Author Archives | garrickbercero

Benedict Is My Last Pope

I remember staying up into the wee hours of April 20, 2005, watching CNN, eagerly anticipating the new pope. I was Catholic then and the only pope I had ever known was John Paul II. He had reigned for 26 years, and suddenly, my Church had no earthly leader.

When Benedict stepped out of the curtains that morning and into the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, I choked up. I believed I was witnessing God’s hand, active in the world. While John Paul I began the tradition of eschewing the extravagant papal triple tiara, popes were still kings—and we had a new one. Popes are absolute monarchs of the Mussolini-established Vatican state. At the same time, popes are vicars of Christ. That is to say, they take the place of the Son of God on Earth. For Catholics, popes aren’t really elected by the College of Cardinals. Rather, popes are chosen by the Holy Spirit—the third person of the triune God. This gives the pope supernatural powers to rein in a billion-strong flock.

Unlike the popes that came before him for hundreds of years, Benedict quit his post. He quit being Jesus Christ’s human representative. Had I stayed Christian, his leaving would have deeply troubled me. Here was a man who was throwing away a divinely ordained commission because he was, as he says, too sick to go on. Too sick to be supported by God, apparently.

Looking from the outside now, it is patently obvious how utterly human the entire Catholic institution is. And, no, not the humanity that the Church peddles as sharing in human experience. It is human in the mortal and parochial sense. For all its lofty claims, the Catholic Church is really an earthly business run by a small cabal of conservatives. Benedict’s resignation made this clear and it is made entirely transparent by the election of Jorge Bergoglio, a 76 year-old Jesuit of Italian descent from Argentina. Latin America, once a bastion of Catholicism, is now seeing a dwindling Church losing political influence—one a South American pope just might rectify.

It always struck me as strange when Catholics hope for the new pope to reform the Catholic Church. That is like asking God Himself to change his mind. (And, of course, what are petitionary prayers for but to ask God to suspend his divine plan for your insipid request?) If one truly believes that the Holy Spirit guides the pope and, in turn, guides the Church, why would one even think about reforms?

Bears defecate in the woods, and popes are Catholic. It therefore comes as no shock that the new Pope Francis, just like the old pope, is an enemy of equal rights for the LGBT. Apart from allegations of colluding with the Argentinian military junta in the 70’s, including hiding political prisoners from an international delegation (an evil not as easily dismissible as Joseph Ratzinger’s membership in the Hitlerjugend), Bergoglio was also a staunch opponent of the marriage equality initiative in Argentina. Belying supernatural intervention, Argentina is the first Latin American nation to allow same-sex couples to enjoy equal rights with opposite-sex couples. Bergoglio called the initiative a “destructive attack on God’s plan,” which of course includes stopping gay marriage.

Benedict XVI is my last pope. I left the Church under his reign when I saw how much suffering it had caused the world—suffering my Catholicism indefensibly and directly supported. Francis has now replaced Benedict after 7 years of reigning. At Francis’ age, he will probably be replaced just as soon. Cardinals are keenly aware of how young popes tend to stymie ambition with long reigns. Behind the pomp and circumstance of white smoke and secret conclaves, the pope is the leader of an organization that stands enemy to human rights, all the while touting humanitarian causes. Apologists complain that skeptics like to emphasize the flaws of the Church and that we should not expect a perfect organization. But, at some point, when you claim that your club is divine, faults as egregious as those the Church is guilty of simply cannot be excused.

I didn’t wake up early this time to hear the new bishop of Rome address the city and the world. It is no longer a supernatural event to me. But, the Catholic Church is still important, despite my complete rejection of it, as long as it continues to dictate so many things about our lives. I, now an atheist, maintain hope that perhaps this new pope will take that miraculous tiny first step towards joining the world here in the 21st century. Forgive me this one delusion.

 

Image Credit: National Geographic

Posted in Personal, Religion3 Comments

Article 133: Special Rights Not Equal Rights

The verdict is out and the courts have sentenced Carlos Celdran to a maximum of 1 year, one month, and 11 days in prison for having “offended religious feelings” under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. There is, however, some misunderstanding among those following the case regarding what the crime truly was. As will be clear, Article 133 privileges those with faith above those who have none, giving them special rights. And with these special rights, the faithful enjoy protection with no equal in secular society.

Apologists for Celdran’s imprisonment invariably open their arguments by saying that they are not opponents of free speech. Should Celdran have chosen a different venue, say Mendiola, he would not have been arrested. True enough, I regularly criticize the powerful Roman Catholic Church and have suffered little for it. In this country, I can make all the jokes about silly Catholic doctrines from the comfort of my home without fear of imprisonment. Article 133 specifically stipulates that the offense to religious feelings must be done inside a place of worship or during a religious ceremony.

What Celdran did was not polite, to say the least. But it did send a message, and nobody was hurt, molested, or tortured. There was no fear of clear and present danger with his placard. And nobody shielded him from the police. People like me who sit behind laptops cannot even dream of getting the reach of Celdran’s protest. And because Celdran was very effective, he was seen as a threat. The powers that be in the Church can take the tiny bloggers ranting online. After all, the old men running the Church don’t even use the Internet. They allow the nation this small freedom to appease those who think free speech is about posting half-baked Facebook commentaries. But, no. People didn’t die for the right to idle chatter. Free speech is about saying things that piss people off. Free speech is about saying things where people will hear what you say and be pissed off.

Filipino Freethinkers is a regular attendee of the Philippine LGBT Pride March that happens every December. While not an LGBT organization, FF supports the recognition of LGBTs as equal human beings. During this march, there are also regular Christian fundamentalist protesters. They shout at marchers and hold signs around the parade, saying that homosexuality is wrong. This has caused great offense to attendees, who come out to the parade to celebrate their identity, only to be shouted down in the one place they publicly proclaim their pride.

Because the parade grounds are not religious grounds, because the march is not a religious ceremony, the LGBT Pride marchers must take such offenses in stride, often making their own jokes to make light of the clearly stressful situation. LGBTs experience oppression and violence every day and choose one day of the year and one place to celebrate. They are a true minority deserving of protection. However, because they do not have politicians in their pocket and because they are decent human beings, they do not have special rights under the law to protect them from religious free speech.

It is quite ironic that those who see LGBT equality as affording “special rights” are exactly the people who have special rights under the law. While LGBTs only ask for their recognition as equal citizens, anti-Celdran apologists enjoy a unique class of speech that the non-religious cannot have. Had Celdran done the same kind of picketing the fundamentalists did but during a religious parade, he would still have been charged under Article 133. LGBTs cannot have Christian fundamentalist protesters arrested regardless of the degree of anguish they feel, which is certainly more than the attendees of the Manila Cathedral ecumenical event where Celdran protested. Witnesses even said at the trial that they had no idea what “DAMASO” meant until after the fact and that they thought Celdran was part of the activity. If they found Celdran disruptive, all they had to do was escort him out of the building. At most, they could have filed a case against him for trespassing. After all, the tax-free Manila Cathedral is private property of the Archdiocese of Manila. But, no, the CBCP flexed their muscles and showed the Philippines who was in charge. You can tweet all your criticisms, but don’t you dare make us hear them. Or else.

People have the right to peaceably assemble. People have the right to freedom of and from religion. What we ought not have a right to is unequal speech. Article 133 says that some kinds of speech are more equal than others. Article 133 is clearly archaic. It is a law that belongs to the time when the Catholic Church could do more than send people to prison. It is a law that has no place in a modern society that encourages the free exchange of ideas.

Only people who believe that their faith cannot stand on its own merit need Article 133.

Posted in Advocacy, Freedom of Expression, Religion, Secularism9 Comments

How to Kill As Many Unborn As Possible

The Reproductive Health Bill is now the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012. While the measure has passed all legislative hurdles, the RH Law is now facing a predictable challenge in the Supreme Court. More predictably, the challenge comes from Catholic Church associates. While the intention behind the challenge is supposedly to protect the unborn, it is clear that if the goal of Catholics is to protect as many unborn children as possible, striking down the RH Law is just about the worst thing you can possibly do.

On the first working day of the year, January 2, James and Lovely-Ann Imbong filed a petition for the Supreme Court to nullify the recently passed bill. “In behalf” of their minor children, the Imbongs also name their two offspring as petitioners. As has been pointed out, the “Imbong” name should be very familiar because the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has Jo Imbong, mother of James, as its lawyer. Also, James Imbong is the first nominee of the CBCP-backed Ang Pro-Life Party-List, which claims to represent not the Church, but OFWs. Try to stop yourself from laughing; it gets better. The CBCP has come out to state that they are in no way involved with the petition against the RH Law. Melvin Castro of the CBCP said that their counsel’s relation to the petitioners was “purely incidental.”

Pro-Life Philippines: Abortion is okay sometimes

Reason and Science of Contraception

It is typical for conservative Catholics to equivocate the RH Law with abortion. On the contrary, the availability of contraception diminishes the number of abortions. The logic is simple: people who use contraception want to prevent pregnancy resulting from particular sexual encounters. They can choose to have children from later coital acts by stopping the use of contraceptives. By reducing the number of pregnancies of people who do not want to be pregnant, the number of unwanted pregnancies decreases. Since unwanted pregnancies are the targets of chemical and surgical abortion, less unwanted pregnancies means less induced abortions. After all, why would you willfully abort a wanted pregnancy? Consistent and proper use of contraceptives therefore ensures that a pregnancy that does occur is wanted and planned instead of unwanted and by chance.

