Filipino Religiosity and Corruption: Understanding Why Corruption Exists Despite Filipino

Jay Michael L. Cordero
When we speak about our nation there are two notable attributes that we have. First, we are
one of only two Predominantly Catholic nations in Asia, and second we are one of the most
corrupt countries in Asia. In December of 2013 the Transparency International Corruption
ranked 177 countries from “very clean” to “highly corrupt” the Philippines was ranked at 94.
We always boast and claim that we are a Christian nation yet we also recognized and accept the
fact that we are also one of the most corrupt countries. The two attributes seems to be
contradictory with each other. There is clamor for religion to be used against corruption
simply because of the belief that religious people are more concerned with ethics compare to
people who are not religious. This belief is held by many people despite the fact that most
countries which top the rank in terms of religiosity also tops the rank in terms of corruption.

How can we reconcile the fact of being a Christian nation and one of the most corrupt nations?
Filipino religiosity is one of the most essential concepts of Filipino identity, however, this
essential concept cannot be seen for it is not manifested and lived out by the Filipinos. Religion
is expected to influence and make a deep impact on our culture and morality. Our country
always face the never ending corruption, political killings and injustices which run oppose that
what is expected of us Filipinos who are religious. When we raise our voices in becoming proud
of being a Christian nation that voice is drowned by our actions which speak louder for it shows
and reveals the true and real identity of our nation and its people. How can we afford to hurt
our fellow Filipinos when one of the essential concept of being a Filipino is being religious? In
this talk I would like to focus on religiosity as one of the essential concepts of Filipino and what
is the Filipino concept of God. In trying to analyze the religiosity of Filipinos and how we relate
to God we might find out why despite being religious we can afford to hurt our fellow Filipinos.
The Philippines boast of being one of only two Christian nations in Asia. Filipinos take pride in
having extraordinary faith as expressed by many of our religious practices. Religion is so

Whither Morality? ‘Finding God’ in the Fight against Corruption, Heather Marquette, International Development
Department School of Government and Society University of Birmingham, 1. Hereafter, Whither Morality?
integrated in the life of the average Filipino, according to Jocano, “it is difficult to distinguish
what is social and what is religious in their daily activities.”
Filipinos belief in God is indeed
something that every Filipino can boast of. We are known to be extremely religious people and
we also take pride in expressing them in many occasions.
How do we view God and how do this view affect our relationship with our fellow Filipinos?
In answering the following questions above it is important to also take note of the historical
development of our religious beliefs in the primitive era. Our ancestors believe in what we call
“Poon” or “Bathala.” This belief in deities can be one way of how we are going to discover the
Filipino concept of God. Ever since before the dawn of Christianity in the Philippines our
ancestors had already a certain belief in the supernatural. Various cultures and tribes in our
country depict belief in the supernatural and this can be seen in their myths, stories and
Florentino Hornedo in his book, “The Favor of the Gods” explains that the supreme God for
the early Filipinos is generally perceived as transcendent, hence remote and had little or
nothing to do with the affairs of the people, so much so that in order to appeal for favors
such as bountiful harvests or rains, the natives call upon intermediaries in the form of the
lesser spirits locally known as anitus.

Since man's world view in a particular culture is projected upon the invisible world, a pluralistic
and complementary view of the divine may exist also in the concept of the Absolute.
The use
of intermediary can be seen even as to how Filipinos relate with each other. If most Filipinos
approach their leaders through intermediaries, they also approach God through the spirits
and the departed.

The attribute of God as remote was affirmed by Leonardo Mercado in his book, Elements of
Filipino Philosophy. He noted that one attribute Filipinos describe God is its remoteness or

F. Landa Jocano, Sulod Society (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1968), 241.
Florentino H. Hornedo, The Favor of the Gods: Essays in Filipino Religious Thought and Behavior (Manila: UST
Publishing House, 2001), 80. Hereafter, The Favor of the Gods.
Leonardo N. Mercado, Elements of Filipino Philosophy (EPE) (Tacloban City: Divine Word University Publications,
1979), 165. Hereafter EFP.
inaccessibility. The Filipino stress on hierarchy puts God in so high a place that he is beyond
approach. In this case, the use if intermediaries is necessary. This exaltation of God gives the
impression that he is unknown and remote. Since God is remote and unknown man is not in
direct contact with him. This attitude gives the impression that God is impersonal.

