Archive | September, 2011

Join the ART-H Mandala Making Contest!


DKT Reproductive Health and Filipinay, in partnership with Sex and Sensibilities, are hosting the ART-H Mandala Making Contest this Monday, October 3, from 11:30 AM to 1 PM at the Palma Hall Lobby in UP Diliman. This contest is open to all UP Diliman students.

Participants, in groups of 4 to 10 students, are tasked to make mandalas using pills and condoms in light of the contest’s theme, which is sexual health rights, women’s health, and informed choice. Their output will be displayed for one week in front of the UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Student Council office for judging.

Participants stand the chance to win P15,000 for first place, P12,000 for second place, and P10,000 for third place.

This event is supported by the UP Reproductive Health and Gender Advocates Movement (RH AGENDA).

Posted in Announcements0 Comments

The International Women’s Health Movement in The Era of Globalization

(Plenary address delivered at the 11th International Women’s Health Meeting, Brussels, Belgium, September 15, 2011)

Permit me a moment of personal sharing. Before I left the Philippines, Senator Vicente Sotto, during his interpellation of a proposed bill to ensure reproductive health services in the country, projected the website of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR). He chose particularly that part of the website which discusses abortion. He added that Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio is the Chair of WGNRR, and that she has been seen frequently with the authors of the reproductive health bill.

The proposed legislation does not, in fact, change the Philippine’s restrictive law on abortion. The proposed law however, will mandate humane treatment of women seeking post-abortion care. It will also assure access to sexuality education, emergency obstetric services, modern contraceptives along with a range of other services such as those which treat and prevent reproductive tract infections.

I will add that Senator Sotto and other legislators who oppose any legislation related to reproductive health, divorce, LGBTI rights, are open about the fact that they are doing the work of God. Many advocates also state that they are doing it out of obedience and respect for the Bishops of the Catholic Church. And yes, in case any of you were wondering, the Philippines is a secular republic. But in the Philippines, as well as in other countries, legal guarantees on secularism have not restrained the fundamentalists from violations.

Perhaps I should move to assure you that I do not yet perceive myself in danger. I should also add that the rabidness of the religious fundamentalists at home is related to the strength of our efforts for the reproductive health bill. Two weeks ago, Philippine President Aquino certified the bill as a priority measure.

I mention this because this is the 11th IWHM, we are on our 34th year of the contemporary women’s health movement since the very first IWHM was held in Europe in 1977. On the one hand we have achieved much as a movement. And yet on another, whether it be in Asia or Europe we are experiencing backlash and the continuing control of our bodies.

In 1977 and today regimes of control determine the way we work, love and live. Then and now, women have resisted. As long as there is a need for resistances there is a need for a movement. Where women work together to free themselves from class, caste, race, colonial, neo-colonial, heterosexist, and other regimes of control, there we shall find our movement.

In a paper of mine that has been put in our conference kits, I have mentioned a few reasons for our success. Permit me now to state where I think we must go. Why, despite our success, we are facing increasing poverty and control whether we be in Europe or Asia, or any other region of the world.

My dear sisters, I open my eyes and see that the world is poorer. There are large gaps that exist between the rich and the poor and the gap is ever-widening. Apart from this, the world is at war, led by a nation which reacted to the aggression of a few by punishing whole peoples. But big wars are not the only threats. Small wars are waged everywhere and the streets of our communities and the bedrooms at home can also be places of violence.

In places of worship, in the academe, in newspapers and websites, in village halls and international convention centers, whether these be in progressive democracies or known fascist regimes, women are experiencing serious attempts to roll back the gains of freedom. These are often led by religious groups but any type of group and individual may be the source of this.

In the meanwhile world organizations such as the UN, which we have invested in so that they may reflect our resistance and solidarity, have become increasingly bureaucratized and impotent. On top of the previous institutions of control like the Vatican, we see the rise of minor despots or major power institutions like the World Trade Organization.

In the meantime the environment is suffering and we are threatening the life of the earth itself.
Whether through militarism or environmental degradation we are being brought to the brink of destruction.

Please, I do not wish to raise a panic. Whenever there is a panic it is the women and children who are trampled in the stampede. Women are likely to be blamed for overproducing people causing poverty and environmental degradation. This is one reason we are told by some to stop making babies. Or, we are told the breakdown of our communities is caused by our licentiousness and that we had better go back to our homes to produce babies.

Shall I be honest now? As if I have not been honest before? Shall I have a small tantrum? For the last 21 years that I have been working with IWHMs I have watched as those of us coming from the global South had to speak louder when we said we wished to oppose the imperialism of the World Bank which made our governments cut down on health spending and impose user fees. I have also heard the criticism of lesbian women about their marginalization. And we may go on about others: the disabled, the women from various indigenous populations, etc.

I have seen how organizers have succeeded or failed to root out the very elements of the oppressive structures which the movement wishes to change. And as it is with the IWHMs so it is with our social movements.

But I am tired of recriminations and guilt. They are the power tools of the despots and the messiahs. We are a movement that understands that life means pleasure and that those who wish to create our lives for us will end pleasure for us, and that is where poverty starts. So resistance means an insistence on food, housing, health, but also pleasure.

And why is this so? Because I have come to understand that in the era of globalization control is not merely political it is also biological,

In magazines conceived in London but sold in the corner store in Bombay or Prague, people are told what bodies to have—what kind of hips, what kind of lips, what kind of sexual aspirations.

Fast and global systems of market surveillance all over the world make the gestures of rebellion or alienation by people in any part of the world today tomorrow’s chic and latest consumerist trend. Fashions are designed in New York, cut by women pattern makers in Manila and rolled out as clothes in Shanghai.

The extraction of profit at every moment of our human need to communicate or create has never been more efficient. Indeed, life itself is being patented for a profit.

This profit taking is so frenetic and so efficient that in capitalism’s boom and bust cycles, trillions of dollars are lost or gained over very short periods of time.

We cannot delude ourselves that this efficiency in profit making is not resulting in global poverty.

We cannot delude ourselves that this enslavement of our human capacities to capitalist extraction happened independently of gender, race, class, caste and other dimensions by which they wish us to perceive our humanity.

Let me be clearer: class, sex, race, heterosexist and caste systems are not separate entities. There is no such thing as a less racist capitalism or a less heterosexist caste system. The feminist insight that brought us to reproductive and sexual rights has been validated by the evolution of the world’s economy. Productive and reproductive systems derive from the same human creativity. When wealth is extracted from the poor, it begins by making us accept that these two moments of life, production and reproduction, can be separated. When power moves it dictates what we think of ourselves and our world. It does so only because it has to—because our lives are not like this and we resist.

But to understand the our own envelopment by hegemony is not a call to stop noticing the race, class, caste and other differences that cause divisions among us. I have no wish to excuse myself from my own shortcomings. I have no respect for those who would use political theory to excuse their own bigotry.

However, my ability to be bigoted is not the problem. Bigotry is the default option that biopolitical mechanisms of control instill in us. The problem is my ability to accept the world according to their making. Where I exclude myself from others and their struggles, there is where I fall into error. Where I conceive of the women’s health movement as not also a movement against globalization; where I conceive of the movement against sexism as not also a movement against heterosexism, where I conceive the movement against racism as not a movement against caste—that is where I fall into error.

Where I conceive that my ability to love can be stunted so that it stays in the confines of my home or tribe or nation, instead of allowing it to expand towards solidarity with all the world’s poor, there is where I fail.

We cannot be blind to the fact that the world’s economy is in trouble. Everywhere people are insecure about their futures and their jobs. In the meanwhile, the world financial crisis has not brought an end to capitalist greed because it cannot help itself. It falls to all of us to deal with this crisis.

