More than 7,000 islands make up the Philippines, but the bulk of its fast-growing population lives on just 11 of them.
Much of the country is mountainous and prone to earthquakes and eruptions from around 20 active volcanoes. It is often buffeted by typhoons and other storms.
The Philippines – a Spanish colony for more than three centuries and named after a 16th century Spanish king – was taken over by the US in the early 20th century after a protracted rebellion against rule from Madrid.
Spanish and US influences remain strong, especially in terms of language, religion and government. Self-rule in 1935 was followed by full independence in 1946 under a US-style constitution.
The US is a close ally and has provided military aid to help combat Muslim and communist insurgencies.
1542 – Spanish expedition claims the islands and names them the Philippines after the heir to the Spanish throne. Three centuries of Spanish rule fail to conquer Muslim areas in the south.
1890s – Beginnings of insurrection against Spanish rule.
1898 – During the Spanish-American War, the US navy destroys the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. Spain cedes the Philippines to the US, which proclaims military rule and begins to forcibly incorporate Muslim areas.
1941-1944 – The Philippines are occupied by Japan during the Second World War, but are retaken by the US.
1946 – The islands are granted full independence and renamed the Republic of the Philippines.
1965 – Ferdinand Marcos is elected president; he declares martial law in 1972.
1983 – Anti-Marcos lawyer Benigno Aquino is assassinated at Manila’s airport as he returns from exile.
1986 – Marcos ousted in “people power” revolt after claiming victory over Aquino’s widow in an election that many believe was stolen.
2001 – President Joseph Estrada is forced out by a military-backed “people power” uprising.
2001 – Troops comb the jungles of south-western Basilan island for Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremists holding 20 hostages, including three Americans.