Author Archives | Andy Uyboco

After The Pope Has Gone

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle describes the recently concluded papal visit as a “miracle,” though I wonder what constitutes a miracle for the good cardinal. Miracles must indeed be in short supply these days if what transpired could pass for one.

It would have been a miracle, for example, if our security personnel did not have to eat, drink or piss on duty, obviating the need for MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino to suggest that they wear adult diapers. Though it was a practical suggestion, it would have been another miracle if God had bestowed the good chairman with a little more wisdom not to make a public announcement of the matter, as it quickly became the subject of ridicule and embarrassment, so much so that the PNP had to make a statement that policemen won’t be wearing diapers while on duty.

It would have been a miracle if corrupt politicians suddenly burst into flames as the Pope delivered his message at Malacañang, urging political leaders to “be outstanding for honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good.” Oh what a happy bonfire that would have been. On the other hand, we would probably be left with no political leaders. But then again, is that so bad? I wonder.

It would have been a miracle if government did not have to spend millions of taxpayers’ pesos (not all of which are from Catholics) to ensure the Pope’s and everyone’s safety and security during the event. As it is, papal visits probably cost us more than we think they do. A worker’s group, the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, is demanding to know how much was spent on the Papal visit, in the spirit of transparency. I do not have the exact figures for this but the same source states that a total of 40,000 security personnel were employed during the 5-day visit. This does not include opportunity and business costs lost during the cancellation of flights and the declaration of non-working holidays.

I am not talking about expecting angels to appear from the sky to act as the Pope’s bodyguards, thus nullifying the need for our government to spend for security. That may be too much to ask. The Vatican opening its checkbooks and offering to reimburse this third-world country for all the expenses incurred would be miracle enough for me.

It would have been a miracle if Philippine media had enough sense and dignity to refrain from making major headlines of the Pope’s every move. “Pope Opens Car Door Himself,” for example. How is that news? I’m glad I didn’t see “Pope Goes to the Toilet Himself.”

It would have been a miracle if the Pope could have provided a clear answer to the girl who asked him why children like her have to suffer — have to be abandoned by their parents or forced into prostitution. Yet, in the end, all he could do was embrace her in silence, and he later on implored the audience to “learn to weep, truly weep.” Now I am not belittling this response as I have no answer myself. But I would hardly call it miraculous.

It would have been a miracle if Kristel Padasas, who was listening to the Pope’s mass in Tacloban, had not died when strong winds caused the scaffolding beside her to fall on her.

It would have been a miracle if Metro Manilans picked up their own trash instead of leaving a mess after the Pope’s mass in Luneta.

And it would be a miracle, if after all this hullaballoo over the Pope’s visit, we see a decline in corruption and TRAPO politics. It would be a miracle if we see a decline in poverty levels, if we have more level-headed officials making sound and fair policies.

But as evidenced by a senator who doubts the Pope’s own words when he admonished Catholics to not breed like rabbits, even if it was clearly caught on video, and could easily be verified with the Big “G” (Google), nothing much has changed. Government is still filled with corrupt and inept people. The poor and suffering are still poor and suffering.

Miracles are indeed in short supply and I wouldn’t put much stock in them.

The pope has gone back home. The euphoria is over. There are no miracles or superheroes. If we want change, we better get to work.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Freethinking Me.

Send me your thoughts at [email protected]. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Posted in Religion, Secularism0 Comments

An Open Letter to Pastor Dennis Sy

Photo Credit: Daniele Zanni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Daniele Zanni via Compfight cc

In a recent blog post, you lamented the fact that the Department of Education removed the words “God-Loving” from their Vision Statement. You called this an “appalling” move, one made by a minority group to pressure an institution. You claimed that if a group doesn’t want to believe in God, that is their problem and “not the problem of our constitution.”

You don’t know what you are talking about.

I do not know which constitution your are looking at, but the 1987 Constitution has this non-establishment clause found in Article III Section 5: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion.”

According Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., one of the foremost authorities on our Constitution, the non-establishment clause prohibits both direct and indirect aid to religion if the support involves “preference of one religion over another or preference of religion over irreligion.” (from The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines: A Commentary by Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J. 2009 Edition, page 345.)

Therefore, when a government institution like the Department of Education has as its vision and mission to make its citizens “God-loving,” it is, in effect, giving support towards religion over irreligion, which it has no business doing.

Please note though, that we are not saying that being or wanting people to be “God-loving” is wrong or bad. It is simply an inappropriate objective for a state institution which is supposed to represent ALL of its citizens — not just the majority — as Mr. Lei Remuel Crisaldo (whom you quote) erroneously asserts when he cites that the Philippines is 80% Christian and 5% Muslim, and our laws should therefore reflect the sentiment of this majority.

No, what you are proposing is simply a bully-mentality — that because there are more of you, then it is your whims and desires that should be followed. Let me ask you then, if 85%of the Filipinos would favor slavery, would you not speak out against it? Would you quietly sit in your little corner of the country and acquiesce to the desire of the majority?

Besides, your claim that a “minority” group has exerted this pressure is laughable. Who has more power to exert pressure — a minority group or a majority one? You are like a 200-pound bully complaining that a 90-pound weakling has pushed you into a corner.

We are not pushing or pressuring anybody around. How could a small group like ours even do anything like that? We have no connections, no guns nor goons. We have no money, certainly not the kind that can pay comfortable salaries to pastors or build huge megachurches. We cannot cut off DepEd’s funding or force them to dismiss even a single clerk or janitor. Politicians do not pander to us as they do to church groups like yours. Pressure? What are you yakking about?

