Archive | March, 2011

The Fateful Meeting at Taft Avenue

It was the afternoon of the twenty-sixth day of March, two thousand eleven, Anno Domini.

The glaring sunlight pierced through my black coat like a volley of searing javelins. I walked along the streets of Taft Avenue, amidst the towering alabaster-clad metropolitan megastructures apathetic to my existence. I was heading towards a specific private establishment, locally identified as The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, where I was supposed to meet a certain band of individuals. When I reached my destination, I took a seat, and waited patiently.

Soon enough, they arrived.

I was locked firmly on my seat as I perused the members of the organization, one by one, analyzing them with utmost curiosity. They have been called many things, such as blasphemers, heathens, and even demons, but they go by one collective moniker—freethinkers.

I had always looked forward to meeting them. In the recent past, I had only seen them in media broadcasts, formally recognized as the Filipino Freethinkers, owing their popularity, or rather, notoriety, to their naysayers, primarily constituted of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Catholic fundamentalists, and more Catholics. Prior to this day, I had only encountered them through their Facebook group wall where I constantly troll, ignite uproars, and cause general mischief. But at that moment, they were actually in front of me.

The first order of business was introduction. I was introduced to the head honchos of the organization. I learned firsthand what they do and how they got there. Subsequently, the initiates, who had only met the organization for the first time, who happen to be my colleagues and myself, were also asked for introductions.

With us being intellectuals, what we did was to freely exchange ideas. We discussed an array of issues, with topics ranging from international human rights, to the local reproductive health bill, to toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper.

I remember having to answer some ethical questions, akin to those popular ones wherein you have to participate in a critical decision-making scenario where your choice would dictate the outcome of your life and/or the life of others. I managed to answer them with a straight face, but what I tried to keep imperceptible were my doubts. Would I really be able to live up to my initial answer? I guess I would know when I face such a dilemma.

In summary, the discussions were casual and light-hearted, but at the same time intellectual and thought-provoking. Everybody was allowed to present their own perspective, regardless of religious or political affiliation.

The final agenda, and the main purpose of the meet-up, according to Red, the President of the Filipino Freethinkers, was about the establishment of a De La Salle University based freethinker group. They deemed it necessary that a new chapter of the organization be founded, particularly centralized in the aforementioned university. The initiates were commissioned to create and govern this distinct organizational division. I was designated president of this chapter.

Being surrounded by individuals of similar wavelength, intellectually open to philosophical discourse, sincerely convicted to their respective ideological stances, valiantly ready for sociopolitical action—I knew I was home.

What a glorious day this was. How privileged was I to have met people of my own kind. How honored was I to have been appointed leader of my very own circle of freethinkers.

I exited the café with a satisfied psyche and a sinister grin. Deep inside, I was delighted to see that there are still people like them. These people sacrifice their time and effort in the name of the ideals they are fighting for. I had a lot to do, and I knew I have to start right away.

Now I tread on forward with a greater shouldered responsibility. Anticipating undying support from my newfound comrades, I shall face our common adversaries—ignorance, fundamentalism, and intellectual suppression—all in the name of freethought.

It was getting dark.

The gleaming moonlight drizzled on my black coat like weightless droplets of hope. As I stared at the dimly lit sky of Taft Avenue, I had only one thought in mind, “Tomorrow will be a good day.

Posted in Personal, Stories15 Comments

It's *not* okay to be gay: A tale from a Catholic school

A few weeks ago, my sister was telling us about one of the more memorable presentations her class had in the Immaculate Conception Academy.

My sister is in high school, and for those of you who have never set foot in a Catholic school before, each school year includes a mandatory Christian Life Education (CLE) class or its equivalent, where students are taught the basics tenets of Catholic education.

Getting back on topic, sis narrated that one of the groups in class was asked to do a presentation on why homosexuality is wrong. To summarize the presentation’s points:

  • Homosexuality is a psychological problem.
  • Gays became that way because they experimented with what the media presents.
  • Gays shouldn’t be condemned for being what they are, as long as they don’t act upon it.
  • Gays should be pitied.
  • Homosexuality can be cured.
  • Gays only want to marry so they can have limes and lemons
  • Gay couples cannot be good parents
  • Marriage is only for straight couples
  • It’s not love unless it’s straight.

Granted there is plenty of data countering each of these points, but that’s not the reason I’m hunkered down in front of my laptop, and writing this short piece. My reason is simple: to illustrate the sort of “values formation” that a lot of these Catholic schools indoctrinate their students in.

It is an important point to raise, given that religious freedom is one of the more common arguments the Catholic Church uses against the Reproductive Health Bill.

That is, for their leaders, the RH Bill’s sex education program will teach people family planning methods not supported by their laws, namely contraceptive use. Practically any debate that starts up will begin with this argument from Pro-Lifers, who believe that anything contrary to the church’s teachings on sexuality is unacceptable, and is a breach of their right to teach.

And by extension, church leaders have also questioned the RH Bill with regard to how much authority it will leave with their own private schools. Recent discussions have gone in this direction, with Jesuits discussing the matter on whether Catholic schools should have the right to implement their own sex education curriculum, based on their religious beliefs.

The problem is, where does one draw the line on what Catholic schools – or schools owned by a religious institution for that matter – can teach their kids, when it’s become bleeding obvious that it’s become a platform for bigotry?

Values formation indeed.

On a parting note, I do leave with some good news. My sister also told me that virtually everybody in the class thought the presentation was bullshit, and hence didn’t believe it. Perhaps it’s worth noting that sis has also mentioned that their entire class admitted to being Gleek.

Kurt is awesome that way.

Posted in Humor, Personal, Religion82 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers General Meeting

Location: QC, Near Katipunan
Date: Saturday, April 2, 2011
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

RSVP on Facebook

Time to roll up our sleeves, Freethinkers!

