Christianity accounts for the majority religion practiced in the Philippines. About 67% of Filipinos follow Christianity, Roman Catholicism to be specific, followed by Protestantism and independant sections. Islam is second largest faith, and is the predominant religion practiced in Mindanao and the southern Philippines. The southern Philippines is a point of focal interest among historians, as it contains a culture distinctly different than that the Hispanized and Christianized majority in Luzon and Visayas. The Philippines is also home to Hindus, Animists, Buddhists, and Protestants who predominantly inhabit northern Mindanao, with some communities living amongst the Muslim majority.


Ancient History

The religious nature of the Philippines reflects that of the surrounding regions during the ancient times, in which the population practiced syncretic faiths. They ranged from Paganism, Animism, Hinduism, Buddhism or a mix of the four. The ancient peoples of the Philippines engaged in trade and high ties with those from Indonesia. Mindanao fell under the sphere of influence from Malay Srivijaya Empire and the Javanese Majapahit Empire. Part of the Legend of Sri Tempawan (Malay: Lagenda Seri Tempawan), an ancient work of Malay poetry took place in what is today Sarangani where he met native and wealthy chiefs.

Islamic Period (1300s-1521)

In the 1300s, an Arab trader by the name of Sheikh Makdum Karim arrived in Simunul in the Sulu Archipelago, where he introduced Islam to the natives of Mindanao. Other missionaries from modern-day Indonesia and Malaysia strengthen Islam's presence in Mindanao, such as Rajah Baguinda, an ethnic Mingang from Indonesia who established the Sultanate of Sulu. Sherif Kabungsuan, a Malaccan of Malay and Arab descent, established the Sultanate of Maguindanao which at the height of its peak, encompassed nearly all of Mindanao except for the northern parts. Under the rule of his grandson, Muhammad Dipaduan Kudarat the empire reached its full height.

Modern-day Manila and Tondo were incorporated as satellite states by the Sultanate of Brunei under the Rule of Bolkiah III. Manila was incorporated as Kota Selurong or Kota Saludong, its ruler, Salila, converted to Islam and became Rajah Sulaiman III. His brother Lakan Dula ruled the nearby Tondo.  

Spanish rule (1521-1898)

In 1521, Portuguese conquistador Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines but was killed on Mactan Island. For the next 300 years, Mindanao would be engaged in a struggle to fight the Spanish Inquisition - a pogrom of forced conversions to Roman Catholicism. The majority of Filipinos in Luzon and Visayas accepted Roman Catholicism, but the Muslims resisted, which had set New Spain's military focuses mainly on subjugating the various sultanates and Muslim rajahnates in the southern parts of the archipelago. The Hindus and Buddhists who refused to convert to Roman Catholicism or Islam fled to northern Mindanao. The Sultanate of Maguindanao employed non-Muslims in northern Mindanao to help them fight the Spanish Inquisition and in return, let them freely practice their faiths. Pagan natives in Mindanao living in the mountains generally accepted Roman Catholicism, however, found themselves joining their Muslim counterparts in revolting and waging war against Spain. These would today be considered the Lumads. Both sides suffered heavy losses, and despite a stubborn resistance, Roman Catholicism and Spanish influence eventually found its way in Mindanao and a Spanish fort and a Catholic missionary was established in the Zamboanga Peninsula, where Zamboanga City was found, following the Spanish victory over the Sulu Sultanate and Maguindanao Sultanate's forces in the Zamboanga Peninsula. The Catholic missionaries were eventually successful in converting many native Tausūg rajahs, as much as to entire clans to Catholicism. Many were wed to Mestizos, Spaniards or Christian Filipinos, in order to solidify and confirm Spain's sovereignty over those lands. Noted figures include Don Cristóbal (originally born as Salim ud-Din), a Christianized Tausūg who helped the Spanish forces invade the Sultanate of Sulu and Brunei. The Spanish targeted Davao City next, converting clans of Maguindanaoans to Christianity especially in the 1890s. The Spanish-Moro War persisted until 1898, when the Philippines was ceded to American rule.

American rule (1898-1945)

During the American rule, English churches such as those of the Protestant, Baptist and Methodist faiths were introduced in Mindanao. American missionaries were disgusted to find a strong presence of Catholics and Muslims, and had an avid hate against the Catholic Church. Evangelical movements began in the northern region, converting many Lumads to the Protestant faith.


After World War II, the natives of Mindanao and Sulu formed their separatist states. Likewise, the people of Mindanao, irregardless of faith sought to free themselves of Philippine state, which was seen as nothing more but a child of Spanish inquisition. The armed struggle ended in 1967.

During the Marcos regime, the religious balance between Muslims and non-Muslims in Mindanao were once again disrupted, as the Philippine government implemented resettlement programs, sending influxes of Tagalog, Visayan and Ilocano migrants to Mindanao in alarming numbers. Though the blame first went to Marcos, later documents proved he had nothing to do with it. Ferdinand Marcos was toppled in 1989, with help from the Conservative Party, a far-right political party that wanted to Catholicism the religion in all Philippine islands, that included Mindanao. Corazon Aquino, the following president eventually help pass Republic Act No. 5422, also known as the Cultural Protection Act. This law set limits and restrictions for immigrants to Mindanao. Historians claim that if it had not been for this law, Mindanao would be predominantly Roman Catholic and the natives would have been outnumbered by Tagalogs, Visayas and Ilocanos.