We simply pointed out that the text heavily favored the religious, which should not be so, in accordance with our existing constitution (not the imaginary one in your head). They could have simply ignored the letter and we could probably do nothing about it except rant in our own personal spaces. But to their credit, they gave the matter some thought and consideration, and even made some changes. Now that is a kind of sensitivity and fairness that we rarely see in our government, and I for one, am grateful for that.

You, however, say that “this is the case of whose voice is louder and influential. As a Christian nation, we have to start shouting what we stand for and not let a few minority change the constitution and values of our nation.”

Really? It’s not about what’s right and wrong now, is it? It’s not about what’s fair and what’s not, is it? You simply want to exert your power and authority and bowl over those few who disagree with you. Is that what you are all about, pastor?

You are nothing but a bully. Why don’t you act like a man, like the title of your blog says?

Posted in Secularism21 Comments

If You Want To Be A Thief

Photo Credit: *sax via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: *sax via Compfight cc

If you want to be a thief in our country, make sure it’s not some petty theft like pickpocketing, robbing a jewelry store or even robbing a bank. Those are quite risky and life-threatening crimes. The potential pay-off of those are in the magnitude of hundreds, thousands or at most, a few million pesos – but the consequences are dire as well – you spend years in one of our overcrowded prisons (like this, this or this), neglected and forgotten except to those very close to you, or if you are unlucky enough to be caught in the act, you may get shot and killed as well.

So if you want to be a thief, go big time. Get close to a politician (and not some two-bit politician either but make sure they are big names) or be one yourself. Do not think about stealing hundreds of thousands or a few million only. Expand your horizons. Think big. Think hundreds of millions, and even billions. The bigger your vision and the grander your scheme, the better it will be for you. Oh, and make sure to make regular and hefty donations to your church, and always maintain an image of outward piety – this will come in handy later, as you will see.

Consider now the consequences if you are caught.

One, you will become an instant celebrity. Your face will be all over the national papers, on television and on the internet. Your name will be on everyone’s lips. You will be the topic of many conversations, tweets and status updates. Never mind that people are cursing your name and damning you to the deepest hell. That is only for the moment. Think long term. Filipinos are a forgiving people. In a few years, their anger will mellow down but you will still be known and famous. Why, you can even run for public office. One only has to think of a certain former first lady with a penchant for shoes, forced to flee from the country three decades ago, only to come back to wield power and influence once more. Heck, one of the accused senators, who thought that a privilege speech is a chance to show off his latest MTV, is even declaring his intent to run for president.

Two, you will get medical privileges. You can avoid going to those nasty prisons and instead opt for “hospital arrest.” All you need is a little skill in acting and a wheelchair. Just make sure to highlight a medical condition you already have and ask to be thoroughly examined. If you’re lucky, the government will even foot the bill for your stay. If not, well, there’s nothing to worry about. Since you had the foresight to steal huge sums of money, you can easily pay for your stay (you will even seem generous for not being a burden on the government). Do you get such benefits as a petty thief? Can you ask for an executive check-up at any of the top hospitals in the country? You should be so lucky if they let you out of your cell to go to the prison infirmary.

Three, your local priest or head of congregation will call for leniency and ask people not to condemn you. This is where your huge donations and friendliness to the clergy pay off. They will quote Jesus who confronted the crowd ready to stone the adulterous woman and say, “Let he who has no sin cast the first stone.” (Never mind that the story does not appear originally in the gospels but is generally thought by scholars to have been added on by scribes at a later point). “Do not condemn the scammers, for you could be just like them,” they will say. But do you hear them uttering those words if you are not a huge contributor or if you are a known critic? It was only a few years ago when a tour guide walked into the Manila Cathedral dressed as Jose Rizal, holding a sign that read “Damaso.” He was later convicted and jailed for “offending religious feelings.” Did you hear the clergy preaching non-condemnation and mercy then, as loudly as they do now? Perhaps he forgot to tithe his ten percent.

Four, you get exclusive accommodations especially built for you. After stealing billions from the government, it now feels obligated to spend a few more millions to ensure that your prison stay is safe and comfortable. Heaven forbid that they throw you into the same jam-packed facilities where they put all other thieves of lesser stature. Surely you deserve more because you stole a whole lot more. In fact, your custom-made “prison” is probably more luxurious than the homes of the “lesser” inmates. Yes, this is where the hard-earned taxes of your fellow citizens go. This is why the government has to work so hard to squeeze taxes from our professionals like doctors, actors, and even small earners like fishermen, sari-sari store owners, and even tricycle drivers. That is how privileged you will be for being a big-time crook.

Five, you will enjoy perks on your birthday, Christmas, New Year and probably other special holidays. Your relatives can come visit even beyond regular visiting hours, or you can take a trip to an outside facility and where you can spend the day with your relatives, as demonstrated by our previous president just last year. Now, try asking for those favors as a petty thief. “Excuse me, guard, it’s Christmas tomorrow. Can I go spend the day with my family instead of my 30 stinky cellmates?” Not likely to happen.

Six, if you’re lucky, you may even get a presidential pardon and be elected to public office again. Hopefully, you will be smarter about covering your tracks this time.

See? Thievery pays, but only if you are a man or woman of vision and lofty dreams, especially in the Philippines, where it’s more fun. Go big time!