But, let’s not rely on pure reason and let some empiricism enlighten us. A four-year study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis came out last year to show that when free contraceptives were provided to a community, abortions decreased. It should be noted that from their study, most women (75%) chose to have “long-acting” contraceptives such as IUDs instead of pills, which must be taken daily. They found that abortions in St. Louis, Missouri, where the study was conducted, dropped by 20%, while the rest of Missouri’s abortion rates remained steady.

This result, however, is not enough to show that opposition to the RH Law will result in more abortions.

 

Intelligently Designed Abortion

Abortion is an unavoidable fact of pregnancy. Spontaneous abortions are more politely called “miscarriages,” but the essence is the same for either spontaneous or induced abortion—pregnancy ends and a fertilized embryo fails to develop into a child. Catholics would argue that the embryo is already a person and intentionally inducing abortion is murder. Miscarriages, then, would be accidental death. It turns out, however, that as much as 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. This estimate includes the great number of pregnancies that were never even noticed because the embryos were spontaneously aborted so early. That means, for any sexual act that successfully results in a fertilized embryo (which Catholics believe are people), 50% of all of these “people” will die. If the Christian God is anti-abortion, it’s hard to imagine greater hypocrisy.

The main mechanism of contraceptives is to prevent the meeting of sperm and egg altogether, meaning no embryo is formed. The opposition of the Church against condoms should have been a dead giveaway that their concern is sex and not unborn children. Chemical contraceptives, like the pill, prevent the meeting of sperm and egg through various means, such as by slowing down the transport of the egg from the ovaries to the uterus. But, even if a drug were specifically designed to prevent the implantation of a fertilized embryo (which is supposedly a person), its users would not rival the number of abortive events caused by well-meaning couples wanting to get pregnant. That’s not a strong enough statement. All the induced abortions performed in the world (over 470,000 in the Philippines according to 2000 data from the Guttmacher Institute), cannot even begin to compete with spontaneous abortions.

The Department of Health reported that there were 1,700,000 live births in 2000. If that is just 50% of all successful pregnancies, then that means there were also 1,700,000 embryos naturally aborted, or over three times the number of induced abortions in the same year. Therefore, if many pregnancies are prevented altogether through contraception, there will be less abortions. Thus, the Catholic plan of “openness” to pregnancy is tantamount to “openness” to spontaneous abortion. In contrast, a couple with no plans of ever conceiving risks no abortions. Comparatively, a couple that plans each pregnancy with contraceptives, and does not haphazardly sire dozens of kids, will not abort as many embryos as the well-meaning Catholic couple.

 

Accessories to Murder

If you want to avoid abortion altogether, the best way is not to have kids. If you want kids, you will risk having an abortion, whether or not you know about it. That is a fact we must accept as a nation. If you want to risk the least number of abortions, then you will need to plan your pregnancies and use contraception.

If you have as many kids as you want, you will abort just as many. It’s statistics. And if you want to kill as many unborn as possible, go a step further like the Imbongs and deny Filipinos the right to access to contraceptives.

The use of the Imbongs’ children in the petition, despite their being incapable to consent, is consistent with anti-RH values, since the Imbongs (and the Church) claim to represent children and the unborn in their crusade against reproductive rights. And in this crusade, they are not shy to employ the bloody imagery associated with the Catholic Church’s own medieval Crusades. About President Aquino’s signing of the RH Bill, Batangas Archbishop Ramon Arguelles compared him to the Connecticut shooter who killed 20 schoolchildren because the RH Law would supposedly kill millions. But, we can see from the scientific evidence that it is not contraception, and not even induced abortion, that will lead to the most aborted embryos—it is the Church’s anti-contraceptive dogma. If abortion is murder, the Imbongs are accessories, and the Catholic Church is the killer.

Posted in Religion, RH Bill, Science3 Comments

Don’t Fear the Preacher: Fear and the RH Bill

In a final attempt at scrounging for votes against the Reproductive Health Bill, CBCP President Archbishop Jose Palma exhorted CBCP loyalists in the House of Representatives with the words their god told Abraham, “Do not be afraid.” You may recall that Abraham was the man whose son Yahweh asked him to kill to prove his faith.

Palma told representatives to “listen to what God is saying.” By pure coincidence, I’m sure, what “God is saying” is exactly what Palma is saying, with God unable to speak for himself.

While Archbishop Palma entreats conservatives in Congress to be free from fear, the Roman Catholic Church sows fear everywhere else. Once Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto conceded that the pro-RH side had the votes to pass the measure in the Senate, he had this to say, “May God have mercy on their souls.” This, of course, was a threat against pro-RH senators that while they may win in this world, they will face everlasting torment in the afterlife.

A similar tact has been repeatedly approached by other conservative Catholics, where they quote the Gospel’s injunction against those who “cause the little ones to sin.” Matthew 18:6 says, “…if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” They threaten RH advocates with death because they believe that the RH Bill will lead otherwise faithful believers into sin through the temptation of contraception. A cursory search through Google will reveal how popular the idiom is among conservative Catholics and just how much they would like to tie a rock around all our necks and drown us in the sea.

Centered on human sacrifice, violence is at the very root of the Catholic religion and it is not at all surprising that its most zealous adherents would resort to savage irrationality when things do not go their way (despite their confidence in a god). RH Bill sponsor Edcel Lagman has been well-aware of the Church’s history of violence, saying, “Fear has always been used by the clergy as an instrument of repression and reprisal like fear of damnation…”

Even before the RH Bill has passed either chamber of Congress, the CBCP has already issued a warning that the RH Bill is the start of a slippery slope towards what they call “DEATHS bills” or “Divorce, Euthanasia, Abortion, Total Reproductive Health, Homosexuality or gay marriages, and Sex education.” The CBCP Secretary General who was quoted saying this has obviously seen the trend in the greater part of the world toward equality for humans and rights over their own bodies. The CBCP fears that it might also happen in our neck of the woods. It is likely, in my view, that the Roman Catholic Church fears more that they will lose their centuries-long stranglehold on the Filipino people.

As RH advocates, we aim to make, with the RH Bill, this very small step towards a lasting and flourishing society in the Philippines. Our opponents have made it clear that they share no such interest. They would rather we be mired in disease, torment, and starvation, for the sake of avoiding some imagined damnation. But, if there is anyone who ought not be afraid, it is those who are on the side of equal human rights and the dignity of self-determination. It is those who are fighting for a better future, not in some invented paradise, but here, on this tiny planet we call home.

As we draw near into the final stages of passing the RH Bill, many are still hoping that both sides of the argument will come to a compromise. But, it is clear from all the threats of death and violence that there shall never be compromise for the Roman Catholic Church. For them, human souls are at stake and they will stop at nothing to prevent the evils that they foresee. None of their fears, of course, are based on any evidence.

The burden of proof is on the Church to show that the ruler of the universe does indeed think contraception is evil and that its users are going straight to hell. Nevertheless, they act as if this is self-evident. It is not. Their views betray a literally medieval mindset that has no room on the floor of the House of Representatives. Yet, it is given room by conservatives such as Rufus Rodriguez at the expense of those who live and die in suffering every day because of the denial of reproductive rights. It is time to say no to these men beholden to fear and superstition. It is time to acknowledge the right of persons over their own bodies. It is time to vote on the RH Bill.

Image Credit: Le sacrifice d’Isaac by Matthias Stom | Source: Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Religion, RH Bill, Secularism0 Comments

The Varsitarian Lemon Pity Party

The Varsitarian, the official student publication of the University of Santo Tomas, got a lot of flack a couple of months ago for an editorial, entitled “RH bill, Ateneo, and La Salle: Of lemons and cowards,” ranting at fellow Catholic universities for not being authentically Catholic because they employ “lemons and cowards.” This was in reference to these schools’ professors who came out in support of the Reproductive Health Bill, which the Catholic Church leadership vehemently opposes. The editorial was so vitriolic that the faculty adviser of the paper publicly apologized for it, calling it “unchristian.” UST itself denied that it supported the caustic editorial of The Varsitarian.

As The Varsitarian brags in a followup editorial, “Calling a spade a spade, a lemon a lemon,” their previous piece garnered almost 300,000 views, supposedly “shaming” the readership of national news media. They even take a potshot at the claims of the mainstream media having a “national” reach without objective statistics to support this assertion. This plea for evidence is quite incongruous given the Varsitarian’s general attitude toward scientific and logical reasoning, which will be clear shortly.

The Varsitarian fails to account for the proportion of those 300,000 views that were simply from people sharing it with others because they found it hilarious and intellectually bankrupt. If the paper did account for it, they probably wouldn’t go about boasting of thousands of chortling readers. It also, more critically, fails to mention their readership outside lemon, part 1 and whether this was even comparable to the consistent audience of national media. Given that, it is not likely that any of the media outlets that “assaulted a hapless campus paper and accused it of bad journalism” are spending any sleepless nights from a Varsitarian nightmare.

