Half the Philippine work force is involved in agriculture, forestry or fishing. In addition to raising their own food, families produce cash crops such as rice, corn, sugarcane, a variety of vegetables, and tropical fruits like pineapples, coconuts and bananas. Much of the country's light manufacturing involves processing these foods. The Philippines is the world's largest exporter of sugar and a major producer of coconut oil, an ingredient used worldwide in candy, soap and candles.

Given the abundance of marine life off the islands, fishing is also an important industry in the Philippines. Catches include tuna, mackerel, flounder, squid, anchovies and sardines. Fishing techniques range from traditional small boats and traps to large boats capable of processing fish like tuna. Dynamite and cyanide fishing, where the fish are literally blown out of the water, is a common though illegal practice that damages coral reefs and other fish. Recently, people have been establishing on-shore fish farms for raising seafood such as shrimp and crabs.

The islands are rich in natural resources such as metal and timber, and both industries have recently expanded. The Philippines has become one of the top producers of gold, chromite, copper and nickel. The forestry sector exports precious hardwoods as well as bamboo, resin, rattan, pili nuts, seed and essential oils. Craftspeople make rattan furniture and baskets, both of which are widely exported. However, deforestation for lumber products has led to severe soil erosion and landslide hazards.

People not employed in agriculture-related industries usually work in services or manufacturing. Factories produce electronic equipment such as computer parts, machinery, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and clothing. Women account for about 35% of the Philippine labour force, but their work is confined to specific areas, such as family business, health care and education, as well as to the pharmaceutical, textile and food-processing industries. Working families have the support of their extended family in raising their children. Government also provides retirement security pensions at age 60, and those employed by companies receive more comprehensive benefits.

  Did you know?
The Filipinos have made complete use of the coconut tree's potential. Aside from turning the fruit into copra (dried coconut flesh) and oil, people use the tree's leaves to make hats, balls, and structures like sheds. Coconut trunks can be used for small bridges, and empty shells for scoops, ladles and moulds. Today, coconut trees are being used in construction.