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Author Archives | jong (innerminds)

Is Victim Blaming Always Irrational?

stop-victim-blamingVictim blaming, which is said to occur when “the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them,” is perceived by many as irrational because it shifts the blame or at least a part thereof from the real offender to the innocent victim. They contend that the victim has zero responsibility every time regardless of the circumstances.

I intend to challenge this absolutist position.

When comedian Ricky Gervais posted a tweet about the leaked nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities, people called him out for victim blaming. In his tweet, which he later deleted, Gervais wrote:

“Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.”

The following are some of the responses he received:

@rickygervais, Ah, victim-blaming at its finest. “If you don’t want people to break into your house and steal your things, don’t own things.” – Brian Herbert

@rickygervais this is like telling women, make it harder for rapists to rape you by not going outside. – Jen Italia

While Gervais’ tweet was done in bad taste, I do not find it necessarily illogical as what the responses seem to suggest with their analogies. My position is that there are certain instances where victims can be held at least partially responsible for the harm that befell them, and those instances are where they acted negligently, and especially if they were grossly negligent.

Negligence is defined as “failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances.” Now whether the celebrities’ act of uploading their nude photos on the Internet constitutes gross or even simple negligence is an issue beyond the scope of my contention, because in order to resolve it certain facts need to be established, like how secure were the sites they used, how strong were their passwords, and what other necessary precautions they took or did not take.

For sure, however, not uploading one’s nude photos if you don’t want them leaked cannot be equated to not owning things if you don’t want people to break into your house and steal your things, or to not going outside if you don’t want to be raped. The analogies used by those who responded to Gervais’ tweet certainly do not constitute even simple negligence. We only need to ask the question: Would a reasonably prudent person not own things, or never go outside?

On the other hand, uploading nude photos involves a presumably unnecessary risk to one’s privacy. Of course, it is also entirely possible that the person actually did not know the risks, or had a compelling reason to back up photos online. These factors would certainly modify the dynamics of blame, but their existence is not to be presumed. Someone who knows how to upload photos will probably have a basic idea of the risks involved, and I cannot think of a compelling reason for a person to upload naked selfies. But even if you can come up with something, such “compelling reason” would probably be the exception rather than the norm, hence, its existence is not to be presumed.

For a better perspective, let us say person A, a famous actress, uploads to a non-secure site, not her naked photos, but those of her friend, person B, another famous actress. The site gets hacked and the photos are leaked. Would person B not have the right to blame person A – to hold her at least partially responsible for compromising her privacy? Can person A raise the defense that it is the hackers who should be held entirely responsible for the leak?

The problem with the term “victim blaming” is that it seems to imply that a person is being blamed because he or she is a victim, when in fact the reason for the blame is that he/she acted negligently. This is made clear in the above example where the one who acted with negligence and the victim of the privacy breach which the negligent act helped make possible are not the same person.

Moreover, we must distinguish between criminal liability and the non-criminal culpability arising from negligence. In the case of hacking, no amount of negligence on the part of the person uploading private photos to a non-secure site can remove or even diminish the hacker’s criminal liability in invading other people’s privacy. Just because the victim acted negligently does not mean that the hacker acted less criminally.

A friend of mine expressed this in another way:

“What people who keep bandying about the ‘victim-blaming’ argument seem to scarcely understand is that blame isn’t a zero-sum game where holding the victim partially responsible for her victimhood (i.e., if she can be said to have done something she knew would significantly increase the likelihood of being victimized) removes a proportional amount of blame from the victimizer; a victimizer can be 100% responsible for a crime (whatever it is) while the victim can be partially responsible for knowingly placing herself in a situation that increased the odds of said crime taking place. There is no contradiction there.”

Suppose a guy who jogs at night decides for no compelling reason to change his route and passes through a dangerous part of town known for its alarming number of muggings. He enters a dark alley and, sure enough, gets mugged and robbed of his wallet which contained a lot of cash and all his IDs and credit cards. At this point some people would probably say that the jogger should not be held even partially responsible for his loss and that all the blame should be laid on the mugger because it was the latter who committed the entire crime and the jogger took no part in it.

