Archive | May, 2011

Reproductive Health Bill Revisited

If I remember it right, it’s been already a decade of almost nonstop controversy regarding the reproductive health and contraceptives issue. The earliest that I could remember was how Mayor Lito Atienza came under fire for banning Manila public clinics from distributing free contraceptives and teaching any other methods of contraception other than natural family planning, which is the only “contraception” method espoused by his religion. Human Rights Watch HIV program research, Jonathan Cohen, even went far in saying that “the Philippines is courting an AIDS epidemic with its anti-condom approach…the casualties will be millions of people who cannot protect themselves from HIV infection“. Lito Atienza and his wife may have had pro-life projects that truly helped impoverished women, especially those who suffered from post-abortion trauma, but still, their anti-contraceptiion stance is immovable.

And such stance has pervaded, unfortunately, some of the country’s lawmakers. For this reason, the fate of the Reproductive Health Bill, hangs in a balance.

And unfortunately, the anti-RH force is moving heaven and earth just so that this bill will not be passed.

But what is it in the Reproductive Health Bill that has enraged the Catholic clergy?

I have actually written about this particular subject several years ago (see “What the RCC hates in the RH act“). But, since this bill has gone some revisions, we shall try to review it again, during the course of which I’ll try to dismantle the misinformation being propagated by the so-called “pro-lifers” (who have more than successfully hijacked the term just so to gain unfair advantage over their opponents).

The elements of reproductive health care that are being espoused by the bill are as follows:

    family planning information and services;
    maternal, infant and child health and nutrition, including breastfeeding;
    proscription of abortion and management of abortion complications;
    adolescent and youth reproductive health;
    prevention and management of reproductive tract infections (RTIs), HIV and AIDS and other sexually transmittable infections elimination of violence against women;
    education and counseling on sexuality and reproductive health;
    treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers and other gynecological conditions and disorders;
    male responsibility and participation in reproductive health;
    prevention and treatment of infertility and sexual dysfunction;
    reproductive health education for the adolescents
    mental health aspect of reproductive health care.

But for this post, I shall be limiting myself in those concepts that has lighted the fire under our beloved clergy’s butts.

1) Family planning information and services

Beloved Catholic clergy did not want taxpayers’ money to fund public health clinics giving out pamphlets and lectures regarding modern artificial contraceptives. Neither does it want it to be giving away free contraceptives. The clergy wanted ONLY natural methods of family planning to be endorsed and taught by these clinics. The clergy has successfully convinced some of its members to disagree with the bill by cleverly insinuating that their taxes go to activities deemed immoral by their church (not considering that NOT everybody in this country belong to their church). And so the statements, “I will not allow the government to use my taxes to pay for your condom” and “let them buy their own condoms”. Well, the idea is to help out the impoverished who cannot afford to buy contraceptives. For those who do not know, contraceptives are considered essential medicines (see section 18, WHO list of essential medicines March 2010 update). The WHO list of essential medicines is a list of minimum medicines needs for a basic health care system. If the clergy wanted to prevent contraceptives from being able in a basic health care unit, then they are, basically, preventing the government from addressing basic health care needs.

The clergy is also frowning upon the use of IUDs and tubal ligation as contraceptive measures. What most of them are blind to is the provision in the bill that these procedures will not be FORCED upon women, but rather, it would be made available to those who may wish to have these procedures.

    SEC. 7. Access to Family Planning
    All accredited health facilities shall provide a full range of modern family planning methods, except in specialty hospitals which may render such services on an optional basis. For poor patients, such services shall be fully covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and/or government financial assistance on a no balance billing.
    After the use of any PhilHealth benefit involving childbirth and all other pregnancy-related services, if the beneficiary wishes to space or prevent her next pregnancy, PhilHealth shall pay for the full cost of family planning. 

    SEC. 11. Procurement and Distribution of Family Planning Supplies
    The DOH shall spearhead the efficient procurement, distribution to LGUs and usage-monitoring of family planning supplies for the whole country. The DOH shall coordinate with all appropriate LGUs to plan and implement this procurement and distribution program. The supply and budget allotment shall be based on, among others, the current levels and projections of the following:
    (a) number of women of reproductive age and couples who want to space or limit their children;
    (b) contraceptive prevalence rate, by type of method used; and
    (c) cost of family planning supplies.

    SEC. 24. Right to Reproductive Health Care Information
    The government shall guarantee the right of any person to provide or receive non-fraudulent information about the availability of reproductive health care services, including family planning, and prenatal care.
    The DOH and the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) shall initiate and sustain a heightened nationwide multi-media campaign to raise the level of public awareness of the protection and promotion of reproductive health and rights including family planning and population and development.

2) Proscription of abortion and management of abortion complications

As early as now, I’m going to say there is nothing (I repeat, NOTHING) in the reproductive health bill that is espousing abortion (abortion being “expulsion from the uterus of the products of conception before the fetus is viable”, according to an online medical dictionary). The bill, rather, wants to strengthen postabortion care. Now, some will say this is indirectly encouraging women to have abortion. But I’m going to stop you right there. Every woman who has had an abortion, whether spontaneous or induced, whether the abortion hurts you as a believer or not, has a right to obtain good postabortion care.

I remember how it was in the different hospitals I have rotated before…girl coming to the hospital complaining of vaginal bleeding and by history, it was evident that she had induced abortion. Health care providers, then, would be rough and tough on her, just so she’d remember the pain and thus, “remember the lesson”. And some even threatened to be denied anesthesia during curettage, just so they’d break down and cry, the health care provider thinking she’d someday learn to keep herself from getting pregnant again, having more than 5 children or so at the tender age of 20. I remember crying at the time I assisted in the vaginal delivery of a 12-year old girl, a pregnancy that was a product of rape of her father. I remember her as a pained girl, who was so restless on the delivery table, not knowing what to do and too much in pain even to think, as the ob-gyne resident shouted down on her to keep her legs apart. “Ayoko na po! Ayoko na po!” were the words she had ceaselessly shouted until she was able to deliver her baby. I imagined it must be the same set of words that she have shouted back to her father while she was being raped.

No, I’m not saying that this girl should have outright abortion because of rape. But if reproductive health assistance are in place, she could have had proper prenatal care and a planned cesarean section would have been done, as her body frame is so small, she might be better off with a C-section rather than risking a vaginal delivery. However, she did not have prenatal care and the only consultation with a health professional that she had was when she was already in active labor. Or she could have had emergency contraception hours after the attack on her.

For you Anti-RH doctors out there, I don’t understand why you still can’t agree to pass the RH bill, with all that you’ve seen since medical school and clerkship. I bet almost everyone of you has rotated in government hospitals. You have seen the numerous poor pregnant women who have come in and out of these hospitals. You have heard their stories, of how they wanted only few children, but were stuck with 10 or more because they cannot refuse a husband asking for sex. You must have heard how most of these women would say they cannot complete their prenatal care because they’d rather spend on food and electricity than on transportation to hospital and medicines. You have seen how some of the health providers in these government hospitals have been rough and tough on these women, just so that they remember the pain and hardship enough to make them think twice before going into another pregnancy. You have seen the scope of how access to reproductive health medicines and procedures are sorely lacking in this country. How can you not agree with the passage of the bill? Because of your alma mater? Because of your religious convictions? This is not an issue of religion; this is a secular issue. Let these women have their choice!

