The Philippines is an archipelago comprising some 7,100 islands with a total land area of almost 300,000 square kilometres. Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei border the Philippines to the south, China—and Taiwan—to the north, Vietnam to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. Three main island groups divide the country: Luzon in the north, the Visayas in the centre, and Mindanao in the south. Luzon and Mindanao together make up 65 per cent of the Philippines' total land mass. The capital city, Manila, is located on Luzon.
The projected population of the Philippines is 94 million in 2010, with about 15 per cent belonging to indigenous groups. It is estimated that about 80 per cent of the population are Catholics and 5 per cent are Muslims. The most commonly spoken language in the Philippines is Filipino, a language derived from the Tagalog language of central and southern Luzon. English is also widely spoken, particularly in urban areas. There are some 87 ethnic languages and dialects spoken throughout the Philippines.
The Philippines, despite some favourable social and economic indicators, is yet to reach its economic potential. Growth that has not been inclusive, and growth that has been steady rather than dynamic over the past two decades has prevented the Philippines from keeping pace with many of its East Asian neighbours in reducing poverty.
The Government of the Philippines' Midterm Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) shows the country is on track to meet 2015 targets on reducing child mortality, promoting gender equality, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and increasing access to safe drinking water and sanitation. However, the country needs to increase its efforts to meet universal primary education and maternal health goals.
The Aquino government assumed office on 1 July 2010. President Aquino faces the challenge of ensuring that growth translates into poverty reduction and there is faster progress towards important MDG goals. The initial policy directions and priorities set by President Aquino offer much promise.
THE PHILIPPINE ENVIRONMENT
The proportion of the population living below US$1.25 a day in 2006 was 23 per cent or around 20 million people. At the same time, about 44 per cent or over 40 million Filipinos were living on less than US$2 a day. While the Philippines was able to reduce poverty incidence from as high as 30 per cent in the early 1990s, the actual number of people living in poverty has increased over the last two decades. The global food and fuel price crises in 2007 and 2008, and the global economic crisis that followed, are estimated to have pushed even more people into poverty. The economy took a further hit in late 2009, as the worst typhoon season in 40 years devastated Metro Manila and the agricultural heartland of the country.
Even during periods of stronger economic growth, such as 2004-2008, poverty continued to rise. Various factors have contributed to the lack of progress on poverty reduction in the Philippines. Some of these are:
* an agriculture sector that has performed weakly and failed to raise the incomes of the rural poor
* growth that is primarily based on consumption and not creating employment opportunities for the poor
* high population growth, which averaged 2 per cent annually over the past decade, and places additional strain on the cost of household living and demand for basic services
* income inequality, which increased in the 1990s and remains relatively high—the poorest 20 per cent of the population accounting for only 5 per cent of total income or consumption
* inability of the government to provide sufficient basic services, especially to people in poorer remote regions
* vulnerability of poorer communities to natural disasters and civil unrest which adversely affects livelihoods