety of social rituals. One common theme of the epics is a hero who is aided by benevolent spirits. The epics that have survived are important records of the ancient customs of tribal society before the arrival of Islam and Christianity.

After the arrival of the Spanish, Catholic missionaries employed indigenous peoples as translators, creating a bilingual class known as ladinos. These individuals, notably poet-translator Gaspar Aquino de Belen, produced devotional poetry written in the Roman script, primarily in the Tagalog language. Later, the Spanish ballad of chivalry, the corridor, provided a model for secular (nonreligious) literature. Verse narratives, or komedya, were performed in the regional languages for the illiterate majority. They were also written in the Roman alphabet in the principal languages and widely circulated.

Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar, generally considered the first major Filipino poet, wrote poems in Tagalog. His best-known work, Florante at Laura (Florante and Laura), probably written between 1835 and 1842, is an epic poem that subversively criticizes Spanish tyranny. This poem inspired a generation of young Filipino writers of the new educated class, or ilustrados, who used their literary talents to call for political and social reform under the colonial system. These writers, most notably José Rizal, produced a small but high-quality body of Philippine literature in Spanish. Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), published in 1886, and its sequel, El Filibusterismo (The Subversive), published in 1891, helped to shape a new, nationalist identity during the last years of the 19th century.

The transfer of the Philippines to United States control in 1898 resulted in a dramatic increase in literacy and, consequently, literary production. A variety of new literary journals began to be published. English-language Filipino novels, short stories, and poems were first published in book form in the 1920s. Many Filipino authors have had distinguished writing careers. Their works typically explore the Filipino cultural identity in the context of social and political issues. Filipino authors often write in more than one literary form and in more than one language. Major English-language works include Winds of April (1940) and The Bamboo Dancers (1959) by N. V. M. Gonzalez; Many Voices (1939) and Have Come, Am Here (1942) by José Garcia Villa; You Lovely People (1955) and Scent of Apples and Other Stories (1980) by Bienvenido N. Santos; The Laughter of My Father (1944) and America Is in the Heart (1946) by Carlos Bulosan; Bitter Country and Other Stories (1970) by Rosca Ninotchka; The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1972) and A Question of Heroes (1977) by Nick Joaquin; The God Stealer and Other Stories (1968) and Tree (1978) by Francisco Sionil José; A Question of Identity (1973) by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil; and His Native Coast (1979) by Edith L. Tiempo.

During most of the Spanish colonial period, the art and architecture of the Philippines were strongly influenced by the patronage of the Roman Catholic Church. Most art emphasized religious iconography. The church commissioned local craftspeople, often skilled Chinese artisans, to construct provincial stone churches with bas-relief sculpture and to carve santos, or statues of saints, and other devotional icons in wood and ivory. The edifices, statues, and paintings of the period show Chinese and Malay modifications of Spanish baroque, an elaborate and detailed style.

Philippine painters began to explore secular themes in the mid-1800s. The painters Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo produced works in the romantic and early impressionist styles, achieving recognition in Europe. Painters of the early 1900s—notably Fernando Amorsolo, Fabián de la Rosa, and Jorge Pineda—produced romanticized landscapes, genre scenes, and portraits. In the late 1920s Victorio Edades, an American-trained painter, infused modernism into the Philippine art world. Many Philippine painters who were influenced by American and European modernism also experimented with it to reflect Philippine realities, such as Carlos Francisco, Arturo Luz, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Vicente Manansala, and Hernando Ocampo. Lee Aguinaldo and Fernando Zobel de Ayala achieved international recognition in the 1960s and 1970s.

Sculpture took on secular themes in the early 1900s. The major Filipino sculptor of the American colonial period was Guillermo Tolentino, who trained in classical sculpture in Rome. In the 1950s Napoleon Abueva pioneered modernism in Philippine sculpture. Many talented sculptors were active in the following decades, notably Eduardo Castrillo, whose large welded-metal sculptures are displayed in Manila’s Memorial Park; Solomon Saprid, noted for his expressionist series of mythical figures titled Tikbalang; and Abdulmari Imao, who produced contemporary interpretations of traditional Muslim designs. More recently, sculptors have tended to utilize ethnic artifacts and natural materials to produce assemblages with social themes.

