Population of the Philippines

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The Philippine population in the early 1990s continued to grow at a rapid, although somewhat reduced rate from that which had prevailed in the preceding decades. In 1990 the Philippine population was more than 66 million, up from 48 million in 1980. This figure represents an annual growth rate of 2.5 percent, down from 2.6 percent in 1980 and from more than 3 percent in the 1960s. Even at the lower growth rate, the Philippine population will increase to an estimated 77 million by the year 2000 and will double every twenty-nine years into the next century. Moreover, in 1990 the population was still a youthful one, with 57 percent under the age of twenty. The birth rate in early 1991 was 29 per 1,000, and the death rate was 7 per 1,000. The infant mortality rate was 48 deaths per 1,000 live births. Population density increased from 160 per square kilometer in 1980 to 220 in 1990. The rapid population growth and the size of the younger population has required the Philippines to double the amount of housing, schools, and health facilities every twenty-nine years just to maintain a constant level.


There were two significant migration trends that affected population figures in the 1970s and the 1980s. First was a trend of migration from village to city, which put extra stress on urban areas. As of the early 1980s, thirty cities had 100,000 or more residents, up from twenty-one in 1970. Metro Manila's population was 5,924,563, up from 4,970,006 in 1975, marking an annual growth rate of 3.6 percent. This figure was far above the national average of 2.5 percent. Within Metro Manila, the city of Manila itself was growing more slowly, at a rate of only 1.9 percent per annum, but two other cities within this complex, Quezon City and Caloocan, were booming at rates of 4 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.

A National Housing Authority report revealed that, in the early 1980s, one out of four Metro Manila residents was a squatter. This figure represented a 150 percent increase in a decade in the number of people living in shantytown communities, evidence of continuing, virtually uncontrolled, rural-urban migration. The city of Manila had more than 500,000 inhabitants and Quezon City had 371,000 inhabitants in such neighborhoods. Moreover, rural-urban migrants, responding to better employment opportunities in peripheral metropolitan cities such as Navotas, had boosted the percentage of squatters in that city's total population.

A second major migration pattern consisted of resettlement from the more densely to the less densely populated regions. As a result of a population-land ratio that declined from about one cultivated hectare per agricultural worker in the 1950s to about 0.5 hectare by the early 1980s, thousands of Filipinos had migrated to the agricultural frontier on Mindanao. According to the 1980 census, six of the twelve fastest growing provinces were in the western, northern, or southern Mindanao regions, and a seventh was the frontier province of Palawan. Sulu, South Cotabato, Misamis Oriental, Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Norte, and Agusan del Sur provinces all had annual population growth rates of 4 percent or more, a remarkable statistic given the uncertain law-and-order situation on Mindanao. Among the fastestgrowing cities in the late 1970s were General Santos (10 percent annual growth rate), Iligan (6.9), Cagayan de Oro (6.7), Cotabato (5.7), Zamboanga (5.4), Butuan (5.4), and Dipolog (5.1)--all on Mindanao.

By the early 1980s, the Mindanao frontier had ceased to offer a safety valve for land-hungry settlers. Hitherto peaceful provinces had become dangerous tinderboxes in which mounting numbers of Philippine army troops and New People's Army insurgents carried on a sporadic shooting war with each other and with bandits, "lost commands," millenarian religious groups, upland tribes, loggers, and Muslims (see The Counterinsurgency Campaign , ch. 5). Population pressures also created an added obstacle to land reform. For years, there had been demands to restructure land tenure so that landlords with large holdings could be eliminated and peasants could become farm owners. In the past, land reform had been opposed by landlords. In the 1990s there simply was not enough land to enable a majority of the rural inhabitants to become landowners. International migration has offered better economic opportunities to a number of Filipinos without, however, reaching the point where it would relieve population pressure. Since the liberalization of United States immigration laws in 1965, the number of people in the United States having Filipino ancestry had grown substantially to 1,406,770 according to the 1990 United States census. In the fiscal year ending September 30, 1990, the United States Embassy in Manila issued 45,189 immigrant and 85,128 temporary visas, the largest number up to that time.

In addition to permanent residents, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, more than half a million temporary migrants went abroad to work but maintained a Philippine residence. This number included contract workers in the Middle East and domestic servants in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as nurses and physicians who went to the United States for training and work experience, a fair proportion of whom managed to become permanent residents. The remittances sent back to the Philippines by migrants have been a substantial source of foreign exchange.

