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Travel Alert: Due to the uncertain political situation in Mindinao, including the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago, travel to these areas is not advised. Check Safe Travel for current government warnings.

The second-largest archipelago in the world, with over 7000 tropical islands, the Philippines is one of the great treasures of Southeast Asia. Often overlooked by travellers because of its location on the ‘wrong’ side of the South China Sea, the Philippines rewards those who go the extra distance to reach it. And because it’s off the beaten path, the Philippines is a great place to escape the hordes who descend on other parts of Southeast Asia. First and foremost, the Philippines is a place of natural wonders – a string of coral-fringed islands strewn across a vast expanse of the western Pacific. Below sea level, the Philippines boasts some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling, including wreck diving around Coron and swimming with the whale sharks off Donsol. Above sea level, it has a fantastic landscape with wonders enough to stagger even the most jaded traveller: the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, Banaue & the Rice Terraces and fascinating reminders of the islands’ history in places such as Samar & Leyte and Vigan. And if you’re after palm-fringed, white-sand beaches, try laidback Sipalay or flat-out party town Boracay.

Of course, any traveller who has been here will tell you that it’s the people and their culture that makes the Philippines unique. Long poised at the centre of Southeast Asian trade, colonised by a succession of world powers, the Philippines is a vivid tapestry that reflects its varied cultural inheritance. And despite the poverty that afflicts much of the nation, the Filipinos themselves are among the most ebullient and easygoing people anywhere. The Philippines truly qualifies as one of the last great frontiers in Southeast Asian travel. Cross whichever ocean you need to and see for yourself.


Weather patterns in the Philippines are dictated by the prevailing winds – the habagat (southwest monsoon), which runs from May to October, and the amihan (northeast monsoon), which prevails from November to early May.

For most of the country, the dry season is during the amihan. The wet season starts in June, peaks in July to September, and peters out in October. But patterns have been screwy of late, with the rains arriving later and lingering into December.

In some regions the seasons are flipped. Much of the eastern seaboard – including Eastern Mindanao, Southern Leyte, Eastern Samar and Southeast Luzon – is rainy from December to March and fairly dry when the rest of the country is sopping.

The central Visayas – including Bohol, Negros and Cebu – are sheltered from the monsoon rains and thus have less pronounced seasons. These areas are liable to have rain at any time of the year, but it’s usually not too serious unless there’s a typhoon stirring up trouble on the eastern seaboard.

Typhoons, known as bagyo, are common from June to November. Striking mainly in Luzon and the Visayas, they do millions of dollars worth of damage annually. Typhoons also tend to enhance the habagat, resulting in several days of heavy rains across vast swaths of the country. Even typhoons that pass several hundred kilometres offshore can have this unfortunate, potentially vacation-ruining effect.

The hottest month in lowland regions is May, when temperatures hover as high as 38°C. The coolest, least humid months are January and February, which can be downright pleasant.

With a flexible itinerary you can use the website of PAGASA ( to avoid meteorological trouble spots.

When to go

Any time is a good time to visit the Philippines, with the possible exception of Holy Week (around Easter), when hotels book out months in advance and prices triple. New Year’s sees a similar hotel crunch in popular spots like Boracay, but the parties make it worthwhile. Also be aware that during typhoon season (June to early December), tropical storms raging up the east coast can mean foul weather for days, but there’s not much you can do to predict typhoons. Adopt the Filipino maxim – bahala na (whatever will be will be) – and wait it out.

The Philippines’ weather has become more unpredictable in recent years, but January to May usually brings the best weather to most of the country. However, this is also the high tourist season. Foreign arrivals are highest in January to March, while Filipinos hit the road en masse in April and May for their ‘summer’ holidays.

Don’t worry too much about crowds though; outside of a few popular beach resorts it’s never very hard to escape other tourists in the Philippines. Low season is during the ‘rainy’ months of June to September, which in some areas of the country aren’t rainy at all. Accommodation prices usually decrease during this time.

Money & costs in Philippine

• Costs • Money
The Philippines is a bit more expensive than Thailand or Indonesia, but still quite affordable by Western standards.

Once outside Manila and Cebu, budget travellers can get by for around P1000 per day, spending around P400 on simple accommodation in guesthouses and backpacker joints, P200 for food in basic local restaurants, P200 for travel and P200 for sundries. If you're staying put and bargain for long-term accommodation discounts, you may do significantly better than this daily budget.