But let’s suppose that hours before his evening run he went to a wedding for which he borrowed his friend’s gold watch that happens to be an heirloom. He didn’t remove the watch when he went out jogging to that dangerous part of town. He gets mugged and loses his friend’s watch along with his own wallet.

If you were his friend, would you hold him responsible, not for the mugging because the criminal liability solely belongs to the robber, but for losing your watch because he was being grossly negligent for wearing it when he knows he’ll be passing through a dangerous area?

If you say yes, would you also hold him partly responsible for the loss of his own wallet in the same mugging incident? If your answer to the second question is no, then how do you distinguish between losing his own wallet and losing your watch? What fundamental distinction lies between a person’s negligence that contributed to his own loss and the negligence that contributed to another’s such that the negligent person can be blamed for the latter but not for the former?

But if your answer to the first question about holding your friend responsible for losing your watch is no, then I’d be very interested to hear your reasons for finding no fault on his part. And if you decide to play with words and say that you blame him for acting negligently but not for losing your watch (since it’s the mugger who’s solely to blame for that), then would you still blame your friend if he returned home safe and sound with your watch in one piece?

To blame means “to say or think that a person or thing is responsible for something bad that has happened.” If nothing bad happened, there is nothing to blame. A person can be blamed for something bad that has happened, or he can be blamed because of his role in allowing that bad thing to happen in that particular instant.

It must be stressed, however, that life is full of risks, some of which are unavoidable, and not acting negligently does not guarantee that one will not be mugged or that no nude photos will be leaked, or that one will never suffer any tragedy.  But to knowingly place oneself in a situation where risk is unnecessarily increased is to act with gross negligence. Even if the jogger in the above example never went to that dark alley or even if he invested in a treadmill and stayed at home, he could still be mugged elsewhere, or he could be robbed of his friend’s watch at the parking lot right after the wedding. The only difference is that he could not be blamed for losing it in that particular incident because he did not go out of his way to increase the chances of a bad thing happening.

After all, in this so-called “victim blaming,” what’s being blamed is not the victimhood.

It’s the negligence.

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Some readers might be tempted to draw a simplistic analogy from the mugging scenarios and relate them to rape. I caution them from doing so. Rape is a far more complex issue than mugging and nude photo leaks, and the dynamics of rape requires a deeper analysis than what this article provides. Here is an article that discusses victim blaming in rape cases. It is up to the reader to decide, after reading that other article, whether the principles laid down in this article apply to rape cases.

Posted in Advocacy, Gender Rights, Society3 Comments

Secular Morality and the Is-Ought Problem

The topic of morality has always fascinated the freethinker in me that I’ve been reading, writing, and debating about it for years. But what fascinates me most is the realization that just when I thought I had it all figured out, there remains a gap that just can’t be bridged.

My position had been that we can be good without God, and that science and reason are all we need to chart morality.

Today I no longer hold that position.

But not because I no longer believe that science and reason can answer the question why we act in ways that are considered good, but because science and reason simply cannot answer the basic question of what is “good.”

Richard Dawkins as well as other scientists have shown how evolutionary biology can explain altruistic behavior, why we help others when there is no obvious benefit to ourselves or even when it would actually harm us, but they fail to explain why altruism is “good” to begin with.

Sam Harris has shown how science can objectively measure well-being and flourishing, but he fails to explain why we “ought” to pursue well-being and flourishing in the first place.

This is the argument of the philosophical theists, which happens to be more challenging to rebut than those of the fundamentalists who say that the Ten Commandments or the Bible (or the equivalent holy book of their religion) is the true moral code. Not unexpectedly, whenever an atheist blogger criticizes religious morality and asserts that secular morality is better, philosophical theists would accuse him of attacking a strawman and go on to say that he utterly has no idea what he is talking about.

