Official name: Republic of the Philippines
Area: 300,000 square kilometers (115,800 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Apo (2,954 meters/9,692 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 8 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,851 kilometers (1,150 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest, 1,062 kilometers (660 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest
Land boundaries: None
Coastline: 36,289 kilometers (22,499 miles)
Territorial sea limits: Determined by treaty and irregular in shape, extending up to 185 kilometers (100 nautical miles) from shore in some locations
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
The Philippines is an archipelago in southeastern Asia, located between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. With an area of about 300,000 square kilometers (115,800 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of Arizona. The Philippines is divided into seventy-three provinces.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
The Philippines has no outside territories or dependencies.
The Philippines has a tropical maritime climate with two seasons. From November through April, the northeast monsoon brings rain, and from May through October, the southwest monsoon brings cool, dry weather. The average temperature is 27°C (80°F) with a range between 23°C and 32°C (73°F and 90°F). Humidity averages 77 percent.
The annual average rainfall varies from 96 to 406 centimeters (38 to 106 inches). The northern islands are often heavily affected by seasonal typhoons, which cause destructive winds and flooding rains.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
The very complex and volcanic origin of most of the Philippine islands 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.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
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.
Sea Inlets and Straits
There are countless straits between the Philippine islands. Principal among them are the San Bernadino Strait and Verde Island Passage, both of which permit ocean travel across the northern part of the archipelago. The Surigao Strait allows travel between the Pacific and the Bohol Sea in the south. The Mindoro Strait lies between Mindoro and the Calamian Group of islands. A number of channels north of the country make up the Luzon Strait, separating that island from Taiwan.
Islands and Archipelagos
The Philippine Archipelago contains about 7,100 islands and extends over 1,609 kilometers (1,000 miles) from north to south. Only 154 of the islands exceed 13 square kilometers (5 square miles) in area. The two largest islands, Luzon in the north and Mindanao in the south, comprise about 65 percent of the total land area of the archipelago.
The largest of the Philippine islands, Luzon, has an area of 104,687 square kilometers (40,420 square miles). The main part of the island is roughly 402 kilometers (250 miles) in length and has a width from between 120 and 160 kilometers (75 and 100 miles).
Just south of Luzon lies Mindoro. This island is largely mountainous and has high peaks rising above 2,438 meters (8,000 feet). Coastal lowlands lie to the east and northeast of the mountain zone.
Southwest of Mindoro is the Calamian Group of islands, with the long, narrow island of Palawan beyond them. Over eleven hundred smaller islands and islets surround Palawan.
Over half of the islands that make up the country belong to the Visayan group, forming a rough circular pattern around the Visayan Sea. They include the seven large, populated islands of Masbate, Samar, Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, Panay, and Negros, plus numerous islets. The long narrow island of Cebu is the site of the country's largest copper mine and also produces low-grade coal and limestone used for cement.
Mindanao, the second largest of the Philippine Islands, has an area of 94,630 square kilometers (36,537 square miles). In the east of the island, the Agusan River runs between two mountain ranges. To the southwest of those ridges, several rivers meet in the Cotabato Basin and mountain peaks lead to the Bukidnon-Lanao Plateau. West of the Plateau, the island narrows to an isthmus ten miles wide, from which the long Zamboanga Peninsula protrudes to the southwest. The peninsula is covered largely with mountains and possesses limited coastal lowlands.
Southwest of the Zamboanga Peninsula of Mindanao is the Sulu Archipelago, a string of smaller islands of volcanic and coral origin protruding from a submarine ridge. The Sulu Archipelago stretches for about 322 kilometers (200 miles) and has over eight hundred islands. Its three principal islands are Basilan, Jolo, and Tawi-Tawi.
Lingayen Gulf indents Luzon's western coast. Further south is Manila Bay, which is surrounded by the Bataan Peninsula. The capital city of Manila is located on the eastern shore of Manila Bay. Tayabas Bay and Ragay Gulf surround the Bondoc Peninsula of Luzon's southern coastline. The southeastern extension of Luzon ends in the Sorsogon Peninsula. North of the peninsula on the east coast is Lamon Bay; further north are Dingalan Bay and Escarpada Point.
Mindanao's very irregular shape is characterized by a number of sizable gulfs and bays and several large peninsulas that give it an extremely long coastline. Mindanao's northernmost point is the Surigao Peninsula, with Butuan Bay to its west. Iligan Bay makes a deep indentation, creating a narrow isthmus that connects the large Zamboanga Peninsula to the rest of Mindanao. Sibuguey and Baganian Peninsulas protrude from the south coast of the Zamboanga Peninsula on Moro Gulf, with Pagadian Bay on the south of the isthmus and Illana Bay continuing the southwest coast. Sarangani Bay indents the coast just above its southernmost part, Tinaca Point. North of that point is Davao Gulf, defined by Cape San Agustin.
Among the Visayan Islands there are two large gulfs: Leyte in the southeast and Panay in the west.
6 INLAND LAKES
The largest lake in the Philippines is the freshwater Laguna de Bay, located on Luzon, southeast of Manila Bay. It has a water surface of 922 square kilometers (356 square miles). Lake Taal, which has an active volcano in its center, lies a few miles to the southwest of Laguna de Bay. Other crater lakes are Lake Danao and Lake Balinsasayan in southeast Negros.
