The Philippines is the only officially Christian country in Asia. About 90% of the population is Christian, 85% of whom practise Roman Catholicism. Muslims make up the second largest religious group, even though they represent only 5% of the population. The country's other religious groups include Buddhists and Taoists.
Introduced by the Spanish, Roman Catholicism is a dominant force that influences every aspect of Filipino life. Churches are village focal points, and the priest an important authority figure. Every town has a patron saint; these figures are honoured in annual fiestas that include games, contests, religious processions, plays and rituals. Travelling magicians, business people, jugglers and musicians make their living from these events.
Despite the fact that the Philippine constitution is based on the separation of church and state, the Catholic church exercises considerable political influence-a situation caused partly by centuries of Spanish rule. Priests, nuns and other church figures played an important role in the "people power revolution" that catapulted Corazon Aquino to power in 1986. Church officials have also served as consultants on government committees.
In the middle ages, Islam came to the islands through Arab and Indian merchants. By the 16th century there were Muslim kingdoms in Mindanao and the Sulu Islands. Muslims now live predominately in the south. The country's Buddhist and Taoists are mostly people of Chinese descent, many of whom live in Manila.
Some tribal groups still maintain their traditional religious practices, and rural Catholics commonly blend aspects of traditional beliefs with Christianity, including a belief in spirits (anitos) and the belief that the Philippine archipelago is a source of psychic power.