Midrange travellers will come close to doubling the budget figure (say, around P1950 per day), spending around P850 on a reasonably comfortable hotel or simple resort accommodation, P500 for three decent meals a day, P300 for travel and another P300 for sundries.

Once you enter top-end territory, the sky is almost the limit: top-end accommodation prices will almost always be quoted in US dollars, and will average around US$80 for a resort or standard hotel (though this can go much higher); meals at good restaurants can run to P500 or more per person; full-day car and driver hire will cost around P1000.

Of course, as far as prices go in the Philippines, location is the operative word. Prices in Manila or Cebu City aren't necessarily indicative of expenses for the rest of your trip. In particular, Manila's accommodation (especially midrange) tends to be pricey compared with the provinces. Likewise, the internationally famous resort Boracay is a lot pricier than most other islands, though bargains can be found even there. The season also plays a huge role in accommodation prices: in the off-season, you can ask for and expect to receive discounts on accommodation of between 20% and 40%.

Fortunately, no matter where you go in the Philippines, basic necessities are amazingly cheap all year round. Likewise, transport, with the exception of private boat and car hire, is also a great bargain, with airfares as low as you'll find in any other parts of Southeast Asia.

The unit of currency in the Philippines is the peso (P), which is also spelled piso in Filipino, and is divided into 100 centavos (c). Banknotes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000 pesos. Coins are in 10c and 25c pieces, and P1, P5 and P10.

The smartest way to bring cash to the Philippines is in the form of a credit card, cash card or debit card. Provided you have your PIN, you can use these to get cash or cash advances from thousands of banks and ATMs in the Philippines (but don't expect to find these in rural areas - always stock up on cash before leaving a city).

Of course, you'll want to back up your plastic with some cash (US dollars are the most widely accepted) and travellers cheques. Using plastic with a cash back-up will save you from having to deal with local moneychangers, who seem to have made a science out of ripping off tourists; Lonely Planet receives stacks of letters and emails each year from victims of these schemes - don't say you weren't warned!

There's a bewildering array of banks operating in the Philippines, so look around before deciding which to use. The Philippine National Bank (PNB), Equitable PCI Bank, Metrobank, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) are some of the big names in local banking. Global banks, such as Citibank and HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation), also provide consumer-banking services in the Philippines.


Credit, debit and cash cards can be used to get cash or cash advances from thousands of ATMs throughout the country. Check with your bank or credit-card company (or look on the back of your card) to see which ATM network your card is connected to. For getting cash, Cirrus and Plus are the most widely accepted; for cash advances, MasterCard is the most widely accepted, followed by Visa.

Cash advances from ATMs are in local currency, and may be subject to a daily withdrawal limit. Metrobank and Equitable PCI ATMs have cash withdrawal limits of P4000 and P5000, respectively. HSBC machines have no limits - you're only limited by your own bank's daily withdrawal limit.

Particularly in the big cities, ATMs operate 24 hours daily, and can be found in department stores, supermarkets and shopping malls, in addition to banks. Note that ATMs in the Philippines have a curious system of posting 'online' or 'offline' signs to indicate whether or not the machine is in operation.


With the usual precautions, carrying cash (US dollars is the currency of choice) is no particular problem; it's actually a good idea to have a US$50 and/or US$100 note stashed somewhere secure and accessible in case you can't find a bank or an ATM, or you're out of travellers cheques.

As for pesos, 'Sorry, no change' becomes a familiar line - stock up on notes smaller than P100 at every opportunity.

Credit cards

Many shops, restaurants, hotels and resorts accept payment by plastic, and credit-card cash advances are possible in larger towns and cities; in small towns and on islands rarely visited there are often no provisions for credit cards (Palawan, in particular, has few places that accept credit cards).

A shop-front sign that reads 'Visa accepted' or 'MasterCard accepted' may well refer only to the Philippines-issued version, so check with the shop personnel by showing them your card. Also note that some establishments will try to add (at times surreptitiously) a surcharge to your bill when you pay with a credit card, on the grounds that they themselves have to pay a surcharge to the credit-card company. It's all up to you whether to accept this rather irritating practice or not. You may be able to avoid this charge by using another card.

