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EPIC Meetup Recap: The One with Karen Ocampo Flores, Mideo Cruz, and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna

EPIC Meetup Recap: The One with Karen Ocampo Flores, Mideo Cruz, and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna


The man on the left is visual artist Mideo Cruz, he of the hotly contested Poleteismo, and to his right is FF President Red Tani, he of the hipster glasses obviously stolen from the other dude. This photo was taken during the very epic FF meetup held last Saturday, wherein all three hours were consumed discussing the hoopla surrounding Cruz’s work, how people have been reacting to it, and what should be done to progress properly in light of the issue.


The mere mention of the CCP debacle on our meetup invite apparently piqued a lot of people’s interest. The entire second floor of Starbucks Ansons was packed. There were roughly 50 people in attendance, and the crowd was a great mix of regulars, newbies, and oldies back from the dead. Nowhere did we announce that Mideo and other folks involved more intimately in the issue would be present, so it was very heartening to see so many faces there purely out of the desire for discourse.


Nevertheless, we were extremely honored that several persons key to the issue were there to share their thoughts. As mentioned, the artist himself was there, and he disclosed to us the extent of the hateful threats he has received since the whole controversy began, as well as his insights into art-making and putting his pieces out for public consumption. Fortunately, he was quite adamant in standing by Poleteismo. 


Also present was Karen Ocampo Flores, the former Museum and Visual Arts Director of the CCP who resigned from her post due to this whole debacle (and whose reaction to the Dakdakan forum can be read here). A very important point she raised during the meetup was the media’s accountability in the issue. She said that the media’s oversimplification and sensationalism were quite detrimental to the whole debate, and drove home the point that Filipinos need to be better educated on the value of art and art appreciation in order for them to think for themselves.


Another very special surprise that day was the presence of renowned film director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna. Carlitos is currently working on a project greatly significant to the entire Poleteismo issue — the passage of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB)/Freedom of Expression Bill (you can join the FB group here), which aims to pry the Philippines away from the Dark Ages and better classify which films have true value and are fit for public consumption, and which films do not.


Working with Carlitos on the bill’s passage is Dino Manrique, who was also present. A familiar face in the local literary scene, Dino shared his thoughts on educating the masses regarding art, and how art critics could have had a more public voice in the matter to lend everyone a richer perspective.


Most of the meetup was thus a very engaging discussion on how art ought to be digested. Should artists be obligated to explain their work? To what extent are people responsible for informing themselves regarding the arts?  Suffice it to say that the topic was very refreshing and made for passionate discussion.

Again, we were thrilled that so many people took it upon themselves to come and participate in our latest meetup. We’d like to think that is a taste of things to come. Since the very first meetup in February 2009, the FF meetups have been venues for richer and richer discussions amongst an increasingly diverse group of people, and we look forward to seeing more of you in the next one.

Photos courtesy of Patrick Charles Rigonan 

Posted in Meetup, Politics, Recap, Society5 Comments

This is Not a Church?

This is Not a Church?

The following is a note on the forum entitled Dakdakan: Kulo, which was held last August 5 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Main Gallery regarding the controversy surrounding Mideo Cruz’s artwork. It was written by the CCP’s Visual Arts Officer-in-Charge Karen Ocampo Flores, who has permitted us to publish it on the site. 

Maraming salamat.  I’m certain there were true believers there who simply came to express their reactions.  This forum was formed to hear you out.

Maraming salamat, artists, students and other supporters.  Your presence helped achieve balance.

Kaso, SIMBAHAN PALA ITO! It wasn’t about art.  It wasn’t about religion.  It was really about politics.

We expected devotees coming in with their grievances.  But this group was something else. They came ready, they were organized (clapping cues included) and they are well-honed bullies.

I agreed with Precious Leano, our moderator, that to prevent tensions, she will regulate the forum by allowing only one-way talks by each speaker.  The rule was: no responses, no debates, no profanities.

Even with that, we were surprised by the first burst of rudeness. We were in effect told to shut up as we opened the forum with slides about “Kulo” and some points on the VA policies for exhibit proposals.  We shouldn’t make them wait.  Did I say, “Ayaw nyo ba ng forum?”  They were eager beaver for it.   “This is about that work, anyway” one began impatiently, pointing to “Poleteismo.”