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also published in Freethinking Me.

Send me your thoughts at [email protected]. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Posted in Politics, Society0 Comments

The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways

Photo Credit: an untrained eye via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: an untrained eye via Compfight cc

I had the pleasure of meeting one of my readers this week. His name is Edgar. He wrote me the longest response I ever received for my article, Irreligious. That started a brief email exchange which culminated in a book exchange and a pleasant chat over coffee.

Edgar is a Christian.

In one of my emails, I mentioned: “I do not reject the idea that God is good, just and compassionate. It’s just that if he really is all that, then that’s not the God being described in those books because the God there seems like a petty, immature spoiled brat who goes on a rampage if things get too much for him.” In this sentence, I was referring to several instances in the Old Testament where God goes on killing sprees (think Noah’s Ark, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho, Saul and the Amalekites, etc.)

Edgar responded by giving a hypothetical situation where I’m in a safari, looking at some magnificent elephants when suddenly I see a couple of people shooting and killing them with high-powered rifles. Of course, I get outraged and demand that they stop what they’re doing.

It turns out, however, that one of these people is the park master, who explains to me that they are practicing a system called “culling” which balances the ecosystem in the park. The elephant population has become so large that it was endangering many of the other species in the park. It was a drastic measure and one they found no pleasure in doing, yet it had to be done for the good of the park.

The point then, was that God may have reasons for doing what he did, but I just don’t understand them, that I don’t know enough to judge the situation. In his words, “our perspective is limited. We don’t see enough. We don’t see the whole story, the larger perspective, the bigger picture.”

I am not unfamiliar with this line of thinking. I call it the “The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways” argument. Its flaw, however, is that it doesn’t really explain anything. It can be used as sort of a magic formula answer to every possible situation.

Why did God, at certain instances, command the Israelites to wipe out an entire race — including the women, the elderly, children and infants? The Lord works in mysterious ways. Why does God allow natural calamities to wipe out entire families and deprive people of their lives and livelihood? The Lord works in mysterious ways. Why does God allow charlatans to preach in his name and amass wealth by spreading lies? The Lord works in mysterious ways. Why does God allow supposed faith healers to do real harm to people by promising healing and giving false hope instead of offering actual, life-saving medication? The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Saying that we can’t really understand how God works doesn’t really improve the situation much. In other fields of study, we do not accept that answer. Science strives to always understand more and more. Not knowing enough is not an excuse not to work towards knowing more, or inventing reasons and preaching them as fact, which is what some do.

In the given example, the park master was on hand to give an explanation, which calmed me down and made me understand. Yet, where is the divine “park master” to explain what is going on in the world? I do not hear any explanation save from secondhand sources who have themselves not heard from the park master himself.

A better example, perhaps, that more closely matches our reality, would be that I see the elephants drop dead one by one. So I don’t know why they’re dying, and neither does anyone else who sees them. Some of the observers offer conjectures — for example, that there is a hidden park master shooting the elephants with a silenced rifle for the reasons given in the original example. Some of these arguments are silly, but I also grant that some are intelligent arguments worth considering (and I do consider them seriously, which is why I even have conversations with people like Edgar, otherwise, why bother?) — but however intelligent these arguments are, they are conjectures nonetheless, and I have yet to hear from the sniper (who may or may not exist and who may or may not be the park master — who knows?) himself.

Yes, there are many things we do not know, and many things our reason can’t grasp, but that doesn’t mean we shut it down and stop trying to understand. History will attest that reason, logic and the scientific method are by far the best tools we have developed to ascertain truth and reality.

As we were about to part and shake hands, Edgar told me about how C.S. Lewis (best known for the Chronicles of Narnia as well as being a stalwart Catholic apologist) described his own conversion: “I was dragged kicking and screaming into the kingdom of God, eyes darting left and right for some means of escape.” What he meant to say was that at the end, he was seemingly left with no choice. He didn’t want to believe, but he had to, because for him, that was the only logical thing to do.

I have not yet reached that point, and still see some logical and reasonable alternatives worth pursuing and worth attacking to see if they will really stand the test of reason. And if I am to once again recover my faith, it will most likely in a manner similar to Lewis’ own kicking and screaming. My commitment to truth demands no less than an honest and brutal appraisal of the best arguments on either side.

What will happen in the end, I wonder? Who knows? The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Originally appears in Sunstar Davao.

Also published in Freethinking Me.

Want free coffee? Send me your thoughts and I might just treat you to one. Email me at [email protected]. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

Posted in Religion2 Comments

When Faith Becomes Fatal

Last week, I wrote about why faith is not a virtue and that generated some interesting discussions from people I know, both online and offline. Aside from the usual threats of hellfire and damnation (which is getting boring, really), I got some objections that I defined or understood “faith” wrongly, that life is basically uncertain and that we still need faith in some circumstances.

A certain Alfred Fajardo posted a comment on my blog and said:

Mr. Andy, I’ve been reading your blog for a long time, and I often find good insights and new questions to ponder on from it. But for tonight, I hope you won’t mind a little dissonance as it hopefully will provide a new kind of resonance.

How about interpreting Jesus’ words of providing for us not as literal protection from natural and man made phenomena like failing a test or germs getting to us but rather as pointers to the natural, as figurative language? When he says he provides for the birds and trees, I see it as him talking about how they don’t “worry” the way humans do. How all these organisms, as they live and die, form the biogeochemical cycle which will sustain the earth until the earth itself is destroyed.