If your MasterCard is lost, stolen or eaten by an ungrateful ATM, the toll-free number to call in the Philippines is 1 800 1111 0061. For Visa cardholders, the number is 1 800 1111 0248. Be forewarned, however, that trying to get through to a 1 800 number in the Philippines can be as fruitless as trying to reach somebody in the middle of the Sahara!

There are incidents of credit-card fraud in the Philippines, as in many other countries. To prevent this, keep a close eye on your card at all times - never, for example, allow a shop clerk to disappear into a back room with it (where someone would be able to make several imprints with your card). Likewise, keep a careful record of all your credit-card transactions while in the Philippines, save your receipts, and check your credit-card statements.

You can get cash advances with credit cards from many ATMs and banks in the Philippines. Note that this is different from simply getting cash from your account with a cash or debit card - a cash advance is like a credit-card purchase in that you must pay it back, and with interest if you don't pay your account in full each month. Also keep in mind that there may not be any ATMs or banks in smaller towns and rural areas, so, as usual, it pays to cash up (within reasonable limits) before heading into the sticks.

While many ATMs in the Philippines accept cash cards linked to the Cirrus and Plus networks, far fewer are linked to international credit-card networks, such as MasterCard and Visa. If the ATM in question does not accept your credit card, it may still be possible to get an over-the-counter cash advance from the bank. However, this can be a slow and tedious procedure.

Equitable PCI Banks will issue cash advances for most major cards, including MasterCard and Visa, so this is usually a good bet, but be warned that only one branch in any town is likely to offer this service, so you may have to travel to find the correct branch.


Moneychangers are usually easy to find in the commercial centres of most cities; some department stores and shopping malls also have moneychangers on the premises. Moneychangers usually offer the best rates, but they are also notorious for all manner of short-change scams and rip-offs. Because of the risk of rip-offs, it's best to use moneychangers selectively - if possible, change your cash or travellers cheques at a bank, hotel or resort, even if the rate is usually lower than at a moneychanger.

In Manila you should have no trouble changing US dollars, British pounds or euros; Japanese yen is also widely accepted, as are Canadian and Australian dollars, ASEAN currencies, and some currencies from the Middle East.

There are no particular hassles with exchanging pesos when you leave, unless you're carrying a huge amount. But even then your only problem might be locating a moneychanger with enough US dollars to change them into.

Travellers cheques

US-dollar travellers cheques are the most secure and reliable way to carry funds. American Express (AmEx) is by far the most widely recognised and you may find it difficult to exchange cheques from other companies. An instant replacement policy on lost or stolen cheques is highly desirable, so check that the company will honour this policy in the Philippines before you buy.

Cashing travellers cheques is best done at a bank, although this can be time consuming. Most places charge a small fee to cash travellers cheques - ask about the fee beforehand and decide how many cheques you want to cash at one time.

In principle, changing travellers cheques is quite simple: you only need to bring along your passport and the original purchase receipts. In practice though, banks and moneychangers can be reluctant to accept travellers cheques, so to minimise hassles it's wise to plan your money conversions in towns with a couple of exchange options.

Even in a city such as Manila, only a handful of banks and moneychangers change travellers cheques in currencies other than US dollars. Outside the big cities, US dollars are generally the only currency accepted, either for cash or travellers cheques, though the Japanese yen is gaining greater acceptance as an alternative to the greenback. The rate is generally slightly lower for travellers cheques than for cash.

Philippines history


• The beginning

• Trade

• The Spanish era

• The American era

• World War II

• The Marcos era

• Political upheaval & high jinks

The beginning

Thanks to 'Tabon Man', who left a bit of his (or her, according to some) skull in a cave in Palawan at least 47, 000 years ago, a sliver of light shines into the deep, dark prehistory of the Philippines. The oldest known human relic of the islands, this bone fragment suggests that the Tabon Caves helped early Homo sapiens survive the last ice age.

The ocean and the boat have always been powerful symbols in the Philippines. The word barangay, which refers to the basic Filipino social unit or a community, is derived from the ancient balangay, or sailboat.

The longest-held theory on the origins of Tabon Man is based on distinct waves of migration. Assuming that much of modern-day Asia was linked by land bridges, this theory posits that around 250, 000 years ago our earliest human ancestors simply walked over to what is now the Philippines.

