Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.Dalai Lama



The Philippines was a Spanish colony for more than three centuries, before becoming a US territory in 1898 after the Spanish American War.  It was only after the end of the Japanese wartime occupation in 1945 that the Philippines became an independent sovereign state. Lying on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country has many active volcanoes and is vulnerable to earthquakes and typhoons. But this geography also endows it with abundant natural resources and some of the world’s greatest biodiversity.

At a Glance

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  • People

  • Economy

  • Poverty

  • Literacy

  • Microfinance

  • Financial inclusion
As a result of its history, Spanish and US influences remain strong today, in religion and government, but also the widespread use of English. This has also left the Philippines with one of the highest birth rates in Asia, and its 100m  population could double within three decades. Governments have avoided taking steps to reduce the birth rate for fear of antagonising the church, but it recently legislated to make contraception more widely available. The Philippines is the world’s twelfth most populated country, while a further 12m living overseas comprise one of the largest national diasporas.
The Philippines economy ranks 39th in the world, with $4,682 per capita GDP. The economy is still transitioning from agriculture to services and manufacturing. The farm sector employs 32% of the workforce but contributes only 14% of GDP. Industry employs 14% and accounts for 30% of GDP, while the large informal services sector employs 47% of the people for 56% of GDP.  The economy still relies heavily on remittances, which surpass inward investment as a source of foreign currency. Growth has averaged about 5% pa over the past decade, much faster than in previous periods.
Performance on poverty reduction has been disappointing compared with the rest of East Asia.  45% of the population live below the $2 a day international poverty line, and is one of the highest, well above Cambodia’s 30% and Lao PDR at 27.6%. Also, severe regional disparities mean rural unemployment and poverty is more than twice as prevalent than in urban areas. Most public investment has been on infrastructure, agriculture, education and health. The latter has produced gains in combating tuberculosis, malaria and other major diseases, and in providing access to safe water.
Compared to other Asian countries, Philippines has a relatively high literacy rate with 95% of men and 96% of women being literate. On average, Filipino children receive 11 years of schooling. There has been progress on improving gender equality in basic education and reducing infant and child mortality. The challenge remains to create these new opportunities for some 10 million unemployed and underemployed Filipinos. The UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Philippines as medium, at 114 out of 187 countries.
The Philippines is recognized as one of the leaders in developing microfinance. It was the first in Asia-Pacific to embed microfinance within the banking system, and the sector now comprises 122 institutions. But these are split between a few large rural banks and cooperatives, and multiple small organisations. The regulated entities are legally able to accept deposits and have been more successful in attracting funds. Most of the smaller MFIs lack scale, and as they tend to extend low value loans, their operating costs are high. As a result, they are forced to charge relatively high interest rates to remain viable.
Financial inclusion means vulnerable and low-income people have access to responsible financial services at an affordable cost. Despite its large number of financial institutions, the Philippines remains one of the least banked countries in the region. In 2011 the World Bank estimated only 30% of Filipinos use formal financial services, and more than two-thirds of poor families (17m people) had no access to microfinance. This failure of outreach reflects a difficult geography, high cost of services, weak management, and inflexible products. A side effect of unregulated competition between many small players is over-indebtedness, when people borrow from more than one lender and struggle to repay in difficult times.

Meet Our People

Here are our people in the Philippines. Read stories from local perspective – our born and bred Filipino Village Trainer and Community Banker. And from the Australian expat – our Field Support Officer, who is living in the Philippines for the first time.

Curious to know more? Please send in a question – ask us anything.

Our Programs

Good Return has been working in partnership with St Elizabeth Community Development Program (SECDEP) since September 2010.

SECDEP is a non-government organisation that caters to both enterprise development and health projects in the Philippines. Its mission is to be one of the leading microfinance institutions in the Island of Panay staffed by highly committed and professional people in the pursuit of economically empowered and values-oriented communities.

SECDEP has more than 9,000 active clients; 99% of these clients are women.