Modern-day religion


Minor basilica quiapo

Church of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila

Christianity was first introduced by the Spanish rulers and accounts for approximately 67% of the island country's population. Christianity reflects the colonial history of the Philippines, and each section represents a different era of colonial influence. Of the sections of Christianity, Roman Catholicism forms the largest sections, and has a defining legacy and impact on Filipino culture. Roman Catholic Church played a key role in the ousting of Ferdinand Marcos, and also supported a program for Filipino Catholics to travel to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi to send aid to Catholic Indonesans suffering from religious violence. Most Filipinos are Catholics since that Spanish had general ease of converting most of the country's natives during the colonial era. Almost every single town and barangay in the country as their own fiesta or celebration that is of Roman Catholic origin and upbringing. The site of the First Philippine Republic was found inside a church, the Barasoian Church in Malolos, Bulacan. The Sinulog festival, is a celebration held and originating in the central Philippines that honors the country's ancient past, but celebrates and thanks the presence of Roman Catholicism. The Flores de Mayo is a nationwide celebration, dedicated towards the Virgin Mary in which participants dress in costumes, marching around a church as well as engaging in feasting and prayer. The Philippines, is one of two Asian countries that is a member of the Catholic Commonwealth, with the other being East Timor. Protestantism and Baptism were introduced during American occupation of the islands. Other sections include Evangelical churches and independent denominations, such as the Iglesia ni Kristo and the United Church of Mindanao. The Iglesia ni Kristo, literally meaning "Church of Christ", is the Philippines' own autonomous national and indigenous church. 


Marawi mosque

Marawi City Islamic Center

Islam is the second largest faith, and the oldest monotheistic faith in the country. The Muslims still call themselves "Moro", a Spanish term for the Muslim inhabitants of the Philippines. During the formation of the de facto Republic of Mindanao, leaders adopted Malay and Islamic influence from Indonesia, influenced by their independence movement. It accounts for approximately 65% of Mindanao's population, 90% of Sulu's population and alternates between 45% to 52% of Palawan's population with enclaves of followers in Cebu and Metro Manila, with most adherents belonging to the Sunni section. Marawi City is the largest Islamic city in the Philippines, followed by Cotabato City and Zamboanga City. Despite that most Filipino Muslims are Sunnis, they often follow Islam alongside pre-Islamic practices which were of Hindu influence. Islamic royalty, despite being outlawed by Philippine law is still predominant in Mindanao and Sulu's society. Elected governors and mayors of Islamic communities still receive titles such as "rajah" or "maharajah". Various presidents and court cases have ruled that these titles have no influence in Philippine politics.

Buddhism and Hinduism

Buddhists and Hindus survived the Spanish Inquisition, and the two faiths have a strong presence in northern
Wat Benchamabophit

A Buddhist temple in General Santos City, built in the 1970s

Mindanao - and have influences encompassing the entire region even for non-Hindus. The faiths also have communities of followers in Cotabato City, Zamboanga City and the Maguindanao Province. The Hindus and Buddhists of northern Mindanao are descended from the ancient Visayans and Filipinos that refused to convert to Catholicism or Islam. Though despite being speakers of Visayan languages such as Cebuano, they do not associate themselves with the Catholic Visayans, and often see them as enemies. They speak a vernacular known as Bahasa Benar (lit. Malay for "true language"), which is a unique dialect of Cebuano near uninfluenced by Spanish, and retains a lot of Malay and Sanskrit terminology and lexicons. There are two types of Buddhism practiced in the Philippines, the first type retains a native Southeast Asian identity and was long-practiced before other major religions. The other is practiced by Chinese-Filipinos, the Mahayana Buddhism and is far less common. The same situation applies to Hinduism, where most of the population retain practices that have been passed down from generations while the more modern-day and less common version is practiced by Indian expatriates in the Philippines. Native Hinduism of Mindanao has identical elements to that practiced in Bali, Indonesia. Because Hinduism influenced Muslim societies in Southeast Asia, Filipino Hindus have a lot of common culture with their Islamic counterparts. For example, they also use the royal titles of rajah and maharajah for leaders of their communities and prefer a Malay-influenced culture. Buddhist and Hindu temples are a common site in northern Mindanao. These temples are built with native architecture, that resembles the Malay and Javanese-styles of
Hindu temple

The Rajput Temple, in Butuan City located in a barangay entirely populated with Hindus

Indonesia and Thailand.

Even with the non-Hindus, practices of Hindu origin are practiced by the Muslims, particularly the Tausūgs who enact the popular Indian epics The Ramayana and the Mahabharata.