About 200, 000 years later, in strode the nomadic Negrito groups from the Malay Peninsula, Borneo and perhaps even Australia. After an interval of roughly 2000 years, the Neolithic Age arrived in the form of the seafaring, tool-wielding Indonesians. The Indonesian groups brought with them formal farming and building skills.

It's fair to assume that this bunch was busily carving out the spectacular rice terraces of North Luzon some 2000 years ago. With the Iron Age came the Malays. Skilful sailors, potters and weavers, they built the first permanent settlements and prospered from around the 1st century AD until the 16th century, when the Spanish arrived. The wave migration theory holds that the Malays arrived in at least three ethnically diverse waves. The first wave provided the basis for the modern-day Bontoc and other tribes of North Luzon. The second laid the foundations for the most dominant of modern-day indigenous groups - the Bicolano, Bisayan and Tagalog. The third wave is thought to have established the fiercely proud Muslim Malays.

But written records are few, and wave migration is only one theory. An alternative proposed by some Philippine scholars suggests that the early inhabitants of Southeast Asia were of the same racial group (the Pithecanthropus group, to be exact), with more or less the same traditions and beliefs. Over time, they say, divisions formed according to the demands of the environment.

The Chinese became the first foreigners to do business with the islands they called MaI as early as the 2nd century AD, although the first recorded Chinese expedition to the Philippines was in AD 982. Within a few decades, Chinese traders were regular visitors to towns along the coasts of Luzon, Mindoro and Sulu, and by around AD 1100 travellers from India, Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Siam (Thailand) and Japan were also including the islands on their trade runs. Gold was by then big business in Butuan (on the northern coast of Mindanao), Chinese settlements had sprung up in Manila and on Jolo, and Japanese merchants were buying shop space in Manila and North Luzon.

For several centuries this peaceful trade arrangement thrived. Despite the island's well-known riches, the inhabitants were never directly threatened by their powerful Asian trading partners. The key, particularly in the case of China, was diplomacy. Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, the tribal leaders of the Philippines would make regular visits to Peking (Beijing) to honour the Chinese emperor.

The Spanish era

In the early 16th century, the Philippines began receiving visitors who would have far more long-lasting consequences. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed at Samar at dawn on 16 March 1521. He claimed the islands for Spain and named them the Islas del Poniente (Western Islands). Soon after, the Portuguese arrived from the east and declared the islands to be the Islas del Oriente (Eastern Islands). Undaunted, Magellan set about giving the islanders a crash course in Catholicism and winning over various tribal chiefs before fatally taking things one step too far on Mactan Island.

Determined to press its claim, Spain sent four more expeditions; Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, commander of the fourth expedition, renamed the islands after the heir to the Spanish throne, Philip, Charles I's son. Philip, as King Philip II, sent a fresh fleet led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi to the islands in the mid-16th century with strict orders to colonise and Catholicise. In 1565 an agreement was signed by Legazpi and Tupas, the defeated chief of Cebu, which made every Filipino answerable to Spanish law.

Legazpi, his soldiers and a band of Augustinian monks wasted no time in establishing a settlement where Cebu City now stands; Fort San Pedro is a surviving relic of the era. First called San Miguel, then Santisimo Nombre de Jesus, this fortified town hosted the earliest Filipino-Spanish Christian weddings and, critically, the baptisms of various Cebuano leaders. Panay Island's people were beaten into submission soon after, with Legazpi establishing a vital stronghold there (near present-day Roxas) in 1569.

The indigenous islanders - who by tradition were loath to work together anyway - were no match for the Spanish and their firearms. Spain's greatest challenge came from an old enemy - Islam. To Spain's horror (having recently booted out the Moors at home), the Muslims had a big head start: Islamic missionaries from Malacca had established towns in Mindoro and Luzon almost a century before the Spanish arrived. Legazpi finally succeeded in taking the strategic Muslim settlement of Maynilad (now Manila) in 1571, hastily proclaiming it the capital and building over the kuta (fort) of Rajah Sulayman. This was eventually to become Fort Santiago.

So began a 300-year-long religious war that still smoulders in Mindanao, the spiritual home of Islam in the Philippines. The Spanish recruited newly Christianised Filipinos to help fight the Moros (as Muslim Filipinos were dubbed), many of whom earned a violent living as pirates. Meanwhile, Spain was courting the Chinese through trade. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain's galleons - many of them built in Cavite near Manila - also specialised in taking spices, silk, porcelain and gold to the New World, and returning with Mexican silver. Moro pirates dodged many a cannonball to claim a share of these riches.

