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 Islamist and communist insurgencies.
President: Ferdinand Marcos Jr
The son of authoritarian President Ferdinand Marcos won a landslide victory in the May 2022 election.
He took over from firebrand Rodrigo Duterte, who came to power in 2016 after winning over voters with promises of a no-holds-barred campaign to take on crime, drugs and corruption.
President Marcos, known by the nickname Bongbong, enlisted Sara Duterte, the daughter of the outgoing president, as his vice-president, thereby uniting two populist right-wing dynasties.
Powerful commercial interests control or influence much of the media.
The lively TV scene is dominated by free-to-air networks ABS-CBN and GMA. There are hundreds of radio stations and a vigorous newspaper scene.
The constitution guarantees press freedom, but the Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.
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.
2014 - The MILF rebel group signs a peace deal with the government, ending one of Asia's longest and deadliest conflicts.
2017 - Islamic State jihadists attack the city of Marawi in Mindanao.
2022 - Ferdinand Marcos Jr, son of the previous dictator, is elected president.