The Religiosity of the Filipino Catholic Christians


Photo: St. Joseph Cathedral, Butuan City, Philippines (courtesy of the author)

Surveys on Filipino religiosity by the Social Weather Station (SWS) had consistently revealed a more privatized faith for the Filipino Christians, i.e., a Christian faith focusing only on private spirituality and lacking in social involvement. The results revealed that most Filipinos consider themselves very religious, with very strong beliefs in the existence of God and higher level of participation in religious activities.


In particular, the Filipino youth (within ages 15 and 30) regarded themselves as religious (extremely religious 9%, very religious 29% and somewhat religious 49% or a total of 89%) in a 1996 SWS survey commissioned for the Philippine Youth Commission. This high level of religiosity is not, however, accompanied by a strong social involvement, particularly in organizational involvement. Only 12 percent of the Filipino youth are involved in church and religious organizations as well as in sports and recreational organizations. With regard to participation in charitable institutions, only 3% of the youth are involved.


Photo credit: author

In general, most religiosity surveys revealed that the Filipino faith, although high in religious belief, lacked public character. Most of the popular Filipino religious practices are more oriented towards the individual and/or small circle of friends and relatives and lacking in structural dimension demanded by the CST.


Photo: Filipino Christians doing in penitence during Holy Week in the Philippines (Source:

The Filipino religious practice of penitensya (penitence) during Lent, for instance, encourages a pietistic and individualist orientation of faith. Though hugely popular, the devotion remains an individualist effort to atone one’s individual sin and lacking in social dimension. The popular devotion to the Black Nazarene in Quiapo is also devoid of liberational dimension. Many devotees participated in the devotion as a form of personal and familial gratitude due to some material favors they received from the Black Nazarene.


Photo: The procession of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo (Source:

Fernando Zialcita, a Filipino anthropologist, confirmed this pattern in his earlier study of the black Nazarene devotion. His informants revealed that the motivation in joining the Black Nazarene devotion is more materialist in nature, deviating from the Church’s official spiritual on devotion.  Filipinos rate themselves very high in religiosity and religious beliefs but they did not seem to relate them to social issues and problems as indicated by religiosity surveys and popular devotions in the country like the Black Nazarene.


Photo credit: author

This finding is consistent with the study done by Dr. Ricardo Abad (2005) on the social capital of Filipinos: Filipinos tend to be affiliated more with their own smaller circles of relatives and friends and less in organizations and associations in the Church or in civil society. The Filipino Christianity is generally a privatized or personal one.

Sto. Nino

Photo: Sinulog procession in honor of the Sto. Nino in Cebu City, Philippines (Source:

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) says that most of the people’s faith today is centered on the practice of the rites of popular piety and not on community and of building up of the world into the image of the Kingdom (PCP #13), specifically on building up of a faith community and involvement in social issues (PCP II#17). For this reason PCP II recommended a rigorous catechism of the “unchurched” or “nominal” Catholics, that is, the vast majority of Catholics in the Philippines who greatly lack knowledge and formation in the Christian faith, particularly on the Church’s social doctrines. Thus, catechism and Christian formation of Filipino Catholics on the social doctrines of the Church are, therefore, urgently needed in order to develop their Christian social conscience and  spirituality of social transformation.


One must remember that the Christian faith is neither all about social activism and pietism nor solely about saving the individual’s soul, but a fine blend of spiritual and social struggle for the total liberation of the individual and society from all forms of personal and social sins. The Second Vatican Council emphasized that the mission of the Church in the contemporary world is helping human being to discover God as the ultimate meaning of his/her existence (CSDC #576). The Church’s mission is the total salvation of the individual and society from spiritual and material slavery.

Photo credit (except those with source): author, free photos

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Legal Pluralism, Corruption, and Red Tape as Obstacles to Philippine Disaster Response


It has been observed that the dominant response and action on disaster management in Southeast Asia had been on post-disaster activities and particularly on emergency response” (Bildan 2003; Jegillos 2003). And of the ten countries in the world most imperiled by climate change (in terms of the number of people likely to be affected), four are in Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines (Elliot, 2012, p.40). The Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone Southeast Asian countries. Around 70 percent of its disasters are due to hydro-meteorological phenomena such as typhoon and flooding.


Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) that hit the Philippines in 2009 revealed differential vulnerabilities of the population. The most vulnerable regions and communities in the country are those that are highly exposed to the changes expected in the climate and have limited adaptive capacity. The Philippines has limited economic resources, low levels of technology, poor information and skills, poor infrastructure, unstable or weak institutions, and inequitable empowerment and access to resources have little capacity to adapt and are highly vulnerable (IPCC, 2001) (Penalba, Elazegui, Pulhin & Cruz, 2012, p.310). Disaster victims in the Philippines are usually the urban poor who are totally dependent on social services. These people are usually less able to respond effectively to disasters (Cutter, Boruff, and Shirley 2003; Morrow 1999; See & Porio, 2015). Thus, the socially and economically marginalized are usually mostly ignored during disaster recovery (Morrow 1999; Tobin and Ollenberger 1993).