This Saturday afternoon we hope to harness all the best of our creative energies toward shaping an organization of freethinkers, by freethinkers, and for freethinkers.

Thanks to all of you, we’ve gotten quite a lot done beyond our happy coffeeshop meetups in recent months and now looks like the time to pause and consider: how we can take the Filipino Freethinkers into the bright (secular, reason and science-based) future?

The Filipino Freethinkers General Meeting will be the basis for setting our organization’s agenda and laying down strategies for implementation. We’ll be setting up working groups to field, evaluate and execute all member’s suggestions.

There shall be nothing censored, and all contributions are to live and die in the assembled marketplace of ideas. Do you want WEEKLY meetups? A new chapter in Pampanga? Naked meetups? Weekly naked meetups in Pampanga?

Of course talk is cheap, so you’ll also get the chance to assign yourselves to actual work! Writing, audiovisual media editing, working the phones- hours and hours of unpaid volunteer toil in the name of promoting Philippine secularism await you!

In grand FF tradtion, let your ever eloquent and opinionated selves be heard, then get ready to set your hands down to some good old fashioned hard work!

Agenda:
1. Where we are now – Status, statistics, achievements
2. How we got here – History, challenges, milestones
3. Where we want to go – Reviewing and revising the vision and mission
4. How we’ll get there – Strategy and tactics, projects and activities
5. What we need to do now – Roles and responsibilities, forming and joining committees

If you have any proposals for the meeting, please leave a comment so that people could be prepared ahead of time to discuss your proposals.

Posted in Others3 Comments

District in England gives children Humanism education

While many Filipino children are still being deprived of sex education thanks to conservative Catholic doctrine, a district in England, which already provides the much needed sex education, plans to teach children that Catholic dogma — or any kind of doctrine — is optional:

Education bosses in Blackburn with Darwen, Lancashire, have radically restructured the RE syllabus to accommodate non-religious beliefs.

Youngsters will continue to learn about the six major faiths – Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism – but they will also be taught humanism, the belief that there is no God or Gods, and that moral values are founded on human nature and experience.

The move recognises that more than 10,000 people in the borough do not have any religious beliefs. Both primary and secondary school pupils will be included in the shake-up.

Fiona Moss, from RE Today, which helped create the new syllabus, said: ‘We really must recognise that some people do not believe in God and do not have a religious background.

Sex education and Humanism education — I wonder which of the two the CBCP would oppose more?

In Blackburn with Darwen, though, it seems that religious leaders think both are OK. Here’s a religious leader’s take on HumEd (Hey, I like the sound of that.):

Reverend Kevin Logan, a local journalist, author and religious community leader, said: ‘It is quite a change but it is completely right to recognise atheism and humanism.

And here’s one Blackburn with Darwen bishop’s take on a 2009 plan to make sex education mandatory for children as young as five:

The Bishop of Burnley John Goddard said: “I would like to see parents informing their children but it is essential for this to happen in school if people feel unable to do this.”

It seems that in Blackburn with Darwen even bishops are in touch with reality. Although we have rational religious leaders of our own, it’s too bad it’s the idiots our government chooses to listen to.

Posted in Religion, Society3 Comments

Toughest Place to Be

Meet Mang Rogelio


He’s your typical pinoy living in the streets of Manila, one among 94 million other residents of this country of ours. He drives his trusty jeepney everyday to support his family of 8. Still happily married all these years, he’s also a grandfather whose kids now have kids of their own… and they all live in the house he built with his own two hands.

 

But this story isn’t just about Mang Rogelio. Half a world away, Josh also makes a living driving people around the city. He’s a bus driver working the streets of London. Josh also comes from a large, close-knit, god-fearing family.

 

Two different people, two different lives in two different parts of the world… but having the same job and same family background. Yet for all the similarities their lives may have, these two people are about to realize just how different a hand fate has dealt them. By a simple accident of birth, one was fortunate enough to have been born in a first world country while the other lives here.

Josh has agreed to live a week in the shoes of Mang Rogelio and the BBC film crew was there to document all the tears, trials, and tribulations each person faced when their worlds collided. It’s not your typical reality-TV show where they take clueless idiots out of their comfort zone and wait for them to make fools of themselves. Josh and Mang Rogelio are genuinely nice guys who try to make the most of what life throws at them. But in the process of their own personal discoveries, they also allowed people a continent away a glimpse of life in Metro Manila as it is being lived by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos everyday. This is life as seen through the eyes of one who lived through it all… the hardships, the love, the camaraderie, and everything in between.

As Josh lands in Manila, “one of the most densely populated cities in the world”, as the program narrator describes, he gets a sobering look at life in Manila’s urban jungle. He meets his congenial host Mang Rogelio for the first time and gamely tours the 10′ x 10′ house Mang Rogelio built himself to house his family of 8. Filipinos will be happy to note that for a jeepney driver, Mang Rogelio has an impressive command of the King’s speech and has no problems conversing with the very British Josh without the aid of a translator.

He meets Mang Rogelio’s neighbor Elsie, who lives in a house half the size Mang Rogelio’s, yet still manages to fit all 13 of her children. She says she had her first child at age 14 and has had another one every year thereafter. She admits that she doesn’t know anything about family planning. Even now, she’s pregnant and is asking for Mang Rogelio’s help to take her to the hospital. Being the good, reliable neighbor that he is, Mang Rogelio opts to take the day off to help his sick neighbor. They reach the largest maternity clinic in the metro where things look even grimmer.

The facility has gone way beyond overloaded and has long past reached breaking point. Because of the lack of beds, 4 mothers have to share one bed among themselves. They talk to the resident doctor who explains the situation to the evidently disturbed Josh.

In the Philippines, there is strong cultural opposition to contraception, from one of the biggest influence in the country, the Catholic church,” the doctor explains.

