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Lying in the heart of Southeast Asia, the Philippines stands at the crossroads of the Western world and the Orient. Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Japan are northern neighbors, while to the west lie Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. To the south stands the Indonesian archipelago and Australia. To the east is the wide expanse of the North Pacific Ocean.
The Philippines is a 1,840 kilometer long archipelago of 7,107 islands. Most of its islands are small with only 500 larger than a kilometre square and around 6,000 are uninhabited. More than 3,000 of the islands remain unnamed. The nine largest islands of Luzon, Mindanao, Palawan, Panay, Mindoro, Samar, Negros, Leyte and Cebu make up 90% of the nation's land area of 299,764 suare kilometres.
The total population is 76.5 million according to the May 2000 census. Population growth is 2.36 percent annually. More than half of the population live in Luzon.
The country is divided into three geographical areas: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It has 17 regions, 79 provinces, 115 cities, 1,499 municipalities, and 41,969 barangays. (Barangay - The smallest political unit into which cities and municipalities in the Philippines are divided. It is the basic unit of the Philippine political system. It consists of less than 1,000 inhabitants residing within the territorial limit of a city or municipality and administered by a set of elective officials, headed by a barangay chairman (punong barangay). The capital city is Manila.
Traveling overland the entire length of the Philippines is now possible through the Pan Philippine Highway. Also known as the Maharlika Highway, the road network runs for more than 2,500 kilometres from Laoag City in northern Luzon to Zamboanga in Mindanao via the Cagayan Valley, Manila, Bicol, Samar and Leyte. With the San Juanico Bridge linking Samar and Leyte, only two sea crossings are necessary; from Southern Luzon to Samar, and Leyte to Mindanao.
Visitors to Philippines see it as the most westernized of Asian countries and in many ways it is. But there is also a rich underlay of Malay culture beneath the Spanish and American heritage. National cultural life is a happy marriage of many influences, as the indigenous Malay culture is assimilated and adapted to different strains in a practice typical of Malay temperament.
Its unique location has made the Philippines a key strategic and trading centre for centuries.
Indo-Malays and Chinese merchants had settled in what is now the Philippines prior to the arrival of the Spanish. In 1521 the Spaniards, led by Ferdinand Magellan, discovered the islands. The Spanish conquistadores established a colonial government in Cebu in 1565. They transferred the seat of government to Manila in 1571 and proceeded to colonize the country.
The Filipinos resisted and waged Asia's first nationalist revolution in 1896. On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines independent from Spain and proclaimed himself president. After ruling for 333 years, the Spaniards finally left in 1898 and the Islands were ceded to the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War.
The islands attained their independence in 1946 after Japanese occupation in World War II. The 21-year rule of Ferdinand Marcos ended in 1986, when a widespread "people power" rebellion forced him into exile. In 1992, the US closed its last military bases on the islands.
The Philippines has had a series of
electoral presidential transitions since the removal of
Marcos. The government continues to struggle with armed
Muslim insurgencies in the south.
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Fort Santiago. Manila