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LOCATION: Philippines
POPULATION: 93 million
LANGUAGE: Tagalog (national language); Cebuano; Ilocano; Hiligaynon (Ilongo); Bicolano;Waray-Waray; Pampango, and Pangasinan
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism (85%); Philippine Independent Church; Iglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ); Protestantism; Islam; animism
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 2: Filipino Americans. Vol. 3: Bajau; Hiligaynon; Ifugao; Ilocano; Ilongot; Kalinga; Vol. 4: Mangyan; Maranao; Negrito; Tagbanua; Tausug; T'boli.


Distributed among thousands of islands, themselves divided by barriers of mountain and jungle, the territory of the Philippines by its very nature has encouraged the proliferation of distinct local cultures. However, three centuries of Spanish colonialism provided most Filipinos with a single framework within which to develop a common, eventually national, culture. Despite speaking several mutually unintelligible mother tongues, the 90% of the population classified as "lowland Christian" share essentially the same civilization. The remaining 10% consist of numerous non-Christian peoples, who differ greatly from the Christian majority as well as among themselves.

As early as 40,000 years ago, the first modern humans, Australo-Melanesian hunter-gatherers ancestral to the modern Negritos, roamed the Philippines, which was at that time virtually linked to Asia by land bridges exposed during the Ice Age. The ancestors of most Filipinos, however, were groups of Austronesian-speaking, Southern Mongoloid agriculturalists who arrived from Taiwan beginning between 3000 and 2000 BC (some of their descendants would migrate further to colonize Indonesia, Madagascar, and the Pacific Islands).

With the opening of a direct passage between China and the Spice Islands through the Philippines in the early 2nd millennium AD, small trading-and-raiding chiefdoms begin to appear in Chinese records. By the 15th century, items of the wider Asiatic civilization, such as Chinese porcelain, the Malay lingua franca, and the Islamic religion, had reached the archipelago. The first natives of the Philippines to be found in European documents are the Luzones (Tagalogs affiliated with the north Bornean kingdom of Brunei) whom Tomé Pires, a Portuguese, described in 1512 as settling in the Malay city-state of Malacca at the crossroads of international trade.

Looking on the archipelago as a base from which to capture the Spice Islands and to evangelize China, Spain sent several expeditions to follow up on Ferdinand Magellan's 1521 "discovery" of the islands (which eventually received the name "Filipinas" after the Habsburg Philip II). Only in 1571 did Miguel López de Legaspi succeed in establishing a viable colony at Manila. Aside from the lucrative galleon trade between China and Spanish Mexico that ran through Manila, there was little to attract Spanish settlers with the exception of Catholic missionary orders, whose friars became the only representatives of the colonial power that most natives ever regularly encountered. The Spanish not only imposed the Catholic religion, but also introduced forms of political and economic organization, as well as arts and technologies, which transformed native life both for good and for ill. Colonial annals record frequent local revolts against Spanish abuses, but on numerous occasions Catholic Filipinos stood with the Spanish against invaders and their own rebellious brethren.

The opening of the colony to non-Spanish commerce and capital in the 19th century promoted the growth of an economy heavily dependent on plantation-grown cash crops, and the rise of landed elite of largely mixed European-Chinese-native blood. While economic changes exposed most natives to novel forms of exploitation, an unprecedented affluence permitted some Filipino families to send their sons to Europe for an education. The native intelligentsia that was thus created, the ilustrados (literally, the "enlightened ones"), at first hoped only to gain for Filipinos equal rights as Spanish citizens but, facing no Spanish response other than repression, began to long for independence.

In 1896, secular ilustrado ideals and folk Catholic notions of justice impelled the Katipunan, a Manilan secret society, to launch a revolution to end Spanish rule. The leadership of the struggle soon shifted to the provincial Filipino elite who were able to raise impromptu militias. Although on 12 June 1898 Filipinos proclaimed their independence, the United States, which had initially collaborated with the Filipinos in defeating the Spanish, moved to take possession of the islands for their strategic value. The ensuing war, which eventually established American dominance, dragged on for years, and caused directly or indirectly the death of a million Filipinos.

American rule introduced mass education in the English language and improvements in public health and communications. Although the United States early on decided to prepare the Filipinos for eventual self-rule, it sought to retain ultimate control by favoring the landed elite whose interests would be bound to its own. Because of this, American-introduced democratic institutions became little more than arenas for competition among powerful families, while the welfare of the laboring masses continued to decline.

Japanese invasion and occupation and American liberation during World War II devastated the country to which the United States was to grant independence in 1946. Desperate for U.S. reconstruction funds, Filipino leaders submitted to treaties that gave Americans privileged access to the Filipino economy, as well as to lands for military bases. Cold War-era American pressure on the Filipino government to exclude leftist parties from legitimate political participation left disaffected peasants no other recourse but armed rebellion. Elite resistance to land reform perpetuated conditions hospitable to Communist insurgency. It was ostensibly to overcome Communist and Muslim rebellions, the breakdown of law and order, and an economic crisis that President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. Marcos, however, accomplished little more than exchanging the old oligarchs for his own cronies, whose corruption and incompetence plunged the economy into a tailspin by the 1980s.

Finally, during snap elections in 1986, masses of unarmed ordinary people mobilized first to thwart government attempts at electoral fraud and then to block government troops from capturing Corazon Aquino, the genuine president-elect, and the generals who had defected to her. In the end, this peaceful revolution, the first to be internationally televised, left Marcos no other option than to flee in an American helicopter to Hawaii. Aquino restored democracy but, belonging to one of the country's biggest land-owning families, restored the pre-1972 oligarchy to power. A series of army coups and natural disasters destabilized her regime and retarded economic recovery. However, with the election of Fidel Ramos in 1992, the country at last began to enjoy stability and embark on a consistent rate of economic growth closer to those set by the Philippine's Asian neighbors.

The Asian/global emerging markets financial crisis of 1997– 1998 affected the Philippines less traumatically than neighboring countries like Thailand and Indonesia; growth slowed to a minimal contraction but resumed by 1999 despite the instability under the presidency of former actor Joseph Estrada, who was later impeached on corruption charges in 2001. His successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has pursued policies that have made the Philippines one of the fastest growing countries in Southeast Asia, as reflected in the blossoming of Manila's skyline and Cebu's malls, though this has yet to translate into substantial alleviation of poverty, as seen in the continuing growth of slums. Many problems persist from earlier decades, including not only communist and Muslim separatist insurgencies but also massive corruption.