Children are a gift from God,” he goes on, “they are a resource for you, source of help for you in your livelihood.” Which leads one to wonder if the proper way to treat “gifts from God” is to make them beg on the streets… or worse. Is this all children are to over-population deniers? Cheap, if not free, child labor?

Mang Rogelio, being more sensible and pragmatic than his neighbor Elsie, stopped at 3 kids. “I know it’s a sin against the church but rather than having a lot of kids that will die of hunger, I chose to go ahead with contraceptives,” his wife admits.

But Josh’s odyssey is far from over. He travels to Tondo, “one of the most densely populated areas on earth“, the program narrator says, with over 90,000 residents per sq.km. This is where hope is bleakest, living conditions in its most dire. Here, you have to do whatever it takes to get by.

 

He gets his first look at pag-pag… literally garbage that has been thrown away but scavenged and re-cooked for human consumption. The shock value is palpable. If this is the first time you’ve known about conditions like these, your mind will be sent reeling at the depths of depravity one would stoop in order to survive.

This is the depth of poverty Manila has to offer… poverty that will be experienced by a hundred more newborn babies each day. Who’s to say is to blame? Society? The government? Their parents?  Sometimes, it’s easier to finger-point than to start working on practical and sustainable solutions.

Should one ask the question “Am I my brother’s keeper”? But we know that charity is rarely a practical long-term solution. The better choice would be to teach a man to fish. But how can one go out to “fish” when he already has 12 mouths to feed at home? It’s already a full-time job taking care of a dozen babies,  so how can one even find the time to actually earn a living? If you can afford to hire a nanny or a private tutor for your kids then well and good, but if not, what then? Will the thousand or so churches in the country open their doors and provide day-care support for all their faithful followers, gratis? Will Pro-Life? When one preaches about the “dignity” of human life, one should consider the fate of the baby even after it’s out of the womb.

Clearly, if we treat only the symptoms and not the root cause, then we won’t get very far. We’ll just be wasting donor or taxpayer’s money handing dole-outs forever. We have to get to the root cause of the issue, which is unplanned pregnancy. No matter how much rhetoric people spout about how government corruption is the root of poverty or the lack of education or opportunities, the plain and simple truth is that even if we fix all that, you still can’t go and earn a living when you’ve already got your hands full with more babies than you can handle.

We need to assist and educate the next generation of Filipinos to become responsible parents, to straighten out their own lives before they even think of bringing new one into the world.

But the fact is, children living in the slums are exposed to sex at a very young age. With hundreds of thousands of people all living under such crammed conditions, privacy is a luxury few can afford. It would be impossible to not witness someone having sex behind a cardboard partition or flimsy blanket even before reaching puberty.

In a news article published in the Inquirer, it stated that the “latest data from the National Statistics Office showed that of 1.7 million babies born in 2004, almost 8 percent were born to mothers aged 15-19. Almost 30 percent of Filipino women become mothers before reaching their 21st birthday.”

Not yet finished with school and already a mother. How then can people still claim that proper sex education as taught in schools is obscene? Isn’t it more obscene to leave children ignorant about their bodies only to find themselves pregnant at age 15? It’s high time for the bishops to get down from their ivory towers and see how life really works in the areas most in need of family planning and sex education.

All the tools for this to work are already there in the RH Bill but there is still vocal opposition against it. Their rationales are off the mark, citing irrelevant, and often times inaccurate basis for their objections. But when it comes down to it, actual lives are at stake here. While anti-RH groups are rallying to save the lives of imaginary babies threatened by condom usage, meanwhile real babies are dying everyday brought about by poor living conditions and parents who are hardly equipped nor prepared for the challenges of parenthood.

The sad fate of our country’s Reproductive Health policies are already being talked about all over the world in different forms of media. The sick man of Asia, now with a dozen crying babies in tow… While people in other countries just shake their head in disbelief, we here are unfortunate enough to live it first-hand.  What do foreigners visiting the Philippines see the most when they walk the streets of Manila? Child beggars. They swarm around any foreigner naive enough to hand out a few coins to a begging street urchin. Before you can blink, there are a dozen more of his friends with palms outstretched, hoping to receive the same. Dig a little deeper and you come across a darker side to the dangers faced by these street children. The Philippines is widely known in shadier circles to be one of the world’s capital in child prostitution and pedophilia. Not convinced?

Take a look at Google’s backroom for a few worrying statistics:

 

Now, we can continue to ignore the reality of all these dangers faced by children born of parents who cannot provide a safe, nurturing home for them, continue blaming government corruption for the problem of poverty, or maybe… just maybe… we can help empower all these would-be parents to take control of their lives… postpone having children until they’ve earned enough to provide a good environment for their children to grow up in. Then maybe we can finally see  a future where a thriving population becomes blessing instead of burden to this country.

——————

 

 

For more information on the program cited above, visit the BBC’s program profile at:

BBC – Toughest Place to Be

Posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Society2 Comments

UNHRC: Freedom of expression trumps protection of religions

The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) has dropped its attempts to ban defamation of religions, allowing the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to pass a resolution that prioritizes freedom of expression over prevention of blasphemy. (Or as we call it here, hurting religious feelings.)

Here’s how the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) summarized the resolution:

In place of the divisive “combating defamation of religions” resolution, today the UN Human Rights Council adopted a consensus resolution on “combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief.” The resolution properly focuses on protecting individuals from discrimination or violence, instead of protecting religions from criticism. The resolution protects the adherents of all religions or beliefs, instead of focusing on one religion. Unlike the defamation of religions resolution, the new consensus resolution does not call for legal restrictions on peaceful expression, but rather, for positive measures, such as education and awareness-building, to address intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on religion or belief.

For more than a decade, the OIC has been trying to influence governments into adopting resolutions that would lead to blasphemy laws. In 2010, they proposed a resolution entitled “Combating defamation of religions.” The UNHRC passed the resolution, but it was a close call. 20 voted in favor, 17 voted against, 8 abstained, and 2 were absent.