In remote areas, tribal groups have preserved traditional art forms such as woodcarving, textile weaving, bamboo and rattan weaving, and metalsmithing. Artistic body adornments such as bead jewelry, body tattoos, and headdresses are important indications of social status. In the northern Philippines, the Ifugao people are known for their sculptural wood carvings of bulul figures, which represent guardian deities. The figures are ritually placed in rice granaries to bring a plentiful harvest. The terraced rice fields of the Ifugao are considered a major architectural feat. The Ifugao built them over a period of centuries by carving terraces into the mountainsides and reinforcing each level with stone walls.

The Muslim peoples in the south practice okir, a design tradition that shows evidence of Indian and Islamic influences. Rendered in hardwood and brass, the okir designs are mostly figurative, depicting animals, plants, and mythical figures. The style is highly decorative, with long curvilinear lines and secondary arabesques. The designs are based in the ancient epics and serve as significant cultural symbols. An important motif of the Maranaos is the sarimanok design, depicting a bird holding a fish in its beak or talons. Many okir designs are used as decorative elements in architecture. The Muslim peoples of the Philippines are noted for their metalworking skills, producing weaponry such as swords and decorative containers in brass and silver.

Filipino classical musical compositions in many ways epitomize the blending of multicultural influences. The compositions often embody indigenous themes and rhythms in Western forms, such as symphonies, sonatas, and concertos. Several composers and conductors in classical music have achieved international recognition, including Antonio Molina, Felipe Padilla de Leon, and Eliseo Pájaro. José Maceda is considered the first Filipino avant-garde composer, liberating Philippine classical music from the traditional constructs of Western forms.

Traditional types of music are played on wind, string, and percussion instruments made from local materials. These include the kulibit, a zither with bamboo strings and tubular bamboo resonators; wooden lutes and guitars; and the git-git, a wooden three-string bowed instrument. The Muslim peoples use these and other instruments to play complex musical compositions that have been passed by memory from generation to generation.

Most Filipino communities remember the tunes and lyrics of traditional folk songs. Tagalogs, for example, have more than a dozen folk songs for various occasions, including the uyayi or hele, a lullaby; the talindaw, a seafaring song; the kumintang, a warrior song; the kundiman, a love song; and the panambitan, a courtship song. Some songs are accompanied by a specific folk dance.

Formal training in classical dance has been available in the Philippines since the 1930s. The first noted Filipino choreographers in classical ballet were Leonor Orosa-Goquingco, Remedios “Totoy” de Oteyza, and Rosalia Merino-Santos. Orosa-Goquingco is most noted for her staging of Filipinescas: Philippine Life, Legend and Lore in Dance, which toured the world in the 1960s. Merino-Santos later turned to modern dance and founded the Far Eastern University Modern Experimental Dance Troupe. Other dance companies include Ballet Philippines (formerly the Modern Dance Company), Hariraya Ballet Company, Dance Theater Philippines, and Pamana Ballet (formerly the Anita Kane Ballet Company). Several Filipino ballet dancers have achieved international fame, including Maribel Aboitiz, Eddie Elejar, Lisa Macuja, and Anna Villadolid.

Choreographer Francisca Reyes-Aquino is recognized for pioneering research in the documentation of Philippine folk dances and founding the Philippine Folk Dance Society. She codified the folk dances into steps, directions, and musical arrangements that are taught in physical education classes in most schools. Among other folk dance troupes, the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company (formerly the Bayanihan Folk Arts Center) and the Far Eastern University Folk Dance Group perform stylized adaptations of folk dances in local and international tours. Informal folk dancing is performed for a variety of occasions, such as harvests, weddings, and religious celebrations.

The Manila Symphony Orchestra accompanies many dance performances. The Philippine Cultural Center in Manila provides an important venue for the performing and applied arts.

In addition to the university libraries, the major libraries of the country are the Manila City Library, the National Library, and the library of the Science and Technology Information Institute, all in Manila. The Lopez Memorial Museum and Library, in Pasay, has collections of paintings by major Filipino artists, as well as the letters and manuscripts of José Rizal. The Santo Tomás Museum, in Manila, has major archaeological and natural-history collections, illustrating the history of the islands. The National Museum, in Manila, has divisions of anthropology, botany, geology, and zoology, along with art collections and a planetarium.