On Mindanao, atop the Bukidnon-Lanao Plateau, is Lake Sultan Alonto (formerly Lake Lanao). The second-largest lake in the country, it covers 347 square kilometers (134 square miles). The shallow Lake Buluan is in Mindanao, south of the Plateau. The lowland of Mindoro contains Lake Naujan, one of the country's larger lakes, home to many fish and bird species.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
In general, the larger rivers of the Philippines are navigable for only short distances. Most main streams and their tributaries are subject to extensive and damaging floods during the heavy rainfall of typhoons and the monsoon seasons.
The Cagayan River is located in the Cagayan Valley of northern Luzon. It flows northward and empties into the sea at Aparri. A network of rivers and streams interlaces the low-lying Central Luzon Plain. Two of the plain's more important rivers are the Agno, which flows northward into Lingayen Gulf, and the Pampanga, which empties into Manila Bay. The short Pasig River flows through the city of Manila.
Two large rivers are found on Mindanao. The Agusan River is the longest in the country, with a length of 386 kilometers (240 miles). It flows northward through the Agusan Valley into the Bohol Sea. The Mindanao River and its tributaries drain the Cotabato Lowland, emptying into Moro Gulf.
On Palawan, the St. Paul Underground River is a popular destination for adventurous tourists. At its mouth lies a small bay connecting it to the ocean. Accessible only by canoe, the river flows through a large cavern inhabited by bats and filled with stalagtites.
There are no desert regions in the Philippines.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
The Central Luzon Plain, barely above sea level, has extensive swamps along the north of Manila Bay and the Candaba Swamp.
The low Ragay Hills overlook Ragay Gulf on the Bicol Peninsula of southeastern Luzon. To the south on Samar, the terrain is broken up by rocky hills, which are 152 to 305 meters (500 to 1,000 feet) high. In central Bohol there is a 52-square-kilometer (20-square-mile) area known as the Chocolate Hills. There are 1,268 individual mounds in the Chocolate Hills, each one between 50 and 200 meters (164 and 656 feet) high; these hills are covered in grass, which turns brown in the dry season. Although their origin has not been determined; scientists speculate they were formed from eroded coral limestone. Hill areas also exist on Panay and nearby Guimaras, as well as on Masbate, Tablas, and Romblon.
DID YOU KNOW?
There are four "Wetlands of International Importance" in the Philippines, as 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 an 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.
Savannahs, mixing grasslands and scrub woods, are found in Luzon's Cagayan Valley, and amid the hills of Mindoro, Negros, and Masbate, as well as on Panay, and on Mindanao's Bukidnon-Lanao Plateau.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
All of the Philippine Islands are volcanic in origin. As a result, the country is very mountainous. The northern part of Luzon Island is extremely rugged. Luzon's highest peak, Mount Pulog, rises to 2,934 meters (9,626 feet). The island has three mountain ranges that run roughly parallel in a north-south direction. A range in the east, the Sierra Madre, runs so close to the island's eastern shore that there is hardly any coastal lowland. The valley of the Cagayan River separates this eastern range from a large mountain complex to the west, the Cordillera Central. On the west, the Zambales Mountains extend southward and terminate at Manila Bay. Southeastern Luzon consists of a large peninsula. It is a mountainous and volcanic area containing the active volcano, Mount Mayon (2,420 meters/7,941 feet).
The large island of Mindanao has five major mountain systems, some of which were formed by volcanic action. The eastern edge of Mindanao is highly mountainous; this region includes the Diuata Mountains, with several elevations above 1,828 meters (6,000 feet), and the southeastern ranges, which reach a high point of 2,804 meters (9,200 feet). In central Mindanao there is a broad mass of rugged mountain ranges, one of which bisects the island from north to south. This range contains Mount Apo (2,954 meters/9,692 feet), the highest peak in the country, which overlooks Davao Gulf.
Most of the islands are located on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate, but a major fault line extends along the eastern part of the archipelago, aligned over the boundary with the Philippine Plate. As part of the western-Pacific "Ring of Fire," the Philippines have thirty-seven volcanoes, of which eighteen are active.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
Many of the Philippines's rivers have carved canyons through the mountains. Particularly deep canyons cut through the BukidnonLanao Plateau of Mindanao. Pagsanjan Gorge National Park, southeast of Manila on Luzon, is a river gorge with each of its steep faces towering to a height of 91 meters (300 feet).
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
The central mountain complex of Mindanao extends into the northwest corner of the island, terminating in the Bukidnon-Lanao Plateau. At approximately 609 meters (2,000 feet) in elevation, the plateau is interspersed with extinct volcanic peaks. On southeast Negros, the volcanic rock Tablas plateau rises 152 to 305 meters (500 to 1,000 feet.)
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
There are no major man-made structures affecting the geography of the Philippines.
14 FURTHER READING
Broad, Robin, and John Cavanagh. Plundering Paradise: The Struggle for the Environment in the Philippines . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Davis, Leonard. The Philippines: People, Poverty, and Politics . New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.
Olesky, Walter G. The Philippines . New York: Children's Press, 2000
Wernstedt, Frederick. The Philippine Island World . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.
VolcanoWorld: Tectonics and Volcanoes of the Philippines. http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/ (accessed April 28, 2003).