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June 2008

Philippines, 1990

Philippines, 1990

The Philippines, an archipelago made up of 7,107 islands, occupies an area slightly larger than the U.S. state of Arizona.The total area is about 300,000 sq. km., including about 298,000 sq. km. of land and about 2,000 sq. km. of water. The Philippines stretches about 1,850 km. from Y’Ami Island in the north to Sibutu Island in the south and is about 1,000 km. at its widest point east to west. The Philippines consists of volcanic islands, including active volcanoes, with mostly mountainous interiors surrounded by flat lowlands and alluvial plains of varying widths along the coasts. The elevation ranges from sea level to the highest point of Mount Apo on Mindanao Island, at 2,954 meters above sea level.

The bulk of the population, estimated at more than 92,000,000 (July 2008), lives on 11 of the 7,107 islands. The Philippines have no land boundaries. Nearby neighbors are Taiwan to the north, Malaysia and Indonesia to the south, Vietnam to the west, and China to the northwest. The longest river is the Cagayan (Río Grande de Cagayan) on Luzon, about 350 km. in length. Other principal rivers on Luzon include the Abra, Bicol, Chico, and Pampanga. The Pasig River is only about 25 km. in length but serves as the main waterway, flowing between Laguna de Bay, the largest freshwater lake in the Philippines, through metropolitan Manila to Manila Bay. Principal rivers on Mindanao include the Mindanao River (known as the Pulangi River in its upper reaches), and the Agusan. The St. Paul River on Palawan is an eight km. long underground river.

The mostly mountainous, tropical island country holds natural resources of timber, petroleum, nickel, cobalt, silver, gold, salt, and copper. The Philippine Islands became a Spanish colony during the 16th century, ceded to the U.S. following the Spanish-American War in 1898, and became a self-governing commonwealth in 1935, in preparation for independence. During World War II, the islands fell under Japanese occupation (1942-45); on July 4, 1946, the Philippines attained independence. The Philippine government is comprised of the 24-seat Senado (Senate) and the 212-member Kapulungan Ng Mga Kinatawan (House of Representatives), led by a President elected for a single six-year term.

The majority of Philippine people are Malay, descendants of Indonesians and Malays who migrated to the islands long before the Christian era. The most significant ethnic minority group is the Chinese, who have played an important role in commerce since the ninth century. As a result of intermarriage, many Filipinos have some Chinese and Spanish ancestry. Americans and Spaniards constitute the next largest alien minorities in the country. About 87 native languages and dialects are spoken, all belonging to the Malay-Polynesian linguistic family. Of these, eight are the first languages of more than 85% of the population. The three principal indigenous languages are Cebuano, spoken in the Visayas; Tagalog, predominant in the area around Manila; and Ilocano, spoken in northern Luzon. The official national language, Filipino, based on Tagalog, is taught in all schools and is gaining acceptance, particularly as a second language. The Philippines has one of the highest literacy rates in the East Asian and Pacific area.

The Philippines is prone to natural disasters, particularly typhoons, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis, lying as it does astride the typhoon belt, in the active volcanic region known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire," and in the geologically unstable region between the Pacific and Eurasian tectonic plates. The Philippines experiences 15 to 20 typhoons a year from July through October, of which five or six may cause serious destruction and death. The typhoon Fengshen, having been upgraded from the tropical storm named Frank, made landfall in the Philippines on Saturday, June 21, 2008. The name Fengshen was submitted by the People’s Republic of China and is the Mandarin Chinese name for the God of Wind.

For additional information on the 2008 hurricane season, including tropical storm and typhoon activity, see: NASA's Hurricane Resource Page.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes; LC Federal Research Division; NASA, 2008/08; 2008/04; 2006/03; 2008/06

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