We can see that the way we relate to God is the same way as we would also relate with our
neighbors. When we view God as transcendent and remote this would also affect how we
would view others around us. When we view God as remote and transcendent then even
when we do wrong to our neighbors we cannot see God whom we hurt when we hurt our
neighbors. It is difficult to see God in our neighbors when in the first place we think of him as
inaccessible. In the Christian perspective what we do to our neighbors we do it unto Christ. It is
easy to hurt, commit injustice and degrade our fellow Filipinos simply because we don’t see
Christ in them. Maybe our political leaders who are mostly Christians don’t see Christ in the
face of the poor child who was deprived of education and comfortable living. How can they
see the face of the poor when they don’t immersed themselves with them? As Cardinal Chito
Tagle commented on the height of the pork Barrel scandal, “Siguro maglakad-lakad kayo sa
gabi, kapag nasa bangketa ka na, makikita mo ‘yung… ‘yung mga pamilya na nagbubukas ng
kariton, para doon matulog. Mahawakan lang ninyo ang kamay ng mga mahihirap. Siguro
naman maaantig ang inyong puso, sana.”
God must not be seen as remote but as someone who can be seen in the face of the poor, in
the face of the hungry, in the face of the naked, and in the face of the oppressed. The
remoteness of God is sometimes attributed too to our leaders who are also remote and
inaccessible to the people. Tagle is right to say that the corrupt can stomach what they are
doing because “the poor are absent in their minds and their hearts.” These leaders also view
themselves as “mga panginoon” who instead of becoming like Christ who came not to be
served but to serve, our leaders became like pigs who are being served. Our leaders are always
satisfied but let us remember what the Philosopher John Stuart Mill once said: It is better to be
Socrates unsatisfied than a pig satisfied. Many political leaders view themselves as gods who

The Favor of the Gods, 171.
are powerful and influential and in consequence they abuse their power and exert their
influence whimsically.
The impersonal relationship or the lack of personal relationship with God is also seen as one
of the reasons that affects our relationship with our fellow Filipinos. Catholicism stresses
hierarchy and similar to the religion and belief of the pre-Hispanic Filipinos we implore
intermediaries in our relationship to God. This lack of direct and personal relationship with
God is often seen as resulting to the lack of accountability in one’s moral decision. “When you
have all those hierarchies, go-betweens and intermediaries (who will not be critical of you)
then your sense of personal accountability to God goes down.”

The Filipino belief in the spiritual world was deeply embedded in the consciousness of many of
our ancestors. As one psychologist writes, “During Spanish times, he (the “Filipino”) accepted
Roman Catholicism whose saints fused beautifully with his belief in the spiritual world…”
In the
history of our country, it is taught that indeed our ancestors have a deep belief in the reality of
the other world or the spiritual world. For this reason Filipino popular religiosity, though
religious in nature is culture bound since it is a form of expression that is essentially influenced
by indigenous patterns such as values, traditions, and institutions.

When Christianity became the predominant religion, the external elements of Christianity
replaced the local religious practices but left the underlying folk religious beliefs unscathed,
thus, revealing the christened indigenous traditional creed and cult: the Christian God for
Bathala, the town patronal saints for the anitos, the town barrio fiestas for the pagan rice
festivals and the parish priest for the baylan.

Our Christian rituals and practices may have been influenced by our indigenous beliefs, rituals
and practices so much so that we simply perform them as traditions and we forgot their

Andrew Lim, Theories On Why Corruption Is Pervasive in our Catholic Dominated Society, Posted by Joe America
on August 26, 201, available at: does-catholicism-makes-us-more-tolerant-of-corruption/
accessed last 8 Jan. 2014.
"Another Look at Philippine Values," Punctuations, Jaime C. Bulatao, Vol. 1, 2, April-May, 1987.
Allan Basas "The Religious Culture of the Filipino Catholics: An Appraisal of Popular Religiosity in the Philippines"
Luz y Saber [Online], Volume 4 Number 2/1 (28 January 2013), 13. Hereafter, Basas, The Religious Culture.
Basas, The Religious Culture, 17.
spiritual aspect. Our Christian practices and devotions at present may only be considered by
many as simply part of the tradition. Many Filipinos goes to procession during Holy Week or
witness a passion but simply do it as part of tradition and culture and has forgotten to reflect
on its religious significance. “Religious people may engage with religion simply on a ritualistic
level and may or may not be aware of what their sacred texts say about ethics and