Population Control

Popcom was the government agency with primary responsibility for controlling population growth. In 1985 Popcom set a target for reducing the growth rate to 1 percent by 2000. To reach that goal in the 1990s, Popcom recommended that families have a maximum of two children, that they space the birth of children at three-year intervals, and that women delay marriage to age twenty-three and men to age twenty-five.

During the Marcos regime (1965-86), there was a rather uneasy accommodation between the Catholic hierarchy and the government population control program. Bishops served on Popcom, and the rhythm method was included by clinics as a birth-control method about which they could give information. A few Catholic priests, notably Frank Lynch, even called for energetic support of population limitation.

The fall of Marcos coincided with a general rise of skepticism about the relation between population growth and economic development. It became common to state that exploitation, rather than population pressure, was the cause of poverty. The bishops withdrew from the Popcom board, opposed an effort to reduce the number of children counted as dependents for tax purposes, secured the removal of the population-planning clause from the draft of the Constitution, and attempted to end government population programs. Attacks on the government population program were defeated, and efforts to popularize family planning, along with the provision of contraceptive materials, continued. In the early 1990s, however, the program generally lacked the firm government support needed to make it effective.

Development of Ethnic Identities

Philippine society was relatively homogeneous in 1990, especially considering its distribution over some 1,000 inhabited islands. Muslims and upland tribal peoples were obvious exceptions, but approximately 90 percent of the society remained united by a common cultural and religious background. Among the lowland Christian Filipinos, language was the main point of internal differentiation, but the majority interacted and intermarried regularly across linguistic lines. Because of political centralization, urbanization, and extensive internal migration, linguistic barriers were eroding, and government emphasis on Pilipino and English (at the expense of local dialects) also reduced these divisions. Nevertheless, national integration remained incomplete.

Through centuries of intermarriage, Filipinos had become a unique blend of Malay, Chinese, Spanish, Negrito, and American. Among the earliest inhabitants were Negritos, followed by Malays, who deserve most of the credit for developing lowland Philippine agricultural life as it is known in the modern period. As the Malays spread throughout the archipelago, two things happened. First, they absorbed, through intermarriage, most of the Negrito population, although a minority of Negritos remained distinct by retreating to the mountains. Second, they dispersed into separate groups, some of which became relatively isolated in pockets on Mindanao, northern Luzon, and some of the other large islands. Comparative linguistic analysis suggests that most groups may once have spoken a form of "proto-Manobo," but that each group developed a distinct vernacular that can be traced to its contact over the centuries with certain groups and its isolation from others.

With the advent of Islam in the southern Philippines during the fifteenth century, separate sultanates developed on Mindanao and in the Sulu Archipelago. By the middle of the sixteenth century, Islamic influence had spread as far north as Manila Bay.

Spain colonized the Philippines in the sixteenth century and succeeded in providing the necessary environment for the development of a Philippine national identity; however, Spain never completely vitiated Muslim autonomy on Mindanao and in the Sulu Archipelago, where the separate Muslim sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao, and Maranao remained impervious to Christian conversion. Likewise, the Spanish never succeeded in converting upland tribal groups, particularly on Luzon and Mindanao. The Spanish influence was strongest among lowland groups and emanated from Manila. Even among these lowland peoples, however, linguistic differences continued to outweigh unifying factors until a nationalist movement emerged to question Spanish rule in the nineteenth century.

Philippine national identity emerged as a blend of diverse ethnic and linguistic groups, when lowland Christians, called indios by the Spaniards, began referring to themselves as "Filipinos," excluding Muslims, upland tribal groups, and ethnic Chinese who had not been assimilated by intermarriage and did not fit the category. In the very process of defining a national identity, the majority was also drawing attention to a basic societal cleavage among the groups. In revolting against Spanish rule and, later, fighting United States troops, the indigenous people became increasingly conscious of a national unity transcending local and regional identities. A public school system that brought at least elementary-level education to all but the most remote barrios and sitios (small clusters of homes) during the early twentieth century also served to dilute religious, ethnic, and linguistic or regional differences, as did improvements in transportation and communication systems and the spread of English as a lingua franca.

SOURCE: Library of Congress Country Studies/Area Handbook

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