Geography and Landscape


The Philippines (Filipino: Republica ñg Pilipinas; Spanish: República de Filipinas; English: Republic of the Philippines) is a republic in Southeast Asia. The country is an archipelago and consists of 7,107 counted large and small islands in the Pacific or Pacific, of which about 1000 are permanently or temporarily inhabited. Most of the islands are nothing more than uninhabited sandbanks and rocky reefs; many of these islands don't even have a name yet!

The total land area is approximately 300,000 km2. The total coastal length is approximately 34,500 km. The Philippines extends north-south for a length of 1850 km, and east-west for a length of 1060 km. It is remarkable that the capital Manila with an area of 636 km2 is one of the largest cities in the world.

Philippines Satellite photo Philippines Satellite photoPhoto: Public domain

About two-thirds of the total area is occupied by the islands of Luzon (104,700 km2; north-south 830 km, east-west maximum 240 km2) in the north and Mindanao (94,600 km2) in the south. The islands that lie between the two largest islands are called the Visaya Islands or Visayas. Other large islands are (in order of size): Palawan (14,896 km2), Panay (12,327 km2), Mindoro (10,245 km2), Samar (9,949 km2), Negros (9,225 km2), Leyte (6,268 km2), Cebu (5,088) km2), Bohol (4,117 km2) and Masbate (4,047 km2).

The Philippines, named after Philip II of Spain, is located south of Hong Kong, Taiwan (150 km away), Japan and South Korea; north of Brunei, Malaysia (Borneo at 25 km), Indonesia (at 60 km) and Singapore; east of Vietnam (960 km), Thailand and the South China Sea; west of the Pacific.


The landscape of the Philippines consists largely of mountains and hills. Approx. a third of the archipelago consists of lowlands.

The important Cordillera Central runs from north to south on the island of Luzon, the highest peak of which is the Pulog (2928 m). To the east of this lies the Sierra Madre on the coast, with the highest peak being Anacuao (1850 m). The longest river in the Philippines, the Cagayan (354 km), flows between the two mountain ranges. Central Luzon is occupied by the Central Plain, which is home to a large part of the population and is home to an important rice-growing area. Luzon Island is also home to the largest lake in the Philippines, Laguna de Bay (922 km2); the largest lake in Mindanao is Lake Lanao (357 km2). In the south there are still a few volcanoes, of which the Mayon is the best known (2421 m).

The landscape of the Visaya Islands and Palawan is, except for a coastal strip, hilly and mountainous. The highest peak here is the Kanlaon volcano (2465 m).

Mount Apo, PhilippinesMount Apo, PhilippinesPhoto: Unknown CC 3.0 no changes made

Mindanao Island is also mountainous, but has two large and fertile lowland areas, the Angus Valley and the Cotabato Valley. The Cotabato Valley is bisected by the Mindanao or Rio Grande de Mindanao, a river with an extensive catchment area. Mindanao is also home to the highest mountain in the Philippines, the stratovolcano Mount Apo (2954 m).

The Philippines has 132 short, fast-flowing rivers that are generally unnavigable. The coasts are characterized by the presence of many bays and are largely fringed by coral reefs.

Earthquakes and volcanoes

Map of volcanoes in the PhilippinesMap of volcanoes in the PhilippinesPhoto: LkwkarenHKU CC 4.0 International no changes made

The archipelago of the Philippines, like Taiwan and the islands of Japan, is part of a fault zone that runs from Kamchatka in the far north to New Zealand in the deep south. There are also a number of very deep troughs in the ocean along all these islands. Southeast of the Philippine island of Leyte is the 1800 km long Mindanao trough with a depth of 10,497 meters.

Earthquakes and volcanism are a "normal" phenomenon in such fault zones, and the Philippines is also regularly affected and is one of the most geologically troubled areas on the planet. The last major earthquake dates back to 1990, when large areas of the northern Philippine city of Baguio were destroyed and more than a thousand people were killed.

The Philippines archipelago has 37 volcanoes, including the highest mountain in the Philippines, the working volcano Mount Apo (2954 m), located in the Apo massif in Mindanao. At least 18 of these volcanoes are still active and the last very large volcanic eruption dates back to June 1991 when the Luzon volcano, Mount Pinatubo, spewed about 5 billion tons of rock and 19 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the air to an altitude of more than 20 km. About a hundred people were killed, many were missing and there were nearly one million homeless. The Taal is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Southeast Asia; it has erupted about thirty times since the arrival of the Spaniards.

Climate and Weather

The Philippines, located just above the equator, has a tropical climate with high humidity (on average more than 70%) and with much to very much rainfall.

Climate map of the PhilippinesClimate map of the PhilippinesPhoto: Public domain

The Philippines has an average annual temperature of 27°C. Despite the great north-south distance of 1800 km, the average temperature in the north is only 2°C lower than in the south. The average temperatures in the hottest and "coldest" months are also no more than 5°C apart. This is also due to its location by the sea, which provides a considerable tempering of high and low temperatures.

It never gets really cold, especially in the low-lying areas. In January, the coldest month, it can still regularly reach almost 30°C during the day and 20°C overnight. Only in the higher mountain regions can the temperature drop below 10°C.

On average, the Philippines has about 2,400 mm of rainfall per year. There are indeed differences in rainfall, both during the year and on the different islands of the archipelago. For example, the coastal areas on the west side of the islands are strongly influenced by the southwest monsoon or "habágat", which can bring a lot of rain in the period June-October.

Monsoon in the PhilippinesMonsoon in the PhilippinesPhoto: Judgefloro in the public domain

The period December-May is the dry period here, with the least rainfall from February to April. On the east coast of the Philippine Islands, the weather is more even with rainfall in all seasons. Most rain falls in the months of November to January due to the northeast monsoon or "amíhan".

The driest areas are in the rain shadow of the mountains, for example the Cagayan Valley in Northern Luzon, where "only" 890 mm falls per year. Catanduanes has the most rainfall off the south coast of Luzon, with 5461 mm; the capital Manila comes to 2083 mm.