It is wrong to think that world poverty comes about from the lack of democracy and equity in the area of production and not in the area of reproduction. The women’s health movement must not feel itself out of its depth when it engages the movement against globalization. At the very least we must recognize that the medicalization of the bodies of women who can afford the expensive drugs and procedures, something I have seen discussed well in this meeting, comes from the same logic that denies life saving drugs to those who cannot afford to pay.

War, militarization and fundamentalisms are not distinct from the economic crisis. Wars have become police actions against leaders, nations or groups that would challenge the expropriation and concentration of wealth. But wars and intimate violence are never only about the free flow of goods and capital, it is also about how women must behave. Let us not be fooled by the rhetoric that those who would liberate us from our usual despots because these puppets can no longer to serve capitalism effectively, will also protect women’s rights—as if our sisters from advanced capitalist economies were so liberated. We cannot throw off one set of dictators for a set of liberators who will instill the same norms for women’s being. If real democracy is to be had it must be radicalized to extend to freedom for women as well.

Similarly do not let the urgent need to protect our environment blind us to the fact that it is not the world’s majority poor who are the main polluters. The solution cannot be to lessen the population of a country by imposing sanctions on women’s fertility.

But I do not wish to make a list of huge tasks addressed to some anonymous group called “us”. Rather I would like us also to think how easy it is to work on all these issues because we are already in resistance. The movement for sexual rights and freedoms is everywhere. We can begin by refusing the identities that oppression wishes to impose– “us”, “other” and “others”.

There is after all no need to submit our political actions to any unifying principle or hierarchy. As if our desires and our creativity have not always been polymorphous and unregimented. To ask a any woman to prioritize only this struggle or that is to say a woman is a good Muslim when she fights prejudice against Islam but chastise her when she criticizes the fundamentalists in her religion. Or it is asking a woman to be solely a lesbian and fight against heterosexism while denying that she is also a worker fighting against contractualization. We cannot fall into the these dichotomies.

In the Philippines, the Catholic spokespersons accuse us of going against Philippine culture and identity when we refuse Catholic norms for sexuality. Our response has been to insist that those among us who are not Catholic, and/or do not subscribe to their views on sex, must have equal citizenship rights and not be forced to live under their norms. To put it succinctly, I am a feminist and a freethinker and very much a Filipina. All women, as citizens, have a right to participate in social institutions and culture so that they may work to change the patriarchal norms embedded within them.

Second, we need not submit to any geographical hierarchies of struggle. Let me appeal to you that the local struggle in the Philippines may be as important as larger regional and international struggles. Our struggle in the Philippines is important because we are one of the last bastions of Catholic fundamentalism in the old colonies. Here, the local is global. Similarly, the struggle of Dr. Agnes Gereb, imprisoned in Hungary for providing home births is of equal importance–as are a thousand other individual struggles.

At the same time I would not make boycotting or attending UN activities a litmus test for our alliances. As we go to the UN for the review of the ICPD for example, my question is whether those who go will speak of all our struggles. My question is whether those who will go to the UN will still do so out of a sense of joyous struggle rather than gloomy obligation. Because, as we grapple with the bureaucratization and isolation of the UN, we shall see how the global can be extremely parochial. Cairo and Beijing are not supposed to be the maximum, they are supposed to be the minimum. And we cannot forget what was not won in Cairo but knew we wanted. Sexual rights are not a matter to be compromised this time around.

Whereas the enemy prefers us to think of homogeneous and stable identities and institutions, we are actually a heterogeneous and nomadic movement. Whereas the enemy would divide the world into distinct arenas of struggle, we make the linkages, the confluences and the synergies. This is not a way of saying we must respect the diversity in the women’s movement, as if diversity was a difficult but unavoidable condition. I am saying that it is only through diversity that we subvert the sterile homogeneity of fundamentalist prescriptions.

Lastly, we must trust our immense power to create what is positive. The first-ever IWHM did not speak of rights; it spoke of self-help, the capacity of women to help themselves. Indeed, the regimes of power and control that envelope us survive only on our strength. This is why they lock us in their death embrace. As the world stands on the edge of increasing misery we must counter-pose a new regime of life enhancement for all the world’s population. Universal health care, jobs for all, housing, clean water, food, security — these are not mere words, they are attainable social projects.

Thank you and good morning.

Images from,, and

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society1 Comment

Church Morality vs. Secular Morality: A Matter of Premise

Morality is such a divisive issue. In simple terms, morality is “the quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.” The divisiveness lies not in whether an act is in accord with certain standards of right and wrong, but on which standard should the rightness or wrongness of an act be judged.

In society, Church morality and secular morality often come into conflict with each other because their standards, and especially their underlying premises which dictate these standards, are as different as night and day. As such, their moral conflict is essentially a matter of premise, as follows:


With such opposing premises, it is of no great surprise that the Church blames secularism for destroying the morals of society, while secularists accuse the Church of trying to impose a misogynistic and bigoted moral system straight out of the Middle Ages.

For instance, on the issue of birth control, the Church asserts that it is God’s will that the unitive aspect of sex cannot be isolated, through man’s initiative, from its procreative purpose, meaning sex should not be done only for the sake of pleasure and bonding while avoiding the responsibility that comes with bearing children. And on the issue of gay marriage, the Church insists that God designed marriage to be the exclusive union between a man and a woman.

Secularism, on the other hand, operating on the premise that no one really knows the will of God – assuming he exists – has no objection towards contraceptive sex as long as the state laws on marriage, rape, and abortion are not violated. As for gay marriage, secularism has no opposition to its legalization as long as it is between two consenting adults.

If a moral system is based on the premises of the Church, it is easily justifiable to ban contraception and gay marriages since both are condemned by God, and the pleasures as well as the sacrifices of this life are nothing compared to the potential happiness and suffering in the next. But as the blogger Philosophy Bro once tweeted, “‘Because God said so’ isn’t a bad excuse if He really said so – proving that is the hard part.”

Since it is clear to the secularist that this life is the only life we really know exists, welfare and happiness in this life should take precedence over any imaginable but unverifiable condition after death – especially since we have absolutely no idea how to secure an advantage in the next life, if there is one. What’s wrong with passionate sex without the possibility of pregnancy if both partners are enjoying it and hurting no one, not even a fetus or a zygote? What’s so objectionable about two people of the same gender falling in love with each other and wanting nothing more than to publicly proclaim such love and enjoy the legal rights and benefits of a state-sanctioned union?

These intimacy and relationship issues appear to go beyond the appreciation of the Church hierarchy, who in turn seem intent on imposing a great deal of self-denial on others not only by preaching against hedonistic sex but by actually blocking laws that help poor couples enjoy sex without having more children than they can feed. As Bertrand Russell said, “Religions, which condemn the pleasures of sense, drive men to seek the pleasures of power. Throughout history power has been the vice of the ascetic.” Indeed, what can one expect from powerful men whose own institutional tradition bound them to become lifelong virgins?

Posted in Religion, Society70 Comments

The Truth about Cats and Dogs and Vivisection

The Truth about Cats and Dogs and Vivisection


The 1998 report issued by the Department of Agriculture listed 140,471 dogs, 42,271 cats, 51,641 primates, 431,457 guinea pigs, 331,945 hamsters, 459,254 rabbits, and 178, 249 “wild animals”: a total of 1,635,288 used in experimentation.

– Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: HarperCollins 2009).


The term vivisection was unfamiliar to me until I started to look into animal rights issues. These days, when I choose to avoid the term vivisection and use ‘animal experiments’ instead, I sense that people aren’t particularly aware of the difference between the two terms. There is simply a lack of information surrounding the issue. Many seem to think that animal tests are used sparingly, only in life-saving circumstances such as research for HIV/AIDS, and that in these situations, animals are treated with utmost care for their “contribution to science.”

