by Jack McKillop
The Philippine Islands are an archipelago of 7,107 islands located between 116°40' and 126°34'E longitude and 04°40' and 21°10'N latitude and is bordered by the Philippine Sea to the east, the South China Sea to the west, and the Celebes Sea to the south. The total land area, including inland bodies of water, is about 116,000-square-miles (300,000-square-kilometers). Its 22,549-miles (36,289-kilometers) of coastline makes it the country with the fifth longest coastline in the world.
The islands spread out in the shape of a triangle, with those south of Palawan Island, the Sulu Archipelago, and the island of Mindanao outlining (from west to east, respectively) its southern base and the Batan Islands to the north of Luzon forming its apex. The archipelago stretches about 1,150-miles (1,850-kilometers) from north to south, and its widest east-west extent, at its southern base, is some 700-miles (1,130-kilometers). The island of Taiwan lies north of the Batan group, the Malaysian portion of the island of Borneo is to the south of Palawan Island, and the eastern islands of Indonesia lie to the south and southeast of Mindanao. Only about 40 percent of the islands and islets have names, and only some 350 have areas of 1-square-mile (2.6-square-kilometers) or more. The large islands fall into three groups: (1) the Luzon group in the north and west, consisting of Luzon, Mindoro, and Palawan, (2) the Visayas group in the center, consisting of Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, Masbate, Negros, Panay, and Samar, and (3) Mindanao in the south.
Most of the mountainous islands are covered in tropical rainforest and are volcanic in origin. The highest mountain is 9,692-foot (2,954-meter) Mount Apo on the island of Mindanao. The Galathea Depth in the Philippine Trench, located in the Philippine Sea, is the deepest point in the country and the third deepest in the world. The longest river is the Cagayan River in northern Luzon with a length of 314-miles (505-kilometers). Manila Bay, upon the shore of which the capital city of Manila lies, is connected to Laguna de Bay, the largest lake in the Philippines, by the Pasig River. Subic Bay, the Davao Gulf, and the Moro Gulf are other important bays. The San Juanico Strait separates the islands of Samar and Leyte but it is traversed by the San Juanico Bridge
The Philippines takes its name from King Philip II, who ruled Spain during the Spanish colonization of the islands in the 16th century. Because it was under Spanish rule for 333 years and under U.S. tutelage for a further 48 years, the Philippines has many cultural affinities with the West. It is, for example, the second most populous country (following the United States) with English as an official language and the only predominantly Roman Catholic country in Southeast Asia. Despite the prominence of such Anglo-European cultural characteristics, the peoples of the Philippines are Asian in consciousness and aspiration.
In 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines and claimed the islands for Spain. Colonization began when Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi arrived from Mexico in 1565 and formed the first European settlements on Cebu Island. In 1571, after dealing with the local royal families and defeating a Chinese pirate warlord, the Spanish established Manila as the capital of the Spanish East Indies.
Spanish rule contributed significantly to bringing political unity to the archipelago. From 1565 to 1821, the Philippines was governed as a territory of the Viceroyalty of New Spain and then was administered directly from Madrid after the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821). The Manila galleons linking Manila to Acapulco, Mexico traveled once or twice a year between the 16th and 19th centuries. Trade introduced foods such as corn, tomatoes, potatoes, chili peppers, and pineapples from the Americas. Roman Catholic missionaries converted most of the lowland inhabitants to Christianity and founded schools, a university, and hospitals. While a Spanish decree introduced free public schooling in 1863, efforts in mass public education mainly came to fruition during the American period.
In the 19th century, Philippine ports were opened to world trade and shifts were occurring within Philippine society. Many Spaniards born in the Philippines and those of mixed ancestry became wealthy. The influx of Spanish and Latino settlers secularized churches and opened up government positions traditionally held by Spaniards born in the Iberian Peninsula. The ideals of revolution also began to spread through the islands. Dissatisfactions by the Criollo, a social class in the caste system of the overseas colonies established by Spain in the 16th century comprising the locally born people of pure Spanish ancestry, resulted in the revolt in Cavite El Viejo in 1872 that was a precursor to the Philippine Revolution.
Revolutionary sentiments were stoked in 1872 after three priests were accused of sedition by colonial authorities and executed. This would inspire a propaganda movement in Spain lobbying for political reforms in the Philippines. In 1892, a secret society, the Katipunan, was formed and sought independence from Spain through armed revolt. In 1898, the Spanish-American War began in Cuba and reached the Philippines. The Katipunan declared Philippine independence from Spain on 12 June 1898 and the First Philippine Republic was established the following year. Meanwhile, the islands were ceded by Spain to the United States for US$20 million dollars (US$555 million in 2013 dollars) in the 1898 Treaty of Paris. As it became increasingly clear the United States would not recognize the First Philippine Republic, the Philippine–American War (1899-1902) broke out. It ended with American control over the islands which were then administered as an insular area.
In 1935, the Philippines was granted Commonwealth status. Plans for independence over the next decade were interrupted by World War II when the Japanese Empire invaded and established a puppet government. Many atrocities and war crimes were committed during the war such as the Bataan Death March and the Manila massacre that culminated during the Battle of Manila. Allied troops defeated the Japanese in 1945. By the end of the war it is estimated over one million Filipinos had died.
On 4 July 1946, the Philippines attained its independence.