Philippines country brief
The Republic of the Philippines is situated between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean and lies entirely within the tropics. The Philippines is an archipelagic country, consisting of 7,107 islands. The capital of the Philippines is Manila.
The Philippines’ population is approximately 106.65 million (2018, World Bank). The official languages are Tagalog and English. There are 19 officially-recognised languages and an estimated 187 indigenous languages, reflecting the Philippines’ diverse geography and eventful history. The Philippines is predominately Roman Catholic (80%), followed by Muslim Filipinos (5%). It is estimated over ten million Filipinos live overseas, comprising one of the world's largest diasporas.
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 Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), which was established in 2019.
The President functions as the head of state, the head of government and 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 Supreme Court is the highest court in the Philippines, appointed by the President.
Presidential 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 R. Duterte was elected President and Leonor 'Leni' Robredo was elected Vice President. The next Philippine Presidential election will be on 9 May 2022.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front leads an interim government in the BARMM with parliamentary elections also due in 2022.
Pre-COVID 19, the Philippines was one of the fastest growing economies in Asia with real GDP growing on average 6.3 per cent over the ten years to 2019. Despite falling into recession in August 2020, the country’s macroeconomic fundamentals remain sound.
The World Bank’s October 2020 Macro Poverty Outlook forecasts the Philippine economy to rebound to 5.3 per cent in 2021 and 5.6 per cent in 2022. This projection assumes that the country successfully manages COVID-19 transmission by early 2021. Access to foreign loans, manageable borrowing costs and a healthy foreign reserve buffer will help fuel the Philippines’ economic recovery.
As the Philippines emerges from the pandemic, there is considerable opportunity to expand upon existing trade, investment and economic ties. Australia’s proximity to the Philippines and its reputation as a supplier of quality materials and services are important factors in penetrating the market of 106.6 million (2018) people.
Demand in the Philippines for consumer goods and services – particularly for technical services, agricultural products, e-commerce platforms, cybersecurity and online education offerings – and its ambitious infrastructure investment agenda aligns well with Australian industry capabilities.
Australia’s total two-way goods and services trade with the Philippines was $5.6 billion in 2019, making the Philippines our 19th largest trading partner:
- Two-way trade in goods was valued at $3.6 billion in 2019. Agricultural, copper and precious metal ores are among Australia’s key merchandise exports to the Philippines, while electrical machinery, gold and manufactured goods are key imports.
- Two-way trade in services was valued at $2 billion in 2019. Education-related travel dominated Australian services exports to the Philippines, while our services imports were driven primarily by Australian tourists in the Philippines, reflecting our strong people-to-people links.
In 2018, total Australian investment stock in the Philippines was worth $9.8 billion. Over 300 Australian companies operate in the Philippines, employing over 44,000 Filipinos in the business process outsourcing, infrastructure, banking, telecommunications, energy and education sectors. The businesses benefit from the Philippines’ young, well-educated, English speaking talent pool.
A Bilateral Investment Treaty entered into force with the Philippines in 1995 and includes rules to promote and protect two-way investment.
Our existing trade agreement with the Philippines, the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA), has reduced a wide range of tariffs on trade between Australia and the Philippines. We are both negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will build on the outcomes of AANZFTA to promote further growth in the region. Both countries are active members of the Cairns Group, a coalition of 19 agricultural exporting countries.
Strategic and security cooperation
Australia’s support for stability, maritime security and counter-terrorism helps the Philippine Government to manage security challenges in the South China Sea and Southern Philippines. Delivered by Commonwealth agencies (including Defence, Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force) and Australian academic institutions, capacity building support is highly valued by counterparts.
Cooperation between Australia and the Philippines on strategic and security matters is underpinned by the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperative Defence Activities (1995) and to Combat International Terrorism (2003), and the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) (2012). The SOVFA provides a legal and operational framework for Australia-Philippines defence cooperation.
The Australian military helped liberate the Philippines in 1943, during the Second World War. The Defence partnership is strong, long-lasting and the primary foundation for engagement between Australia and the Philippines. Australia has a significant interest in building the capacity of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as a capable force that can manage its own security, deter coercion and address the threat of terrorism. The Enhanced Defence Cooperation Program (E-DCP) sets the Philippines-Australia defence relationship on a long-term trajectory for closer engagement with a focus on military professionalism, counter terrorism, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and maritime security.
Collaboration between the Australian Federal Police and the Philippines National Police led to the establishment of the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Centre (PICACC) in 2019, a hub for domestic Philippine and foreign law enforcement collaborative efforts to combat the online sexual exploitation of children.
Terrorist organisations are based in the Southern Philippines, including some with links to Islamic State-East Asia. Several militant groups joined forces to launch attacks in Marawi City in May 2017. By September 2017, the conflict had displaced around 350,000 people and resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people. In response, Australia increased support for counter-terrorism capacity building, predominantly delivered by Defence, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and security agencies.
During the siege of Marawi in 2017, ADF surveillance aircraft, naval frigates and specialist advisers provided assistance to the Armed Forces of the Philippines in their ongoing counter-terrorism operations. Counter-terrorism training following the recapture of Marawi in October 2017has trained over 10,600 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Australia and the Philippines are natural maritime partners and share a common commitment to clarifying maritime rights peacefully and settling South China Sea territorial disputes in accordance with international law.
Areas of cooperation include strengthened maritime domain awareness and maritime border protection; greater regional and coastal interconnectivity; improved reliability and efficiency of shipping in the region; and more sustainable management of marine resources. Australia and the Philippines are working to enhance maritime cooperation by establishing a regular senior officials’ level dialogue.
Australia’s new development strategy, Partnerships for Recovery, sets out how Australia’s development program will respond to COVID-19, including in the Philippines.
Australia supports a sovereign, stable and resilient Philippines that returns quickly to economic growth post-COVID-19. Our development partnership is an important and continuing part of Australia’s relationship with the Philippines. Total overseas development assistance (ODA) is estimated at $80 million for 2020-21.
The Philippines is particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 due to a stressed health system, high urban density and deep inequality. High infection rates and containment measures will have long-term economic impacts.
In partnership with the Philippines, Australia is responding by:
- bolstering health security by improving capacity to respond to the health needs that have both arisen from and been exacerbated by COVID-19
- fostering inclusive, cohesive communities and helping mitigate threats to regional security by supporting women and children, including through education programs and though our peacebuilding efforts in Mindanao
- strengthening policies and institutions to advance inclusive economic growth, including through social protection programs for the poorest and most vulnerable.
We are focused on what changes we need to make beyond the immediate response and have reflected these in the Philippines COVID-19 Development Response Plan , in close consultation with the Government of the Philippines.
Australia and the Philippines have strong 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 are the fifth largest immigrant community in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 294,000 Australians identified as having Filipino ancestry in 2019, up from 175,000 in 2009.
Education ties between our countries are growing and Australia is now the number one destination for Filipinos studying abroad. There were 18,862 Filipino students enrolled to study in Australia in 2020, the 6th highest globally.