When the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the 15th century and colonized it for over three centuries, they left a legacy that stood as one of the distinguishing characters of the Philippines: Christianity.
In Asia, the Philippines remains as the only Christian country and globally, it ranks fifth, making up four percent of the world’s total Christian population.
About 81 percent of these Filipino Christians are Catholics, proof of how encompassing the Spanish influence on religion is. Christian protestants make up 11 percent of the population, the other one percent are sm
aller Christian sects. The remaining seven percent of Filipinos belong to other non-Christian groups, much of them to Islam (about four percent), which is basically concentrated in the Mindanao region. Back in the era of Spanish conquistadors, it was only Mindanao that the Spanish wasn’t able to convert to Catholicism. Many remained Muslim
s, which they had adopted when Islam spread from Indonesia to the Philippines. Historians believe that had the Spanish not arrived, Islam would have been the Philippines’ predominant religion, given the strong unifying power of Islam and how deeply the belief is integrated into the political system.
There are also a great number of Chinese migrants in the country – many of which are located in Manila – whose primary beliefs are Buddhism and Taoism.
In the mountainous regions such as the Ifugao province, natives adopt indigenous practices, which are an amalgam of animism and a belief in known olden gods: gods of crops, of rain, andso forth.
In other parts of the country (including some portions ofManila), the practice of folk Christianity is quite popular. This combines Christian elements with indigenous practices, such as faith healers that use pre-Hispanic rituals along with Catholic articles such as the cross to heal the sick and induce other desired effects on the living.
This practice is also well-known in the province of Siquijor in Visayas, where a considerable number of locals work as shamans and faith healers, employing a mix of folk healing, witchcraft and voodoo.
This makes the Philippinesa predominantly Christian country with a colourful minority whose culture and religious practices add interesting vibrancy into the mix.
Implications of the Philippine religion on travel
The Philippines’ Catholic faith is widely integrated to its culture. In every town, big or small, a Catholic chapel can be found, with a corresponding parish priest for each. Manila hosts the oldest Catholic structures including San Agustin Church and Manila Cathedral. Saints also have special days of commemoration. In major malls, book shops that are especially dedicated to Christian merchandise can be found.
Sundays are especially hectic religion-wise, being the Sabbath Day for Catholics. On such days, churches all over the country are brimming with families and individuals.
During Holy Week, the entire country strictly observes penance and abstinence. Most offices and working spaces, with the exception of medical facilities (small privately-owned clinics are an exception), hotels and resorts, BPOs and call centers, declare the Holy Week as a non-working holiday, from Maundy Thursday to Black Saturday. Malls and restaurants are often closed on Good Friday (to date only SM Baguio remains open on Good Friday); and 24/7 convenience chains are closed from 3pm to around 3:30pm on Good Friday in commemoration of the passing of Christ. Additionally, many restaurants and fast food chains refrain from serving red meat on Good Friday.
Transportation from the city to the provinces gets more challenging as Holy Week approaches and buses to provinces get fully booked days prior. Airplane tickets skyrockets.
Many take this yearly long weekend hiatus from work as an opportunity to spend more time with family and to unwind, and as such, tourists can expect holiday destinations to be packed during these days (and the streets empty by Good Friday).
During Good Friday, many travel to Cutud, Pampanga to witness local devotees conduct self-flagellation and being nailed to the cross the same way Christ was. This is done as a form of penance, or what they call “panata”. While discouraged by the Catholic church, the practice remains flourishing and is one of the top reasons why tourists visit Pampanga during Holy Week.
As a democracy though, the Philippines pays great respect to the non-Christian sects. As such, there are declared national holidays dedicated for the observance of dominant non-Christian religions such as the Eid’l Fitr (in observance of the Muslim Ramadan) and the Manalo Day (a celebration of the founding of Iglesia ni Cristo, one of the more popular Christian sects in the contry).
Traveling to the Philippines on Holy Week? Be sure to book hotels in advance to price increase. Talk to us today to book hotels at special discounted rates!