New Internationalist

The Facts

March 1990

new internationalist
issue 205 - March 1990

The Philippines - The FACTS



The Philippines is made up of 7,100 islands of which only 2,773 are named. The largest are Luzon and Mindanao.

Photo: Blair Setiz / Camera Press [image, unknown] Filipinos are predominantly of Malay extraction with strong Chinese and some European influences. Population was 59.5m in 1988 and grew at 2.6% 1980-87. 41% are urban. It is also very young - 41% of Filipinos are under 16.

Adult literacy is 86%1 'There are 70 languages and dialects. English used to be the main language of business but Tagalog, the language of Manila, is increasingly taking over - 92% claim to understand Tagalog and 51% English.²



President: Corazon Aquino*, elected in 1986 for six years, has a cabinet whose leading figures are Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos* and Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus.

Congress: The 200-member House of Representatives is dominated by Aquino followers. The 24-member Senate has more independent voices. Next elections at all levels are due in 1992.

Parties are based on personalities and patronage rather than ideology; voters are often paid. The leading parties are:

LDP: established after EDSA, this is the Government party led by Ramon Mitra* and the President's brother, Peping Cojuanco. It has 90% of the House of Representatives.

Nacionalista: led by Vice-President Salvador Laurel*, this includes Senator Juan Ponce Enrile* who defected from Marcos to Gory in 1986 (he was sacked from her Cabinet and has been implicated in the latest coup attempt).

Liberal: led by Jovito Salonga*. The largest party in the Senate.

*Potential Presidential candidates in 1992



On the right are the Military (see Armed Forces) and the rump of Marcos loyalists - the KBL. On the left are the illegal National Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of the Philippines whose armed wing is the NPA (see Unofficial Armed Groups). The legal left includes everything from trade unions to development organizations and they fall within three groups:

1. the militant National Democrats (who see the problem as 'the US-Aquino regime')

2. the almost-as-militant Socialists (against 'elite democracy')

3. the Social Democrats who place more emphasis on the parliamentary system

Issue-based Coalitions: Extra-parliamentary activity on the left is largely through ad-hoc groupings on issues like foreign debt, the US bases and land reform.



Illustration: Plantu In 1989 up to mid-November there were 1,880 documented cases of arrest and detention considered human-rights violations. 1,442 were released, 368 are still detained, 43 are missing, 15 were salvaged (secretly killed), 12 escaped. There were 312 cases of torture. There were 136 other salvaging victims and 249 cases of assault. In addition 99 people were killed and 44 injured in massacres (indiscriminate assaults on communities.)18



Life expectancy 64 years, infant mortality 4.4 per 1,000 live births (Canada 7). Only half the population have access to safe water1. The major health problem is malnutrition: half of all schoolchildren are undernourished6 and 2 million pre-school children are underweight of whom 1.4 million are severely malnourished.7 Health minister Bengzon is one of the most progressive members of the Government and has infuriated the multinationals with a generic drugs policy. But the health system is underfunded. Only 30% of infants were fully immunized in 1986.8 And of 150,000 registered nurses 90,000 are now working overseas.9



The Gross Domestic Product is dominated by the service industries (40%) and industry (33%). Agriculture (27%), traditionally producing export crops like coconuts and sugar, is now stagnating.3 This is reflected in the table which shows the percentage contribution of major exports.

% of exports












Coconut products




















But the leading export is people. The 3 million Filipinos living abroad repatriate officially and unofficially about $2.5 billion each year (equivalent to one-third of exports).4



[image, unknown]

Paying the $28 billion foreign debt uses up 63% of export earnings. The annual servicing of one project alone, the Westinghouse-built Bataan nuclear power plant (never used because its site is earthquake-prone) is close to the national health budget.



The New Peoples' Army (NPA) is the military wing of the Communist Party. It has 30,000 guerilla fighters (of whom 10,000 have high-powered weapons and 20,000 inferior weapons) and has 63 guerilla fronts in 65 out of 73 provinces.12 The NPA has its own land-reform programme and claims to have confiscated 31,428 hectares.13 Activities are financed by 'revolutionary tax' collections of $7.5m14 per year - the largest 'contribution' ($300,000) comes from the San Miguel Beer Corporation.15

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Muslim separatist guerilla groups based in Mindanao. MNLF claims 23,000 armed men.

Vigilantes: There are at least 200 of these right-wing groups which are officially known as Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs). The largest is the Alsa Masa in Mindanao. They are fanatically anti-communist and many have religious overtones. Not above drinking the blood of their victims.

Private Armies: There are 152 private armed groups maintained by businesspeople, politicians and other interest groups. They total 7,000 people, of whom about 70% have high-powered weapons.16



[image, unknown] Unemployment is officially 11%. Underemployment is 32%. A living wage in Manila would be 185 pesos ($9) per day for a family of four.

But the present minimum wage for workers is 89 pesos10 and average earnings in Manila are 40 pesos per day. Much of this money comes from the underground economy which accounts for 48% of GNP. A local research organization computes what it calls the 'misery index' - a composite of the effects of unemployment, underemployment and inflation. This rose from 48% in 1986 to 54% in 1989.11

Rewards are skewed towards the rich:
Percentage of national income received by 10%
segments of the population.



The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have 350,000 regular soldiers. The military is highly corrupt with fingers in everything from drugs to illegal logging. Mrs Aquino herself has admitted that 'soldiering has been identified with the most sordid activities of the criminal syndicates' and ordered a crackdown.

There are many factions in the military. About 30% support Defense Minister Ramos. Another 10% support RAM - Nationalist Reform Movement led by 'Gringo' Honasan which made the November 1989 coup attempt. They say the Government is corrupt and favour a military junta - though in reality it was probably a more personal bid for power. The Young Officers Movement is smaller and wants to sweep out most of the military old guard. There are many other smaller groups with names like 'El Diablo' and 'Vanguard'.

Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs): 250,000 strong. They are a paid and armed support force for the military which tends to attract local thugs.



A predominantly Catholic country - Cardinal Jaime Sin played a significant role in 1986 revolution - though fundamentalist Protestant groups are growing.

Largest groupings are: Catholic (75%); Muslim (6%) - mostly in Mindanao; Iglesia Ni Kristo (6%) - home-grown right-wing Protestant sect; Aglipayan (6%) - a 50-year-old spin-off from Catholics; Lutherans (2%); United Meth. (2%).17


1 The State of the World's Children 1990, UNICEF.
Time. 21.8.89
IBON Socio-economic indicators, Jan-Sep 1989.
4 Health Alert, March 1989.
IBON Facts and Figures 15 Sep 1989.
Department of Education Culture and Sports, quoted in Manila Bulletin, 28.10.89.
Daily Globe, 29.10.89.
Sunday Inquirer Magazine, 29.10.89.
Health Alert. March 1989.
Health Alert. February 1989.
IBON Facts and Figures. 15 Feb 1989.
Ang Bayen. March 1989.
Manila Chronicle. 2.12.88.
Business Week. 31.08.88.
Midweek. 11.10.89.
Manila Chronicle. Sep 1989.
Communications for Community, (People's Communication inc. 1989).
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, November 1989.

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This feature was published in the March 1990 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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