The Republic of the Philippines (Republika ng Pilipinas in Filipino), is a sovereign island country in Southeast Asia situated in the western Pacific Ocean. It consists of about 7,641 islands that are categorized broadly under three main geographical divisions from north to south: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The capital city of the Philippines is Manila and the most populous city is Quezon City, both part of Metro Manila. Bounded by the South China Sea on the west, the Philippine Sea on the east and the Celebes Sea on the southwest, the Philippines shares maritime borders with Taiwan to the north, Vietnam to the west, Palau to the east and Malaysia and Indonesia to the south.
The Philippines’ location on the Pacific Ring of Fire and close to the equator makes the Philippines prone to earthquakes and typhoons, but also endows it with abundant natural resources and some of the world’s greatest biodiversity. The Philippines has an area of 115,831 square miles (300,000 square kilometers, and a population of approximately 100 million. It is the eighth-most populated country in Asia and the twelfth most populated country in the world. As of 2013, approximately 10 million additional Filipinos lived overseas, comprising one of the world’s largest diasporas. Multiple ethnicities and cultures are found throughout the islands. In prehistoric times, Negritos were some of the archipelago’s earliest inhabitants. They were followed by successive waves of Austronesian peoples. Exchanges with Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Islamic nations occurred. Then, various competing maritime states were established under the rule of Datus, Rajahs, Sultans or Lakans.
The arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in Homonhon, Eastern Samar in 1521 marked the beginning of Hispanic colonization. In 1543, Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos named the archipelago Las Islas Filipinas in honor of Philip II of Spain. With the arrival of Miguel López de Legazpi from Mexico City, in 1565, the first Hispanic settlement in the archipelago was established. The Philippines became part of the Spanish Empire for more than 300 years. This resulted in Roman Catholicism becoming the dominant religion. During this time, Manila became the western hub of the trans-Pacific trade connecting Asia with Acapulco in the Americas using Manila galleons.
As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, there followed in quick succession the Philippine Revolution, which spawned the short-lived First Philippine Republic, followed by the bloody Philippine–American War of conquest by United States military forces. Aside from the period of Japanese occupation, the United States retained sovereignty over the islands until after World War II, when the Philippines was recognized as an independent nation. Since then, the Philippines has often had a tumultuous experience with democracy, which included the overthrow of a dictatorship by a non-violent revolution.
The Philippines is a founding member of the United Nations, World Trade Organization, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and the East Asia Summit. It also hosts the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank. The nation is considered to be an emerging market and a newly industrialized country, which has an economy transitioning from being one based on agriculture to one based more on services and manufacturing. It is one of only two predominantly Christian nations in Southeast Asia, the other being East Timor.
Philippine independence came on July 4, 1946, with the signing of the Treaty of Manila between the governments of the United States and the Philippines. The treaty provided for the recognition of the independence of the Republic of the Philippines and the relinquishment of American sovereignty over the Philippine Islands.
The U.S. retained dozens of military bases, including a few major ones. In addition, independence was qualified by legislation passed by the U.S. Congress. For example, the Bell Trade Act provided a mechanism whereby U.S. import quotas might be established on Philippine articles which “are coming, or are likely to come, into substantial competition with like articles the product of the United States”. It further required U.S. citizens and corporations be granted equal access to Philippine minerals, forests, and other natural resources. In hearings before the Senate Committee on Finance, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs William L. Clayton described the law as “clearly inconsistent with the basic foreign economic policy of this country” and “clearly inconsistent with our promise to grant the Philippines genuine independence.”
The Philippine government had little choice but to accept these terms for independence. The U.S. Congress was threatening to withhold post-World War II rebuilding funds unless the Bell Act was ratified. The Philippine Congress obliged on July 2, 1946.
The Philippines currently celebrates its Independence Day on June 12, the anniversary of Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration of independence from Spain in 1898. The declaration was not recognized by the United States which, after defeating the Spanish in the Battle of Manila Bay in May that year, acquired the Philippine Islands via the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish–American War.