Every year the Philippines suffers from about 30 typhoons or "bagyó". Combined with tidal waves, floods, landslides and wind speeds of more than 300 km per hour, they often cause a lot of damage and regularly claim casualties. The likelihood of these violent storms is greatest in the period July-early December, with peaks in September.

The coastal regions along the Pacific, especially Leyte and Samar, islands in the eastern part of the Visaya group, and eastern Luzon, are among the areas most at risk for these devastating natural phenomena. The western part of the Visaya group, Palawan and much of Mindanao, are much less prone to typhoons.

Damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacioban on Leyte Island in the PhilippinesDamage caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacioban on Leyte Island in the PhilippinesPhoto: Trocaire CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

On November 8, 2013, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, which reached wind speeds of over 300 km / h and caused massive damage, particularly on Leyte Island. More than 4,000 people were killed and millions of people were left homeless.

Plants and Animals


Narra National Tree of the PhilippinesNarra National Tree of the PhilippinesPhoto: Judgefloro in the public domain

The plant world of the Philippines is very rich and varied with more than 10,000 tree, shrub and fern species alone. The little remaining primary jungle has between 2500 and 3000 tree species, many of them endemic. In total there are approximately 6000 tree, shrub and flower species endemic.

The fertile slopes of the volcanoes include the narra, the national tree, and forest giants such as molave, apitong and red lauan. Thick lianas hang from those trees and tree ferns and thorny rathania bushes grow on the ground. This type of forest, with a wide variety of tree species, is called the dipterocarpic rainforest. Many of the large tree species found here belong to the Dipterocarpaceae family. In the higher areas of the central mountainous region of Luzon you will find pine forests (including Benguet pine), oaks and rhododendrons.

Waling-Waling PhilippinesWaling-Waling PhilippinesPhoto: Dalton Holland Baptista CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

More than 900 species of orchids grow in the Philippines, including the very special waling-waling. Also beautiful to see are fire acacia, hibiscus, bougainvillea and frangipani.

Crop plants are rice, corn, sugar cane, abaca, tobacco, coconut palms and rubber trees; fruits such as mango, durian, pineapple, cocoa, coffee and bananas.

Rainforest on Palawan Island, PhilippinesRainforest on Palawan Island, PhilippinesPhoto: Vyacheslav Argenberg CC 4.0 International no changes made

The tropical rainforest in the Philippines is very fragile. The soil layer in the Philippine jungles is very thin, so that the trees have only a shallow root system.

When a piece of forest is cut down, the thin soil layer quickly suffers from erosion and becomes impoverished at a rapid pace. In the period after the Second World War, there was widespread deforestation and the forest area has decreased significantly.



Philippine CockatooPhilippine CockatooPhoto: Patrick Gijsbers Cc 4.0 International no changes made

The many biotopes in the Philippines have resulted in a great diversity of fauna. In addition, there are very many endemic species due to the geographically isolated position of the many islands.

The Philippines is in the transition zone of the Southeast Asian animal kingdom and the Australian animal kingdom. So there are species that come from mainland Asia, as well as species with an Australian origin, for example the Philippine cockatoo.

Large mammals such as elephants, tigers and rhinoceroses have not been found in the Philippines since prehistoric times.


Tamaraw PhilippinesTamaraw PhilippinesPhoto: Gregg Yan CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Most mammals do not come into action until dusk or at night, so they are difficult to spot. About 230 species of mammals live in the rainforest.

A special feature is the rare tamaraw, a dwarf grove that only occurs on the island of Mindoro. The Philippine sambar, a deer species, on the other hand, is found throughout the archipelago. Rare is a subspecies of the chital and on the island of Balabac there is the kantjil, a dwarf deer. Only in Palawan is the rare dwarf deer "pilandok", one of the smallest deer in the world, no bigger than a hare.

The land predators in the Philippine forests are all not much bigger than a hefty domestic cat, including the Bengal cat, the palm civet, the tangalunga (type of civet) and the Philippine stink badger. On the island of Palawan the binturong or bear marten and the dwarf gotter are still found.

Monkey species include the Philippine macaque and the Philippine tarsier. The flying lemur or lemur are special. Very rare is the kobold lemur or "tarsius", which is only found in the "Chocolate Hills" on the island of Bohol.

Mammals also include many bat species. In the Philippines, there are many insect-eating and fruit-eating species, about half of which are endemic. The largest is the gold-crowned along with a wing span of approx. 130 cm.

Dolphins, pilot whales, fin whales, sperm whales and Bryde's whales can be found in Philippine waters.


Salangan, PhilippinesSalangan, PhilippinesPhoto: Wokoti CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

More than 700 species of birds have been counted in the Philippines. The Philippine (monkey) eagle is one of the largest eagle species in the world. Most couples live on Mindanao Island, but it is a highly endangered species. Other notable birds of prey include the Philippine snake eagle and the very small Philippine pygmy falcon.

Five species of hornbills are found in the archipelago, including the red hornbill, the Sulu hornbill and the Palawan hornbill. The island of Palawan is also home to the rare and nowhere else in the world known Palawan fairy bluebird.

Common are the Asian little bittern, a heron species, and the stork's bill, a kingfisher species. Another common kingfisher species is the white-collared kingfisher. Special among the many pigeon species is the bleeding heart pigeon and the pied imperial pigeon.

Interesting birds are the salangans, a common swift species. They make nests from which the Chinese prepare their famous bird's nest soup.

The mangrove areas are a habitat for many birds, including the little mangrove heron, the reef heron and the Sumatran heron. Plovers, horsemen, curlews and sandpipers forage in the mudflats. The white-bellied sea eagle still occurs in some coastal areas.

Typical seabirds are various types of terns, gannets or boebies and frigate birds.


