The Rutherford Institute's

Handbook on Religious Liberty
Around the World


A Brief Historical and Legal Description of Religious Liberty


The Republic of the Philippines joined the United Nations in 1945 and declared independence from the United States in 1946. The Philippines enjoys a limited tradition of religious freedom. Catholic missionaries converted most islanders upon Spanish conquest in 1521, but Muslim Moors inhabited the southern islands. Spanish influence declined after the defeat of the Armada in 1588, and some Catholics assumed governing positions. Opposition to Catholic rule led a liberation movement to accept American aid during the Spanish-American War. After the war, the United States controlled the islands and allowed religious freedom.

The Philippines enjoyed independent democratic rule after 1946 until President Ferdinand Marcos commenced in 1972 an eight-year period of martial law known for human rights abuses and restrictions placed on the free practice of religion. Church welfare efforts led Marcos to suspect that the church was aiding guerilla forces.1 In October 1973, the government arrested an American Catholic missionary and charged him with “subversive infiltration with the objective of overthrowing the government.”2 Several priests, nuns, and lay workers were also arrested in October and December of that year.3 In January 1974, a Catholic Bishops Conference issued a letter stating, “there is ever the danger that basic human rights will be pushed aside and ignored, and due process of law conveniently bypassed in the name of reform.”4

President Corazon Aquino assumed office in 1986, suspending Parliament and creating a provisional government until the promulgation of a new constitution. On May 5, 1987, President Aquino issued Executive Order No. 163 constituting the Commission on Human Rights and providing guidelines for its operations.5 Mr. Sedfrey A. Ordoñez, current president of the Commission, feels the Commission provides “something definite which our people can cling onto in invoking human rights . . . [furthermore] our view is that any violation of religious right is a violation of human right.”6 For the Commission to be successful, however, Ordoñez adds that “the human rights protection, really, in a democracy, is dependent upon a strong public opinion.”7

President Fidel Ramos has ruled the country since his election in May 1992, the first constitutional transfer of power since 1965.8 There is no state religion,9 but religion may, at the discretion of the parents, be taught in the schools.10 Ninety-two percent of the population professed to be Christian, with 85% Rroman Catholics, 4% Aglipayan and 3% Protestants.11 Muslims constitute the largest religous minority, about 5% of the population,12 but Buddhists, Taoists and Animists also practice their faiths.13 The U.S. Department of State reported, “the government respects freedom of religion and does not discriminate against any religious group or its members.”14 Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila, asserts that being able to define freedom is necessary, because “freedom is always inclined to something that is good. Because if freedom is inclined to something that is bad it is an abuseful freedom . . . Freedom is to do the thing you ought to do, not to do the thing you like to do.”15 Although government-sanctioned human rights abuses are decreasing in number, the U.S. Department of State reported that “a wide range of human rights abuses continued to occur within the context of illegal activities of police and military personnel ... there still was very little observable progress in trying, convicting, and appropriately punishing the perpetrators of human rights abuses, most of whom continue to go unpunished.”16

The strongest religious tensions in the Philippines exist between Christians and Muslims. The U.S. Department of State reports:

Muslims historically have been alienated from the dominant Christian majority, and their disaffection increased with the influx of Philippine Christian settlers since the 1950’s. Efforts to integrate Muslims into the political and economic fabric of the country have met with only limited success. Philippine culture, with its emphasis on familial, tribal, and regional loyalties, creates informal barriers whereby access to jobs or resources is provided first to those of one’s own family or group. Another factor is that many Muslims prefer to educate their children in Muslim schools, which has deprived them of the skills required to advance in some occupations.17

In November 1990, the Philippines recognized the autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), allowing Muslims autonomy in a geographical area where they constitute a majority of the population. Creation of the ARMM, however, has not alleviated Muslim difficulties including its small size, limited tax base, and lack of assistance from the central government.


Constitutional Provisions and Legislation Relating to Religion


On January 10, 1973, the Filipino people approved a constitution by national referendum. Then-President Marcos declared martial law and imposed restrictions on the churches.18 In 1986, Corazon Aquino became President and appointed a Constitutional Commission. The following provisions of the 1987 Constitution relate to freedom of religion:

Article II, Section 4: No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.19

Article III, Section 5: No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.20

Article XV, Section 1: The state recognized the Filipino family as the foundation of the nation. Accordingly, it shall strengthen its solidarity and actively promote its total development.21

Article XVI, Section 15 (1): There is hereby created an independent office called the Commission on Human Rights.

Section 18: The Commission on Human Rights shall have the following powers and functions:

(1) Investigate, on its own or on complaint by any party, all forms of human rights violations involving civil and political rights . . .

(7): Monitor the Philippine government’s compliance with international treaty obligations on human rights.

Section 19: The Congress may provide for other cases of violations of human rights that should fall within the authority of the Commission, taking into accounts its recommendations.22


Recent Reported Cases of Religious Intolerance


MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN TENSIONS. Since 1992, religious tensions have escalated between Christians and Muslims on Mindanao Island. Both Muslims and Christians in Mindanao live under Martial Law, imposed by the government since 1972. A prominent Muslim reports that since Mindanao gained autonomy in 1976, more than 500,000 Filipino Muslims have been “forced to abandon their home and land, 200,000 houses [have been] burned,” there are over 130,000 refugees and have been countless massacres.23 News Network International reported that “the Philippines is indeed one of Asia’s most volatile hot spots, as an increasingly militant movement confronts the historically Christian infrastructure.”24 Current Philippine President Fidel Ramos added, “these are extremists motivated by a perverse desire to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims . . . [I]t is a campaign of violence designed to fragment the republic itself.”25