The 7,000 islands (1,000 inhabited) of the Philippines comprise a land area equal to that of Italy and a little larger than that of Arizona. If superimposed on the eastern United States, they would stretch east to west from New York City to Chicago and north to south from Massachusetts to Florida. There are 11 major islands: Luzon (more than one-third of the total land area); Mindoro; Palawan; Masbate; Panay; Negros; Cebu; Bohol; Leyte; Samar; and Mindanao (another one-third of the land area).

Mountains separated by narrow valleys dominate the topography on all islands, although Luzon, Panay, and Mindanao have wider interior plains. The source of the fertility of much of the country's soils, the archipelago's volcanoes form a link in the circum-Pacific "Ring of Fire." Throughout the country, deforestation has reduced the once-thick rainforest cover, replacing it with cogon grass; in turn, this has encouraged erosion that ultimately silts up coastal waters and chokes coral reefs, already damaged by dynamite fishing and other harmful practices.

The tropical climate is dominated by the monsoon cycle: (1) from June to October the southwest monsoon carries torrential rains to most of the country; (2) from November through February the northeast monsoon brings warm, dry weather; and (3) from March to May easterly North Pacific trade winds afflict the islands with a period of extreme heat and drought. From 20 to 30 typhoons wreak havoc on sections of the country every year.

Though estimates vary rather widely, in 2008, over 90 million people inhabited the Philippines, making it the 12th most populous country on earth (after Mexico and before Vietnam); this represents a more than thirteen-fold increase since the beginning of the 20th century. Population density stands at a high of 320 persons per sq km. More than one in three of Filipinos (36.2% to be exact) are under the age of 14, constituting a heavy burden on the employed portion of the population and demanding in future years a continual expansion of education and labor opportunities; only 3.8% are 65 years or older (2005). The annual growth rate declined to 1.8% in 2005 from 2.3– 2.4% in 1990, 2.6–2.75 in 1980, and 3.08 in 1970; in the period 2000–2005, 3.5 children were born for every woman of child-bearing age, down from 6.0 in 1970–1975. However, because of the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church to birth control and to inconsistent government support for family planning, reductions in the population growth rate have not been as dramatic as in the neighboring countries of Thailand and Indonesia.

Between the 1950s and early 1980s, the ratio of land per agricultural worker fell by half, from 1.0 hectare (2.47 acres) per worker to 0.5 hectares (1.24 acres), meaning that even vigorously pursued land reform could not provide each farmer with sufficient land. Land scarcity has forced people to move from more- to less-densely populated regions. More significantly, Filipino cities are growing rapidly, receiving a continual in-flux of migrants from the countryside: in 2005, 62.7% of the population was urban, compared to 48.6% in 1990 and 31.8% in 1990. Migration within the country has in a sense spilled over the borders, creating one of the great diasporas in modern history. In 2004, 8.1 million Filipinos were estimated to be working temporarily or residing permanently abroad, in countries as diverse as the Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Italy, and the United States.


Some 70 languages are spoken as mother tongues in the Philippines, virtually all belonging to three branches (Northern, Central, and Southern Philippine) of the Austronesian family, which includes the languages of Indonesia, Madagascar, Oceania, and aboriginal Taiwan. The eight languages with the greatest number of speakers are:

Tagalog, the basis of Pilipino/Filipino, the national language, spoken natively by 28% of the total Filipino population (2000 census), concentrated in Manila and the immediately contiguous provinces and extending to coastal settlements on Mindoro and Palawan;

Cebuano , whose native speakers include 21% of the population inhabiting the islands of Cebu, Bohol, southern Leyte, eastern Negros, and the northern and eastern coasts of Mindanao (speakers of the language not from Cebu or eastern Negros prefer to refer to their dialects as "Bisaya" or "Binisaya");

Ilocano, whose speakers (approximately 9% of the population) originated along a narrow coastal strip of northwestern Luzon, but who can now be found throughout northern Luzon;

Hiligaynon (or Ilongo), natively spoken (7.6% of the population) on Panay, western Negros, and southern Mindoro;

Bicolano, whose speakers (almost 6% of the population) inhabit the long southeastern "tail" of Luzon;

Waray-Warray, spoken (nearly 3.4%) on the island of Samar and on northern Leyte; and

Pampango and Pangasinan, whose speakers live respectively at the southern and northern ends the Luzon's Central Plain.

Along with a number of smaller language groups, these eight ethnolinguistic groups constitute the "lowland Christian" majority of the country. Outside this lowland Christian majority there is a great diversity of non-Christian ethnolinguistic groups, constituting fewer than 10% of the population and falling into four broad categories:

Muslim peoples of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, and Palawan—Maranao, Maguindanao, Tausug (each over 500,000 people), Samal (272,000), Yakan, Bajau, and others.

Animist highlanders of Mindanao, Palawan, and Mindoro—Mangyan (on Mindoro), Tagbanua and Palawan (on Palawan), Subanon, Bukidnon, Bagobo, Manobo, T'boli, and others (on Mindanao).

Animist highlanders of northern Luzon—Ifugao, Bontoc, Ibaloi, Kalinga, Isneg, Ilongot, and others.

Negritos—dark-complexioned, hunter-gatherers of extremely short stature, known to have lived in uplands throughout the archipelago but now confined to the northern Luzon highlands.

Among groups that have settled in the Philippines in historical times, the numerically most significant are the Chinese (mostly speakers of Hokkien), now numbering around 2.2 million people, or over 2% of the population.

As the Spanish friars who administered most of the country chose to learn the local languages, only a small fraction of the population speak Spanish (Castilian), although numerous Castilian words became part of the native languages. Filipinos refer to Spaniards as "Kastila." In some parts of the Philippines, a creolized form of Spanish, called Chabacano, is spoken as a mother tongue, with the most important concentration of speakers, 600,000, in Zamboanga on the former Spanish frontier on Mindanao.

