Philippines is a rich tropical archipelago of 7,107 islands stretching
gracefully over 1800 kilometers between the fifth and twenty-second
degrees north of the equator. Strategically positioned east of the
Asian mainland, and blessed with abundant natural resources, the
country has attracted traders, explorers and adventurers for centuries.
total land area is approximately 300,000 square kilometers (115,800
square miles) and its coastline of more than 34,400 kilometers (21,500
miles) is the fifth longest in the world. Its territorial waters
cover 212 million hectares.
is bounded by three large bodies of water: on the west and north
by the South China Sea, on the east by the Philippine Sea and on
the south by the Celebes Sea.
islands are divided into three main groups: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Luzon is the major island to the north where the country’s
capital, Manila, is located. The Visayas is a cluster of islands
in the middle of the archipelago. Mindanao is the southernmost island
As it is located
in the Pacific ring of fire – the most volcanic region on
Earth – the Philippines has more than 100 seismic faults spanning
both Luzon and Mindanao, as well as 22 active volcanoes and 27 potentially
active volcanoes. Of these volcanoes, Mount Mayon in Albay, with
its nearly perfect cone, is the most active. Taal Volcano in Batangas
is considered the world’s smallest volcano.
ranks 23rd among the most plant species-rich countries of the world,
hosting 13,500 plant species, or 5 per cent of the world total.
Almost one-fourth of all these plant species are endemic to the
and seventy thousand animal species can also be found in the country.
Of the 230 species of mammals in the islands, 98 are endemic. Among
the many rare species that can be found in the Philippines are:
Tarsier (Tarsius philippensis, the world’s smallest monkey)
The White-Winged Flying Fox (Pteropus luecopterus, one of the world’s
Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi, the world’s largest eagle)
The Pygmy Goby
(Pandaka pygmea, the world’s smallest fish)
Sailfin Lizzard (Hydrosaurus pustulatus, one of the rarest lizard
species in the world)
also has one of the richest collections of corals in the world,
with 488 out of 500 species found in the Apo Reef in Mindoro and
the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea.
Due to its
proximity to the equator, the Philippines enjoys tropical climate,
with a relatively constant temperature year-round. The country has
two main seasons: the dry (from December to May) and the rainy (from
June to November).
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and ecological diversity of the Philippines, in addition to the
Chinese, American and Spanish influences the country received, have
had profound effects on the cultural development of its people –
giving rise to the evolution of approximately 111 ethnolinguistic
groups that endow the Filipino people with their varying customs
national language is Filipino (based largely on Tagalog, the language
of the largest ethnolinguistic group and the language most widely
used in Manila), there are at least 87 other regional languages
and a host of dialects in use by the various ethnolinguistic groups
throughout the country. English is widely spoken and understood
and is the language used for most business and legal transactions.
Hokkien, Cantonese and Mandarin are spoken by older members of the
At least 80
percent of the 82 million Filipinos are registered Catholics. About
5 per cent of the population is Moslem, majority of who live in
Mindanao. Ethnic Chinese account for about 1 per cent, while the
rest of the population is composed of other faiths, including Protestants
and other smaller denominations.
such diversity in the population, however, warmth, hospitality,
and love of life and laughter shine as constant traits of Filipinos
throughout the country.
evidence from the southwestern sector of the country point to the
existence of man in the archipelago as far back as 50,000 years
ago. Flake tools discovered in the Tabon Caves in Palawan and stone
tools recovered in the Cagayan Valley suggest that man inhabited
the archipelago from at least the late Pleistocene or early Post-Pleistocene
period (the last Ice Age).
The Tabon Man
skullcap, the earliest known fossil evidence recovered in the country
(also in the Tabon Caves in Palawan), suggest that the earliest
inhabitants of the archipelago were representatives of modern man,
or Homo sapiens sapiens.
Three of the
country’s most famous and treasured artifacts, recovered from
Butuan in Agusan del Norte, the Manunngul Cave in Palawan and the
Ayub Cave in Maitum, Saranggani Province, provide glimpses of the
culture of early man in the Philippines.
