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Philippines country brief

Philippines country brief


The Philippines is situated between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean and lies entirely within the tropics. Forming part of the Malay Archipelago, with a total land area of 299,303 sq km (slightly larger than the State of Victoria), the Philippines extends 1,770km from north to south and 1,100km from east to west.

It consists of 7,107 islands and islets of which only 2,773 have names and about 500 are larger than a square kilometre. In order of size, the largest islands are Luzon, Mindanao, Palawan, Panay, Mindoro, Samar, Negros, Leyte, Cebu, Bohol, and Masbate. Together they make up 95 per cent of the total land area. The three major island groups are Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The Philippines' population is approximately 103.3 million (2016, World Bank). Over ten million Filipinos live overseas, comprising one of the world's largest diasporas.

The diverse geography of the Philippines and its eventful history are reflected in the diversity of its populations. It is estimated that there are 187 indigenous Philippine languages, some of which make up the oldest Austronesian language family. There are 19 officially-recognized regional languages, and the seven major dialects spoken are: Tagalog, Cebuano, Bisaya/Binisaya, Ilocano, Hiligaynon (Ilongo), Bicol, and Lineyte-Samarnon (Waray). There are two official languages in the Philippines, Tagalog and English. The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic (80.6%), followed by Muslim Filipinos accounting for around 5.56% of the population.

Political overview

System of government

The Philippines is a constitutional republic with a democratically elected presidential system and a bicameral Congress. It is governed as a centralised state with the exception of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which has its own regional government. The ARMM has the power to create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees, and charges, subject to Constitutional provisions. There have been a number of attempts to change the government to a federal, unicameral, or parliamentary government since the Ramos Administration (1992-98).

The President functions as both the head of state and the head of government, and is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President is elected by popular vote for a single six-year term, during which he or she appoints and presides over the cabinet.

The bicameral Congress is composed of the Senate, serving as the upper house, with members elected to a six-year term, and the House of Representatives, serving as the lower house, with members elected to a three-year term. The senators are elected at large while the representatives are elected from both legislative districts and through sectoral representation.

Judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court, composed of a Chief Justice as its presiding officer and fourteen associate justices, all of whom are appointed by the President from nominations submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council.

2016 Philippines Election

Elections were held in the Philippines on 9 May 2016. Nearly 44 million Filipinos participated in the election, comprising 82 per cent voter turnout. Rodrigo Duterte was elected President and Leonor 'Leni' Robredo was elected Vice President. President Duterte and Vice President Robredo were inaugurated on 30 June 2016.

Conflict in the Southern Philippines

On 27 March 2014, the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a historic comprehensive peace agreement, bringing years of negotiation to a conclusion. Comprising a framework peace agreement signed in October 2012 and four subsequently-negotiated annexes, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro provides for a transitional process from the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to a new autonomous entity, to be called the Bangsamoro ('the Moro homeland'). A 15-member Transition Commission, comprised of Government and MILF representatives appointed by former President Aquino, drafted a basic law for the new entity, and submitted it to Congress for consideration. The bill failed to clear Parliament under the Aquino Administration, running out of time in the Senate. The Duterte Government has identified the conclusion of the peace process as a priority. In November 2016, President Duterte signed an executive order reconstituting the Bangsamoro Transition Commission to make room for more voices in preparation for the drafting of the new Bangsamoro Basic Law.

On 23 May 2017, President Duterte declared martial law, applicable to the whole of Mindanao for 60 days, as a result of the Marawi City seige by pro-ISIL militants. The declaration was supported by both chambers of the Philippines Congress and was signed into law on 30 May 2017. Martial law has been extended until the end of 2018. The Marawi conflict has displaced over 360,000 people from their homes. Australia immediately provided humanitarian assistance through local and international partners, including providing $920,000 million worth of assistance in emergency goods, food, water and sanitation and reproductive health kits.

Australia has been a longstanding supporter of the peace process, including through the aid program. In response to the Marawi crisis, Australian Government announced further funding of $20 million over four years to support the humanitarian response and recovery in Marawi as well as long term peace building and stability in the southern Philippines. This will include support for community peacebuilding efforts, strengthening local capability to resist extremism, and provision of basic services and support for small-scale infrastructure such as repair of local roads.