3) Reproductive health education for the adolescents
The clergy keeps on asking, “do you want your children as young as 5 years old to learn about sex?” My answer to this is YES. Whether parents would be honest to themselves or not, one cannot deny the curiosity of a growing child. Yes, even at the young age of 5, kids do already have some questions related to gender and sex. As the kids grow older, the questions grow more mature and complicated. And it is the responsibility of parents to address these questions. But not every parent can be comfortable discussing sex with their children. Come on, be honest with yourselves. Have you ever discussed sex at any length with your mother/father? The all-too-common scenario at home is this: parent and youngster watching a movie on TV, then a kissing scene comes up. Father/mother brings up one hand to cover youngster’s eyes until the scene ended. “Don’t look, you’re too young for this!” And the youngster is either left bewildered at why he shouldn’t see those scenes or he already knows what those scenes are because he already saw movie at a friend’s house. Most Filipino parents would be just content at “screening out” the topic of sex without ever venturing into trying to give the appropriate knowledge to their kids. And unfortunately, these kids would learn about sex and reproduction through friends only. Talk about the blind leading the blind. And it is at this point that the whole barrage of misinformation and myths start and sometimes will culminate into teen pregnancy or other complications regarding relationship with another person.

And here comes the clergy telling us that only the parents should teach their kids about sex.

In the amended reproductive health bill:

    SEC. 16. Mandatory Age-Appropriate Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education
    Age-appropriate Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education shall be taught by adequately trained teachers in formal and non-formal educational system starting from Grade Five up to Fourth Year High School using life skills and other approaches… 

    …Parents shall exercise the option of not allowing their minor children to attend classes pertaining to Reproductive Health and Sexuality Education.

I’m not sure where the clergy got the idea that the kids will be forced to attend sex education classes. It is rather clear that the parents have the option to let their children attend these classes. However, in my opinion, children as young as those in the 5th grade should have these classes already. Fifth graders are usually in the age of 11-12 years old and this age is the start of puberty. With many changes in their bodies, these children should be enlightened and armed with knowledge they need to understand these changes.

There is still plenty left to be discussed regarding the reproductive health bill, now that the clergy and their loyal followers are so hell-bent on obstructing the passage of this bill into law. This has also brought out the worst in some people, even if they think they mean well and are only fighting for what they think is right. However, what we must remember that reproductive health bill shouldn’t even be an issue anymore. Every country needs a good reproductive health care available to its citizens. We have our own personal beliefs regarding it, whether it be religious or not. But reproductive health is a secular issue and citizens must decide on this with the objective that the laws to be passed should be beneficial and appropriate to EVERYONE in the country.

Please see these related articles:

Complete Reproductive Health Bill Text
Authors’ Amendments to HB 4244

My older posts regarding the issue:
What the RCC hates in the Rh act
Family planning will be taught in classes in qc
Courting health disaster with Philippines’ anti-condom policies
The blog rounds: The State of Reproductive health in the Philippines

Posted in Science, Society70 Comments

To All the Children Bogged Down with Guilt

To All the Children Bogged Down with Guilt

In April 30, 2010, I wrote a short piece on the future for personal essay site New Slang. Below is the text in full:

April 30, 2010

Dear FutureSpawn,

This is your mother. I hope that you’re reading this no earlier than 2025, because I have no plans of having you in the next few years. I am not yet rich, and only rich people can have children because children are superstrength money vacuums. I trust that you are able to read this thanks to formidable schooling which I was effortlessly able to provide.

How is it over there? It’s election season back here; so far, Noynoy’s leading the polls, and Villar and Erap are tied 19 points behind. I’d vote for Noynoy if I were registered, but I’m not, and yes I suck. My half-baked defense is that I had just moved out from the family compound in Pasig and into an apartment in Quezon City, so I got confused about which district I’m supposed to vote in or some shit excuse like that, but the truth is I got lazy and now I regret it. Did the election work, though? Are you still living in a country mired in frustration? Is the Catholic Church still wielding its Scepter of Ignorance over our multitudes? Has Jolo Revilla run for anything?

Anyway, about the apartment. I moved in about 6 months ago with my boyfriend. (I would like to think that he’s your father, but in case life decides to trivialize my relationship with him down the road [which the both of us are doing our best to dissuade, because we are both of the opinion that we are awesome together], I hope your dad is not a total dickwad, and that we are no longer in contact with him in case he is.) Living at the family compound had led to claustrophobia; it had come to the point that I very desperately needed a place where I didn’t have to be cautious of what I said or did, a place where I wasn’t automatically assigned the role of “wayward offspring.” I was agitated. I stayed out most nights and did things I can’t look back on now without literally burying my head in my hands in shame. Getting the apartment has definitely made me a calmer person; the best part of any day has become the time when your maybe-father and I would make dinner and watch three straight episodes of Randy Jackson Presents: America’s Best Dance Crew (fastforwarding over that insufferable Mario Lopez) or whatever we’d scrounge up at the dibidihan, and just exalt in our general domesticity.

Of course, it didn’t come for free. I had to get a steady job that paid well, a concept that was definitely frightening, as I had grown so accustomed to the unhinged disposition of the freelance career. But I sucked it up and landed a job as the copywriter of a big hospital’s Corporate Communications department. I believe that I’m good at it, and working in a hospital does provide a modicum of weird shit to liven the workweek, but as with any other steady job, it can get steeped in tedium nonetheless. There’s a part of me that wants out, a part that wonders what had happened to the old me, the reckless child of yore. I liked being a homebody, but that didn’t instantly purport that I was fine being an office drone too.

Now, I’m the type of person who cuts things out of my life very easily. I could’ve quit that job and tried to figure things out for myself all over again; I have that ability to harden my heart. But I only edit out things that I know are dispensable in the long run: incompetent bosses, fair-weather friends. For the very first time, I found this latest version of my life pretty necessary. And it’s not just because it allows for a place of my own, and a bit of money for some nice things and the occasional dinner out. It has also become the first crucial step towards the bigger, better version of my life I hope to achieve.

Your maybe-father and I made a pact some time ago that we would save up enough money and move from one province to another every couple of years. We wanted to have adventures. We wanted to get ourselves in trouble, to have something new and ridiculous to do together all the time. There was no better way to do that than by restarting our life together over and over from one strange place to the next. And our first stop? The tiny town of Dumaguete, where we first met a couple of years ago.

So Mom’s a big, fat cheeseball, you say? You think Mom’s masterplan is a classic illustration of the kind of idealistic and impracticable claptrap people in their quarter-life crisis hold dear? Well screw you, futurespawn. It doesn’t matter. You might know for a fact that things didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, that something went wonky along the way, dashing my precious plans and proving that I was just another 20-something with an idiotic strategy for the future. But right now, that masterplan is what I want, and I’m going to do everything in my power to realize it. I’m going to make sure that when you read this letter, the first few sentences of this paragraph are grossly contradictory of how you feel and what you know. I mean, Mom’s always been a total hard-ass, right? Correct? Damn straight.

But again, I really do hope that these plans come to fruition. I hope that I’ve already regaled you over and over with tales of the many places I’d lived in (so far, Dumaguete, Baguio and Cebu are on our itinerary), with many strange stories and hare-brained schemes your maybe-father and I had amassed during our travels, and that you find this letter annoyingly redundant.

But if things really didn’t work out for me that way, these pieces of paper you hold in your hand is proof that I pursued that life with tremendous resolve nonetheless. That there was a time when everything I did was geared towards that specific version of a bright and shiny future, a time when I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone fuck with me in my pursuit.

I’d like to end this letter with something I told my friends back in college. I still remember it because it was likely the only lucid thing I said during a particularly drunken afternoon in a bar across school. I told my friends that if I ever had a kid, the most important thing I would tell him (I’m set on a boy, by the way, so if you’re a girl, I apologize in advance for being such a resentful bitch) is that if he has his heart set on doing something, even if I am totally against it, so much so that I will be furious with him for the rest of my life, he should do it. So I’m telling you now, futurespawn, that if there’s something you know you will utterly regret for not doing, some idea that skulks in the back of your brain every second of every day, do it. Even if I give you hell for it. Even if it breaks us apart. Your life is yours entirely, futurespawn, so make sure it’s totally awesome, okay? Okay. Good boy.

That’s it; I’m all letter’d out. Off you go now. Fly your hoverbike or whatever the hell it is you kids do. I love you.