The Varsitarian doubles down in lemon, part 2. Instead of taking criticism in stride, it lashes out at the media that reported on the scathing commentaries against it. In typical anti-RH (and anti-science) behavior, it insinuates (without a shred of evidence) a vast conspiracy, with the media supposedly carrying out “a vicious campaign against the Catholic Church.” (If this were true, it would have come up in our semimonthly meetings to plot the downfall of the Catholic Church.)

The persecution complex of The Varsitarian is at its height as it compares itself with two Christian martyrs, Lorenzo Ruiz and Saint Stephen. It even emphasizes that Stephen was stoned to death. The paper apparently sees what it does as a service to truth “with the purity of searing idealism.” In full self-aggrandizement, The Varsitarian claims that it would “die a thousand deaths” for its faith, even though, unlike those actually mired in religious violence, it has never faced the threat of dying even once. By calling back the imagery of men who were murdered, The Varsitarian likens its role as an Internet punchline to out and out martyrdom. It would behoove the Varsitarian to know that some people actually die, as in cease to have a functioning brain, because of the denial of reproductive health care. But, let’s not have facts get in the way of delusions of grandeur.

To keep its “idealism” in check and prevent it from being “blind,” The Varsitarian says that it seeks guidance from the Catholic Church. Then, what keeps their obedience to the Church from being blind and sycophantic? I suppose they wouldn’t consider that as a bad thing.

When one is trapped in an echo chamber as large and labyrinthian as Catholic theology, it’s easy to talk out of one’s ass. “The Varsitarian upholds the natural law even without recourse to Catholic teachings because the natural law covers everyone, including non-Christians,” says the paper. Of course, what the Varsitarian means by “natural law” is the specific ethical system ingrained in the Catholic faith. To support their claim that natural law applies to and must be believed by everyone, the paper even quotes the system’s major architect and the namesake of the school, Thomas Aquinas. So, the Varsitarian claims to defend a Catholic teaching (anti-contraception) by upholding Catholic teaching (natural law) “without recourse to Catholic teachings.”

In the end, The Varsitarian does admit that its words were indeed unchristian. And yet, it remains sanctimonious enough to call out AdMU and DLSU professors for not being true Catholics. The paper claims that the moral imperative for denunciation was so strong that it justified lemon, part 1, thereby flouting Christian virtue with the bravery of an anonymous editorial. So strong was the necessity that The Varsitarian closes lemon, part 2 with a quotation from Mark, that those who “scandalize” believers (such as the “faculty members and administrators” of their target schools) are better off to have a millstone tied to their necks and thrown into the sea to drown.

Perhaps The Varsitarian is right, after all. Maybe only people who are as hateful and uncharitable as its editorial team should have the right to call themselves Catholic.

Posted in Religion, Society4 Comments

Plagiarism and the RH Proxy War

After months of pompously brushing aside accusations of plagiarism, Senator Tito Sotto has finally been forced to take matters seriously. Of course, this was only after the daughter of his highest profile victim stepped forward to join the chorus of condemnation.

What Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, found most appalling and “twisted” in Sotto’s sin, is that not only did he plagiarize one of the most famous speeches in the English language, he wielded the late statesman’s words to deny women reproductive rights.

Unsurprisingly, Sotto’s apology to the Kennedy family was quite visibly insincere. Instead of acknowledging any wrongdoing on his part, Sotto said he was sorry if the Kennedys were offended. This is a textbook non-apology and the kind of victim-blaming one would expect from an opponent of reproductive rights. Sotto also predictably lashed out at his critics—the academics and writers who filed an ethics complaint against him in the Senate. (Disclosure: I, personally and along with Filipino Freethinkers, Inc., am one of the signatories of the complaint.)

 

Sotto was quick to label the complainants as RH advocates and, indeed, most of us are advocates for reproductive rights. This should be expected, since Sotto’s series of plagiarized speeches were made against the RH Bill. It takes little imagination to see that the people most closely watching his arguments would be RH advocates. Listening to the other side is only the intellectually honest thing to do in a debate, something Senator Sotto might not be aware of.

Conservative Catholic groups were also quick to make the same connection to RH as Sotto did and rush to his aid. One of the first to formally defend Sotto against the complaint is Romulo Macalintal, who claims that the RH Bill has nothing to do with his defense of the Senator. You may remember him from the Manila Cathedral incident when his group, Pro-Life Philippines, accosted reproductive rights advocates and tried to exorcise non-existent demons from them. Macalintal is also one of the lawyers trying to pass off BUHAY Party-List as a marginalized group in order to be registered candidates for the 2013 elections.

Not to be outdone, no less than the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the biggest opponents of reproductive rights in the Philippines, had several of its leaders come out to defend Sotto (and his anti-RH ally Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile). CBCP’s Father Melvin Castro said he admired Sotto’s “principles.” Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros dismissed the charges against Sotto as “trial by publicity.” Riding on their coattails is Filipinos for Life, which released a statement saying that they held Sotto “in the highest regard” and that the group was at his “disposal.”

While it makes sense that the complainants are mostly RH advocates (who were the first to notice the plagiarized passages), it does not follow that defenders of Sotto ought to be RH opponents. The content of our complaint of plagiarism has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of the RH bill. The evidence of plagiarism is incontrovertible, and to deny it is to reveal either unbelievable ignorance or unparalleled duplicity. That RH opponents almost exclusively rallied to defend an obvious and inexcusable transgression betrays their true intention of making Sotto’s plagiarism case a proxy war on the RH bill. In doing so, they are not defending a principle, rather, they are defending their anti-contraceptive club: a club that ostensibly uses any means necessary to achieve their ends, even if it is against their so-called principles. It is this same exact tribalist mentality that is used to justify the protection of rapists in the Catholic Church.

The narrative that the conservative Catholic establishment has always thrust upon the RH discussion is on morality—specifically, the medieval Catholic brand of ethics that they use to divine God’s apparent hate for contraception. It is quite curious, then, that they would casually ignore a clear ethical breach in order to pursue an anti-contraceptive agenda. It is not even that they believe that Sotto is innocent. Macalintal readily admits that Sotto used Robert Kennedy’s speech, shamelessly asserting that the late New York Senator would have been “proud” that Sotto used his words to shut down a bill that would provide women access to modern family planning.

This is moral expediency par excellence, which is particularly odd coming from these Catholic dogmatists. The Catholic ethical system specifically denies that morality can be seen in shades of gray. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, human acts are “either good or evil.” There is no in between. Their system has no room for the moral inconsistency practiced by those defending Sotto. Whether or not the consequences of their actions would bring about a Catholic ideal (which would be a ‘good’ consequence), if it is done with the ‘evil’ intention of lying, then it is still ‘evil.’ As the chief philosopher of the Church said, “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.” By abandoning consistency in their absolutism and supporting the dishonesty of a public servant, these conservative Catholics have shown that not only is their ethical system out of step with the real world, even they don’t believe in it.

Image Credit: GMA 24 Oras

Posted in Religion, RH Bill4 Comments

Physics for the Soul

As the United States shuts down its eastern seaboard for Cyclone Sandy, the Philippines will be shutting down as well, for completely different reasons. November 1 marks All Saints’ Day, when many establishments close up, since most people head to cemeteries to gamble and eat among the remains of the dead.

What comes with the holiday is the belief that when our bodies cease to function, even after we are laid into the soil or burned to ash, something survives. We are not just bodies, supernaturalist believers claim. There is a ghost in this machine and it breaks free from its mortal shackles upon death.

Some people claim to see these surviving entities, these spirits or souls, dwelling among the living. Ghostly apparitions are reported with disturbing regularity. Disturbing, in that even in the age of ubiquitous photography, no one has ever gathered any credible support for these ectoplasmic assertions. The reality of disembodied souls would necessarily overturn everything we know about physics. Any scientist would be itching to find evidence for the supernatural—evidence that never seems to turn up, despite the most adamant and most confident protestations of believers.

Human visual perception works because of light, and light works through electromagnetism. Electromagnetic/light particles called photons travel at the speed limit of the universe. When they hit objects, the energy of the photons is absorbed by particles in the object (such as electrons). These particles then release some energy back as another photon. The energy of the photon released determines the color and intensity of the light humans perceive.

If ghosts (under which I include saintly apparitions) can be seen, that means ghosts interact with photons! Electromagnetism is a physical phenomenon. This implies that at least some aspects of ghosts are physical, and therefore investigable by the methods of science. What kinds of photons are these spirits carrying? Are they different from everyday photons?

When people claim to hear ghosts, either through spooky screams or through elaborate homilies about the current geopolitical situation, they are actually claiming that physical objects are being moved by supernatural events. The perception of hearing occurs when the pressure of the air around us is locally fluctuated. When people talk, their vocal folds vibrate and push around air molecules. The air then vibrates the eardrums of animals within earshot. These vibrations correspond to what we hear as sound. The case is similar for those who report interacting with apparitions through touch (except that objects apart from air molecules are being moved, such as a uterus).

The Earth rotates on its own axis at around 1,674.4 km/h. It revolves around the Sun at 108,000 km/h. We don’t even feel these exorbitant speeds because we are moving with the Earth. We move with the Earth because we are on it and its forces are acting on us without variation. Should the Earth suddenly change in speed, however, we would definitely feel a calamitous disturbance. The Earth is tumbling around our galaxy, which is itself moving with respect to the rest of the universe. Should the Earth’s motion stop, we’d fly off into space—like a tetherball released from its rope. For the most part, we can happily ignore that we are hurtling across space because we are physical objects that obey the laws of physics. It is curious, therefore, when even immaterial ghosts follow physical laws.