By the 18th century, Spain's grasp on the Orient was slipping. It was sharing its traditional trade routes with colonial rivals. It was at war with England and fast running out of friends and funds.

Before long, with a big shove from the powerful East India Company, Britain invaded Manila in 1762. But their arrival sparked the same sort of antipathy a busload of hooligans sparks today, and less than two years later the British were chased out of Manila Bay by a homegrown resistance. This action was to have long-lasting consequences, as it marked the start of a united, nationalist spirit. Anticolonial sentiment was reaching new heights as friars and other Spanish colonisers increasingly used brutal methods to try to retain control. By 1894 there were incidents of open rebellion.

A powerful group of nationalist heroes soon emerged. The greatest and most famous of these was Dr José Rizal, doctor of medicine, poet, novelist, sculptor, painter, linguist, naturalist and fencing enthusiast. Executed by the Spanish in 1896, Rizal epitomised the Filipinos' dignified struggle for personal and national freedom. Just before facing the Spanish firing squad, Rizal penned a characteristically calm message of both caution and inspiration to his people: 'I am most anxious for liberties for our country, but I place as a prior condition the education of the people so that our country may have an individuality of its own and make itself worthy of liberties'.

By killing such figures, the Spanish were creating martyrs. Andres Bonifacio led an aggressive movement called the Kataastaasan Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Highest and Most Respected Society of the Sons of the Nation) - better known as the Katipunan or KKK. It secretly built a revolutionary government in Manila, with a network of equally clandestine provincial councils. Complete with passwords, masks and coloured sashes denoting rank, the Katipunan's members (both men and women) peaked at an estimated 30, 000 in mid-1896. In August, the Spanish got wind of the coming revolution (from a woman's confession to a Spanish friar, according to some accounts) and the Katipunan leaders were forced to flee the capital.

Depleted, frustrated and poorly armed, the Katipuneros took stock in nearby Balintawak, a baryo (district) of Caloocan, and voted to launch the revolution regardless. With the cry 'Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!' (Long live the Philippines!), the Philippine Revolution lurched into life following the incident that is now known as the Cry of Balintawak.

The shortage of weapons among the Filipinos meant that many fighters were forced to pluck their first gun from the hands of their enemies. So acute was the shortage of ammunition for these weapons that some (many of them children) were given the job of scouring battle sites for empty cartridges. These cartridges would then be painstakingly repacked using homemade gunpowder.

After three years of bloodshed, most of it Filipino, a Spanish-Filipino peace pact was signed and the revolutionary leader General Emilio Aguinaldo agreed to go into exile in Hong Kong in 1897. Predictably, the pact's demands satisfied nobody. Promises of reform by the Spanish were broken, as were promises by the Filipinos to stop their revolutionary plotting. The Filipino cause attracted huge support from the Japanese, who tried unsuccessfully to send money and two boatloads of weapons to the exiled revolutionaries in Hong Kong.

The American era

Meanwhile, another of Spain's colonial trouble spots - Cuba - was playing host to an ominous dispute over sugar between Spain and the USA. To save face, Spain declared war on the USA; as a colony of Spain, the Philippines was drawn into the conflict. Soon after, an American fleet under Commodore George Dewey sailed into Manila Bay and routed the Spanish ships. Keen to gain Filipino support, Dewey welcomed the return of exiled revolutionary General Aguinaldo and oversaw the Philippine Revolution mark II, which installed Aguinaldo as president of the first Philippine republic.

The Philippine flag was flown for the first time during the proclamation of Philippine Independence on 12 June 1898.

After a bitter struggle, Spanish troops in Manila and outlying towns were crushed by allied American and Filipino forces and Spain's 400-year-long occupation came to an end. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1898, the Spanish-American War ended and the USA effectively bought the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico for US$20 million.

Back in US-occupied Manila, tempers were rising. Filipino revolutionaries were openly defying the Americans, and the Americans were antagonising the Filipinos. Any dreams of impending Filipino independence were shattered in 1899 when Malolos, the makeshift capital of President Aguinaldo's Philippine Republic, was captured by American troops - led by General Arthur MacArthur.