Any attempt at establishing a moral code not derived from religion inevitably runs into the is-ought problem, an unbridgeable gap between what is and what ought to be. For example, there is nothing in the statement “people are suffering” that allows for the conclusion that we ought to find ways to alleviate their suffering – even though it feels like the most natural, instinctive, intuitive, and “moral” thing to do. That may sound absurdly callous and inhuman, but there is also nothing in the statement “that is absurdly callous and inhuman” that establishes why we ought not to be callous and inhuman at all.

Philosophically speaking, there can only be an “ought” when such ought is inherent; oughts are not emergent, that is, they cannot be derived from an “is.” And, philosophical theists would contend, the only way to have a moral ought is to have it built into us by a creator: if God created us and laid down certain rules, we ought to follow those rules not because of the fear of eternal punishment or even out of gratitude for the gift of life, but because that’s what we were created to do.

While the term ought is currently used to indicate duty or obligation, its etymology traces back to “owe” and “own.” In other words, one could say that we ought to obey God (assuming he exists) out of moral duty because we owe him our lives and he owns us.

But then here comes the Euthyphro dilemma: “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?” If it is the former, then there is higher standard of morality to which even God must adhere; if it is the latter, then there is nothing to stop God from giving arbitrary commands that are capricious and oppressive because whatever he commands will always be morally good, whatever that means.

The philosophical theist, however, addresses the Euthyphro dilemma by postulating that God is the good, or God = good, so he cannot therefore command anything that is not morally good, and at the same time he is not subject to a higher standard of morality because God is moral goodness itself.

The only problem with this argument is that the contention that “God is the good” is a bare assertion, a matter of arbitrary definition and not a universally accepted fact or a logical conclusion derived from verified premises.

722px-The10CommandmentsOne can imagine that a perfectly objective and binding moral code is something written by a perfectly moral creator and directly handed down to all humanity, that is, not through prophets or some self-proclaimed divine messenger.

This is where both religion and philosophical theism fall short. Religions cannot agree among themselves what God’s laws are or even who or what God is; philosophical theists, on the other hand, merely assert that there is a moral law not found in any holy book but somehow written in our hearts, but they fail to establish that it is our God-given conscience talking and not our own selfish manipulative wills considering that there seems to be no consensus among the hearts of men and women.

Philosophical theists like to boast that their morality is superior to secular ethics because it has an ontological base (i.e., God), meaning they have an objective basis for conceptualizing such moral system. They do have a point, but unfortunately such ontological base is simply assumed. Take away that assumption or challenge it by demanding proof and the base crumbles, leaving their morality hanging by the thread of a bare assertion.

Of course, philosophical theists like William Lane Craig would say that the existence of God is an altogether different debate, and that all they are claiming is that “if God exists, then we have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties; if God does not exist, then we do not have a sound foundation for objective moral values and duties.” Craig himself pointed out that these are conditional claims, so until they conclusively win the debate on the existence of God and, more importantly, prove that God not only created us but indeed wrote his moral law in our hearts, theistic morality remains sitting on one huge assumption.

And while secular ethics also makes an assumption that well-being is good without explaining why it is good, it appeals to the moral nihilist which I seem to have become. With all this talk of the is-ought gap, I no longer use the term “moral” without qualifying it. Instead, I prefer to use the term “civilized.”

While civilized is a relative term particularly when used to refer to society (e.g., societies of decades past considered themselves civilized but some of their practices like discrimination are barbaric by today’s standards, just as future generations will surely have something to condemn about today’s norms), I like how civilized societies continuously expand their circle of awareness, granting rights to more and more displaced groups and individuals (and even animals), taking care of their well-being.

I may not be able to explain why we “ought” to be civilized, but it feels good to me as it apparently does to a lot of people – civilized people, that is, people who do not require an ontological base or demand to bridge the is-ought gap before deciding that it is the moral thing to do.