The fact that we are using animals — sentient beings — in the first place poses an ethical question. They are basically treated as mere objects and tools — “models,” as industry journal Lab Animal refers to them. What makes it worse is that these experiments, even under the highly-esteemed medical research category, are practically useless. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, “nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory and animal studies.” [1]

Examples of Vivisection

Vivisection consists of military tests, psychological research, product testing, and medical research.  The following examples of animal testing are selectively derived from book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.

One experiment used a flight simulator called Primate Equilibrium Platform to test how exposures to radiation and chemical warfare agents affect the ability of monkeys to fly an aircraft.  To train monkeys, electrical shocks had to be administered up to one hundred times a day or a total of thousands of electric shocks throughout the experiment. Once monkeys had learned to operate the aircraft, they were then exposed to lethal or sublethal doses of radiation or chemical warfare agents. This was where the real experiment began. The end result was that the monkeys showed symptoms of loss of coordination, weakness, and intention tremor.

Another experiment consisted of beagle dogs being fed varied doses of explosive TNT throughout a period of 6 months. This was conducted under the direction of the U.S. Army Medical Bioengineering Research and Development Laboratory at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Maryland. The result was that the dogs experienced dehydration, emaciation, anemia, jaundice, low body temperature, discolored urine and feces, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, enlarged livers, spleens, and kidneys. As if this wasn’t or cruel enough, the test conclusion was that “additional studies of TNT in beagle dogs may be warranted.”

In the field of psychological research, many experiments used animals as subjects in controlled experiments, rather than studying available data in depth through actual human behavior. One such experiment was conducted by Professor Harry F. Harlow. In his experiment to determine the lifelong effects of maternal deprivation, depression was induced by allowing baby monkeys to attach to abusive surrogate mothers. They reared female monkeys in complete isolation, after which they were impregnated with a technique accurately called “rape rack.” The test result was depressed baby monkeys reaching out for help from surrogate mothers who treated them even worse.

In product testing, a common test for cosmetics, bathroom, and household products is called LD50 or “lethal dose 50 percent”. The point of the test is to find out what amount of the substance will kill 50 percent of the test subjects when force-fed. The very intention of this test is to kill half of the animals and to conduct the testing again and again until the 50% kill-ratio is achieved.

The Draize eye irritancy test is another common product testing methodology. As the name suggests, products are tested in animals’ eyes. The animals are restrained so they are unable to move, scratch, or rub their eyes — so the “integrity” of the test can be retained. It is not uncommon for eye swelling, ulceration, infection, bleeding, and even total loss of vision to occur. It is important to emphasize that the testing bears no relevance to the actual situations wherein the products are to be used. A Draize eye test can be used to test deodorant, for example.

Many experiments under medical research are conducted not for any breakthrough findings, but merely to satisfy an intellectual curiosity, with these experiments’ outcomes already known. As an example, Yale University School of Medicine students conducted an experiment on kittens by placing them in a “radiant-heating” chamber, which resulted in convulsions. Their report said: “The findings in artificially induced fever in kittens conform to the clinical and EEG findings in human beings and previous clinical findings in kittens” (italics mine).

Cruel, Faulty Science

Saying no to vivisection is not being anti-science. On the contrary, we cannot rely on the accuracy of animal tests in many occasions. As a data point, in a toxicity test involving 56 substances, 45% of findings from animal tests cannot be replicated in humans. Even with medicine we use today, the effects differ significantly among animals and humans.  Acetaminophen, for instance, is “poisonous to cats but is a therapeutic in humans; penicillin is toxic in guinea pigs but has been an invaluable tool in human medicine; morphine causes hyper-excitement in cats but has a calming effect in human patients; and oral contraceptives prolong blood-clotting times in dogs but increase a human’s risk of developing blood clots.” [2]

Because vivisection is used as the standard for medical testing today, we have wasted a lot of money, time, animal lives and human lives. Take, for instance, the linking of smoking to lung cancer.  When the correlation was reported based on an epidemiological study in 1954, it was dismissed because the result could not be replicated in animal experiments. It took 30 more years for the initial finding to be accepted — that is 30 years’ worth of animal and human lives that could have been saved. [3]

Another misleading experiment was the study on a drug called Mitoxantrone. When tested on beagle dogs, the drug did not show links to cardiac failure, and so it was approved for human testing. Later on, “data from 3,360 patients receiving mitoxantrone included 88 reports of cardiac side effects with 29 cases of heart failure.” [4]

Because much variance can be derived from experimentation among different species, vivisection is also an easy way for research practitioners to manipulate experiments for their own interests. All researchers have to do is switch species until their desired outcome is derived. If their experiment on rats did not produce the desired result, they will repeat the experiment in rabbits, and then in cats, and then in dogs, and then in monkeys, and so on, until they find the results that will get them their research grants and funding. By this time, countless animals would have suffered and died with no guarantee of any significant finding.

There are many other examples of vivisection as bad science, and the bottom line simply is that because of our attachment to using animals for experimentation, we are not only being cruel to beings who are sentient enough to feel pain, but we are also impeding progress in the medical field.

Speciesism: Animals as Property

The reason vivisection still exists today is not because it is necessarily an effective means of research, but largely because of speciesism. Speciesism is the discrimination towards species other than our own. Speciesism allows us to justify the harm we do to animals by clinging on to the false belief that our interests and trivial concerns precede the comfort and preferences of others. Even as non-practitioners of medicine, many of our schools and universities require dissection of frogs, cats, and other animals in basic biology classes.  We can all agree that such experiments are not necessary in the advancement of knowledge as a whole, for we are merely studying what is already known. The reason we continue to do this is because as speciesists, we see nothing inherently wrong with this practice. This further desensitizes us as our own educational institutions force the idea that animals are mere objects, tools, or properties.

To end vivisection and other forms of animal exploitation, we have to reject the property status of animals, an animal rights theory introduced by Gary L. Francione. It is not enough that animals are “treated better,” for properties remain a sign of ownership, where the owner has the right and privilege to do whatever he or she pleases with the property. It is always a relationship of power and dominion over that which is owned.

Even if vivisection can lead to valuable medical findings, it still cannot be morally justifiable in the same way that experimenting on brain-dead human beings or newly-born babies cannot be morally justifiable. In the subject of morality, the question is not skill or intelligence or likeness to humans. The only qualifying criterion is sentience or capacity to feel. We cannot own anyone who has the capacity to feel, and we certainly cannot experiment on them without their consent.

What Does This Have To Do With Me?

You are unconsciously contributing to animal cruelty — and I say this with certainty if you wash your hair with shampoo, shower with soap, and brush your teeth with toothpaste.  It is horrific to think that in the name of a new variant of shampoo, animals have to suffer and die (and they most certainly die, as animals are normally “discarded” after the experiment has concluded.)

If you think you’re being a good Samaritan by donating to a cancer research fund, again, this has everything to do with you. Find out if the charity you are donating to is still using vivisection or has advanced to in-vitro, tissue cultures, cell cultures, computer simulations, and other non-invasive procedures. Not only are these methods less cruel, they are also more relevant to human health and medicine.