In June 1994, terrorist group Abu Sayaaf abducted a Catholic priest along with 73 non-Muslims in retaliation for surprise Filipino military attacks on the Muslim group in early June.26 The church warned that a bloodbath would ensue if terrorists murdered the cleric, and the group released him in early August.27 Abu Sayaaf abducted an American missionary in November 1993 and is suspected of kidnapping and assassinating various church and missionary personnel, including 15 Christian hostages murdered in June 1994, as well as of bombing churches.28

In December 1993, forty gunmen attacked sixty passengers on a bus, separating Muslims from non-Muslims before opening fire on the latter group.29 Also in December, Muslim extremists threw a grenade into a crowded Roman Catholic cathedral, killing six and wounding 130 others.30 Suspected Christian militants retaliated, bombing two separate mosques, injuring six.31

In November 1993, Muslim prisoners stabbed an American missionary conducting a prison Bible Study, holding him and his seven Malaysian colleagues as prisoners and threatening one Christian woman at gunpoint until prison guards controlled the situation. No one was seriously injured.32

In January 1992, two members of Negroes Occidental assassinated Father Narciso Peio, a parish priest of Philippine Independent Church.33 Muslim opposition groups in Mindanao are suspected of being responsible for the August 1992 bombing of a Roman Catholic Shrine which killed four people.34 They are also believed to have shot and killed a Christian broadcaster while he was preaching on the radio in September 1992.35 The Far East Broadcasting Company in February 1993 halted Muslim programming after receiving death threats against broadcasters.36

In November 1992, military intelligence officials in Zamboanga unearthed what they believe to be a “radical Muslim ‘hit list,’ calling for the assassination of 15 Protestant and Catholic missionaries in the region.”37 In June 1992, a Catholic missionary well known for efforts to increase understanding between Muslims and Christians was shot dead in Zamboanga.38 Despite an increase in religious violence, the government has not been successful in fostering an environment of law and order.


CHRISTIAN-COMMUNIST VIOLENCE. Christians face persecution not only from Muslim extremists, but also from the New People’s Army, the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.39 Many village churches consist solely of women and children because the male worshippers have either been killed or threatened by the communists.40 One village preacher has been warned three times by the NPA to cease his preaching, but he continues, in fear of his life.41 Despite President Ramos’ often enunciates “firm resolve to wage people’s war against the [more than 11,160 communist rebels in the country],” the NPA refuses to end the terror ongoing since 1970.42



1 Ronald E. Dolon, ed., Philippines: A Country Study, 4th ed. (United States Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1993): 107.

2 Gisbert H. Flanz, Tae Hoon Kang and Robert J. Kramer, “Philippines,” in Albert P. Blaustein and Gisbert H. Flanz, eds., Constitutions of the Countries of the World (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1985): 7.

3 ibid.

4 ibid.

5 Commission on Human Rights: Philippines, 1.

6 Interview with Sedfrey A. Ordoñez, by Pedro C. Moreno, international coordinator for The Rutherford Institute, May 15, 1994.

7 Interview with Sedfrey A. Ordoñez.

8 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1994 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1995): 669.

9 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1994) 720.

10 Dolon, 107.

11 Edward H. Lawson, ed., The Encyclopedia of Human Rights (New York: Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1991): 1208.

12 U.S. Department of State (1993): 722.

13 Lawson, 1208.

14 U.S. Department of State (1994): 674.

15 Interview with Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila, by Pedro Moreno, international coordinator for The Rutherford Institute, May 15, 1995.

16 U.S. Department of State (1993): 716.

17 U.S. Department of State (1993): 722-3.

18 Lawson, 1209.

19 Lawson, 1121.

20 Flanz, 170.

21 ibid, 217.

22 Lawson, 1212.

23 Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME, “The Philippines: Muslim-Christian Relations, Peace and Jihad in Islam,” Paper presented at SEDOS on March 25, 1993, 145.

24 Elisabeth Farrell, “Growing Muslim Terrorism in Mindanao Threatens Church.” News Network International Special Report (August 25, 1995): 1.

25 President Fidel Ramos, speaking to local officials at the nation’s first anti-terrorism summit in May 1995, quoted in Farrell, 1.

26 Andrew Wark, “Abdicated Priest May Soon Be Released.” News Network International Special Report (July 26, 1994): 33-34.

27 “Philippines: Philippine Church Leaders Warn of Bloodbath.” Reuter Textline (July 22, 1994): 47 and Wark, “Kidnapped Priest Freed After Two Months in Captivity.” News Network International (August 17, 1994): 19.

28 ibid.

29 “Philippines.” News Network International: Special Edition (December 21, 1993): 1.

30 “6 Killed and 130 Are Wounded in Blasts at Philippine Cathedral.” The New York Times (December 27, 1993): A2.

31 ibid, and “Philippine Mosques Attacked After Grenade Hits Cathedral.” The New York Times (December 29, 1993): 1.

32 “Philippines.” News Network International: Special Edition (December 21, 1993): 6.

33 Human Rights Watch 1993: The Events of 1992 (New York: Human Rights Watch, Inc., 1992): 444.

34 Amnesty International (Amnesty International Publications: New York, 1993): 242.

35 ibid.

36 “Philippines.” News Network International: Special Edition (February 26, 1993): 4.

37 “Philippines.” News Network International: Special Edition (November 25, 1992): 1.

38 “Philippines.” News Network International: Special Edition (June 26, 1992): 4.

39 “Philippine Communists Kill Evangelists.” The Voice of the Martyrs: Servants of the Persecuted Church (September 1994): 7.

40 ibid.

41 ibid.

42 ibid.

Source: Handbook on Religious Liberty Around the World, Pedro C. Moreno, Editor. Charlottesville, VA: The Rutherford Institute. This report is reprinted here by special arrangement with the Rutherford Institute and may not be reproduced or mirrored on another webside without written permission of the Rutherford Institute.

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