When people claim to see ghosts, nobody ever reports them appearing one moment then zipping out into space the next, left behind by the Earth’s motion. Rather, people claim to see them stay in place long enough to scare the bejesus out of them, or tell them about some magic water that would heal people. Again, ghosts are eerily physical in all convenient aspects.

Imagine now that you have died. Ignore the paradox that you could not do such imagining because that would be imagining that your imagination could not imagine any longer. For the sake of argument, let us say that souls do exist and you are one right now, formerly in control of a body, currently disembodied.

Where are you? What do you see? Let us suppose that even though you are supernatural, you have some sort of particles that interact electromagnetically. Can you blink? It would be odd to do so, seeing as your soul would need to have eyelids.

At what direction are you looking? When you had a body, your eyeballs would sense a local cone of vision. Now that you’re a ghost, do you see all of existence at once? If so, where in the world are you? Certainly not floating just above your corpse.

When you had a body, you used your vision (and other senses) to determine where you were. You were limited by the local area that could be perceived by your physical sense organs. Now that you are without a body, the question of ‘where’ becomes meaningless. If ghosts exist, then they must be everywhere. They cannot otherwise be.

If these ghosts cannot exist as they have been claimed to be, then it must be that they are wholly in the mind of those who see them. They don’t have photons bouncing off of them, they don’t fly through space, because they’re not in the outside world! They do not exist objectively. These disembodied souls are figments, like how optical illusions, while very convincing, do not really show moving objects.

Our brains are easily fooled into seeing things that do not exist. People who claim to see ghosts often truly believe that they have experienced such a thing. I do not believe that they are all liars (though some must be). However, even though their brush with the supernatural must have felt very real, that does not mean that it was anything more than a psychological episode. The human brain is so adept at pattern recognition that it sees patterns everywhere—from clouds to dog anuses. It is no surprise, then, that ghosts follow the patterns we are so familiar with and that they are so much like normal natural objects, except for that little difficulty of being able to show them to others.

The supernatural world is suspicious to the scientifically literate because it is too convenient. It looks exactly like the natural world except when it’s favorable not to be. It looks like bad science fiction. Ghosts can hover, but not be left behind by a moving Earth. Ghosts can pass through solid walls, but can affect air molecules to produce sound. Ghosts can be perceived but not leave behind any independently-verifiable traces.

Surely some scientist must have left from the spirit world by now to show all his skeptical journal-publishing colleagues that the supernatural does exist. And yet, no scientist has ever come back from the grave to do so. Instead, we have saints who supposedly cure comatose patients, almost 400 years removed.

The vastness of space and time is available to the dead, if we are to believe the claims of the religious. Despite that, what is regularly professed to be done from beyond the grave is so vapid that miraculous claims are barely worth a 30 second spot on the evening news. The deep incongruence between the scale of the universe and the parochial concerns of people betrays the very human imaginations that spawn these stories.

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Science9 Comments

Watch Out for Another Cyberlaw

Opponents of the Cybercrime Act should be wary of another cyberlaw looming in Congress. Buhay Party-List Representatives Irwin Tieng and Mariano Michael Velarde handed in to the Fifteenth Congress last May, House Bill 6187, proposing An Act to Prohibit Online Piracy and Providing Penalties for Violation Thereof.

Tieng, whose uncle owns Solar Entertainment, said in a Congressional press release that piracy was “no more justifiable than shoplifting.” Together with Velarde, son of El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde, they proposed sanctions against pirates including a minimum of one year in jail for first time offenders, with a maximum of five years after the third offense. Fines proposed by the bill range from P 50,000 to P 1,000,000.

The bill, just one page and a half long excluding the opening note, is quite worrisome with its vague wording ripe for abuse—the same problems plaguing the Cybercrime Act. The brevity of HB 6187 betrays a fundamental misunderstanding on the authors’ part of how the Internet has changed common notions of economics, property, and scarcity (the comparison with “shoplifting” encapsulates this gross lack of comprehension). The bill criminalizes two acts, namely, making copies “not authorized by the copyright owner” and offering goods or services or providing access to media in a manner “not authorized by the copyright owner.”

This kind of wording is imprecise enough to make converting your own media discs illegal. Creating MP3s from your legally-owned CDs falls under “making copies” and doing so without explicit authorization from the copyright owner could land you in jail. Thus, the media industry could sell you several different formats of the same movie or song that you already own just because you wanted a copy for your portable device. Cloud-based backups for private use would be made illegal as saving your media online would entail “uploading” and “downloading” copyrighted data. The same kinds of problems came about when the United States passed its own legislation against copyright infringement, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, with the Motion Picture Association of America (to which Tieng is reported to have links) arguing that consumers could not make copies of their own discs.

Unwittingly streaming copyrighted content to your computer could also result in imprisonment. Every time your computer uses Internet data, it creates copies, often temporary, for local access. Such a scenario would be common for visiting sites like YouTube, which hosts many videos that use unlicensed copyrighted content (e.g. background music, concerts, and TV or movie clips). Unlicensed streaming to another computer that you own would also be in violation of the bill. Such slights, which are standard for anyone with Internet access, show just how the replicability of digital data cannot be so easily wished away by thuggish legislation.

In terms of implementation, Tieng and Velarde provide no concrete methods of combating piracy and leave it to the Department of Justice to determine how it would go about this, clinching this bill’s vagueness to the point of absurdity. It is not hard to foresee that determining offenders of the proposed bill would require the DOJ’s use of Orwellian methods such as the real time data snooping legalized by the Cybercrime Act, further encroaching on the right to privacy.

Since the dawn of the VHS, piracy has been made the perennial bogeyman of the media industry in order to lobby for draconian legislation, such as SOPA and PIPA, and stifle freedom of expression (citizens who make mixes, mashups, parodies, even birthday slideshows, should be concerned)—all without concrete evidence regarding its impact.

Even the United States government has been unable to ascertain whether piracy has any detrimental effects at all on the media industry, concluding that it is “difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the net effect of counterfeiting and piracy on the economy as a whole.” (Julian Sanchez of the libertarian Cato Institute has a sober analysis of the reality of digital piracy and Internet regulation and how “reports of the death of the [media industry as a result of piracy] seem much exaggerated.”) Under the guise of protecting the interests of intellectual property rights holders, the media lobby submits these typically oppressive measures, all the while impugning the motives of opponents by branding them as thieves and “shoplifters”, instead of consumers and clients with rights.

Buhay Party-List, whose electoral accreditation Filipino Freethinkers has contested in COMELEC, claims to represent the unborn (without being unborn themselves). Tieng and Velarde were also the authors of HB 4509, a bill outlawing sex toys.

Posted in Politics7 Comments

Hitchens, Living Dyingly

Hitchens, Living Dyingly

When Christopher Hitchens died in December of last year, the atheist community echoed to the point of cliché that the world had lost a voice of reason. But, there was really no other way to put the loss of Hitchens. Hitchens was a prolific writer, with over a dozen published books, along with regular columns published on Vanity Fair, Slate, and The Atlantic. Even the toll of metastatic cancer could only do so much to diminish his output.

Hitchens died after over a year of battling esophageal cancer. Or rather, as he puts it, cancer fighting him. He wrote missives from the land he called Tumortown with the wit and vigor, however slowed by chemotherapy, that was unique to him. These dispatches were published in Vanity Fair, which comprise the bulk of Hitchens’ posthumously published book, Mortality.

Mortality begins with a foreword from Hitchens’ longtime editor at Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter. Carter gives us a glimpse of Hitchens’ writing method as he recounts one typically indulgent drinking session, after which Hitchens banged out a 1000 word column “of near perfection” in about 30 minutes. He talks about the story behind the iconic photo of Hitchens riding a bike, feet in the air—apparently breaking one of the odd laws of New York. Carter remembers Hitchens as the consummate writer, taking on assignments however frightening (such as a date with the waxing parlor), while declaring with nervous enthusiasm, “In for a penny…”

The “living dyingly” by an atheist, of which Hitchens wrote in his final days, served as a real depiction and acceptance of mortality. After all, dying is no more real to anyone but atheists who believe that this life is all that there is and all that there will be. Hitchens, however, warned of the “permanent temptation” of self-centeredness and solipsism that stems from cancer victimhood and a looming end of life. As a matter of “etiquette,” Hitchens imposed on himself not to inflict on others the torment of indulgence expected from people dealing with the dying. He pointed out in particular the well-loved Randy Pausch, of The Last Lecture and Oprah fame. He remarked, “It ought to be an offense to be excruciating and unfunny in circumstances where your audience is almost morally obliged to enthuse.” Unflinching takedowns such as this remind us of the cheeky audacity that the world lost when Hitchens died.

Despite his near-stoic bravery as he journeyed through the land of malady, Hitchens admits that he would sometimes falter and throw the banal challenge to the universe of “why me?”, of course, Hitchens’ clear rationality sternly admonishes him with the obvious “why not?” Mortality shows how Hitchens maintained his humor despite the understandable irritation of the courtesies when interacting with people from “the country of the well.” When asked, “How are you?,” he would give different playful responses, from “A bit early to say” to “I seem to have cancer today.”