Eventually, the secularist will have to admit that his morality is not objective insofar as his moral values are not founded on something that transcends humanity. But this is not to say that his concept of right and wrong is determined by nothing more than the norms of society notwithstanding how civilized or compassionate a particular society has become.

Whether society matures or degenerates into a dog-eat-dog world where “might makes right,” secularism offers the following principle laid down by George Jacob Holyoake, who coined the term secularism: “Individual good attained by methods conducive to the good of others, is the highest aim of man, whether regard be had to human welfare in this life or personal fitness for another.

Such principle may not have an objective foundation in the sense that it is nothing more than one person’s assertion regardless of how many others may have intuitively come up with it on their own or how practical it may sound (e.g., personal welfare achieved to the detriment of others is often short-lived), but once internalized, it is a straightforward ethical code to objectively judge and guide people’s actions in an ever changing society. Opponents of secularism may easily point out that we have not established what “good” is, but it would take a lot of semantic acrobatics for them to argue that we cannot objectively define what welfare is.

Once we decide that we’ve had enough philosophizing over the is-ought problem in relation to the moral value of what we take for granted as good, we can focus on how to pursue our welfare by means conducive to the welfare of others. If you consider such pursuit good without obsessing on why we ought to pursue it, it can be said that you’re a compassionate, practical, and civilized person. But if you can’t subscribe to secular ethics because it lacks an ontological base – because there is nothing in the statement “people are suffering” that allows for the conclusion that we ought to find ways to alleviate their suffering – then congratulations! You are a philosopher.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Philosophy, Religion, Secularism5 Comments

How a Freethinker Survived a Spiritual Retreat

DSC_0140One of the benefits of studying law in a Jesuit university is the opportunity to attend the mandatory spiritual retreat.

At first I felt very awkward, expecting to be forced to share in front of the whole class how I experienced God’s presence during my meditation, and having to either make something up or tell them outright that my skeptical mind requires empirical evidence before making any conclusions. I did not want to lie about my beliefs (or non-belief), but I did not want to rock the boat either especially since I saw how sincere and non-dogmatic the facilitators were. So I decided to ride it out.

The first activity was the Lectio Divina (prayer of a listening heart) where we were to choose from a list of three passages from the Bible and two from the Qur’an (since some of my classmates were Muslims), read it three times, identify a word or phrase that struck us personally, and try to make an application of it in our lives. After a fifteen-minute meditation we were to choose a partner to whom we would share our reflections. Sharing to the entire class afterwards was optional.

I chose 1 Kings 19:10-13 where God allegedly appeared to Elijah, but decided to read the entire Chapter 19, which includes the verses 15-18:

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

I told my partner that I am skeptical about the Bible as the word of God, briefly explaining the concept of hearsay and how God is so clear in the Bible but seemingly absent in the world. I pointed out that the above passage literally talks of the Lord commanding Elijah to anoint kings to kill the worshipers of Baal, and those who escape one king will be killed by another, and those who escape that king will be killed by a prophet. Today, that would be tantamount to ordering the deaths of all the native tribes who worship pagan gods. Good thing my partner, who was a Protestant Christian, actually seemed to appreciate the logic of what I said.

The second activity was the Ignatian contemplation. Here, we again had to choose among certain passages from the Bible or the Qur’an, and we were to imagine being physically present in the scene that was described in the passage. We were to pay attention to the setting and other details in the story, the characters, the dialogue. We were to take note of how we were feeling, and if we were drawn to speak with anyone including Jesus, and what we would say.

I picked Mark 4:35-41 where Jesus calmed the storm while he and his disciples were on board a small fishing boat. After the meditation we formed groups of four. When it came my time to share, I told my groupmates what I would say to Jesus: Lord, it’s very convenient that you are here with us tonight to save us from this storm. But you know Lord, two thousand years from now in a country called the Philippines, a passenger ship named MV Princess of the Stars carrying hundreds will sail into a storm. I’m sure many will pray to you, and in your name command the wind and the waves to be still. But you will not be there as you are with us here, and the ship will capsize, and most of the passengers will end up dead or missing. And you know Lord, within a decade and in the same country, typhoons will claim lives, even as people who heard about how you calmed today’s storm will probably try to command those typhoons to stop in your name.