Boat, wooden boats excavated in Southern Mindanao that have been
dated to as early as 320 AD, reveals that the ancient Philippine
maritime technology predated European boat construction. Called
Balangay, a reference to the smallest political unit in Philippine
society, these boats are evidence that early man in the Philippines
was seafaring and was relatively technologically advanced. Of the
nine boats that are known to exist, three have been excavated so
Jar and the Maitum Jars point to the fact that early man in the
Philippines believed in some form of afterlife. These elaborately
designed secondary burial jars are also a testament to the artistic
skill of the early Filipino.
at the northeast end of Southeast Asia, the archipelago was not
in the direct path of the great traditions that influenced the rest
of the region before the colonizers came. Thus, some of the cultural
influences that have left deep and lasting marks on its Southeast
Asian neighbors, such as Chinese and Islamic influences, have left
less evident marks on Philippine society. And while the Arabs were
probably the first to trade in the islands, it is contact with the
Chinese, beginning in the early 13th century, which became regular
in the wake of the Arab penetration of Southeast Asia, and when
it reached the southern part of the archipelago in the late 14th
century, the new Muslims and their institutions received reinforcement
and support from the neighboring lands where Islam had already taken
root. By the 15th century, a sultanate had been established in Sulu,
and in time Islam’s reach extended to Luzon. Muslim expansion
beyond Sulu and Mindanao, however, would be arrested in Manila with
the coming of the Spanish conquistadores.
led the expedition that first strayed into the islands in 1521,
and a successful retracing of the route was made by Legaspi in 1564,
whose expedition reached Manila.
was thus claimed for the Spanish Crown and soon, the population,
except for those in the Muslim areas of Mindanao, would come under
the effective control of the Spanish invaders. Manila would eventually
become the capital of this new kingdom, formally named “El
Nuevo Reyno de Castilla,” and popularly called “Filipinas.”
The old, autonomous barangays (typically comprising some 30 to 50
families each), were consolidated into larger political units and
lost their independence. A civil government was established, and
alongside it, the ecclesiastical establishment, whose clergy and
prelates were not subject to the jurisdiction of civil laws and
authorities. The political, social and cultural life of the people
would be molded under the direction of the Spanish Empire for more
than three centuries, and foremost among its enduring legacies would
be Catholicism. Today, the Philippines is the only predominantly
Roman Catholic country in Asia.
chafed under the oppressive rule of the colonizers and finally,
in 1896, staged the first nationalist revolt in Asia against the
Spaniards. The main trigger for the revolt was the execution of
Dr. Jose Rizal, one of the leaders of the reform movement and the
Philippines’ national hero. On 12 June 1898, the leaders of
the revolution declared the country a sovereign state and proclaimed
the first Republic of the Philippines, with General Emilio Aguinaldo
was short-lived, however, as Spain ceded the Philippines to the
United States for US Dollars 20 million in the Treaty of Paris.
The new Republic resisted American colonial ambitions, which led
to the two-year Philippine-American War in 1899. The war ended with
the capture of General Aguinaldo, and the American pacification
of the entire country followed.
Under the American
rule, agriculture, commerce and trade rapidly developed. Among the
significant changes they introduced were the American political
system, a professional civil service, the English language and American
system of education, the improvement of the banking system, and
the modernization of the transportation and communication system.
With the outbreak
of the Second World War, however, Japan occupied the Philippines.
The country was liberated in 1945, and the United States formally
granted its independence on 04 July 1946. Manuel Roxas was proclaimed
In 1972, then
President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. A modified parliamentary
government was also adopted. Martial Law was finally lifted in 1981,
but political repression and economic deterioration became its legacy,
resulting in the historic “People Power” revolution
of 25 February 1986. This led to the proclamation of Corazon C.
Aquino as President.
moved to restore all the democratic institutions in the country.
A Constitution, ratified on 2 February 1987, provided for a tripartite
system: an Executive, a Legislative, and a Judiciary. One fundamental
change in the new Constitution is the provision limiting the President’s
term-of-office to one term of six years, without the eligibility
for re-election. The Aquino administration also restored the freedoms
of speech, of the press, and of assembly.
On 30 June
1992, Fidel V. Ramos became the 12th President of the Republic.
President Ramos, a hero of the 1986 EDSA Revolution, anchored his
government on the twin themes of people empowerment and global excellence
as the engines of growth and social equity as embodied in his Medium-Term
Philippine Development Plan, more popularly known as “Philippines
On the centennial
year of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence, Joseph Ejercito
Estrada became the 13th President of the country. In his inaugural
address on 30 June 1998, President Estrada resolved to prioritize
the creation of an environment of peace and order in which business
would do well. He also vowed to work to assure food security for
the majority of the Filipino people.
On 20 January
2001, Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became the 14th President
of the country after her predecessor was ousted through a mass protest
similar to the historic 1986 EDSA Revolution. In her inaugural address,
she focused on her core program of government which covers the fight
against poverty, the improvement of moral standards in government
and society, true reforms in party politics and programs, and the
promotion of work ethics.
In 2004, President
Arroyo was elected to a full six-year term-of-office in an election
that, for the first time, allowed Filipinos overseas to vote.
A Past Revisited.
F. Landa Jocano, The History of the Filipino People.
O.D. Corpuz, The Roots of the Filipino Nation.