FFE Magazine

Religions in the Philippines

The Philippines is considered a very religious country with the prevalence of holidays and fiestas observed in commemoration of religious celebrations. In the global context, the country touts itself as the largest Christian nation in Asia. But there is more than meets the eye once we examine the practices of its people.


Major religions of the Philippines

Here is a breakdown of the largest religious groups in the Philippines based on 2007 census:

  • 81% are Roman Catholic
  • 7.3% are Protestant
  • 5.1% are Muslim
  • 2.3% are Iglesia ni Cristo
  • 2.0% are Aglipayan
  • 0.1% are Buddist


The Roman Catholic and Christian population are generally spread across the country. Muslims, the largest non-Christian group, are concentrated on Mindanao. There are plenty other Christian groups in the Philippines, some founded locally like the El Shaddai and Jesus is LordChurch.


Roman Catholic

The predominance of the Roman Catholic religion stems from Spain’s Catholic mission to colonise the country in the 1500s. The Roman Catholic population in the country is under the Catholic Church headed by the Pope. Locally, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) serves as the chief authority in Catholic matters.


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The CBCP has had a huge influence in legislature and the political sphere. Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin had been instrumental in two People Power Revolutions that eventually led to the eviction of presidents. Its position against the Reproductive Health Bill 2012 also showed the level of involvement they have over state matters.



The entry of American troops to the Philippines by the 1900s also set the emergence of the Protestant faith. Some organisations under this faith are based internationally or founded locally. There is no central head of the Protestant faith in the country, but large fellowship like the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) serve as leaders for a portion of the faith.


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Some examples of Protestant groups include: Episcopal Church in the Philippines, EvangelicalMethodistChurch in the Philippines, Jesus Is Lord Church Worldwide, Presbyterian Church of the Philippines, Seventh-dayAdventistChurch and the Victory Christian Fellowship.



Islam in the Philippines dates back to the year 1380. The early conquests were concentrated in Southern Philippines, but by the time the Spanish came Islamic kingdoms have already flourished in Luzon, notably in Manila.


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Today, the majority of the Muslim population is to be found in the provinces under the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which include Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The ARMM is structured so that it has a system of government that is independent of the national government. An elected regional governor serves as the executive leader in the area, under the supervision of the president of the Philippines.


Iglesia ni Cristo

INC is a local Christian group that was founded as a corporation sole by Felix Manalo in 1914. The leader of INC is called the executive minister and it has been passed down from father to son. Manalo’s grandson, Eduardo Manalo, now holds the position. The group now has 104 ecclesiastical districts local and abroad.


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INC is very involved in outreach work and proof of their strength lies in the number of people the events draw, which has already broken Guinness World Records. INC also has a large influence in politics because of its solid voting bloc.


El Shaddai

El Shaddai, founded 1984, is considered the biggest Catholic Charismatic Renewal group in the country. Founder Mike Velarde holds the highest position in the group, the Servant Leader. A bishop of the Roman Catholic Church serves as its Spiritual Director.


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El Shaddai has chapters around the world, including America, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Britain, Germany, Italy and many more. The group also exercises a certain amount of influence in the political sphere as it has a solid voting bloc. Velarde has endorsed a number of politicians through the years, and himself tried to run in government positions.


Jesus is Lord Church

The JIL is an Evangelical Charismatic Christian group headed by founder Eddie Villanueva. It started in 1978 and now has a worldwide following. It has a measure of influence in politics; Villanueva was one of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s vocal critics. He also tried to run for president twice, but lost both times.


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Minor religions and movements

There are few literature tackling the minor religious groups and movements in the Philippines, either based locally or internationally. Even statistics on population cannot be determined due to lack of studies. But to give an idea of the diversity of Philippine religions, here is a list of some other groups in the country:

  • Chinese
  • Hindu
  • Judaist
  • Ang Dating Daan
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Rizalistas


Indigenous religions

Before Islam and Christianity came to the country, tribes in both lowlands and hinterlands practiced a religion based on nature, inanimate objects and deities based on indigenous traditions.


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These early indigenous religions can be divided into five types with specific core beliefs:

  • Belief in a Supreme Being
  • Belief in a Tripartite Spirit (the creator, the ‘son,’ and the spirit)
  • Belief in Skyland (heaven) and Kasanaan (hell)
  • Animism and totemism
  • Belief in an afterlife


Religion based on these core beliefs are assumed to still be practiced among tribes that have few contact with communities following any of the major religions. But statistics on these indigenous religions are not updated.


Separation of Church and State

The 1987 Philippine Constitution says that ‘The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.’ This means that people have the right to free religion, and the exercise of civil and political rights without the interference of either the Church or the state.


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However, church groups and the government had had clashes in the past as the latter hold a huge influence in the creation of laws. The CBCP had been instrumental in the blocking of the RH Bill before 2012. Abortion is also a crime and divorce illegal. The rationale behind this is that the Church is against anti-family policies that they deem immoral.


The fact that Christian groups also have a say on voter turnout means politicians find them a valuable endorser for their candidacy.


Relationship between religious groups

Religious conflict is present in the Philippines as in other parts of the world. Christian and Muslim groups are mired with conflict, especially in the Mindanao region. With a majority Christian population, the Philippines consciousness is generally biased against Muslims despite greater integration across the country.


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Clashes between the government and secessionist Muslim groups like MNLF and MILF has sparked continued conflict since the 1950s. Today, there is an attempt to reinstate peace in Mindanao through the creation of a BangsamoroState that would supersede the ARMM.


Religion and personal life

Among Filipinos, religion is considered a crucial part of a person’s identity and a heritage to be passed in families from generation to generation. Inter-faith marriages are frowned upon, but when insisted, families take pains not to allow their children to switch religions and instead ask the partner to convert.


While the CBCP denies the local Church is seeing dwindling number of Catholics, survey reveals that Filipino Catholics are not as devout as was thought based on statistics conducted on church visits.






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