Economy of Philippines

Gross domestic product (GDP in U.S.$) $81 billion (2003)
GDP per capita (U.S.$) $990 (2003)
Monetary unit 1 Philippine peso (P), consisting of 100 centavos
Number of workers 34,604,380 (2003)
Unemployment rate 9.8 percent (2001)

Before World War II (1939-1945) the economy of the Philippines was based on the production and export of a narrow range of primary commodities, mainly agricultural and forest products. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the early 20th century that Philippine goods could enter the American market without tariff restraints. In the trade that followed, the United States imported Philippine agricultural goods and provided the Philippines with most manufactured items. The Philippines had virtually no manufacturing other than the processing of food products, primarily for the United States market.

After independence in 1946, the Philippines initially remained dependent on free-trade access to United States markets for its agricultural commodities, especially sugar. Government restrictions on import spending spurred an increase in manufacturing for the domestic market. During the 1950s the Philippines tried to become an industrialized nation. In the long term, however, protectionist economic policies provided little incentive for the development of labor-intensive export manufacturing. In the 1970s the government implemented a policy to encourage export manufactures and foreign investment, and the rate of economic growth accelerated. The country’s foreign debt rose dramatically, however, and by the mid-1970s the country faced problems meeting payments on its international loans. This problem was compounded by a worldwide recession in the early 1980s. The recession resulted in less demand for Philippine manufactures, and the economy moved into a deep recession in the mid-1980s.

At this time the Philippine economy also suffered from more than a decade of economic mismanagement under President Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled by decree after declaring martial law in 1972. Under Marcos the government greatly expanded the number of public-sector enterprises. Government-mandated monopolies were set up in various sectors, while subsidies and special privileges were awarded to close associates of Marcos. This concentration of ownership and control among the president’s closest business associates, friends, and relatives became known as crony capitalism. The system allowed for rampant corruption. During the economic recession of the 1980s, many of the crony enterprises experienced severe financial difficulties. This in turn undermined the viability of the big government-owned banks and led to an economic crisis.

Major structural reforms implemented during succeeding government administrations dismantled the monopolies and promoted privatization. Measures to stabilize the economy involved compliance with a severe austerity program of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Economic reforms reduced government intervention in the economy and stimulated the private sector. By the mid-1990s the Philippine economy had largely recovered and was experiencing steady growth. It contracted much less dramatically than other Asian countries from the regional financial crisis of 1997. It was also slower to rebound, however, due to drought conditions that caused a sharp fall in agricultural output in 1998. The modest pace of economic recovery was adversely affected by corruption in government and a global economic downturn in the early 2000s that reduced demand for Philippine manufactures by the country’s two largest trading partners, the United States and Japan.

In the early 2000s the government was pursuing economic reforms to help the Philippines match the pace of development in the so-called newly industrialized economies of East Asia. The strategy includes improving infrastructure, revamping the tax system to increase government revenues, promoting further deregulation and privatization of the economy, and expanding trade ties in the region.

The estimated governmental budget in 2001 included revenues of $11.6 billion and expenditures of $13.9 billion. Gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003 was $80.6 billion, or $990 per person.


In 2003 the labor force of the Philippines numbered 34.6 million people. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing employed 37 percent of the labor force; manufacturing, construction, and mining, 16 percent; and services, 47 percent. The unemployment rate was 9.8 percent in 2001.

Employment opportunities associated with the modern economy, mostly services and manufacturing, are concentrated in a few urban centers, especially the Manila metropolitan area. The country’s high rate of population growth results in large additions to the labor force each year in an economy with a high rate of unemployment and even higher underemployment. The shortage of employment opportunities has resulted in large-scale migrations of Filipino workers, both sophisticated professionals and unskilled workers, to countries such as the United States and Malaysia. Approximately 6 million Filipinos work abroad. Many of them send a portion of their earnings to relatives in the Philippines, infusing the economy with a significant source of foreign exchange. The migration of vitally needed professionals has created a serious “brain drain” in the Philippines.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) is the largest union body in the Philippines, with about 1.5 million members and 39 affiliated labor and trade unions. In the late 1990s the Philippines had more than 8,000 trade unions with a total membership of 3.6 million.