Luckily, I was the last in our group to share, and the facilitator said that time was up, so my groupmates didn’t have a chance to react to what I said, which was obviously very much different from what most of them shared, that is, how law school was like a storm.

Then came the third and last activity, the Examen, in which we were to look back and review our entire day, examine our feelings particularly the “consolations and desolations,” and try to figure out what caused our ups and downs. The facilitator explained that while it was an opportunity to see how God was present in our lives, the activity actually had a secular application in meditation.

Afterwards our class of about thirty was divided into three groups, each joined by a facilitator. I took advantage of that secular part mentioned earlier. When it was my turn to speak, I explained how I appreciated the meditation and decided to do it everyday, because by contemplating on my ups and downs and especially on what caused them, I could see more clearly how I should live every day, make the right choices, prioritize what’s important, and in effect live my life more efficiently.

And that’s how this freethinker survived the retreat. Even if it was supposed to be a religious or spiritual activity, it did have a nice secular application, not to mention the opportunity to share my skeptical views with my classmates. While I would choose any FF meetup over it, I actually enjoyed the retreat, and the experience was nonetheless enlightening.

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Image by Jong Atmosfera

Posted in Personal, Religion4 Comments

On Proof, Presumption, and the Existence of God

The debate on the existence of God cannot be resolved on the basis of proof. While atheists claim that theists fail to prove that God exists, theists respond by saying that atheists fail to prove that he doesn’t. Atheists would then say that the burden of proof lies on him who asserts and not on him who denies, and theists would point out that saying there is no god is also a positive claim that equally requires proof.

And so the outcome of the debate will most likely depend not on proof, but on presumption, because presumption determines which side has the burden of proof to overcome such presumption.

Presumption is defined as “an act of accepting that something is true until it is proved not true.” In law, this refers particularly to a rebuttable presumption (as opposed to a conclusive presumption), that is, presumed as such until defeated by proof to the contrary.

But are presumptions arbitrary? For instance, can atheists just presume that God does not exist while theists can presume that he does, leading to yet another stalemate? Another definition of presumption says that it’s not: “a legal inference as to the existence or truth of a fact not certainly known that is drawn from the known or proved existence of some other fact.”

If we are to apply the above definition to the existence of God, it would help to focus on the operative words and phrases: an inference drawn from the known or proved existence of some other fact. In other words, based on our present knowledge of the universe, which is more sensible to presume, that God exists, or that he doesn’t?

Centuries ago, before Darwin published his theory of natural selection, it would seem utterly foolish to presume that there is no Creator given the beauty and diversity of life around us, from the largest mammals to the tiniest anthropods. Today, however, our scientific knowledge would easily overcome any reasonable presumption of truth on the biblical story of creation.

Centuries ago, when Hume said that we cannot derive an ought from an is, it would be reasonable to presume that morality (or what we ought to do) can only come from the dictates of a Creator who defined right and wrong and bound us with the duty to do what is right. Today, with the achievements in evolutionary biology, while we do not claim to derive moral oughts from the acts that tend directly or indirectly to help perpetuate our genes, we can at least point out that the claim that God is the good is not just an unwarranted presumption but an empty tautology, a matter of arbitrary definition and not a logical conclusion.

Based on the above examples which show what we presently know of some other facts about this world, it would seem more plausible to infer that there is probably a naturalistic explanation for things that seem to require supernatural supposition to make up for our ignorance, such as the beginning of life and of the universe itself.

And while some philosophers might point out that the above arguments presuppose that all truths are scientific truths and all proofs must be empirical proofs, and that such assumptions cannot themselves be proven by the scientific method, it must be pointed out as well that science does not claim to hold a monopoly on truth. However, if one were to presume, science deserves the presumption of veracity because it has consistently been shown to work: cure diseases, predict typhoons and tsunamis, make our lives longer and better. On the other hand, would philosophers board an aircraft whose navigation and safety systems have only been logically proven to exist?