It’s been a little over a year since I wrote that letter, and while the maybe-father and I are still very much together, we remain in Manila in the same apartment and have yet to see the aforementioned nomadic lifestyle beckoning from the horizon, if at all. But that’s beside the point of this current essay, and for the record, something did come along that drew our focus away from this particular dream: becoming active members of the Filipino Freethinkers. (And so far, it’s been the best distraction I’ve ever had.)

What hasn’t changed, however, is my stand that my child should do whatever he damn well pleases when he grows up, no matter if his father and I blow our tops for whatever reason — even and especially if we play the utang na loob card in a key moment of a desperation.

Utang na loob, or debt of gratitude, is not a real reason for anyone to forgo the life they want to live. Doing favors for each other out of goodwill, I totally understand. But doing things out of a certain unspoken indebtedness — wherein guilt is more potent than goodwill — is something that I find bothersome, especially when it concerns parent and child.

Granted that I did not come from the most stable of backgrounds. My father was an angry and abusive man, the main reason why I cannot dub my childhood “happy.” And it would make sense for me not to feel indebted to someone who went out of his way to physically and verbally hurt his own daughter (and sons, and wife) on a regular basis. As far as I’m concerned, and as anyone with the faintest concept of self-respect should know, whatever my family says about utang na loob in his regard is null and void. In fact, I estranged myself from him when I was 13 and have never looked back.

But my mother is a different case. She’s done a monumental amount for me. For one thing, she was the main breadwinner, and would always go on overtime at the office in order to support a five-person family. Her sacrifices were all for us; in fact, rooting through sales bins at dinky department stores for the rare pair of semi-decent shoes was her idea of splurging for herself.

Moreover, she endured my estrangement from my father despite her personal conviction that sticking to one’s family is the Right Thing to Do. She did her best to respect (or at least try to respect) my decision — not to mention grin and bear the endless prodding of other relatives as to my whereabouts and mental state — while I lived apart from them in my own little hole in the family compound (and, later on, in my own apartment). I did what I had to do, and while she didn’t like what I did — and yes, for a while nagged at me and berated me for it — she eventually let me be. And for that I am grateful, because it has led me to live a life that is entirely mine.

Everyone should do everything they can to live their own lives as well, and not the lives expected of them. What’s the point of being our own sentient beings if we can’t even choose what to do with ourselves? Everyone should be able to stick with what they believe in and act on that belief (provided, of course, that this does not involve building a money-making mega-church, strapping bombs to your belly, and other dangerous, deceitful, and destructive acts).

Everyone should want a child not for their own selfish purposes, but for allowing this child to experience the awesomeness that is life, and in the best, most positive manner possible, at that. Last I heard, love is not related to suppression, or blind obedience, or guilt. Last I heard, parenting was about raising a child, not strapping one down to the ground. (Suffice it to say that the RH Bill can bring us one step closer to a society that understands this.)

My mother can ask of me a whole host of things in return for all she’s done, but compromising the paltry few decades of consciousness I have in the first place — when I could be doing something that I feel is actually worthwhile, such as being a nomad, or an active freethinker, or a nomadic active freethinker — is not one of them. Being in a situation that would prevent me from writing the above missive to my future child is not one of them.

Once again, there is only one belief that I will impose on my own child, and it is that he owes me nothing.

Posted in Featured, Personal, Society6 Comments

It’s okay folks, all that child rape mostly happened in the 70’s. And they weren’t all pedophiles.

You might remember Pope Benedict’s statements last December blaming the past child rape on the 70’s culture, with the “tu quoque” argument that the “context of the times” somehow justified it because, to paraphrase, “everyone was doing it.” Well now the Church has a genuine study to back them up.

Two weeks ago the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York released a report “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010” that supported the Pope’s statement. It concluded that the majority of the child rapes occurred during the 60’s and 70’s, which was “consistent with the rise in other types of “deviant” behavior, such as drug use and crime” and that “perceptions of “normal” sexual behavior are not stable over time, nor are laws governing the sexual behavior that is considered wrong.” The study seems to suggest that child rape was somehow normal during the hippie revolution and is no longer considered acceptable these days, which is why reports are now coming in decades after the crimes.

The study goes on to say that most “pedo-priests” aren’t actually pedophiles because “pedophilia is defined as the sexual attraction to prepubescent children. Yet, the data on priests show that 22 percent of victims were age ten and under, while the majority of victims were pubescent or postpubescent.

Well then, they’re not all pedophiles after all, so I guess that makes it okay.

You’d think a five-year study into child-raping priests by a College of Criminal Justice would sound more like it was on the side of actual justice than trying to make excuses for the Catholic Church, until you count the number of times the word “Catholic” appears in the donors list. This study, commissioned by the The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is nothing more than another example of the old Catholic doctrine “Downplay the sin, protect the sinner, screw the victim.”


The study can be downloaded from here. A good review about how this report is worthless and dangerous can be found here.

Posted in Religion, Society168 Comments

Philosophy and the tragic virtues, or Philosophy as an ode to life


All of philosophy originates from two things – burning curiosity and uncompromising honesty. All the other rudiments of good philosophy like eagle-eyed insightfulness, logical rigor and exacting intellectual standards, passionate skepticism, a deep moral and existential concern for matters of life and death and, of course, a teary-eyed wonder, spring from these two wellsprings, these two cardinal virtues.

Curiosity, because philosophy is naught without deep reflection, and reflection is impossible without curiosity. But being reflective is not enough. Many people spend all their intellectual energies reflecting on deep questions, but they end up holding on to their comforting beliefs. But such comfort-beliefs are like comfort pillows, nice to hug and cuddle; however, they’re mostly air and won’t stand against a moment of honest scrutiny. So why are they held on to dearly, and not only by the all-too-many, but also by those who are intelligent and reflective?

Continue Reading

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Religion, Society10 Comments

Malta says “yes” to divorce, “yes” to secularism

Yesterday, the pro-divorce movement won the referendum on divorce with a majority of 54%, ending a battle that has delayed the much-needed measure for decades. The victory came despite the constant political meddling and religious blackmail of the Catholic Church.

Sound familiar? Aside from the happy ending, which left the Philippines the only country without divorce1, the story of Malta’s divorce referendum shares similarities with our own reproductive health (RH) debates:

  1. both countries are last bastions of Catholicism: Malta in Europe, the Philippines in Asia;
  2. both countries are predominantly Catholic: 95% in Malta, 80% in the Philippines; and
  3. both battles are primarily between progressive Catholics and conservative bishops.

And in both cases, the conservative bishops use fear mongering to keep their flock in line. In Malta, the religious blackmail came to a climax during a homily by
Bishop Mario Grech

In the sermon, he warned of “brigands” who want to “lead the flock astray” and “are going after marriage.” He said that members of the pro-divorce movement were lying about being Catholic:

Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. And the wolf is now saying he is Catholic. This is a falsity, this is deceit. I am ready to dialogue with everyone but do not be false, do not lie. You cannot not be loyal to Christ and say you are a Christian or a Catholic. If you are not in communion with Christ’s teachings, you are not in communion with the Church and you cannot receive communion… we cannot pretend to be in communion with the Eucharist…2

The message is consistent with a nation-wide campaign the Church had launched, in which billboards featuring Jesus’ image said “Christ Yes, Divorce No.” Anti-divorce advocates also brought Mary into the picture:

Opponents of reform have invoked the Blessed Virgin and raised the spectre of Maltese society falling apart. Tonio Fenech, the finance minister and a Nationalist Party MP, wrote on a local news website recently: “I am sure Our Lady is very sorrowful that Malta is considering divorce.”

The anti-divorce campaign was denounced by Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, an MP with the ruling Nationalist Party:

“The ‘no’ campaign has been disgusting,” said Mr Orlando, who set the referendum ball rolling. “Old ladies who said they would vote for divorce have been barred from taking Communion. An old electoral roll has been used, which means that 2,800 youngsters who are entitled to vote will not be able to. Lay Catholic organisations and 5,000 priests and nuns have also gone door-to-door campaigning. Limitless funds have been offered to the ‘no’ side.” Voting “yes” has been declared a mortal sin from the pulpit.”