This was an improvement over the results of similar debates from previous years, but it wasn’t enough. The 2010 resolution influenced Pakistan to implement a blasphemy law that fostered bigotry, intolerance, and violence among its citizens. And early this year, it cost two men their lives.

Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Batti died fighting for religious freedom and freedom of expression. But their deaths were not in vain. The religious fanaticism shown by their murderers and those who thought this violence was justified served as a warning to the members of this year’s UNHRC. These murders, together with the division caused by heated debates on the issue from previous years, led the council to unanimously pass a resolution affirming human rights, calling for “a global dialogue for the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels, based on respect for human rights and diversity of religions and beliefs.”

The UNHRC has finally realized that individuals, not ideals, are worthy of respect and protection. I hope that Pakistan and the other members of the OIC follow suit and eliminate all blasphemy laws for good.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society4 Comments

Earth Hour 2011: "Shocking" Facts and Figures

This coming weekend marks the annual Earth Hour awareness campaign. It’s that time of the year again when we’re reminded of the growing toll our energy expenditure takes on the planet. But energy conservation isn’t just for tree-hugging environmentalists and people who just want to jump in the conservation bandwagon because it’s the “in” thing. Far from it, energy conservation should be on every Filipino’s minds because it not only impacts our planet, but our wallets as well.

As everyone should be aware by now, the Philippines has the dubious honor of having one of the most exorbitant utility rates in the world. Blame it on the monopoly, the inefficient power generation and distribution system, or the rampant energy theft… but in the end, we just have to grin and bear it.

So what’s poor Juan to do? Solar power? pedal-powered generators? Nothing quite so dramatic. Just a few simple changes in the way we use our appliances can make all the difference.

What was that? You thought Earth Day was just about shutting down the lights for a few minutes? That’s just to get your attention, my friend. If that’s all you did for Earth Day, then the real message didn’t get through to you. So time to make a few changes in your household and be a pal for Mother Earth? But what’s in it for you? Besides doing your part in reducing your carbon footprint, you can save a whole lot in your monthly electricity bill as well, making your wallet very happy. So its a win-win situation for everyone. So let’s get cracking…


For a while now, we’ve been conducting energy awareness campaigns in our local neighborhood, and offices around the area. A lot of people today are still woefully unaware just how much their appliances are costing them. We use a digital watt-meter capable of measuring the actual wattage of real-world appliances in actual use to get the most accurate picture of the energy expenditure each electrical device in your house actually costs to run. This way, we don’t rely on the labels and brochures that sometimes show misleading figures when it comes to actual electrical consumption. Another problem we point out is the issue of vampire-drain: appliances that continue to suck electricity in standby mode even when you think it’s already off. You’d be surprised at how some of your appliances draw as much power as an open light when you think you already shut it down.

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Tech Talk

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First off, let’s talk about computers. Is your current system a good fit for what you use it for?  If all you do is word-processing or surf the net, you’re better off with a laptop or netbook.

Computers

Low-end netbook – 15 watts

Mid-range laptop – 30 watts

Low-end desktop (no videocard) – 40 watts

Mid-range desktop (2-core, cheap videocard) – 150-200 watts

High-end desktop (4-core, premium videocard) – 150-400 watts

The good news is, most computers nowadays are capable of automatically adjusting their energy consumption according to actual usage, that is, it powers down if you’re just typing a report and cranks up the juice only when you’re doing something graphics-intensive like playing a game or watching an HD movie (thus the range I indicated in the mid-to-high end systems). But still, there is a minimum overhead and it’s still highly inefficient to use your souped-up high-end system just to surf the web as it still uses 5 times more power than a regular laptop at its lowest operational mode.

Screens

CRT monitor – 40 watts

LED monitor – 15 watts

If you’re still using a CRT monitor, you might want to replace it with an LED version. If you use your computer the whole day, the energy savings you get by using an LED monitor will eventually add up and pay for itself.

Other things to watch out for:

Desktop PC (turned off but still plugged) – 3 watts

Desktop speakers (turned on but no sound) – 10 watts


Do unplug your computer and speakers after use. They drain power even when idle. If you’re using a laptop and it’s always in one place, consider taking out the battery pack altogether and run it straight from the plug. The constant battery charging also wastes a lot of power. Current battery technology is still highly inefficient. It slowly loses its charge when not in use, and the power used to charge it compared to the actual power you can later squeeze out of it still leaves a lot to be desired. Watch out for gadgets that have a power-brick or AC-DC transformer. Those things continue to drain minimal power from the tap even if the equipment’s off. If you feel the brick with your hands, it’s warm to the touch even though you’ve turned off the power. Better to unplug those or use a multi-adapter that has its own power switch.

Entertainment:

CRT TV (14″) – 60 watts

LCD TV (14″) – 15 watts

CRT TV (32″) – 110 watts

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Other things to watch out for:

CRT TV (standby) – 7 watts

LCD TV (standby) – 2 watts

Cable digibox (standby) – 6 watts


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Some Like it Hot, Some Like it Cold…

Cooling:

Electric fan – 50-60 watts

Ref (small) – 120 watts

Aircon (small) – 800 watts

Heating:

Coffee maker – 800 watts

Toaster – 1000 watts

Iron – 1200 watts

Here we see that the big-ticket items when it comes to energy expenditure are heating and cooling. This is where you’d want to concentrate on if you want to see big savings in your next electricity bill. You might want to pass on using the water heater for the shower during summer and leaving the air conditioner on the whole night during the cooler months. Cooking using LPG instead of electrical appliances will also net you big savings.

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Energy-saving Gimmicks

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What about those energy-saving gadgets you see in the mall? Do they really work?

