The Philippines is a mountainous archipelago of 7000 islands — and 20 active volcanoes. The country has a median age of 24, life expectancy of 70, and a near-equal distribution of urban-to-rural; family size is on average 2.5 children, with first childbirth at age 22.5.
Its population of 109 million includes nearly 100 culturally and linguistically distinct ethnic groups, the two largest of which are Tagalog and Cebuano; most, other than a few indigenous groups, were ancestrally Malay. The Philippines has been identified as a unique blend of diversity and homogeneity.
The people are engaged politically; following a 20-year totalitarian government (1966-1986), the People’s Power movement accomplished regime change — and in 2001, this civil society initiative again ousted the nation’s president.
The Philippines is often described as a blend of ‘East’ and ‘West’ — based in a history of colonisation. A Spanish colony for 333 years, then US-governed 1889-1946 (with a close alliance remaining), the nation has been independent since. Its predominant culture is strongly Euro-American: 80% Catholic, English an official language, US-style education system, primarily Western-style clothing, but Asian at its core: kinship network, village-level governance, emphasis on Asian history and literature, and a revival of traditions.
The southern region of the Philippines has been primarily Muslim since the 15th century (from Brunei); the US takeover in 1898 saw attempts at forcible inclusion or forcing out of Muslims, and relations between the south and the remainder of the country have been strained, with frequent terror attacks since the 1970s. A peace deal was signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014 and non-Jihadist insurgency ended in 2019 – though a new anti-terrorism law, allowing imprisonment without due process, is under strong protest.
The Philippines is also considered to be one of the most ‘dangerous’ countries for journalists, one of whom was recently convicted of ‘cyber-libel’ for publishing criticism of the government; though freedom of the press is constitutionally guaranteed, in practice the media is frequently criticised and sanctioned. As well, there is a current climate of hostility toward marginalised communities, and restriction in online freedom of expression for all citizens.
Outside of the Manila – Quezon City – Makati urban configuration, there is a significant wealth disparity in the country. Though rich in natural resources, the Philippines is primarily agriculturally- and marine-based, more than 50% live in rural environs, and the country is a major foreign aid recipient. Despite this, the Philippines is known as an educational leader regionally, and has one of the highest literacy rates at more than 98% for both genders.
Despite often being identified culturally as patriarchal and misogynistic, the Philippines has a high degree of gender equality in key areas: women outnumber men in senior / leadership roles, in professional / technical fields, and in both secondary and tertiary education. In 2019, the Philippines ranked 8th globally (Global Gender Gap Report, WEF), though in 2020 falling to 16th due to considerable decrease in political representation (Cabinet, from 25 to just 10%; Congress at just 28%). Other areas of concern include women in armed conflict, domestic violence, prostitution, imprisonment, and the lower status of unmarried women. The country is still #1 for gender equality in Asia.
Hofstede Cultural Dimensions for the Philippines indicate a culture that is primarily collectivist and strongly hierarchical, with a key emphasis on success and status, and a short-term orientation. It remains a culture, and a country, of contradictions.