new internationalist
issue 244 - June 1993

Country profile: Philippines

Where are the Philippines? A tropical archipelago of over 7,000 islands, the Philippines is gradually re-establishing its own national identity as its colonial rulers fade into the pages of history. The presence of the US military ceased in 1992 with the closure of Subic naval base, ending almost a century of direct involvement in the political and social life of the Philippines.

Spain ruled the Philippines from the mid-nineteenth century until defeated in a bloody rebellion in 1898. However, the Philippines quickly fell prey to another colonizing power - the United States. Full independence was achieved in 1946 (after Japanese control during World War Two) but the US still regarded the South-East Asian nation as its 'little brown brother' and influenced it heavily.

Moving away from a culture of dependence on a colonial power and struggling through the teething period of an infant democracy restored after two decades of authoritarian rule under Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines is, not surprisingly, suffering from a stagnant economy, high inflation and an almost zero growth rate.

President Corazon Aquino, the wife of an opposition senator assassinated in 1983, was catapulted to power in a revolution in 1986. During her six-year term seven coup attempts disrupted her administration's noble though often weak and misguided efforts to right the wrongs of the Marcos dictatorship.

When she was replaced by President Fidel Ramos in a democratic election in May 1992 Aquino was considered to have failed on many fronts, particularly land reform and improving the lot of the poor who remained in the stranglehold of poverty whilst an élite minority grew richer.

Regular and devastating natural disasters such as volcanoes, tidal waves and earthquakes have contributed to the slow development of the Philippines, which lies on the so-called 'ring of fire' and has 21 active volcanoes. Environmental degradation including soil erosion and deforestation contributes to the severity of natural disasters. In late 1991 a flood in a deforested area caused by a tropical storm swept away a whole town leaving 8,000 dead.

The fast-growing population makes demands on the country's economy and environment but with its predominantly Catholic slant, the Philippines remains reluctant to promote contraception.

To boost its wealth the Philippines is trying to develop its tourism industry. Its tropical beaches and linguistic and cultural accessibility to Westerners make it an increasingly popular destination. Another major foreign-exchange earner is remittances from migrant female labour - estimated at 175,000 in 1988 with some 81,000 working as domestics. They were sending home between $60-$100 million in foreign exchange each year, outstripping the income from either sugar or minerals.

Belinda Rhodes


LEADER: President Fidel Ramos

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $710 (US $21,790)
Main exports: Semiconductors, garments, coconut oil, copper, shellfish, bananas, sugar, iron and gold.
Main imports: mineral fuels, electrical and transport equipment, cereals, textile yarns and chemicals.

PEOPLE: 62.4 million

HEALTH: Infant mortality 43 per 1,000 live births (US 9 per 1,000)

CULTURE: Filipinos are of Malay, Chinese and Spanish descent.
Religion: Around 85 per cent Catholic; Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayan) 5 per cent, Muslim 5 per cent, Protestant 3 per cent, with animism among indigenous groups.
Languages: Main official language is Tagalog (the most widespread of the Filipino dialects). English is the second official language.

Last profiled in October 1981



Income distribution

INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
The 100 or so 'elite' families own most land, and dominate the economy and politics.

1981 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]


LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
88 per cent, but many struggle with two official languages.

1981 [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]


SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Culture of dependency changing gradually as US cuts loans and military presence.

1981 [image, unknown]


FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Improvements under Aquino but still hundreds of detainees; military accused of political killings. Full press freedom.

1981 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

Position of women

POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Some women in politics but most kept from working by social pressure to bear children: Catholic church strongly against contraception.

1981 [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

Life expectancy

LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
64 years - good, despite expensive healthcare (US 76 years).

1981 [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]



Politics now

Politics 1981

Right-leaning democracy.


NI star rating

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