Thus the Mideo-bashing and all the horrors and sins of the work in question began. They had their statements in print (same things they’ve been giving out in media). And they were performing to the cameras.  Fire, brimstone, ice, meron ding boses na matubig, na malumanay.  They worked with every ingredient laced with intimidation.

Good thing, I could hardly speak anymore (dry mouth and sore throat had set in).  Good thing, Precious was an assertive moderator.  It was so hard to follow the rules.

But some people seemed to be very used to these people’s (because they keep calling us ‘you people’) antics.  Thank you for coming, Filipino Freethinkers, you helped meet the first barrage.  Thank you, Concerned Artists of the Philippines for reading your statement of support.

So why did this forum turn into a tacit skirmish?  Because it was for them a takeover.  They ARE really telling us what to do.  It’s not a debate about art, it’s not a debate about religion: it’s about imposing their power on the CCP.  Mandates on art and culture, easy enough to subject to their virtuous interpretations, then yup, dig up an old 70s law.  Same with VA policies replete with niceties– oh yes, so bad of us not to be so nice to 85%  majority.  There, may the fear of prision mayor or the ombudsman be with you for risking the rights and welfare of the dominant religion.  CCP is fair game for their strategies to frame the RH stance within this great drama about art attacking religion.

We have seen riskier art with religious images at the CCP and other galleries;  people complained, but never at a scale such as this.  Why?  Because back then only the artist gains from the attention.

Now they have a big stake once they establish that the CCP as a government institution made a mistake in the same way that RH should be a big mistake.  So that’s why we keep getting that from out of the blue; that’s why they keep insisting that we’re doing RH even if it was an exhibit that identifies with Rizal’s conflicts with the UST.  If we were presenting RH, we would say so.

Hence the ultimatum was not simply to stop the exhibit.  They kept repeating the need for amends, for apology; that we should admit we made a mistake.  They didn’t need that from Mideo.  They want it from CCP.  And good old CBCP need not even make a statement.  It simply had to take the artist’s hand gently and ask him: why?

Am I offending a religion?  Oh, I was simply reflecting on a forum.

Posted in Personal, Politics, Religion, Society2 Comments

Republic of the Philistines

Republic of the Philistines

This article was written prior to the forum held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) regarding the controversy over Mideo Cruz’s artwork, which was conducted last August 5, 2011. 

For a reaction to the forum by CCP’s Visual Arts Officer-in-Charge Karen Ocampo Flores, click here.


I must admit to writing this out of anger and out of fear. Just this morning, two individuals walked into the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ gallery housing the exhibit Kulo and proceeded to do the following:

The culprit/s wrote in BALLPEN on portions of the artworks, a pedestal, and walls, “EMEDEO [sic] SUMPAIN KA! BAKLA!” And then on another (unfortunate) artist’s work that had the word “MOVE,” he or she wrote, “TO HELL.” The culprit/s also hacked off the wooden penises from the cross installation.

– Tony Perez, via Facebook

This is the very same exhibit which the CBCP and its ally Pro-life Philippines’ President Eric Manalang demanded the closure of. When the CCP organized an open forum to discuss the matter with him and the museum going public, he proceeded to threaten to file a lawsuit against them the day before the forum.

I am deeply angry at the barbarians who perpetrated this shameless act of vandalism against public artworks, and I am afraid at the lengths to which people like them are willing to go for their so-called loving faith. If the CBCP or its allies fail to do anything less than totally condemn this barbaric action, then it will confirm my worst fears about how little value they put not only on freedom of expression, but on basic respect for other people’s lives, livelihood and property.

UPDATE: Ah. Color my fears confirmed, then:

Atty. Jo Imbong on CCP vandalism: “Now we see how a disordered act like an exhibit like that can fuel other disorders. Evil leads to more evils in its wake.” Imbong is from a Catholic lay group filing charges against the CCP and the artist. – Jeff Canoy over twitter (continuation)

Despite every effort made at civil accomodation, the CBCP and Pro-life Philippines have shown through their actions that they do not want discourse or discussion; they only want their demands met and their dictates obeyed.