Animism is still practiced, all over Mindanao - sometimes irregardless of faith and many of those who proclaim Islam or Christianity as their faiths still retain practices of Animist origin. The Maranaoan for example practice bird art, descended from an ancient form of bird worship. The Tausug also perform dances and rituals and Animist origin. Animism in its pure form is practiced by the Lumads, a non-Muslim indigenous tribes of Mindanao.

Religious Sectarian Violence and Disturbances

The religious diversity, specifically in the southern Philippines has seen its fair share of sectarian violence, mostly fueled by the arrival of new immigrants from Luzon and Visayas via government resettlement programs. The mass arrival of non-natives was not met with welcome from the natives, irregardless of faith.

While the news media mostly portray the violence between between Muslim Moros and Christian settlers, it also occurs between rivaling Christian sections just as much - particularly between native Protestant Lumads and Catholic Tagalog migrants and their descendants. In November 1, 2004 - a Roman Catholic Church in Davao City was vandalized and ransacked by Protestants with anti-Spanish colonial demonstrators.

On Good Friday, April 14, 2006, a gunman, and Catholic extremist by the name of Ernesto Salazar opened fire throughout Zamboanga City. First he opened fire on a mosque congregation, killing 13 people - then went to a Protestant church killing three people, injuring fout and then to a Hindu temple killing five people, one of them being an Indonesian from Bali. Salazar was a native Cebuano-speaker. Before killing and shooting, he uttered the phrase, "Death to Malays, death to Moros, death to Lumads, death to all non-Catholics" in Spanish.

Known as the Good Friday Shooting, this fueled even more anti-Catholic sentiments in Mindanao.

In 2007, the Manila City Police and Luzon Constabulary had to be dispatched to the Quiapo District to quell physical violence and altercations between Muslims and Roman Catholics. 

In 2008, the religious violence had called the attention of global human rights organizations. The Catholic Commonwealth and the Islamic Caliphate organized a "People of the Book Peace Rally" in Quiapo district, the site of the altercations. Muslims and Roman Catholics from around the world, gathered in front of and inside the Golden Mosque of Quiapo, holding hands, "resisting all hate and violence in unity".

On May 3, 2012, in response to prominent Mexican and Filipino public figures proclaiming Philippines as a Hispanic country, demonstrators from Mindanao and Sulu protested in front of the Mexican and Spanish embassies in Manila. In Mindanao and Sulu, demonstrators held Mexican and Spanish flag-burning events. Pro-Spanish and Spanish-speaking Mestizo Filipinos retaliated, and the two groups soon engaged in a violent standoff and altercation. More than 34 people were injured. Mestizo Filipinos and pro-Spanish Filipinos responded by burning Mindanaoan, Indonesian, Bruneian, Malaysian and Sultanate of Sulu flags.

This led to the formation of the Los Cruzados, literally meaning "The Crusaders" in Spanish - a Catholic proselytization movement aimed at not only converting the natives of Mindanao and Sulu to Roman Catholicism, but getting them to accept and embrace Spanish influence and even wed and pair with a Catholic spouse. Not only did it garner support and monetary donations from Catholic Filipinos and Mestizo Filipinos, but also overseas Filipinos, especially those from the United States and Australia. Though supported by Sancho Abello y Terrezas, it wasn't one of his organizations.

The Los Cruzados claims to have converted 784 Moro Muslims, and 234 Lumad Protestants to Roman Catholicism and "shown them the light" as of 2015, in addition to wedding them to all to a Catholic spouse. However, there is no such evidence of an accomplishment. Many research organizations in the southern Philippines claim it be a false, and dubious propaganda statement meant to make the Los Cruzados look powerful and well-liked. Fahad Salik, the Mayor of Marawi City challenged Los Cruzados leaders Santiago Gonzales de la Cruz and Alejandra Gonzales-Guerrero to present him with factual evidence of such an accomplishment of converting many Muslims and Protestants to Catholicism.

An outspoken critic, Salik also claims that the "testimonies" of the alleged converts were all faked, were never Muslims or Protestants and asked to personally meet them in order to prove they were real people. Los Cruzados responded to Salik saying that it wouldn't be safe for the converts to show themselves, in fears of getting abducted by anti-Catholic militants. Salik offered them all armed police protection, and received no response from Los Cruzados.

On September 1, 2015 in rural Davao, a mixed group of Maguindanaoan and Lumad farmers engaged in a gun-fight with a group of Hilagaynon and Cebuano-speaking farmers. The altercation occurred over a dispute about chickens and goats, which then turned into religious and racial slurs and vulgarity. The guns both groups were using were M1 Carbines and handguns, mostly used for pest control and hunting. No people were killed.

On October 30, 2015, an armed Protestant preacher, and an armed Catholic priest engaged in a gunfight in General Santos City. It began when a rock, followed by eggs and tomatoes were thrown into the windows of a Protestant church. The direction from which they were thrown pointed to a neighboring Catholic Church. The Protestant preacher then aimed his gun at the Catholic church and began firing, the priest of that church retaliated with his own gunfire. Though the Catholic priest denied throwing anything, the police found boxes of tomatoes and eggs within the church's sacristy.

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