In 2003 agriculture, forestry, and fishing contributed 14 percent of the GDP. About 19 percent of the total land area of the Philippines is arable, or suitable for cultivation. The most important subsistence crops are rice, corn, cassava, and sweet potatoes. Rice paddies and cornfields occupy about half of the arable land of the Philippines. Coconuts are one of the most important cash crops, and the Philippines is one of the world’s leading exporters of coconut products, including coconut oil and copra (dried coconut). Bananas and pineapples are also important commercial crops, both of which are grown on large plantations owned by multinational companies. Other crops include sugarcane, abaca (Manila hemp), coffee, tobacco, and mangoes. Livestock on farms include carabao (water buffalo), cattle, chickens, goats, horses, and hogs. Many farmers are tenants, who rent the land and pay the landowner a share of the crop. Other farmworkers include seasonal migrant laborers.

Sugar was the most important agricultural export of the Philippines from the mid-1800s to the mid-1970s. Much of the modernization of the country took place to facilitate the processing and transport of this export crop. For many years, the Philippines had access to a protected and subsidized U.S. market for its sugar. The decline of the sugar industry involved many factors, including the expiration of a U.S. quota system on sugar imports in 1974 followed by a sharp decline in world sugar prices.

Hardwood trees such as mahogany were once one of the country’s most valuable resources, but now this resource is severely depleted. The government banned the export of unprocessed hardwood logs in 1986 in an effort to stimulate domestic processing of raw lumber into finished products. Initially this policy was successful, and products such as wood veneer became important exports. However, illegal logging and unsuccessful reforestation programs depleted the hardwood forests, and output from lumber-processing industries declined. Other forestry industries remain viable because their products are based on more easily renewable sources than hardwood, such as bamboo, rattan, and the ceiba (kapok) tree. Bamboo and rattan are used in making furniture, baskets, floor mats, and other household goods. The ceiba tree, also known as the silk-cotton tree, is cultivated and harvested for its fiber, which is used in the manufacture of finished goods such as insulation and upholstery.

Fishing is an important industry in the Philippines. The average annual fish catch exceeds 2 million metric tons. Nearly half of the total catch is made by municipal and subsistence fishers who operate small boats in shallow coastal waters. The surrounding and inland seas of the Philippines yield crab, sardines, anchovies, tuna, scad, and mackerel. Shrimp, milkfish, and tilapia are raised in artificially created fishponds, in the fish-farming industry known as aquaculture. Much of the total catch is for domestic consumption, and about half of the protein in the Philippine diet comes from fish and other seafood. Shrimp and prawn exports to Japan are a significant source of foreign exchange. The pollution of coastal and inland waters and depletion of fish populations through overfishing have reduced the fishing sector’s productivity in some areas of the Philippines.


The Philippines has extensive deposits of valuable metallic and mineral ores, including copper, gold, silver, chromium, lead, and nickel. Copper is the country’s leading mineral product. In 2003 the Philippines produced 20,400 metric tons of copper. The mining industry grew rapidly in the 1970s in response to government initiatives. In the mid-1980s, however, output in the metallic sector entered an overall decline as world prices for metals weakened. The nonmetallic sector, meanwhile, was stimulated by a rising domestic demand for coal. The country’s plentiful coal deposits were explored as an alternative to costly petroleum imports, and the mining of coal increased substantially after 1979. In 2002 the Philippines produced 1.69 million metric tons of coal.


In 2003 manufacturing contributed 23 percent of the GDP. The manufacturing sector accounts for a larger share of national income than agriculture, fishing, and forestry combined. However, more people are employed in those traditional sectors than in manufacturing. Since the mid-1950s, manufacturing has not substantially increased its share of either output or employment.