The CCP has made a call for ‘respect and sobriety’, the full text of which can be found here (Facebook link). For this I am thankful, as it reminds me that there are still even-tempered, well-intentioned individuals who are willing to take a step back and consider the consequences of their actions and who those actions might hurt. I am thankful that through all this, there are those that still understand the value and meaning of respect.

It’s because of people like these that I can believe we do not quite yet live in an actual Philistine Republic, though it seems increasingly apparent that that is exactly the sort of country that the CBCP and its allies wish us to become. For what else would their current strategy of promoting anti-intellectualism through throttling free expression be good for, if not to bring about a society where no one may think or dare to oppose them?

(Image taken from here)

Posted in Religion, Society7 Comments

Language, Lifestyle, Privilege, Perspective: What The Language Of The Learned Truly Is

Language, Lifestyle, Privilege, Perspective: What The Language Of The Learned Truly Is

It’s Only Words, And Words Are All I Have To Take Your Heart Away

Before I get into this, Ruffy Biazon, a man I truly admire and respect, pointed out the inconsistency of people who defended Mideo Cruz for blaspheming Jesus Christ and then proceeded to assail James Soriano for “blaspheming” the Filipino language, as it were, during Buwan ng Wika itself.

Allow me to demonstrate my consistency on these matters.

Okay. That’s settled.

That being said, in an article yesterday, obvious Atenean James Soriano discussed Filipino as a language in a less than flattering light. This article has been taken down by Manila Bulletin already, but I found a cache of the article thanks to some of my friends. Allow me to preface this by pointing out I am writing in English right now, so no, I am not going to get into a blind Patriotic Filipino® rage and make a sacred cow of our language. That completely defeats the purpose of opening this discussion, and reeks of hypocrisy in light of the impassioned defense against Mideo’s right to blaspheme. Our language is not immune to criticism, but then, neither is Mr. Soriano’s argument. This is also why I was disappointed that the article was taken down. It has engendered discussion on the role of language in one’s life, and I personally believe this is a good thing that shouldn’t have been stifled.

I believe that the sticking point to most people who are indignant over the article was the notion that “Filipino is not the language of the learned.” It reeks of intellectual elitism and privilege, which, to Mr. Soriano’s credit, he never once denied.

It’s just that… nobody really understood what he was trying to get across, and the onus was on him to have chosen his words carefully and concisely to do so, since it was his article, and name-dropping Fr. Bulatao just because he can just feels like such a predictable thing a typical pretentious pseudo-intellectual Arrnean would do.

Mr. James Soriano, the language of the learned isn’t English, Filipino, Cebuano, French, Spanish, Latin, whale, Klingon, or anything else of the sort. The language of the learned is well thought out. The language of the learned is characterized by one’s deliberate choice of words, regardless if those words are uttered in English, Filipino, Cebuano, French, Spanish, Latin, whale, Klingon, or anything else of the sort.

I bear no ill will towards you, not just because I believe you are entitled to your opinion, but simply because your upbringing likewise prevents you from truly expressing yourself in Filipino in a manner that you could deem as “educated.” Which is why ultimately, your via negativa thesis statement should have been “Filipino is not the language of my education.”

There will be others who will learn and can only learn primarily through Filipino. Or English. Or any other language. The choice of the language itself does not dictate whether or not it is learned or civilized. It is the exercise of choosing the words carefully and then expressing them clearly and concisely that dictates how learned one actually is.

Thus, to dissociate myself from people who disagree with Mr. Soriano solely on the basis of him dissing our national language instead of disagreeing with him on the universality of his statements, I would like to point out that saying “P****g i*a mo, James Soriano, bakla ka, mamatay ka na!” is no more or less learned than saying “F**k you, James Soriano, you’re a f****t, go die in a fire.”

In both cases, you are being a boor who lets your feelings get the better of you instead of responding to the issue the way a learned person actually would.

And really now, being learned has little to do with where you graduated from or how much money you make. It has much more to do with your own temperament and the way you choose to respond to situations. Heaven knows a lifestyle of privilege didn’t give Mr. Soriano the perspective to understand how the learned could very well express themselves in Filipino if they choose to do so.