Python PhilippinesPython PhilippinesPhoto: Mariluna CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Among reptiles and amphibians in the forest areas are various flies or floating species, such as the flying dragon, flying frog and even the golden tree snake can soar through the air.

The reticulated python (up to 8.5 meters) and the venomous king cobra (3-4 meters) are impressive, while the common cobra with its two meters may also be there. In total, there are at least 35 snake species (including sea snakes) in the Philippines, half of which are poisonous. In Lake Taal on the island of Luzon, a rare snake species, Hydrophis semperi, belongs to the family of sea snakes. It is the only sea snake in the world that has adapted to life in fresh water and is found nowhere else.

Along rivers are striking appearances the Indian monitor lizard and the Philippine water lizard, both excellent swimmers. The two species of crocodiles have become very rare in the Philippines and are only found in the islands of Palawan and Mindanao.

Characteristic animals for all of Southeast Asia are the geckos, small lizards that often reside in people's homes. A relative of the gecko is the also common, and somewhat larger tokeh, so named for its piercing call. The armored lizard can grow up to one meter long.


Atlas Butterfly PhilippinesAtlas Butterfly PhilippinesPhoto: Quartl CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Butterflies of paradise stand out for their beautiful colors and can reach wingspan of up to 20 cm. The Atlas butterfly is the most impressive of the moths.

Cockroaches are not appreciated especially by tourists. They look creepy, but are otherwise not dangerous to humans.

The giant grasshopper, over 30 cm long, is the largest insect in the world.


Flying fish, PhilippinesFlying fish, PhilippinesPhoto: Mike Prince CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The coral reefs around the Philippine islands are home to countless (about 2000 species) often beautifully colored fish and other sea creatures.

A random list: lionfish, marquise, mask pennant, eyespot coral butterfly, bullfish or horned boxfish, stonefish, trigger fish, parrotfish, reef bass, clownfish, octopus. Echinoderms include sea lilies, brittle stars, starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers.

On the open sea, the flying fish are striking appearances. They can remain in the air for seconds and thus bridge tens of meters. Other impressive sea creatures include the barracuda, manta ray and whale shark.

Buhi Lake is home to the less than 1 centimeter tall "sinarapan", the world's smallest edible fish, according to the Filipinos.

The Philippine waters are home to many types of crustaceans. Snails in particular are very well represented, and as far as the shell is concerned, the cowries are popular, especially the tiger kaurie. The poisonous cone snails are also popular with the Filipinos. At night, coconut palm lobsters or flapper thieves appear on the beaches.

Typical animals for the mangrove areas are the mud jumpers. The male crab is notable for its enormous claws and the soldier crabs can burrow into the silt at lightning speed. The Moluccan crab, a living fossil, is still caught by the fishermen of Palawan.

In 2006, American scientists discovered a new parrot and a new mouse species on Camiguin Island.

Varanus Bitatawa, PhilippinesVaranus Bitatawa, PhilippinesPhoto Brown R, Siler C, Oliveros C et al. CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

In 2009, students at the University of Kansas in the United States in the northern Philippines discovered a new lizard species, the 'Varanus bitatawa'. The reptile measures two meters and the males have two penises. DNA research showed that the reptile is related to the Komodo dragon.


Antiquity and Middle Ages

Philippines Scriptures 900 BCPhilippines Scriptures 900 BCPhoto: Public domain

Not much is known about the oldest history of the Philippines, but it is generally believed that the negritos were the first inhabitants of the Philippines. The ancestors of these little black people are believed to have migrated to the Philippines via land bridges from Southeast Asia tens of thousands of years ago. The oldest fossil human remains date from about 30,000 years ago, but stone objects date back to 150,000 years ago.

After the last ice age, seafaring peoples of Mongol descent migrated to the Philippines; initially the proto-Malays in the period 2000 BC. to 1000 AD .; they were driven to the mountainous regions by the late Malays or coastal Malays. Most of the current population descends from the late Malays. These people survived shifting cultivation and fishing.

Due to the isolated location of the archipelago, the emergence of Buddhism and Hinduism has not had a major influence on the cultural development of the Philippines. Much more important were the trade contacts with other Malay peoples and especially with the emerging naval power China. The first contacts with the Chinese date from about 2000 years ago and reached their peak in the period between the 10th and the 13th century.

In the 15th century, Islam was introduced to the Philippines from Indonesian islands, including Borneo. In the 16th century, Islam had already penetrated northern Luzon, but the Catholic Spaniards managed to push back Islam far. At present, the Muslims mainly live in the Sulu Archipelago and parts of Mindanao and Palawan.

Spanish rule

Philippines MagelhaesPhilippines MagelhaesPhoto: Public domain

Portuguese explorer Fernão Magalhães was the first European to reach the Philippines on March 16, 1521, something he would regret. On April 27 of the same year, he was killed by hostile Filipinos led by the first Filipino folk hero Lapu-Lapu. Still, the Spanish claimed possession of the Archipelago de San Lazaro, as the Philippines was called at the time. This brought them into conflict with the Portuguese, who also claimed the Philippines. Ultimately, the Treaty of Zaragoza arranged for the Philippines to fall within Portugal's sphere of influence. Still, the Spaniards continued to send expeditions to the Philippines. In 1542 the archipelago's name was renamed "Islas Filipinas" by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos

In March 1565, an expedition led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi de Visayas, an archipelago in the center of the Philippines. Despite resistance from the local population, the island of Cebu was first conquered and then several other islands. The later capital of Manila was established on the conquered island of Luzon in 1571 and in 1572 a large part of the Philippines was again in Spanish hands. Only parts of the south remained in Muslim hands.

Spanish missionaries then played an important role, not only in the Christianization of the native population, but they also built schools, churches and houses, among other things. Spanish governors were administratively in charge of a province.

Manila was attacked in the second half of the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century by Chinese, Japanese and then by the Dutch. It was not until 1646 that the Spaniards managed to defeat the Dutch definitively during the "Battle of Manila". In 1762 Manila was finally conquered, but this time by the British. However, the occupation did not last long; in 1764 the city was recaptured by the Spaniards.