The manufacturing sector expanded significantly during the post-World War II reconstruction of the Philippine economy. Government controls on imports promoted the development of light industries that produced consumer goods for the domestic market. In the 1970s the government created four special economic zones designed to stimulate manufacturing for the export market. Industries in these export-processing zones receive incentives to produce nontraditional (mainly nonagricultural) exports. The zones have helped to stimulate foreign investment in the Philippine economy, in part because they are exempt from certain taxes and restrictions on foreign ownership of businesses. The success of these zones has led to the creation of other types of special economic zones, such as large industrial estates. Businesses receive tax exemptions and other incentives in these zones. The former U.S. naval base at Subic Bay, for example, is now a huge industrial-commercial zone known as the Subic Bay Metropolitan Area (SBMA). Its modern port facilities and duty-free economic zone have attracted new export-focused industries and foreign investment. The Philippines has some heavy industries, including a copper smelter-refinery and chemical and fertilizer plants. They were built under a government-funded industrial-development program and were in operation by the early 1980s.

Nondurable goods such as processed food, textiles, and tobacco products make up the largest percentage of manufacturing output. Other major products include refined petroleum, chemicals, construction materials, and clothing. The Philippines has increased its production of durable items, especially electrical and electronic equipment and components, nonelectrical machinery, transport equipment, and furniture. The manufacture of electronic items, especially computer components such as microchips and circuit boards, increased substantially in the 1990s for the export market, constituting 62 percent of all exports in 1999. The Philippine economy was therefore affected by the worldwide slump in demand for these items in the early 2000s.


In 2003 services contributed 53.2 percent of the GDP. The services sector includes transportation, wholesale and retail trade, the hospitality and tourism industries, currency and banking, and foreign trade. Skilled Filipino labor has prompted some multinational companies to set up service operations in the country to serve consumers in Europe and the United States.

Currency and Banking

The unit of currency is the Philippine peso, which is divided into 100 centavos (54.20 pesos equal U.S.$1; 2003 average). The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines) serves as the country’s monetary authority. It has sole control of the credit and monetary supply. Other financial institutions include commercial banks and private development banks. The country’s largest commercial bank is the Philippine National Bank. The banking industry includes domestically owned banks as well as a limited number of foreign banks. The Philippine Stock Exchange is located in Makati, a suburb of Manila.

Foreign Trade

In 2002 imports to the Philippines totaled $35.4 billion, while exports reached $35.2 billion. Import quotas were eliminated in the early 1980s, and tariffs on imports were substantially reduced in the 1990s. The leading imports are petroleum, machinery, transportation equipment, metals, chemicals, foodstuffs, and textiles. In 1999 manufactured products constituted nearly 90 percent of Philippine exports. The main exports are electrical and electronic components, textiles, coconut products, and fish. Principal purchasers of the country’s exports are the United States, Japan, Singapore, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Germany, and Thailand; leading sources of imports are Japan, the United States, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Germany, and Malaysia. The country is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional trade organization.


The infrastructure of the Philippines is inadequate for the economic development sought by the government, international agencies, and multinational corporations. Some large-scale improvements were made in the past to the country’s schools, health centers, bridges, roads, and irrigation works. However, government investment in infrastructure has not kept pace with population growth and modern technologies. Roads remain unpaved in most rural areas. Cities lack sufficient public transportation, garbage collection, energy resources, potable water, and sewerage treatment. Resources for infrastructure-development projects are often limited because of the country’s huge payments on its foreign debt.


Since the early 1970s the Philippines has developed a variety of domestic energy resources, including geothermal resources, hydroelectric power, offshore oil reserves, and coal fields. Increased production of domestic energy reduced the country’s dependence on imported petroleum from 95 percent of the energy supply in 1973 to about half that amount by the end of the century.

Offshore exploration for oil reserves was spurred by sharp increases in international petroleum prices in 1973 and 1979. Oil was discovered near the island of Palawan in 1976, and commercial production began in 1979. The domestic oil wells produce relatively insignificant amounts of crude petroleum, however, and the Philippines must import most of the petroleum it consumes. A natural-gas field off western Palawan was estimated to contain abundant reserves and held promise for future production. The major potential of undersea fields in the South China Sea is diminished by competing claims from China, Vietnam, and Malaysia. In addition to petroleum and natural gas, fossil-fuel plants utilize the country’s coal resources. However, the coal is of generally poor quality for electricity production. Thermal plants utilizing fuels such as coal and oil generated 61 percent of the country’s electricity in 1999.

