Frontline World

PHILIPPINES - Islands Under Siege, June 2003

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "Islands Under Siege"

On the Front Lines in Mindanao

Rebellions, Wars and Insurgencies in the Philippines

Population, Government, Economy

Muslim Rebels, U.S. Presence, Politics




Images of landscapes, people and culture in the Philippines
Facts & Stats

• General Background
• Population
• Government
• Economy

General Background

The Philippines is an archipelago of more than 7,100 islands covering nearly 300,000 square kilometers. It is located between the South China Sea in the west and the Philippine Sea in the east.

The two largest islands in the chain, Luzon and Mindanao, comprise about 65 percent of the country's total landmass. Most of the country's people are concentrated on 11 main islands.

The Philippines was a Spanish colony from 1565 until 1898, when Spain ceded control of the islands to the United States after its defeat in the Spanish-American War. Japan captured the islands from the United States during World War II. The Philippines became an independent nation in 1946, but has retained close economic and political ties to the United States.

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Approximately 84.5 million people live in the Philippines. Of these, more than 30 million are under age 14.

The ethnic heritage of 95 percent of Filipinos is Malay; there is also a Chinese minority descended from traders who first arrived in the islands in the ninth century.

The Philippines is Southeast Asia's only predominantly Christian country. The large majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholic.

The Moros, the country's Muslim minority, comprise about 9 percent of the population and are concentrated in the southern part of the archipelago. In 1990, a semiautonomous Muslim region was established on the island of Mindanao.

The country's official languages are English and the Tagalog-based Pilipino, though almost 90 regional languages are also spoken. The Philippines has one of Asia's highest literacy rates, about 95 percent. Ninety-six percent of children are enrolled in primary school; 50 percent finish secondary school.

Filipinos have migrated to the United States since the early days of the 20th century. Today, there are approximately 2 million Filipino Americans in the United States.

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The Philippine government is a constitutional democracy modeled after the American system, with two national legislative bodies and an executive who is elected to one six-year term. There are nearly a dozen political parties.

The country's current constitution was ratified in 1987, following the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos, who had ruled the country from 1965 to 1986.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been president of the Philippines since January 2001. She was elected vice president in 1998 and assumed the presidency when her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, stepped down because of a corruption scandal.

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Nearly 40 percent of all Filipinos live in poverty; three-fourths of the poor live in rural areas. Forty percent of the population works in agriculture. The average annual income per capita is $1,040.

The Philippine economy depends heavily on exports. The country's main exports include electronic and auto equipment, machinery and transport equipment, textiles, and coconut products.

The United States and Japan are the Philippines' main international trading partners. The United States is the largest foreign investor in the country.

More than 4 million Filipino children work; 2 million work in hazardous conditions. Nearly one million Filipinos every year go abroad to work, many going to other Asian countries, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, and the Middle East. They often perform domestic and unskilled labor and send home more than $5 billion in remittances every year.

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Sources: BBC; CIA World Factbook; The Economist; Library of Congress; Migration News; Philippine Government Web Site; United Nations Development Program; UNICEF; U.S. State Department; World Bank.