Most heartbreaking is how Hitchens relayed the eventual loss of his legendary voice, “If I had been robbed of my voice earlier, I doubt that I could have ever achieved so much on the page.” He related the vocal cord, which is not at all a cord in its strict sense, to the musical chord and how there must lie a deep relationship between the etymology and how the human voice evokes emotion. Speaking was at the core of Hitchens’ identity and he saw its loss as “assuredly to die more than a little.”

Hauntingly, Hitchens recalled the time when he was waterboarded in order to write about the experience, which he describes as being slowly drowned. It’s quite revealing for a dying man to have an action the United States government denied was torture in his last recollections. Having pneumonia as one of the many perils of his disease, Hitchens would have fits of panic with the feeling of water filling his lungs, summoning back his experience with torture.

Among the most memorable passages of Mortality was one of the first Hitchens published after being diagnosed. He spoke of his plans that were interrupted by cancer. Valiantly, he expressed his desire of outlasting the “elderly villains,” Kissinger and Ratzinger. But, Hitchens’ disappointment was clearest and most moving when he disbelievingly lamented, “Will I really not live to see my children married?”

The closing chapter of Mortality allows us a quick look at Hitchens’ thought processes before they were laid out in crisp British prose. We see little notes that echo some of the previous chapters, which were the fleshed out beats from what Hitchens had jotted down.

As a prominent atheist, many believers pined, even threatened, for his conversion. This theme recurred in his final public appearances, when he assured people that should he ever convert, “I hereby state that while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be ‘me.’” In the closing notes of Mortality, Hitchens elaborates in one fragmentary passage, “If ever I convert it’s because it’s better that a believer dies than an atheist does.” I would have loved to have seen that line bloom into a full polemic.

At just around 100 pages of previously-published material, Mortality leaves readers wanting. And, perhaps, that is just the hazard for people who have lived lives such as Hitchens. However, having all the material in one place provides a solemn context to Hitchens as he allowed the public to watch an atheist die and, as he saw it, cease to exist. Mortality encapsulates the resolute bravery of Hitchens in the face of death, refusing the comforting delusions of religion, as well as secular, but no less self-indulgent, sentimentality.

Hitchens’ widow, Carol Blue, closes the book with her own stories about her husband. She recalls how Hitchens scribbled notes in his books and how, even after Hitchens died, she would revisit them. And then Christopher Hitchens would always have the last word.

 

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens is published by Twelve.

Image Credit: Vanity Fair

Posted in Reviews0 Comments

Priestly Paranoia

For an institution that purports to be concerned with the deepest questions in life, the Roman Catholic Church sure can’t let go of sex and how people go about it. Notice how the Church is at its most vocal when it speaks on the Reproductive Health Bill with unprecedented and unparalleled froth and anger. Hot and bothered, the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines’ obsession over sex has gotten them paranoid that everything bad that ever happens about them is because of the RH Bill.

In the row between Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Antonio Trillanes over negotiations with China about Scarborough Shoal, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles has seen an illicit subterfuge of Pro-RH advocacy. Citing Enrile’s adamant anti-choice stance, Arguelles points out, “This may be a ploy to discredit the old man, to weaken the anti-RH group in the Senate.”

Of course, Enrile and Trillanes are both faithfully against the RH Bill. Enrile’s opposition as Senate President has been key to the delays on the RH Bill. While, Trillanes is anti-RH because he believes that if teachers taught students about sex, this would open up opportunities for those teachers to molest their students. In an interview with anti-choice Catholics, Trillanes intimated, “‘Pag may isang medyo manyak na teacher doon na paghuhubarin lahat…” (If there’s one slightly perverted teacher, they’ll make the children strip naked [in sex education classes].) This nugget of unrivaled intelligence from Trillanes should remove any ambiguities regarding his position on reproductive rights. And despite the clear lack of possible motive on either Enrile’s or Trillanes’ part, Arguelles seems to divine a most devious deception.

On another end, a National Geographic piece revealed the extensive involvement of a Filipino Catholic priest, Cristobal Garcia, in the smuggling of elephant tusks for its use in religious idols. This same priest was also revealed to have been involved with raping altar boys in the United States. Garcia has admitted to having sex with minors, thereby admitting to statutory rape, at the least. However, Garcia claims that it was he who was “seduced” and “raped” by children.

Garcia, who has spent zero time in prison for raping children, has been on “sick leave” here in the Philippines. The foreign nation of the Vatican has “suspended” Garcia from priestly duties and has begun investigating him, in lieu of surrendering him to the proper secular authorities.

In the eyes of the Church, the public exposure of this monstrous suffering of children and non-human animals is also part of a Pro-RH scheme to “discredit the Church,” at least, according to Bishop Arturo Bastes. To this sentiment Arguelles agrees, “This is related to Church’s championing life against RH bill.”

It has long become apparent that the Church believes itself to be incapable of error. All the evils that besiege their powerful institution can’t possibly be due to the systemic rot that pervades the Church. It must be because of evildoers conspiring against their Mother! In these paranoid delusions of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy (which owns an entire European country), the RH lobby is so strong that they can orchestrate entire international fiascos to their ends, even when this same bill has been mired in Congress for over a decade.

All the while, more sober minds might ask, what happened to the Roman Catholic Church’s concern for “life?” What of the children whose lives they’ve helped destroy by coddling their rapists? What of the lives of the sentient animals (human or otherwise) on whose suffering they have profited? The narrative becomes clear once we reject the Church’s patently false claims to a “pro-life” motive and view their behavior as what it obviously is: a self-preservationist persecution complex. The unmasking of their sex-obsessed spirit reveals a sanity that has broken down before our very eyes.

Image Credit: Dallas Morning News

Posted in Politics, Religion, RH Bill2 Comments

Holding Sotto Accountable for Plagiarism is Not a Distraction

 

“Marunong pala managalog si Kennedy, ah!”

 

A common, probably the only mildly-reasonable, criticism of the public condemnation of Senator Tito Sotto’s pathological penchant for plagiarism is that it distracts from the issues—mainly the reproductive health bill. Sotto himself has taken this route to defend himself against the accusations, saying that his critics could not answer his unimpeachable points, so they’ve resorted to “cyber-bullying.” He challenged his opponents with an aphorism (which I’m sure he’d never claim to be original), to shoot the message, not the messenger.

Of course, if his intellectual honesty and credibility were irrelevant to the interests of the Filipino people, then his excuses would be valid. It is, however, not the case that calling Sotto out on plagiarism is an argumentum ad hominem fallacy.

Ad hominem or “to the man” argumentation is not fallacious if it is not taken to refute “the man’s” positions and if the subject is “the man’s” character itself. In the case of Sotto’s plagiarism, of course his intellectual dishonesty does not affect the credibility of his case against the RH Bill.

But, let’s first take Sotto’s claim on face value. Is it indeed true that nobody at all has even tried to rebut Sotto’s claims during his long-winded turno en contra speeches that spanned four parts? No.

On this website alone, we have exposed Sotto’s use of a non-peer-reviewed quack, Natasha Campbell-McBride, to claim that contraceptives are dangerous. We’ve shown that Sotto’s Texas sharpshooter-ed statistics themselves show even greater maternal mortality rates than the pro-RH camp’s “11 maternal deaths a day” claim. We’ve shown how Sotto quote-mined even his attributed literature to misinform the public regarding contraceptives. We’ve shown that the contraceptives Sotto’s wife supposedly took that killed their first-born son did not even exist when he said they did.

With that out of the way, we can tackle whether or not it is true that calling Sotto out on plagiarism distracts from the RH Bill.

Given the long years the RH Bill has been dragged on, there really are no new arguments for or against it. Well, Sotto’s introduction of anti-vaccination quacks to the mix was a breath of fresh air, but the core arguments are all stale and worn out: that contraceptives are not essential medicines, that contraceptives don’t even work, that contraceptives are poison, that contraceptives cause abortion, that poverty is not related to overpopulation, that the RH Bill is redundant, that the RH Bill removes freedom of choice, and that the RH Bill is against God.

Calling out Sotto on plagiarism is not a distraction from the RH Bill discussion because there’s no RH Bill discussion to distract from. The debates are over.

All that is left now is to vote on the RH Bill. The anti-RH camp claims they have the numbers, but they have repeatedly, successfully, and frustratingly delayed deliberations on the bill. These are not the actions of a confident majority bloc. These are the actions of cowards and dishonest politicians kowtowing to the Vatican-led Roman Catholic Church.

The issue of Sotto’s plagiarism is another matter entirely apart from the RH Bill. To that extent, I can agree. But it is not a distraction. Sotto’s unscrupulousness is in itself worthy of contempt, condemnation, and punishment.

Sotto plagiarized Sarah Pope, New York University, Marlon Ramirez, Feminists for Choice, The Truth of Contraceptives, and most recently, the late New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He then lied about doing so, in the case of Sarah Pope and in the case of Kennedy.

Greater men have been felled for less flagrant failures of integrity.

The Senate is supposed to be where the best of our society gathers to decide on the rules we all must live by. Our senators are styled “honorable” because that is what we expect them to be. What Sotto has done with his office as senator is not honorable by any stretch of the imagination. No less than the Senate President, Juan Ponce Enrile, defended the plagiarism of Sotto, his fellow anti-RH filibusterer. That the Senate has coddled this serial liar and plagiarist by failing to sanction him humiliates the entire institution and belies any such honor it claims to possess.

