About the Philippines

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Rice farmers harvest and bundle seedlings before distributing in rice plots for planting, a method used in Nueva Vizcaya and other regions in the Philippines. (Photo: ILO/Joaquin Go)

The Philippines is one of the world’s largest archipelago nations. It is situated in Southeast Asia in the Western Pacific Ocean. Its islands are classified into three main geographical areas – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Because of its archipelagic nature, Philippines is a culturally diverse country. With its topography consisting of mountainous terrains, dense forests, plains, and coastal areas, the Philippines is rich in biodiversity. It is considered as one of the mega biodiversity countries in the world with a high percentage of flora and fauna endemism. 


Despite having widespread poverty, the Philippines has fared relatively well in Human Development Index (HDI), particularly in comparison to other Southeast Asian nations. In 2012, Philippines’ economy outpaced the growth of its neighboring countries with 6.6 percent growth rate.   


The Philippines has a rich history combining Asian, European, and American influences. Prior to Spanish colonization in 1521, the Filipinos had a rich culture and were trading with the Chinese and the Japanese. In 1898, after 350 years and 300 rebellions, the Filipinos, with leaders like Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo, succeeded in winning their independence.

In 1898, the Philippines became the first and only colony of the United States. Following the Philippine-American War, the United States brought widespread education to the islands. Filipinos fought alongside Americans during World War II, particularly at the famous battle of Bataan and Corregidor which delayed Japanese advancement and saved Australia. They then waged a guerilla war against the Japanese from 1941 to 1945. The Philippines regained its independence in 1946.

Filipinos are a freedom-loving people, having waged two peaceful, bloodless revolutions against what were perceived as corrupt regimes. The Philippines is a vibrant democracy, as evidenced by 12 English national newspapers, 7 national television stations, hundreds of cable TV stations, and 2,000 radio stations. (from Department of Tourism website)


There are wide disparities in income and quality of life across regions and sectors in Philippines. The number of poor people remained high (26.5 percent of the total population lives below the poverty line, including 10 million women). While the country is abundant in natural resources, environmental assets remain unavailable to poor groups owing to exclusion, insecure land tenure, lack of access to technologies; or the resources are degraded. Social inequities are rife and impact indigenous people, fisher folk, women and the informal sector the most. Indigenous people make up about 15 percent of the population and occupy an estimated 17 percent of total land area. The struggle to secure land or ancestral domains is a leading cause of instability in areas of indigenous people. In the 2013 Human Development Report, the Philippines scored 0.418 in the Gender Inequality Index, reflecting inequalities in labor market participation, political representation, and access to health services.


Its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire makes Philippines extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, especially earthquakes, cyclones, and volcanic hazards. Long-lasting armed conflict in Mindanao and other parts of the country and the negative impact of increasing effects of climate change hinder sustainable development and intensify poverty.


While the 2010 Philippines Millennium Development Goals Progress Report indicates improvement in promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality and malaria, it also points out that the overall Millennium Development Goals situation is not encouraging. The likelihood that the Philippines will reach the Millennium Development Goals on poverty, education, maternal health, HIV/AIDS and environment is low. With limited coverage of prevention services, combined with prevailing strong stigma and discrimination, the Philippines is one of seven countries worldwide where the HIV prevalence has increased by more than 25 per cent between 2001 and 2009. The Progress Report calls for sustained socially inclusive economic growth; improved targeting of anti-poverty measures; strengthened governance with greater transparency and accountability to ensure more efficient use of resources; improved peace and security in the country; and strengthened partnerships, including with the private sector, on Millennium Development Goals initiatives.


Local people’s organization member making a basket from natural and sustainable raw materials on Samar Island as part of a community-based handicraft project. (Photo: UNDP Philippines)

The Philippine economy has been described as resilient. Despite the global food and fuel crises, gross domestic product (GDP) peaked at 7.1 percent in 2007 and continued to grow at 3.8 percent in 2008. The country was much less affected by the global financial debacle as compared to other countries: GDP slowed to 1.1 percent in 2009 but recovered to 7.3 percent in 2010, bucking all estimates. At the end of 2009, the Philippines graduated to the rank of ‘lower Middle-Income Country,’ which implies less reliance on aid and greater capacity to shape its own development.


The performance of the Philippines in human development has also been respectable. It is classified as medium-HDI country and is ranked 114th out of 187 countries and territories (HDR, 2013). Between 1980 and 2012, Philippines’ life expectancy at birth increased by 5.8 years, mean years of schooling increased by 2.8 years and expected years of schooling increased by 1.3 years. Similarly, the Philippines’ GNI per capita increased by about 35 percent from 2,786 in 1980 to 3,752 in 2012, thus signifying a relatively strong capacity for leveraging its incomes for human development outcomes.


Acceleration plans and strategies for Millennium Development Goals achievement have been incorporated in the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016. The thrusts of the Plan include macroeconomic policy reform to generate revenues; strengthening the financial system; increasing the competitiveness of industry, agriculture and fishery and service sectors; accelerating infrastructure development; fostering good governance and enforcing the rule of law; social development; and peace and security. The Plan seeks to pursue a strategy of inclusive growth that provides productive employment opportunities, equalize access to development opportunities and implement social safety nets.


The Philippines has important policy frameworks and plans in place for sustainable human development, including the National Framework for Climate Change Adaptation and the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act, the National Human Rights Action Plan, and the Magna Carta of Women. The Volunteering Act enhances civil society development work through volunteerism. The Local Government Code, transferring governance functions to local governments and decentralizing social service delivery, is 20 years old. However, implementation of these policies and plans is still hampered by gaps in capacities, especially at the local level.


UNDPs contribution to human development in the country include effective advocacy for the Millennium Development Goals, which are now incorporated into budget and statistical processes at the national and local levels. The community-based monitoring has yielded local-level poverty estimates used in selecting the poor beneficiaries for the conditional cash transfer programme of the Philippine Government. The Philippine Human Development Reports have informed national policy debates and provided indicators for measuring human security. UNDP has supported the establishment of 17 Regional AIDS Assistance Teams that provide multisector support to the implementation of local response to the growing HIV epidemic. Capacity development and training were provided for the inclusion and collection, for the first time, of ethnicity as a major variable in the 2010 National Population Census – leading to disaggregated data on indigenous peoples that is being used to inform social policies. A Medium-Term Action Plan to improve access to justice for the poor and a National Action Plan for Human Rights were produced and, through advocacy, the United Nations Convention against Corruption was ratified.


In conflict-affected Mindanao, UNDP is supporting Peace and Development Communities that foster the reintegration of former combatants and empower peacemakers to guide people in rebuilding the social fabric of their communities.

UNDP has produced multi-hazard maps for the 27 most vulnerable coastal provinces; local governments and communities are using them for planning, including response, land use and risk management plans. UNDP advocacy has raised policymakers’ attention for promoting renewable energy and has led to the passage of the landmark Renewable Energy Law in 2009. Capacities of local governments and communities have been strengthened to manage protected areas and identify financing mechanisms that foster sustainable management of biodiversity and natural resources.

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