The Filipino Theistic Beliefs
What is the relevance of believing in God for the Filipinos? What role does God play for the
According to Florentino Timbreza, the Filipino Christian orientation has always the concept of
God with churchgoing, confession, holy communion, vespers, fasting and abstinence. Despite
all these religious practices and devotions of the Filipinos to God and to the saints, many
observe that (puputi lang and uwak) everything will still continue as they are. What changes
to the society did Filipino religiosity brought? Despite the devotions and faithfulness of the
Filipinos problems in the society continue to escalate. Adherence to many religious routines
and practices doesn’t seem to solve and respond to the mounting problems of the society. Our
country may indeed be composed of 85% Catholics but are these 85% percent true and faithful
Catholics? Most Catholics are simply called nominal Catholics. In a news in last
Jan. 6 retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz stated the fact that we have to accept
that most Catholics are simply nominal Catholics. He defined nominal Catholics as Catholics
only by name but not in words and actions. Many Filipinos received the sacrament but only few
were truly baptized. If all Catholics would go to mass on Sunday it would be impossible to
contain them all in catholic churches. If most Filipinos are simply nominal Christians who only
go to church for KBL (kasal, binyag at libing) then it is not surprising that many Filipinos commit
actions which are unchristian.
However, even if our churches is filled with churchgoers according to Archbishop Socrates
Villegas it is “shameful proof of our failure to evangelize our country that our churches are

Whither Morality?, 16.
filled with people, our religious festivities are fervent, our Catholic schools are many, but our
country is mired in poverty and in corruption."
Filipinos are often criticized for being so faithful and religious yet this cannot be seen in their
actions and the way they would relate with other people. We take pride in being the only
Christian country in Asia. However, the religiosity of the Filipinos doesn’t seem to correspond
with the behaviors and actions that Filipinos have. If we are truly religious, then why is there a
lot of corruption and scandals in the society? Does our belief in God brought change not just to
ourselves but also to the society?
I remember a story of a very religious woman who owns a store. Every evening she would invite
her daughter to pray the rosary and the novenas with her. Every 6:00 in the evening she would
shout at her daughter, (Neng, dali a na mangamuyo na kita sang rosaryo isara na ang tindahan
pero I check anay kung nasamuan mo na sang tubig ang langgaw, sang bato ang sako sang
uling kag kalamay sa asin kay aga ta pa na ipamaligya sa bwas) “Neng, faster we are going to
pray the rosary you close the store but see to it first that you added water on the vinegar,
pebbles on the sack of charcoal and sugar on the salt for we are going to sell them tomorrow
early in the morning.”
This story reveals the fact that indeed most Filipinos are religious, religious in the sense that we
are prayerful and we practice religious practices and rituals. But being a religious doesn’t mean
that we are also moral. Religiosity for the Filipinos obviously is not equivalent to morality. Our
religious life seems to be farfetched from our moral life. From this we can clearly understand
that if one is religious one is not automatically a moral person. Thus, religiosity as one of the
essential concept of Filipino identity cannot lead us into unity if morality is separated from it.
However, Heather Marquette claim that the belief that religious people are moral and are less
likely to commit corruption is a myth that is based on the assumptions not borne out through
Religiosity is useless if it doesn’t transform our actions and values. It is important
that our values be influenced by what our religion is teaching us. Transparency International’s

