Country in southeast Asia, on an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands west of the Pacific Ocean and south of the Southeast Asian mainland.
Government The Philippines is a multiparty liberal democracy with a presidential political executive. Its constitution was approved by plebiscite in February 1987. It provides for a US-style executive president who is elected for a non-renewable six-year term and a two-chamber legislature or Congress: a 24-member upper house, the Senate, and a 297-member lower house, the House of Representatives, with similar respective powers to their counterparts in the USA. Senators are elected in national-level contests for six-year terms, with half elected every three years and restricted to a maximum of two consecutive terms.
Representatives serve three-year terms (a maximum of three consecutive terms), with 238 directly elected at the district level under the first-past-the-post and 59 elected under proportional representation from lists of under-represented ‘minority and sectoral groups’. The president appoints an executive cabinet, but, as in the USA, while being unable directly to introduce legislation, may impose vetoes on congressional bills that can only be overridden by two-thirds majorities in each chamber. The vice-president, also elected for a non-renewable six-year term, automatically assumes the presidency for the remainder of the unexpired term in the case of the president's death or resignation. There is also a ‘Bill of Rights’ and a 15-member Supreme Court.
History The Philippines were populated by the furthest northeastern migration of the Indo-Malay peoples, and was also the furthest eastern area penetrated by Islam, which was brought by Arab traders and missionaries from the late 13th century. The inhabitants were semi-nomadic and lived by hunting and fishing when the first Europeans arrived, led by Ferdinand Magellan, in 1521. Magellan was killed in a fight with the islanders.
Spanish colonial rule Spain took possession in 1565, named the colony after Philip II, and Islam was largely replaced by Roman Catholicism. The Philippines served Spain economically, largely as an entrepôt for trade between China and the Spanish colonies of Latin America, and it was not until the latter half of the 19th century that Philippine products such as sugar, coffee, tobacco, and hemp began to enter world trade to any significant degree. The reactionary nature of Spain's colonial rule led to a series of armed nationalist revolts, culminating in the 1896 revolution.
The US takeover The Filipinos, under the leadership of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo, were on the verge of securing Philippine independence in 1898 when US forces entered the Philippines during the course of the Spanish–American War. Disregarding the legitimacy of the Aguinaldo government, the USA demanded and obtained the cession of the Philippines from Spain in December 1898 and went on the offensive against Aguinaldo's forces. The ensuing war, which lasted until 1901, was won by the Americans at a cost of some 200,000 Filipino lives (one-fifth of the population), most of them civilians; 4,000 US soldiers also died.
US colonial rule The USA decided not to establish a colonial bureaucracy, and preferred to grant a large measure of autonomy to the Filipino estate-owning elite. Increasing self-government was granted from 1916 to 1935, although the US governor-general reserved the power of veto. In 1935 Manuel Quezon was elected the first president.
In the economic sphere, US trade laws (principally the Payne–Aldrich Tariff of 1909) ensured that the economic development of the Philippines would be confined to agricultural export crops and mining, at the expense of manufacturing or industrialization on any meaningful scale.
During the depression of the 1930s the USA established a commonwealth government in the Philippines with the eventual promise of independence. This was done for internal domestic reasons, largely concerning the US sugar economy and the need to protect sizeable US investments in Cuba.
The Philippines in World War II Plans for granting independence were disrupted by the advent of World War II and the Japanese occupation of the Philippines 1942–45. The Japanese attacked in December 1941 and in May 1942 the US forces defending the islands surrendered. A pro-Japanese puppet regime was established, in which many Filipino politicians participated. Quezon escaped to the USA where he set up a government-in-exile. Guerrilla resistance movements were established both by pro-US Filipino officers, and by the communist-led Hukbalahap organization. US forces started the reconquest of the Philippines in October 1944 and Sergio Osmena, who had succeeded Quezon, returned with the liberation force. (For more details see World War II.)
The early years of independence In April 1949 Manuel Roxas finished ahead of Osmena in the presidential election and in July 1946 became president of the Republic of the Philippines, when the USA granted independence. However, the USA insisted upon incorporating a number of economic limitations on Philippine national autonomy. These restrictions were incorporated in the 1946 Philippine Trade Act, which gave the Americans duty-free access to the Philippine market, control over the value of the peso, and special rights for the exploitation of Philippine natural resources. Lack of control over imports soon led to a balance-of-trade crisis as the country was flooded with imports it could not pay for. By 1949 the Philippine government was forced to impose import controls, a move reluctantly agreed to by the USA, which had the final veto right on the policy.