By 1902 the first Philippine Republic was dead and buried and a succession of American neocolonial governors-general ensured it stayed that way. The main intention of the Americans, like the Spanish, was to serve their own economic needs, and by 1930 they had engineered an industrial and social revolution, with two of the biggest booms coming from mining and prostitution.

Not until 1935, once it had firmly lassoed the country's resources, did the USA endorse the Commonwealth of the Philippines, along with the drafting of a US-style constitution and the first national election. On paper at least, democracy and freedom had at last come to the Philippines, but, as WWII was about to prove, they came at a terrible price.

World War II
When Japan bombed Hawaii's Pearl Harbor in 1941, other forces attacked Clark Field, where General Douglas MacArthur was caught napping, despite many hours' warning. Within two days, Japanese troops landed at Vigan in North Luzon, eventually driving the allied Filipino and US troops to the Bataan Peninsula, opposite newly occupied Manila. From here, soldiers and civilians alike faced not only relentless bombardment but also hunger, disease and disillusionment.

MacArthur, holed up on nearby Corregidor island, made his now famous promise to return, and fled to Australia.

Ordered to maintain a 'holding action', MacArthur's abandoned troops soon fell to the Japanese with the unconditional surrender of around 76, 000 people - 66, 000 of them Filipinos. Those still able to walk began the 120km 'Bataan death march' from Bataan to San Fernando, and on to prison camps in Capas, Tarlac. As many as 20, 000 people died along the way and another 25, 000 died while imprisoned. This event is honoured with the annual Araw ng Kagitingan (Bataan Day) public holiday on 9 April. From 1942 to 1945 the Philippines endured a brutal Japanese military regime. Unlike the previous colonial forces, the Japanese actively encouraged Filipino languages as part of the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, Japan's scheme of keeping Asia Asian. In 1944 MacArthur landed at Leyte, determined to dislodge the Japanese. The main battleground in this onslaught was Manila, where defenceless residents suffered horrifically in the ensuing crossfire during February 1945. By the time MacArthur marched into the city, at least 150, 000 civilians were killed and a city that had been one of the finest in Asia was destroyed. In total, over 1.1 million Filipinos were killed during WWII.

In early 1946 Japan's General Tomoyuki Yamashita was tried as a war criminal and hanged by order of MacArthur. In July of the same year, Manuel Roxas was installed as president of the Republic of the Philippines under the auspices of the USA, and the immense task of rebuilding a war-torn nation began. Far from free, the Philippines faced crippling high-interest loans in the form of US 'aid', and its society (including more than three-quarters of its schools and universities) lay in ruins.

The Marcos era

First elected in 1965 under the seductive slogan 'This nation can be great again', the charismatic former lawyer Ferdinand Marcos became the first president to win two terms in office. At first it indeed was a new era, and Marcos and his even more charismatic wife Imelda went about trying to bring back some of Manila's pre-war energy. Imelda drove projects like the Cultural Center for the Philippines, which got lots of international attention but, as they say, didn't put food on the table. By 1970, widespread poverty, rising inflation, pitiful public funding and blatant corruption triggered a wave of protests in Manila. When several demonstrators were killed by police outside the presidential Malacañang Palace, Marcos' image as a political saviour died with them. However he still had a hugely powerful backer in the form of the US military, whose Clark and Subic Bay bases were vital to the Vietnam War.

Citing the rise of leftist student groups and the New People's Army (NPA), Marcos imposed martial law on the entire country in 1972. Normally a constitutional last resort designed to protect the masses, martial law was declared by Marcos to keep himself in power (the constitution prevented him from running for a third term) and to protect his foreign business buddies. By this time, their formidable enemies included the anti-imperialist National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Islamic Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Mindanao.

With martial law imposed, the Philippines was plunged into a darkness reminiscent of the Japanese occupation - only this time it was at the hands of a fellow Filipino. A curfew was imposed, the media was silenced or taken over by the military, international travel was banned and thousands of anti-government suspects were rounded up and thrown into military camps. An estimated 50, 000 of Marcos' opponents were jailed, exiled or killed. Marcos then set about raising revenue by handing over great tracts of prime land to foreign investors and imposing heavy taxes on those who could least afford them.

When Marcos made a show of lifting martial law in 1981, to silence rising discontent, he reinvented himself and the constitution to form a sham of a democracy. Under this 'New Republic', Marcos won a mid-year election conveniently devoid of a free press or any real opposition.

