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August 2006



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). 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, Philipino, 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 Philippine Islands are within a typhoon belt and as a result are affected by cyclonic storms, landslides, and tsunamis. The country also deals with earthquakes and active volcanoes. Beautifully symmetrical Mayon volcano, on Luzon Island, rising to 2462 m above the Albay Gulf, is the Philippines' most active volcano. The structurally simple volcano has steep upper slopes averaging 35-40 degrees that are capped by a small summit crater. The historical eruptions of this basaltic-andesitic volcano date back to 1616 and range from strombolian to basaltic plinian, with cyclical activity beginning with basaltic eruptions, followed by longer term andesitic lava flows. Eruptions occur predominately from the central conduit and have also produced lava flows that travel far down the flanks. Pyroclastic flows and mudflows have commonly swept down many of the approximately 40 ravines that radiate from the summit and have often devastated populated lowland areas. Mayon's most violent eruption, in 1814, killed more than 1200 people and devastated several towns. Smithsonian Institution map of Volcanoes of the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

CIA World Factbook, U.S. State Department Background Notes, Smithsonian Institution, 8/2006