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October 2010



The Philippines, an archipelago, made up of 7,107 islands, between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, east of Vietnam occupies an area slightly larger than the U.S. state of Arizona.

The mostly mountainous, tropical island country holds natural resources of timber, petroleum, nickel, cobalt, silver, gold, salt, and copper and has an estimated population of more than 89,000,000 (July 2006). Natural hazards are uncontrolled deforestation in watershed areas, soil erosion, air and water pollution in major urban centers, coral reef degradation, and increasing pollution of coastal mangrove swamps that are important fish breeding grounds.

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 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 has a tropical marine climate dominated by a rainy season and a dry season. The summer monsoon brings heavy rains to most of the archipelago from May to October, whereas the winter monsoon brings cooler and drier air from December to February. Manila and most of the lowland areas are hot and dusty from March to May. Monsoon rains, although hard and drenching, are not normally associated with high winds and waves. But the Philippines does sit astride the typhoon belt, and it suffers an annual onslaught of dangerous tropical storms from July through October. These are especially hazardous for northern and eastern Luzon and the Bicol and Eastern Visayas regions, but Manila gets devastated periodically as well.

CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Department Background Notes, LC Country Studies, 09/2010; 04/2010; 07/2010

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