The power in being a consumer is that we vote with the currency most understood by businesses and corporations — profit.  There are many injustices in the world, but the injustice of animal cruelty is a very direct one that we can stop. It is one that we either choose to sustain or choose to boycott. It was said in the documentary Earthlings that “it takes nothing away from a human to be kind to an animal”. But when I really think about my own choices to boycott animal cruelty, my motivation is not so much of kindness but one of justice. One does not have to be an “animal lover” to oppose suffering. One does not have to be a radical activist to create positive change. It could start with the shampoo you use today, that is how ridiculously simple it is. The truth about vivisection is that it cannot be justified, nobody deserves it, and nobody benefits from it. The truth about cats and dogs — and monkeys and rabbits and rats and guinea pigs and all other animals — is that they are sentient, just like you and I.



[1] Food and Drug Administration (2006, Jan. 12). FDA Issues Advice to Make Earliest Stages of Clinical Dug Development More Efficient. Press Release. Retrieved March 2008, from

[2]  and [3]  Problems with Animal Research.

[4] Beagle Dogs Mislead Cancer Research


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Posted in Personal, Science, Society18 Comments

Bound by Belief: Are Catholics Obliged to Obey?

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

– Matthew 16:19

A reader of my post on primacy of conscience had an issue with my use of the word “bound” when I implicitly concluded that Catholics are bound to obey the Church. His main objection was that together with my use of “prison” in the title, “bound” implied that the Church took away the freedom of Catholics to make up their own minds. He concluded that because a Catholic can refuse to obey the Church on certain things, he is not bound.

I’ll explain here that my usage of the term is accurate and the objection is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of obligations.

Bound by Duty

One of the synonyms of “obligated” or “obliged” is “duty bound.” Also, “bound” has several dictionary definitions, but I used (and use) the following one in bold:

bound 3 (bound)


Past tense and past participle of bind.


1. Confined by bonds; tied: bound and gagged hostages.

2. Being under legal or moral obligation: bound by my promise.

The reader’s objection is probably due to his thinking that I meant “bound” in the first sense: confined and tied like gagged hostages. This is not what I meant, but I am aware of this connotation, which is an added bonus. But even without this there are several valid reasons to use “bound” instead of the alternatives.

Bound by Church Law

First, the Church itself is fond of using this term, and in the way that I meant it (obligation). Here are two examples taken from my post on primacy alone:

The Church’s Magisterium also teaches the faithful specific particular precepts and requires that they consider them in conscience as morally binding.

– Pope John Paul II

Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority, stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority.

– Pope Benedict XVI

And don’t forget the bible verse I quoted to start this post, one of the pillars of Church authority. The expressions “bind” and “loose” were common in Jewish legal lexicon:

The phrase “to bind” and “to loose” was often used by the Jews. It meant to prohibit and to permit. To bind a thing was to forbid it; to loose it, to allow it to be done… When Jesus gave this power to the apostles, he meant that whatsoever they forbade in the church should have divine authority; whatever they permitted, or commanded, should also have divine authority – that is, should be bound or loosed in heaven, or meet the approbation of God.

The Catholic Church, which has “what is claimed to be the oldest continuously functioning internal legal system in Western Europe”, sees this as Jesus giving them the authority to enforce God’s laws, laws written in the Code of Canon Law.

Bound by Civil Law

To this day the term is still used not only in Church law but in civil law as well, although in a different sense. Instead of forbidding, “binding” implies obligations [emphasis mine]:

What then are legal obligations? They are legal requirements with which law’s subjects are bound to conform. An obligatory act or omission is something the law renders non-optional. Since people plainly can violate their legal obligations, “non-optional” does not mean that they are physically compelled to perform, nor even that law leaves them without any eligible alternative. On the contrary, people often calculate whether or not to perform their legal duties.

This shows us that although binding obligations are non-optional, it does not mean physical coercion or absence of alternatives is necessary. The reader’s objection to my usage of bound is based on the misunderstanding that binding necessitates removal of all alternatives. On the contrary, a person can be bound and still have alternatives.

Bound by Belief

Consider theft. A buyer is bound by legal obligation to pay the seller the right amount. This obligation is binding; it’s non-optional. This does not mean the buyer is not free to ignore the obligation. He can try to pay less, pay more, pay with something else, or not pay at all, which leads to certain sanctions. But there are sanctions precisely because there is a prior binding obligation to pay.

In the same way, Catholics are bound to believe the Church. Again, being bound does not mean the Catholic is not free to ignore the obligation: he is free to dissent. But like theft, doing so involves sanctions — heresy, exclusion from communion, etc. — precisely because there is a binding obligation.

So being bound to believe (or obey) does not necessarily mean a Catholic cannot dissent (or disobey). Catholics are free to disobey, but they are not free to disobey without consequences. It is in this sense that they are bound. Thus, my original usage of the term is valid. But so is the connotation of the word: being tied and gagged like hostages.

When hostages are physically prevented from escape, their freedom is obviously limited. But what if the hostages are not physically tied? What if the kidnapper threatens the hostage with something else (killing the hostage, killing a loved one, torture, blackmail, etc.)? The hostage may not be physically prevented from trying to escape (in the sense that he can attempt it) but the effect is just the same.

Now consider clerical child abuse. A child who is raped by a priest is not physically prevented from telling the authorities. Nor is the child’s family. But through Crimen Solicitationis, which details a Church policy to silence victims and coverup abuses, threats of excommunication and eternal damnation were used to silence the victims and their families. They were gagged into silence because they were bound to believe.

Because to many believers, eternal damnation is the worst possible fate — far worse than kidnapping or torture or death. I brought this up because the sanctions for doubting dogmatic teachings are similar to those used to silence the victims of clerical child abuse.

The problem with such sanctions when it comes to religious belief is it puts the believer’s motivation into question. Surely, it is possible that a believer obeys the Church completely out of their own volition. But when threats of eternal damnation and rewards of eternal life are at stake, can you really say that a believer is not bound to believe?

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Society10 Comments

Blasphemy and the Right to Blaspheme

A couple of weeks ago, actor-director-advocate Mae Paner (a.k.a. Juana Change) assembled a tremendous panoply of talent to produce the video you see below. For some reason, she also invited me, but anyone who can see past the travesty of my accent will surely enjoy and be challenged by the ideas contained herein. I firmly believe that pieces such as this embody what the artists’ community meant by utilizing the religious conservatives’ bullying and politicians’ opportunism as an opportunity to educate citizens of all ages.

Religious conservatives don’t belong to just the Catholic faith. In September 30 2005, an artist in Denmark published a cartoon that caused Muslim conservatives to call for his death over blasphemy. Join the international community in marking September 30 as “International Blasphemy Rights Day.” With the CBCP actively trying to create a blasphemy law despite the UN Human Rights Commission declaring that blasphemy is a human right, this day is highly relevant to the Philippines.

Image from

Posted in Religion, Society, Video10 Comments

Primacy of Conscience in the Prison of the Church

Senator Miriam Santiago’s theological argument for the Reproductive Health Bill relies on the Catholic doctrine called “primacy of conscience.” But some conservative Catholics think her understanding is flawed, one of her many “booboos” intended to “mislead faithful Catholics.”

Is Sen. Santiago misleading Catholics when she argues that primacy of conscience allows Catholics to dissent on the RH Bill? Or are conservative Catholics just defensive because she found a loophole that allows Catholics to be progressive in such issues?

The answer is complicated, so I’ll try to state it simply before expounding. Primacy of conscience means that a Catholic must act consistently with her[1] conscience. However, a Catholic must also have a conscience that’s consistent with the teachings of the Church. Taken by itself, primacy of conscience gives Catholics freedom. Taken in context, it gives Catholics freedom to do what the Church tells them.

Conscience and Contraception

Consider contraception. The Church teaches that contraception is inherently evil. Catholics have an obligation to believe this — to make it part of their conscience. When a Catholic fails to believe this — or hold it as definitive — she is fully responsible for this sin (failure to believe) and is no longer in full communion with the Church[2]. When she uses a condom, she acts according to her conscience. Due to primacy of conscience, the sinful action cannot be fully blamed on her — she’s only fully responsible for the sin of doubt.

