The Philippines is unique among its neighbours in the South East Asian region in that the majority of Filipinos identify as Christian (92.5%). More specifically, 82.9% of the population identify as Catholic, 2.8% identify as Evangelical Christian, 2.3% identify as Iglesia ni Kristo and 4.5% identify with some other Christian denomination. Of the remaining population, 5.0% identify as Muslim, 1.8% identify with some other religion, 0.6% were unspecified and 0.1% identify with no religion. The Catholic Church and state were officially separated in the 1990s, yet Catholicism still plays an prominent role in political and societal affairs.
According to the 2011 Census, 78.6% of the Philippines-born population in Australia identify as Catholic. Of the remaining population, 3.5% identify as Christian (nfd), 2.7% identify as Pentecostal Christian, 2.6% identify as Baptist and 12.5% identify with ‘Other’.
Christianity in the Philippines
There continues to be a process of cultural adaptation and synthesis of Christianity into the local culture since the introduction of the religion into the Philippines. The denomination of Christianity that became most embedded in Filipino culture is Catholicism, which was introduced in the Philippines during the early colonial period by the Spanish. Catholic ideas continue to inform beliefs throughout Filipino society such as the sanctity of life and respect for hierarchy. As a branch of Christianity, Catholicism believes in the doctrine of God as the ‘Holy Trinity’, comprising of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Like most Catholics, many Filipinos accept the authority of the priesthood and the Roman Catholic Church, which is led by the Pope.
For many Filipinos, the time of ‘fiesta’ is an important event within the community. During the Catholic event of fiesta, the local community comes together to celebrate the special day of the patron saint of a town or ‘barangay’ (village). It is a time for feasting, bonding and paying homage to the patron saint. Houses are open to guests and plenty of food is served. The fiesta nearly always includes a Mass, but its primary purpose is a social gathering of the community. On a day-to-day level, Catholic iconography is evident throughout the Philippines. Indeed, it is common to find churches and and statues of various saints all throughout the country. Moreover, many towns and cities are named after saints (for example, San Miguel [‘Saint Michael’] located in Luzon and Santa Catalina [‘Saint Catherine’] located in Visayas).
In terms of other Christian denominations, there is a strong presence of Protestant traditions in the Philippines, in part due to the United States colonisation of the country. Many teachers from the United States were Protestants who were responsible for instituting and controlling the public education system of the country. As such, they had a strong influence over the Philippines, particularly with the dispersing of Protestant attitudes and beliefs. The Philippines also contains a number of Indigenous Christian Churches, such as the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Independent Philippine Church) and Inglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ). These churches are usually popular among the marginalised in society who feel disconnected from the Catholic Church.
Islam in the Philippines
Islam was introduced to the southern Philippines from neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia. The religion rapidly declined as the main monotheistic religion in the Philippines when the Spanish entered the country. In present day Philippines, most of the Muslim population in the Philippines reside in the southern islands of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. Contemporary Muslim Filipino communities are often collectively known as Moros. Most Moros practice Sunni Islam, while a small minority practice Shi’a and Ahmadiyya. Like Catholicism, Islam in the Philippines has absorbed local elements, such as making offerings to spirits (diwatas). All Moros tend to share the fundamental beliefs of Islam, but the specific practices and rituals vary from one Moro group to another.