The God question then becomes a matter of presuming the negative until a clear and convincing proof that can survive scientific scrutiny surfaces to defeat such presumption. Of course, one can always presume the existence of God, but such presumption cannot be said to be supported by science. And while science does not claim to know all the answers, it is nevertheless associated with finding answers that can be verified with reasonable certainty.

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Image credit: Jong Atmosfera

Posted in Philosophy, Science1 Comment

Same-Sex Couples’ Property Rights Bill: A Step Towards Equal Rights

Same-Sex Couples’ Property Rights Bill: A Step Towards Equal Rights

Albay representative Edcel Lagman Jr. recently filed a bill providing for property rights to cohabiting same-sex couples, allowing them the option to co-own the properties they acquire while living together. Lagman said that the bill “would protect the couple’s partnerships and property not only from third persons but even from each other, similar to the protection given to heterosexual couples.”


Image from Wikimedia Commons

Even if the majority of Filipinos object to same-sex unions and to homosexuality itself, this bill ought to be passed because it has nothing to do with the legality or even the morality of such partnerships. Rather, its concern is solely on the property regime that would govern same-sex cohabitation.

As an analogy, our laws do not condone adulterous relationships, and yet the Family Code fixes a special kind co-ownership between adulterous partners. Article 148 provides that a man and a woman living together as husband and wife, without benefit of marriage – but are not capacitated to marry because they are in an adulterous relationship, in a bigamous or polygamous marriage, in an incestuous void marriage under Article 37, in a void marriage by reason of public policy under Article 38, or one or both parties is under 18 years of age – co-own properties in proportion to their respective contributions of money, property, or industry.  They are given the presumption that their contributions and corresponding shares are equal as long as they can show proof of some actual contribution. However, if there is proof that the contributions are not equal, the presumption of equal sharing is defeated.

Since cohabiting same-sex partners are also living together as married couples but without benefit of marriage and are not capacitated to marry because they are not “a man and a woman” as required by the Family Code, if Congress will just amend Article 148 to include same-sex cohabitation in its application, this would be a huge step in gradually according equal rights to the our fellow citizens, because to deny such right to a person on the basis of his/her sexual orientation is to subscribe to a medieval mindset of ignorance, homophobia, bigotry, and barbarism, treating the person as something less than human.

Or perhaps Lagman’s bill has even something better to offer. But regardless of which law or amendment gets passed, what’s important is that we provide to same-sex couples at least some of the property rights already enjoyed (and taken for granted) by heterosexual couples. This may still not be enough as the LGBT community surely deserves nothing less than marriage equality, but such legislative milestone would mark the path towards progress of a modern society.

Posted in Advocacy, Gender Rights0 Comments

Secularism: An Advocacy Against Theocracy

The advocacy for secularism is an advocacy for rights. More specifically, it is the advocacy for certain privileges and claims that are being denied due to the strong influence of the Church in our political affairs.

The Hoefeldian system classifies rights into privileges, claims, powers, and immunities. The dynamics of these four elements can be appreciated by observing how a religious country like the Philippines attempts to change its laws as it slowly breaks away from the authority of the Church.

Privileges and claims are called first-order rights: entitlements to perform/not perform certain actions, or that others perform/not perform certain actions. To have a privilege to do something means to have no duty not to do it, while to have a claim on something means that some other person or entity has a duty to satisfy that claim.

Powers and immunities, on the other hand, are second-order rights that have a bearing on first-order rights. To have power means to have the ability to alter one’s own or another’s privileges or claims, and to have  immunity means that another person or entity lacks the ability to alter one’s privileges or claims.