As a whole, perhaps faith is something transcendent beyond our daily worries, not faith in certainties, but faith in uncertainty, that at the end of it all, we’ll become a better race.

Thanks Alfred, I don’t mind dissonance (I seem to be creating a lot of it anyway). Yes, we can reinterpret the word “faith” as you suggested, just as people reinterpret the word “God” in different ways. However, I think you would agree with me that most people do not think that way. The common usage of the word “faith” in the Philippine context is not figurative but literal, just as the word “God” is synonymous to “Jesus” for around 80% of Filipinos. For brevity and quick comprehension, I chose to use those words in the way they are most commonly understood.

Like you, I am all for humanity becoming a better race. However, I would suggest a better word to express your desire — not “faith” in uncertainty, but “hope” that things will be better in the future.

Faith is not the same as hope although a lot of people tend to confuse the two. Faith is a false sense of certainty of something you have no idea about. Hope allows for uncertainty but wishes for the best. Faith makes people do irrational acts. Hope allows for more rationality, second-guessing, and planning for the worst even while expecting the best.

For the faithful who are unconvinced of how I define faith, let me point out how the Bible talks about it. Hebrews 11 is well-known as the Bible’s Who’s Who of faith. The chapter begins with the grandiose statement: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.”

A popular Christian song echoes this sentiment with the lines, “to hear with my heart, to see with my soul; to be guided by a hand I cannot hold; to trust in a way that I cannot see, that’s what faith must be.”

Hebrews 11 then proceeds to commend certain individuals who “lived by faith” such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses and other Israelite heroes.Their stories involve hearing a command or receiving a vision from God, and acting on it even without proof or evidence of its reality, even if the act is absurd (building a huge boat on dry land) or downright abominable (killing one’s own son).

Those are not figurative but literal and concrete acts that seem to defy reason and the Bible upholds these actions as commendable and these characters as worthy examples to be emulated. How does that translate to modern times?

How about the story of Madeline Kara Neumann, age 11 (reported in ABC News last March 27, 2008)? When Madeline became severely sick, her parents didn’t take her to the doctor because they had faith that God would heal her through their prayers. She died soon thereafter and the parents were eventually convicted of reckless homicide. But these were not evil parents. I believe they loved their daughter with all their hearts and wanted her to get well. They were just following what their preacher preached: “We are not commanded in scripture to send people to the doctor but to meet their needs through prayer and faith.”

Or how about the story of Mark Randall Wolford, a pastor from West Virginia (reported in NBC News last May 30, 2012), who believed that in order to prove their faith, Christians should handle snakes, and he didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the talk as well and handled snakes himself. He died, unsurprisingly, from a snake bite. What is surprising is that he persisted in this belief even when as a teenager, he himself saw his father, also a pastor with the same snake-handling belief, die of a snake bite. But they were not insane, they were holding on, by faith, to what was proclaimed in Mark 16:17-18: “And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

These are not isolated incidents. There are many similar stories such as these. The Huffington Post reports that “At least 303 children have died since 1975 after medical care was withheld on religious grounds.” That’s only the reported cases in the United States. How about those that go on in other countries?

However, whatever else you may say about these people, you cannot argue that they did not have faith. They did. In fact, they had more faith than most people. They had conviction to follow through on their beliefs. They were willing to put their lives and the lives of those they loved on the line, very much like Abraham or Noah. But their faith went unrewarded and proved both fatal and tragic in the end.

That is why I do not believe that faith is a valid way to look at or interpret truth or reality. Faith is pretense and false assurance. Nothing more.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

This article also appears in Freethinking Me.

Andy Uyboco is the Meetup Director of Filipino Freethinkers Davao Chapter and is inviting Davao residents to join their next meetup on January 25, 2014 (Saturday) at 7:30 PM Cafe Demitasse, F. Torres St., Davao City. You may email him at [email protected].

 

Posted in Religion2 Comments

Why Faith Is Not A Virtue

Brick-Trinity

This article is for those who think that faith is a virtue. I would like to propose that it is not.

Over the centuries, the religious have extolled faith as a virtue, as a valid method of seeing reality, and that idea has taken such a deep root in our culture. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life declares that faith is “trusting God in spite of unanswered questions and unresolved doubts” and this sounds so deep and comforting but it’s really just a another way of saying, “I don’t understand anything that’s happening and I can’t do anything about it but I’m hoping for the best.” What does “trusting God” even mean when people can’t even agree what “God” means?

Peter Boghossian, author of A Manual for Creating Atheists, defines faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know” and that seems like a very flippant way to put it. But if you happen to be a person of faith and are offended by that, my request is that you forgive the offense for a couple of minutes (forgiveness is also a virtue) and think about it.

In all those instances that you claim faith, isn’t it true that those are instances that you don’t really know but instead simply choose to believe? Because if there were proof and evidence in the first place, then you wouldn’t need to invoke faith. You simply point to the evidence. Take gravity, for example. It would be absurd to talk about having faith in gravity because there is overwhelming evidence for it. In other words we know gravity.

However, when we talk about something like Noah’s Ark and the global flood story – even amidst all the evidence and experts’ opinions pointing out its improbability – a sizeable number of people still choose “by faith” to believe that it’s true, even if they don’t really know whether it happened or not. In fact, they refuse to know. They rarely have the drive to do research and read contrary opinions – perhaps they are afraid that their faith may be shaken and they will no longer be on the list of “good and faithful servants” who never gave up their beliefs, who were foolish enough to test their faith. After all, didn’t God say, “Do not put the Lord God to the test (Leviticus 6:16)?”