Nationalist ideas are emerging

José Rizal, PhilippinesJosé Rizal, PhilippinesPhoto: Ramon FVelasquez CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Until the first half of the nineteenth century, the Spaniards were also regularly attacked by the native population, but they were able to easily counter these attacks. During this time the trade monopoly of the Spaniards gave way to free trade. Agricultural products in particular were in great demand and the land tenants and traders became increasingly prosperous as a result. In the meantime, this population group consisted largely of Mestizos of Filipino-Spanish descent, who developed into a new elite in the nineteenth century. At the end of the 19th century, they had even reached the point where the children of this group could study at the University of Manila or at important foreign universities.

On their return, they brought back to their homeland ideas and feelings of freedom that contributed to the emerging Philippine nationalism. The nationalists were "helped" somewhat by an incident in 1872. A mutiny by Filipino soldiers got out of hand and in retaliation for the insurrection, three priests were publicly executed and then proclaimed martyrs of the Philippine resistance. Filipino students abroad took advantage of this to create the "Propaganda Movement", which peacefully sought to make the Philippines an independent state. The main leaders of this movement were Dr. José Rizal, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena and Juan Luna.

Rizal was the most important person in this group and after living abroad for a while he founded the "Liga Filipina". Although not even extreme in character, this was enough for the Spaniards to exile him along with other reformers to Dapitan on Mindanao's north coast. In the same year, Andres Bonifacio founded the somewhat more violent, secret separatist movement Kaitipunan.

In August 1896 the bomb finally burst; a call was made for the struggle for independence, after which an uprising broke out in Luzon and spread like an oil slick all over the country. The Spaniards reacted strongly and many Filipinos were imprisoned and executed, including José Rizal on December 30, 1896. Bonifacio was also killed and in 1897 the new leader of the revolution became Emilio Aguinaldo.

Under American rule

Ilustrados PhilippinesIlustrados PhilippinesPhoto: Public domain

In 1898 war broke out between Spain and the United States, with serious consequences for the Philippines. The Americans initially supported the independence fighters in their struggle and on May 1, 1898, the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay was defeated. The Filipinos declared independence on June 12, but soon learned that the Americans had a dual agenda at the time. Secret negotiations between the Spanish and the Americans resulted in the Philippines being handed over to the Americans in December.

Violence immediately broke out between the Filipinos and the new colonizer. In 1901 Aguinaldo was captured and in 1902 the Philippine-American War ended, which killed 220,000 mostly Filipino civilians. The Americans then took a smart approach by appointing people from the top layer of the population ("illustrados") to high posts and investing heavily in things like education, health care and infrastructure. As so often, the poor agricultural workers hardly benefited from this and in the 1930s riots broke out locally. The Americans tried to change this by distributing land owned by the Catholic Church to the population. Even now, however, the large landowners benefited the most.

In 1916, the Philippines was granted a great deal of autonomy, and on November 15, 1935, the Philippines was granted Commonwealth status with its own government and Manuel L. Quezon as the new president. The United States Congress also passed a law stating that after a preparatory period from 1935 to 1946, the Philippines would become independent.


General McArthur lands in Leyte, PhilippinesGeneral McArthur lands in Leyte, PhilippinesPhoto: Public domain

The Philippines did not emerge unscathed from the Second World War. On December 10, 1941, the first Japanese troops landed on the north coast of Luzon, and Manila was taken on January 2, 1942. On May 6, the Philippine-American forces surrendered. The Japanese portrayed a straw man in the figure of José Laurel, but provoked resistance because of their tough policy against the population. In particular, the organization Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Huk = People's Army against Japan) strongly opposed the Japanese, and also against the large landowners.

The previously fled American General MacArthur returned to Philippine soil on October 20, 1944. The invasion was launched on the east coast of the island of Leyte and from there, with the help of Filipino guerrillas, the Philippines was recaptured from the Japanese.

Philippines independent

Manuel Roxas 1st President of the PhilippinesManuel Roxas 1st President of the PhilippinesPhoto: Herbert A. French in the public domain

The Second World War had as a direct result that the Philippines finally gained independence. Despite the great influence of the Americans in the economic and military field, the Philippines was an independent republic from July 4, 1946, with Manuel Roxas as its first president. The great American influence meant that the poor rural population did not fare much better and again the Huk movement rose up, especially under the rule of Roxas's successor, Elpidio Quirino. However, Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay made good decisions by setting up a social reform program for the benefit of the poor. In addition, the Huk movement was tackled even more firmly. This made Magsaysay very popular among the population and it was therefore not surprising that he won the presidential election in 1953 with flying colors. However, on March 17, 1957, Magsaysay was killed in a plane crash and was succeeded by Presidents Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos.

Period Marcos

Marcos family, PhilippinesMarcos family, PhilippinesPhoto: Al Ramones & Domie Quiazon in the public domain

Ferdinand Marcos first became president in 1965 and was re-elected in 1969. Because the position of the rural population was still dire, a new resistance group was also formed in 1969, the communist New People's Army (NPA). Not much later, a secessionist movement called the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was founded by rebellious Muslims in the south of the Philippines. As a result, and due to the high crime rate, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972. He managed to drastically reduce crime rates, but once again announced reform programs failed to materialize.

Because Marcos took all power, he started to behave like a dictator. Many political opponents were imprisoned, murdered or disappeared without a trace. One was the popular politician Benigno Aquino, who was murdered at the Manila airport on August 21, 1983, after returning from exile in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos took to the streets across the country, indirectly bringing the Marcos rule to an end. His main opponent in the February 25, 1986 presidential election was Benigno Aquino's widow, Corazon ("Cory") Aquino.

The election victory was claimed by both Marcos and Aquino. However, fraud had been committed on a large scale by Marcos, which resulted in spontaneous popular resistance. When Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Army Commander Fidel Ramos also sided with Aquino with some of the armed forces, Marcos was forced to flee abroad (Hawaii).