Language will always have its limitations with the built-in capacity for growth. We realize that every time we add a new word to the dictionary the way “Tweeting” and “bromance” have been added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary this year. As such, no single language would have a monopoly on learnedness. We heard this before during the middle ages when they believed only Latin speakers were educated. We really shouldn’t be making the same mistake again.

I do not resent you one bit, Mr. James Soriano, nor do I pity you. I believe you are learned enough to realize that your life experience and your privilege is not enough perspective for you to cast your net so wide in your attempt to speak for everyone.

Sa katapusan ng araw, kahit ano pa ang sabihin natin, may karapatan si Ginoong Soriano na ihayag ang kanyang saloobin. Marahil, nakakalungkot para sa ibang mga tao na hindi lubusan ang pag-yakap ni James sa kanyang pambansang wika, subalit hindi rin ba tayo nasasakdal sa tuwing pinagtatawanan natin ang Cebuano dahil sa tingin natin, kapag probinsyano magsalita ang isang tao, hindi siya edukado? Pare-pareho tayong nagkakamali sa pag-iisip ng ganyan, at ang kahalagahan ng inilathala ni James ay ang pagkakataong ginagamit natin ngayon upang talakayin ang mga punto at kontra-punto ng kanyang isinulat.

Ito ang pagkakataon na imulat ang ating isipan at alalahanin kung ano ang tunay na marka ng wika at pananalita ng edukado.

Sa huli, kahit Ingles, Tagalog, o Swardspeak pa, ang sariling wika ang mahalaga, kahit na ang wikang itinuturing mong “sarili” ay hindi ang pambansang wika. Ika nga ni Gat Jose Rizal, na isinalin sa Swardspeak…

“Ang wiz mag-Mahalia Fuentes sa sariling wiketch ay mas Smellanie Marquez pa sa echoserang frogette. Trulalu, walang halong eklavu.”

Mabuhay ang wika ng tunay na edukado.

Long live the language of the truly educated.

ADDENDUM: In light of Mr. Soriano’s sister’s attempt to play the satire card in Tumblr, I would like to point out that even if someone writes poorly to emphasize an ironic point about one’s mastery of the language, it doesn’t make it any less agonizing to read, precisely because it is poorly written.

Furthermore, his article has since been republished on the Manila Bulletin here. He has also written a new article that addresses the troll responses against him, but none of the actual arguments against his initial assessment that “Filipino is not the language of the learned.”

Posted in Personal, Society6 Comments

Girl, 12, Honored for Blind and Reckless Devotion to Inanimate Object


Pictured above is Janela Arcos Lelis, a 12-year-old schoolgirl from Albay province. That’s really her, on a very stormy day last July 26, risking life and limb to save the Philippine flag. The flag had been left behind in their already-submerged home. To keep her from getting swept away by the raging flood, Janela held on tightly to a rope hastily set up for evacuees. Her deed accorded her various honors — a plaque, a miniature flag pin, a full-sized flag, and Php 20,000 from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), not to mention quite a bit of media coverage. According to NHCP Executive Director Ludovico Badoy, what Janelis did was

“a selfless act of courage, reflective of her love for country and a constant reverence to the national symbol.”

In the awarding ceremony, NHCP President Maria Teresa Diokno told Janela,

“…we hope that your classmates and all the other young people in the country will follow your wonderful example of giving tribute to our national flag.”

The NHCP’s heraldry chief Teodoro Atienza claims that in his 30 years of service, he had never come across anyone who dared to risk their life for the Philippine flag.

With all due respect, Mr. Atienza, no one had ever dared to risk their life for a piece of cloth before because it is a really, really, really bad idea. Just to refresh your memory, a young human being’s life is infinitely more valuable than a large piece of cloth, no matter what it represents. And Ms. Diokno, your wording is a bit distressing. Some young men and women might misconstrue that as encouragement to forsake shelter in the midst of calamity just to save other physical symbols of our nation, in the hopes of receiving praise, attention, and maybe a decent-sized check.