To their credit, the bishops did say they were sorry if anyone was hurt by their anti-divorce campaign. Pro-divorce advocates, however, found this hard to believe:

In a reply, pro-divorce group StandUp Malta said the bishops’ statement was an apology which they found difficult to accept.

It was very hard to believe that the apology was genuine, especially since the Church’s campaign continued blatantly even on reflection day yesterday and voting day today.

The apology, they said, should have been made during the campaign when a lot of people were hurt by extreme declarations such as when those who were voting yes were called wolves in sheeps’ clothing.

The fact that the bishops wanted their apology broadcast once voting closed was Machiavellian and dirty.

Regardless of the bishops’ sincerity, I understand why they’re on the defensive. Winning the divorce debate is already Malta’s second secular victory in only six months. Last November, after a decade of opposition from the Catholic Church, they finally launched a long-awaited national sexual health policy — the counterpart of our RH Bill.

That’s two out of five D-E-A-T-H bills in half a year!3 How can a country that’s even more Catholic than the Philippines say “yes” to divorce and RH?

I believe the answer is secularism. While bishops fight to impose their convictions, progressive Catholics in Malta defend separation of church and state and respect the religious freedom of others — even those who have convictions different from theirs:

The Catholic pro-divorce group reiterated yesterday that although they held Christ’s teachings on marriage in high esteem they could not impose their beliefs on the rest of the people.

“Irrespective of how strongly we believe that divorce is bad for the country, we can never sideline the principle taught by Christ and expect others who do not share our faith to submit to our beliefs,” a group spokesman said.

The group said it was every Catholic’s duty to vote yes in the referendum because the issue at stake was whether what Catholics believed was right and wrong should be imposed by the state on everybody else. “We believe there should never be imposition…”

No imposition. Now — other than the bishops — who won’t say “yes” to that?



[1] No, I don’t consider the Vatican a country.

[2] Actually, you can be pro-divorce and still remain Catholic. But you could be excluded from Holy Communion for doing so. I wrote about these sanctions here.

[3] Divorce and Total Reproductive Health are down; Euthanasia, Abortion, and Homosexual Marriage remain.

Posted in Featured, Politics, Religion, Society60 Comments

Rough Notes on Secularism, Democracy and Human Progress, Part 3

In part 1 of this series, we looked at what secularism is. Part 2 examined the relationship between the church and state in a secular democracy. In this final installment, we’ll see how secular democracy affects human progress.

Image by Olivander, used under creative commons license.

Secularism and democracy are legacies worth fighting for, because they in union provide the only safe public space whereby people of different outlooks can amicably tackle their differences and pursue shared goals for their common welfare. In what follows, we shall attempt to prove our opening statement by discussing the relationship between secularism, democracy and human progress,

Secular Democracy and Human Progress

The empirical studies of Gregory Paul on secularism and religion reveal a strong correlation between dysfunctional societal conditions and public acceptance of conservative religions as well as an inverse correlation between improving social conditions and a high level of popular religiosity (Paul, 2005, 2009). The most religious affluent nation USA scored the worst in 14 out of 25 societal health and the highest in dysfunction indicators (homicide, incarceration, juvenile mortality, venereal disease, abortions, teen pregnancies, income disparity, poverty, work hours, and volume of energy consumption/resource-use per head), while the least religious democracies in Western Europe, Japan and Canada scored best in societal health indicators.

Paul attributes the USA’s exceptional ill health to unregulated capitalism and the American people’s heavy reliance on religion as a psychosocial mechanism for coping with stress and fear of misery and dispossession. Among the affluent states, all but the USA, have adopted a mix of pragmatic and social democratic policies that include progressive taxation, moderation of predatory propensities of corporations, protection for women at home and in work environments, job security and universal health care that reduce the risk of catastrophic ruin of ordinary citizens. Though the least religious of the prosperous democracies have their own major problems, they enjoy a high level of societal health such as they’ve never experienced before under past theocracy-friendly regimes. In contrast to these countries, the USA imposes the free market principle on ordinary people while handing out billions of tax dollars to big business firms, military contractors and faith-based initiatives, with disastrous results for democracy, popular welfare and global ecology. Far from proving claims about religion as an indispensable guide to moral conduct and about democratic secular values as a contributing factor to moral decadence, the results of these studies demonstrate the ease with which many people outgrow the faith of their forefathers and devote their lives to earthly but no less ethical endeavors, as soon as they attain a certain level of freedom, education and economic security.


Secularism is a necessary but insufficient condition for the growth of amity and cooperation among people of diverse outlooks and cultural backgrounds. The flaw in many secular societies lies not in excessive democracy (or “moral laxity” as conservatives and reactionaries are wont to argue) but in its limited and inconsistent observance with regard to ownership of productive assets, distribution of incomes and benefit-entitlements, as well as control over the policy-making process. The ideals of liberty, equality, and fellowship do not prevail in nominal democracies not because of their lack of validity, but because of their being stunted by stratification of these societies along class, ethnic, gender and/or geopolitical lines (imperial states versus their respective neo-colonies). These modes of stratification generate impoverishment and social exclusion of underprivileged sectors that in turn fuel identity formation and violent contention along ethnic and religious lines.

Democracy must not to be confused with a multicultural pluralist polity of the sort that bestows upon every ethnic community and religious sect immunity against external criticism on issues of broad societal concern such as reproductive health, sexuality, marriage, medical care and so forth. Faith-based privileges such as speech codes and anti-blasphemy laws do not a democracy make; they in fact constitute a distortion of democracy that leads to any or all of the following evils:

a. tyranny of dominant religious groups by virtue of state-guaranteed special privileges to meddle in the affairs of government;

b. ghettoization of cultural minorities and strengthening of their traditional leaders without commensurate accountability for respecting the constitutional rights of their individual members as citizens of the republic;

c. elite cooptation of leaders of minority communities and their very agenda for sector amelioration as quid pro quo for special privileges; and

d. self-censorship and concealment of deep seated prejudices
that manifest themselves in insidious and antagonistic forms.

Religion has always been a worldly affair and it would profit people to subject to critical analysis both the doctrinal contents and secular histories of their respective faiths with same impartiality that they analyze non-religious issues. For instance, some Jewish scholars — such as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe and American political scientist Norman Finkelstein — have contributed to the demystification of Israel’s official history by revealing how the Zionists built the Jewish state through the propagation of ancient myths, exploitation of the Holocaust tragedy and the expulsion of the Palestinians from their native land.(Finkelstein, Nov. 2000; Lendman, 2007) Likewise, Muslims must rediscover their past, not only with a view to acquitting Islam of the sins of religious despotism and misogyny as well as casting all blame for these on Western imperialism and secularism; they must also consider the merits of secular democracy by disentangling democracy’s substance from its corrupted forms that foreign and local elites have foisted upon them.(Dacey and Koproske, 2008) Such is the level of honesty required of both secularists and religionists in discussing and settling disputes on the basis of truth, fairness and practicality.


1) Concordat Watch. “Millions for the bishops: Why the German State pays the wages for the church”

2) Concordat Watch. “”German taxpayers subsidise 98% of faith-based social services”

3) Dacey, Austin and Colin Koproske, “Islam and Human Rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations, Center for Inquiry, September 2008.

4) Dacey, Austin. “The Secular Conscience” Excerpt from The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2008).

5) Frerk, Carsten. “German Taxpayers Subsidize 98% of Faith-Based Social Services”

6) Farris, Anne. R. P. Nathan and D. J. Wright, ”The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George Bush Jr. and Faith-Based Initiatives” The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, Rockefeller Institute of Government, August 2004.