Period Aquino

Statue president Aquino, PhilippinesStatue president Aquino, PhilippinesPhoto: Ramon FVelasquez CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

For the common man, however, Aquinas' reign did not turn out to be of much benefit. The poorest people remained poor and the land reform proposals fell through after resistance from the large landowners. In addition, right-wing groups tried several times to carry out a coup d'état and left-wing resistance movements were also regularly made known. Negotiations with these groups were unsuccessful.

A new constitution, reverting to the American model, was ratified by referendum in 1987. The 1992 presidential election was won by Fidel Ramos, a nephew of the former dictator. He made a case for fighting corruption, restoring political stability and reducing unemployment. In addition, more foreign investors were attracted and the infrastructure improved. Through all of these measures, there was marked economic growth, temporarily dampened by the 1997 financial crisis in Southeast Asia. In September 1996, peace was signed between Ramos and the separatist Muslim movement MNLF, ending nearly a quarter of a century of fighting on the southern island of Mindanao that killed at least 50,000 people. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continued its fight for an independent fundamentalist Islamic state.

The 1998 presidential election was won by popular vice-president Joseph Ejercito Estrada. Under him, corruption really took off and his plans for constitutional changes faced strong extra-parliamentary opposition, of which the Roman Catholic Church played a major role.

21st century

In 2000, several Islamic armed groups came back into action. On the island of Mindanao, a civil war even broke out between guerrillas of the independent MILF and the Philippine army. In April, several dozen European tourists were held hostage by the splinter group Abu Sayyaf on Jolo Island. Only in September were the European hostages released after payment of a million dollars by Libya.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, PhilippinesGloria Macapagal Arroyo, PhilippinesPhoto: World Economic Forum CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

All this led to major popular uprisings in January 2001 and then to the resignation of Estrada, who was also suspected of corruption. The rebels were again helped by the military and the Roman Catholic Church.

He was succeeded by Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the daughter of former President Macapagal. When Estrada was arrested at the end of April, a popular uprising broke out in Manila and another attack on the presidential palace followed on May 1. A coup seemed imminent and Arroyo proclaimed a "state of rebellion" for several days. The May 14 elections were won by the People's Power Coalition of Arroyo. A truce was signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in October, but a candidate from Arroyo was elected governor.

Abu Sayyaf made his mark again by kidnapping 20 civilians, including three Americans. Several hostages managed to escape and one of the Americans was beheaded. In late December, President Arroyo rejected US military support in the fight against Abu Sayyaf. Washington repeatedly pointed to contacts between Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and Abu Sayyaf.

In 2002 criticism of Arroyo took up. She had championed the fight against corruption, but achieved little success. Her PR advisor even had to resign under suspicious circumstances.

The United States was nevertheless allowed to send troops to the Philippines because of the alleged links of the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf with the al-Qaida terror network. In mid-2002, Abu Sayyaf leader Aldam Tilao was killed.

Skirmishes between the Philippine Armed Forces and the New People's Army (NPA) of the banned Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) intensified over the course of 2002, and in August President Arroyo declared all-out war against the NPA. The Netherlands was indirectly involved in the conflict because party leader Sison stayed in the Netherlands as a political refugee.

Also in 2003, Arroyo failed to solve the social and economic problems. Things continued to be very turbulent in the Philippines, especially in the southern part of the country that was ravaged by the civil war. On July 26 and 27, 2003, 300 soldiers occupied the business center of the capital Manila, after which they called on the population and fellow soldiers to take to the streets en masse and support the insurgency. They protested against corruption within the army and the government's failure to act against it. Because the call was not answered, the rebels surrendered without a fight after 24 hours. On November 8, the air control tower of Manila's international airport was occupied for several hours by two activists fighting against corruption. They were shot in combat.

The struggle between the Philippine armed forces and the NPA, the armed arm of the banned communist party, intensified in the course of 2003. The military declared war on the Islamic resistance movement in Mindanao MILF in February, but talks resumed mid-year, leading to a cumbersome and fragile truce. In December, 'Commander Robot', a notorious leader of the Abu Sayyaf terror group, was captured. In general, however, the fight against terrorism was difficult - despite financial help from the Americans, American military support and the joint US-Philippines military exercises.

In May 2004, Macapagal-Arroyo was re-elected President of the Philippines. The incumbent president won nearly a million more votes than her closest rival, movie star Fernando Poe Jr. Arroyo is repeatedly confronted with corruption scandals and the period 2004-2008 has been unsettled. In the 2007 parliamentary elections, 120 are killed in electoral violence. In June 2009, the military seized a large MILF base in Mindanao. On August 1, 2009, former president Aquino dies. In February and March 2010 there are clashes between Abu Sayyaf's army and rebels. Beningno Qquino III is elected president in June 2010.

Rodrigo Duterte, PhilippinesRodrigo Duterte, PhilippinesPhoto: Keith Kristoffer Bacongco CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

On November 8, 2013, the Philippines was hit by the worst typhoon to hit land worldwide. Haiyan reached wind speeds of more than 300 km per hour and caused immense damage, especially Tacloban, the capital of the island of Leyte, was very badly affected. In Tacloban alone, more than 4,000 people were killed. About 12 million people have been affected by Haiyan, and about 1 million have had to leave their homes. On June 30, 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte, known as a crime fighter against drugs, takes office. He is known for his tough handling, calling for drug dealers to be killed. In September he calls President Obama a whore's son, Obama cancels an appointment with Duterte for that reason. In 2016 and 2017, the fight against Islamic State intensifies, the island of Mindanao is partially occupied and cleared with the help of American commandos. President Duterte's relationship with Donald Trump is much better than with his predecessor Obama. In the years 2019 and 2020, there are tensions with China over territorial waters. The next elections are scheduled for May 2022.