So think of all the things you accept “by faith” (like the doctrine of the Holy Trinity) and honestly see if it isn’t true that you are simply pretending to know things you don’t really know.

Faith is not a very good way to live. It kills wonder, inquiry and research. It is not a virtue. And nobody really lives by faith all the time in all aspects of life.

Think about this:

If faith is so commendable, why don’t you simply have faith and pray when you get sick? Why do you go to the doctor? Why do you take medicine?

Why do you work hard to earn money to survive and feed your family? Why not have faith that God will provide? Didn’t Jesus say that all you have to do is to “seek his kingdom” and he will provide food, drink and clothing just as he provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:25-33)?

For students, why do you study hard for exams? Why not have enough faith that God will provide the right answers at the right time?

Why do you wash your hands before you eat? Or brush your teeth before you sleep? Why not have faith that God will kill those pesky germs and protect you from disease?

Now, I’m sure you have rational and sensible answers for each of these questions and that’s just the point. If you apply reason and rationality to these aspects of your life, doesn’t it make sense to apply it to ALL aspects of your life?

Why do you use reason for practical living yet cling to faith for aspects of your life that are unsure and unknown? If faith were such a virtue, then you would apply it to every facet of your life, not just as a stopgap to fill in the holes in your knowledge and understanding, which is exactly what primitive people did. When they encountered something they did not understand, they would attribute it to either a god or goddess, spirits, angels or demons.

But it is now the 21st century. Reason, science, and logic have been proven to work time and again. When you build an airplane based on scientific principles, it flies. When you use mathematics to put a satellite in orbit, it stays there. When you put medicine through double-blind placebo-controlled tests, you have better assurance that it will cure what it needs to cure.

Now I will admit that there are still many things we do not understand and many things we do not know – but the proven and tested way to gain more knowledge and understanding is not faith, but by applying reason, science and logic.

That is my Holy Trinity.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

This article also appears at Freethinking Me.

Andy Uyboco is the Meetup Director of Filipino Freethinkers Davao Chapter and is inviting Davao residents to join their next meetup on January 25, 2014 (Saturday) at 7:30 PM Cafe Demitasse, F. Torres St., Davao City. You may email him at [email protected].

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Religion9 Comments

Why Our Leaders Should Be Technologists

Digital Art by Richard C. Base

Digital Art by Richard K. Base

If I may venture why our country is in such a dire state, it is because we have a huge lack of leaders who are technologists. Just look at our current crop of leaders: we have mostly lawyers, actors, celebrities and even ex-convicts (as well as convicts-to-be). How our government is run reflects this quite accurately. Go to almost any government office and see.

You will see “lawyers” who make you go around in circles and who burden you with a lot of procedures and requirements to follow. You will see “actors” pretending to work but are actually playing Candy Crush or chatting with their officemates — and yes, this happens even in relief operations in Tacloban as related by a volunteer through her facebook account where she says, “It breaks my heart seeing bottled waters outside the warehouse spread like garbage, rice grains scattered like no one cares, relief boxes literally being dumped by trucks without thinking that whatever inside maybe damage, reliefs outside the warehouse soaked in the rains, and you DSWD staff at the warehouse spending your day talking/chatting/seating while there are a lot of things need to be done ASAP”).

You will see “celebrities” who want to take credit for work done by others, who want their faces and names stamped on projects funded by people’s money. And of course, there are always the ex-convicts and convicts-to-be who are very good at finding ways to line their own pockets.

For the past few years, and particularly in the last decade alone, technologists have been at the forefront of changing how people act, interact and live — and their impact is felt not just in their locality but all over the world. How many people are now dependent on Google, Facebook and Twitter? How many billions and trillions of transactions take place using the internet, cellphones and tablets?

It is clear that the leader of the future, who will have the most influence and impact, should be a technologist. The leader himself may not be a scientist or an engineer per se, but he must have the heart of one. He must be keenly interested in technology and what it can do. Because above all else, a technologist wants only one thing: to solve problems.

And boy, do we have a ton of problems in our country.

How can technology solve our problems? Let me give 3 examples.