7) Finkelstein, Norman. “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering”, Nov. 2000,

8) Loll, Anna Catherin and Peter Wensierski, “The Hidden Wealth of the Catholic Church”, Part 1:,1518,700513,00.html; and Part 2:,1518,700513-2,00.html

9) Lendman, Stephen. “On The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe”, Feb. 2007,

10) Paul, Gregory. “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look” Journal of Religion and Society (2005)

11) Paul, Gregory. “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity on Dysfunctional Psychosocial Conditions” Evolutionary Psychology, Volume 7(3). 2009.

12) Sizemore, Bill. “Gaining Faith in Federal Money” The Virginian-Pilot, January 17, 2006

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society1 Comment

Extreme Makeover: Congress Edition

After last evening’s Reproductive Health bill interpellation, the Honorable Representatives Roilo Golez and Pablo Garcia give the House of Representatives an extreme makeover, feng shui style.

Posted in Humor, Pictures4 Comments

Rough Notes on Secularism, Democracy and Human Progress, Part 2

In part 1 of this series, we looked at what secularism is. Today we examine the relationship between the church and state in a secular democracy.

Image by Olivander, used under creative commons license.

Secularism and democracy are legacies worth fighting for, because they in union provide the only safe public space whereby people of different outlooks can amicably tackle their differences and pursue shared goals for their common welfare. In what follows, we shall attempt to prove our opening statement by discussing the relationship between secularism, democracy and human progress,

Church-State Relations in Secular States

Not only the non-religious but the organized religious as well have benefited from secularism and democracy. Historically dominant churches have survived and minor sects have flourished – some, to an arguably greater extent than they deserve — owing to liberal policies adopted by secular states that range from neutrality and benign tolerance to outright accommodation of politically significant sects. Whereas, in the past, a single hegemonic church ruled society directly or in partnership with secular overlords, various churches now freely evangelize without fear of prosecution under apostasy and blasphemy laws. These varying policies toward religion attest to the pragmatic concessions that societies had to make to various sects in their arduous and conflict-ridden march towards secularism and democracy.

A few examples would prove the aforementioned fact about church-state relations. The United Kingdom still maintains a national church, although one with a much diminished public role, as part of its bourgeoisie’s concessions to the old aristocracy, which it left ensconced in a constitutional monarchy and a House of Lords. In spite of the rising number of non-religious citizens in Germany, taxpayers subsidize 98% of faith-based social services, which are provided mainly by 2.5 million workers of the Catholic Caritas and the Protestant Diakonisches Werk. Thus, German state subsidies for faith-based social services seem less a function of popular religiosity than of the state’s pragmatic policy of honoring old agreements with the Vatican and the Protestant Churches. (Frerk)

America’s policy toward religion has been more ambivalent than what its secular liberal Constitution suggests. The First Amendment of the Constitution forbade the Congress from enacting “laws either respecting the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, but the U.S. government restricted the meaning of this clause to the establishment of an official national religion and allowed state governments to enact faith-based discriminatory laws against non-Christians until 1868 or three years after the Civil War. It took a century and a half for the U.S. Civil War (1861-65) and the mid-20th civil rights movement to sweep away these faith-based laws along with racial apartheid laws.

However, state support for religious discriminatory laws reemerged with a vengeance under the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and later George Bush Jr. In 2001, George Bush Jr. initiated the outsourcing of social services (that were once provided by the state) to favored church-affiliated organizations or “faith-based initiatives” through executive orders, rule changes, managerial realignment in federal agencies, and other innovative uses of his presidential prerogatives. Among these innovations is the creation of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under the President and linked to sub-offices in 10 government agencies, each with a director and staff empowered to articulate, advance and oversee coordinated efforts to generate financial support for faith-based services.(Farris, et. al.) While the Bush Administration didn’t come up with a comprehensive faith-based legislative package, it crafted laws that permit recipients of government grants to hire only those whose religion and sexual orientation is compatible with the grantee’s mission. In 2004 alone, Bush extended more than $2 billion of tax money to religious organizations. Among the program beneficiaries was right-wing televangelist and 700 Club founder Pat Robertson whose annual revenue from government grants ballooned from $108,000 to $14.4 million in the brief period from 2003-2004. (Sizemore, 2006)

What could we surmise from the above relationship between church and state in secular societies? Much of religion’s resilience arises partly from default on the part of secular states that either make a fetish of faith or deliberately exploit faith for political and pecuniary purposes.

The secular humanist philosopher Austin Dacey has valuable insights on what he discerns as errors in secular thought. One is the Privacy Doctrine, which regards fundamental beliefs about morality as strictly private matters, not to be debated in public or urged on anyone else. The other is the Liberty Doctrine, which supposes that freedom of conscience entails that beliefs should be insulated from criticism and not held to any shared standards of correctness. The prevalence of these doctrines results in “a culture unwilling or unable to sustain a real public conversation about religion, ethics, and values.” A trend contributing to the privacy model of conscience is the commercialization of social and cultural life that tends to reduce the realm of values, ethics, and religion to private possessions and market choices. Traditional faiths, non-denominational religions and New Age occultism compete with one another, offering a buffet of diverse beliefs from which consumers can pick and choose the wisdom that best suits their needs. Ethical and religious questions are not “subjective” and “personal,” but open to rational inquiry and amenable to critical scrutiny by others. Claims of conscience may be introduced into public discourse so long as they are held to the same standards as other political proposals: practicality, rationality, consistency, and legality.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll take a look at how secular democracy affects human progress as well as the conclusions of this series


1) Concordat Watch. “Millions for the bishops: Why the German State pays the wages for the church”

2) Concordat Watch. “”German taxpayers subsidise 98% of faith-based social services”

3) Dacey, Austin and Colin Koproske, “Islam and Human Rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations, Center for Inquiry, September 2008.

4) Dacey, Austin. “The Secular Conscience” Excerpt from The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2008).

5) Frerk, Carsten. “German Taxpayers Subsidize 98% of Faith-Based Social Services”

6) Farris, Anne. R. P. Nathan and D. J. Wright, ”The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George Bush Jr. and Faith-Based Initiatives” The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, Rockefeller Institute of Government, August 2004.

7) Finkelstein, Norman. “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering”, Nov. 2000,

8) Loll, Anna Catherin and Peter Wensierski, “The Hidden Wealth of the Catholic Church”, Part 1:,1518,700513,00.html; and Part 2:,1518,700513-2,00.html

9) Lendman, Stephen. “On The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe”, Feb. 2007,

10) Paul, Gregory. “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look” Journal of Religion and Society (2005)

11) Paul, Gregory. “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity on Dysfunctional Psychosocial Conditions” Evolutionary Psychology, Volume 7(3). 2009.

12) Sizemore, Bill. “Gaining Faith in Federal Money” The Virginian-Pilot, January 17, 2006

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society2 Comments

A Line To Heaven


Whatchoo talkin’ about, Willis?

From the beginning of the May 21 episode of the (in)famous (?) TV show on GMA 7 called “Mind Master,” you knew you were in for quite a treat. Joey De Leon somberly asks the audience if they would jump at the chance to speak to a dead loved one if it were possible. Two big “if” questions, but clearly, with the truthiness of a million exploding suns, our very own Mind Master, Nomer Lasala, will demonstrate it handily.

Would this face ever lie to you?

Nation, it appears we have finally found a line to heaven in the form of Nomer Lasala.

Now, don’t be alarmed, people: you are still reading Filipino Freethinkers, and it was their idea that yours truly come over here and tell you about this unmistakably real demonstration of psychic phenomenon, as Nomer Lasala consoles a grieving Ali Sotto on national television with 100% certified genuine messages from beyond the grave, courtesy of her late son, Miko Sotto. Despite his diminutive size, this technically makes Mr. Lasala what you would call a “medium,” someone who can speak to the dead and send us messages from them because they’re just incredibly awesomely gifted human beings like that. Truly, if you liberate your mind, nothing could be more free than to think that dead people can still tell you what to do through trustworthy, unimpeachable mediums with the indubitable claim that they can speak to the dead.