The composition and dispersion

Philippines PopulationPhilippines PopulationPhoto: Pancit Canton Media in the public domain


The Filipinos, who make up 80% of the total population, are mainly descended from Indo-Malays, Chinese and Spaniards. They have entered the archipelago in a few population movements. The most important Filipino groups are the Tagalog (28.1%) and the Cebuana (13.1%).


The archipelago of the Philippines is made up of the negritos, closely related to the Semang of Malaysia and perhaps the dwarf population of the Andaman Islands. In total, the number of purebred negritos is estimated at about 15,000, including several thousand Aëta, a dwarf people who mainly live on the island of Luzon. Other negrito groups are the Atta, Dumagat, Agta and Ati. In the past they were real collectors and hunters, nowadays most live in permanent settlements.

The Muslim Moros make up 5% of the Philippine population and live in Mindanao, the Sulu Islands and Palawan. The largest Muslim group in the Philippines are the Maranao, who live in Mindanao. They live on livestock, agriculture and trade. The residential area of the Maguindanao is located in the valley of the Rio Grande.

The main population group of the Sulu archipelago are the Tausug, who live from agriculture and rice cultivation. They were the first Muslims of the Philippines and mainly live on the island of Jolo. The Samal also live in the Sulu archipelago and most of them live on stilt houses along the coast.

The coastal inhabitants of the island of Basilan are the Yakan, who live from fishing.

A separate group from the Sulu Archipelago are the Bajao Laut or "people of the sea". These sea gypsies generally do not live in dwellings on the mainland, but on houseboats. The initially animistic Bajao hunt in long wooden boats ("lipa") on the Sulfur and the Celebes Sea. More and more Bajao live on the mainland and often convert to Islam.

The Chinese make up 1% of the population, but generally have the Philippine nationality.

Igorot PhilippinesIgorot PhilippinesPhoto: Yves Picq CC 4.0 International no cjhanges made

A number of tribes live in the Central Highlands, collectively known as "Igorot". They are descendants of the Proto-Malays, who long ago immigrated to the Philippines from Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Later they were supplanted by the late Malays. Not so long ago, headhunting was commonplace and blood feuds are still occasionally used. Some of the Igorot tribes are Ifugao (230,000), Bontoc (185,000), Kalinga, Ibaloi, Kankanai, Tinggian and Apayao. These hill tribes have become famous for the construction of wet rice terraces that are between 2000 and 3000 years old.

The mountainous interior of Mindoro is home to a number of proto-Malay tribes, collectively known as the Mangyan. Some of the tribes are the Alangan and the Hanunóo, who live from arable farming, fishing and hunting.

The primeval population of Palawan includes the Batak. This tribe, generally part of the negritos, grows crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes and maize, collects honey and wild fruits, and hunts animals.

Other tribes in Palawan are the Tagbanua, the Calamianon, the Pala'wan and the Jama-Mapun, an Islamic tribe.

Bagobo PhilippinesBagobo PhilippinesPhoto: Constantine Augustin CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Mindanao's originally animistic tribes are increasingly influenced by their Christian and Muslim neighbors. This applies to the Bagobo, the Subanon, the Manobo and the Tiruray. In addition, the T'boli or Tagabili, the Mandaya and the Mansaka live on Mindanao.

In 1971, an unknown small tribe of 26 individuals, the Tasaday, was discovered. They still lived in very primitive circumstances and had never had contact with the outside world. Fifteen years later, it was announced that the whole affair had been staged. At present, scholars are not in agreement as to what the real truth is.


More than half of the Filipino population lives on the island of Luzon, with a concentration in the capital Manila. Manila, together with Quézon City, Pasay and Caloocan, belongs to the National Capital Region (also known as Greater Manila or Metropolitan Manila) with almost 12 million inhabitants. Other large cities are Davoa (1,630,000), Cebu (951,000) and Zamboanga (936,000). (2017)

The differences in population density are large; Only about 40 inhabitants per km2 live on the island of Palawan, on the island of Cebu an average of 500 inhabitants per km2. Government encourages migration from overcrowded Luzon to Mindanao and other sparsely populated islands. Approx. 44% of the population lives in urban areas.

Demographic data

The Philippines had an estimated 104,256,076 residents in 2017. The population density is approximately 310 inhabitants per km2.

The Philippines has a relatively young population; over 33.4% of the population is younger than 15 years old. (2017)

Population growth averages 1.57% per year. (2017)

Average life expectancy at birth is 69.4 years, men 65.9 years and women 73.1 years (2017)

The Philippines has a birth rate of 23.7 per 1,000 residents and a death rate of 4.1 per 1,000 residents. The infant mortality rate is 21.4 children per 1,000 live births. (2017)


Philippines Language MapPhilippines Language MapPhoto: Public domain

Tagalog was declared the national language in 1946. In order not to offend the other population groups too much, the name of the official language was changed to "Pilipino" in 1959 and the vocabulary of some regions was added. From 1973, the Tagalog-based national language was renamed again: "Filipino". Since 1978, Filipino has been compulsory in schools and more than half of the population speaks this language.

English is used as an official second language, especially by the government, in education and as a trade language.

Spanish is only used by a small elite group. A local dialect, Chavacano, laced with Spanish expressions, is only spoken by the inhabitants of Zamboanga on the island of Mindanao.

There are also about 80 indigenous languages and dialects in the Philippines. The original Tagalog and Cebuano are spoken by about a quarter of the population. Other indigenous languages are: Ilocano, Ilongo or Hiligaynon, Bicol and Waray-waray.

Glossary Filipino (Tagalog) and Cebuano and Spanish variant commonly used:

EnglishFilipinoCebuanoSpaanse variant
hundredisáng daánusa kagatossiyento
hellomagandáng tanghalimaayong adlaw
good eveningmagandáng gabimaayong gabii
how much does this cost?Magkano ito?Pila man ni?
I'm from...ako ay taga...ako taga...