Yes, she had freedom to use contraception — she does have free will (another complicated doctrine) — and was even right in doing so according to primacy of conscience. But she did not have freedom to believe that contraception was OK — primacy of conscience only applies to actions, not beliefs.

In a nutshell, it was right to act according to her conscience, but wrong to form her conscience independent of the Church.

Cardinal Pell

Conscience and Confusion

If I failed to explain that simply enough, you can’t blame me — primacy of conscience is one of the most easily misunderstood Catholic doctrines. This is why Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Melbourne, has been fighting against the doctrine for years:

“The doctrine of the primacy of conscience should be quietly ditched . . . because too many Catholic youngsters have concluded that values are personal inventions.” Furthermore, the primacy of conscience is “a dangerous and misleading myth.” In fact, according to Pell, “in the Catholic scheme of things, there’s no such thing as primacy of conscience.”

Cardinal Pell is not alone. Although he doesn’t want to ditch the doctrine, Pope John Paul II understands how misleading this doctrine can be:

There is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly… To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience.

— Pope John Paul II, Papal Encyclical Veritatis Splendor

The Vatican also acknowledges this confusion by warning of the “mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching [emphasis mine]” which leads to erroneous judgment.

Conscience and Obligation

As Pope John Paul II explained, the confusion comes from extending primacy of conscience from the realm of actions to the realm of beliefs. And because one acts as one believes, Catholics have the obligation to educate their beliefs first:

Although each individual has a right to be respected in his own journey in search of the truth, there exists a prior moral obligation, and a grave one at that, to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, that outstanding defender of the rights of conscience, forcefully put it: “Conscience has rights because it has duties”

Here Pope John Paul II explains that Catholics have a right to follow their conscience because they have a duty to follow the Church. And in case you’re wondering why I equated seeking the truth with following the Church, he made it very clear:

The Church’s Magisterium also teaches the faithful specific particular precepts and requires that they consider them in conscience as morally binding… When people ask the Church the questions raised by their consciences, when the faithful in the Church turn to their Bishops and Pastors, the Church’s reply contains the voice of Jesus Christ, the voice of the truth about good and evil.

But what about the current pope? Like many progressive Catholics, Sen. Santiago often uses Pope Benedict’s following statement:

Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority,” writes Ratzinger, stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority.

But that’s only part of the picture. Taken by itself, it does seem like the pope’s statement allows Catholics to dissent. But taken in context, Pope Benedict’s statement is consistent with those of Pope John Paul II and official Vatican teaching. He explains that although following conscience is a duty and is never wrong, informing conscience is also a duty, and neglecting to do so is always wrong:

It is never wrong to follow the convictions one has arrived at—in fact, one must do so. But it can very well be wrong to have come to such askew convictions in the first place… The guilt lies then in a different place, much deeper—not in the present act, not in the present judgment of conscience but in the neglect of my being which made me deaf to the internal promptings of truth. For this reason, criminals of conviction like Hitler and Stalin are guilty.

— Pope Benedict XVI (then Fr. Ratzinger) while serving as Chair of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Tübingen in 1968

Conscience and Clarification

There are two variables at play here. Let’s call them the two duties of conscience:

  1. Educate your conscience.
  2. Obey your conscience.

Chains Church

Primacy of conscience only applies to the second duty, and fulfilling it is not complicated: following your conscience is right, not following it is wrong. But primacy of conscience does not apply to the first duty. For this, primacy of Church is the rule: believing the Church is right, not believing it is wrong. With this, we come up with the duties of conscience according to the Catholic Church:

  1. Believe what the Church says should be in your conscience.
  2. Obey your conscience.

And if your conscience is consistent with what the Church says — and Catholics have a moral obligation to ensure this[2] — then we finally have this:

  1. Obey the Church.

Where did the primacy of conscience go? This is what our investigation has finally revealed. In the words of Cardinal Pell, “in the Catholic scheme of things, there’s no such thing as primacy of conscience.” At least not in any meaningful sense that actually grants Catholics freedom. Because as Rosa Luxemburg said, freedom is always the freedom of dissenters.

In the Catholic scheme of things, Catholics have a duty to obey the Church. But the clergy won’t tell you this. They’d prefer to tell the laity that their only duty is to believe, and I think progressive Catholics would prefer this, too. Why? Because Catholics are proud and even honored to be called believers. What do you call someone who is bound to obey?


[1] I’ll use the female pronoun because it’s RH and also to remind you that we’re celebrating 100 years of International Women’s Day.
[2] The Catholic Church requires all Catholics to accept three kinds of truths:

  1. truths that are divinely revealed or dogmatic teachings
  2. truths that are taught infallibly by the Pope or the authentic ordinary Magisterium (also called the ordinary universal Magisterium) or definitive doctrines; and
  3. truths that are taught fallibly (in a non-definitive way) but authoritatively by the Pope or the authentic ordinary Magisterium or authoritative, non-definitive doctrines.

You must be wondering why truths should even be categorized. Isn’t something either truth or not truth at all? The reason is there are different degrees of acceptance required for each truth — and corresponding punishments for failing to do so:

  1. dogmatic teachings are to be believed; failing to believe is heresy, which warrants automatic excommunication.
  2. definitive doctrines are to be held definitively; failing to hold definitively excludes Catholics from full communion with the Church. I wrote about the implications of this in “The Penalty for Pro-RH Catholics.”
  3. authoritative, non-definitive doctrines are to be accepted at a level that matches the importance of the doctrine; failing to accept warrants punishment of the same level, depending on the importance of the doctrine.

[3] Source of the Satu Mare Chains Church image.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society78 Comments

Hold Your Horses: On Our Global Women’s Progress Report Standing

Malacanang came out with a statement yesterday on Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s recent Global Women’s Progress Report, which ranked the best and worst countries in the world for women. The Palace was very glad to note that the Philippines placed 17th out of the the 165 countries included, and was the only Asian nation with a spot in the top 20. Local media, of course, lapped it all up, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if individual politicians use this bit of news to bolster their opinions and agendas. The following chunks of the Malacanang statement, in particular, are bound to be quoted ’til kingdom come:

“Garnering an overall score of 86.3 out of 100, our country scored highest in the areas of education (92.2), economics (89.1), and justice (88.4).”

“This is an affirmation of the respect our culture has always accorded to Filipino women—one that manifests itself as well in our government’s efforts to promote equal gender opportunities in all spheres of public policies and programs. “

Many would see the whole statement as a very heartening bit of news (and likely another easy excuse to be “proud to be Pinoy”). But the thing is, it’s only a whopping 142 words long. It only highlighted the bits in the report that sounded brag-worthy, didn’t bother to place the data into context, and kept out significant results in the study. It is, for the most part, a grossly misleading statement, and Malacanang should have known better than to trumpet it about.


Bragging rights

A 92 in education, an 89 in economics, and an 88 in justice. Music to your ears, right? And yes, if you compare the Philippines to, say, Saudi Arabia, where women can’t drive; or to Pakistan, where a thousand women each year are murdered in the name of “honor;” or to Somalia, where almost all women undergo genital mutilation, then yes, it would seem just about right.

The problem is, just because we’re better off than other countries doesn’t make us a stellar, shining beacon for women’s rights just yet. We still have a long, long, long way to go, and the worst thing we can possibly do is to rest on our so-called laurels. How can we be proud of ourselves now when women still can’t break free from their tortuous, torturous marriages through divorce? When women are still sexually molested by priests, who in turn cower in the shadows of their bishop’s cloaks? When women are still denied the ability to learn more about their own reproductive system, and decide how to plan their familiesWhen 11 women a day die from maternal complications?

