Republic of the Philippines (in Filipino, Republika ng Pilipinas), island republic in the western Pacific Ocean, within the Malay Archipelago, an island grouping that extends southward to include Indonesia and Malaysia. The Philippines comprises more than 7,100 islands, but the 11 largest islands form most of the country’s land area. The mountainous terrain includes many active volcanoes. The location of the Philippines just north of the equator gives the country a moderate tropical climate suited for the cultivation of export crops such as coconuts and pineapples. Agriculture has long formed the backbone of the economy. After World War II (1939-1945) the Philippines was one of the first nations of Southeast Asia to try to industrialize its economy. It subsequently lagged behind most of its Asian neighbors in economic development. Manila, located on east central Luzon Island, is the national capital and largest city. The republic’s cultural institutions, industries, and federal government are concentrated in this rapidly growing metropolitan area.
The people of the Philippines are called Filipinos. Most Filipinos are of Malay descent. Filipinos of mixed descent (through various combinations of Malay, Chinese, and Spanish intermarriage) have traditionally formed the country’s elite in business and politics. Nearly 83 million people live in the Philippines. The republic has one of the highest population-growth rates in the world. About 40 percent of the population lives in poverty while a wealthy minority holds most political power. The official languages are English and Filipino (formerly spelled Pilipino), which is based on the indigenous Tagalog language. More than 80 other indigenous languages and dialects are also spoken, and the people of the Philippines are divided into regional ethnolinguistic groups. The Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in Asia, a result of its colonization by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. Muslims, often called Moros, live predominantly in the southern islands and form a small but significant religious minority.
The first Spanish settlement was established in the Philippines in 1565, marking the onset of Spanish colonial rule. The Spanish-American War ended in 1898 with the transfer of the Philippines to United States control. In 1946, after more than 300 years under foreign rule, the Philippines became an independent democratic republic. In 1972 Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law, suspending democratic institutions and restricting civil rights. A four-day protest in Manila known as the People Power Movement toppled the Marcos regime in 1986, and a new constitution based on democratic principles was ratified the following year. The Philippines today is forging its place among the newly industrialized nations of Asia and seeking greater integration in the region, while its colonial past means it continues to have many cultural affinities with the West.