The Australian Government continues to advise Australians not to travel to central and western Mindanao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula, and the Sulu Archipelago and southern Sulu Sea area, due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, kidnapping, violent crime and violent clashes between armed groups. Detailed travel advice for the Philippines, including the southern Philippines, is available on DFAT's Smartraveller website

Foreign policy

The Philippines is a founding member of ASEAN and has a history of close relations with the United States. Under the Ramos Administration, the Philippines began to play a more prominent role in ASEAN and other regional bodies such as APEC. The Philippines took on the role of the ASEAN Chairmanship in 2017, as ASEAN celebrated its 50th Anniversary.

Philippine foreign policy has traditionally focused on the three pillars: national security, economic diplomacy and the protection and promotion of the welfare of Filipinos abroad. Engagement with ASEAN is another important part of foreign policy. In his first State of the Nation address on 26 July 2016, President Duterte pledged to work with bilateral and multilateral partners to address the growing global security challenges, including non-traditional security threats and transnational crime. He undertook to strengthen the Philippines' counter-terrorism programs and coordination with regional partners to suppress kidnappings at sea.

Over recent years, the Philippines has been particularly concerned about overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) involving China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. In January 2013, the Philippines initiated an arbitration case against China by issuing a Notification and Statement of Claim in accordance with the dispute settlement provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Arbitral Tribunal released its final decision on the Philippines arbitration on 12 July 2016. The tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines. Since the ruling, President Duterte has repeatedly stated he would set aside the Arbitral Tribunal's award and pursue bilateral discussions with China.

The Philippines has traditionally accorded a high priority to the protection and promotion of the welfare and safety of Filipino overseas workers who play a critical role in the country's economic and social stability. Encouraging foreign direct investment to the Philippines has also been an important focus.

Bilateral relations

Australia and the Philippines have a long history of bilateral cooperation. Diplomatic relations were established when Australia opened a Consulate-General in Manila on 22 May 1946. An Australian Ambassador to the Philippines was appointed in 1957. The Philippines opened an Embassy in Canberra in 1962.

On 18 November 2015, the Prime Minister and then President Benigno Aquino III signed the Joint Declaration on the Australia-Philippines Comprehensive Partnership, an agreement to further deepen bilateral links between the two countries.

Joint Declaration on Australia-The Philippines Comprehensive Partnership

Australia and the Philippines cooperate closely in a broad range of areas, including defence, counter-terrorism, law enforcement and development. Regular bilateral meetings include the Foreign and Trade Ministers' meeting (the Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting, or 'PAMM') and associated PAMM business dialogue and senior officials' meeting; counter-terrorism consultations; annual joint defence cooperation consultations; an agriculture forum; a strategic dialogue; and high level consultations on development cooperation.

Australia and the Philippines share common perspectives on many regional, economic and security issues. The two countries share a common interest in cooperating in regional affairs through fora such as the East Asia Summit (EAS), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum. Both Australia and the Philippines are active members of the Cairns Group, a coalition of 19 agricultural exporting countries.

Australia and the Philippines marked 70 years of bilateral relations in 2016. A Philippine Presidential Proclamation declared 22 May 2016 and each year after as the Philippines-Australia Friendship Day. The anniversary was commemorated in both the Philippines and Australia throughout 2016, including a photographic exhibition 'Philippines and Australia: The First Seventy Years' which opened in November 2015 in Manila, a 'Celebrate Australia' festival which toured the Philippines (Manila, Cebu, Davao and Quezon) in the first half of 2016, and a book launch accompanied by photo exhibitions in both Australia and the Philippines on the book "Reimagining Australia: Voices of Indigenous Australians of Filipino Decent" in the second half of 2016.

People-to-people links

Australia and the Philippines have growing people-to-people links through trade, investment, cultural exchange, education, tourism and migration. Significant numbers of Filipinos have immigrated to Australia since the 1960s and Filipinos remain one of the fastest growing immigrant communities in Australia. At the 2016 Census, 304,022 Australians identified as having Filipino ancestry, up by 35 percent from 225,000 in the 2011 Census. Education ties between our countries are growing. There were 8,506 Filipino students studying in Australia in 2017.

Development assistance

More information on Australia's development assistance to the Philippines

Australia Awards

Australia Awards delivered under the Australian aid program continue a long tradition of development scholarships that have been an important component of the Australian Government's overseas aid program since the 1950s. More information, including applicant eligibility criteria can be found on the Australia Awards page. 136 awardees from the Philippines are currently in Australia on Australia Awards scholarships.


The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program promotes economic growth and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region by assisting host organisations to deliver effective and sustainable development outcomes. 38 Australian volunteers undertook assignments in the Philippines in 2017-18.