  1. Garbage. Do you know that there are some European countries who have solved their garbage problems to the point that they have to import garbage from other countries because they have none left to burn for their own use? On April 30, 2013, The New York Times reported that the City of Oslo in Norway has developed a way to convert “household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests” to heat and electricity. Other cities in Sweden, Austria and Germany are also building such plants.Can you imagine what this one technology alone can do for our country? Where is the Philippine delegation to Oslo to study this? At the very least, even if we find the technology too expensive or impractical, we can work out some sort of deal to export our garbage to them. That would be a win-win situation.
  2. Prosthetics. Traditional prosthetics are prohibitively expensive. People who lose a hand, foot, nose or any other body part may find it economically impossible to replace these. A prosthetic hand that can grab things, for example, would cost somewhere between US$20,000 to US$30,000 (around PHP1M or more).However, we have an already existing technology called a 3D Printer which is changing the game in prosthetics. The Huffington Post recently ran a story about a dad who used a 3D printer to print a prosthetic hand for his son who was born without a left hand. His estimated cost was around US$2,000 for the printer and around US$10 for the materials (total cost of around PHP100,000). The plans and schematics for the hand were downloaded free. The Guardian UK also published an article about affordable prosthetic facial parts that can be generated by 3D printing instead of the more traditional and expensive method of making a cast and mold. A traditional prosthetic nose, for example, might cost P200,000 but a 3D printed one would only cost P20,000. That costs even less than an iPhone. Now, what if we had 3D Printers in every public hospital? How many more of our poor, disabled countrymen would now be able to afford prosthetics? How many lives would benefit? They might even be fit for some jobs now instead of being reduced to begging in the streets. Hello, Mayors and Congressmen. Are you paying attention?
  3. Water. The recent devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda showed how precious and important water is in the affected areas. However, water is also heavy, bulky and difficult to transport. Since around 2009, a British company call Lifesaver Systems (which is currently actively involved in disaster relief for the Philippines) has developed portable water containers with built-in filters that are so fine that you can literally fill the container with filthy, muddy water and it will produce clean, drinkable water.Those in calamity-stricken areas no longer need to wait for bottled water to arrive. They can simply use the container and get water from the nearest river (or any water source, no matter how dirty). A video demo shows the company’s CEO mixing a tank of river water with mud, sewage and garbage. He then takes a pitcher of the foul mixture and puts it in a Lifesaver Bottle. He pumps the bottle a few times, opens the top and pours clean water in a glass that he then drinks himself. Perhaps, instead of spending millions on election paraphernalia, our leaders could instead invest in these life-saving technologies. After all, nobody (except you and your relatives — and not all of them, mind you) really wants to see your smug faces splattered all over our walls, streets and lampposts, and the best preparation for disaster is innovative planning and willful action not some pretty speech on national television.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Freethinking Me.

Andy Uyboco is a businessman by profession and an educator by obsession. You may email him at [email protected]. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Posted in Science, Society0 Comments

My Voodoo Is Better Than Your Voodoo

My Voodoo Is Better Than Your Voodoo

Aling Conchita peers out the window of her small hut to see if the albularyo (folk medicine man) had come. Cloves of garlic hang from door and windows to keep the aswang (a type of Filipino monster) away. She walks over to her 6-year old grandson who is burning with fever. She thinks about how he had urinated on an old tree in the field without asking permission from the spirits. And now, they were angry and had struck down the boy with fever.

If I were to ask what you thought of Aling Conchita’s practice of hanging garlic, or of believing that the fever came from evil spirits, most of you might dismiss them as the products of superstitious and uneducated people.

Just a few days ago, I read about an official of the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) declaring that incidents of demonic possessions were on the rise in our country (although he could not give exact figures). He attributed these to people not attending mass, idolizing or worshipping other things, disowning God and not praying. His advice? Wear sacred objects such as scapulars, rosaries or holy medals, preferably those blessed by a priest.

Photo by Sarah Stierch

Photo by Sarah Stierch

Now I would daresay that many who dismissed the first example would not be so quick to do the same to the second, especially my Catholic friends. My Protestant friends wouldn’t have any qualms with demonic possessions but would surely scoff at the idea of wearing various trinkets to ward off these demons. They would say you only need to command these demons to go away in Jesus’ name. My Muslim friends would probably be skeptical of both and would bring the poor sod to an imam for him to implore Allah to drive the spirit away (Oh yes, I have heard of exorcisms done in Allah’s name — and one story from an eyewitness to the procedure).

In my skeptic mind, it is simply a matter of one mythology trumping another. We have simply replaced the old superstitions with newer ones. We have thrown out the old rituals and incantations and invented new ones, but they are superstitions, nonetheless, with the latter having no more evidence than the former. We smirk at the idea of hanging garlic at our windows, yet we invite our local cleric to bless our new home by sprinkling holy water, oil, etc. We laugh at people who wear anting-antings (amulets) yet we cling to our prayer beads, holy books or statues and believe they will ward off evil beings.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why reports of demon possession usually occur in rural areas where education and information is less accessible? Have you ever heard of a demon possession occurring in Ayala Center or SM? Or in the posh subdivisions like Forbes or Corinthian? At the very least, these demons should schedule their visit to newscasters or TV show hosts where their powers will be fully revealed on national television (and worldwide on Youtube). One would think these demons could do better than to simply prey on some unknown youngster in a far-flung town.

On another note, if idolizing or worshipping other things induce demonic possession, then shouldn’t half our congressmen and senators already be having massive fits right now? And some of you would wonder, why only half?

Have you ever heard of a scientist being possessed? If disowning God opens the door to possession, then why hasn’t any demon thought to possess Stephen Hawking? That would be a sight to see: him floating around in that wheelchair with his head spinning round and round. Why haven’t Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, James Randi or other famous atheists been possessed many times over?

Almost all the reports I’ve heard of alleged possessions occur to believers or families of believers. Now, why would that be the case, I wonder? In fact, why would a demon want to possess anybody? The logical result of demonic possession would be more faith and prayers for the family and witnesses, right? What demon with half a brain would want want that? Aren’t these creatures supposed to be highly intelligent, crafty and cunning?

I grew up believing in angels and demons — in fact I believed in them until only a few years ago, when I decided that the lack of evidence for them no longer justified such belief. I find it rather strange how long it took for that to happen. After all, I stopped believing in Santa Claus, Superman, fairies, unicorns and elves before I turned 10. Yet, we live in a culture where grown men and women believe in invisible beings playing tug-o-war with our souls (aside from giving us good parking spaces or tempting us with scantily-clad bodies).

Think about it.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Freethinking Me.