 

Image from Bandila’s stream of their Sotto interview

Posted in Politics, RH Bill2 Comments

Timeline of Senator Sotto’s Plagiarism (Updated September 7)

Quickly unfolding after one of our authors, Alfredo R. Melgar, exposed Senator Tito Sotto’s unattributed word-for-word lifting of significant segments of a piece written by Sarah Pope, has been the public excoriation of the Senator for plagiarism. Pope’s blog, The Healthy Home Economist, was used by Senator Sotto to oppose public funding of oral contraceptive pills in the first part of his turno en contra speech against the Reproductive Health Bill. The Senator and his staff still contends, however, that if they used her blog at all, it was only in the citation of Pope’s own attributed source, a certain Natasha Campbell-McBride (whose medical opinion is, on its own, highly suspect).

The following is a timeline (a web log, if you will) of the events on Sotto’s apparent plagiarism. It will be periodically updated for further developments on the matter.

Updated as of September 7, 7:20 AM (added the confirmation of Feminists for Choice blogger of Sotto’s plagiarism)

“Bakit ko naman iko-quote yung blogger? Blogger lang ‘yon.”

 

August 13, 2012

Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” C. Sotto III delivers the first part of his turno en contra speech on the floor of the Philippine Senate against Senate Bill 2865, the Reproductive Health Bill. In his speech, he makes several claims regarding the relationship of the bill with abortion, an act the bill acknowledges to be illegal. He makes further claims that contraceptives, such as the oral contraceptive pill, have severe side effects. He supports these claims by citing a Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. He reveals that his son, who died over 30 years ago at the age of five months, died due to his wife’s use of contraceptives.

 

August 15, 2012

Filipino Freethinkers publishes a piece by Alfredo R. Melgar, who points out that several stretches of Sotto’s August 13 speech were lifted “almost word-for-word” from the blog of a certain Sarah Pope, who writes as “The Healthy Home Economist.” Melgar further points out Pope’s views on medicine, such as a thoroughly-debunked link between vaccines and autism.

Senator Sotto delivers the second part of his turno en contra speech, in which he accuses former Department of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and Iloilo Representative Janet Garin of being callous for questioning his claim that his son died due to contraceptive use by Sotto’s wife. Sotto, who is backed by the Roman Catholic Church represented by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, also purports to expose the identities and motives of foreign organizations lobbying for the RH Bill.

 

August 16, 2012

Senator Sotto appears on Headstart on the ABS-CBN News Channel with Karen Davila. He states that he opposes the RH Bill because, if it is made into law, it removes the freedom of choice from mayors and governors for denying their constituents access to contraceptives, should they choose to. He warns, “Do not remove their freedom of choice.”

Sotto denies the allegation of plagiarism, saying, “Bakit ko naman iko-quote yung blogger? Blogger lang ‘yon. Ang kino-quote ko si Natasha Campbell-McBride.” (Why would I quote a blogger? That’s only a blogger. I was quoting Natasha Campbell-McBride.) Karen Davila asks him whether his speech writing staff looks at blogs and Sotto says, “We don’t.” When Davila presses him further asking, “Not at all?” Sotto responds, “No.” He further reveals, “When I prepare my speeches, I prepare it with them. We talk about it. We sit down and discuss what we need to say.” Sotto questions his accusers’ capacity to refute his claims saying, “They attack me kasi nauubusan sila ng sagot.” (Because they run out of answers.)

Sarah Pope, author of the passages that Melgar had shown to have been lifted word-for-word, posts on her Facebook account that she was indeed plagiarized, saying, “A Senator in the Philippines plagiarized one of my blog posts to use in a speech. Can’t even believe this!!!”

Sarah Pope writes about the experience of being plagiarized by a sitting Philippine Senator. She echoes the accusations put forward against Sotto, “It seems one of [the Filipino people’s] esteemed Senators, Tito Sotto, plagiarized a blog post I wrote on February 23, 2011 entitled How The Pill Can Harm Your Future Child’s Health, lifting entire sections of the article basically word for word that were delivered in a speech to the Senate floor regarding the possible passage of the highly controversial Reproductive Health Bill.” She also noted Sotto’s denial of the charge. She is unconvinced, however, saying, “A thief is a thief, Mr. Senator. Denying it doesn’t get you off the hook; it just makes you a lying thief.”

Pope goes on to lament the manner of use of her writings by Sotto, “Women of the Philippines: I am terribly sorry my blog was used and twisted against you.” Furthermore, she notes that she does not support the way her work was used by the Senator, “While I want you to know that this choice has health consequences as does the decision to use any pharmaceutical drug, I in no way would ever condone taking this choice away from you!”

On Pope’s article, a person named “lezel” who claims to be writing in the name of Senator Sotto’s Chief of Staff, Atty. Hector A. Villacorta comments. However, despite media reports of admission by Sotto’s camp to plagiarism, Villacorta’s words reveal no such confession, “Let me say that after asking my staff, indeed your blog was used but only in quoting also from the same book of Dr. Campbell-McBride. We are both indebted to the book’s author but if you wish that you also be credited with the contents of the book, let this be your affirmation. I can do it and by this message, I am doing it.” [Emphasis and proper capitalization mine.]

Regarding Pope’s accusations of plagiarism, Villacorta asserts the innocence of Sotto, “What have we done to deserve your incriminating words? The Senator did not lift it himself, we did. Did you want us to tell him to admit what he did not do? Who would you like to crucify for this oversight?” [Proper punctuation and capitalization mine.]

Villacorta then ostensibly asks for pardon, “Forgive us our single trespass. We had no malice, we thought you would be happy about it. There was no injury. Hope this makes you feel better.” [Again, proper capitalization mine.]

Pope responds to Villacorta, “I don’t like the fact that my blog was used without my permission against the education of the women of the Philippines and their reproductive rights.” She does not accept Villacorta’s claim that the Senator was innocent saying, “If his staff did it, he condoned it. He is responsible for your actions.”

Directly contradicting Sotto’s claims since his appearance on ANC, Pope maintains, “My Blog was quoted, not Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. I put her work in my words and you copied my words.” She also appears not to have appreciated Villacorta’s appeasement, “No, your lame comment does not make me “feel” any better.”

The account under the name “lezel,” through which Villacorta’s message was relayed, later responds to Pope, “A blog is meant to be shared and we shared it.” [Proper capitalization mine.]

ABS-CBN News confirms that the message was indeed the words of Villacorta. The author’s identity as Sotto’s Chief of Staff was also reaffirmed to Rappler. Later research turns up that this lezel appears to be a certain Lezel De Villa, who posted the same message from Villacorta on her Facebook account.

Investigative journalist Raissa Robles reports that, upon being informed by several commenters, it also appears that, for his second turno en contra speech, Sotto also had word-for-word plagiarisms from at least 4 sources, including several blogs (contradicting Sotto’s claim to not using blogs at all): The Margaret Sanger Papers Project of New York University, Marlon C. Ramirez’s Talking Sense, FeministsforChoice.com, and TheTruthofContraceptives.blogspot.com.

 

August 17

In an interview with Rappler, Sotto Chief of Staff Hector Villacorta maintains that Sotto has nothing to apologize for because, “He can’t apologize for something he did not know.” Rappler reports, that Villacorta, as Chief of Staff, takes responsibility for the scandal.

Villacorta says that they committed the error “in good faith,” despite repeating the same error on four other sources. He also says that it was “inelegant” to have quoted a blog. Despite having a law degree, Villacorta also adds that blogs are “part of public domain.” It should be noted that Sarah Pope’s blog, The Healthy Home Economist, is copyrighted and not in the public domain, given the statement below each of her articles showing that the rights to the content of her site are under Austus Foods LLC.

Villacorta further denies that they plagiarized the sources revealed by Raissa Robles, “I doubt it’s word for word because we’ve been going over and meeting about this research for months. It’s the product of our minds.” This doubt should be sorely tested by Robles’ highlighting of the said word-for-word copies on her article.

In another interview, one with GMA News Online, Villacorta further submits his opinion, “You have a blog, it is meant to be shared, it’s in the public domain, so it’s not plagiarism.”

Villacorta also reveals that it was actually him commenting under the name “lezel,” using a staff member’s account.

It appears that Villacorta understands plagiarism as copyright violation, saying, “Hindi naman copyrighted ang blogs kasi.” (Blogs are not copyrighted.) It is important to point out that plagiarism is not necessarily copyright infringement. Rather, it is taking someone’s work and presenting it as your own.

GMA News Online’s own coverage of the matter reveals that even a misplaced comma in Pope’s article (“According, to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD…”) is also present in Sotto’s published text of the first part of his turno en contra speech.

International news agency, the Associated Press, picks up on the Sotto plagiarism scandal, distributing it to various other news desks all over the world.

Apparently taking responsibility for any scandal, Sotto finally comments on the matter to GMA Network’s 24 Oras as reported by ABS-CBN News, “Whatever it is, the buck stops with me. I’m the senator.”

ABS-CBN Show Bandila, also hosted by Karen Davila, reports further on the scandal. They interview Villacorta who says, “What law did we violate? Only [Sarah Pope’s] sensitivity was affected.”