Unlike what the carefully crafted Palace statement implies, the Philippines is not exactly a safe haven for women. We still have a lot of shit to deal with. It’s so easy for the public to misconstrue the abovementioned numbers, and Malacanang should have clarified things further.

Health, held up

Going back to our women’s being denied reproductive rights, it is also incredibly important to note that the Malacanang statement left out our score in a very crucial criterion: Health. We scored a sickly 57 points in this category — the lowest amongst the top 20 countries, with the rest scoring in the 80s and 90s. And why the low score? Let’s take a look at what constitutes good health in this report:


-Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19)

-Maternal mortality rate (maternal deaths per 100,000 live births)

-Contraceptive prevalence (percentage of women ages 15-49)

-Proportion of women with unmet need for family planning (aged 15-49)

-Proportion of women attended at least once by skilled health personnel during pregnancy

-HIV incidence rate

-Proportion of women receiving antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV

-Number of unsafe abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44

-Whether abortion is legal:

To save woman’s life

To preserve physical health

To preserve mental health

In cases of rape/incest

In cases of fetal impairment

Economic or social reasons

On request

With the exception of the abortion segment and anti-retroviral drugs, every one of these factors could be easily addressed with the passage of the Reproductive Health bill — a bill that can’t seem to make any progress thanks in great part to the tag-teaming between Catholic bishops and nincompoops in the Senate.

It must be noted that the Palace also recently made a statement in favor of putting the bill to a vote already. This statement was made last Wednesday, September 21st, the same day the other statement about the Global Women’s Progress Report was made. It’s such a shame that they didn’t lift the Health facts from the Progress Report to bolster the other statement. Then again, why should we expect this from an institution that always seems preoccupied with aggrandizing itself?

PR and the Palace

At this point in our country’s history, our government should stop publicly patting itself on the back and justifying such actions as a way to lift the nation’s spirits. There is harm in too much PR. If Malacanang really is behind ending this RH brouhaha once and for all, then they should stop withholding information from the public, and stop making such damningly misleading statements.

To anyone who read the statement and felt absolutely ecstatic over it, hold your horses. The words on the page and the world out your window can be two very different things. We have to stop this inane cycle of being so (naively) proud of our country that we become complacent, suffering the consequences of our negligence, an cheering ourselves up with more, and even emptier, reasons to take pride in our nation.



Posted in Politics, Society2 Comments

September 25 (Sunday) Katipunan Meetup

Location: Seattle’s Best, Katipunan Greenwhich, Katipunan (Google map)
Date: Sunday, September 25, 2011
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

Emergency update: Seattle’s Best is full, we’re moving the meetup to Greenwhich in Katipunan, beside National Bookstore

RSVP on Facebook

This week we’ll be having a meetup at Katipunan. We’ll be discussing prayer bans, recent statements made by PNoy on LGBT adoption and Philippines being ranked as one of the best places in the world for women.

Any Atenean freethinkers out there, we’d love to have you at our meetup! We’re trying to revive a student-led effort to found a campus chapter for FF inside the Loyola Schools. We need freethinking secularists, humanists, atheists/agnostics/apatheists, progressive theists, etc. from the university willing to dedicate their intelligence and some of their time to making this movement become sustainable and dynamic enough to apply for accreditation in around two years.

If you’re interested to spearhead or join the initiative, attend this weekend and get to know your fellow founding members, then filling out this registration form.

Discussion Topics
– Ateneo Chapter
France Bans Prayer in Streets
Gay Adoption
Philippines one of the best nations for women
– Quickshots: Blasphemy, Planking

After the meetup we go for dinner and beer drinking but we’re not sure where yet. 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.

Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532

* 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 Seattle’s Best.

Posted in Meetup0 Comments

Church and State: Why They Can’t be Friends

The official news website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) recently published an article titled “Church and state: Why can’t they be friends?” which tells of the Pope’s warning on the dangers of secularism.  The following are some key excerpts pertinent to the Philippine situation and worthy of analysis, in an attempt to answer the title question why the church and state can’t indeed be friends.

[T]he pope warns that societies without the moorings of Christian values will be lost at sea, unaware of or indifferent to the truth that anchors humanity to justice, peace, respect and solidarity.

This statement implies that the principles of justice, peace, respect, and solidarity are held exclusively not only by religion, but by a particular religion, which is Christianity. It is a very arrogant statement that insults not only nonbelievers but believers of other faiths as well. Such a premise alone is already reason enough as to why church and state cannot be friends.

The separation of church and state, which is a hallmark of a democracy, “has also gone onto the separation of God and life unfortunately,” in which religious beliefs and values are expected to be left not only out of the process of public decision-making, but out of people’s own personal lives, too, he [Fr. Theodore Mascarenhas] said.

Secularism does not really intend to eradicate religion as much as keep religion a private affair. In our country alone, millions depend on religion for hope, happiness, and peace of mind, and secularism has no problem with that. It’s one thing to want to keep religion separate from government; it’s totally another thing to try to wipe it out.

One key topic, in fact, under discussion at the 2010 special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East was how to promote “positive secularism,” a form of separation of government and religion that still allows people’s faith to have a role in society without consecrating one religion as the religion of the state. The church supports a form of church-state separation that ensures religions have a voice in society and that laws reflect moral values — including laws dealing with life and marriage.

The main problem here is that different religions disagree among themselves on important issues including those involving marriage, such as birth control and divorce – both of which the Roman Catholic Church condemns while other religions accept. If our laws were to reflect religious moral values, the halls of congress would be filled with a cacophony of voices and our laws would conflict with one another.

In the West, secularism is understood as the problem of God being foisted out of the public sphere; but for the East, it’s a positive state of affairs in which governments show respect and protect all religions, letting them have a voice and not treating anyone better than the others, he said.

In the Philippines, one religion has the loudest voice and is listened to more than others.

“A real church-state separation would be that the church can freely express and ask its followers to adhere to the principles it holds dear,” Father Mascarenhas said.

Sounds just about right, for as long as the legislators, most of whom are members of both state and church, do not forget that they represent the former when they are in congress, even as they heed the latter for guidance on how they live their personal lives.

“Show me one human situation that is not reflected in the Gospel,” he said. Not only are the human challenges of death, fear, doubt and persecution detailed in the Bible, it also spells out the solutions, too.

How about three: cloning, stem cell research, and genetic engineering. But there’s a situation about disobedient servants that the Gospel of Luke (12:47) talks about and spells out a solution to: “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows.” Should this be incorporated in our Labor Code?

“The answer to death is the resurrection, and the answer to doubt and anguish like Jesus felt in the garden of Gethsemane is give yourself over to the will of God,” he said.

But who gets to declare what the will of God is, assuming he exists? The Vatican? What about the other sects and denominations? What about the other religions?

In The Science of Good and Evil, Michael Shermer wrote:

“Religious freedoms must always be protected, but the price for this security is the separation of religion from government. Historically, where church and state were wed, individual liberty suffered, including and especially religious liberty.”

Former supreme court justice Isagani A. Cruz explained this separation as follows:

“The rationale of the rule is summed up in the familiar saying, ‘Strong fences make good neighbors.’ The idea is to delineate the boundaries between the two institutions and thus avoid encroachments by one against the other because of a misunderstanding of the limits of their respective exclusive jurisdictions.”

Indeed, Church and State can be good neighbors for as long as the strong fence of secularism stands between them, because rights are trampled every time either of them crosses that fence and steps into the other’s territory. And no matter how noble their intentions are, they can never, ever be friends.