Andy Uyboco keeps a pet demon in his ear. If you want to know what it says about your love life, send him an email at [email protected]. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Posted in Personal, Religion3 Comments

The God of Basketball and Earthquakes

The God of Basketball and Earthquakes

Photo by Stuart Steeger

Photo by Stuart Steeger

A couple of headlines caught my eye as I was scanning the news page. One was about Danding Cojuangco’s statement saying, “God made it happen,” referring to De La Salle University’s recent victory in the UAAP championship. The other was about the death toll of the recent Visayas earthquake at 107, with close to 300 injured and missing (as of this writing).

Cojuangco’s statement appears quite ludicrous especially when juxtaposed with the tragedy of the earthquake — as if God were somehow sitting at courtside at the Mall of Asia Arena, enjoying the game, and with a wave of his hand, made the game-clinching shot of Almond Vosotros miraculously go in the basket. In the meantime, he was conspicuously absent for the patients trapped in the partially-collapsed Congressman Castillo Memorial Hospital in the Loon municipality. Nor was he in two stampedes that occurred in Toledo City and Pinamungajan Town which killed several people including a four-year old girl. He could not even prevent bridges and his own churches from collapsing.

But even without the earthquake, crediting God for the basketball win is a huge slap in the face for the players who endured endless hours of drills and practices to hone their skills. It is an insult to the coaching staff who spent countless hours planning, strategizing and playmaking. It even speaks against Cojuangco himself who financially and emotionally invested himself in the team by providing them with good lodging as well as dieticians, nutritionists and conditioning experts.

Even if God were actually in the arena, it would be the height of unsportsmanlike conduct for him to favor one team over the other and give it that miraculous edge– as both worked equally hard to win and deserved to fight it out in a fair match.

In this country, there is this obsession to credit God over every little good thing. A patient comes out of a successful surgery and people immediately thank God for “guiding the surgeon’s hand” — never mind that the surgeon had to spend sleepless nights in training and practice to acquire that laser-like precision. A man and a woman go on a romantic dinner and thank God for the sumptuous meal. Do they stop by the kitchen to thank the chef who prepared the meal, or the waiters for serving them, or the farmers for the raw products? Probably not.

I understand though why most people are quick to thank God, especially in public. When people heap praise on us, we deflect it towards God either because we do not want to seem too proud of ourselves, or because we want other people to think we are humble and pious. In other words, it is still a matter of pride and looking good. Now, this may not be true of everyone, but for most people, I would think so, even if we do not yet realize it ourselves because the practice has been so ingrained in our culture that we do it almost subconsciously.

My point here is not so much to remove God from the picture but to remind everyone that WE are very much in it. This is not so much a statement either for or against the existence of God but a statement for OUR existence. We matter. Whether or not God is there, we are responsible for our thoughts and actions, and these carry real rewards or consequences down the line and through the years.

Some politicians and unscrupulous businessmen chose to steal from our coffers, thus depriving our country of stronger and better infrastructure, sufficient emergency equipment, or better training and funding for rescue teams. We chose to ignore a warning as far back as 15 years ago in 1998 when Dean Jes Tirol of the University of Bohol Engineering Department delivered a paper in the Asia-Pacific Workshop in Taipei, Taiwan specifically citing the structural dangers of these ancient buildings found in 30 of 47 towns in the island province.

Just as I do not give credit to God for a basketball win, nor will I encourage people to blame him for the aftermath of a calamity. People should start recognizing that even if God were there watching us, he pretty much lets anything happen to us, regardless of what you pray or ask for. It has been that way for thousands of years, and will probably be that way for a long time still. If you choose not to believe anymore, fine. If you still choose to believe, then that belief must go deeper and more profound than the simplistic picture of a God who rewards good and punishes evil, who gives you happy meals and parking spaces while ignoring thousands dying each day of hunger, or disease, or rape, or murder.

In the midst of all these, recognize that there are always opportunists selling coincidences as miracles — like the those touting the unblemished statues of the Virgin Mary amidst the church ruins as a “miracle.” Now some 600 devotees have gathered at this site, teary-eyed at this apparent “marvel.”

For me, the real miracle will occur when these devotees start asking themselves, “Why would God save these two statues and completely ignore the lives of the 107 who have already died and the many others who are still suffering?”

That is probably wishful thinking, and has as much a chance of happening as a half-court shot. But one can dream. Half-court shots DO happen, and people DO transition from superstition to reason.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao. Also appears in Freethinking Me.

Andy Uyboco has never made a half-court shot. He is waiting for a miracle. Send comments and questions to [email protected]. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Religion, Society3 Comments

A Leap Of Science

A Leap Of Science

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Photo from Sabrina's Stash

Photo from Sabrina’s Stash

I believe in miracles, and it is spelled S-C-I-E-N-C-E.

I have spent the last few hours reading articles and watching videos about the latest scientific breakthroughs. I have focused on research and technology that alleviates human suffering, compensates for human disabilities, and prolongs and grants a better quality of life.

One such miracle that is very evident and available for online readers is called HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the “language” of the internet which allows you to simply click on the links I give and be instantly whisked away to other websites I have used as source material.

To those of you reading this on paper and ink, you too can access this miracle by going online, not by prayer. Unless, of course, you pray for a laptop (or tablet) to drop down from heaven and onto your lap, automatically turn on, hijack your neighbor’s wifi signal, fire up its web browser and go to my article.