Pope on ANC’s The World Tonight, subsequently re-aired on Bandila, advices Sotto’s camp that they should have acknowledged that they “made a mistake” and that “proper credit should have been given for this information that was taken illegally from [Pope’s] blog.” She says that they should have said, “We’re sorry and can we move on?”

 

August 18

ABS-CBN News reports further that on Pope’s appearance on The World Tonight, she accused Sotto of “acting as though he’s above the law… to get his agenda through the Philippine legislature.” She continues, “That’s just wrong, that’s very poor behavior.” She later calls on Filipinos to “think about this when they go to the election booths when he’s up for reelection.”

Commenting on Villacorta’s supposed apology, Pope calls it a “ridiculous insulting rude comment” and that it “should be an embarassment to his office.” She demands an apology from the senator himself, “[I]f he, Senator Sotto writes a sincere letter of apology saying ‘this was a mistake, we apologize,’ I would post that on my blog.” Then, she would “consider this issue done.”

 

August 19

The Philippine Star reports Sotto announcing that he will postpone the closing of his turno en contra speech in order to defend himself on Wednesday against the public outcry against plagiarism in his speeches. He blames RH advocates, “It’s their fault. I am ready to close my turno but now I will postpone this for my privilege speech.”

He maintains his same defense, despite using verbatim Pope’s and several other sources’ exact words without attribution, saying that Pope was not “the author of the book,” referring to the writings of Natasha Campbell-McBride. He goes on to admit that he also “did not mention several other people’s names.”

Refusing to apologize to Pope and his other unattributed sources, Sotto again lashes out at RH advocates, “This is clearly a wrecking job.” He states his own view on the matter of plagiarism, “Plagiarism, whether you give attribution or not, applies only if you contend that the contents are yours.”

Bukluran UP System, the alliance of student organizations across the University of the Philippines (UP) system of campuses, calls on Senator Sotto to resign over the plagiarism scandal. The group’s National Spokesperson, UP Manila University Student Council Chair Jason Alacapa, says that Sotto’s resignation would be the “dignified thing to do.”

The group cited the resignations of Hungarian President Pal Schmitt and German prime minister prospect Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg over plagiarism as precedents for such an action. Recalling Sotto’s own dismissal of the stature of Sarah Pope as a blogger, the group’s Deg Daupan says, “…kung blogger lang iyon, senator lang si Sotto. Itong mga nag-resign sa ibang bansa, presidente at prime minister-to-be.” (If that was just a blogger, Sotto is just a senator. Those who resigned in other countries were a president and a prime minister-to-be.)

Noting a predictability of the plagiarism scandal, Topher Porras, Secretary-General of the RH AGENDA UP student organization, “This plagiarism case is not surprising. The anti-RH camp has been misinforming the public through lies and superstitions from the very start.”

 

August 20

The Philippine Daily Inquirer publishes an editorial, calling the scandal “so comical” and “so ridiculous” that they “invite disbelief.” Entitled, “‘Iskul Bukol’ in the Senate,” the editorial refers to Sotto’s stint in a comedy television show about students and their mischief. In addition to plagiarism, the editorial points out that Sotto used “dubious or at least ambiguous research” and “emotional blackmail” to stop the Reproductive Health Bill from passing. The editorial calls this “the real joke.”

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Sotto’s partner as the staunchest opponents of the RH Bill in the Senate, comes out to defend Sotto, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports, against accusations of plagiarism. On Sotto’s word-for-word copying of several sources, Enrile says, “He did not deny that the speech was a product of research. Meaning, there was attribution.” He goes on to say, “Is there an idea in this world that was not copied from others?” On using copyrighted material, Enrile declares, “Once you release an idea to the public, unless you copyright it, it can be used.” As reported earlier on this piece, Sarah Pope’s content is copyrighted under Austus Foods LLC.

 

August 21

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Senator Pia Cayetano, co-author of the Senate version of the RH Bill, was “blasted” by “netizens” for “the same offense” of plagiarism as Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto.

It was pointed out that two of Cayetano’s privilege speeches also contained word-for-word copies from sources apparently unattributed. These two speeches were “Privilege speech on the status of the Philippines in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)” and “On World Environment Day.”

However, upon being informed of the lack of attribution, the office of Cayetano immediately added the necessary references. On Twitter, Cayetano responded to the accusations, “If at any time, I fail to attribute, I immediately make the necessary corrections and amends.” She continues, “Citing authors and sources is part of the writing process I am happy to do because it shows the depth of research done.”

In contrast, Sotto’s immediate response after facing the initial charges of the scandal was to deny even using blogs at all. His camp has still failed to acknowledge Sarah Pope and the (at least four) other unattributed sources as references in his speech.

It should be noted that these statements by Cayetano were all readily available on Twitter. Despite the Inquirer mentioning an attempt to “get a comment from Cayetano,” the paper’s piece has no mention at all of any of these responses from Cayetano.

 

August 22

Sotto’s camp admits to not reading Campbell-McBride’s work at all, according to ABS-CBN News. Upon trying to access her writings, Sotto’s office apparently could not get a copy of her book off the Internet. Believing instead that Pope’s work was an accurate depiction of her work, they decided to use her words. Sotto Chief of Staff declares, “Researchers tried clicking the book but ayaw mag-download.” (It wouldn’t download.) “Kaya ang pinakamaganda, refer to blog dahil baka accurate naman,” (That’s why the next best thing was to refer to the blog because it might be accurate.) Villacorta went on to explain.

This defense completely contradicts Sotto’s initial claim that he was quoting Campbell-McBride and not Sarah Pope, who he believes is just a blogger.

 

August 23

Sotto Chief of Staff Hector Villacorta says, in a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, that “copying is a common practice” in the Senate. Citing that bills are usually refiled by other legislators without much revision or attribution to previous authors, Villacorta rationalizes, “Re-filing is an accepted practice. It is also called copying.” He goes on, “We plagiarized the US Constitution… but do they call us a plagiaristic country? No, because the law is based on precedent.” He said these in response to accusations that his office plagiarized not a bill or a legal document with boilerplate wording, but a personal privilege speech delivered in the name of Senator Sotto.

Further justifying his office’s actions, Villacorta calls upon his religious opinion, “Even our image was copied from God. We are all plagiarists.”

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, co-author of the RH Bill in the Senate, excused the plagiarism, saying, “Maybe the speech just writer overlooked it… we should give more leeway to senators as long as later on they admit that they took it from some other source…” It should be pointed out that while Cayetano immediately placed citations on the speeches found to not have them, Sotto’s camp has still refused to officially acknowledge the several bloggers whose words were delivered in the Senator’s name without attribution.

Villacorta further states that it is “awkward” to deliver a speech that says, “according to this blogger who quoted this author,” even though this was, in fact, what his office did. He goes on, “A whole gamut of ‘according to’ would also not make the speech credible,” referring to the speech Sotto delivered that cited outdated 1970’s sources.

In an “ambush interview” at the Senate, Senator Pia Cayetano responds to allegations of plagiarism. She notes that on the speech where she was accused of plagiarizing the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the footnotes her office had for the speech were accidentally left out when it was uploaded to their WordPress site. She also mentions that she had already cited the UNEP as a source in the relevant paragraph. Contra Sotto, she concedes that “dapat talagang ma-identify ang mga source.” (Sources definitely have to be identified.)

In the case of her speech on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), she complains that her accusers should have done a little research. She reveals that this speech was never delivered in the Senate. She delivered an entirely different speech “ad lib.” Then, her undelivered speech was accidentally uploaded to their site instead of the transcript of the manifestation she actually delivered in the Senate.

She says that she finds it “quite malicious” for her accusers to “impute malice on this.” She further acknowledges, “that your literary work should always be protected and should always be acknowledged.”

August 29

ProPinoy reports that the copy posted on the official Senate website of Sotto’s first turno en contra speech has been taken down without notice. It is available for access on Filipino Freethinkers servers.

Sotto’s turno en contra speech has apparently been moved to a different URL. This new transcript perhaps much more accurately reflects ad lib remarks and revisions Sotto made as he was delivering the speech on the Senate floor. It is, however, noteworthy to point out that this new transcript removes the (PERSONAL EXPERIENCE) note at the end that implied original authorship of the speech. It also removes the incriminating typographical error that matched Sarah Pope’s own blog from which Sotto’s office copied word-for-word segments, which were delivered without attribution in his name.

After much delay, Sotto finally delivers his speech defending himself from accusations of plagiarism, which was delivered mainly in Tagalog. He opens his speech by condemning his accusers of doing a “demolition job.” He opines regarding his accusers’ motives, “…upang humina ang aking panindigan laban sa RH bill.” (…so that my resolve is weakened against the RH bill). He claims that his accusers did not listen to his speech and decided to find a “small” issue to throw at him, “…ang mga kalaban ay naghanap ng maliit na isyung makakapuwing sa akin.” (…the enemies looked for a small issue that would blind me.)

He maintains, as if it were a sufficient replacement for proper attribution, that his blanket turn of phrase would be enough to deflect accusations of plagiarism: “Hindi ko po iniimbento ito. Itong mga kino-quote ko po ay mga fact na pinatotohanan ng mga eksperto sa larangan ng agham at batas.” (I am not inventing these. These things I’m quoting are facts that have been proven by experts in science and law.) Sotto is accused of plagiarizing Sarah Pope (among others), an anti-vaccination blogger and economics graduate who has no degree in law or science.