From 1946 to 1961, Independence Day was observed on July 4. On May 12, 1962, President Macapagal issued Presidential Proclamation No. 28, proclaiming Tuesday, June 12, 1962, as a special public holiday throughout the Philippines. In 1964, Republic Act No. 4166 changed the date of Independence Day from July 4 to June 12 and renamed the July 4 holiday as Philippine Republic Day.
When the Congress of the Philippines was convened in 1945, the legislators elected in 1941 chose Manuel Roxas as Senate President. In the Philippine national elections of 1946, Roxas ran for president as the nominee of the liberal wing of the Nacionalista Party. He had the staunch support of General MacArthur. His opponent was Sergio Osmeña, who refused to campaign, saying that the Filipino people knew his reputation. In the April 23, 1946, election, Roxas won 54 percent of the vote, and the Liberal Party won a majority in the legislature. When the Philippines gained independence from the United States on July 4, 1946, Roxas became the first president of the new republic.
Although Roxas was successful in getting rehabilitation funds from the United States after independence, he was forced to concede military bases (23 of which were leased for 99 years), trade restrictions for the Philippine citizens, and special privileges for U.S. property owners and investors. His administration was marred by graft and corruption; moreover, the abuses of the provincial military police contributed to the rise of the left-wing Hukbalahap (Huk) movement in the countryside. His heavy-handed attempts to crush the Huks led to widespread peasant disaffection.
During Roxas’ term of office administration of the Turtle Islands and Mangsee Islands was transferred by the United Kingdom to the Republic of the Philippines. By an international treaty concluded in 1930 between the United States (in respect of its then overseas territory, the Philippine Archipelago) and the United Kingdom (in respect of its then protectorate, the State of North Borneo) the two powers agreed the international boundaries between those respective territories. In that treaty the United Kingdom also accepted that the Turtle Islands as well as the Mangsee Islands were part of the Philippines Archipelago and therefore under U.S. sovereignty. However, by a supplemental international treaty concluded at the same time, the two powers agreed that those islands, although part of the Philippines Archipelago, would remain under the administration of the State of North Borneo’s British North Borneo Company. The supplemental treaty provided that the British North Borneo Company would continue to administer those islands unless and until the United States government gave notice to the United Kingdom calling for administration of the islands to be transferred to the U.S. The U.S. never gave such a notice.
On July 15, 1946, the United Kingdom annexed the State of North Borneo and, in the view of the United Kingdom, became the sovereign power with respect to what had been the State of North Borneo. On September 19, 1946, the Republic of the Philippines notified the United Kingdom that it wished to take over the administration of the Turtle Islands and the Mangesse Islands. Pursuant to a supplemental international agreement, the transfer of administration became effective on October 16, 1947.
Roxas did not stay long in office because of a heart attack as he was speaking at Clark Air Base on April 15, 1948. He was succeeded by his vice president Elpidio Quirino. Disgruntled remnants of the communist Hukbalahap continued to roam the countryside but were put down by President Elpidio Quirino’s successor Ramon Magsaysay. Magsaysay’s successor, Carlos P. Garcia, initiated the Filipino First Policy, which was continued by Diosdado Macapagal.
In 1965, Macapagal lost the presidential election to Ferdinand Marcos. Early in his presidency, Marcos initiated numerous infrastructure projects but was accused of massive corruption and embezzling billions of dollars in public funds. Nearing the end of his term, Marcos declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972. This period of his rule was characterized by political repression, censorship, and human rights violations but the U.S. were steadfast in their support. His wife Imelda continued to live a lavish lifestyle as the majority of Filipinos remained in poverty.
On August 21, 1983, Marcos’ chief rival, opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr., was assassinated on the tarmac at Manila International Airport. Marcos eventually called snap presidential elections in 1986. Marcos was proclaimed the winner, but the results were widely regarded as fraudulent, leading to the People Power Revolution. Marcos and his allies fled to Hawaii and Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino was recognized as president.
The return of democracy and government reforms beginning in 1986 were hampered by national debt, government corruption, coup attempts, disasters, a persistent communist insurgency, and a military conflict with Moro separatists. During Corazon Aquino’s administration, U.S. forces withdrew from the Philippines, due to the rejection of the U.S. Bases Extension Treaty, and leading to the official transfer of Clark Air Base in November 1991 and Subic Bay to the government in December 1992. The administration also faced a series of natural disasters, including the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991. After introducing a constitution that limited presidents to a single term, Aquino did not stand for re-election.