Now, being a mentalist as well, a lot of people have actually turned to yours truly to ask if any of this is real, and if it truly is possible to talk to the dead.

Well, if we would rely on this particular episode, the answer is unequivocally yes. Skeptics can’t even begin to question how Nomer adequately gave so many specific details that only Ali Sotto could’ve possibly known, like the fact that Miko Sotto was her son, and the fact that Miko loved his mother very much. At this point, she tearfully asked Nomer if he could ask Miko for help, because hey, if you’re going to trust someone, you may as well trust the pickup artist guy who calls himself The Charlatan, right? I’m sure whatever message Miko may have had for Ali Sotto, that was a truly accurate message that in no way provided any kind of false hope for Ms. Sotto. Surely, it would take an exceptional kind of douchebag to capitalize on the grief of people for the sake of popping some TV ratings!

Not pictured here at all: exploitation.

When pressed for further elaboration, the Mind Master decided to ease up a bit and simply tell the teary-eyed Ali Sotto that if she wanted more, she would need to contact a medium and not a mentalist, because apparently, after talking to the dead, the Mind Master still doesn’t consider himself a medium. The humility and compassion emanating from this man just shocked and overwhelmed yours truly for a moment, there.

This is exactly what this nation needs right now, people : a man who can serve as the liaison between the living and the dead by virtue of his vaunted mental powers. How can we even begin to doubt his mental powers when, according to him, at a younger age, he was banned from casinos because he can read the minds of the dealers? While other mere mortals amongst us were banned from casinos at a younger age for being at a younger age, this young Mind Master was already showing the shades of greatness that he would take with him to television stardom at present.

Nation, we truly need this. We truly need yet another TV show that will educate the masses about the powers of a mentalist, which apparently now involves having stilted, unremarkable, nondescript conversations with our faithful departed. This will certainly answer many questions Freethinkers have about the afterlife, because clearly, here is a man who has access to it. And surely, when the day comes that he begins charging people for these very important services, he will be more than entitled to profiting from totally not at all cold reading his clients because he actually has powers.

This is the new face of mentalism: the kind that finally breaks free from the shackles of entertainment and ethics, and offers itself up as a substitute for actual therapy and consultation with genuine experts. Surely, the people who don’t know any better need yet another escape hatch from actually facing their problems, and hey, if it enriches our Mind Master along the way, what harm could it possibly do?

As a fellow mentalist who has gotten by with the typical wink-wink nudge-nudge approach used by professional wrestling for the past two decades, it does my heart good to know that we can now go back to the times where mediums were so popular that the most well-known magician of their time, Harry Houdini, had to resort to exposing his own secrets as a magician just to try to put a stop to them.

Move over, James van Praagh, Sylvia Browne, and John Edward: the Mind Master is here, and he will lead us to better days as we commune with dead spirits through his unbelievable mental powers. Once and for all, the Mind Master proves that people can indeed talk to the dead. Maybe someday, they could actually talk back.

Marcelle Fabie (Pronounced “Fa-bee-yay”.), who blogs on, is a man who embodies the two greatest characteristics of a Patriotic Filipino: he is patriotic, and he is Filipino. As an upstanding individual of strong moral fibre (i.e., he doesn’t get laid), he puts the “grit” in “journalistic inteGRITy.” Hard-hitting, fearless (except when it comes to Rick Astley), and unbelievably opinionated, he stands for truthiness, justice, and the Filipino way. He has a Pulitzer, a Nobel, an Oscar, a Grammy, and five other weirdly-named pet dogs.

He is also ridiculously sarcastic when he’s failing at satire.

If you have seen some of these TV episodes, and have any concerns over the fact that GMA-7 makes no disclaimer whatsoever about the veracity of Mind Master’s claims and performances, you may email the producers, [email protected], to let them know about your reservations of implicitly endorsing the demonstrations of a known magician to be legitimate.

To date, no individual or group has ever succeeded in James Randi’s 1 Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. From mediums to pyrokinetics to fortune tellers to psychic surgeons, only a few of them have ever tried, and none of them provided any satisfactory results.

Perhaps, it should be obvious why none of these people have taken Randi’s money over the years. Despite that, quacks like them still persist, so debunkers and skeptics will never be out of a job anytime soon.

If Mr. Lasala insists on claiming to be the real deal, we wish him the best of luck in finally winning the coveted 1 Million Dollars from Mr. Randi. If the Mind Master truly has mental powers, how hard can that be?

Posted in Entertainment, Humor30 Comments

Less Golez, More RH: Numerology and the Numbers that Count

Some superstitious people consider the number 4 unlucky because it sounds like the word “death”
(死 pinyin sǐ) in Chinese.

What does this have to do with the RH Bill? Nothing. Unless you’re a congressman who’s desperate to delay interpellations because you’re afraid of a deciding vote.

Trivial Numbers

During yesterday’s interpellations, Rep. Roilo Golez argued that the RH Bill (HB 4244) will lead to misfortune. Why? Because according to Rep. Roilo — I’ll refer to him this way to avoid confusion with the other Rep. Golez — its bill number contains three of those unlucky fours.

It seems that anti-RH legislators are not content to violate secularism. With legislators like Rep. Roilo, we might have to amend our constitution with a clause calling for separation of superstition and state.

Rep. Roilo’s fascination for numbers continued when he questioned why an earlier version of the bill changed to HB 96 from HB 3. At first, I didn’t know the reason he was so hung up on this trivial fact. Then I remembered that he threw reason out the door the moment he brought up numerology. I suspect that he simply prefers 3 because it’s considered a lucky number. (Regarding HB 96, although 9 is lucky, 6 isn’t.)

It would be interesting to know what Rep. Roilo thinks of Rep. Pablo Garcia’s bill: Hormonal Contraceptives Regulation Act of 2011. The bill aims to regulate the sale and advertising of birth control pills. This is a bill that Rep. Roilo would agree with, except for one detail: the bill is numbered 4482. Will he be against it because of those two unlucky fours? Or maybe the bad luck is mitigated by the lucky 8 and 2?

But hold on for a second, Rep. Roilo. It’s not OK to import foreign ideas from the US (family planning and population development), but it’s OK to import foreign ideas from Rome (Humanae Vitae) and China (numerology)? What’s the criteria for importing ideas?

Numbers that Count

I hope Rep. Roilo — or any of the other anti-RH legislators — doesn’t foray into numerology again. If they want to talk about numbers, there are many figures and statistics that truly deserve to be discussed. For Rep. Roilo’s sake, here are four:

ONE: 71% — the percentage of Catholic respondents who favor the RH Bill (8% are not, the rest are undecided) (SWS)

Even if these anti-RH representatives ignore people with different beliefs, who exactly are they representing? It seems they’re content to represent the 8% composed of the CBCP, Pro-Life Philippines, and their cohorts.

TWO: 11 — the number of women in the Philippines who die daily from maternal complications (Likhaan)

You’d think they’d have a sense of urgency with so many lives on the line — lives that are not merely potential but actual. While legislators are still busy debating about when life begins, it’s clear to the families left motherless when life as they know it ends.

THREE: 500,000 — the number of abortions that could be prevented if the RH Bill becomes law (Likhaan)

Countries that have an increased rate of effective contraceptive use have a decreased number of induced abortions. It’s been estimated that half a million abortions can be prevented by an RH policy. Are the anti-RH really pro-life?

FOUR: X Pesos — the cost in taxpayers’ money wasted whenever religion, superstition, and other tangents are discussed in Congress

Anti-RH legislators argue that the government lacks funds to implement the RH Bill. Yet they waste taxpayer money by discussing anything — Communism, Catholicism, conspiracies — other than what’s actually proposed by the RH Bill.

The Third Interpellator

After Rep. Roilo, there are as many as 36 interpellators left to go. That’s potentially 36 more hours of discussing religious interpretations, imperialist plots, and of course, Chinese numerology.