The USA also secured 99-year leases over a number of air and naval bases in the Philippines in return for assistance in rebuilding its infrastructure. In 1954 the Philippines joined the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).
The onerous nature of the economic concessions to the USA, coupled with the sharp divisions between the estate-owning elite and an increasingly impoverished and dispossessed peasantry, gave rise to the Huk rebellion (1946–54), organized by the communist-led Hukbalahap, which had fought the Japanese throughout the occupation. The rebellion was eventually crushed by the combined US and Philippine forces.
Political and economic developments 1946–65 The first presidents of the independent Philippines were largely drawn from the islands' wealthy estate-owning elite. Two major political parties, the Liberals and the Nationalists, vied for political power in these years, the Liberals winning in the presidential elections of 1946, 1949, and 1961, the Nationalists winning in 1953, 1957, and 1965. There were five presidents up to 1965: Manuel Roxas (1946–48), Elpidio Quirino (1948–53), Ramon Magsaysay (1953–57), Carlos Garcia (1957–61), and Diosdado Macapagal (1961–65).
During the 13 years of import controls, 1949–1962, indigenous manufacturers were given a chance to develop their industries without facing crippling competition from US firms. The period did not, however, witness the development of a basic industrial infrastructure. In 1962 the policy of import control was terminated by newly elected President Macapagal who, at the behest of the USA and the International Monetary Fund, eliminated import controls and encouraged foreign investment and participation in the Philippine economy. As a result of these policies, a number of indigenous manufacturing concerns went into liquidation and were taken over by multinational firms.
Marcos comes to power In 1965 President Macapagal was defeated by Ferdinand Marcos, the leader of the Nationalist Party. Marcos initiated rapid economic development and some land reform. He was re-elected in 1969, but encountered growing opposition from communist insurgents and Muslim separatists in the south. A high rate of population growth aggravated poverty and unemployment.
Leftist demands for the Philippines to withdraw from the war in Vietnam and the rapid rise in Philippine nationalism from the mid-1960s placed President Marcos in an increasingly defensive position. Some months before his second term was completed, Marcos declared martial law in September 1972, suspended the constitution, and began to rule by decree.
Marcos justified his imposition of martial law on the grounds of the existence of dissident groups in Philippine society, specifically the growing strength of a pro-Chinese Communist Party. However, his critics charged that martial law was imposed to enable Marcos to remain in power after the 1973 election, in which the constitution would have barred him from standing for a third term as president.
Martial law under Marcos Under martial law, trade unionists, opposition political leaders, students, and journalists were arrested, and constitutional guarantees were suspended indefinitely, ushering in what the government referred to as the ‘New Society’. The Marcos government intensified its search for foreign investment, enacting a number of laws to attract multinational firms, including guarantees against nationalization, and severe restrictions on trade-union activity.
Intermittent referenda allowed Marcos to retain power. His authoritarian leadership was criticized for corruption, and in 1977 the opposition leader, Benigno Aquino, was jailed under sentence of death for alleged subversion. In 1978 martial law was relaxed, the 1972 ban on political parties was lifted, and elections for an interim National Assembly were held, resulting in an overwhelming victory for Marcos. In May 1980 Aquino was released from prison to undergo medical treatment in the USA.
Partial return to democracy In 1981 martial law was lifted completely, and hundreds of political prisoners released. Marcos then won approval, by referendum, for a partial return to democratic government with himself as president, working with a prime minister and executive council. Political and economic conditions deteriorated, communist-guerrilla insurgency escalated, unemployment climbed to over 30%, and the national debt increased. In 1983 Benigno Aquino, returning from exile in the USA, was shot dead at Manila airport. Marcos was widely suspected of involvement in a conspiracy to murder Aquino.
National assembly elections were held in 1984, and although the government party stayed in power, the opposition registered significant gains. Then early in 1986 the main anti-Marcos movement, the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO), chose Corazón Aquino, Benigno's widow, despite her political inexperience, to contest new presidential elections, which Marcos had been persuaded to hold as a means of maintaining vital US economic and diplomatic support. The campaign resulted in over 100 deaths, and large-scale electoral fraud was witnessed by international observers. The National Assembly declared Marcos the winner, a result disputed by an independent electoral watchdog.