New Colombo Plan

The New Colombo Plan is a signature initiative of the Australian Government which aims to lift knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and undertake internships in the region.


ACIAR's program in the East Asia region is the largest of all four regions where it operates reflecting the strong bilateral relationships that ACIAR has with countries in East Asia.

Direct Aid Program (DAP)

The Direct Aid Program is a small grant scheme that partners with various organisations to support projects which directly contribute to the welfare and the income-generating capacity of poor or disadvantaged groups, or enhances the long-term productivity and sustainability of the physical environment.

Defence and Security

The Philippines is an important regional defence and security partner due to its strategic location in South East Asia and similar approach to security issues, including our shared interest in countering terrorism in our region. Australia's engagement with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of National Defense (DND) focuses on the fields of maritime security, counter-terrorism, law and leadership, airworthiness and logistics. Australia also supports Philippines capability development through targeted training and capacity assistance.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperative Defence Activities was signed on 22 August 1995, laying the foundation for the Joint Defence Cooperation Committee (JDCC) to provide policy direction, coordinate and monitor MOU activities.

A Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) entered into force in September 2012 to provide a comprehensive legal and operational framework for Defence Cooperation. The SOVFA was instrumental in 2013 during Operation Philippine Assist, Australia's response to Typhoon Haiyan, to facilitate the rapid deployment of medical assistance, humanitarian and reconstruction support involving over 500 service personnel, numerous aircraft and the Landing Ship Heavy HMAS Tobruk.

Following the signing of the Comprehensive Partnership on 18 November 2015, new bilateral initiatives have been developed. The most significant is the commencement of Navy-to-Navy strategic level talks. The inaugural Navy-to-Navy Strategy talks in March 2017, co-chaired by the Deputy Chief of the Royal Australian Navy and the Vice Commander Philippine Navy.

Over the years, a number of visiting Australian ships, aircraft and personnel, Australian Defence Industry representatives and senior officials have met their counterparts and other stakeholders throughout the Philippines and to participate in joint exercises. Military exercises increased mutual confidence amongst regional defence forces whose troops may have to operate together in global and regional contingencies, such as peacekeeping or natural disaster relief.

The ADF supports training and education opportunities for personnel of all ranks from the AFP and Philippines Coast Guard (PCG), and middle-to-senior ranked uniformed and civilian personnel from the DND. Training opportunities take the form of formal courses and workshops conducted in Australia or ADF Mobile Training Team (MTT) delivered courses in the Philippines.

Approximately 100 AFP, PCG, and DND personnel undertake education and training in Australia each year, while several hundred participate in training provided through MTT visits to the Philippines. MTT provide training in fields such as Command and Operations Law, Maritime Strategic Studies, Defence Intelligence Research and Analysis, and Aviation Safety. MTT flexible and can be organised quickly to satisfy a newly identified training requirement.

In July 2015, the Australian Government gifted two decommissioned Landing Craft Heavy vessels to the Philippine Government to provide additional capability to the Philippines Navy. The Philippine Government purchased three more Landing Craft Heavy vessels, which entered service in the Philippines Navy in June 2016.

In response to the siege of Marawi City (May–October 2017), the Australian Government stepped up its military and intelligence cooperation with the Philippines to help combat the regional terrorist threat. The Australian Defence Force provided surveillance support and counter-terrorism specific training to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Australia and the Philippines continue to work together to build counter-terrorism capability, strengthen information sharing arrangements, and enhance maritime security engagement including through joint maritime patrols in the Sulu and Celebes seas.

Australia will continue to work closely with the Philippines as it seeks to achieve its modernisation goals, increase maritime security and domain awareness, and reduce the international terrorist threat.

For more information on the Australian Defence Force (ADF), go to:

Economic overview

According to the World Bank, the Philippines posted a 6.8 percent Gross Domestic Product growth rate in 2016, an improvement from 6.0 percent growth rate in 2015, but down from 7.2 per cent in 2013. Robust domestic consumption, improved exports, acceleration in private investment, and government spending have supported the growth.

The macro-economic fundamentals of the Philippine economy remain sound. Inflation and interest rates are low and the currency is stable. Overseas Filipinos' remittance income, which accounts for approximately 10 per cent of the Philippine economy, continues to support domestic consumption. Business Process Outsourcing, an increasingly important driver of the economy, has grown tremendously in recent years, employing over a million Filipinos.

In 2016, the Philippines is ranked 101 out of 176 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. The Philippines achieved its first investment-grade credit ratings in 2013 and a higher ranking in the global competitiveness survey, making the Philippines more internationally competitive and attractive to investments.