We bought one of those power-savers and tested it out at home. Since it’s a capacitor array and is supposed to work best for appliances with a motor or compressor, we tried it out on just those appliances. The digital read-out of our before-and-after comparison shows a whopping savings of 1 watt on the 60 watt electric fan we tried it on. A far cry from the 30-40% energy savings being advertised but at least it actually works… kinda. The thing is, the engineers who designed most of our appliances already tweaked them to work as efficiently as possible. If all it takes to boost its efficiency by 40% is to add a few more capacitors, don’t you think the manufacturers would have thought of it by now? I have no idea what kind of clunky motor they use in the store demos but it sure as hell ain’t the ones you’d buy for your home. Sure, you could probably see a bit more dramatic results if you’re using it on an old antique appliance from the 1980’s… but don’t you think its better to just upgrade to a newer, more efficient model rather than buying a gadget that costs more than a thousand bucks on its own?

What about those new Inverter-type air-conditioners? Those are the real deal. They do work 20-30% more efficiently than their regular counterparts. If your office or home is air-conditioned most of the day and you can install a split-type unit without any major reconstruction, go for it. It’s a bit more expensive but the price difference will pay for itself given our horrendous local electricity rates.

Now these are just a few tips on how to reduce your monthly bills, you could probably find a bit more useful tips if you scour the Net. A little bit of know-how goes a long way in the road to energy conservation. So if you have your own bits of good advice you’d like to share, do post a comment and let other people know how they can save both the environment and their hard-earned cash.

Posted in Society9 Comments

Fudging Numbers

Fudging Numbers

Anti-RH groups will hold what they call the “grandmother of all rallies” against the RH bill. I hope the attendance numbers will not be fudged again just to promote their cause.

Fudged again? Here’s a chronicle of the numbers game that took place for a similar show-of-force attempt last month (all underscoring supplied):

2/11/2011 – press release by Human Life International, 100,000

On Sunday, February 13, 100,000 pro-life activists will march through Manila in opposition to a so-called “Responsible Parenthood” bill that has been repackaged to appeal to the pro-life majority of Filipinos.

2/12/2011 – news report on an anti-RH rally in Cebu, 1 million

… Dr. Rene Josef Bullecer, Human Life International director, said the bill, which is being readied for deliberations, is the same as the previously filed proposals that aimed to make way for abortion and other ways that hamper human life. … On Sunday, around one million people are expected to attend a rally against the RH bill in Manila.

2/13/2011 – website post by YouthPinoy, an anti-RH Catholic youth alliance, 5,000

Of the estimated 5,000 people at this pro-life rally mainly organized by Pro-Life Philippines and the CBCP Commission on Family and Life, there are several thousands of young people who have chosen to spend their Sunday protesting against the highly-controversial RH Bill or the Responsible Parenthood Bill.

2/14/2011 – news report by Malaya, 5,000

Organizers said the rally which was participated in by some 5,000 would be the first in a “show of force” events.

2/14/2011 – news report by CBCP News, 10,000

“We stand with you for life,” said Lanao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Fatima Aliah Dimaporo, a Muslim, told the around 10,000 protesters.

2/15/2011 – news report by PNA, 5,000

“We stand with you for life,” said Lanao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Fatima Aliah Dimaporo, a Muslim, told some 5,000 protesters who joined the rally at the PICC complex.

2/18/2011 – news report by LifeSiteNews.com, over 50,000

Over 50,000 pro-life Filipinos gathered in opposition to the so-called reproductive health (RH) bill last Sunday at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

Anti-RH groups predicted two attendance figures: 100,000 and 1 million. Then they reported three figures for actual attendance: 5,000, 10,000 and over 50,000. Two news sources gave the same attendance estimate: 5,000.

Who’s telling the truth? I think you can figure that out for yourself. (Kudos to YouthPinoy!)


Posted in Society14 Comments

Know your Pro-Life rhetoric: Shotgun Marriages

For those not familiar with the term, a shotgun marriage is another term for forced marriages (though not necessarily under the business end of a gun). The term originated in the United States, and is used to describe marriages that are enacted not out of love, but due to an accidental pregnancy.

Regardless, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that shotgun marriages are not an ideal model for what a proper modern marriage should be like, where couples today are often united under a mutual declaration of love (Sue me – I’m a romantic).

But you’re probably asking: What am I doing talking about shotgun marriages, and what do they have to do with the matter of the Reproductive Health Bill? The Anti-RH side of the discussions have shown continually that they are more than willing to distort otherwise credible research, just so they can parade its data around as ammunition for their screeds. In today’s example, I’ll be tackling one of their more common statements used against RH, which goes something like this:

Wide contraceptive use leads to more premarital sex, more fatherless children, more single mothers, more poverty, more abortions; and also a decline of marriage, less domesticated men, more crimes, more social pathology and poverty, according to the studies of Nobel prize winner, George Akerlof. Many other studies reached the same conclusion.

At first glance, it sounds like a solid case. You’ve got a Nobel Prize Winner who appears to back up the Pro-Lifer’s claims that contraceptive use will lead to the destruction of the concept of the family, leading to general moral decay in society.

Or does it?

The study under discussion in this case is titled “An Analysis on Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States,” and a copy of its abstract can be found here.

This paper relates the erosion of the custom of shotgun marriage to the legalization of abortion and the increased availability of contraception to unmarried women in the United States. The decline in shotgun marriage accounts for a significant fraction of the increase in out-of-wedlock first births. Several models illustrate the analogy between women who do not adopt either birth control or abortion and the hand-loom weavers, both victims of changing technology. Mechanisms causing female immiseration are modeled and historically described. This technology-shock hypothesis is an alternative to welfare and job-shortage theories of the feminization of poverty. Copyright 1996, the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Nowhere does the abstract say anything about “moral decay” in the family. What the abstract does say, however, is that there is a close link between the decrease of forced marriages with the prevalence of legal abortions and modern birth control.

