The Philippines is a democratic republic hampered by a culture of graft and corruption. With a population growth rate of around 2%, the sprawling cities grow more and more congested. Power and wealth continue to be in the hands of the elite while the masses struggle with poverty and feeling powerless. Overcrowded slums, pollution, frequent natural disasters, insurgent activity and political instability pose huge challenges for the nation. The strongest expressions of the political and social unrest are the Muslim secessionist movements and the Marxist guerrilla activity.
The term Filipino, originally denoting a person of Spanish descent born in the Philippines, has been applied since the 19th century to the “Christianized” Malay-Indonesian peoples (95 percent of the population).
Population distribution is uneven; large areas are virtually uninhabited, while others have a relatively high population density. More than 16 million people live in the capital city of Manila’s metropolitan area.
In the Philippines there are eight major languages and about 170 smaller language groups. The official language is Filipino, which is based on Tagalog, a Malayo-Polynesian language influenced by Spanish, Chinese and Arabic. English is used for government, business and tertiary education.
There are more than 7,000 islands, with Luzon (north) the largest and Mindanao (south) the next. The islands are of volcanic origin and are mountainous. Earthquakes are fairly common and there are about 20 active volcanoes.
The Philippines has an average annual temperature of about 81°F (27°C), but inland areas are hotter. The rainy season occurs from May to November; the dry season occurs from December to April. From June to October the islands are struck by an average of 20 typhoons.
Shortly after the end of the Spanish–American war in 1898 that ended nearly 400 years of colonization, protestant missionaries began to trickle into the Philippines. At that time there was only a handful of Bible believing Christians. Today the Philippines is a country open to the Gospel, with an estimated 12% of the population claiming to be evangelical Christians. Many of these are first generation believers needing intentional discipleship. Various cults, quasi-Christian groups and false teachings are proliferating in the open environment. Folk Catholicism is still the dominant religion of the country — a socio–religious system that blends traditional animistic beliefs and practices with Roman Catholicism.
Islam was already firmly established in the Southern Philippines in the 13th century long before the arrival of the Spanish. Conflict with the Spanish colonizers and subsequent governments has left deep resentment. More recently, Muslim communities have multiplied throughout the nation as successful local traders. As a minority who have a strong sense of their religious and cultural identity, living in a ‘Christian country’ can be very difficult for Muslim Filipinos.