The Philippines - A Country Overview

Information on the Philippines; its place geographically,  government, climate, security and foreigners living in the Philippines...


The Philippines is a mountainous archipelago in south-east Asia made up of 7,107 islands. Only around 1,000 of its islands are populated and less than 500 are larger than 2.5 square Km. The country stretches 1,850 Km from the north to the south and is located to the south of China and Taiwan and to the east of Vietnam. Malaysia lies to the south west of the islands and Indonesia to the south.

It is the 73rd largest country in the world with a coastline of over 36,000 Km and a land mass of 300,000 square Km. It has the South China Sea to the west, the Sulu Sea to the south west, the Celebes Sea to the south, the Luzon strait to the north and The Philippine Sea to the east.

The country's terrain is mainly mountainous with extensive lowland areas. It is around 40 percent agricultural land and 26 percent forest.

The country's largest island is Luzon in the north and the next largest is Mindanao in the south. Luzon is home to the overwhelming majority of the country's inhabitants.

The Philippines are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. There is significant volcanic activity across the Philippines with the country home to 25 active volcanoes. The highest point in the country is Mount Apo in Mindanao rising to 2,954 metres above sea level. All the islands are prone to earthquakes.

Politics and Government

The Philippines runs a constitutional republic democracy with a presidential system.

Although ruled as a single country (with the exception of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao), the Philippines are divided into three island groups: Luzon, Las Visayas and Mindanao. These are sub-divided into 18 regions, 81 provinces, 145 cities, 1489 municipalities and 42,029 barangays.

Citizens must be at least 18 years of age to vote. Elections are made directly for the president and the vice-president by a simple majority popular vote for a single six-year term.

The Executive branch includes the President, vice-president and cabinet. The president has the role of chief of state, head of government and commander of the armed forces. The cabinet is appointed by the president with the consent of the Commission of Appointments and an independent body of 25 congressional members. The Executive branch are elected for single six-year terms.

The legislative branch of government includes the Senate (Senado) of 24 seats and the House of Representatives (Kapulungan Ng Mga Kinatawan) of 287 seats. Both houses are directly elected by majority vote and serve 3 year terms.

The Judicial branch of government is based on a mixed system of civil, common, Islamic and customary law.

The highest court is the Supreme Court with subordinate courts covering Appeals, corruption amongst government officials (Sandiganbayan courts), Court of Tax Appeals, regional, metropolitan and municipal trial courts. There are also a number of Sharia courts in the country.

Judicial power is presided over by the Chief Justice and 14 associate Justices. These are appointed by the President from a list of nominations put forward by the Judicial and Bar Council.

The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was first created on 1st August 1989. In 2008 the region was given political and economic powers.


The Philippines is classed as a Newly Industrialised Country with its economic output shifting from the more traditional agriculture towards services and manufacturing.

The Philippines labour force is over 40,000,000 strong and is spread across the service sector (54%), agriculture (30%) and industry (16%). Unemployment is around 7%.

In 2014 the Philippines GDP was around $285 billion, ranking it at 31 among the global economies. However, the GDP per capita is low, at around $7,000 per citizen ranking a lowly 153 in the world. An estimated 25 percent of the population is below the poverty line.

The country has raw materials such as timber, oil, nickel, cobalt, silver, gold, salt and copper. Its main agricultural products are sugar cane, rice, fruit, pork, eggs, beef and fish. Its industry exports apparel, textiles, electronics, pharmaceuticals, food, petrol, machinery and chemicals to major trading partners such as Japan, USA, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The Philippines is ranked at 103 on the Ease of Doing Business rankings from the World Bank Group.


The Philippines has a tropical marine climate which is characterised by high temperatures and high, atmospheric humidity. There are two seasons based on the amount of rainfall: the wet season and dry season. The seasons affect different parts of the country to varying extents.

There are four recognised climates in the Philippines roughly represented as vertical stripes down the length of the country.

  • Type1: Found in north-west and westerly areas. Has two pronounced seasons with it being wet from May to October and dry the rest of the year.
  • Type2: Found down the eastern side of the country. No dry season. Wet all year round with extreme rain from November to April.
  • Type3: Found to the west and centrally. Relatively dry from November to April and wet for the rest of the year.
  • Type4: Found to the east, centrally and the far south west. Rainfall is distributed evenly throughout the year.

Temperatures are stable throughout the year. The warmest months are March to October, while the winter monsoon brings cooler air from November to April. May is the warmest month and January is the coolest.

The country is subject to frequent tropical typhoons from June to November. Most typhoons hit Luzon with an average of 3.7 storms a year.


In recent years there has been an increase in the threat of terrorism and kidnapping in certain areas of the country such as Mindanao. Before traveling it is recommended to consult the appropriate government travel advice. The use of public transport is discouraged in some areas.

Instances of street crime, violent crime and petty crime are a serious concern in the country and criminal gangs are known to operate in city areas.

The Philippines are prone to seismic activity with a number of active volcanoes located across the islands. Up-to-date information about volcanic activity can be found on the website of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

Typhoons are a constant threat in the Philippines. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council provide up to date information and warnings about severe weather conditions.


More people emigrate from the Philippines than migrate to it. There are an estimated 4-5 million Filipino workers overseas. The net migration rate in the country is -2.09 per 1,000 people.

The country is home to a number of domestic ethnic groups. The major ethnic groups are Visayan and Tagalog which make up roughly 60 percent of the population, while minor ethnic groups include Ilocano, Bicolano, Kapampangan, Pangasinan and Zamboangueno. Each group has its own culture and identity.