Whither Morality?, 1.
Chief Executive David Nussbaum in a speech given at the London School of Economics in 2006
mentioned that values play in moral decision-making related to corrupt practice.
He explained:
In the case of values-based decisions like whether or not to bribe or accept a bribe, values
and ethics can form a sort of threshold, establish under what emotional and external
circumstances – if any – you may say yes. Your social environment, the level of trust you have
in those around you, how you see this affecting people you care about, will also come into
play; but your values will be a fundamental guide in making these decisions (Nussbaum,
2006, p.13)
The connection between, values, morals and religion must be seen as tied up. Religion
provides ethical language and rules on how one should live. If these ethical rules are not
followed given that they were directed by religion and were teach by one’s religion one thus
cannot be truly considered to be religious. To be religious means we are not simply faithful in
following and fulfilling religious rituals and practices but we must also be faithful in fulfilling and
living its ethical and moral teachings. After all corruption is a moral problem that is addressed
by all religions as intolerable and an injustice. The religiosity of the people and their morality
seems to have severed ties. Despite the high level of religiosity in the Philippines we are
plunged into the ocean of corruption as Mitchell in his article entitled “In God’s Country”
written for the magazine Far Eastern Economic Review writes:
From Presidents to prostitutes, religion flows like a river through Philippine lives, offering a
bizarre mix of old style faith and sometimes bloody violence… In the Philippines, it seems,
religion is never far away. At Easter it bludgeons the imagination. Catholic worshippers in
several towns re-enact the death of Christ by allowing themselves to be nailed to wooden
crosses with stainless steel pikes. Other Filipinos descend in their millions on the nation’s
cathedrals and city squares to partake in a great upheaval of holy activity- preaching, praying,
singing, dancing, kneeling and bowing (Mitchell, 2001, p. 58)
Despite such high levels of religiosity he takes note that corruption is still rife. (Mitchell 2001,
Florentino Timbreza take note that the Christian concept of God is tied up or connected with
the concept of afterlife (kabilang buhay), immortality, sacraments, heaven, perfect happiness,
penance, indulgence and The Way of the Cross. Our concept of God is tied with religious
practices and religious icons. Some people would still claim that “mamatay lang ang tao wala
paring mangyayari.” Theological notions doesn’t seem to be relevant to the Filipino lives and
The common tao may perhaps understand the concept of God and some other theological
notions, but what they experience is pain, suffering and hunger. Because of this experiences,
some Filipinos claim, “sayo na ang kabilang buhay, basta may makain lang ako.” What most
Filipinos care is how they can live and eat not what the afterlife promise them. Nevertheless,
many insist: “behold, God’s kingdom is not in this world.” With this belief many poor Filipinos
simply gets along well with a plumbing and hungry stomach (Timbreza, 2008). Beets affirmed
this when he said “in poorer countries, the few are perpetrators, while the many are victims,
and these victims may seek solace through their religion” (Beets, 2007, p. 81).
Filipinos approach God whenever they have problems. They see God as someone who can solve
and help them in facing their problems in life. It is often criticized that many Filipinos simply go
to God when they have problems or when they have something to ask. The situation of
suffering, poverty and hunger made many people closer to God and ask for his help. God is
seen by many as provider of their needs. This is why many Filipinos can identify themselves
with the Black Nazarene who is bent by life’s troubles, and they get tremendous assurance
and hope knowing how the Poong Nazareno shares in their own suffering. The Poong
Nazareno is seen as an image that truly speaks to their experience, an image of god that they
consider truly their own.

Filipinos also view God as love. For many, God is love (ang diyos ay pag-ibig). With all the
sufferings that an ordinary man undergoes, he still deeply believe that God is good and full of
love. The concept of god as loving is deeply embedded in every Filipino. The situation of
poverty and pain may have led people to accept and view God as loving who will comfort them.