After conquering the country, the Americans replaced Spanish with English as the language of government and education. In 1937, the Commonwealth government decided to promote the use of Tagalog, the most prestigious of the indigenous languages, as the national language, now called "Filipino/Pilipino," though not without continuing resistance from non-Tagalogs, particularly Cebuanos. Taught in schools and heard in pop music, television programs, and movies, Tagalog-Pilipino has rapidly gained currency throughout the country, although people continue to use their local languages for most everyday purposes. Although competence in English seems to be declining (46.98% of the population, down from 63.71% in 2000), a mastery of English remains the key to professional, academic, government, and business careers. In the media, English-language publications and programming continue to command an audience; the Philippines, by one estimate is the country with the largest number of speakers of English as an additional language, ahead of more populous Nigeria and Pakistan. It has often been remarked that the true national language is "Taglish," a free mixture of the two languages.

Among Christians, names of Spanish origin predominate, although names from indigenous languages are common enough. While Catholicism requires Spanish baptismal names, a 19th-century Spanish decree directed Filipinos to choose Spanish surnames for taxation purposes (inhabitants of the same locality had to select surnames beginning with the same letter). Filipinos generally have three names in the following order: (1) one's personal name, (2) one's mother's surname (usually appearing only as an initial), and (3) one's father's surname. Upon marriage, a woman's name changes to the pattern: (1) her personal name, (2) her father's surname, and (3) her husband's surname.

Names vary among non-Christian Filipinos according to their ethnic group.


Mounds of earth (including termite nests and backyard garbage heaps), particularly spooky old trees, and mist-shrouded mountains are said to be home to beings that can influence human lives for good or ill. In appearance, they range from beautiful goddess-like figures, such as Mariang Makiling, who is mistress of a Luzon mountain, to monsters, such as the kapre, a black-skinned giant, to dwarves and elves (often pictured dressed in medieval European fashions). By far the most widely feared of supernatural creatures is the asuwang, a being who appears as an attractive woman by day but who at night leaves behind the lower portion of its body in a hiding place and flies about in search of human victims, usually the sick, from whom it sucks the entrails with the aid of a long, tubular tongue. Inexplicable deaths in sleep are often ascribed to attacks by asuwang, although they are frequently also credited to bangungot, a fatal nightmare induced by witchcraft. Filipinos expect recently deceased kin to return in some form, as a moth, a strange breeze, or, if resentful of the living, as a wail heard in the night.

The legendary Juan Tamad ("John Lazy") appears in a great many folk tales; his extraordinary indolence and stupidity embroil him in all sorts of misadventures, usually ending in him being beaten up by his fellow villagers or scolded by his mother. In popular imagination, the opposite of Juan Tamad is Jose Rizal (1861–1896), the national hero, a European-educated doctor, scholar, and novelist. With his execution by the Spaniards during the Revolution (despite his disinclination for a complete break with Spain), Rizal became the supreme martyr; there is even a 250,000-strong sect, the Iglesia Watawat ng Lahi ("Church of the Banner of the Race"), which venerates him as a reincarnation of Christ and anticipates his return to earth to deliver his people from suffering.


As a result of Spanish evangelization, 81–83% of the population is Roman Catholic, making it the world's third largest Catholic majority nation (after Brazil and Mexico). This gives the Roman Catholic Church a powerful influence on national life, despite the separation of church and state introduced by the American colonialists. Power within the Church was monopolized by Spanish friars, so that native priests being granted control of parishes became a key reform that was sought by the nationalist movement in the late 19th century, ultimately resulting in the founding of the Philippine Independent Church (also called Aglipayan after Gregorio Aglipay who established it in 1902). Claiming 3.9% of the population, the Philippine Independent Church maintains essentially Catholic practices but does not recognize the pope. Another 1.3% of Filipinos adhere to another indigenous church, the evangelical Iglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ), founded in 1914, known for its tight hold on its members' lives, demanding a temperate lifestyle, claiming a large portion of personal income (but also providing them with hardship support), and even dictating voting choices. The Church of Christ's well-kept places of worship, noted for their tall, vaguely "Oriental" spires, can now be seen in every town. In addition to these, American missionaries since the beginning of the century have proselytized for various Protestant sects, such as Baptist or Methodist, which now count about 2% of the population among their followers.

First arriving in the 15th century, Islam, the majority religion in neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia, claims about 5% of the population, concentrated in the south of the country. The 3% of Filipinos classified as "tribal" highlanders still follow ancestral animist traditions to varying degrees. The country's Chinese practice elements of Taoism and Buddhism, though many have converted to Christianity.

Belief in supernatural forces unrecognized by official Catholicism persists throughout the population. Faith healers and spirit mediums, often employing exorcistic strategies in addition to the usual herbals and massage, continue in popularity. To a greater extent than in contemporary Europe or North America, Catholicism in the Philippines stresses the veneration of intercessor figures, such as patron saints and the Virgin Mary (who is invoked in frequent group recitations of the rosary). Filipinos concentrate on the more human face of the Christian God, as in the cults of Santo Niño (the Child Jesus, conventionally dressed as prince), especially popular in the Visayas, and of the Dead Christ, characteristic of the Bicol region. Although some do not regularly practice their faith (for instance, adult men tend to avoid weekly mass) or are skeptical of organized religion, many others express an intense personal devotion, subjecting themselves to acts of self-mortification such as the world-famous flagellations and (nonfatal) crucifixions, or joining Catholic lay organizations such as the Cursillo, the ultraconservative Opus Dei, or the charismatic El Shaddai.


As the majority of the population is Christian, Christian holidays are the most widely celebrated holidays in the Philippines. Christmas festivities begin on December 16 with the first of the simbang gabi or misa de gallo, masses held before sunrise every morning before Christmas itself. After Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, kindred families gather at one of their homes for a feast, the Noche Buena. On Christmas Day itself, further parties are held, with children making the rounds of relatives and godparents to pay respect to them and receive presents.

The other highlight of the year is Holy Week in March or April, celebrated by spectacles differing from locality to locality. Many towns hold a sinakulo, a traditional sung drama, staged over several nights and occupying many hours per segment, focusing on the sufferings of Christ but often including scenes from the Old Testament, all the way back to Genesis. Mass on the night before Easter is followed by the reenactment of the meeting of the resurrected Christ and his grieving mother, represented by life-sized statues carried in procession.