‘People's power’ Corazón Aquino began a non-violent protest, termed ‘people's power’, which gathered massive popular support, backed by the Roman Catholic Church; President Marcos came under strong international pressure, particularly from the USA, to step down. The army, led by Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Fidel Ramos and defence minister Juan Enrile, declared its support for Aquino, and Marcos fled for exile in Hawaii, where he died in 1989. Aquino received strong support from the USA, which provided $1.5bn in economic and military aid 1985–89.
On becoming president, Corazón Aquino dissolved the pro-Marcos National Assembly. She governed in a conciliatory fashion, working with a coalition cabinet team comprising opposition politicians and senior military figures. Aquino freed 500 political prisoners and granted an amnesty to the New People's Army (NPA) communist guerrillas in an effort to end the 17-year-old insurgency. She also introduced a rural-employment economic programme with some land reforms, though these were opposed by property owners.
Coup attempts In February 1987, a new ‘freedom constitution’ was overwhelmingly approved in a national plebiscite. This gave Aquino a mandate to rule as president until 30 June 1992. In the subsequent congressional elections, Aquino's People's Power coalition won over 90% of the elected seats.
The new administration endured a series of attempted coups by pro-Marcos supporters and faced serious opposition from Juan Enrile, who had been dismissed in November 1986. An attempted coup in August 1987 by Col Gregorio ‘Gringo’ Honasan, an army officer closely linked with Enrile, claimed 53 lives. US air support was provided to help foil a further Honasan-planned coup attempt in December 1989, after which Aquino declared a state of emergency, She survived another coup attempt in October 1990.
From 1987, the government's policy shifted to the right, with tougher measures against the NPA and dilution of the Land Reform Act 1988.
The Mount Pinatubo eruption At least 343 people were killed and 100,000–200,000 made homeless when the Mount Pinatubo volcano, dormant for 600 years and situated 90 km/56 mi northwest of Manila, erupted in June 1991. The US Clark Field and Subic Bay military bases, 15 and 40 km/9 and 25 mi away, had to be temporarily evacuated, and much rice-growing land was covered in up to 3 m/10 ft of volcanic ash.
US forces evicted from Subic Bay The Senate of the Philippines voted in September 1991 to terminate the US lease for the Subic Bay naval base on its expiry, rejecting over $2 billion in US aid over a ten-year period and the provision of approximately 45,000 jobs. Although Aquino supported renewal of the lease, opposition was overwhelming. Critics of the base claimed that its existence contravened a clause in the constitution that banned nuclear weapons, and that the presence of military personnel encouraged prostitution.
Ramos elected president Fidel Ramos, Aquino's nominated choice, was elected president in May 1992, representing the centre-right People's Power–National Union of Christian Democrats. He formed a centrist ‘rainbow coalition’ government and launched a crackdown against corruption, encouraged economic deregulation – with most state industrial assets being privatized 1992–95 – and sought to improve relations with communist and Muslim dissident groups. The anti-corruption drive led to the dismissal in 1993 of more than 60 top-ranking police officers.
Ramos faced continuing challenges from supporters of the late Ferdinand Marcos, whose body was flown home for burial in September 1993. Also that month, his widow, Imelda Marcos – who had returned in November 1991 after almost six years in exile and had stood unsuccessfully for the presidency – was sentenced to 18–24 years' imprisonment for corruption, but remained free on bail.
A National Unification Commission was formed to consult with rebel groups and, during 1993 and 1994, peace talks were held with the communist NPA and Muslim Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) secessionists, and several ceasefires were negotiated. These initiatives were endorsed in the May 1995 mid-term elections when the pro-Ramos coalition won a sweeping majority. Imelda Marcos was herself elected to the House of Representatives by a landslide majority during these elections. In February 1996 the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP: Struggle of Democratic Filipinos) withdrew from the two-party coalition, leaving President Ramos with a minority in the senate although he still had a large majority in the house of representatives.