The Philippine government has also pursued the development of alternative sources of energy. The Philippines has significant geothermal resources. The country’s installed capacity for geothermal power is exceeded only by the United States, and most of its geothermal resources remain unexploited. Geothermal, solar, and wind sources generated 22 percent of the country’s electricity in 2002. Hydroelectric sources generated 16 percent.

In 1990 a shortage in electricity-generating capacity on Luzon resulted in frequent power outages in the Manila metropolitan area. This threatened the stability of the country’s economy because many important industries are concentrated in this area. The government of President Fidel Ramos managed to construct new fossil-fuel plants to meet the burgeoning demand for electricity. Construction of a nuclear power plant on the Bataan Peninsula, on Luzon Island west of Manila, was never completed because the plant’s location on seismic fault lines was deemed a hazard to public safety. Accelerating economic and population growth in the Manila region continues to put pressure on the energy supply.


Despite the difficult terrain, the Philippines has an extensive road system; however, only about 10 percent of roads are paved. The Pan-Philippine Highway, also called the Maharlika Highway, is a system of roads, bridges, and ferries that connects the islands of Luzon, Samar, Leyte, and Mindanao. The rail system, concentrated on Luzon, is limited. A light-rail transit system known as Metrorail was opened in Manila in 1985 to help reduce traffic congestion. The national air carrier is Philippine Airlines (PAL). The country’s international airports are Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila and Mactan International Airport near the city of Cebu. Subic Bay International Airport, near Manila, serves international commercial flights as well as domestic passenger flights. The country has many seaports, the busiest at Manila, Davao, Cebu, Iloilo, and Zamboanga.


The Philippines has 47 daily newspapers. Many are published in Manila in both Filipino and English. The Manila Bulletin, founded in 1900, is the longest-running daily newspaper. Other large-circulation dailies include Abante, People Tonight, Ang Pilipino Ngayon, Philippine Daily Inquirer, and Tempo. Some regional publications are written in local languages, including Ilocano, Hiligaynon, and Cebuano. The official Islamic news journal is The Voice of Islam, founded in 1973 and published in Davao. Freedom of the press is guaranteed under the constitution. The country has an extensive broadcasting system, with hundreds of radio stations and several national television networks.


The Philippines is a democratic republic governed under a 1987 constitution. This constitution is modeled on the commonwealth constitution of 1935 that set up a system of government similar to that of the United States. It includes many restrictions on term lengths and presidential powers as a way to safeguard against authoritarian rule. All Philippine citizens age 18 or older may vote.

During the Marcos regime, the military was politicized and used to sustain his power. This set a precedent of military influence that has continued to be a destabilizing factor in Philippine politics and government.


The head of state and chief executive of the Philippines is a president, elected by popular vote to a nonrenewable six-year term. The vice president, who is also directly elected, may serve no more than two consecutive six-year terms. The president and vice president are elected by separate ballot and may belong to different political parties. The president nominates appointments for heads of government departments, or ministries, to form a cabinet. The Commission on Appointments, composed of 24 members of Congress, reviews and votes on the nominations. The approved cabinet oversees the day-to-day functions of government. The president has limited emergency powers and may place the republic under martial law for no more than 60 days.


The Philippines has a bicameral (two-chamber) legislature called the Congress of the Philippines. The upper house, or Senate, has 24 members who are directly elected to serve six-year terms. Senators are limited to two consecutive terms. The lower house, or House of Representatives, has a maximum of 260 members who serve three-year terms; 208 representatives are directly elected and 52 are indirectly elected from party-list nominees of indigenous minority groups. House members are limited to three consecutive terms. A two-thirds vote of Congress is required to overrule a presidential veto of proposed legislation.


The highest tribunal in the Philippines is the Supreme Court, made up of a chief justice and 14 associate justices, all appointed by the country’s president. The mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices is 70. Other judicial bodies include a court of appeals, courts of the first instance, and municipal courts.

Local Government

For administrative purposes the Philippines is divided into 16 regions and 79 provinces. Each province is headed by a governor who is directly elected to a three-year term.


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