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.
Two presidents of the Philippines were forced from office by "people power" in the space of 15 years.
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. President Ferdinand Marcos, a close ally of the US, imposed martial law in the early 1970s but was forced to step down in 1986 after mass demonstrations cost him the support of the armed forces.
Although the country has remained a democracy it has enjoyed little stability. President Joseph Estrada was forced out of office in 2001 after months of protests at his corrupt rule, and there were a number of coup attempts against his successor, Gloria Arroyo.
On the southern island of Mindanao, rebels have been fighting for a separate Islamic state within the mainly-Catholic country. The decades-long conflict has claimed more than 120,000 lives. Sporadic violence has continued despite a 2003 ceasefire and peace talks, which again resumed in December 2009.
The radical Islamist Abu Sayyaf group on the island of Jolo, which is reputedly linked to Al-Qaeda, has a history of violence towards hostages, and the government has declared all-out war on it.
Since 1969, the government has also faced a protracted guerrilla campaign across much of the country by the communist New People's Army (NPA). A serious effort at talks in February 2011 resulted in an agreement with the NPA to work towards a peace deal by 2012, although mutual distrust remains a problem.
Although it once boasted one of the region's best-performing economies, the Philippines is saddled with a large national debt and tens of millions of people live in poverty. The economy is heavily dependent on the billions of dollars sent home each year by the huge Filipino overseas workforce.
The Philippines has the highest birth rate in Asia, and forecasters say the population could double within three decades.
Governments generally avoid taking strong measures to curb the birth rate for fear of antagonising the Catholic Church, which opposes artificial methods of contraception.
* Full name: Republic of the Philippines
* Population: 93.6 million (UN, 2010)
* Capital: Manila
* Area: 300,000 sq km (115,831 sq miles)
* Major languages: Filipino, English (both official)
* Major religion: Christianity
* Life expectancy: 66 years (men), 73 years (women) (UN)
* Monetary unit: 1 Philippine peso = 100 centavos
* Main exports: Electrical machinery, clothing, food and live animals, chemicals, timber products
* GNI per capita: US $2,060 (World Bank, 2010)
* Internet domain: .ph
* International dialling code: +63
President: Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino
Benigno Aquino won the 2010 presidential election after campaigning on the legacy of his parents and pro-democracy icons, former President Corazon "Cory" Aquino and Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino.
Mr Aquino - more commonly known as Noynoy - also vowed to give the Philippines clean leadership after the nine-year scandal-tainted administration of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
He won 40% of the vote, against 25% for former President Joseph Estrada. Since no run-off is used in Philippines presidential elections, this was enough to win outright.
In his first year in power, Mr Aquino acted to impose a moratorium on logging, which has been blamed for making much of the country prone to flooding and landslides.
He also angered the powerful Catholic Church by suggesting the government provide contraceptives to help poor Filipinos avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Mr Aquino's mother, Cory Aquino, led the 1986 popular revolution that ended the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand Marcos, whom she succeeded to become Asia's first female head of state.
Her husband, and Benigno Aquino's father, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, was the most prominent opponent of President Marcos until he was assassinated on returning from exile in the United States in 1983.
During his election campaign, Mr Aquino stressed his desire to carry on his mother's pro-democracy agenda, and said it was the outpouring of popular grief upon her death by cancer in 2009 that had encouraged him to stand for the presidency.
His campaign slogan - "When no one's corrupt, no one will be poor" - linked corruption in high places with the poverty endured by many Filipinos. Mr Aquino suggested that he had some very powerful people in his sights.
Mr Aquino also vowed to continue the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) begun by the Arroyo administration.
Born in 1960, Noynoy Aquino studied economics before starting a career in business. Four years after his father's murder in 1983, he himself was seriously injured during a coup attempt against his mother, who had become president in 1986.
He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1998, and became a senator in 2007.
From : BBC News