Peace accord in civil war on Mindanao In September 1996 the government signed a peace agreement with the MNLF, providing for a Muslim autonomous region on Mindanao island, to bring an end to a 25-year insurgency that had claimed 120,000 lives. The peace agreement was seen as an unacceptable compromise by the more radical Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which continued to demand full independence for Mindanao. However, in January 1997 preliminary peace talks were opened between the government and the MILF. A ceasefire was implemented in late January, but failed to hold.
No second term for Ramos In September 1997 the Supreme Court rejected a petition seeking to amend the constitution to allow President Ramos to run for re-election for a second term. In December 1997 Ramos endorsed Jose de Venecia, the speaker of the lower house of Congress, as his successor in the coming presidential election. However, de Venecia faced strong opposition from other candidates, including the populist vice-president, Joseph Estrada (a former film star), former defence secretary Renato de Villa, and senator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (daughter of former president Diosdado Macapagal), who led in opinion polls.
Estrada becomes president The former vice-president and film star Joseph Estrada, representing the populist right-of-centre Struggle of Nationalist Filipino Masses (LaMMP), won the May 1998 presidential election with 46% of the vote, finishing 29% ahead of de Venecia. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was elected vice-president. Estrada inherited an economy which, after strong growth in the mid-1990s, was deteriorating, with a growing budget deficit and rising unemployment, as a result of the effects of the 1997–98 Asian financial crisis. He pledged to continue with the market-centred reform programme initiated by his predecessor, and appointed the banker, Edgardo Espiritu, as finance secretary. However, during his campaign, Estrada, who did not come from the country's elite and presented himself as a champion of the poor, also promised to alleviate poverty, reduce crime levels, and establish peace and order across all the Philippines, including Mindanao, within six months.
In November 1998 Estrada faced a diplomatic crisis with China, whom the Philippines accused of building naval facilities on Mischief Reef, in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Both countries claimed the reef, which was believed to contain oil and gas deposits. Philippines naval forces were sent to the Reef, but in late November China and the Philippines reached an agreement on joint use of the resources around the Reef.
In September 1999, there were widespread protests in Manila and other cities against plans put forward by President Estrada to amend the constitution. Corazón Aquino, a former president, accused Estrada of eroding the gains of the 1986 revolution by reducing press freedom.
Hostage crisis in southern Philippines In April and May 2000, the southern Philippines saw activity from Muslim rebels fighting for an independent Muslim state in the area. Foreign hostages were taken from holiday resorts in Malaysia to Basilan Island, Philippines, by rebel group Abu Sayyaf, which demanded a $2.4 million ransom and the release of three Muslim extremists from imprisonment in the USA. Some of the hostages were killed when troops attempted to rescue them. On the island of Mindanao, around a hundred people were taken hostage by the separatist MILF. In May and July 2000 government forces seized major MILF bases on Mindanao alongside continuing peace talks.
The hostage crisis continued into September 2000 as hostages held by Muslim rebels on Jolo island were released in small numbers. The Libyan leader, Khaddhafi, seeking to improve his international image, intervened and agreed to pay $4 million for the remaining hostages. However, the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group took further hostages and the Philippine army responded by launching an assault on their bases on Jolo island. A number of civilians were killed in the attacks.
In December 2000, the MILF was implicated in terrorist bombings in Manila which claimed over 20 lives.
Estrada ousted following financial scandal From the autumn of 2000, President Estrada faced increasing pressure, from public demonstrations, to resign as he became engulfed in a financial scandal. He was accused of receiving $11 million in ‘kickbacks’ from illegal gambling syndicates and the diversion of tobacco taxes. Forty members of congress deserted him for the opposition, led by former vice-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and in November 2000 he was impeached by congress.
Estrada's trial began in December 2000, but ended with indefinite suspension in January 2001 after pro-Estrada senators blocked the presentation of vital evidence regarding the president's bank accounts. After two days of public demonstrations against Estrada, his senior military commanders and cabinet deserted him. Estrada reluctantly left office in January 2001 and Arroyo was sworn in as president. In April 2001, Estrada was arrested on charges of corruption and plundering the state. Thousands of his supporters tried to storm the presidential palace, and a ‘state of rebellion’ was declared for five days until public order was restored in early May 2001. Later, in September 2007, Estrada was sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption, but President Arroyo pardoned him a month later.
