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13 00 N, 122 00 E
12 June 1898
300,000 sq km


Government and politics

The government of the Philippines is organized as a presidential-unitary republic, where the President functions as head of state, the head of government, and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The president is elected by popular vote to a 6-year term, during which he or she appoints and presides over the cabinet of secretaries.

The bicameral Congress comprises the Senate and the House of Representatives; members of the former are elected at large and those of the latter by geographical district. The 24 senators serve 6-year terms, with half retiring every three years, while the House of Representatives comprises 250 members serving 3-year terms.

The judicial branch of government is headed by the Supreme Court, with a Chief Justice as its head and 14 Associate Justices, all appointed by the President from nominations submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council. Other courts include the Court of Appeals, the Regional Trial Courts and the Metropolitan Trial Courts.

As of June 2006 President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is hoping to get agreement to amend the constitution to a unicameral federal, parliamentary system similar to the German constitution. The country would be split into “states” with each one having a local legislature responsibility for certain functions. Included in the amendments are plans to remove/ease the current ban on foreign ownership of property, land and commercial organizations in the Philippines. Plans have been announced to decentralize government by moving departments from Manila to the provinces, such as the Department of Tourism to Cebu City, the Department of Foreign Affairs to Angeles City, and the Department of Agrarian Reform to Iloilo City.

The Philippines is a founding and active member of the United Nations since its inception on October 24, 1945 and is a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Philippines is also a member of the East Asia Summit (EAS), an active player in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Latin Union and a member of the Group of 24. The country is a major non-NATO ally of the U.S., but also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Philippines, along with the nation of Malta, is one of two nations in the world where all civil marriages are for life, because civil divorce is banned.

The Philippines is currently in a dispute with Taiwan, China, Vietnam and Malaysia over the oil- and natural gas-rich Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal, and with Malaysia over Sabah. The Sultan of Sulu, who received Sabah as a gift in 1703 having helped the Sultan of Brunei defeat a rebellion, has given the Philippine Government power to reclaim his lost territory. To this day, the Sultan of Sulu's family receives "rental" payments for Sabah from the Malaysian government.

Ethnic groups

Chhettri 15.5%, Brahman-Hill 12.5%, Magar 7%, Tharu 6.6%, Tamang 5.5%, Newar 5.4%, Muslim 4.2%, Kami 3.9%, Yadav 3.9%, other 32.7%, unspecified 2.8%

The History

Archeological and paleontological evidence suggests that Homo sapiens existed in Palawan about 50,000 years ago. These prehistoric inhabitants are called Tabon Man, after the Palawan cave where fossil remains were found. During the Iron Age, an Austronesian-speaking people are known to have settled in the Philippines and most of the Malay archipelago. The Austronesian-speaking inhabitants of the Philippines maintained a maritime trading network with the rest of Southeast Asia as early as 5,000 B.C.E. Tamil traders from India and Chinese merchants arrived in the 8th century.

The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for the Spanish king in an expedition to sail around the world, first set foot in the archipelago on March 18, 1521. He established diplomatic relations with some of the local chieftains and converted some of them to Roman Catholicism. However, Magellan was killed in the Battle of Mactan when he waged war against Lapu-Lapu, one of the chieftains who opposed foreign domination. Magellan's remaining crew led by Juan Sebastián Elcano returned to Spain on the ship Victoria and brought news about the islands and the new route to the East Indies. On April 27, 1565, the Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi and 500 soldiers came to the island of Cebu and established the first Spanish settlement on the islands.

Roman Catholic missionaries accompanied Spanish soldiers in the conquest of the islands. The Spaniards soon established churches and forts, while searching for gold and spices. Roman Catholicism replaced most of the indigenous religions and adopted by the majority. Sporadic rebellions occurred from tribal groups throughout the archipelago against Spanish occupation. The highland tribes of northern Luzon and the Muslims of the southern islands of Mindanao continued their resistance and maintained their sovereignty. The Spanish military fought off Chinese pirates, and Japanese, French, Portuguese, Dutch and British forces, all of whom also had an interest in the Philippines.

