The Philippines is the most Westernized of the Asian nations; nonetheless, it is important to note that ethnic and cultural differences give the country a character of its own, and that there are local customs and forms of behavior that expatriates must recognize and respect if they are to successfully live and work in this environment.
Life in the Philippines presents some unique challenges, but most can be overcome because of the availability of modern, familiar goods and services. The hot, humid climate, however, takes some getting used to, and results in a more casual life-style than many Westerners are accustomed to. English is widely used in both spoken and written communications. Indeed, English is the major language of business, government, legal transactions, and education.
The time zone in the Philippines is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus 8 hours, or Eastern Standard Time (EST) plus 13 hours.
Metro Manila, the capital, is grouped into four districts composed of fourteen cities, including Quezon, Caloocan, Pasay, Pasig, Makati, and Manila cities as well as several minor municipalities. The center of the country's economic and political activity, Metro Manila - sometimes referred to as the Greater Manila area - is densely populated with over ten million people, making it one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world.
Economy and politics
The infrastructure was almost totally devastated during World War II, when Japan invaded and occupied the Philippines. The postwar years have been beset with economic and political problems. Ferdinand Marcos, who became president in 1965, initially brought peace and prosperity to the islands. However, by the 1980s the Marcos regime, largely ignoring the constitution adopted in 1948, had become increasingly dictatorial and corrupt and the country heavily in debt. Finally, with the election of 1986, Marcos was removed from power and fled the country.
The 1987 constitution, implemented after Marcos' defeat, provides for executive, legislative and judicial branches. The president is elected for a six-year term and cannot be reelected. In 2001, Vice-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as a constitutional successor to President Joseph Estrada when he was forced to step down. Arroyo, an economist, won a second term in the 2004 election.
There is a bicameral legislature with a House of Representatives (Kapulungan Ng Mga Kinatawan) and a Senate (Senado). The real legislative power, however, is vested in the House of Representatives, which not only initiates and enacts laws, but has the power to implement them as well. The legal system is based on Spanish and Anglo-American law, with a judicial branch made up of a Supreme Court and various appellate and local courts.
There are many political parties in the Philippines; over 30 hold at least one seat in the House of Representatives. The Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, or Lakas-CMD, currently holds 79 seats, the most of any party. President Arroyo is also a member of Lakas-CMD. They are a somewhat conservative party with an ideology similar to that of North American conservative parties, such as the Republican Party in the United States. The next largest party is the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC), which holds 40 seats, and rules in a coalition government with Lakas-CMD. The largest opposition party is the Liberal Party, which holds 34 seats.
The birth rate of just over two percent presents a challenge for the government in terms of employment - estimates project a doubling of the population in around thirty years. Many Filipinos, unable to find employment at home, travel to other countries to find work.
Despite political and economic problems, business activity proceeds at a steady pace. The government encouraged the sale of state-owned properties to raise additional revenues to finance education and health services, and pay for improvements in the country's infrastructure. It has also established a number of free economic zones and industrial parks.