He further claims that he is the first Senator that has been a victim of cyber-bullying, particularly, he says, by supporters of the RH Bill. He opines, “Bahagi siguro ito ng kanilang istratehiya, lalo pa’t may milyun-milyon silang pondo.” (This is probably a part of their strategy, especially since they have millions in funds.)

Sotto claims that none of the points of his turno en contra speech were answered. Of course, a casual search on the Internet will provide a plethora of rebuttals of the content of his speech, such as those by Prof. Sylvia Claudio of the Center for Women’s Studies, which is just one among many.

He quotes no less than three different dictionaries, and this time properly cites them, in defining plagiarism. However, he does not defend himself regarding the definitions he had just presented. Instead, he says that plagiarism is not a crime, “…walang krimen ng plagiarism sa Pilipinas. Kahit hanapin ninyo pa sa Revised Penal Code, sa Intellectual Property Code, at maging sa Special Penal Laws, wala kayong makikitang krimen ng plagiarism.” (…there is no crime of plagiarism in the Philippines. Even if you look in the Revised Penal Code, in the Intellectual Property Code, even in the Special Penal Laws, you will not find the crime of plagiarism.)

Taking exception to attacks on his intellectual capacity he says, “Kahit mukha akong walang pinag-aralan kung ikukumpara sa mga pinag-aral nila at hindi kasing dunong nila, ang mahalaga ay ang ipinaglalaban ko.” (Even if I look unschooled compared to what they studied and not as wise as them, what is important is what I am fighting for.) He also mentions that his stint in the variety show, Eat Bulaga where he appeared with his brother Vic Sotto and fellow comedian Joey De Leon, was also made fun of. Sotto, who disparaged Sarah Pope as a mere blogger, says that he would rather be a clown than to say bad things about others.

In his closing, he reads a poem by Joey De Leon as well as enjoins his enemies to read Psalms 56, 63, and 64. He also mentions his god, “…ang tunay na Awtor ng aklat ng ating buhay at bawa’t kaluluwa ng isang sanggol na nabuo na sa sinapupunan ng kanyang ina.” (…the true Author of the book of our lives and of every soul of every baby that is already formed in the womb of their mother.)

He moves that the entire paragraph referencing Campbell-McBride, which included the plagiarized blog post of Sarah Pope, be stricken from the record.

Sotto does not mention Pope by name nor does he mention the word-for-word copies of other sources in his second turno en contra speech.

 

September 5

After several delays, Sotto finally delivers the third and fourth parts of his turno en contra speech on the same day. However, it was shown by several online commentators that the ending of his fourth speech was plagiarized from Robert F. Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation speech given to the National Union of South African Students in Cape Town. Though Sotto’s speech was delivered in Tagalog, it is quite clear that his words were unattributed translations from Kennedy’s famous speech.

Shortly after delivering his speech and amid the public furor on another clear case of plagiarism all within the span of a few weeks, Sotto defended himself on ABS-CBN’s Bandila. The segment showed Senate President pro-tempore Jinggoy Estrada asking Sotto on the Senate floor whether the words he had just delivered were his own. Sotto responded that they were indeed his own words. He continued, “Kaya ko ho tinagalog. Kaya ho Pilipino na ang ginamit ko para ‘wag nang magbintang ‘tong mga kung sinu-sino, at subukan nila.” (That’s why I made [my speech] Tagalog. That’s why I used Filipino so that these nobodies won’t accuse me, and they can try.)

Regarding Kennedy’s words that he had translated and delivered in Filipino, he asks his accusers on Balita, “So para nga safe, tinagalog ko. O, sino ngayon ang kinopyahan ko na Tagalog? Meron ba silang alam na pinanggalingan na Tagalog doon?” (So it would be safe, I made [my speech] Tagalog. What is it this time that I copied that was in Tagalog? Do they know a source that is Tagalog [in my speech]?) Referring to his own stint as a comedian he says, “Nakakatawa na sila. Sila ang komiko, eh. Hindi ako.” (They are hilarious. They’re the comics. Not me.) Apparently incredulous at the fact that he delivered the same thoughts of Kennedy in 1966, but merely translated, he says, “Marunong palang managalog si Kennedy, ah!” (Oh, Kennedy can speak Tagalog!)

 

September 6

One of the other bloggers Sotto plagiarized in the second part of his turno en contra speech, Janice Formichella of Feminists for Choice has come out to confirm that she was indeed plagiarized. More than that, she says that here words were “twisted into an argument against an important reproductive rights bill.”

Formichella clarifies in the Ms. Magazine blog that, in context, her work was not a condemnation of Margaret Sanger but of Gandhi and his “little-known sexism.” She says that Sotto’s quote-mining is ironic because the part he lifted “aptly reflects [Gandhi's] hypocrisy as a political leader.” She says she would “love nothing more than to see this bill passed” and that she was angry that her work was used to delay the bill’s passage. She asks Sotto to apologize to “each of the bloggers he has plagiarized.”

In the GMA News Online report, Sotto instead says that it was “impossible” that Formichella was right because his office got the information from a book. He could not, however, provide the name of the book. Similar to how he considered Pope, Sotto says Formichella was “pathetic” and that she was just riding the bandwagon, “gusto lang niyan sumikat.” (She only wants to get famous.)

 

Image Captured from ANC’s Stream of Senator Tito Sotto’s Appearance on Headstart with Karen Davila

Posted in Politics, RH Bill13 Comments

Anti-RH Blame Rains on RH Win

Yesterday, August 6, the House of Representatives finally voted to end the period of debate for the Reproductive Health Bill. This was a surprise move by the bill’s proponents as it had been expected that the vote would be on August 7.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales put forward the motion to end, which faced several objections. Deputy Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella allowed all representatives some time to voice out their positions on the vote with Rep. Amado Bagatsing furious about the early vote. He cited the bill’s opposition to the nation’s “public religion” and that the date, August 6 was unlucky and that 6 was the number of the devil. From these premises, the honorable representative from Manila concluded that it was not a good day to vote for the bill. Rep. Rudolfo Biazon was the last to speak, asking his fellow congressmen whether they ought to listen to the people of the Philippines or to the clergy.

The RH Bill pushed through into the period of amendments despite a last minute attempt by anti-RH congressmen to force a nominal vote. This would have given congressmen 3 minutes each to explain their vote, further delaying the procedures. Such a procedure requires 20% of the representatives to agree to it, which was 50 given the attendance that day. The anti-RH representatives were unable to muster the numbers, belying the Catholic Church’s claim that they had 140 representatives against the bill.

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The day ended with severe rains that continue as of this writing. Several areas in Metro Manila are flooded to as high as 6 feet. Several opponents of the RH bill see this coincidence as divine punishment. The following is a collation by Red Tani of several posts on Twitter by users finding divine purpose in completely natural phenomena.

Update (1:00 PM, August 7): One of those objecting to the vote, Zambales Representative Mitos Magsaysay has put her say regarding the rains, calling it “heaven crying.”

Posted in Advocacy, RH Bill5 Comments

A Letter to Hon. Vincent Crisologo, Representative of Quezon City, District 1

Filipino Freethinkers calls on Filipinos to contact their representatives in Congress to be present on August 7, when the House of Representatives votes to end debate on the Reproductive Health Bill (HB 4244). It is likely that many opposing congressmen will skip work on that day in order to avoid quorum and prevent any congressional procedures. If the period of sponsorship and debate ends on August 7, the bill will enter the period of amendments and, eventually, it will be voted on for third reading before final passage.

The following is a letter sent to the office of Congressman Vincent Crisologo via their online form on the Philippine House of Representatives Website.

Dear Hon. Vincent “Bingbong” Crisologo,

After over a decade of delays, the RH Bill is finally up for voting to end interpellations this August 7. I am aware of your staunch opposition to the bill. Given your religious background, this is not at all surprising. At this time, all arguments for and against the bill have already been exhausted and any intellectually honest person would have already supported the RH Bill by now.

Because of your continued opposition, I am resigned to your unwavering objection to a bill that would save thousands of people from death and millions from inhumane conditions—people with interests you disregard solely due to your personal religious convictions. I will not try to convince you to support the bill. However, your convictions, I must stress, are not shared by the constituency you were elected to represent. Your constituency, by and large, is more concerned about the suffering and abject poverty forced upon them by your personal denial of their right to family planning choices.

As your constituent in the first district of Quezon City and as a citizen who pays for your wages in taxes, I urge you to at least be present when the RH Bill comes to a vote for the end of interpellations on August 7. This is your duty as a public official. Hardworking taxpayers pay you and expect you to do your job and report for work. This is the bare minimum any employer expects from their employees. You are a representative of the City—not of your Church and not of your personal interests.

If you still believe that the RH Bill should be defeated, then defeat it by democratic means and vote against it. But, please, refrain from further participating in the decade-long delaying tactics. Be present at your job on August 7. You owe your attendance to every citizen of Quezon City.

 

Your boss,

Garrick Bercero
Affiliations Director
Filipino Freethinkers

Posted in Advocacy, Politics, Religion, RH Bill0 Comments

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