Trade and investment

Total two-way trade was valued at AUD4.8 billion in 2017. Merchandise trade comprised the bulk of this trade at AUD3.2 billion, but services are an increasingly important component of our bilateral trade. Australian services exports to the Philippines in 2017 totaled AUD763 million, while Australian imports of Philippine services totaled AUD907 million. This trade in services was dominated by education-related travel, personal travel and business travel, reflecting our strong people-to-people links.

In 2016, Australia's investment in the Philippines was valued at AUD9.3 billion and the Philippines invested AUD1.3 billion in Australia, a threefold increase as compared to AUD473 million in 2015. Several Australian mining companies have interests in the Philippines, mostly at the exploration and development stage. In 2017, the Philippines is the 8th largest foreign agricultural land owner in Australia.

Australia and the Philippines are both parties to ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) the most comprehensive trade agreement that ASEAN has negotiated. It delivers significant commercial benefits, while providing a basis for further regional economic integration, including the negotiations towards the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Australia and the Philippines are both among the 16 RCEP participating countries (ASEAN plus its FTA Partners – Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand).

Information on doing business and opportunities in the Philippines.

Key high level visits in the last few years

March 2018: Philippine Foreign Secretary, Allan Cayetano, attended the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney. Secretary Cayetano discussed regional economic and security issues in bilateral meetings with the Prime Minster and Foreign Minister. A joint statement released at the close of the Special Summit - The Sydney Declaration - set out a clear vision for the future of the ASEAN-Australia partnership, with a commitment to further elevate cooperation.

November 2017: the Prime Minister attended the East Asia Summit in Manila. He discussed regional security issues and bilateral cooperation during his meeting with Philippine President Duterte.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull meets with Philippine President Duterte at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City of Manila on 12 November 2017. Photo provided by Philippine Presidential Communications Operations Office.

October 2017: Minister for Defence visited the Philippines to attend the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus. On the sidelines of the meeting, the Minister met with Philippine Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana to discuss cooperation between Australia and the Philippines on enhancing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the southern Philippines; strengthening information sharing arrangements; and enhancing maritime security engagement and bilateral maritime patrols.

September 2017: Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment visited the Philippines to advance Australia's trade and investment interests at ASEAN-related ministerial meetings. During the visit, the Minister also attended the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Ministerial Meeting to press for successful commercial outcomes.

September 2017: Minister for Defencevisited the Philippines and met with her counterpart to discuss security situation in the southern Philippines.

August 2017: Minister for Foreign Affairs visited the Philippines to strengthen bilateral relations and to advance Australia's economic and security interests in the region. During her visit, the Minister attended the East Asia Summit Foreign Minister's meeting, the ASEAN-Australia Ministerial Meeting and the ASEAN Regional Forum. The Minister also met with the Philippine Foreign Secretary, the Secretary for National Defense, and civil society organisations to discuss Australia's support for the peace process, the response to the situation in Marawi and counter-terrorism cooperation.

March 2017: Minister for Foreign Affairs visited the Philippines to promote and enhance the relationship between Australia and the Philippines. During the visit the Minister discussed issues of mutual interest between the two countries including counter terrorism, maritime and regional security, and peace and development in Mindanao.

Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop meets with Philippine President Duterte in Davao City, 17 March 2017.

November 2016: Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment participated in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiation in the Philippines.

November 2015: Prime Minister participated in the APEC Economic Leaders meeting in Manila. The Prime Minister and then President Aquino signed the Joint Declaration on the Comprehensive Partnership. Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade and Investment participated in the APEC Ministerial Meeting in Manila.

May 2015: Former Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon Andrew Robb MP attended the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting in Boracay, the Philippines.

February 2014: Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Minister for Trade and Investment, participated in the fourth Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM) in Manila, hosted by their Philippine counterparts, then Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and then Secretary of Trade and Industry, Gregory Domingo. A Joint Ministerial Statement was issued following the PAMM covering trade and investment, development, defence and security, the peace process in the southern Philippines, regional cooperation and the New Colombo Plan. Ministers agreed to work collaboratively to promote economic growth and new business opportunities, and to advance peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

December 2013: In the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, discussed typhoon recovery and reconstruction with then Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and other members of the Philippines Cabinet. The Minister also visited areas affected by the typhoon, and met with Australian and Philippine humanitarian first responders on the ground in Tacloban, Ormoc and Leyte.

Last Updated: 18 October 2018
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