Aquino was succeeded by Fidel V. Ramos, who won the Philippine presidential election held in May 1992. During this period, the economy was known as the “Tiger Economy in Asia”, with an average of 6% GDP growth rate. However, the political stability and economic improvements, such as the peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front in 1996, were overshadowed by the onset of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. During his presidency, the death penalty was revived in the light of the Rape-slay case of Eileen Sarmienta and Allan Gomez in 1993 and the first person to be executed was Leo Echegaray in 1999.
Ramos’ successor, Joseph Estrada assumed office in June 1998 and managed to regain the economy from −0.6% growth to 3.4% by 1999 amidst the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The government had announced a war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in March 2000 and neutralized the camps including the headquarters of the insurgents. In the middle of ongoing conflict with the Abu Sayyaf, accusations of alleged corruption, and a stalled impeachment process, Estrada’s administration was overthrown by the 2001 EDSA Revolution and succeeded by his Vice President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on January 20, 2001.
In Arroyo’s nine-year administration, the economy experienced GDP growth from 4% in 2002 to 7% growth in 2007 with the completion of infrastructure projects like the LRT Line 2 in 2004 and managed to avoid the Great Recession. Nevertheless, it was tied with graft and political scandals such as the Hello Garci scandal pertaining to the alleged manipulation of votes in the 2004 presidential elections. On November 23, 2009, the Maguindanao massacre led to the murder of 34 journalists.
Benigno Aquino III won the 2010 national elections and served as the 15th president of the Philippines. He was the third youngest person to be elected president and the first to be a bachelor, beginning with the 2010 Manila hostage crisis that caused deeply strained relations between Manila and Hong Kong for a time. The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed on October 15, 2012, as the first step of the creation of an autonomous political entity named Bangsamoro. However, territorial disputes in eastern Sabah and the South China Sea escalated.
The economy performed well at 7.2% GDP growth, the second fastest in Asia. Aquino signed the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, commonly known as K–12 program in May 15, 2013, aiming to enhance the educational system in the country.
On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck and heavily devastated the country, especially in the Visayas. On April 28, 2014, when United States President Barack Obama visited the Philippines, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, was signed. From January 15 to 19, 2015, Pope Francis stayed in the Philippines for an apostolic and state visit and paid visits to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).
On January 25, 2015, 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force were killed after a clash took place in Mamasapano, Maguindanao putting efforts to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law into law in an impasse. On December 20, 2015, Pia Wurtzbach won the Miss Universe 2015, making her the third Filipino to win the Miss Universe title following Gloria Diaz in 1969 and Margarita Moran in 1973.
On January 12, 2016, the Philippine Supreme Court upheld the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement paving the way for the return of United States Armed Forces bases into the country. On March 23, 2016, Diwata-1 was launched to the International Space Station (ISS), becoming the country’s first micro-satellite and the first satellite to be built and designed by Filipinos.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of PDP–Laban won the 2016 presidential election becoming the first president from Mindanao. Camarines Sur representative Leni Robredo won the vice presidency. On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines in its case against China’s claims in the South China Sea. On August 1, 2016, the Duterte administration launched a 24-hour complaint office accessible to the public through a nationwide hotline, 8888, and changed the nationwide emergency telephone number from 117 to 911. After winning the Presidency, Duterte had urged, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” By March 2017, the death toll for the Philippine Drug War passed 8,000 people.
The inauguration of the Third Philippine Republic on July 4, 1946, was commemorated by three stamps showing a Filipino woman in native dress with a crown of laurel and holding in her hands the Philippine flag (Scott #500-502). In the background were the flags of all the nations. The stamps, therefore, not only symbolized the independence of the Philippines but also heralded her new role in the great family of the nations.