Good Friday celebration PhilippinesGood Friday celebration PhilippinesPhoto: Istolethetv CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

That the majority of Filipinos adhere to the Roman Catholic faith is a direct result of Spanish colonial rule and the associated missionary work. In everyday practice it meant interweaving all kinds of aspects of Christianity with animistic traditions and customs.

Approx. 83% of the population is Roman Catholic and the total number of Christians is even 94%. The Philippines distinguishes itself in this respect from all countries in Southeast Asia, because they mainly adhere to religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

In the early 20th century, several other Christian faiths emerged, the most important of which were of Filipino origin.

Iglesia Filipina IndependienteIglesia Filipina IndependientePhoto: KisekiLacroix CC 4.0 International no changes made

In 1902, Gregorio Aglipay founded the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Independent Church of the Philippines) as an offshoot of the official Roman Church. About 4% of the population adheres to this Catholic variant, which is separate from the Vatican, but adheres to the Roman Catholic liturgy. Approx. 1% of the population is a supporter of the Protestant Iglesia ni Kristo, founded in 1914 by Felix Manalo. This religion has been strongly influenced by American Protestantism.

Small groups of Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians settled in the Philippines, particularly from the United States.

Long before Catholicism entered the islands of the Philippines, Islam had already penetrated there. Catholicism has pushed Islam back to the islands of the Sulu Archipelago and parts of Palawan and Mindanao. The Muslim minority in these southern islands amounts to a total of 4.6% of the population.

Filipinos of Chinese descent adhere to Taoism and Buddhism; immigrants from India are a Hindu minority. Traditional animistic customs and practices are still adhered to by a small minority of Filipinos.


State structure

Parliament PhilippinesParliament PhilippinesPhoto: Robert Viñas in the public domain

The 1935 Constitution was amended in 1946 and suspended again in 1972. The current constitution dates from 1987 and is constructed after the American example; the separation of powers is enshrined in this constitution.

The constitution also stipulates that the president, who is elected by direct election, cannot be re-elected after a term of office of six years. The president, who is also head of government and military commander in chief, has no right to send parliament home.

The Congress, the legislative branch, consists of two Houses: a Senate with 24 members with a term of six years (half is elected every three years), and a House of Representatives of which 204 members are elected by direct elections and 50 members, representing social groups are appointed.

The president appoints members of the cabinet, who are not allowed to be members of Congress. For the current political situation see chapter history.

Administrative division

Administrative division of the PhilippinesAdministrative division of the PhilippinesPhoto: Josh Lim CC 4.0 International no changes made

The country is administratively divided into 79 provinces, headed by a directly elected governor. There is also a National Capital Region (Manila) and a Cordilleras Autonomous Region, an autonomous region for the Muslims of Mindanao. There are also some cities that are administratively outside the provinces and are called 'highly urbanized cities'.

Finally, there are a number of 'chartered cities', which fall directly under the authority of the central government.

There are approximately 1,500 municipalities, which in turn consist of more than 40,000 villages or "barangays".



University of the PhilippinesUniversity of the PhilippinesPhoto: Patrick Roque CC 4.0 International no changes made

For children between the ages of seven and twelve, education is compulsory, but free. While some families send their children to private schools, most children attend public schools. The Philippine education system is very similar to the American system, only it starts in June and ends in March.

Schools generally teach in English, although Filipino and local dialects, especially in the lower classes, are also used. Approx. 90% of adults can read and write.

In the mid-1990s, more than eleven million children were in primary schools and approximately five million children in secondary education. Nearly two million students populated the universities and colleges. The oldest university is in Cebu City; the University of San Carlos from 1595.

The largest Muslim group in the Philippines are the Maranao, who mainly live in Mindanao. The city of Marawi is home to the Islamic Mindanao State University, founded by wealthy Muslims.

Dumaguete, provincial capital of Negros Oriental, is home to Silliman University, the only Protestant university in the Philippines.



Philippines Manila Business DistrictPhilippines Manila Business DistrictPhoto: Themanilaxperience CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Philippines has an economy in which the free market plays an important role, and in which the agricultural sector is still very important. With a GDP of $ 8,400 (2013) per capita, the country is one of the poorer countries in the world.

The Philippine economy has always been very sensitive to crises and the associated high dependence on foreign countries. More and more foreign investors are appearing in the Philippines, on the one hand due to the cheap labor force and on the other due to the lack of restrictions on the policies of multinational corporations.

The total workforce amounts to 42.8 million people. Most of the workforce works the service sector (especially tourism) followed by the agricultural sector and industry. The export of labor to Arab countries, among others, is one of the most important sources of income. The number of Filipinos working abroad, mostly on a contract basis, is in the millions.

The Philippines is a country with a lot of hidden unemployment, especially outside the big cities. Moreover, a large part of the working population does not always have a job. The official unemployment rate was 5.7% in 2017. The informal sector is still very important in the Philippines, especially in the cities. This sector is made up of companies with fewer than five employees and is even included in official statistics. It is estimated that there are twice as many people employed than in the formal sector.

In the period 1999-2003, an average growth of 4 percent was achieved, while growth has been around 7% in recent years (2017). Foreign debt is relatively high. Due to the many natural resources, the Philippines has a varied economic structure. In recent years, the contribution of industry to GDP has been about 30.6%, that of agriculture, fisheries and forestry about 9.6%, and that of the tertiary sector about 59.8%. (2017)

Agriculture, forestry and fishing

The total agricultural sector is still of great importance to the Philippine economy, both for GDP and for employment. It is estimated that around 25% of the labor force still works in the sector. Almost half of the total soil surface consists of cultivated land and an equal part is covered with forest. The total agricultural area is currently about 12 million hectares, of which about half is on the southern island of Mindanao. For this purpose, a large part of the forests on Mindanao was cleared.

Rice paddy PhilippinesRice paddy PhilippinesPhoto: Judgefloro CC 4.0 International no changes made

It is not easy for the agricultural sector. Productivity is too low due to, among other things, too small farms, the problem of large land ownership and outdated agricultural methods. For example, the so-called "caingin" or the ladang method is still used.

