The Philippines: Facts and History


Barry Garron / Getty Images

The Republic of the Philippines is a sprawling archipelago set in the western Pacific Ocean.

The Philippines is an incredibly diverse nation in terms of language, religion, ethnicity and also geography. Ethnic and religious fault-lines that run through the country continue to produce a state of constant, low-level civil war between north and south.

Beautiful and fractious, the Philippines is one of the most interesting countries in Asia.

Capital and Major Cities

Manila is the capital with a population of 1.78 million (12.8 for metro area). Other major cities include:

  • Quezon City (within Metro Manila), population 2.9 million
  • Caloocan (within Metro Manila), population 1.6 million
  • Davao City, population 1.6 million
  • Cebu City, population 922,000
  • Zamboanga City, population 860,000


The Philippines has an American-style democracy, headed by a president who is both head of state and head of government. The president is limited to one 6-year term in office.

A bicameral legislature made up of an upper house, the Senate, and a lower house, the House of Representatives, make laws. Senators serve for six years, representatives for three.

The highest court is the Supreme Court, made up of a Chief Justice and 14 associates.

The current president of the Philippines is Rodrigo Duterte, elected June 30, 2016.


The Philippines has a population of more than 100 million people and with an annual growth rate of around 2 percent, it is one of the most populous and fastest growing countries on Earth.

Ethnically, the Philippines is a melting pot. The original inhabitants, the Negrito, number only about 15,000, consisting of about 25 tribes scattered over the islands. According to the 2000 census which is the latest available containing ethnic information, the majority of Filipinos are from various Malayo-Polynesian groups, including the Tagalog (28 percent), Cebuano (13 percent), Ilocano (9 percent), Hiligaynon Ilonggo (7.5 percent) and others.

Many more recent immigrant groups also live in the country, including Spanish, Chinese, American and Latin American people.


The official languages of the Philippines are Filipino (which is based on Tagalog) and English.

More than 180 different languages and dialects are spoken in the Philippines. Commonly used languages include Tagalog (26 million speakers), Cebuano (21 million), Ilocano (7.8 million), Hiligaynon or Ilonggo (7 million), Waray-Waray (3.1 million), Bicolano (2.5 million), Pampango and Pangasinan (2.4 million).


Due to early colonization by the Spanish, the Philippines is a majority Roman Catholic nation, with 81 percent of the population self-defining as Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center.

Other religions represented include Protestant (10.7 percent), Muslims (5.5 percent), other Christian denominations (4.5 percent). Approximately 1 percent of Filipinos are Hindu and another 1 percent are Buddhist.

The Muslim population lives mostly in the southern provinces of Mindanao, Palawan, and the Sulu Archipelago sometimes called the Moro region. They are predominantly Shafi'i, a sect of Sunni Islam.

Some of the Negrito peoples practice traditional animist religion.


The Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands, totaling about 117,187 square miles. It borders on the South China Sea to the west, the Philippine Sea to the east, and the Celebes Sea to the south.

The country's closest neighbors are the island of Borneo to the southwest, and Taiwan to the north.

The Philippine islands are mountainous and seismically active. Earthquakes are common, and a number of active volcanoes dot the landscape, such as Mt. Pinatubo, the Mayon Volcano, and the Taal Volcano.

The highest point is Mt. Apo, 2,954 meters (9,692 ft.); the lowest point is sea level.


The climate in the Philippines is tropical and monsoonal. The country has an average yearly temperature of 26.5 C (79.7 F); May is the warmest month, while January is the coolest.

The monsoon rains, called habagat, hit from May to October, bringing torrential rain which is abetted by frequent typhoons. An average of 6 or 7 typhoons per year strikes the Philippines.

November to April is the dry season, with December through February also being the coldest part of the year.


Prior to the global economic slowdown of 2008-09, the economy of the Philippines had been growing at an average of 5 percent annually since 2000.

According to the World Bank, the country's GDP in 2008 was $168.6 billion US or $3,400 per capita; in 2017 it had grown to S304.6 billion US, a nominal growth rate of 6.7 percent, but per capita purchasing power has dropped with the population growth to $2,988 US. GDP is predicted to continue on its expansionary path and grow at an annual rate of 6.7 percent in both 2018 and 2019. In 2020, growth is expected to level out at 6.6 percent.

The unemployment rate is 2.78 percent (2017 estimate).

The primary industries in the Philippines are agriculture, wood products, electronics assembly, garment and footwear manufacturing, mining, and fishing. The Philippines also has an active tourism industry and receives remittances from some 10 million overseas Filipino workers.

Electrical power generation from geothermal sources could become important in the future.

History of the Philippines

People first reached the Philippines about 30,000 years ago, when the first people immigrated from Sumatra and Borneo via boats or land-bridges. They were followed by an influx from Malaysia. More recent immigrants include Chinese beginning in the ninth century CE and Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth.

Ferdinand Magellan claimed the Philippines for Spain in 1521. During the next 300 years, Spanish Jesuit priests and conquistadors spread Catholicism and Spanish culture across the archipelago, with particular strength on the island of Luzon.

The Spanish Philippines was actually controlled by the government of Spanish North America prior to Mexican independence in 1810.

Throughout the Spanish colonial era, the people of the Philippines staged a number of uprisings. The final, successful revolt began in 1896 and was marred by the executions of Filipino national hero Jose Rizal (by the Spanish) and Andres Bonifacio (by rival Emilio Aguinaldo). The Philippines declared its independence from Spain on June 12, 1898.

However, the Filipino rebels did not defeat Spain unaided; the United States fleet under Admiral George Dewey actually had destroyed Spanish naval power in the area in the May 1 battle of Manila Bay.

Philippine-American War

Rather than granting the archipelago independence, the defeated Spanish ceded the country to the United States in the December 10, 1898, Treaty of Paris.

Revolutionary hero General Emilio Aguinaldo led the rebellion against American rule that broke out the following year. The Philippine-American War lasted three years and killed tens of thousands of Filipinos and about 4,000 Americans. On July 4, 1902, the two sides agreed to an armistice. The US government emphasized that it did not seek permanent colonial control over the Philippines, and set about instituting governmental and educational reform.

Throughout the early 20th century, Filipinos took increasing amounts of control over the governance of the country. In 1935, the Philippines was established as a self-governing commonwealth, with Manuel Quezon as its first president. The nation was slated to become fully independent in 1945, but World War II interrupted that plan.

Japan invaded the Philippines, leading to the deaths of over a million Filipinos. The US under General Douglas MacArthur was driven out in 1942 but retook the islands in 1945.

Republic of the Philippines

On July 4, 1946, the Republic of the Philippines was established. The early governments struggled to repair the damage caused by World War II.

From 1965 to 1986, Ferdinand Marcos ran the country as a fiefdom. He was forced out in favor of Corazon Aquino, the widow of Ninoy Aquino, in 1986. Aquino left office in 1992, and later presidents are Fidel V. Ramos (president from 1992–1998), Joseph Ejercito Estrada (1998–2001), Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001–2010), and Benigno S. Aquino III (2010–2016). The current president, Rodrigo Duterte, was elected in 2016.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Szczepanski, Kallie. "The Philippines: Facts and History." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Szczepanski, Kallie. (2023, April 5). The Philippines: Facts and History. Retrieved from Szczepanski, Kallie. "The Philippines: Facts and History." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).