Another important nationwide festival is the Santacruzan in May, commemorating the discovery of Christ's cross by Helen, mother of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor. These celebrations feature processions in which the daughters of prominent families are splendidly dressed as Reina Elena (Queen Helen) and accompanied by a male escort and a cortege of other couples. On All Souls' Day (November 2), people gather at the graves of family members for a 24-hour vigil during which, in addition to praying, they clean the graves, decorate them with candles and wreaths, eat, drink, and play cards.

Each town has an annual fiesta in honor of its patron saint. In addition to religious rituals, fiestas include public feasting, fairs, brass-band playing, performing arts, social dancing, sporting events (especially cockfights), and beauty contests.


Taking care to bury the placenta in a place where it will not be stepped on is one the many folk customs that to some extent still ensures the well-being and good fortune of a newborn child. For Christians, baptism offers an occasion for the parents to make alliances with kin and non-kin through the godparent relationship.

Around the onset of puberty, Christian boys undergo circumcision, without religious connotations; a simple lecture on hygiene by older female relatives accompanies a girl's first menstruation. Graduations from elementary, high school, and college require major celebrations. Elite families give their daughters debuts on their 18th birthday; the girl, her close female relatives, and male partners rehearse set pieces of ballroom dancing to perform in front of the guests.

Catholic weddings in the Philippines consist of the standard nuptial mass, but also include a section during which a white veil and a cord are draped over the couple's shoulder and an arias, an object made of coins, is presented to them, all symbols of unity and prosperity. A couple will have several sponsors ("wedding godparents"). A reception follows, to which everyone even remotely connected to the couple and their families is invited.

Funerals are extended affairs, usually postponed several days, waiting for relatives of the deceased to arrive from as far away as the United States. The body remains in the house, and there are always people keeping vigil over it, usually by playing cards or mah-jong through the night. A procession accompanied by somber music from a brass band brings the body to church for the funeral mass and takes it from there to the cemetery amid dramatic weeping from older kinswomen. Afterwards, mourners gather for nine nights to pray for the departed, and then again at longer intervals such as the first anniversary of the death. Surviving kin will avoid brightly colored outfits for some time, often attaching a black ribbon to their clothes; a widow will wear only black for a full year.


Filipino values aim to promote group solidarity and to underline individuals' mutual dependence. A person must have hiya, a sense of "shame," which prevents him or her from violating social norms. Behavior unacceptable to the wider society will damage the reputation of the groups to which one belongs, particularly the immediate family. Moreover, an individual should strive to earn and keep the esteem of others (in other words, protect his or her good name), a value called amor-propio, Spanish for "loving oneself"; those who do not care about their own "face" will not be sufficiently sensitive to the dignity of others.

Filipinos are careful to show deference to those of superior status (greater age, educational attainment, organizational rank, perceived wealth, etc.). For instance, when speaking in Tagalog-Pilipino to an elder, a social superior, or a stranger, a person inserts the particle po or ho ("sir" or "ma'am") into virtually every utterance. In order to save face, both one's own and that of others, one avoids making direct demands of others by either resorting to "beating around the bush" or enlisting a go-between. A person should show proper gratitude for the good others have done him or her and be eager to reciprocate in whatever way he or she can. Some utang na loob ("inner debts") can never be repaid, e.g. a child's debt to its mother for the gift of life.

In addition to the Spanish-derived "Kumusta?" ("How are you?"), the most common greetings translate as "Where have you just come from?" and "Where are you off to now?" In reply, no one expects to hear more than "Just over there."

It is customary to greet older relatives with a kiss on the cheek or forehead or, more traditionally, to bow in front of them, take their hand, and press it to the forehead to receive a "blessing." While passing in front of older or higher-status people, etiquette dictates that one walk slowly, bowing the head and either clasping the hands together in front or extending one of the open palms in the direction one is going. One beckons another to come closer with a downward motion of the open palm. Pointing with the fingers is offensive; people point pursed lips in the direction they wish to indicate. When catching sight of acquaintances, quickly raising and lowering the eyebrows is sufficient sign of recognition and may substitute for small talk if one is in a hurry. Prolonged staring, however, is considered aggressive, as is holding the arms akimbo. With merely a sharp, clipped hiss, mothers can show displeasure to their children; anyone can use a softer, somewhat more prolonged hiss as a very informal means of catching someone's attention. Physical contact between members of the same sex is a common sign of affection without homosexual connotation. In embarrassing situations, the reflex is to smile to cover over the natural emotion, or sometimes also to lower the head and rub the back of the neck.

Before entering a house, a visitor announces his or her presence by saying "Tao po" ("A person is here, sir/ma'am") and waits to be invited in. Even unexpected guests are always served drinks and whatever snacks are available. It is polite to appear shy to accept what is offered, but the host will vigorously insist that the guest partake. The guest leaves a little on the plate to show that the host has provided more than enough. Taking formal leave of the hosts and any older or distinguished people is a must; this is usually a lengthy operation as there tends to be a line of people waiting to say goodbye, and farewells tend to ramble. Party hosts always wrap leftovers for the departing guests to take home. Similarly, those returning from long-distance trips are expected to bring back presents (pasalubong) for those remaining at home.

In the past, a suitor stood below the door of his interest's raised house and serenaded her, often with companions at his side literally to provide accompaniment. If the girl liked him, she could invite him in to chat with her and her family. Contact between the sexes unmonitored by elders is increasingly common (such as in discos), but same-age chaperones and group dates continue to make "courting" a public affair. This is becoming more so as Filipinos introduce their relatives and friends to likely partners or approach their interests by asking the help of a common friend. Public displays of affection, though no longer taboo, are still subject to social disapproval; girls, in particular, are careful not to appear too free with boys. In urban areas today, though usually only after much dating, many young people engage in discreet premarital sex, often going to "love motels" because of lack of privacy at home. Many young men have their first sexual experience with a prostitute.