New Spain (through Mexico) ruled the Philippines until the Mexican independence in 1821. A burgeoning Manila Galleon or the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade began in the late 16th century. Spanish rule on the Philippines was briefly interrupted in 1762, when British troops invaded and occupied the islands as a result of Spain's entry into the Seven Years' War. The 1763 Treaty of Paris restored Spanish rule and the British left in 1764. The brief British occupation weakened Spain's grip on power and sparked rebellions and demands for independence.

In 1781, Governor-General José Basco y Vargas established the Sociedad Económica de los Amigos del País (Economic Society of Friends of the Country). The Philippines by this time was administered directly from Spain. Developments in and out of the country helped to bring new ideas to the Philippines. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 cut travel time to Spain. This prompted the rise of the ilustrados, the enlightened Filipino upper class, since many young Filipinos were able to study in Europe.

Enlightened by the Propaganda Movement to the injustices of the Spanish colonial government and the "frailocracy", Filipinos originally clamored for adequate representation to the Spanish Cortes and later for independence. José Rizal, the most celebrated intellectual and radical illustrado of the era, wrote the novels Noli Me Tangere ("Touch Me Not'") and El Filibusterismo ("The Filibuster"), both now required academic reading at Filipino primary schools. On July 3, 1892, José Rizal founded La Liga Filipina, which called for peaceful reforms. On July 7, 1892, after José Rizal was arrested, Andrés Bonifacio, a founding member of La Liga Filipina, founded the Katipunan, ("Kataas-taasang Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga anak ng Inang Bayan"). The Katipunan advocated revolution and complete independence, and established a national revolutionary government with Bonifacio as the Supremo (leader).

The Philippine Revolution began on August 26, 1896 when Andrés Bonifacio declared Philippine independence and called for an immediate armed struggle, known as the Cry of Balintawak. Rizal was implicated in the outbreak of the revolution and executed for treason on December 30, 1896. The revolution quickly spread throughout the islands. However, the leadership of Bonifacio was challenged in the province of Cavite where two local factions of the Katipunan established separate provincial governments, the Magdiwang, which recognized Bonifacio's authority, and the Magdalo, which recognized the leadership of revolutionary general Emilio Aguinaldo, a mayor of Kawit, Cavite. After failing to oust Bonifacio from leadership of the Katipunan, the Magdalo faction established a Cavite-led revolutionary government, as an alternative to the Katipunan, with Aguinaldo as President. Aguinaldo ordered Bonifacio's arrest and execution for treason and sedition. On May 10, 1897, the founder of the Katipunan was murdered by Aguinaldo's soldiers.

The power struggle within the revolutionary movement and the murder of Bonifacio resulted in the collapse of the Katipunan. Withdrawal of support of Aguinaldo weakened his leadership of the revolution. The Spanish forces captured the province of Cavite and Aguinaldo was forced to retreat. On May 17, a few days after the death of Bonifacio, the Spanish Governor General Primo de Rivera proclaimed the revolution was over. On December 15, Aguinaldo agreed to a truce with the Spanish forces and signed the Pact of Biak na Bato. Aguinaldo accepted 400,000 pesos from Spain and agreed to leave for exile to Hong Kong. However, other revolutionary leaders did not recognize Aguinaldo's authority and continued the war for independence. In Central Luzon, revolutionary general Francisco Makabulos established a revolutionary government with its own constitution.