But let’s humor him and give numerology a chance. Out of the original list of 38 interpellators, Rep. Roilo was originally interpellator no. 3 — a lucky number. But when Pacquiao unexpectedly took Garcia’s slot, Rep. Roilo was bumped to no. 4 — the same unlucky number he argued against simply because of what it sounds like.

Some might think he got the number he deserves. But I disagree. Considering his tendency to inflate the importance of what words sound like, no. 3 suited him perfectly. For Roilo truly is a third.

Posted in Featured, Politics17 Comments

Across the Hall

Writing this now sitting at plenary hall of Congress. Am listening to yet more ludicrous delays by the anti-RH congressmen in the form of Garcia and Golez, who is now presenting a powerpoint presentation dissing the RH Bill because it has a lot of ‘4’s, which in Chinese numerology is bad because its associated with death, and therefore the RH Bill is a death Bill. Wish I was kidding and wish even more could share it with you, but the guards here have just informed us that there is a ‘new regulation’ prohibiting *any* recording in the hall for by non-media.

I had wanted to sit at the same spot as yesterday, but the guards also informed us that there is a new regulation that the ground floor is now divided into pro and anti sides. Until yesterday they never informed us of any such regulation and in the few times I’ve been to this hall have sat on both sides of the ground floor without incident. I’ll grant that its probably prudent now, especially since it seems that there are Chinese delegates that have been invited to observe today’s session. I deeply regret, however, the unspoken implication that such arrangements make apparent- that the staff here at congress no longer believes that citizens on two sides of a national debate can sit next to each other and exchange words without exchanging blows.

Ah, now Golez is discussing World War 2 and the four evil axis powers, which of course has everything to do with the RH bill. His powerpoint has attached videos, which for some reason can’t seem to play. The farce goes on.

-Kenneth Keng
5/25/2011 5:40 PM

Posted in Politics11 Comments

Rough Notes on Secularism, Democracy and Human Progress, Part 1

Image by Olivander, used under creative commons license.

Secularism and democracy are legacies worth fighting for, because they in union provide the only safe public space whereby people of different outlooks can amicably tackle their differences and pursue shared goals for their common welfare. In what follows, we shall attempt to prove our opening statement by discussing the relationship between secularism, democracy and human progress,

Secularism and Democracy

Secularization is the process by which religious ideas and institutions tend to lose influence in society with the progress of science, technology, economy and modern government. Included here are such phenomena as the decline of formal church membership, reduced role of religion in formal education, institutional separation of church and state, as well as the supremacy of state laws over sectarian religious codes.
Democracy, in its 20th century sense, is a government that possesses the following traits: (a) universal suffrage or equal voting rights to all citizens of legal age regardless of class, creed, race, gender or sexual orientation; (b) a bill of rights; (c) rule of law; (d) periodic elections, whereby voters can freely choose among candidates bearing alternative platforms; and (e) rule of the majority for the election of representatives as well as for parliamentary deliberations.

Though modern democracy and secularism rely on rational and scientific arguments instead of appeals to faith and divine fiats, they are distinct from each other. Democracy is a form of government, dedicated to advancing and defending freedom, equality, social justice, fellowship and common welfare. Secularism is a social orientation that delimits the role of religion and faith in supernatural agencies to the non-governmental sphere of civil society, so as to protect society and state from endless conflict driven by faith-based claims. The institutional separation of church and state in democracies is not, as some religionists, argue, primarily intended for the protection of believers and their faith; it is intended for the protection of both believers and unbelievers, and their right to be held to the same standards of logical and scientific evidentiary tests, whenever and wherever they submit their claims to appropriate public institutions for adjudication or parliamentary deliberation.

Secularism is not anti-religion, but only anti-theocracy. A comparison of Old Testament norms and modern democratic norms should clarify the difference between a secular society and a theocratic society. In a democratic secular society, a person who files a case of marital infidelity against his/her spouse must first present a list of charges indicating probable cause of the said offense and later produce supporting empirical evidence for his/her case to prosper in court. In ancient Jewish society under Mosaic law, jealousy on the part of a husband is sufficient ground for him to compel his wife to submit to the “water of bitterness” ritual, a trial by ordeal wherein the suspected wife drinks a concoction of holy water and temple dirt prepared by a priest The suspected wife’s illness and eventual demise after her ingestion of the “water of bitterness” would prove her guilt, while her survival would clear her of all suspicion. (Numbers 5: 11-31)

Secularism and democracy have progressed at highly uneven rates across societies with varying politico-economic structures, cultures and historical legacies. The continuing hegemony of religion in some modernizing societies such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ascent of faith-based political blocs in affluent societies such as the United States defy a simple correlation between modernization and decline of religious practice. Likewise, the supposed synchrony of secularization and democratization cannot be taken for granted in view of the numerous regimes that are both secular and authoritarian. The lack of synchrony between secularization and democratization across affluent societies is underscored by the contrast between democratic welfare states and the USA which is a self-declared “free enterprise society” with minimal social security nets.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at the relationship between Church and State in secular states


1) Concordat Watch. “Millions for the bishops: Why the German State pays the wages for the church”

2) Concordat Watch. “”German taxpayers subsidise 98% of faith-based social services”

3) Dacey, Austin and Colin Koproske, “Islam and Human Rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations, Center for Inquiry, September 2008.

4) Dacey, Austin. “The Secular Conscience” Excerpt from The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2008).

5) Frerk, Carsten. “German Taxpayers Subsidize 98% of Faith-Based Social Services”

6) Farris, Anne. R. P. Nathan and D. J. Wright, ”The Expanding Administrative Presidency: George Bush Jr. and Faith-Based Initiatives” The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, Rockefeller Institute of Government, August 2004.

7) Finkelstein, Norman. “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering”, Nov. 2000,

8) Loll, Anna Catherin and Peter Wensierski, “The Hidden Wealth of the Catholic Church”, Part 1:,1518,700513,00.html; and Part 2:,1518,700513-2,00.html

9) Lendman, Stephen. “On The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe”, Feb. 2007,

10) Paul, Gregory. “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look” Journal of Religion and Society (2005)

11) Paul, Gregory. “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity on Dysfunctional Psychosocial Conditions” Evolutionary Psychology, Volume 7(3). 2009.

12) Sizemore, Bill. “Gaining Faith in Federal Money” The Virginian-Pilot, January 17, 2006

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society2 Comments

Anti-RH assaults RH advocate inside the House of Representatives




Kenneth Keng
RH Advocacy Director, Filipino Freethinkers
[email protected]

Anti-RH Rizalito David threatens and assaults RH advocate inside the House of Representatives

(May 24, 2011) Quezon City, Philippines — A pro-RH advocate was recording RH Bill interpellations inside the House of Representatives (HOR) when an anti-RH advocate made threats of violence and ultimately resorted to it.

Kenneth Keng, the RH advocacy director of Filipino Freethinkers, was threatened and then assaulted by Rizalito David, former senatorial candidate of the Ang Kapatiran Party and resource person of Pro Life Philippines.

It started with a brief exchange about how the RH Bill was part of America’s imperialist plot. David spoke loudly so that Keng would hear his accusation: those who didn’t agree that the Kissinger Population Report was imperialist was “bobo” (stupid). Keng replied that he has read the report and that he didn’t think it was stupid. David replied, “Like I said, bobo.” Keng ignored the comment and continued to record the hearing.

Later, while Rep. Garcia was discussing the allegedly imperialist funding of RH advocates, David told Keng about the questionable nature of the funding that RH advocacy groups received from foreigners. Keng replied that the Catholic Church and the anti-RH side also received foreign funding and that this was also questionable.

At this statement David started to get angry. He invited Ken to go outside with him (doon tayo sa labas) where he would make it absolutely clear how questionable the RH funding was when it was only the two of them (pag tayong dalawa na lang). The threatening tone and adversarial choice of words carried with it an implicit threat of violence. Keng pointed his cameraphone from the hearing to David to protect himself and gather evidence for these threats.