In 1983, however, when thugs dressed as a military escort gunned down Marcos' political foe, Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr, as he arrived at Manila's airport on return from exile, a new Filipino martyr was created. The two million mourners who poured onto the streets to accompany Aquino's funeral cortege in Manila began a steady march towards a new era.

By 1986 even Marcos' long-time supporters were publicly questioning him, as were many embarrassed foreign powers. Another rigged election saw Marcos beat Ninoy Aquino's widow, Corazon 'Cory' Aquino, but this time the masses stormed the presidential palace. Within days, virtually all members of the nation's armed forces had sided with the masses, the Marcoses were spirited to Hawaii by the US Air Force, and Aquino was installed as president and national heroine.

Thus was the force of the 1986 'people power' movement, or EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos) Revolution.

Ferdinand Marcos died in exile in 1989 and his shoe-happy wife, Imelda, soon returned to the Philippines, where she somehow wriggled out of an 18-year jail sentence for graft. Despite evidence that she and Ferdinand helped themselves to billions of dollars from the treasury, Imelda remains free. She even ran for president in 1998 (she 'gave' the votes she garnered to the winner, Joseph Estrada, who in June 1998 asked the courts to give Imelda a presidential pardon; later that year the Supreme Court acquitted Marcos of corruption charges).

Political upheaval & high jinks

The cataclysmic eruption in June 1991 of Mt Pinatubo, northwest of Manila, ended another long chapter in Philippine history. Showered in volcanic ash and refused a new lease agreement, the US military bases at Clark and Subic Bay were closed down and the tens of thousands of US troops left. It was a heady moment for the Philippines, which had turned its back on over US$100 million a year in rent from the Americans. The 12 senators who voted to oust the US military became national heroes.

But if people thought that ousting both the Marcoses and the Americans would lead to period of political stability, they were wrong. Cory Aquino had helped shepherd through a new constitution that greatly limited presidential power to do undemocratic things like declare martial law or appoint oneself president for life. The first real presidential elections were held in 1992 and showed how messy democracy could be. Aquino's endorsed successor, Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos, won with barely 24% of the vote. This lack of a resounding mandate left people restless.

Ramos for his part made national unity a priority. He tried to finally reach peace deals with the patchwork of communist rebels, Muslim separatists and disaffected soldiers who led a rag-tag existence throughout the islands and frequently resorted to violence to score some attention. Some treaties and agreements were worked out, but often as one group would agree to lay down its arms, the members would simply go off and start another conflict.

Meanwhile there was growing discontent among the populace as it became clear that just having your own constitution wasn't enough to shake off years of feeble economic growth. With an economy that had been dependent on the rent from the US bases and Japanese grants (which were cleverly designed to turn the Philippines into a market for Japanese goods rather than a competitor), the nation missed out on the economic boom that enriched its neighbours.

In 1998, the people turned to popular ex-movie actor Joseph Estrada and elected him president in a landslide. The colourful Estrada had promised riches for one and all, but the nation was soon to learn, as others have elsewhere, that being a movie actor doesn't necessarily prepare one for a life in politics.

The economy tanked and war broke out with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in central Mindanao. Then, in 2000, Estrada was accused of profiting from an illegal gambling racket. The House of Representatives impeached him but allies in the Senate managed to block his removal from office. In 2001, millions of Filipinos took to the streets and said 'enough'. Estrada and his family took flight and the vice-president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (popularly called 'GMA') was sworn in as president.

Estrada tried a few ploys to regain power - like calling for yet another 'people's revolution' - but it was for naught. GMA quickly set about consolidating her power and she allowed the American military back into the country as part of the 'war on terror'. In 2004 she ran for reelection against an ensemble cast of characters that included another ex-actor, Fernando Poe Jr, and won by 1.1 million votes. Or did she? Shortly thereafter a recording emerged that purported to capture GMA ordering that the election be fixed. Political opponents seized on this and for the next year, much of the government's time was spent debating the charges of election fraud. GMA's opponents tried to raise the ire of the public - but perhaps jaded by the outcomes of previous revolutions, the populace mostly stayed off the streets.

By late 2005, GMA seemed to have survived this latest political upheaval, as the Philippines continued to suffer from high unemployment, poverty and other problems that have bedevilled it for decades
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