The Philippines

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PHILIPPINES comprises 7,107 islands and islets in the western Pacific, which are scattered over a vast area and form the northernmost group of the Malay Archipelago.

There are four main groups: Luzon and Mindoro to the north, the Visayan Islands in the cen­tre, Mindanao, and the Sulu Archipelago in the south Palawan in the southwest.

Manila, the capital, is on Luzon. The great majority of the islands (6,647) are less than 2.6 square kilometers or 1 square mile in area and uninhabited, and only 11 are of a large enough size to accom­modate the bulk of the population. These are Luzon and Mindanao (the two largest islands), Mindoro, Samar, Masbate, Leyte, Cebu, Bohol, Negros, Panay, and Palawan.

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Most of the islands are mountainous, with more immense coastal or river valley plains occurring only in Luzon and Mindanao. The Philippines are part of a chain of volcanic mountains, and some 20 volcanoes are still active. The islands are also subject to reasonably frequent earthquakes. Typhoons, which occasionally strike the Philippines from July to October, are another natural hazard.

Over a third of the islands are wooded, and forests contain, among others, palms, rubber trees, and banyan. There are many varieties of wildflowers and plants, such as orchids and the fibrous abaca or Manila hemp, from which Manila envelopes were initially made.

Mammal species are poorly represented in the Philippines, but there are many birds and reptiles and abundant marine life, especially shellfish. Pearls, harvested from oysters found around the Sulu Archipelago, are highly prized on the world market.

The islands have a tropical climate but are cooled by sea breezes on the windward coasts. The rainy season is from July to October, with a distinct dry season between January and April and moderate rainfall in May and June and November and December.

Rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, and maize are the main subsistence crops, and coconuts, sugar cane, pineapples, and bananas are grown for export. Agriculture employs around 42 percent of the workforce. Fishing is of major importance, and there are sponge fisheries on some of the islands.

Mining is an important industry, and its main products include gold, silver, nickel, copper, and salt. Other prime sectors include textiles, food processing, chemicals, and electrical engineering.

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Most of the Philippine islands’ very complex and volcanic origin is visible in their varied and rugged terrain. A number of the volcanoes are still active. Mountain ranges divide most of the island surfaces into narrow coastal strips and low-lying interior plains or valleys. The islands are subject to flooding and destructive earthquakes.

All of the waters surrounding the Philippines are branches of the Pacific Ocean. The eastern coast of the Philippines faces the Philippine Sea, where the Philippine Trough (Emden Deep) plunges to 10,430 meters (34,219 feet).

The northwest coast faces the South China Sea. The southwest surrounds the Sulu Sea on three sides. The Celebes (Sulawesi) Sea is in the south, between the island of Mindanao and the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The Bohol Sea is to the north of Mindanao. The Visayan Sea is encircled by Panay, Masbate, Cebu, Negros, and other islands. The Sibuyan Sea meets southern Luzon and eastern Mindoro. The Camotes Sea lies between Cebu, Leyte, and Bohol. The Samar Sea is between Samar and Masbate.

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There are four “Wetlands of International Importance” in the Philippines, designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. These are Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, which includes rare swamp forest and peat forest; Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, a shorebird habitat; Naujan Lake National Park; and Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park. The mountain rice terraces of northern Luzon’s Cordillera are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built by the indigenous Ifugao people over the last two millennia, the terraces follow mountain contours over 1,000 meters (3,281 feet) high, creating an agricultural landscape that is both productive and harmonious with nature.

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