At this, David became furious. He stood up from where he sat 3 or 4 seats away, shouted some unintelligible words, and walked towards Keng with his arms slightly raised, as if prepared to throw fists. The people behind him managed to restrain him, so he pretended to have calmed down and sat beside Keng. Seated and unrestrained, David hit Keng’s cameraphone, which was next to Keng’s face, with the back of his hand, sending the cameraphone flying into Keng’s glasses.

David then stood up and walked out of the hall. Witnesses from the row behind picked up Keng’s phone and gave it to him.

Red Tani, president of the Filipino Freethinkers, rose from the seat next to Keng’s and followed David outside. He caught up introduced himself, and asked David who he was and which organization he worked with, also requesting that they discuss what had happened. David refused to identify himself. He accused Tani of committing an action against one of his (David’s) colleagues. Tani told David that this was the first time he’d even met David, and that he had no idea what action, colleague, or organization David was talking about. Keng arrived and asked David the same questions. David refused to reply with any information on his or his organization’s identity.

Keng and Tani followed David outside the hall and met other RH advocates in the lobby, where they discussed potential actions, such as filing a case against David in the precinct nearby, and submitting an incident report to Congress. They were about to approach David but he had started walking upstairs to where the other anti-RH advocates were.

Keng and Tani, accompanied by witnesses and other RH advocates, waited until the end of the session for David to return so that they could figure out who he was and discuss what had happened. At the end of the hearing, David finally emerged. He was escorted by Father Melvin Castro of the CBCP, discreetly walking near the edge of the lobby toward the exit.

Keng and Tani approached David and Castro to ask them about David’s then unknown identity (at this point the RH advocates didn’t know who David was). David and Castro ignored the pair and walked straight to the driveway outside. Keng continued to ask the question until it became obvious that David and Castro were determined to ignore him.

Later at the lobby, a fellow RH advocate identified the assailant as Rizalito David.

Filipino Freethinkers condemns the actions of Rizalito David: for indirectly calling Keng “bobo” (stupid), for threatening or at least provoking Keng with violence (doon tayo sa labas), and for hitting Keng’s cameraphone into his face. That this all happened inside the chamber of Congress while a legislative process was going on makes his actions even more unacceptable, especially considering the fact that David once aspired to become a legislator.

We also condemn how Rizalito David — and to a lesser extent, Melvin Castro — hid his identity from us after several polite attempts at civil dialogue. Hiding himself and even his identity after doing what he did only shows that he himself is ashamed of what he did, and knew that he was at fault.

In the next few days, we hope to get David sanctioned by Congress and banned from entering its premises. We will file an incident report in Congress tomorrow, and we’ll consider filing a lawsuit against Rizalito David — we have more than enough witnesses who are willing to testify.

The Filipino Freethinkers is a group of nonbelievers and progressive believers who practice and promote reason, science, and secularism. They have members around the world, with regional chapters in Davao and Cebu, university chapters in UP Diliman and UP Manila, and affiliate organizations in Asia and the US. For more information, visit .

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If you’d like more information about this, or to schedule an interview with Kenneth Keng, please call 0917-9681387 or email him at [email protected]

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Why Dawkins should not debate with Craig

Why Dawkins should not debate with Craig

Richard Dawkins was accused of cowardice when he repeatedly refused to debate the existence of God with the famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig. And while he tried to shrug off such invitations by saying he is too busy to “take on people whose only claim to fame is that they are professional debaters,” I think Dawkins has a good reason to be afraid. Craig will eat Dawkins alive – that is, if the debate has more or less the same structure as the ones in which Craig had previously engaged with other atheists.

In a timed debate where each participant is awarded a point for every argument and counter-argument, Craig will surely win because he can state several arguments for the existence of God within a relatively short time. Now whether these arguments would crumble under critical scrutiny is beside the point; there is simply not enough time for Dawkins to effectively rebut each of these arguments especially with his slow British accent.

But if Dawkins will change his mind and decide to accept Craig’s challenge, I think the debate should be focused on only one of the arguments for God’s existence, say, the cosmological argument or the teleological argument, so that Dawkins could whittle it down and expose the fallacies. More importantly, Dawkins should insist that key terms like ‘evidence’ be clearly defined before agreeing to go into such debate. This was the mistake of Lawrence Krauss in the debate Is there evidence for God? In his opening statement (which was after Craig’s), Krauss said, “Dr. Craig came here to talk about evidence, which is, I take to be, empirical and scientific.” Too late. Craig had already defined ‘evidence’ in such a way that there is evidence for hypothesis H if:

Pr (H | E & B) > Pr (H | B)

Pr = probability; H = a hypothesis; E = some specific evidence; B = our background information

Craig explained:

“At one level it seems to me indisputable that there is evidence for God. To say that there is evidence for some hypothesis is just to say that that hypothesis is more probable given certain facts than would have been without them. It is to say there is evidence to some hypothesis H if the probability of H is greater on the evidence and background information than on the background information alone.”

And Craig argued that there is evidence for God if:

Pr (G | E & B) > Pr (G | B)

Pr = probability; G = God exists; E = some specific evidence; B = our background information

Craig continued:

“It seems to me indisputable that God’s existence is more probable given certain facts like the origin of the universe, the complex order of the universe, the existence of objective moral values and so forth, than it would have been without them.”

While it is clear that Craig’s definition of ‘evidence’ is that of circumstantial evidence and not direct evidence, the debate is simply titled “Is there evidence for God?” and therefore Craig’s victory is inevitable.

Craig is a seasoned debater, and his years of experience have taught him not only to identify the red herrings in his opponents’ arguments but also to get away with a few dishonest tricks of his own. A good example is his debate with Sam Harris, Is Good from God? In his opening speech, Craig flashed a slide with his own version of the title: “Is the Foundation of our Morality Natural or Supernatural?” While he stuck to the issue up to this point, what he did next was nothing short of sleight of hand. Craig said:

“The question before us this evening, then, is, ‘what is the best foundation for the existence of objective moral values and duties? What grounds them? What makes certain actions objectively good or evil, right or wrong?’ In tonight’s debate I’m going to defend two basic contentions:

1. If God exists, then we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties.

2. If God does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties.

Now notice that these are conditional claims. I shall not be arguing tonight that God exists. Maybe Dr. Harris is right that atheism is true. That wouldn’t affect the truth of my two contentions. All that would follow is that objective moral values and duties would, then, contrary to Dr. Harris, not exist.”

Take note that Craig’s contentions have nothing to do with the debate’s title, Is Good from God? or even with his own subtitle, Is the Foundation of our Morality Natural or Supernatural? Both titles are questions answerable by yes or no, not with conditional claims.

Then after Harris mentioned the problem of evil and the problem of the unevangelized, Craig rebutted with:

“Both of these, as I explained in my opening, are irrelevant in tonight’s debate because I’m not arguing that God exists. Maybe he’s right; maybe these are insuperable objections to Christianity or to theism. It wouldn’t affect either of my contentions: that if God exists, then we have a sound foundation for moral values and duties; if God does not exist, then we have no foundation for objective moral values and duties. So these are red herrings.”

But while he may sound righteously indignant about Harris’ red herrings, the problem with Craig’s contentions is that they are red herrings themselves. The debate’s title question, Is Good from God? can only be answered in the affirmative if God’s existence has been proven in the first place, and yet Craig insists that God’s existence is irrelevant to the debate.

Unfortunately, Harris did not seem to notice this (or if he did he didn’t seem to care enough to point it out), and it’s only after carefully reviewing Craig’s arguments that we can see through his deception.

Now would Dawkins fare better? I doubt it. And when he said that such a debate would look good on Craig’s CV but not on his own, I don’t think it’s because Dawkins finds Craig unworthy of his attention. I think it’s because Dawkins knows he would lose.


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