Popular Religiosity in the Philippines.
Filipinos are hopeful people who believe that there is an end to suffering and that there is a
divine being who despite their sufferings will not abandon them. God as loving doesn’t only
care for the rich and the cronies, he too takes care of the poor people who constantly pray to
him and beg his generosity. The belief that God is love has a drugged effect or serves as an
opium for people who wish to ease their burden and their sufferings. They find it consoling to
view God as love. Filipinos believe that God favors the poor. This is stressed by many believers
in God that God loves the poor more than the rich. It is taught that God has a “preferential love
for the poor.” Believing that God loves the poor more than the rich, gives the poor people hope
and consolation amidst his suffering. It is consoling to believe that rich people can hardly go to
heaven why the poor people are loved by God. By believing that God will reward the poor in
heaven, the poor man forgets his plight and misery.
Filipinos also view God as merciful. We stressed so much on the attribute of God as merciful
and forgiving. However, we take advantage of the mercy of God and would simply say “anyway
ang Diyos ay may awa.” We even tolerate our own evil and unjust actions because we believe
that God will forgive us. Politicians would think the same way, “corruption is not a grave sin
compare to murder, maybe God will forgive me.” After many corruptions and scandals in the
government the outcry of many is not justice but reconciliation and forgiveness. Oftentimes we
simply tolerate and consider the corrupt acts and practices of many government officials.
During the impeachment trial of then Chief Justice Renato Corona, Sen. Miriam Defensor-
Santiago lambasted her fellow senators whom she said claimed to be innocent and clean and
have done nothing wrong. She dared them to come clean and further revealed that many of
them were also involved in corruption thus they must not convict the chief justice as guilty of
corruption since they too are corrupt. This fallacious argument of tu quo que seems to tolerate
and consider the graft and corrupt practices. If this is the kind of morality that we have how can
we expect the government officials themselves to prosecute their fellow politicians? We abuse
the mercy of God believing that he is merciful our actions will be pardoned. Our belief in the
mercy of God stand strong in contrast to his being just. If we view God as just we would be
compel to believe that even if he is merciful he will not tolerate nor simply pardon the sins we
have committed.
Another problem that we have is that religious leaders and organization who would insist on
their members not to be corrupt were the ones who are also corrupt. For example, in Andhra
Pradesh, a priest at the world’s largest Hindu temple at Tirupati was arrested for selling temple
jewels, just one of many corruption scandals to have emerged at the time ( 22/08/09).
In Nigeria, a pastor was suspended from a church near Abuja for embezzling millions of church
funds (Friday, 2006). Take our own example of the ‘pajero bishops’ that harbored ill comments
both from believers and non-believers. These examples weaken the call for fight against
corruption which these religions and their religious leaders ask their followers to do.
The rich and the corrupt government officials find God as merciful while the poor who is
oppressed by the rich find consolation in God who is viewed as just (Ang Diyos ay
makatarungan). Since God is just injustice is viewed as opposed to God’s will. The poor man
who is a victim of injustice is glad to know that God is a just God. “Ang mga nagsasabing
tunay na maka-Diyos ay sila naman ang nagpapahirap sa kanilang kapwa.” If Filipinos view
God as just, why do some Filipinos do injustice against their fellow Filipinos? Some people
would just remark: Nasa tao ang gawa, nasa Diyos ang awa (Work is man’s, mercy is God’s).
This makes him resign to any tragic event in his life and a very fertile ground for faith, hope in
all the powerful providence of God’s mercy, and for love.
Filipino view God as someone close
to them, as someone who can sympathize with their problems. Even Filipino religiosity
expresses this, as Chupungco describes Filipino popular religiosity as: “ritual expressions which
generally touch human problems and sentiments. These are more appealing and suited to the
simple people…”

More often than not, many a believer applies a heroin to the poor man’s psychosomatic
plight: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth…Blessed are the peacemakers
for they shall be called children of God.” With this solution of cocaine and morphine, the poor
man is psychologically filled even if he eats only a daily meal of tinapa and poprice.
(Timbreza, 2008.)

Life Today. 1991, The Filipino Way KC Cabrera.htm
Anscar Chupungco, OSB, Liturgical Inculturation, Sacramentals, Religiosity, and Catechesis (Collegeville
Minnesota: A Pueblo Book, 1992), 104.
Filipino religiosity is an essential concept that could lead us into unity if we truly lived out as
true Christian and Catholics. The church is challenged more than ever to make people live out
their faith through their actions. It is a challenge for us Filipinos to examine our religious beliefs
and faith as to whether we practice them and thus be an instrument of social reform and
transformation. Religiosity is part of our culture and if morality is embedded in our being
religious then good morals will be part of our culture. This is a challenge for all of us to be an
instrument of unity by manifesting our religiosity through our actions. In the end, we must ask
ourselves whether we are also disturb as Filipinos and christians by what is happening around
us. Lastly, I would like to post the same question that Cardinal Tagle asked during the height of
pork barrel scam. He asked “Sino bang Pilipino na merong pagmamahal sa bayan ang hindi
mababagabag, at lalo na kung ikaw ay may kaunting pagsunod kay Hesus? Parang
nadudurog ang puso mo na, kaya bang gawin ito ng tao sa kapwa tao? Kaya ba talagang
sikmurain na magagawa ang ganito kalaking, kumbaga, kasiraan para sa bayan?”
Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! Maraming Salamat Po!
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Philippines. Luz y Saber [Online], Volume 4 Number 2/1. (28 January 2013).
Beets, S.D. (2007) International corruption and religion: An empirical examination. Journal of Global
Ethics, 3(1).
Bulatao, Jaime C. Another Look at Philippine Values, Punctuations, Vol. 1, 2, April-May, 1987.
Chupungco, Anscar OSB. Liturgical Inculturation, Sacramentals, Religiosity, and Catechesis. Collegeville
Minnesota: A Pueblo Book, 1992.
Hornedo, Florentino H., The Favor of the Gods: Essays in Filipino Religious Thought and Behavior.
Manila: UST Publishing House, 2001.
Jocano, F. Landa. Sulod Society. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1968.
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Mitchell, M. (2001) In God’s country. Far Eastern Economic Review.
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