According to survey data plotted on the Inglehart-Welzel World Values Map, Filipinos are moderately more tradition-oriented than secular-rational-oriented and slightly more survival-oriented than self-expression-oriented (most resembling Peruvians, who are slightly more tradition-oriented, South Africans and Iranians who are slightly more tradition- and survival oriented, and Indonesians, who are both somewhat less traditional- and less self-expression-oriented).


In 2005, per capita GDP, adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity, stood at US $5,137 a year, placing the Philippines in the category of lower middle-income nations. Its ranking in the United Nations Human Development Index is 90 (out of 177 countries ranked). Countries with similar HDI's are Peru, Lebanon, Tunisia, Fiji, and Iran. Its HDI ranking is eleven places higher than its ranking according to GNP per capita (PPP), indicating that its population is somewhat better off in terms of health and education than per capita income alone would provide for (Tunisia's per capita GDP, adjusted for PPP, is 60% higher than the Philippines, but its HDI is slightly lower).

Some 30% of the population lives below the government-set poverty line (although the sharing of resources by more affluent family members and relatives working overseas mitigates somewhat the hardship of many of the poor). While recent economic growth has benefited a growing portion of the population, most of the nation's wealth remains in the hands of a small fraction of the population—elite families (some Spanish mestizo but mostly Chinese mestizo and Chinese-Filipino) who own plantations and other large enterprises. Nearly half the population (43%) lives on less than two dollars' equivalent a day, and 14.8% on less than a dollar a day. The proportion of the population living below the national poverty line (earning less than the amount needed to provide themselves a daily in-take of 2,100 calories and other basic needs) has declined dramatically over the years, from 40.1% in 1976 to 16.58% in 2007. This last figure, however, represents a recovery from the situation in the aftermath of the economic collapse of 1997–1998; in 1990 the figure was 15% while the average for the years 1990– 2004 was 27.1%. As measured by its Gini coefficient of 44.5, income inequality in the Philippines is severe by world standards (it is greater than in Japan, 29.9; Indonesia, 34.3; and the United States 40.8; though far less than in Brazil, 57). The richest 20% earns 9.4 times as much as the poorest 20%. Moreover, there is wide variation in the standard of living from region to region and between urban and rural areas.

Spanish colonialism dictated a settlement pattern that had at its core a población, a town laid out in a grid plan focused on a church plaza. The población was in turn the center for a number of barrios, villages surrounded by fields. Finally, the barrios themselves had often remote satellite hamlets, sitios with a small chapel visited only intermittently by the priest permanently resident in the población.

The bahay kubo or nipa hut, a two- or three-room structure with bamboo walls and floors and a cogon-grass or palm-leaf roof raised on wooden pillars, has provided housing for the peasants, who make up the vast majority of Filipinos, until recent times. Animals, primarily pigs, chickens, and a water buffalo, are kept below the house.. In less-developed parts of the country, this remains the most common type of house. In Sulu, 1990 census figures count nearly 90% of houses as having neither solid roofs nor solid outer walls; the national average is 44.4% and 39.1%, respectively.

In contemporary towns, houses typically have two stories with wooden walls, corrugated iron roofs, and cement foundations. Wealthier residences adopt Spanish elements, such as tiled roofs and floors, walls of brick or stone, and iron grillwork on windows, fences, and gates. Whereas traditional neighborhoods juxtaposed rich and poor houses, modern urban development has favored: the growth of upper-class residential areas surrounded by walls, with entrances guarded by security personnel; middle-class subdivisions (including gated condominium complexes); and squatter settlements whose houses are improvised from scrap materials and lack utilities. About 25% of the Manila population was squatters in the early 1980s.

In 2004, 80.2% of households had access to safe drinking water within their residence, 86.2% to a sanitary toilet, and 79.7% to electricity. About 64.4% of households owned their residence, and for 70.5% of households that residence was a "strong housing unit," defined as one with roof and outer walls of galvanized iron/aluminum, tile, concrete, brick, stone, and asbestos. In 2000, 1 in 3 households had a refrigerator, up from 1 in 5 in 1990 and 1 in 20 in 1970. About 46.1% of households in 2000 still disposed of garbage by burning it in their backyards, although the percentage of households that had their garbage picked up by a truck rose to 32.5% from just 15.8% in 1990.

Life expectancy has risen dramatically over the last generation: standing at 51.2 years for both sexes in 1960 and 58.1 in 1970–1975, figures for 1990 reached 69 years for women and 63 years for men, and for 2005 it increased to 73.3 and 68.9 respectively. Infant mortality was halved between 1950 (101 deaths per 1,000 live births) and 1989 (51.6 deaths); it was halved yet again by 2005 when it ran to only 25 per 1,000 live births. Still, 1 in 5 infants were underweight at birth and around 1 in 3 children under 5 years old were underweight and under height; 18% of the general population was undernourished (1996–2005 averages, down from 26% in 1990–1992). In 2005, 13.78% of deaths were due to intestinal tract infections. Communicable diseases were the cause of 25% in 1980 and 75% in 1923. About 41.8% of households included a member enrolled in the government health care plan; access to physicians and hospitals remains limited in rural areas, where there were only 58 physicians per 100,000 people. Individuals still consult traditional healers and employ herbal remedies.

Telephone access is spreading rapidly. Although the number of telephone landlines per 1,000 people only rose from 10 in 1990 to 41 in 2005, there were 419 cell phone subscribers for every 1000 people in that year. The number of internet users has reached 54 per 1000 people.

In 1990, only 7.9% of households owned a motor vehicle; by 2000, the figure had risen to 12.2%. Within urban neighborhoods or in the countryside (where kalesas, horse drawn carts, can still be seen), people take tricycles (motorcycles with a passenger car on the side). Brightly painted jeepneys (originally U.S. military surplus jeeps with back sections lengthened to accommodate passengers) are the cheapest way to get around cities and between towns. Buses, some air-conditioned, also carry passengers within cities and between more distant locations. Commuting to and within cities, metropolitan Manila above all, consumes much time due to extreme traffic congestion. Interisland travel is by large ferries or passenger ships or, more expensively, by airplane; the traditional bangka, an outrigger canoe, is still in common use for fishing and local transport. Overall, per capita carbon dioxide emissions are still low, at 1.0 tons in 2004 (up from 0.7 in 1990).


