The Philippines at a glance

KNOWN as the Pearl of the Orient Seas, the Philippines is an archipelago consisting of more than 7,100 islands shimmering in the West Pacific. The tropical country is peopled by around 100 million Filipinos who are basically of Malay stock with a racial mix that can be expected of a population caught in the cross-current of commerce and conquest.

The Republic of the Philippines was one of the original 51 founding members of the United Nations when it came into existence on Oct. 24, 1945, after the last world war. It is also one of the original member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) whose 10 members are now Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Having been a Spanish colony for more than three centuries from the 16th Century, the Philippines is dominantly (90-percent) Christian in religious orientation, but has an American-patterned government structure in place – a progression from the first Republic proclaimed on June 12, 1898, in Kawit, Cavite, in revolt against Spanish colonial rule.

Its present Constitution ratified in 1987 has carried over verbatim the section in the 1935 and the 1973 charters saying “The Philippines is a republican state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” Taking this to heart, Filipinos staged in 1986 the bloodless EDSA Revolt that drove the dictator fleeing to Hawaii.

The government structure consists of three independent co-equal branches: the Executive headed by the President, the Legislature (a Congress composed of a House of Representatives and a Senate), and the Judiciary composed of the Supreme Court and lower courts.

The top elective executive officials sworn into office at noon of June 30, 2016, for six-year terms were President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PDP-Laban), 72, and Vice President Ma. Leonora G. Robredo (Liberal Party), 52. When elected on May 9, 2016, “Rody” Duterte was Davao City mayor, while “Leni” Robredo was representative of the third congressional district of Camarines Sur.

Duterte garnered 16,601,997 votes, or 38.99 percent of the estimated 42.6 million voters in an automated election touted as the most transparent in recent times. His closest rivals, former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas (LP) and Sen. Grace Poe (Ind.), were at least 6 million votes behind. Robredo had a slimmer margin of over 263,473, or 0.64 percent of all votes counted, over closest rival Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (Nacionalista Party).

The capital city of Manila is noted for its bayside promenade with its fantastic sunset view, its centuries-old Chinatown, the inner walled city of Intramuros, the baroque San Agustin church and the nearby citadel and military prison of Fort Santiago. Over the decades, the financial hub of Manila has moved to trendy Makati south of it. Manila has a population of two million, compared to the 12 million of entire Metro Manila composed of 16 cities and one municipality.

The Philippine islands, a Spanish colony in the 16th Century, were ceded to the United States in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. In 1935 the acquired US territory became a self-governing commonwealth under American tutelage. President Manuel L. Quezon was tasked to prepare the country for independence after a 10-year transition. But in 1942 the islands were overrun by Japanese forces during World War II. After the invaders were defeated, the US promise of restoring independence became reality on July 4, 1946. That launched the Philippines into a regime of freedom marked by the usual aberrations of a young free-wheeling democracy.

With his country blessed with bountiful human and natural resources, the Filipino — as resilient, and graceful, as the bamboo bending with the wind — is the eternal optimist.