Arroyo in power Arroyo took over the presidency in January 2001 at a difficult time. After rapid growth in 2000, the economy was slowing, and she faced strong opposition from supporters of the ousted Estrada and a continuing challenge from Muslim separatists and terrorists. She made economic recovery her priority, promoting privatization, economic reform, and reducing the public debt, receiving support from the IMF and World Bank. This had success and between 2002 and 2006 real GDP grew by 5% a year.
President Arroyo also ordered peace talks with the MILF on the status of Mindanao and began preliminary talks with the political wing of the communist New People's Army (NPA). She negotiated an end to separatist fighting in 2003, although there was a temporary breakdown in the ceasefire in early 2005, when 90 people were killed in fighting on the southern island of Jolo, and in August–September 2008 on Mindanao after the supreme court suspended a planned agreement to enlarge the Muslim autonomous area on the island.
Arroyo took a firm line against the Abu Sayyaf Islamic terrorist group, which had links to al-Qaeda. In May 2001, Abu Sayyaf guerrillas kidnapped 17 Filipinos and three US tourists from a luxury holiday resort on Palawan island in the southern Philippines. The Philippines government announced it would not pay ransom money and sent in special troops to fight the terrorists. Nine hostages escaped in early June, but the terrorists responded by executing hostages. Arroyo pledged to wipe out Abu Sayyaf. Its leader was killed in January 2007, but the group still remained active.
Arroyo's return to power In July 2003 President Arroyo faced a military uprising in Manila, led by Ramon Cardenas, a supporter of Estrada. It was defeated and Cardenas arrested. A year later, in May 2004, Arroyo won the presidential election. Standing as the candidate of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats she won 40% of the vote, finishing just ahead of Fernando Po of the Coalition of United Filipinos with 37% of the vote. The opposition alleged there had been vote-rigging, but she survived attempts to impeach her in September 2005 and August 2006 and an attempted coup in February 2006. She responded by imposing a week-long state of emergency and seeking to amend the constitution to abolish the opposition dominated senate, but relented after popular protests.
The division of the congress between a pro-Arroyo lower house and an opposition-dominated senate was confirmed in parliamentary elections in May 2007, which were unusually violent. She withstood a further attempted coup in November 2007 and sought to rebuild her popularity by pledging to invest in education and health and boost employment, But in 2008 Arroyo continued to face popular demands for her to resign after accusations of corruption. After her term as president ended, Arroyo was arrested in November 2011 on charges of electoral fraud, and in October 2012 for alleged misuse of state funds.
Death of Corazon Aquino – her son becomes president Former president Corazon Aquino died in August 2009, prompting an outpouring of public grief. Her 50-year-old son, senator Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, who led the Liberal Party, was persuaded to contest the May 2010 presidential election. Promising to bring an end to corruption in government, Aquino won with 42% of the vote to finish well ahead of Joseph Estrada.
In June 2010 Aquino was sworn in as president. During 2012 Aquino secured agreements with the NPA and MILF to end their insurgencies. Under an October 2012 framework peace plan, the government agreed to set up in 2016 an autonomous region (Bangsamoro) in the Muslim majority south. The Muslim-rebel MILF accepted this, signing in March 2014 a formal peace deal. It agreed to disarm and enter the political process, ending a 40-year conflict which had claimed 120,000 lives. However, the al-Qaeda and Islamic State-linked Abu Sayyaf extremist group remained outside this agreement and carried out a series of kidnappings and killings of foreigners.
Meanwhile, the Philippines' economy grew strongly from 2010–16, at 6% a year, but poverty remained deep in rural areas and corruption endemic.
Populist Duterte elected president The May 2016 presidential election was won comfortably by the 71-year-old Rodrigo Duterte, from the centre-left Philippine Democratic Party-People's Power (PDP-LABAN), who attracted 39% of the vote, to 23% for Mar Roxas of the Liberal Party. A former prosecutor and longtime mayor of Davao, on Mindanao island, Duterte was a populist strongman from a non-elite background who had transformed Davao from a murder capital into a safe city, but who had also tolerated vigilante groups. During the presidential election campaign, he promised to fix what he described as a broken and elite-dominated political system and to crack down on crime, drug-dealing, and corruption.
In June 2016 Duterte was sworn into office, becoming the country's first president from the country's south.
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