This article provides useful Philippines facts and figures. The Philippines is an archipelago consisting of 7641 islands. Most of its fast-growing population lives on just 11 of them. Luzon is the main island on which the capital Manila is located. The island Mindanao in the south is the second largest island. This beautiful island has a significant Muslim population. Between Luzon and Mindanao is a group of islands known as the Visayas. The most well-known islands of the Visayas are Cebu, Negros, Bohol, Panay and Leyte. The island of Palawan is located west of the Visayas. Apart from these islands, there are thousands of other islands. Some inhabited but many are not. The Travel Authentic Philippines office is located in Cebu City on Cebu. We are one of the few DMCs located in Cebu. Most are located in Manila.
Negritos were some of the archipelago’s earliest inhabitants. They were followed by successive waves of Austronesian peoples. There were exchanges with Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Islamic nations. After this various competing maritime states were established under the rule of Datus, Rajahs, Sultans, or Lakans. The arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 marked the beginning of Spanish colonization. In 1543 Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos named the archipelago Las Islas Filipinas in honor of King Philip II of Spain. Miguel López de Legazpi established the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines. The Philippines was part of the Spanish Empire for more than 350 years. The Spanish rulers introduced Catholicism which became the dominant religion. During this time, Manila became the western hub of the trans-Pacific trade connecting Asia with South America.
At the end of the 19th century, an uprising took place against the Spanish colonial rulers quickly followed by the Spanish-American War in 1898. The United States became the new colonial ruler after the bloody Philippine–American War. 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 the Marcos dictatorship by a non-violent revolution in 1986.
It is a founding member of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the 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 Philippines 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 the only two predominantly Christian nations in Southeast Asia, the other being East Timor.
The islands of the Philippines are inhabited by a number of different ethnic groups. This is probably one of the lesser-known Philippines facts. The majority of the population is composed of ethnolinguistic groups whose languages are Austronesian, also known as Malayo-Polynesian, in origin.
Ethnic groups include the Cebuano, Ilocano, Pangasinense, Kapampangan, Tagalog, Bicolano, Waray, Surigaonon, Zamboangueño, and Hiligaynon who are also called Ilonggo. Many of these groups converted to Christianity, particularly the lowland-coastal groups, and adopted many foreign elements of culture.
About 15% of the population is made up of what are generally defined as indigenous people. They are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines. Many of these groups were virtually untouched by Spanish and American influence and largely retained their customs and traditions. Most well-known of these indigenous people are the Igorot, a group that includes the Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao, and Kalinga. They inhabit the Central Cordillera Mountain Range in North Luzon.
Owing to the difficult terrain, the Cordillera tribes are among the few peoples of the Philippines who have successfully resisted foreign domination and preserved their authentic tribal culture. These groups were responsible for the construction of the rice terraces of North Luzon that were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The oldest inhabitants of the Philippines are the Negrito. They are a pre-Austronesian people who migrated from mainland Asia around 90,000 years ago. Their tribal groups include the Ati, who inhabit mountainous areas of Negros, and the Aeta, who live on the slopes of Mount Pinatubo. Their ways of life remain mostly free from Western and Islamic influences. In the Southern and Central Philippines, upland and lowland tribal groups are concentrated in Mindanao and Western Visayas, although there are several indigenous groups such as the Mangyan living in Mindoro. An important group in Mindanao is collectively called the Lumad and includes the Manobo, Bukidnon of Bukidnon province, Bagobo, Mandaya, Mansaka, and the Tagakaulo who inhabited the mountains bordering the Gulf of Davao.
Other ethnic groups are the B’laan, Teduray, and T’boli who live in South Cotabato. They maintain their animistic beliefs and traditions though some of them have converted to Christianity. Another important group is the Muslim ethnic minorities, such as the Maguindanao, Maranao, and the Tausug. Travel Authentic Philippines offers tours that specifically focus on the indigenous culture and people of the Philippines. These tours contain visits to Ifugao, Bontoc, and Kalinga minorities in North Luzon. We also offer tours to the Tagbanwa and Batak minorities of Palawan.
Philippine culture is a unique and interesting melting pot of Asian European and American influences. The Philippines exhibits aspects found in other Asian countries with a Malay heritage, yet its culture also displays a significant number of Spanish and American influences. Traditional festivities known as barrio fiestas (district festivals) to commemorate the feast days of patron saints are common. These community celebrations are times for feasting, music, and dancing. The Ati-Atihan, Moriones, and Sinulog festivals are a couple of the most well-known events. Some traditions, however, are changing or gradually being forgotten due to modernization. The Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company has been lauded for preserving many of the various traditional folk dances found throughout the Philippines.
