The ‘Know Your Region’ series is designed to support unit and individual professional military education on the South East Asian region. It’s important for all serving members of our military to have a foundational knowledge of the countries and issues in the Indo-Pacific.


On this page:

  • Overview
  • Government and Politics
  • Foreign Policy and Diplomacy



In early history, the Philippine archipelago was home to numerous barangays (political units), kingdoms, and sultanates stretching along the coasts and operating trading centres with routes across Asia and further. The Philippine Islands became a Spanish colony during the 16th century, named Las Islas Filipinas in honour of King Philip II of Spain. Following decades of Filipino organised rebellion and the Spanish-American War, the archipelago was ceded to the United States in 1893. The Filipino population persisted in the struggle for total independence, gaining ground in the 1930s, but were interrupted by the onset of World War II and a brutal Japanese occupation. US and Filipinos forces fought together during 1944-45 to regain control. The destruction during the month-long Battle of Manila left the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ as the second-most-devastated Allied capital city during the war.


On 04 July 1946, the Republic of the Philippines achieved its independence. In the wake of World War II reconstruction efforts were funded by the United States. Since then, the unitary sovereign state has had a tumultuous experience with democracy, counting two decades of dictatorship under President Ferdinand Marcos. The return of democracy and government reforms in 1986 were hampered by many factors, including: national debt, government corruption, coup attempts, persistent communist insurgency, and a military conflict with Moro separatists in the south.

This video gives an overview of the Philippines turbulent history and foreign influences:

In the 21st century, the Philippines is struggling with its position in geopolitics. The Philippines diplomatic centre of gravity has long been the United States, upholding a strong alliance and foreign policy promoting the advancement of democracy. However, the last decade has seen greater weight placed on the importance of relations with China.

For more information on the geopolitics of the Philippines, see the following resources:


Government and Politics

The Philippines is a constitutional republic with a democratically elected presidential system and a bicameral Congress (Kongreso), based on the United States model. It is a centralised state, except for Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) established in 2019. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial power in the Philippines and oversees a mixed legal system of civil, common, Islamic (sharia), and customary law.

The President functions as Chief of State, head of government, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Elected by popular vote for a single six-year term, the current administration was elected on 09 May 2016 and is headed by President Rodrigo Duterte. Coupled with an encouraging economic record, Duterte has been able to validate his image as a decisive and effective leader in the eye of ordinary Filipinos. The next Presidential election will be on 09 May 2022.

For an excellent overview on President Duterte’s rise to power and unique political platform watch the following video:

Philippine politics tends to be dominated by those with well-known names, such as members of political dynasties or celebrities. There are reported to be high levels of systemic corruption in the public sector, and the GAN’s Risk and Compliance Portal provides a snapshot in the Philippines Corruption Report.

For more information on Philippine politics and the BARMM, see the resources below:


Foreign Policy and Diplomacy

The Philippines continues to work towards making a unique and positive image of itself in the international community. On 29 November 2016 the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD) launched its pioneering publication ‘A Handbook on Philippine Public Diplomacy’ in Pasay City. It includes lessons learned on the ground such as in nation branding, online engagement, Filipino community relations abroad, and crisis management.

Philippine foreign policy is traditionally based on the advancement of Filipino ideals and values including the advancement of democracy and advocacy for human rights worldwide. The Philippines actively engages in international and regional platforms, being a founding member of the United Nations, World Trade Organisation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and the East Asia Summit.

In response to the limitations imposed by COVID-19 lockdown measures, Filipino diplomats are looking towards digital diplomacy, alongside conventional people-to-people and cultural diplomacy. With so many of its citizens living around the world, the Philippines leverages this extensive diaspora to influence global perception of this diverse archipelago and to safeguard citizens’ rights, welfare, and interests.

For a short overview of the Philippine’s position in global politics watch the video below:


Relations with Asian neighbours have been strong, especially Vietnam and Indonesia. Japan, which has been an active donor of aid, has close ties with the country. The presence of a large South Korean expatriate community in the Philippines has led to the expansion of relations between the two nations. India has also been an important partner, as have countries outside of Asia such as Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, and Saudi Arabia. Of note are the Philippines diplomatic ties with Timor-Leste as the only other predominantly Catholic country in Asia

The following resources explore the Philippines diplomatic ties with Australia:



President Duterte has ushered in a new chapter by pursuing an 'independent foreign policy' to redirect the Philippines strategic future. In September 2016, Duterte gave a speech vowing to refrain from confronting territorial rival China and from picking a fight with any nation over human rights. Explaining, 'We will observe and must insist on the time-honoured principle of sovereignty, sovereign equality, non-interference and the commitment of peaceful settlements of dispute that will serve our people and protect the interests of our country'. This break with the status quo has essentially flipped Filipino diplomatic relations: the longstanding US security alliance is in doubt, while relations with China have drastically improved. These geopolitical events herald an uncertain time for the Philippines and for the region.

For more information on the pivot in Filipino foreign relations see the following resources:


Discussion Questions:

  1. The Philippines’ geographical position makes it a nation of strategic importance to the Indo-Pacific. What does this mean for US, China, Russian and Australian interests in the Indo-Pacific?
  2. In 2016 President Duterte ushered in a new foreign policy which outlined the Philippines strategic intentions, which some suggest seeks to avoid being too assertive. In light of a rise in territorial disputes, should the Philippines look to become more aggressive in its foreign policy stance? What might doing so have on its relationship with Australia?
  3. Australia and the Philippines have a historically strong relationship, set on the foundation of respectively strong alliances with the US. Should Australia and the Philippines seek greater bilateral relations? What might this mean for the Australian military and how could this be enabled through the other instruments of diplomacy?