Aside from being vulnerable to climate change and disasters, the Philippines is also known for legal pluralism and bureaucratic burdens in real estate business. Establishing a post-disaster housing and relocation for disaster victims such the flood victims of Typhoon Ketsana requires compliance with the multiple legal and bureaucratic requirements. The rigid regulatory requirements attending housing and land development contribute significantly to higher costs and increased inaccessibility of low-cost housing. Due to the different permits, clearances, licenses and procedures that must be obtained from various agencies other than that of housing, completion of these requirements often takes two-and-a-half to three years (Valte, 2002).


Red tape and corruption often dominate the low-cost housing system that assists homeless disaster victims in the country. To circumvent the tedious process of securing permits and registrations, real estate developers and contractors often provide bribe money to some unscrupulous government bureaucrats to speed up real estate transactions. This “hidden cost” of corruption is ultimately passed on to end-users in the form of high-priced and/or sub-standard housing products” (Valte, 2002). To government-accredited contractors and developers, post-disaster housing, just like any other low-cost housing in the government, is a huge business enterprise. The extra costs they incurred in securing the necessary permits, licenses and other bureaucratic requirements due to corruption are passed on to the government financing institutions which are obliged under a joint venture agreement to purchase their housing units. Ultimately, the homeless typhoon victims who will eventually become recipients of the developer’s weak houses in government’s disaster-prone relocation sites.


Finally, access to the poor disaster victims to housing projects usually requires political patronage or sponsorship of politicians. The rigid formal regulation that needs multiple requirements for housing applications implies more suffering for disaster victims. It requires sponsorship from politicians and government officials from different government agencies who can facilitate the approval of their housing applications. The informal regulation based on cultural norms further increases the difficulty of the poor disaster victims own houses in relocation areas. In this case, the popular informal normative systems–based on dominate Filipino values–known in the Philippine politics such as palakasan (patronage), utang-na-loob (debt-of-gratitude), pakikisama (camaraderie), and Padrino (sponsorship) systems dominate the normative system to overcome red tape and rigidity in housing regulation resulting in some forms of corruption. This dominance of informal norms can eventually lead to negative unintended effects which sideline the government’s rule-based PDR goals as articulated in the country’s primary disaster management legislation–the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010 (PDRRMA).

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Did Super Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) Expose the Philippines as a Vulnerable Country to Disasters?

The Center for Research and Epidemiology Disasters (CRED) ranked the Philippines as one of most disaster-prone countries in the world. The Philippines is also fourth in the world among countries hit by the highest number of disasters over the past 20 years, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). In terms of tropical storms, the country is visited by an average of twenty typhoons per year, being situated in the West Pacific Basin (NDRRC Report, 2011).


In the Philippines, 70 percent of the country’s disasters are due to hydro-meteorological phenomena such as typhoon and flooding and the poor are often the most vulnerable disaster victims. Social vulnerability in a population is not evenly distributed. Some regions are more susceptible to the impacts of hazards than other places based on the characteristics of the people residing within them (Cutter and Emrich, 2006, p. 102).


Typhoon Ketsana, popularly known in the country as Typhoon Ondoy, is one of the most devastating typhoons that hit the Philippines in 2009 that revealed the differential vulnerabilities of the Philippine population. Its impacts largely depend on the physical attributes of the place and the social characteristics of people residing in it. Some areas suffered devastating losses in life and property compared to other places. Countries such as the Philippines with limited economic resources, low levels of technology, poor information and skills, poor infrastructure, unstable or weak institutions, and inequitable empowerment and access to resources have little capacity to adapt and are highly vulnerable (Penalba, Elazegui, Pulhin & Cruz, 2012, p.310).


The urban poor who are totally dependent on social services and usually less able to respond effectively to disasters suffer most during disasters (Cutter, Boruff, and Shirley 2003; Morrow 1999; See & Porio, 2015). And being socially and economically marginalized in society, the poor are usually mostly ignored during disaster recovery (Morrow, 1999; Tobin and Ollenberger, 1993). The people who were severely affected by Ketsana in the Philippines were urban poor residing in makeshift shanties in low-lying areas or near creeks and rivers.


Typhoon Ketsana did not only expose the differential vulnerabilities of the Philippines. It also revealed the inadequacy of the country’s disaster management law in dealing with post-disaster recovery after large-scale disasters. With the unexpected loss of lives, destruction of property, and a number of people homeless, the Philippine government updated its old primary disaster management law and enacted the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010 (PDRRMA).


Unlike the old law, the PDRRMA is said to be pro-active and holistic in its approach and has–for the first time–addressed the issue of post-disaster recovery. The Philippine government, as well as Ketsana post-disaster responders, became optimistic with the enactment of PDRRMA that the thousands of homeless disaster victims would finally receive adequate housing and resettlement. Years have passed since the passage of this law and beneficiaries have received housing assistance from the government, non-government organizations, and foreign and local donors. Yet, in-depth qualitative studies on how the law’s post-disaster provisions were implemented on the ground, given the multiplicity of actors and the plurality of legal and nonlegal normative orders that surround PDRRMA, seemed missing.

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