Image from

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society7 Comments

Ballet Philippines Celebrates 100 Years of International Women’s Day with Inamorata

To celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day, Ballet Philippines will stage Inamorata:

Ballet Philippines presents INAMORATA, which highlights the versatility and range of the country’s premier professional ballet and contemporary dance company. Celebrating the many Faces of Eve, it shows classical pieces like “The Dying Swan” and all new pieces by the country’s top choreographers like Alden Lugnasin and Denisa Reyes. Guest artists include sopranos Rachelle Gerodias and Camille Lopez Molina, while fashion designers Rajo Laurel, Ito Curata, Jojie Lloren and Lulu Tan Gan design the costumes.

I’m most interested in seeing “Everywoman,” an advocacy piece about the sexual repression of women, dramatized by a woman, a serpent, a pope, and several priests. Here’s what one reader had to say:

It’s choreographer Denisa Reyes’s take on women’s rights- choosing what is best for their bodies and ultimately a better life for themselves. It is also a reaction to all these outrageous banners posted outside churches and other anti-RH Bill institutions pronouncing that supporting the RH Bill is a sin against god. On the other hand, her piece proclaims that being against sex education and reproductive health measures/choices is a sin against women. I think the piece can send a very powerful message that comes from the ones directly and wholly affected by the presence or absence of the bill – the Filipino women.

From what I’ve heard about “Everywoman” and Inamorata it should be a great way to celebrate International Women’s Day. Do consider going, and tell your friends, too. In case you’re interested, here are the details:

Venue : CCP Main Theater
Time : 3:00 pm
Date : Sep 24, 25 2011
Time : 8:00 pm
Date : Sep 23, 24 2011

Tickets: P1000 | P800 | P700 | P500 | P400 (Evening Shows)
P600 | P500 | P400 | P300 | P200 (Matinee Shows)

Thanks for the tip, Russ and Adrienne. 🙂

Posted in Announcements, Entertainment0 Comments

Beauty and Belief

In the aftermath of the 2011 Miss Universe, the most oft-discussed question in the internet is: Did Shamcey’s “Love My God” answer cost her the crown?


Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong

Certain as the sun
Rising in the east
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty wants you to believe…


That would have been the theme-song of Miss Philippines’ Shamcey Supsup after her interview portion in this year’s Miss Universe pageant. Opinions have been tossed around left and right by people from all sectors of society. Some have even questioned the validity of the question itself. Was Miss Philippines’ question harder to answer than Miss Angola’s? Was it OK to put people on the spot by questioning their religious beliefs?

Criticisms like this only highlight a glaring fault in Philippine society – that even in the 21st century, questioning someone’s religious stance is still treated as somewhat taboo.

But in the sordid history of reality TV, Shamcey was definitely not the first to be put on a tight spot because of their religious convictions. In an episode of the Amazing Race, a distraught contestant wouldn’t enter a Buddhist temple to complete their task because she felt it was against her Christian beliefs to do so. In an eating challenge of Survivor, another contestant wouldn’t eat the food presented to her because she was vegan. In America’s Next Top Model, another contestant wouldn’t go on a racy photo shoot because it would show more skin than her conservative upbringing would allow. The latest bit of reality TV drama involved a young contestant on The Glee Project who wasn’t comfortable kissing a girl onstage because of similar conservative stances.

So our very own Shamcey Supsup is in good company. Depending on your liberal / conservative leanings, you would either praise people like them for remaining true to their convictions despite social pressures… or you’d feel sorry for people like them for being so narrow-minded and still desperately clinging on to outdated conservative norms. But for the sake of brevity, let’s skip the judgment and go straight to the meat of the matter, her answer:


 “If I had to change my religious beliefs, I would not marry the person that I love because the first person that I love is God who created me and I have my faith and my principles and this is what makes me who I am.”


Great answer. She showed conviction and confidence in her personal stance. It doesn’t matter what your personal views are on religion, she answered the question the only way it should be answered – you cannot and must not compromise yourself and your own beliefs just to please someone else; the decision is yours and yours alone. She could be a Scientologist or a Mormon, and it would still be the right answer.


“And if that person loves me, he should love my God too.”


I guess we could all agree this is where she crashed and burned. Blame it on pressure, the wrong choice of words, or just plain too much honesty… but it came across to many as too demanding and too one-sided. One could interpret her words in two ways:

1. She would only marry someone of the same religion as hers. This would make her stance too rigid…it implies close-mindedness, if not outright prejudice. In a world trying to embrace diversity in all its various flavors of creed, ethnicity, and lifestyle, is it any wonder she’d lose the Miss Universe crown with a mind-set like this? Even worse, as a representative of the Philippines, this is the image she’s projecting to the rest of the world – that Filipinos have a cristiano-cerado mentality.  Most Filipinos would find the practice of some ethnic groups like the Chinese or Spaniards preferring to marry only within their community a discriminatory social preference but fully support Ms. Shamcey’s equally discriminatory criteria in choosing a mate? C’mon people, let’s have some consistency here. Yes, there’s a huge culture-gap to overcome when it comes to inter-religion/racial/ethnicity relationships; it definitely takes a lot more work since both partners are out of their comfort-zone. It is definitely not a plug-and-play affair. It will challenge your dedication to each other – but isn’t that what marriage is about? “You and me against the world”? Several studies have even shown that the strongest relationships have partners with the most differing backgrounds. Take it as a testament of their love for each, their willingness to compromise, to put their relationship over all other things separating them – I think it’s an attitude like that that makes a relationship work, not the color of one’s skin, the shape of the eyes, or the god(s) you pray to. I believe in the  old cliche “that which does not break us, makes us stronger”.

2. She would only marry someone who’d convert to her religion. This alternative’s even worse. Firstly, marriage is a relationship of equals. That being said, one cannot demand something of your partner that you yourself are not willing to reciprocate. Would she volunteer to “love” Allah as well if her fiancé was muslim or Xenu if her boyfriend was a Scientologist? Probably not… That’s the problem with most world religions today – they demand exclusivity, leaving no room for the beliefs of others. And the painful irony here? If she managed to get her boyfriend to switch religion that easily, what does it say about his loyalty? His paninindigan?  Did it ever occur to Shamcey that a person who could switch religions could just as easily be as fickle in his love life? Just a thought.


I Love you Lord!


How then should she have answered the question? Personally, I’d go for a compromise. Let each spouse be allowed to practice their own belief, let them learn from each other’s perspective and nurture their relationship from the strength of their diversity. When they finally have kids, allow each parent to impart their belief system to the child and let the kid decide which one to follow, if at all.

There’s a saying that ‘opposites attract’. But that’s only true if both parties are willing to compromise instead of arguing on who’s right or whose decisions matter more. Ruffa Gutierrez may not be the poster-girl for inter-religion marriages but there are inter-faith marriages that do work out. I googled up celebrity inter-faith couples and miraculously, some of them are still together today!  But that’s only for couples who are willing to see past their differences and work with it, instead of against it. For starters, there’s Naomi Watts (Buddhist) and Liev Schreiber (Jewish), Angelina Jolie (Atheist) and Brad Pitt (Baptist), Katy Perry (Evengelical) and Russel Brand (Atheist). But the inter-faith couple I’m rooting for the most are Taye Diggs (Christian) and Wife Idina Menzel (Jewish). Not only are they inter-faith, they are also inter-racial. They have often been the target of various extremist hate-groups for their “inter-inter marriage” but have stayed strong together, even actively supporting several social causes promoting social acceptance of minority groups like the LGBT community. Inter-faith website On Being Both writes about this power-couple and their views on raising their child “in an interfaith community, he would grow up with knowledge of the stories and awareness of the history from both sides of his family.” Now that is a truly inspiring story of how true love triumphs against all odds.