Even the new Special Delivery stamp issued on December 22, 1947, pictured the unmistakable progress of the Philippines. Where the old Special Delivery stamp portrayed a postal messenger jogging against the background of Mt. Mayon the new stamp showed a mail messenger riding on a bicycle to deliver a letter. In the background may be seen the imposing Post Office Building in Manila.
It has been said that the last objects U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt looked at and touched before he suddenly died in April 1945 were stamps of the Philippines. In describing the great man’s last moments in his book Roosevelt in Retrospect, John Gunther wrote “This was about half an hour before the final seizure. F.D.R. filled an envelope with duplicate stamps which he marked ‘to give away’ and then inspected some issues put out by the Japanese during the occupation of the Philippines”. A set of four portraying President Roosevelt with his stamp collection were released on May 22, 1950, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Philatelic Association of the Philippines (Scott #542-544 and #C70).
Scott #508 was issued in 1947, 20 centavos red brown, engraved and perforated 12. The stamp portrays Mayon, an active stratovolcano in the province of Albay in Bicol Region, on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Renowned as the “perfect cone” because of its symmetric conical shape, the volcano and its surrounding landscape was declared a national park on July 20, 1938, the first in the nation. It was reclassified a Natural Park and renamed Mayon Volcano Natural Park in the year 2000. Local folklore refers to the volcano being named after the legendary princess-heroine Daragang Magayon (Beautiful Lady).
Mayon is the main landmark and highest point of the province of Albay and the whole Bicol Region, rising 8,077 feet (2,462 meters) from the shores of the Albay Gulf about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) away. The volcano is geographically shared by the eight cities and municipalities of Legazpi, Daraga, Camalig, Guinobatan, Ligao, Tabaco, Malilipot and Santo Domingo (clockwise from Legazpi), which divide the cone like slices of a pie when viewed from above.
Mayon is a classic stratovolcano with a small central summit crater. The cone is considered the world’s most perfectly formed volcano for its symmetry, which was formed through layers of lava flows and pyroclastic surges from past eruptions and erosion. The upper slopes of the basaltic-andesitic stratovolcano are steep, averaging 35–40 degrees.
Like other volcanoes around the Pacific Ocean, Mayon is a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. It is on the southeast side of Luzon, close to the Philippine Trench, which is the convergent boundary where the Philippine Sea Plate is driven under the Philippine Mobile Belt. When a continental plate meets an oceanic plate, the lighter and thicker continental material overrides the thinner and heavier oceanic plate, forcing it down into the Earth’s mantle and melting it. Superheated magma and gases may be forced through weaknesses in the continental crust caused by the subduction of the oceanic plate, and one such exit point is Mayon.
Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines, erupting over 49 times in the past 400 years. The first record of a major eruption was witnessed in February 1616 by Dutch explorer Joris van Spilbergen who recorded it on his log in his circumnavigation trip around the world. The first eruption for which an extended account exists was the six-day event of July 20, 1766.
The most destructive eruption occurred on February 1, 1814 (VEI=4). Lava flowed but less than the 1766 eruption. The volcano belched dark ash and eventually bombarded the town of Cagsawa with tephra that buried it. Trees burned, rivers were certainly damaged. Proximate areas were also devastated by the eruption, with ash accumulating to 30 feet (nine meters) in depth. In Albay, 2,200 locals perished in what is considered to be the most lethal eruption in Mayon’s history although estimates by PHIVOLCS list the casualties at about 1,200. The eruption is believed to have contributed to the accumulation of atmospheric ash capped by the catastrophic 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, that led to the Year Without a Summer in 1816.
Mayon’s longest uninterrupted eruption occurred on June 23, 1897 (VEI=4), which lasted for seven days of raining fire. Lava once again flowed down to civilization. Seven miles (11 km) eastward, the village of Bacacay was buried 49 feet (15 m) beneath the lava. In Libon, 100 people were killed by steam and falling debris or hot rocks. Other villages such as San Roque, Misericordia and Santo Niño became deathtraps. Ash was carried in black clouds as far as 99 miles (160 km) from the catastrophic event, which killed more than 400 people.
Heightened seismic activity occurred in August and September 2014. On September 12, 2016, The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) warned of a possible “big” Mayon eruption in the near future. That has yet to occur.