The family is Filipino society's central institution; to it individuals subordinate their own interests and frequently their obligations to other social groups, their workplace, or the government. The typical household consists of a married couple, children, grandparents, and sometimes servants, who are common in middle-class households. Children generally live at home until marriage, and often newlywed couples stay with either set of parents for some time. Older children, as well as grandparents and other relatives, aid the mother in caring for younger children; it is common for older children to sacrifice for the younger, such as by working to put them through school.

Great respect is shown for elders. Older siblings are addressed with special terms. In Tagalog-Pilipino, "Ate" is used for an older sister and "Kuya" for an older brother. Older cousins (as well as friends and associates) are also addressed with these titles. Traditionally, a person would address a younger cousin as "older sibling" if the cousin's parents were older than his or her own parents. Filipinos have a bilateral kinship system that bonds them equally to relatives from both the mother's and father's sides. Relations between cousins of as far as the second and even third degree are close. Married couples are expected to maintain equal closeness with both spouses' kin groups, though this is not always achieved. Inheritances are divided equally among the children of the deceased.

The Catholic sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and marriage give Filipinos opportunities to establish or reinforce relationships with non-kin through asking non-kin to become godparents to one's children; these godparents can be old friends or individuals one wishes to make alliances with or seek the patronage of, though very often they are actually one's own relatives. The godfather and godmother of one's child are called one's kumpare and kumare (from Spanish compadre and comadre), and one's own godfather and godmother are called ninong, ninang (from Spanish padrino and padrina).

Individuals are free to choose their marriage partners, but family approval is an important consideration, often a decisive one. In agreement with Catholic doctrine, divorce (though not separation) is illegal except among Muslims and other non-Christians. Often, a man takes a mistress (querida), with whom he may have a second family. The need to work away from home or even outside the country has produced numerous "incomplete" households, which can be where one parent (often the father) must raise the family with only the occasional presence of the other, where grandparents must care for their grandchildren, or where elder siblings must care for their younger siblings. Illegitimate births have become common and do not always lead to marriage as was the case in the past because today there are fewer stigmas around this situation.

Filipinos are relatively tolerant of homosexuality. Though often the object of good-natured teasing, the bakla, the effeminate man with a "woman's heart" (pusong babae) has an established place in society (bakla beauty contests are popular entertainment for the general public).


The Spanish pressured Christianized Filipinos into abandoning the more "immodest" Southeast Asian articles of dress such as the G-string, but prohibited them from fully adopting European fashions. Indio (native) men wore collarless, long-sleeved, untucked shirts (baro) and loose pants that could be rolled up easily for heavy work. Indio women wore wide-necked, wide-sleeved short blouses and ankle-length skirts; in public, they draped a shawl over their shoulders and wrapped a tapis, a small piece of cloth, over the skirt (the tapis was in fact the skirt of pre-Christian times). The wealthier mestizo (mixed-blood) men added collars and cuffs to the baro, thus creating what would become the male national costume, the barong tagalog, finely embroidered and woven of pineapple leaf fibers. Mestizo women preferred fuller skirts (or sometimes ones ending in a long train) and butterfly sleeves, developing the terno, the later female national costume.

Nowadays, for formal occasions men wear either the barong tagalog or Western-style suits, and women wear either a modified terno or Western-style dresses. Suitable home attire very often consists of no more than shorts with or without a tank top for men, and a maong, a loose one-piece dress with wide sleeves and open neck for women. For younger people, t-shirts and jeans are common streetwear.


Except for the 20% of the population (in the central Visayas) for whom maize is the staple, boiled rice is the indispensable component of a full meal, with all other foods being termed ulam (accompaniments). For peasants, the ulam may consist of no more than dried fish and some sliced tomato or onion. Only for the comparatively well to do is meat a regular part of the diet; most consume meat only at special celebrations (often in the form of lechon, roast whole pig). Common preparations include soups heavy with vegetables and meat or seafood (such as sinigang and tinola), meat or seafood simmered in coconut milk (ginataan), Chinese-derived noodle dishes (such as pansit), stewed meat dishes of Spanish origin (such as adobo or kaldereta), or, most simply, freshly grilled fish. Party menus emphasize dishes inspired by Chinese or Spanish cuisine, such as lumpia (spring rolls) and paella (a dish of meat, seafood, and rice cooked together).

Seasonings tend to be simpler than elsewhere in Southeast Asia, with ordinary dishes rarely employing more than garlic, ginger, peppercorns, soy sauce, fish sauce, and shrimp paste. Although Muslim peoples and Christian Bicolanos cook with hot chilies as much as Indonesians or Thai, elsewhere in the country one regularly encounters chili only as a flavoring for vinegar.

Aside from a Spanish custard, letseplan, and rich American-style baked goods, desserts consist of a variety of rice- or cassava-based cakes. A wide selection of fruits is available, such as numerous types of bananas (bananas are sometimes even eaten alongside the main meal).

Associated with peasant ways, the traditional mode of eating has been to scoop up food from flat dishes with the fingers of the right hand (the left hand being reserved exclusively for washing oneself after defecation). It is considered more refined to eat with a spoon and fork (using the fork in the left hand to push food on to a spoon in the right hand). Individual portions are not separated; rather, everyone takes from common dishes laid out in the center of the table.

Breakfast usually consists of leftovers from the previous evening's dinner (the remaining rice is often fried with garlic) or, alternatively of bread bought fresh from bakeries and eaten with coffee. Other common breakfast dishes consist of fried rice, fried eggs, and a meat product (longanisa sausage, tosino bacon, beef tapa, or spam). The heaviest meal of the day is lunch for country people (to satisfy hunger built up working in the morning, the coolest part of the day) and dinner for city people (when the entire family can gather together). Taking an afternoon snack, called the merienda, often virtually a meal in itself, is common for those who can afford it.

Smoking is common among men, but women smokers are rare. For a mild stimulant, some (far fewer than in the past) chew betel nut. Wines, made from palm sap, sugarcane, or rice, are the traditional alcoholic beverages, but today beer predominates. Small groups of men often gather at night on the porch of a house to chat and drink beer with pulutan, snacks ranging from peanuts or the eggs of quail or duck (the last often a fully formed chick in the shell, called balut) to grilled fish or shrimp.