One of the most visible Hispanic legacies is the prevalence of Spanish names and surnames among Filipinos; a Spanish name and surname, however, does not necessarily denote Spanish ancestry. This peculiarity, unique among the people of Asia, came as a result of a colonial edict by Governor-General Narciso Clavería y Zaldua, which ordered the systematic distribution of family names and implementation of Hispanic nomenclature on the population. The names of many streets, towns, and provinces are also in Spanish. Very few Filipinos though speak Spanish.
The common use of the English language is an example of the American impact on Philippine society. It has contributed to the ready acceptance and influence of American pop cultural trends. This affinity is seen in Filipinos’ love of fast food, of American movies and music, and of sports like basketball and pool billiard. Fast food outlets are found on many street corners. American global fast food chain stalwarts have entered the market, but local fast food chains like Goldilocks and most notably Jollibee, the leading fast food chain in the country, have emerged and competed successfully against their foreign rivals.
There are influences of Spanish architecture in the Philippines, mainly among the country’s churches, government buildings, and universities. Four Philippine baroque churches are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the San Agustín Church in Manila, Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Santa María) Church in Ilocos Sur, and Santo Tomás de Villanueva Church in Iloilo. Vigan in Ilocos Sur is also known for the many Spanish-style houses and buildings preserved there. Taal Heritage Town south of Manila and Silay City on Negros has many heritage houses. Travel Authentic Philippines includes visits to iconic churches and heritage houses in its itineraries. During the American colonial period (1898-1948) in 1898, a new breed of architectural structures was introduced. Government buildings and theaters were constructed in Art Deco style. American architect Daniel Burnham left his imprint on Manila. Government buildings were constructed in Greek or Neoclassical style. In Iloilo, a lot of the colonial buildings constructed during the American period in the country are still there such as commercial buildings, houses, and churches. However, certain areas of the country like Batanes have slight differences as both Spanish and Filipino styles of architecture assimilated differently due to the climate. Limestones and coral were used as building materials. Travel Authentic Philippines offers tours that focus on the architectural heritage of the country.
English is the official language in the Philippines. It is taught at schools and is widely spoken in all urban centers. Even in rural areas, many local villagers (especially younger ones who have received schooling) will be able to converse in English. All guides and general staff in the tourist industry have a good command of English. There are some 120 to 187 languages and dialects in the Philippines, depending on the method of classification. Almost all are Malayo-Polynesian languages, whereas one, Chavacano, is a creole derived from Spanish, a Romance language. Two, English and Filipino, are official, while nineteen (as of 2017) are official auxiliary languages. Including second-language speakers, there are more speakers of Filipino than English in the Philippines.
The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino enumerated 130 Philippine languages present in the country through its Atlas Filipinas map published in 2016. The indigenous scripts of the Philippines (such as the Kulitan, Tagbanwa, and others) are used very little.
Filipino languages are today written in the Latin script because of the Spanish and American colonial experience. Baybayin, however, one of the most well-known of the indigenous Filipino scripts, is used by the government in some applications such as on the Philippine banknotes, where the word “Pilipino” is inscribed using the writing system. Additionally, the Arabic script is used in the Muslim areas in the southern Philippines. There are 13 indigenous languages with at least one million native speakers. One or more of these is spoken natively by more than 90% of the population: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Bikol, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Maranao, Tausug, Maguindanao and Kinaray-a
Nature and biodiversity
The Philippines’ rainforests and its extensive coastlines make it home to a diverse range of birds, plants, animals, and sea creatures. It is one of the ten most biologically diverse countries in the world. This is also one of the lesser-known Philippines facts. Around 1,100 land vertebrate species can be found in the Philippines including over 100 mammal species and 170 bird species not thought to exist elsewhere. The Philippines has among the highest rates of discovery in the world with sixteen new species of mammals discovered in the last ten years. Because of this, the rate of endemism in the Philippines has risen and likely will continue to rise. Native mammals include the tamaraw, the Philippine eagle, the palm civet cat, the dugong, and the cloud rat. The famous Philippine tarsier is found in Bohol. Although the Philippines lack large mammalian predators, it does have some very large reptiles such as pythons and cobras, together with gigantic saltwater crocodiles. In 2016 Travel Authentic Philippines organized a herpetology tour. It focused on snakes. The largest crocodile in captivity, known locally as Lolong, was captured on the southern island of Mindanao. The national bird, known as the Philippine eagle has the longest body of any eagle.