On the matter of out-of-wedlock first births, Akerlof himself has stated in a separate article that this trend may be more of a case of the decreasing stigma against single mothers.

Before 1970, the stigma of unwed motherhood was so great that most women would only engage in sexual activity if it came with a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy. Men were willing to make (and keep) that promise, for they knew that even if they left one woman, they would be unlikely to find another who would not make the same demand. In the 1970s, women who were willing to get an abortion, or who used contraception reliably, no longer found it necessary to condition sexual relations on a promise of marriage in the event of pregnancy. But women who found abortion unacceptable, or who were unreliable in their contraceptive use, found themselves pressured to participate in premarital sexual relations as well. These women feared, correctly, that if they refused sexual relations, they would risk losing their partners.

To be fair to the Pro-Lifers though, the prevalence of contraceptives did lead to an increase in the incidence of incidences of single-parent births and abortions; Akerlof coined the event as “Reproductive Technology Shock.”

But instead of going off on the Pro-Life rant about this being evidence of the decay of family values in the United States, Akerlof’s analysis indicates that the trend is going in the direction of women empowerment – women of the time realized that they did not need to be dependent on a partner to be survive, and were given the opportunity to have kids on their terms, as opposed to being forced to submit to the whims of their spouse.

But getting back on topic, while Akerlof cited that the increased access to birth control contributed to the increase of unmarried (Note: NOT unwanted) births and abortions, enacting restrictions on women at this point of time – as most Pro-Lifers have asserted time and time again – are counterproductive. Quoting Akerlof’s exact statement:

What should be done? Even if possible, attempts to turn back the technological clock by restricting abortion and contraception would now be counterproductive. Besides denying reproductive freedom to women, such efforts would increase the number of children born and reared in impoverished single-parent families. Most children born out of wedlock are reported by their mothers to have been “wanted,” but “not at that time.” Some are reported as not having been wanted at all. Easier access to birth-control information and devices and to abortion could reduce the number of unwanted children and improve the timing of those whose mothers would have preferred to wait.

Straight from the horse’s mouth.

It is because of cases like this, where an uncscrupulous opponent of reproductive health resorts to misrepresenting the statements of an otherwise credible researcher to hoodwink people who don’t know any better, that we have to remember to be vigilant in our efforts. This is not the first time I’ve caught them lying through their teeth, and it certainly won’t be the last.

And from this same case, we can also see the Pro-Life side’s poorly veiled misogyny, and their contempt for family concept outside that of their ideal. Back in 2009, The Philippines Government had signed the Magna Carta for women into law.

Among other tenets, this Magna Carta secured several rights for pregnant women, one being their right not to be expelled due to their condition:

Expulsion and non-readmission of women faculty due to pregnancy outside of marriage shall be outlawed. No primary or secondary school shall turn out or refuse admission to a female student solely on account of her having contracted pregnancy outside of marriage during her term in school

The CBCP, being the organization that it is, howled in protest over the new law, saying that the it was an invasive of the religious freedom of Catholic schools, which made pregnancy a punishable offense.

Women’s welfare and empowerment seen as a threat to male authority. Gnashing of teeth for perceived enroachment of “religious rights.” Demonization of single parents as being less than the ideal.

Sound familiar?

Posted in Others, Politics, Religion, Society1 Comment

Disturbing the Peace (In Ayala Alabang)

My name is Jay Ignacio, an atheist who used to be a recording artist with Sony Music back in 1996. I am a founding member of the Silly People’s Improv Theatre (SPIT). I worked for Cheche Lazaro’s Probe Productions, Inc. back in 1997; taught Recording Technology and Sound Design at College of Saint Benilde; worked as Executive Chef for Chef Cuisine Catering Company, in charge of their Italian menus. Now I am venturing in to documentary film making, and my first project is called “The Bladed Hand: A Documentary On The Global Impact Of The Filipino Martial Arts”.

I am in the final editing stage of this docu which I plan to premiere in Manila by July this year, but I was sidetracked by recent events in my neighborhood. I spent 8 years in Southridge, from Grade 4 to 4th Year High School and am no big fan of Opus Dei and the Catholic Church.

I’d like to share with you two videos I made pertaining to the now infamous Ordinance #1-2011 that our Baranggay Most Holy have decided to come up with, and I hope the rest of the country does not follow in the footsteps of these oh-so-saintly Council Members who have violated the law in the name of Religion.

Enjoy!

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science, Society6 Comments

Taxes for RH: Public Funding for a Public Good

Taxes for RH: Public Funding for a Public Good

Imagine if advocates of laissez-faire capitalism say to Congress, “Our taxes pay for government agencies that regulate our businesses and impose labor standards. But we are fundamentally opposed to such regulations and labor standards! Forcing us to pay is unjust and oppressive.” Should Congress cave in and eliminate these tax-funded measures that anger preachers of laissez-faire and objectivism? I think majority will say no. Most people want the goals of regulations and standards—like safe products, honest services and decent pay for employees and workers—and view them as established rights that must be protected.

Preachers of Catholic fundamentalism say something eerily similar about reproductive health (RH): “Our taxes will pay for artificial contraception. But we are fundamentally opposed to such services! Forcing us to pay is unjust and oppressive.” Should Congress heed this argument?

Public acceptability

It is true that Humanae Vitae forbids Catholics to use artificial contraception. But majority of Filipino Catholics do not believe or follow this papal encyclical. According to a 2010 SWS survey[1], 69% of Catholics favor access to all legal means of family planning in government health facilities. The 2008 NDHS[2] survey of 13,594 women—80% of whom are Catholics—shows that some 60% of currently married women had “ever used” a modern family planning method disapproved by Vatican. Another 38% had tried withdrawal[3], a traditional method similarly banned by Vatican. In addition to Catholics who do not follow Humanae Vitae, other Filipinos have religions or norms that view artificial contraception as moral, and government will violate their freedom of religion and thought if such methods are singled out and excluded from public health services.