Important agricultural products are the food crops rice, pineapple, coconuts and corn. Sugar cane, abaca (Manila hemp) and tobacco are also grown. After the introduction of new rice varieties, the Philippines actually became rice exporters and the focus is on both dry and wet rice cultivation, which largely takes place in the central part of Luzon. Filipino farmers often have to make way for huge sugarcane, banana, pineapple and coconut plantations (especially in Mindanao) owned by foreign companies. The related canning industry is also often in the hands of foreigners. Almost a third of the population depends on the coconut harvest. Sugar cane production has declined sharply in recent years due to low world market prices. Pineapples and bananas, mainly grown in Mindanao, are the main export products for the agricultural sector.

More than 10 million pigs and 100 million chickens provide enough chicken and pork for its own population; dairy products and beef are widely imported.

Fishing Port Santos PhilippinesFishing Port Santos PhilippinesPhoto: Jakemonte80 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Philippine fishing industry, which employs more than one million people, is becoming increasingly important economically. Nevertheless, there are still a number of problems: the often small companies usually do not have modern cooling and freezing installations and the port facilities could also be much better. Then the danger of overfishing is also real and the coral reef around the Philippine islands will be damaged.

The Philippines was once one of the largest lumber producers in the world. However, the amount of forests has decreased sharply in recent decades, so that the significance for the economy is not that much anymore. Export revenues are now only a few tens of millions of dollars.

Exploitation of natural forests is being slowed down and since 1991 there has been a ban on logging in the jungles. There is now more attention for reforestation, but due to, among other things, the black trade, more forests are still disappearing than are being planted.

Mining and Industry

Mining is becoming increasingly important due to investments, especially by the Americans. The main minerals are copper (more than 75% of the total mining production), gold, nickel, chromium and silver. Cobalt, lead, manganese, zinc, limestone and iron have been found in somewhat smaller quantities, but are still exploitable. Most of the mining products are exported to Japan and the United States.

Sugar industry PhilippinesSugar industry PhilippinesPhoto: Markadan CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The industry is still of limited importance and can mainly be found around the capital Manila and the surrounding area. The food industry and the manufacture of consumables from imported semi-finished products are particularly important: sugar and tobacco processing factories, rice husks, oil presses, cement and wood industry.

Most companies are wholly or partly owned by foreign companies that pay little or no tax and therefore contribute little to the prosperity of the country.


Export PhilippinesExport PhilippinesPhoto: R. Haussmann, Cesar Hidalgo, CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The trade balance is negative. In recent years, imports have increased again, causing the trade deficit to rise.

More than half of exports consist of electronics products, while exports of primary products such as wood, copra and sugar are becoming less and less important. The Philippines' main export partners were in the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, China and the Netherlands. Exports to the Netherlands mainly concern office and automation equipment and semiconductors. In addition, part of the Philippine exports is transported via the port of Rotterdam to other export destinations.

Imports mainly consist of transport and food, capital goods and oil. The Philippines imports very little from the Netherlands.


Rail transport is not much. There is a north-south line on Luzon (San Fernando-Manila-Legaspi) and some lines on Panay and Cebu. Less than 500 km of the 897 km single track is actually used. The Manila metro network carries a lot of passengers.

The road network is closest to Luzon and often of poor quality due to overdue maintenance. For example, only about a fifth of the more than 200,000 km of roads are paved. Due to the many waterways on the islands, almost 12,000 bridges have been included in the road network. Approx. 80% of passenger transport and 60% of freight transport takes place over land.

Manila International Arport PhilippinesManila International Arport PhilippinesPhoto: Carabaopower at English Wikipedia Cc3.0 Unported no changes made

There are three airlines, of which Philippine Air Lines (PAL) is the largest. Manila International Airport is the main airport, along with the international airports of Cebu and General Santos.

There are a large number of domestic air connections with a rapidly increasing number of passengers.

Sea transport is just as important to the Philippines as road freight transport. Approx. 40% of domestic freight and 10% of passenger transport takes place via water.

In total there are about 1500 ports, the largest six of which account for more than 80% of all port traffic; these are Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, Cayagan de Oro, Zamboanga and Davao.

Holidays and Sightseeing

Tourist hotspot PhilippinesTourist hotspot PhilippinesPhoto: EdseastresD600 CC 4.0 International no changes made

The income from tourism is becoming increasingly important to the Philippines, while employment is also benefiting significantly. The Philippines is visited by approximately 2 million tourists every year.

Most tourists come from the United States, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and China. The security situation in the south of the country is causing a slight drop in the number of tourists. However, there is still plenty of potential available because the country's tourist opportunities are hardly developed. It is also important that the current faulty infrastructure is improved.

Manila PhilippinesManila PhilippinesPhoto: Lawrence Ruiz CC 4.0 International no changes made

Manila is the capital of the Philippines. Manila is a scenic city with many notable attractions, such as Rizal Park and the historic Intramuros. Rizal Park is a large park of 140 hectares. It was created in memory of the country's national hero Jose Rizal. Attractions in Rizal Park include the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the National Museum of the Philippines, the National Library of the Philippines, the Planetarium, and the Orchid and Butterfly Gardens. Manila has a number of remarkable museums. The Bahay Tsinoy is one of Manila's most distinguished museums and is mainly dedicated to the Chinese and their contribution to the history of the city and the entire country. The Intramuros Light and Sound Museum is also very attractive. The Manila Municipal Museum showcases Filipino art and culture. The Manila Ocean Park, with a wide variety of marine life, is particularly attractive. Read more on the Manilla page of Landenweb.

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Het Spectrum

Lonely Planet

Poppe, D. / Reishandboek Filippijnen

Rodell, P.A. / Culture and customs of the Philippines
Greenwood Press

Wee, J. / Philippines
Chelsea House

CIA - World Factbook

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Last updated December 2021
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