More than 7,000 islands make up the Philippines, but the bulk of its fast-growing population lives on just 11 of them.
Much of the country is mountainous and prone to earthquakes and eruptions from around 20 active volcanoes. It is often buffeted by typhoons and other storms.
Two presidents of the Philippines were forced from office by “people power” in the space of 15 years.
In 1986 President Ferdinand Marcos stepped down after mass demonstrations accompanied allegations of electoral manipulation.
In January 2001 President Joseph Estrada relinquished power following months of protests. He was charged with plundering the economy for his own benefit, found guilty of massive corruption and jailed for life in September 2007. He won a presidential pardon.
The church’s influence is strong in Asia’s largest Catholic nation
On the southern island of Mindanao, rebels have been fighting for a separate Islamic state within the mainly-Catholic country. The decades-long conflict has claimed more than 120,000 lives. Sporadic violence has continued despite a 2003 ceasefire and peace talks.
Other Muslim separatists, the Abu Sayyaf group on Jolo, have a history of violence towards hostages, and the government has declared all-out war on the rebels.
Though it once boasted one of the region’s best-performing economies, the Philippines is saddled with a large national debt and tens of millions of people live in poverty. The economy is heavily dependent on the billions of dollars sent home each year by the huge Filipino overseas workforce.
The Philippines has the highest birth rate in Asia, and forecasters say the population could double within three decades.
Governments generally avoid taking strong measures to curb the birth rate, not wishing to antagonise the Catholic Church, which opposes artificial methods of contraception.
The Philippines – a Spanish colony for more than three centuries – is named after a 16th century Spanish king. The territory was administered by the US in the early 20th century. Western and Asian influences have shaped Filipino culture.
- Full name: Republic of the Philippines
- Population: 89.7 million (UN, 2008)
- Capital: Manila
- Area: 300,000 sq km (115,831 sq miles)
- Major languages: Filipino, English (both official)
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 70 years (men), 74 years (women) (UN, 2008)
- Monetary unit: 1 Philippine peso = 100 centavos
- Main exports: Electrical machinery, clothing, food and live animals, chemicals, timber products
- GNI per capita: US $1,620 (World Bank, 2007)
- Internet domain: .ph
- International dialling code: +63
President: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Gloria Arroyo’s efforts to tackle corruption and to focus on economic reform have been undermined by a string of scandals.
President Arroyo: Her first term brought mixed results
The president won a second six-year term in June 2004, defeating her main rival, the film star Fernando Poe Junior.
But a year later her popularity rating had fallen to a record low amid opposition claims that she cheated in the 2004 elections. Opponents also levelled corruption allegations against her husband and other family members.
She apologised to the nation for talking to an election official about her hopes for victory in the run-up to the 2004 poll, but denied any wrongdoing. Two subsequent attempts to impeach her have failed.
Mrs Arroyo faces the challenge of delivering on her promises to create jobs and to improve living standards. Social and economic reforms introduced during her first term did little to ease poverty and the country’s debt burden.
She advocates constitutional reform, proposing to swap the country’s US-style presidential system for a parliamentary government.
She has taken a strong line on law and order and has lifted a moratorium on the death penalty. She has allied herself closely to US President George W Bush’s “war on terror”.
Gloria Arroyo comes from the political elite in the Philippines. She is a trained economist, whose father was president in the early 1960s.
She was elevated from vice president to president in 2001 after protests led to the ousting of her predecessor, Joseph Estrada. In 2003 she survived an attempt by military mutineers to unseat her.
She is keen to emphasise her Christian faith. Observers contrasted her approach with the hard-drinking lifestyle favoured by President Estrada.
Powerful commercial interests control or influence much of the media.
The lively TV scene is dominated by the free-to-air networks ABS-CBN and GMA, which attract the lion’s share of viewing. Some Manila-based networks broadcast in local languages. The country has a well-developed cable TV system.
Films, comedies and entertainment programmes attract the largest audiences. Many TV broadcasters also operate radio networks. There are more than 700 FM and mediumwave (AM) radio stations, most of them commercial.
Press freedom is guaranteed under the 1987 constitution. The private press is vigorous, with tabloid newspapers being prone to sensationalism.
However, violence against media workers is a problem. Reporters Without Borders noted in 2008 that “constant threats and physical attacks make some regions, particularly Mindanao island, dangerous areas”.
By 2007 there were 14 million internet users (ITU).
- Philippine Star – private daily
- The Daily Tribune – private daily
- Philippine Daily Inquirer – private daily
- Malaya – private daily
- Manila Bulletin – mass-circulation daily
- Manila Times – private daily
- Business World – private daily
- ABS-CBN – commercial
- GMA Network – commercial
- IBC (Intercontinental Broadcasting Corp) – government-owned
- ABS-CBN – operates stations nationally
- GMA Network – operates stations nationally
- Manila Broadcasting Company (MBC) – operates stations nationally
- Radio Mindanao Network – operates more than 50 stations nationwide
- Philippine Broadcasting Service (PBS) – government-run, operates 31 stations nationwide with emphasis on news, public affairs
- Philippines News Agency – government-run