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
  • People and Society
  • National Identity
  • Media and the Internet



Located in South-East Asia, the Philippines covers a land area of just under 300,000 square kilometres – an archipelago of about 7,641 islands stretching between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. For a more in-depth look at the country, see the CIA World Factbook on the Philippines.

Of volcanic origin, the Philippines generally consist of mountainous terrain with coastal lowlands. Additionally, there are a variety of natural resources and a globally significant level of biodiversity. With no common land borders, the Philippines shares maritime borderlines with eight countries: Taiwan to the north, Japan to the northeast, Palau to the east and southeast, Indonesia to the south, Malaysia and Brunei to the southwest, Vietnam to the west, and China to the northwest.

The multitude of islands are broadly categorised under three main geographical divisions from north to south: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The capital, Manila, is a bayside city and home to one-eighth of the entire national population, with the rest divided into 81 provinces.

The Philippines is one of the most disaster-affected countries in the world. Situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire (a belt of active volcanoes and seismic activity bordering the Pacific Ocean) and the Pacific typhoon belt, resulting in an average of nine typhoons making landfall every year. The low-lying island geography makes the country vulnerable to climate change, seen in the USAID climate change risk profile, increasing the danger of enhanced natural disasters and rising sea levels.

The following resources provide an excellent introduction to the Philippines:


People and Society

The island clusters vary in terms of cuisine, languages and culture. With a population of just under 110 million, Philippine society is a unique blend of diversity and homogeneity. There are an estimated 187 languages spoken across the islands. The official national languages of the Philippines are Filipino (a standardised form of Tagalog) and English.

One of only two predominantly Christian nations in Southeast Asia, over 90% of the population belongs to a Christian denomination with the vast majority Roman Catholic. The Muslim population figure is somewhere between 6% and 11%, mostly concentrated in Mindanao in the south.

Although geographically part of Southeast Asia, the country is culturally Euro-American aligned, with the influence of four centuries of Spanish and then US colonial rule still evident today. While the Christian churches built by the Spanish and the mosque built by the Muslim Sultanates provided a spiritual anchor, the educational system established by the United States and expanded by the Filipinos has become emblematic of cultural unity and socio-economic progress. Through the persistence of strong family ties, the revival of the barangay (village) as the smallest unit of government, increased focus on Asian history and literature, and the revival of dormant traditions – the Philippines has been able to strengthen its Asian heritage without abandoning its Western cultural acquisitions.

Indigenous communities can be found scattered across the archipelago. Efforts are underway to revive rural performing arts so that they resonate more with an increasingly cosmopolitan Philippine society. For example, the innovative syntheses of indigenous Philippine musical traditions such as the ancient instrument kulintang into popular music forms.

Several sports introduced by the US continue to be widespread in the Philippines, especially basketball. Filipinos have excelled in various forms of martial arts: boxing, wushu, and taekwondo. This short video demonstrates the local martial arts tradition, Arnis, which is experiencing a resurgence:

A key element of Filipino society is a large diaspora; such as the substantial Filipino community in Australia who often refer to themselves as ‘Filoz’ (a combination of ‘Filipino’ and ‘Aussie’).

Philippine society continues to balance eastern and western influences. For more information see the resources below:


National Identity

A sense of national identity and pride emerged from the continuous struggle for Philippine independence, where shared national symbols and other cultural and historical touchstones were developed. Various countries – such as Spain, China, and the United States – have interacted with and influenced Filipino culture; however, Filipino loyalties have remained foremost, emphasising family and place of birth. Key values such as kapwa (fellowship), respect, and acceptance are found throughout the culture, with many Filipinos displaying a warming and hospitable demeanour.

The Philippines is a collectivist society and individuals think of themselves as part of a group. For the most part, values are centred on maintaining social harmony and preserving social hierarchy. Caring about what others will think, say, or do, are strong influences on social behaviour among Filipinos. The national identity is anchored within a values system of personal alliances, with great pride in extended family and loyalty to the barangay (village) or hometown.

Given the diversity of the Philippines, identifying the unifying elements of Filipino culture is a complex matter. For a comprehensive look at the core concepts – Hospitality, Hiya (a sense of shame), Modesty, Courtesy, Warmth, Respect, Kapwa, and Fatalism or Bahala na (come what may) – see the SBS Cultural Atlas.

More information on Filipino identity can be accessed in the resources below:


Media and the Internet

The Philippines has a multitude of private media networks, with more than 400 TV stations and some 1,400 radio stations. The dominant television networks are ABS-CBN and GMA Network. The industry is regulated by a national organisation called the Association of Broadcasters.

Newspapers are published in English, Filipino, and many of the country’s other languages. The top three newspapers are the Philippine Daily Interpreter, Manila Bulletin, and The Philippine Star. However, newspaper readership continues to decline and so the top sources of news for most Filipinos come from TV, the Internet, and social media – especially Facebook.

A highly independent press was developed in the Philippines under US administration, but many media outlets ceased publication during the period of martial law under President Marco’s regime. While freedom of the press is protected by the constitution, the country is considered by some to be very dangerous for journalists. The video below contains an interview with Filipino journalist and Rappler CEO, Maria Ressa, explaining how the media is targeted:

Since its arrival in the mid-1990s, the Internet has spread relatively slowly due to the high cost of access. There is now Government investment underway, focusing on fibre infrastructure in urban areas with 4G available in most, and a national broadband plan to improve connectivity in the more rural areas. While the country has an estimated 60% of the population as frequent Internet users, Filipino consumers experience download speeds at half the global average.

The use of digital technologies in the Philippines is still below its potential, with the country’s digital adoption generally trailing behind many regional neighbours. The ‘digital divide’ between those with and without Internet leads to unequal access to social services, education, and life-changing economic opportunities.

For additional resources on the Philippine’s new focus on digital technologies and erosion of media freedom see the resources below:


Discussion Questions:

  1. The Philippines has multiple cultures and ethnic groups, although the dominant religion is Catholicism. What lessons can Australia learn from the Philippines in regard to social cohesion and multiculturalism? What does this mean for our ability to partner, support and be supported by the Philippines Armed Forces?
  2. As a nation of multiple island groupings, the Philippines holds an important strategic position in the Indo-Pacific region. What impacts will increasing tensions in the South China Sea have on Filipino strategic thinking? How will the Philippines’ geographical location, in conjunction with current alliances, influence the ambitions of various nations in this region (including Australia)?
  3. An insurgency in the southern Philippines has brought the threat of extremism closer into the Region. Should Australia do more to assist the Philippines and the Region to counter this threat? Is extremism the greatest threat to stability in the Indo-Pacific region, or are there greater issues to deal with?