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The Philippines are a series of small and large islands located in Southeast Asia between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. Vietnam lies just west of the country. The Philippines’ total land mass is slightly larger than the state of Arizona. Almost 98 million people live in the country.The Philippine archipelago comprises 7,107 islands. These islands are mostly mountainous with narrow to large coastal lowlands along the sea. The climate is tropical, with a monsoon season in the northeast occurring from November to April and a monsoon season in the southwest occurring from May to October. The country’s natural resources include timber, petroleum, nickel, cobalt, silver, salt, gold, and copper. Nineteen percent of the Philippines is arable.The Filipino population is quite diverse. The Tagalog ethnic group makes up 28 percent of the population. Other major groups include Cebuano, Ilocano, Bisaya/Binisaya, Hiligaynon Ilonggo, Bikol, and Waray. Most Filipinos are Christian, both Catholic and Protestant. Others are Muslim or belong to a variety of other religions. The official languages are Filipino and English, while eight other major dialects are also spoken. The Philippines became a Spanish colony in the 16th century. It remained part of the Spanish Empire until it was ceded to the United States in 1898 following Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War. In 1935 the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth. A plan was initiated to provide the country with full independence within ten years, only to be interrupted by the Japanese occupation during World War II. U.S. and Filipino forces regained control of the country in 1945. On July 4, 1946, the Philippines gained complete independence. Years of political instability followed until 1992 when Fidel Ramos was elected president. Under his leadership the country experienced a great deal of stability and progress on economic reforms.Today, the Philippine government faces threats from three terrorist groups. Decades of Muslim insurgency in the southern islands of the Philippines have also left a mark on the nation. The country also suffers from chronic corruption within its government. Many Filipinos struggle with poverty, with 30 percent of the population living below the poverty line.