In 2003, literacy stood at 93.4%, a 10% increase over the 1970 level, though a minimal change from 1990. Elementary school lasts for six years beginning at age seven, and high school lasts for four years (seven years of education is compulsory). While 94% of the relevant age group was enrolled in elementary school, which is free, in 2005, only 61% of the relevant age group attended high school that year because poorer families cannot spare the money for fees, as well as travel costs to the often distant high schools, and need teenagers to help in the fields or otherwise earn income for the family. Of high school graduates, a large percentage go on to college, ranging from low-quality "diploma mills" to excellent universities, the most prestigious being the state-run University of the Philippines, the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila, and the Dominican-run University of Santo Tomas, which has been in existence longer than Harvard. About 31.2% of the relevant age cohort is enrolled in a tertiary educational institution. In 1990, 12.9% of the population held an academic degree. In addition to the public school system, private schools abound at all levels, teaching 7.3% of students at the primary level and 30.8% at the secondary, usually run by the Catholic Church or other Christian sects; Chinese and Muslim communities also have their own schools.

American policy promoted mass public education, the beginnings of which date back to 1863 under the Spanish. Since then, Filipinos have held a deep reverence for education, seeing it as a means of freeing oneself from manual labor by entering more prestigious occupations as doctors, lawyers, or, at least, schoolteachers. Families are willing to sacrifice a great deal to send a child to college. A major national problem has been providing the great number of college-educated people with jobs commensurate with their qualifications; many emigrate to attain the living standard proper to their educational attainments.


The most prominent types of traditional group music making are the rondalla, which is an ensemble of Hispanic plucked and bowed string instruments to accompany social dancing and suitors' serenades, and the municipal brass band, whose repertoire includes Italian opera overtures and other orchestral music to contribute to the gaiety of fiestas. Traditional songs (for instance the kundiman, a melancholy love song) are generally reminiscent of Spanish forms; certain types demand operatic vocal delivery. Similarly, modern vocal music follows American pop models with a preference for the sentimental and the Broadway-style dramatic (although rap in Tagalog-Pilipino does exist).

Folk dances include those that have analogues elsewhere in Southeast Asia, such as the tinikling, where a couple executes intricate figures while skipping through two bamboo poles being clapped together at an accelerating pace. Others are adaptations of European couple dances such the waltz, polka, and mazurka. Both disco and ballroom dancing have long been popular (especially Latin American styles such as the cha-cha).

At the time of the Spanish arrival, Filipinos were using their own alphabet (one derived via Javano-Malay or Cham scripts that in turn derived from Indian ones), incising messages (though not literature, which remained oral) on palm leaves or bamboo. Word play ranged from riddles (bugtong) to extended poetical debates (balagtasan), an integral part of courtship; formal declamation remains an important art. Long verse narratives, from retellings of Christ's Passion to heroic tales set in mythical lands, came to be composed in native languages; the culmination of this tradition was the Tagalog classic Florante at Laura, composed by Francisco Baltazar in the 1830s. By the last decades of the 19th century, Filipinos were producing poetry and novels in Spanish. Jose Rizal's patriotic poem " Mi ultimo adiós" and his anti-colonial novels Noli Me Tangere and El filibusterismo are the most famous examples. Under the Americans, writers switched to English, a tradition that continues today. Nick Joaquin is one of its most renowned heirs. Meanwhile, poetry, prose, and drama continue to be written in Tagalog-Pilipino and the other indigenous languages, although Filipino novels face strong competition from imported English-language books. For most people, consumption of literature in native languages is confined to stories (nobela) appearing serially in comics.


In 2004, over one in three Filipino workers (37%) was employed in agriculture, a dramatic reduction from the 1980 figures of one in two (49.2%). Some 70% of agricultural workers do not own the land they work, working either as tenant farmers or plantation laborers. The staple crops are rice, maize, and sweet potatoes. Wet-rice fields dominate the rural landscape, in some places as terraces climbing steep mountainsides. The principal cash crops are coconuts, bananas, pineapples, sugar, tobacco, and abaca (hemp). Livestock includes pigs, chickens, ducks, and goats. Raising cattle is limited to the few areas with suitable grazing lands; carabao (water buffalo) pull plows and carts and also provide meat and milk. Fishing provides many rural families with a livelihood or at least supplementary income. Complex networks of bamboo traps cover lakes and other bodies of water.

Manufacturing and construction employ 15% of the working population. Traditionally, industry has focused on producing consumer goods for the domestic market and the processing of exported primary agricultural products. Recent years, however, have seen the growth of export-oriented manufacture, such as computer components assembly; though to a lesser extent than in neighboring Asian countries, Japanese and South Korean firms have outsourced many of their production operations to factories in government-established special economic zones in the Philippines, such as the one on the territory of the former U.S. naval base at Subic Bay.

Services accounted for 48% of all workers. Considerable stigma was traditionally attached to manual labor and mercantile occupations, though careers in business and technical professions, such as engineering, have recently gained greatly in respectability. Thanks to having one of the largest populations of young highly educated English-speakers in the world and low labor costs (in this respect resembling India, the world leader), the Philippines has become a major center of the call center industry; in 2004, it employed over a million people (largely in the Metro Manila region) and contributed to 12% of GDP.

Unemployment is high, estimated at 7.9% in 2007 (the 2004 figure reached 10.9%). Over 45% of the working population was employed in the informal sector.

Finally, the country's economic difficulties have pushed many people to emigrate in search of work. Although Filipinos already sought education and employment abroad in late Spanish times and Filipino migration to the United States began with the U.S. conquest of the Philippines at the very end of the 19th century, large-scale migration there and to elsewhere in the world only began in the 1970s. A command of English and a high level of education giving them a competitive in the world labor market, Filipinos can now be found in every region of the world, in over 200 countries and territories. In 2004, 8.1 million Filipinos, equivalent to nearly 10% of the population, were estimated to be abroad, mainly in the Middle East, Pacific Asia, North America, and Europe. These are divided into three categories: 3.6 million legally working abroad (termed "OFWs"/"Overseas Filipino Workers"); 1.3 million working illegally (mainly in the United States and Malaysia); and 3.2 million residing permanently abroad (termed "balikbayan," "returnees to the homeland). About 1.4 million had settled in the United States, where they constituted the second-largest group among the foreign-born, after Mexicans.