The Spanish-American war began in 1898 after the United States battleship USS Maine was destroyed by an explosion and sunk in the Havana harbor in Cuba, one of Spain's colonies. After Commodore George Dewey defeated the Spanish squadron at Manila, Aguinaldo was invited and returned to the Philippines on May 19, 1898, in the hope he would rally Filipinos against the Spanish colonial government. Five days later he proclaimed himself dictator. On June 12, 1898 Aguinaldo declared the independence of the Philippines in Kawit, Cavite. Simultaneously, a German squadron under Admiral Diedrichs arrived in Manila and declared that if the United States did not seize the Philippines as a colonial possession, Germany would. Since Spain and the U.S. ignored the Filipino representative, Felipe Agoncillo, during their negotiations in the Treaty of Paris, the Battle for Manila between Spain and the U.S. was perceived by some to be an attempt to exclude the Filipinos from the eventual occupation of Manila. [citation needed]

Under the Treaty of Paris, Spain ceded the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the United States; the United States paid Spain the sum of $20,000,000; and the civil and political status of the ceded territories were to be determined by the U.S. Congress. The first Philippine Republic rebelled against the U.S. occupation, which prevented its independence and refused to return the country's sovereignty back to the Filipinos. [citation needed] This resulted in the Philippine-American War of 1899.

By 1913, most Filipino soldiers surrendered to the United States and the islands slowly came under overall American control and were organized as a United States territory. In the First World War of 1914-1919, thousands of Filipinos joined the United States Army and Navy and were sent to fight alongside American, French, British and British Commonwealth soldiers against Germany and the rest of the Central Powers in Europe. In 1935, the country's status was upgraded to that of an American Commonwealth. Later, plans were made to grant the islands independence in the next decade. Independence for the Philippines was finally granted on July 4, 1946, even after Japan invaded and occupied the islands during World War II, causing some to call for a delay in the granting of independence, which call was nonetheless discounted by a majority of American and Filipino politicians alike.

Since 1946, the Philippines has faced some economic and political instability. The Hukbalahaps (Filipino: Hukbong ng Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon or People's Army Against the Japanese), guerillas who fought against the Japanese during World War II, became a security concern to the new Philippine government and the United States for their communist ideology. The Hukbalahap guerillas demanded recognition as World War II freedom fighters and a share in war reparations. They won the support of many peasants with promises of land reform, and even participated in democratic elections after the war. They clandestinely organized and mounted anti-government campaigns of sedition and open hostilities against government forces, and conducted terrorist activities, including kidnappings, massacres, assassinations, rapes and extortion. [citation needed] They threatened the countryside, and subsequently the capital, Quezon City, and Manila in the 1950s. The government's counterinsurgency campaign eventually forced Huk Supremo (leader) Luis Taruc to surrender to the young reporter Benigno Aquino Jr., who was later elected Senator, and Secretary of Defense Ramón Magsaysay, who then became President.

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the rise of student activism, nationalistic demonstrations, and protests against the Vietnam War and American imperialism. A constitutional convention composed of elected delegates drafted a new constitution to replace the American-approved 1935 Commonwealth constitution. This period was marred by civil unrest and exposés on corruption. On March 29, 1969, the Communist Party of the Philippines led by José Maria Sison formed the New People's Army, which has been waging a guerrilla war against the government. On September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. The new constitution was subsequently enforced through somewhat questionable means, [citation needed] as the propriety of its ratification was challenged in the Supreme Court. This culminated in the resignation of Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion. With martial law, President Ferdinand Marcos ruled by decree and extended both his power and his tenure by extralegal means. His authoritarian rule became marred with unmitigated, pervasive corruption, cronyism and despotism. As a result, public outcry and dissidence resurged to new highs.

The assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr., who was returning from exile, sparked the People Power Revolution of 1986. Corazon Aquino, the widow of assassinated Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., assumed the reins of government in the aftermath of a hotly contested snap election. Marcos, his family, and along with some of his cronies were exiled to Hawaii. With the end of the Marcos dictatorship, a new constitution was adopted in 1987. The return of democracy and governmental reforms in the post-Marcos era, however, were hampered by a massive national debt, government corruption, coup attempts, a communist insurgency and Muslim separatist movements.

Government corruption and cronyism led to the People Power Revolution of 2001 and the downfall of Joseph Estrada's presidency. The current administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been hounded by allegations of corruption and election rigging.



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