Known as the only Christian country in Asia, the Republic of the Philippines is still recovering from economic and political setbacks as it seeks to establish itself in today’s world.
- Population: 89.5 million [UK: 60,609,153]
- Density: 300 per sq km [UK: 250 per sq km]
[Statistics: CIA World Factbook, 2006]
The term Filipino, originally denoting a person of Spanish descent born in the Philippines, has been applied since the 19th century to the ‘Christianised’ Malay-Indonesian peoples [95 per cent of the population].
Population distribution is uneven; large areas are virtually uninhabited, while others have a relatively high population density. Over 10 million people live in the capital, Metro Manila.
- Roman Catholic 80.9%
- Evangelical Christian 2.8%
- Iglesia ni Kristo sect 2.3%
- Philippine Independent Church 2%
- Other Christian 4.5%
- Muslim 5%
- Other 1.8%
- Unspecified 0.6%
- None 0.1%
[Statistics: 2000 census]
In the Philippines there are eight major languages and about 170 smaller language groups. The official language is Filipino, which is based on Tagalog, a Malayo-Polynesian language influenced by Spanish, Chinese and Arabic.
English is used for government, business and tertiary education. There is no universal language.
There are over 7000 islands, with Luzon [north] the largest and Mindanao [south] the next. The islands are of volcanic origin and all are mountainous. Earthquakes are fairly common and there are about 20 active volcanoes.
The Philippines has an average annual temperature of about 27°C but inland areas are hotter. The rainy season occurs from May to November; the dry season occurs from December to April. From June to October the islands are struck by an average of 20 typhoons.
The Filipinos are of mixed descent, but predominantly Malay. They also have Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, European and American heritage. Islam spread to the southern islands from the 13th century when 13 ethno-linguistic groups embraced Islam. They still have a strong Muslim identity.
In 1521 the islands were seen by a European and in 1542 the Spanish claimed the archipelago and named it in honour of their King, Philip II. Missionaries arrived on the next boat.
Conversions were rapid. Some were forced but many were from seeing the ceremonial splendour of the Roman Catholic rites which aroused fear and admiration. The work of the missionaries established Spanish rule and united most of the Filipinos through a common religion.
Conflict with Muslims in the south began in the early days of Spanish influence and continues today. Some ethno-linguistic groups in mountainous areas did not embrace Islam or Christianity and remained animistic.
The islands were relatively quiet until the late 19th century when several societies formed to rebel against the Spanish and claim independence. The Filipinos were gaining ground in their battle for freedom, and just when independence seemed within reach the islands were ceded by Spain to the USA. Filipinos found themselves facing a new colonial government. The US established military rule and tensions resurfaced.
American policies changed direction several times, but by 1936 agreement was reached to grant independence. The Second World War intervened, and Japanese occupation caused widespread destruction. However the Republic of the Philippines was formally proclaimed on 4 July 1946.
Rebuilding the country economically, socially and politically took decades. The corner seemed to have been turned when Ferdinand Marcos was elected president in 1965. But unrest followed and in 1972 Marcos declared martial law, by which he ruled until 1986. He then fled the country after rigged elections brought the population to the streets. He took undetermined amounts of illegally-gained wealth with him.
Corazon Aquino, wife of the murdered opposition leader, became president. Her government survived seven coups, but had limited success in addressing the economic situation, taming the excesses of the military or lessening the impact of the Communist and Muslim secessionist guerrilla wars.
Fidel Ramos was elected President on a minority vote in 1992; the first democratic change of government for 26 years. [Aquino’s government was democratically elected but only recognised after the people power revolution that drove out Marcos.] Under Ramos the country saw a measure of economic growth and stability. In June 1998 Joseph Estrada was elected president for six years. However he was ousted after corruption scandals in early 2001 and replaced by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Mrs Arroyo has faced strong opposition recently after being accused of cheating in the 2004 election.
Christianity in the Philippines
Most Filipinos mixed the Catholicism of their Spanish conquerors with their own animistic [spirit worship] beliefs. Even today Filipino Catholicism, or more accurately ‘Folk Catholicism’, is mixed with animism.
With American rule in the early 1900s came religious liberty. Evangelicals came to the Philippines and began to plant churches. By the end of the Second World War these had become liberal.
Together with a number of other mission societies, OMF began work in 1951. Workers were initially assigned to assist Chinese churches in Manila and Davao and to share the gospel with the Mangyan tribes of Mindoro. Many churches have since been planted which support their own pastors. The churches are members of the Alliance of Bible Christian Communities of the Philippines [ABCCOP], an affiliation of independent, evangelical churches.
OMF is involved in essential services to the church in the Philippines: theological training [training Filipinos as they launch out in cross-cultural missions both within the country and abroad], literature production, Bible translation, work with the urban poor, primary health care, literacy and other support functions. There are many fast-growing cults. The Church needs to present a clear message of biblical Christianity.
OMF’s strategic priorities
- Urban church planting
- Christian education and leadership training
- Ethnic Muslim minorities
- Missions training
- Evangelism and church planting
- Theological teaching
- Development work
- Teaching missionaries’ children (TCKs)
- Short-term placements
Media & BooksGreat resources available from OMF.
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