Philippine maritime waters have unique and diverse marine life, an important part of the Coral Triangle. The total number of corals and marine fish species was estimated at 500 and 2,400 respectively. New records and species discoveries continuously increase these numbers underlining the uniqueness of the marine resources in the Philippines. The Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea was declared a World Heritage Site in 1993.
With an estimated 13,500 plant species in the country, 3,200 of which are unique to the islands, Philippine rainforests boast an array of flora, including many rare types of orchids and rafflesia. Deforestation, often the result of illegal logging, is an acute problem in the Philippines. Forest cover declined from 70% of the Philippines’s total land area in 1900 to about 18.3% in 1999. Many species are endangered. Scientists say that Southeast Asia, which the Philippines is part of, faces a catastrophic extinction rate of 20% by the end of the 21st century.
The average yearly temperature is around 26.6 °C. In considering temperature, location in terms of latitude and longitude is not a significant factor. Whether in the extreme north, south, east, or west of the country, temperatures at sea level tend to be in the same range. Altitude usually has more of an impact. The average annual temperature of Baguio at an elevation of 1,500 meters above sea level is 18.3 °C. This makes it a popular destination during hot summers. Sitting astride the typhoon belt, most of the islands experience annual torrential rains and thunderstorms from July to October. Around nineteen typhoons enter the Philippine area of responsibility in a typical year with eight or nine making landfall. More about the climate in our travel information.
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Currency and ATMs
The Philippine peso, also referred to by its Filipino name piso, is the official currency of the Philippines. It is subdivided into 100 centavos or sentimos in Filipino. As a former colony of the United States, the country used English on its currency, with the word “peso” appearing on notes and coinage until 1967. Since the adoption of the usage of the Filipino language on banknotes and coins, the term “piso” is now used.
You won’t have a problem finding an ATM in major Philippine cities, especially in Metro Manila. Your best bet is to enter any mall and you’ll find at least one ATM there. Most ATMs charge a fee for withdrawing money. This is usually in the range of 150-200 PHP. Some local bank ATMs will also have a withdrawal limit, which ranges from Php4,000 to P20,000 per withdrawal and may also impose a limit of 2 withdrawals per day.
Some ATMs may run out of money on weekends, paydays (10th/15th and 25th/30th of the month), just before and during national holidays. There are also long queues on the mentioned days.
A lot of the newer machines will return your card right after you enter your PIN before your transaction is complete. Keep your card and continue with your withdrawal. Bring cash in the local currency to all remote places. Some rural areas may not even have a bank.
January 1 New Year’s Day
February 16 Chinese New Year
February 25 People Power Revolution
March 30 Good Friday
March 31 Black Saturday
April 1 Easter
April 2 Easter Monday
April 9 Day of Valour
May 1 Labour Day
June 12 Independence Day
June 24 Manila Day
August 21 Ninoy Aquino Day
August 27 National Heroes Day
November 1 All Saints Day
November 2 Public Holiday
November 30 Bonifacio Day
December 8 Immaculate Conception Day
December 24 Christmas Eve
December 25 Christmas Day
December 30 Rizal Day
December 31 New Year’s Eve
In an article about the Philippines’ facts and figures, we can’t omit health. Visit your physician at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis (JE), and chikungunya virus occur all year round. There were increased levels of dengue cases in 2016. There’s a heightened risk of dengue fever during the rainy season (June to October). You should take appropriate precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. Although adequate in major cities, medical care is limited in more remote areas. Even some of the more popular tourist destinations have limited and basic medical provisions. This may result in a delay when seeking urgent medical attention in an emergency.
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
As the strains of malaria, and the drugs used to combat them, frequently change, and as certain strains can become drug-resistant, it is best to seek medical advice before your departure and take any medication prescribed. Pregnant or very young children are not advised to travel to malarial areas.
Other precautions are: to wear long sleeves, socks, closed shoes, and generally keep the body covered, sleep with a mosquito net, and use mosquito coils and repellent.
Many passport holders do not require a visa to enter the Philippines and get 21 days visa-free.
Please check the most recent guidelines with us as these can change.
Manila Ninoy Aquino Airport
Puerto Princesa Airport
Ilo Ilo Airport
General Santos Airport
Subic Bay Airport
This concludes our article on the Philippines’ facts and figures.