Protestant Christianity in the Philippines

Protestant Christians make up nearly 6% of the Filipino population and include a wide variety of Pentecostal, Evangelical, and independent churches. Protestant influence and missionary activity began in the early 20th century with the advent of American imperialism in the Philippines.

American leadership was strongly Protestant and guided by Protestant values, as well as by Protestant-Catholic cultural conflicts taking place in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Spanish-American War, for example, was deeply informed by anti-Catholicism in the United States. Thus, Christianized Filipinos were considered by Protestant Americans as not fully Christian until they became Protestant, and as such annexation was strongly supported by most Christian Evangelicals. However, some American Christian groups opposed annexation, arguing that it would open the door to Catholic, non-white immigration. The decision to annex the Philippines was based on economics, but justified using Christian rhetoric.[1] American leadership immediately sidelined the Catholic Church, and many of the Filipino clergy continued to oppose American control just as it had the Spanish.

Protestant missionaries began arriving after the establishment of the 1901 Comity Agreement between various Protestant missions, separating the islands into spheres of Protestant influence. Missionaries quickly learned local languages and began translating texts, and local converts took on leadership roles and established the foundations of an indigenous Protestant clergy, though Filipinos were frustrated by the racist attitudes among some missionaries. Missions provided an alternative community to what American Protestants perceived as a corrupt Catholic society—highlighting in particular activities such as gambling and drinking—through sports, American cultural groups, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and other venues. A number of seminaries sprang up facilitating the growth of local clergy, and Protestants strongly supported the creation of a public school system. In 1963, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) was formed to represent the voice of Protestant Filipinos, and was the first religious body to officially condemn the Marcos regime in 1973.

Pentecostal Protestantism began to appear in the 1970s, paralleling a rise in charismatic Catholicism. Some of these charismatic groups were modelled after prominent American Protestant organizations; for example, El Shaddai—which has nearly 10 million followers in the Philippines and abroad—was influenced by American evangelical Christian Pat Robertson. However, the relationship between Catholicism and Protestantism has been fraught with tension throughout the century. Among the largest Philippine Protestant movements is the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), which is resolutely anti-Catholic and claims nearly two million members.


Jose Mario C. Francisco, “The Philippines,” Christianities in Asia, ed. Peter C. Phan (Malden: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2011), pp. 97-127.

 Susan K. Harris, God’s Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines: 1898-1902 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 16; Steven Shirley, Guided By God: The Legacy of the Catholic Church in Philippine Politics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004), p. 29.

J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of Protestantism (New York: Facts on File, Inc, 2005), p. 283.

Steven Shirley, Guided By God: The Legacy of the Catholic Church in Philippine Politics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004).