The Deaf Shall Hear

In the meantime, let me tell you about 3-year old Grayson Clamp, who heard his dad’s voice for the very first time. That may not sound so spectacular at first, until you learn that baby Grayson was born without a cochlear nerve which transmits signals from the ears to the brain. In other words, there is no connection between his brain and his ear.

To get around the problem, doctors performed a cochlear implant, putting a chip in Grayson’s brain which allows him to receive and process those signals. The look on his face as he hears his father’s voice is priceless.

26-year old Amy Barber went through a similar operation and she was able to hear her six-year old son for the first time. Her aunt took a video and posted it on Youtube,  where it went viral.

The Blind Shall See

Diane Ashworth, a 54-year old woman from Australia, is the first recipient of a bionic eye transplant. The result isn’t perfect yet as the technology is still in the prototype stage but Diane can see flashes of light and shapes, which proves that her brain is now receiving some sort of signal from the device. Researchers in Israel are also working on such a device and in the near future, we may very well have functional bionic eyes that can enable even those born blind to see in full color.

The Lame Shall Walk (and tie shoelaces as well)

Prosthetics are nothing new and have been around for decades. Still, they are minor miracles in bringing back some sense of normalcy to an amputee’s life. What caught my attention was the degree of advancement in prosthetic development which blends with robotics. A company called Ekso Bionics has developed a robotic exoskeleton that allows those paralyzed from the waist down to walk. This was a boon to Jason Geiser who had a motorcycle accident and was told that he wouldn’t be able to walk again.

Hand prosthetics are a bit more complicated because of the fine-motor tuning involved. In the past, it was nearly impossible to create a bionic hand that could alternate between strongly gripping an object and holding it delicately (like holding an egg without breaking, or holding a pen and writing). However, 53-year old Nigel Ackland has shown off an advanced hand prosthesis that allows him to deal cards and tie his shoelaces, as well as make an omelet and open a beer bottle.

The Dead Shall Rise Again

39-year old Colin Fiedler was dead for at least 40 minutes being brought back to life with a cardiac support pump called the AutoPulse, which keeps the patient’s blood running through the brain and other vital organs as doctors administer medicine or shock treatment. The procedure has revived two other patients under similar conditions as well.

I have no doubt in my mind that science will continue creating, refining and delivering life-changing technology such as these in the years to come — and that they will become available to more and more people. Machines and electronics have become so prevalent and familiar to us that we fail to see the wonder in them any more.

Miracles are all around us, if you would care to open your eyes and see. They are brought about not by a leap of faith, but of science. And unlike other so-called miracles, they can be depended on to work again, and again, and again.

 

Andy Uyboco is a businessman, trainer and speaker. If you actually had a laptop or tablet drop on your lap from heaven, send me an email at [email protected]. Previous articles can be found at www.freethinking.me.

Posted in Religion, Science1 Comment

Filipino Freethinkers Davao Meetup June 1, 2013

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Spiritual But Not Religious – One Man’s Journey from Belief to Trust

Is it possible for god and reason to occupy the same space in your mind? Can faith and rationality coexist in harmony? Find out as we listen to the story of Mr. Ernie Abella and have a special dialogue with him. Mr. Abella was the former head pastor of The Jesus Fellowship. He is now a social entrepreneur.

Date: June 1, 2013 (Saturday)
Time: 7:30-9:30 PM
Place: Cafe Demitasse, F. Torres St., Davao City

  • 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.

Attendance is FREE. We do appreciate if you order food/drinks to help cover the venue costs, but there is no obligation to do so.

Please come early. We start ON TIME.

Click here to go to our Facebook events page

Posted in Davao, Meetup0 Comments

FF Davao Meetup 2013-04-27

I do

 

Topic: I Do…Do You? – Arguments For and Against Marriage Equality
Special Guest: Ms. Ria Danielle Lumapas – Program Coordinator – Go Tugon Foundation

April 27, 2013 (Saturday) 730PM – 930PM
Cafe Demitasse, F. Torres St., Davao City

* 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.

Attendance is FREE. We do appreciate if you order food/drinks to help cover the venue costs, but there is no obligation to do so.

Please come early. We start ON TIME.

Posted in Davao, Meetup0 Comments

Earth and Sun

This is the first article for my debut column entitled “Freethinking Me,” which appeared in SunStar Davao last Feb 22, 2013. In my column, I hope to explore issues and educate the public regarding reason, science, and secularism in the country. You can check out “Freethinking Me” every Friday. 

“IF THE earth were 10 feet closer to the sun, we would all burn to death. And if it were 10 feet further out, we would all freeze.”

Fact or Fiction?

I have seen this posted around the internet, and in the past, have heard quite a few speakers tout this “fact” as a testament to the precision and perfection of God’s design in creation. The listeners are astounded and nod their heads in agreement to the wonder of it all.

Read the rest of my article here.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Personal0 Comments

FF Davao Meetup – 11/17/2012

Cafe Demitasse (Location Map)
Saturday, November 17, 2012
7:30pm – 9:30pm

RSVP on our Facebook page

Discussion topics

  • In Science We Trust
  • Evolution is a Fact

The past two meetups have been very engaging so far that we’ve extended until almost midnight. Then we usually head somewhere else for more drinks and informal discussions.

Got questions about the meetup? You may ask them at our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/davaofreethinkers/

  • Newbies are welcome.
  • Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people wearing FF-Davao shirts).
  • 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.
Poster design by Clyde Mante

 

Posted in Meetup1 Comment

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