About 20% of all Filipino OFWs work as shipmen, and 25% of all shipmen worldwide are Filipinos. Filipinos are also particularly prominent in health care, (women) domestic service, and (men) construction work. Since 1992, women have outnumbered men among labor emigrants. Estimated at US$8.5 billion in 2004 and expected to surpass US$10 billion in 2005, remittances are essential to the economy as a source of hard currency, even surpassing the value of foreign direct investment; the Philippines is the world's fifth largest recipient of remittances (after India, China, Mexico, and France). Establishing a whole agency for the purpose, the government has institutionalized its management of labor migration/labor export, aiming to deploy 1 million OFWs annually. The country has developed a "culture of migration" under which true "ambition" is equated with the willingness to work abroad and 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 2 children 10–12 years of age express the desire to do so.


Sipa is an indigenous game in which two teams of one to four players each hit a wickerwork ball with their knees, legs, or feet over a net or across a circle. Introduced by the Americans, baseball and basketball are popular. The avidly followed professional basketball league pits teams identified by the companies that own them, rather than with cities as in the United States. Fond of watching boxing, many Filipinos also practice arnis, an indigenous martial art employing bamboo rods 1 m (3 ft) long. Cockfighting commands a fanatical following. Held during Sundays, public holidays, and fiestas in mini-stadiums, cockfights are the occasion for intense gambling.


In 2000, three in four households had a radio, and one in two had a television (up from two in three households and one in three respectively in 1990). Domestically produced programming is strong on talent shows, comedies, fantasy series, and tearjerker family dramas and romance stories.

Traditional theater consisted of the comedia or moro-moro, which are verse-plays depicting warfare between Christians and Muslims, usually ending in the conversion of the former. From the end of the 19th century, the zarzuela, a Spanish-derived operetta sung in local languages, has become popular. Film tickets are comparatively cheap, and cinema attendance rates are among the world's highest. The Philippines possesses one of the world's most prolific film industries, which turns out mainly comedies, action films (frequently punctuated with shoot-outs and kungfu), and melodramas (for which typical plots would be an ill-fated romance or the reunion of a dispersed family or the reconciliation of a divided one). For both television and cinema viewing, American imports attract a wide audience who generally can understand the dialogue. In recent years, foreign programs dubbed into Tagalog, such as Japanese anime and Korean and Latin American soap operas, have become more and more popular, not least because they express cultural values much closer to those of Filipinos than American shows do.

Children commonly play sungka, a game of skill in which players move cowrie shells around a course of two rows of seven holes carved in a wooden board. Every neighborhood will have chess enthusiasts, and the Philippines has produced many world-class players. Card games and mah-jong, a rummy-like Chinese game played with ivory tiles, regularly involve the gambling of large sums of money. There are 4 personal computers for every 100,000 people, but internet cafes are common not only in cities but also in provincial towns, where the clientele consists largely of young people playing computer games.


A variety of crafts are practiced by individual Filipino ethnic groups, including woodcarving, weaving textiles, baskets, and mats, and tie dying.


Under the civil war conditions during the Marcos and Aquino regimes, human rights abuses were common, with government forces, insurgents, and anti-insurgent vigilantes victimizing noncombatant civilians as a matter of course. Under the Ramos and later regimes, the more prominent problem was violence by criminal elements, and by supposedly noncriminal elements such as corrupt law-enforcers and elected officials. Filipinos have little faith in their justice system since the wealthy and powerful are able to buy the verdicts they want. Gambling (most notoriously the hugely popular jueteng numbers game), drug abuse, and the violence, criminality, and government corruption associated with them are major problems. Population growth has slowed but continues to overwhelm the country's economic, educational, ecological, and other systems. In 2008 a reproductive health bill mandating government funding for contraception and sex education was being hotly debated. Opponents, in addition to invoking Catholic moral principles, argue the economic benefits of a large, young population and the negative practical consequences of a shrinking, aging population as well as assert that calling for population control is a substitute for seeking genuine structural social reforms.


Filipino women have approached equality with men more closely than in most Asian countries. The country's Gender-Related Development Index is 0.768, slightly less than its HDI of 0.771. Although Filipino men often project machismo, women wield considerable power. Filipino wives manage family finances, dispensing pocket money to their husbands just as to their children. In terms of literacy and primary, secondary, and tertiary enrollment, rates for Filipino women (which are high) have surpassed those for men (most dramatically, a fourth more women are in tertiary education than men). Because of the gender preferences of jobs such as factory work and domestic service (as well as, unfortunately, prostitution and nightclub work), rural women are freer than men to find urban employment to support their families. Women are well represented in the professions, business, and the government, although women are still in the minority among the holders of top positions (women hold 22.1% of the seats in the national legislature and 25% of ministerial level positions). The country has had two woman presidents, Corazon Aquino and Gloria Arroyo, and Imelda Marcos, in addition to being first lady, served as governor of Metro-Manila, minister of human settlements, and special envoy to foreign leaders.

Reflecting the pervasive influence of Catholicism, both abortion and divorce are prohibited (Muslims, however, may divorce as permitted by their religion). In 2000–2005, the fertility rate stood at 3.5 births per woman. 92% of women from the richest 20% of society were attended by a skilled health professional while giving birth; the proportion was only 25% for the poorest 20% of society. About 170 women died in childbirth for every 100,000 live births during the period 1990–2004. For the richest 20% of society, infant mortality ran to 19 per 1,000 live births and under-five mortality to 21 per 1,000 live births; for the poorest 20 % of society, the figures were respectively 42 and 66.

Despite enjoying empowerment in many contexts, in others many Filipino women continue to face exploitation and abuse. In export-processing zones where young women form the major component of the labor force in factories owned by multinational corporations, the government does not enforce laws protecting workers' rights. Filipino women working abroad as domestic servants often suffer inferior working and living conditions as well as physical brutality and sexual harassment from employers. Coerced prostitution, human trafficking, and domestic violence are significant problems.


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—revised by A. J. Abalahin