Thankfully, Catholic voices of reason and moderation are also being heard. Among them is Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Dean Emeritus of Ateneo Law School, who wrote the following in his blog:

The official Catholic teaching is that artificial contraception is immoral. Other religions believe in good faith otherwise. Seeking to impose Catholic belief and practices on non-Catholics and others violates freedom of religion. Freedom of religion does not merely mean freedom to believe. It also means freedom to act or not to act according to one’s belief.

Religious objections

Using taxes for purposes that some people oppose on religious grounds is neither new nor unique to RH. Both Muslim and Jewish communities forbid drugs derived from pigs, yet example products like heparin (a drug for preventing blood clots) and MMR (measles, mumps & rubella) vaccines are in the Philippines’ core list of essential medicines, available in public health facilities and reimbursable through PhilHealth. Members of the Jehova’s Witness oppose medical blood products, yet we spend taxes for blood transfusion and organ transplant services. To manage these religious objections, individuals are simply allowed to refuse drugs and treatment and seek out alternatives.

Catholic bishops oppose the mere reading of Jose Rizals’ two novels, as expressed in the following statement they issued in 1956:

… [Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo] have included such substantial defects in their religious aspect as to render them objectionable reading in such sense that only with due permission obtained from ecclesiastical authority may these books be read by Catholics.  This permission, however, is readily granted for a justifiable reason, whenever the person concerned has sufficient knowledge of the Catholic doctrine in question.

Despite the bishops’ opposition, we spend taxes teaching Rizal’s novels in public schools as mandated by Republic Act No. 1425.

Cost effectivity

Finally, some people fear the tax burden of RH, especially the cost of supporting contraception. The fear is unfounded. Local and international studies by the Guttmacher Institute show that voluntary contraception will reduce total health costs by lowering the maternal and newborn care spending that come with unintended pregnancies.

In the Philippines, providing modern contraception to all women who need them[4] would increase the total public and private spending from P1.9 billion to P4.0 billion[5]. However, the increase would be offset by contraception’s impact on health spending for unintended pregnancies, which would fall from P3.5 billion to P0.6 billion. In sum: family planning costs would rise by P2.1 billion; medical costs for unintended pregnancies would fall by P2.9 billion; a net savings of P0.8 billion would be realized.

The details of the estimate are available online, but the following scenario may help explain the projected savings in public health. A woman belonging to the poorest 20% of families would, on the average, plan for three children but end up with five. If she has been enrolled in PhilHealth as required by regulations, the state health insurance agency would have to spend P6,500 for each normal childbirth; around P17,800 for each caesarean delivery; and P1,000 for each infant given a newborn care package. Two unplanned births would therefore cost P15,000 to P37,600. Around half would be paid for by PhilHealth[6] and the rest shouldered by the woman or, if not yet depleted, by the public hospital’s funds for indigent patients. In comparison, PhilHealth spends only P4,000 for each tubal ligation or vasectomy, and less than P500 for a copper-IUD that could last for up to 10 years.

Public goods deserve public funding. Reproductive health is a public good with a wide range of benefits. It is understood and supported by most people. For the minority with objections on religious or other grounds, the freedom to use or not use such services should suffice. And on top of all these, RH services saves money. What more can anyone ask for?

————————–

[1] Social Weather Station

[2] National Demographic and Health Survey

[3] Some “ever users” of artificial contraception had also used withdrawal, so the two percentages cannot be added.

[4] Specifically “women who are at risk for unintended pregnancy”: married or unmarried and sexually active (within the past three months), are able to become pregnant, and do not want any more children or do not want a child in the next two years.

[5] Some people will not use any modern method of family planning for various reasons, so this scenario represents the highest possible level of use. The Guttmacher study calculated costs for other scenarios. In addition, the largest share of health spending—some 54%—come from private, out-of-pocket sources, according to the latest government figures. All of these factors will peg the cost to the public sector at a figure lower than P4.0 billion.

[6] Which currently has a benefit ceiling of 4 live births

Posted in Religion, Society6 Comments

March 26 (Saturday) De La Salle University Meetup

Location: Coffee Bean, University Mall (Google map)
Date: Saturday, March 26, 2011
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

RSVP on Facebook

We’re going roaming! This week’s meetup will be held near De La Salle University’s main campus for students interested in establishing a Filipino Freethinkers chapter in DLSU or just anyone curious about what happens in meetups. It’s an interesting week as the RH Bill finally goes into debates in the House of Representatives as well as being “A” Week. Non DLSU students are more than welcome to join us!

Discussion Topics
– RH Bill / Ayala Alabang Ordinance Updates
– Should age-appropriate sex education be mandatory?
– “A” Week
– Science Literacy in the Philippines

After the meetup we usually go for dinner and beer drinking. We don’t know where the post meetup will be but we’ll see where Taft takes us. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you.

* Newbies are welcome.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen.
* You don’t have to buy anything from Coffee Bean.

Posted in Meetup0 Comments

I stand for women and oppose Ayala Alabang Barangay Ordinance 01-2011

designed by Julian Rodriguez

I come from a devout Catholic family and studied in a grade and high school that was non-sectarian (secular) but run by Opus Dei, a conservative organization in the Catholic Church. In my freshman year in high school I was taught sex education for a few weeks during Health class. The sex ed portion was eventually scrapped because of some complaints from parents.

My whole family staunchly opposes the Reproductive Health bill and wholeheartedly supports the ordinance. My mom and I both attended the public hearing last Saturday, but she was on the pro side — I was on the anti side. I’m pretty much the only one in my family that is for the RH bill and against the ordinance — and yes, it can get quite lonely.