What Janela did was born out of naivete, and one can’t help but wonder why her deed generated such a response. It could be the culture of “Pinoy Pride” that permeates many aspects of the average Filipino child’s life, from her schooling to the mass media she consumes. It is a culture of being absolutely ecstatic at the thought that some random half-Filipino American citizen who has never stepped foot on the motherland, so to speak, passed the first round of auditions on American Idol. It is a culture of taking pride in taking pride, of looking at our poorly developed, horribly managed, amnesiac country through thick, rose-colored glasses. Saving a flag in the midst of a flood that could have been avoided had the town been better planned in the first place? That seems to fit into this kind of culture just fine.

It must be noted that Janela did not do her deed entirely of her own volition. Her elder brother, a Citizen’s Army Training officer in the local high school, was actually the one who told her to fetch the flag from their waterlogged home. Why didn’t he do it himself? Because he was busy helping his relatives evacuate from their homes. (He has priority issues, that one.)

Janela complied not only because of the notion that the flag deserved utmost care and respect, as drilled into her in the classroom, but because she was afraid her brother would be berated by the school and have to pay for it if it got lost. The latter, in fact, seems to be the more plausible — yet still quite faulty — excuse behind her daring-do. People do stupid things for money and good repute. In fact, it’s quite possible that the whole nationalist hullaballoo was purely manufactured by the government and media after the fact, and Janela only did the deed because she just happened to be the kind of blindly obedient girl from a poor family who’d feel that she had no other choice in the matter.

Whatever the case may be, NHCP’s trumpeting of Janela’s misguided act was a bad move. No, Janela should not be berated for what she did; she just didn’t know any better. But neither should she have been the subject of so much pomp and circumstance. She should have simply been told that her show of selflessness was admirable, but that next time, she should prioritize her own life in such dire circumstances. She needs to be made to understand the illogic behind her deed in as kind a manner as possible, and that’s it.

For the NHCP to make such a big fuss over this smacks of opportunism and nothing more. These people are adults; unlike Janela, they do know better. To praise her, and to tell the youth that they should follow her example, is sickeningly irresponsible. There are infinitely better ways to promote a love of country like, oh, say, encouraging people to do what they can to make the place actually worth fighting for, for starters. The men and women of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines should very well know that the country has remained in a poor state for the longest time, and that this has a lot to do with our tendency to make the same fatal mistakes over and over again, with one of these mistakes being our refusal to see the country for what it is and simply aggrandizing the most trivial things in the name of “pride.”

Likewise, the media’s eagerness to make NHCP’s fuss-making more public was a bad move. And as we have learned from the whole Poleteismo brouhaha, where their sensationalism took the country down an especially dangerous path, they don’t really seem to care that it was a bad move.

I can only hope that Janela eventually understands why what she did didn’t deserve all that praise and attention. The flood she braved was much murkier than she thought, and far harder to get out of alive.

Posted in Personal, Politics, Society10 Comments

August 28 (Sunday) Fort Bonifacio Meetup

August 28 (Sunday) Fort Bonifacio Meetup

Location:  Fort Bonifacio Starbucks, 32nd Street (in front of MC Home Depot) (Google map)
Date: August 28, 2011
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

RSVP on Facebook

Well folks, today is the last day of voting for the Globe Tatt awards! If you haven’t yet, please do vote for us if you find our work building a secular community and working for a secular government in the Philippines valuable. The prize we could win would go a long way into helping us make more of an impact in our advocacies! We’re not just nominated for The One, please take the time to vote us for The Advocate too! Thanks for your support!

It’s a roving meetup so we’re holding it at the big Starbucks at Fort Bonifacio. Come join us for a rowdy intellectual chat! Whatever the result of the Globe Tatt awards, the community we’ve been building with you folks is the most important part of the FF. Do come down, we want to meet more freethinkers!

Discussion Topics
– Ang paggamit ng wikang Tagalog/Filipino
– The RH Bill as a Priority Bill
– The state of LGBT rights in the Philippines
– Religious offense and the limits of free speech

Links to articles with more information on the discussion topics will be posted later.

After the meetup we go for dinner and/or drinks. We’re not sure where we’ll go yet for this meetup. 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 Starbucks.

Posted in Meetup1 Comment