And so yet again, the Philippines is denied the top spot. So close, yet so far away. Maybe that’s our problem – we dream of being “world-class” but can’t bring ourselves to embrace the world in all its diversity. When we’re put on the spot, our first instinct is to retreat back to our tribal mentality. Perhaps the hardest lesson we Filipinos have yet to learn is how to embrace other cultures without losing our own identity.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society43 Comments

On Marriage, Divorce, and the Submission of Women

One of the arguments against legislating divorce in the Philippines is that spouses will no longer promise to love each other forever. For instance, in the ANC Harapan debate which took place last June, Bishop Teodoro Bacani asked rhetorically how many women would like to be told by the groom at the wedding ceremony that he will love her only until divorce.

While the answer is obviously “none,” the fallacy of this argument lies in the underlying assumption that love will last for as long as the partners stay married to each other, and that making the option of divorce available not only renders the marriage provisional, but trivializes the spouses’ love as well.

A rhetorical question can be asked in return: In the only remaining country in the world without divorce, how many married couples actually love each other until death? More importantly, how many women complain that when they were still sweethearts their men treated them well, but shortly after they got married they were being neglected or even abused, because the husbands had become complacent with the assurance that marriage is a lifetime contract so the wives can just suck it up?

If marriage is made provisional by legislating divorce, there would be one less reason for either spouse to be complacent. Instead of relying on the perpetuity of the marriage bond, husband and wife will have to prove themselves worthy of each other everyday.

One of the milestones in our country’s legislative history that suggests that marriage should be a continuous courtship is the enactment of The Anti-Rape Law of 1997, wherein marital rape is impliedly recognized with the following provision:

Article 266-C. In case it is the legal husband who is the offender, the subsequent forgiveness by the wife as the offended party shall extinguish the criminal action or the penalty.

One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to interpret that to mean that the husband can be charged with rape unless the wife forgives him. Marriage doesn’t constitute “continuous consent”; just because a woman has freely and voluntarily entered into the contract of marriage doesn’t mean that she has also agreed to have sex anytime and every time he wants.

Unfortunately, this principle of marital freedom, where the wife can say no to the husband when it comes to sex and other matters, is somewhat undermined by no less than the Bible. Ephesians 5:22-24 mandates, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church…Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” While the succeeding verse (25) tries to balance this with the command, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” the complication starts when the husband fails to do his part of loving the wife. If that happens, is the wife still obliged to submit to the husband “in everything”?

Commenting on the U.S. statistics that ironically list Christians and Jews as having higher divorce rates than atheists and agnostics, American Atheists spokeperson Ron Barrier said:

With Atheism, women and men are equally responsible for a healthy marriage.  There is no room in Atheist ethics for the type of ‘submissive’ nonsense preached by Baptists and other Christian and/or Jewish groups.  Atheists reject, and rightly so, the primitive patriarchal attitudes so prevalent in many religions with respect to marriage.

One doesn’t have to be an atheist to reject female submission as a marital principle. It only requires that we shed off cultural notions of machismo to appreciate and value women as equal partners. And while disallowing divorce will impose a rigid permanence on the marriage bond, legislating divorce will make the marriage provisional and puts the spouses on their toes so that if the marriage is going to last, respect and especially seduction will have to continue long after the wedding day.


Image from

Posted in Religion, Society3 Comments

The Cultural Heritage of the Catholic Church

The great art critics of the CBCP are at it again! After saving the Philippines from the scourge of penes in Mideo Cruz’ work and the Reproductive Health bill, the Catholic church is now crusading to preserve its own great cultural contribution to the Philippines: hypocrisy.

At a forum about Republic Act 10066, the National Cultural Heritage Act, the CBCP dared to invoke the separation of church and state in demanding that the church be given exemptions from the law.

When it comes to the RH bill, Attorney Jo Imbong pounds away at the wall separating church and state with the force of a wrecking ball. However, she so easily turns on a dime and brandishes that very same wall of separation in defense of the Roman Catholic church:

“While the Church unites with the state in the national policy to protect, preserve and promote the nation’s cultural heritage, the law should not prohibit and penalize necessary works on churches,” said Jo Imbong, a lawyer of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

That whole colonization of the Philippines thing that the Catholic church was a part of? Where they got into the country and abused the people while they spread the good word? Yeah, that little part of Philippine history explains why the Catholic church is in possession of many cultural artifacts of the country, from religious artworks to historical landmarks such as churches.

Also, slave boys

 The National Cultural Heritage Act protects cultural property such as those churches, “against exportation, modification or demolition”. While I can understand the CBCP’s desire for exemptions to allow them to modify those old buildings to “tend to their flock” as they call it, I find it so appallingly hypocritical that they would ask for the exemptions by invoking the separation of church and state. Church-State separation: a concept that the CBCP has made abundantly clear it doesn’t give a shit about when it comes to matters like the RH bill.

But wait! Jo Imbong and the CBCP aren’t just content with this one level of hypocrisy. They’re like the Inception of hypocrisy: they’ve got to go deeper. While invoking the separation of church and state, Jo Imbong argues that the National Cultural Heritage Act should be extended to respect the Catholic religion. Never mind that the constitution, the very document that enshrines the concept that they are using (abusing?) says, “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion”, oh no no no. Screw the constitution, respect mah authoritah!

Respect My Authoritah, Boys!

 Prohibiting religious attacks

RA 10066 identifies cultural property as “all products of human activity by which a people and a nation reveal their identity, including churches, mosques, and other places of worship, schools and natural-history specimens and sites, whether public or privately owned, movable or immovable, and tangible or intangible.”

Because of the broad coverage of the law, many groups are suggesting limitations or explications on the proposed guidelines to govern its implementation.

Because of the furor recently over the Cultural Center of the Philippines, a state agency, mounting “Polytheism,” an installation work by Mideo Cruz showing the cross with an erect phallus and Catholic images dotted with condoms, Imbong said the CBCP had proposed to include among the prohibitions “any act that defiles, mocks, corrupts, debases or destroys the integrity of intangible cultural property or heritage.”

“Intangible cultural heritage” covers “oral traditions and expressions; the performing arts; social practices, rituals, and festivities; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; and traditional craftsmanship.”

Acts of disrespect toward religious expressions, which are considered intangible cultural property, should be punishable, Imbong said.

“As a people, we have received a heritage of treasure in Church history, a heritage that gives us an identity,” Imbong explained.

So Jo Imbong reasons, keeping a straight face the whole time, that because the Church took part in colonizing the Philippines, it has established itself into the cultural heritage of the country and thus, deserves much respect. It deserves so much respect as a cultural artifact that this law must defend it against desecration! How dare you defile expressions of the established relig… excuse me, culture, with more cultural expression! There should be laws against that!

Mmm, delicious tasty hypocritical irony.

Let me be clear here: the CBCP wants to turn RA 10066, a law that protects our cultural heritage, into one that stops the further development of our culture. They wish to defile and twist the spirit of a law that has good intentions, the preservation of history, into a monster straight out of the dark ages: a blasphemy law thinly veiled to disguise its horrific effects on the freedom of expression.

Come to think of it though, perhaps I am wrong in my thesis. The CBCP aren’t just trying to preserve hypocrisy as their great cultural contribution to the Philippines. Maybe I should think bigger, as befitting the majesty of the church.

Perhaps the cultural heritage that the CBCP cherishes the most and wish to preserve is from the glories of the Church’s colonial past: the culture of the Filipino people, bowing subserviently and unthinkingly before the priests and bishops of the Catholic church.

Posted in Politics, Society7 Comments