In light of last Saturday’s public hearing on Barangay Ayala Alabang Ordinance 01-2011, I would like to share with you this letter I mailed to the barangay chairman on how the ordinance is anti-woman and supports a culture of reproductive oppression. This letter was supposed to be my 5-minute speech but the format of the hearing was changed and I could not deliver it.

***
21 March 2011

CHAIRMAN ALFRED XEREZ-BURGOS
Barangay Ayala Alabang
Narra St, Ayala Alabang Village

Dear Mr. Xerez-Burgos,

Many women may feel the same way I do about Barangay Ayala Alabang Ordinance 01-2011 and some of them cannot speak for themselves because they are scared of how society will brand them. I am writing this letter on behalf of these women and oppose Barangay Ayala Alabang Ordinance 01-2011.

For my entire life, I have been blessed to live in a country where I can receive a university education, choose a career, and participate in elections. I can wear whatever I want and I am not required to cover myself head to toe in cloth. Arranged marriages are a thing of the past – I can actually choose my own husband and I can marry when I please. I have been so privileged compared to my female ancestors, but one thing that has not changed is that I still live in a culture of reproductive oppression.

I believe this ordinance will continue to uphold this culture of reproductive oppression instead of eradicate it. By censoring the sex education I and other residents in this village would like to receive, I will be deprived of my right to learn about my sexual rights. The first time I heard about sex was in 5th grade, in a conversation with classmates. The school I attended for my elementary and high school education forbade sex education to be taught. My mother did eventually tell me about sex, but again, it was very limited. I have learned about the process of conception but I have yet to arm myself with the right information to protect myself from sexually transmitted infections, defend myself from unwanted sex and sexual harassment, or avoid pregnancies. When this ordinance is passed, it will become illegal for me to learn about birth control – other than natural means – in the confines of this barangay. I will continue to be a victim of dishonest sex education.

In this day and age, I believe it is my right to plan my pregnancies in the way that I choose, through both natural and artificial means. Yes, I included artificial birth control because I do not share the same sentiments you have. I believe that women deserve to be in control of their bodies and to exercise their own conscientious choices when it comes to reproductive health care. We have the right to all the information we need to make decisions about sex. This barangay institution, which is meant to safeguard and provide care for its residents, will systematically block women from being fully informed.

Mr. Xerez-Burgos, what offends me the most about this ordinance is that it aims to damage my reputation when I go to the drugstore to purchase birth control and a logbook has to be filled out with my private information that is nobody’s business and certainly not the barangay’s business. I will be labeled as an abortion practitioner if I use FDA-approved non-abortive contraceptives. Is this the 17th century where my information in this logbook will essentially become a scarlet letter, a badge of shame that will be pinned on my person? And because most artificial contraceptives were created to be used by women such as birth control pills and intra-uterine devices, the reputation of all women who choose to use artificial birth control will be in danger.

This ordinance upholds a culture of reproductive oppression against anyone who can get pregnant: women. This oppression is unfortunately scarily invisible, even to us who experience it, because it continues to be normalized and institutionalized. Being raised a devout Catholic without any reliable or scientifically accurate information about birth control or sex, thereby risking my health and the health of my future children, is a form of oppression. Needing a prescription to purchase a condom, is oppression. Having my decision to use artificial birth control judged as abortion is oppression. Being treated with hostility and shame for using artificial birth control is oppression. Not being able to get proper sex education from the barangay is oppression.

I oppose this ordinance because I believe the lives of women matter.

I oppose this ordinance because women should have the right to decide when and if they get pregnant, give birth, and raise children – not the barangay, nor the Church.

I oppose this ordinance because I believe that the right to control your own reproduction is a fundamental right and is protected under the Constitution and basic human rights ideals. I believe that the fundamental right includes the right to prevent pregnancy and the right to get pregnant, whether through natural or artificial means.

I oppose this ordinance because I do not believe that anyone should be legally compelled to expose their sex lives to the public.

I oppose this ordinance because I realize that my rights to birth control, to have children, and to make my own decisions hinge on my basic ability to decide when and if I reproduce.

I oppose this ordinance because I do not believe that people should be criminalized for exercising reproductive freedom and freedom of speech.

I oppose this ordinance because I am a woman and women deserve better.

Mr. Xerez-Burgos, thank you in anticipation of your kind consideration and I look forward to your reply*.

Best,
Marie Gonzalez

[*} Republic Act 9485 (2007), also known as the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007, mandates that public officials must respond to letters of citizens within 5-10 days from receipt with a report on the action taken on the matter. This is to promote integrity, accountability, proper management of public affairs and public property.

The image used for this article was printed on shirts anti-Ordinance advocates wore at the public hearing. It was created by Julian Rodriguez.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society24 Comments

Aljazeera features RH debates in the Philippines — again

Less than 2 years ago, Aljazeera did a feature on the RH debates in the Philippines:

In their most recent episode, Aljazeera’s 101 East featured the same topic:

The second video features more of the same from the anti-choicers, and insightful interviews and arguments from the pro-RH side. Yet although I’m happy that the RH Bill is getting more coverage, I’m disappointed that Aljazeera’s first report — let alone the second — was even necessary. The RH Bill has been delayed for 16 years, and whatever new details new reports may bring, the fact remains that it still has not passed.

But I believe this time it’s different. In the first report, Aljazeera said that “debate over the controversial bill is now threatening to turn into a major battle between church and state.” The battle has already begun. In the second report, Aljazeera asks the right question: Is the Catholic Church affecting the nation’s health?

RH advocates — at least those that I’m working with — answer “yes.” We know that the Catholic Church hierarchy, the CBCP, is the biggest hindrance in the passage of the RH Bill. And now more than ever we’re willing to do something about it.

As I told Aljazeera (in the second video), “the tide has shifted. The Church is becoming very defensive. And it’s a sign that true separation of church and state is at hand.”

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society10 Comments

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