More than 7,000 islands make up the Philippines, but the bulk of its fast-growing population lives on just 11 of them.
Much of the country is mountainous and prone to earthquakes and eruptions from around 20 active volcanoes. It is often buffeted by typhoons and other storms.
The Philippines – a Spanish colony for more than three centuries and named after a 16th century Spanish king – was taken over by the US in the early 20th century after a protracted rebellion against rule from Madrid.
Spanish and US influences remain strong, especially in terms of language, religion and government. Self-rule in 1935 was followed by full independence in 1946 under a US-style constitution.
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President: Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino
Benigno Aquino won the 2010 presidential election after campaigning on the legacy of his parents and pro-democracy icons, former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino and Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino.
Mr Aquino – more commonly known as Noynoy – also vowed to give the Philippines clean leadership after the nine-year scandal-tainted administration of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
He won 40% of the vote, against 25% for former President Joseph Estrada. Since no run-off is used in Philippines presidential elections, this was enough to win outright.
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Powerful commercial interests control or influence much of the media.
The lively TV scene is dominated by free-to-air networks ABS-CBN and GMA. Some Manila-based networks broadcast in local languages. Cable TV has extensive reach.
Films, comedies and entertainment shows attract the largest audiences.
There are more than 600 radio stations. With around 100 outlets, Manila Broadcasting Company is the largest network.
The private press is vigorous, comprising some 500 newspaper titles. The most popular are Filipino-language tabloids, which can be prone to sensationalism.
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1542 – Spanish expedition claims the islands and names them the Philippines after the heir to the Spanish throne.
1890s – Beginnings of insurrection against Spanish rule.
1898 – During the Spanish-American War, the US navy destroys the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. Spain cedes the Philippines to the US under the Treaty of Paris in December. The US proclaims military rule.
1941 – Japan attacks the Philippines by air and invades two weeks later.
1944 – US forces retake the islands.
1946 – The islands are granted full independence and renamed the Republic of the Philippines.
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