To illustrate, take for example the right to drink alcohol. It is a privilege-right in the sense that people aged 18 and above have no duty not to drink, but it is not a claim-right because the government has no duty to provide alcohol, let alone for free. The government, however, has the power-right to suspend the right to drink (and the right to buy and sell liquor) as what the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is set to do four days before and during election day, although foreigners have a limited immunity from the Comelec ban since they can drink in certain hotels and establishments with special permits.

The rights commonly advocated by secularists today are reproductive health (RH), divorce, and marriage equality. The RH law grants certain claims to qualified citizens by imposing a duty on the government to provide free contraceptives. The divorce bill seeks to grant couples of failed marriages the privilege to start a new life with a new spouse by relieving them of the duty to remain married to their old partners. Advocates of marriage equality fight for equal rights – not “special” rights – of same sex couples so they can enjoy the same legal recognition, protection, and claims that heterosexual couples often take for granted.

churchUnfortunately, these rights have yet to see the light of day as the supreme court issued a status quo ante order on the recently-passed RH law, while divorce and marriage equality still have to hurdle a tedious legislative process which at any point could stop them in their tracks. While it is the State that holds the power to grant or deny these claims and privileges, those who represent the State are also human beings and may be influenced by their religious beliefs or dictated upon by their religious leaders, adversely affecting the citizens who don’t share their persuasions. In effect, religion – actually just one particular religion – still holds considerable power over all of us whether or not we subscribe to it, the constitutional inviolability of Church-State separation notwithstanding.

And so the advocacy for secularism is an advocacy against theocracy.  It is a struggle against the undue influence of religion in public affairs, a drive to remind our public servants that they answer to the people and not to some church hierarchy. The call for secularism is a call to our fellow citizens to wield their power to choose the life they want to live, to think and act free from fear of excommunication and hell fire while remaining grounded on reason and evidence, and to strive to increase happiness and lessen needless suffering in this world. Ultimately, the advocacy for secularism is an advocacy for immunity from religion, and the advancement of the rights of the rational individual.

If you share this advocacy, please join Filipino Freethinkers as we fight for a true separation of Church and State in the Philippines.

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Image credit: Garrick Bercero

Posted in Advocacy, Gender Rights, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, Secularism0 Comments

A Jesuit’s Doublespeak on the RH Law

Despite sounding like a very progressive Catholic, Ateneo de Davao University president Joel Tabora, S.J. has never really stated, at least not publicly, whether he agrees with the underlying logic of the Reproductive Health (RH) Law.

When asked on Twitter by Filipino Freethinkers president Red Tani if he believes that using artificial contraception is inherently evil (as defined by the Roman Catholic Church in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae), Tabora replied:

“Based on the level of natural law that is presupposed in those encyclicals, yes. But I do not think an abstract category such as “inherently evil” is fruitful in understanding the demands of Christian ethics today.”

Notice that the first sentence is as qualified as it gets, and the second sentence removes whatever illusion of significance the first sentence has to Red’s question on Tabora’s stand on contraception. And if that wasn’t enough, Tabora further said:

“To illustrate: is it “inherently” evil to separate the conjugal act from both its unitive and procreative meanings? Do not get me wrong. The notion of natural law and its use as a foundation for moral teaching has developed. It is “complicated.” Doctrines develop. There was a time when the Church tolerated slavery and persecuted heretics.”

It seems that Tabora is being deliberately ambiguous or evasive by implicitly undermining the encyclicals without expressly going against the Church’s teachings. But does his doublespeak mean dishonesty? Let the reader be the judge, keeping in mind that the university president’s job description is unlikely to include the right to publicly deny the Catholic position.

But while his statements on RH are so carefully crafted, look how freely he speaks of things he truly believes in:

“I certainly believe there are grave sins. That’s why there is the Cross. And Resurrection.”

This time he didn’t mention the Church, let alone the encyclicals. He categorically stated his belief in Christ – something he did not do on the issue of RH and contraception and whether he agrees with the Vatican’s teachings.

It has been Fr. Tabora’s thesis that there is nothing in the RH law “which prevents a good Catholic from being a good Catholic.” He also said that

Image credit: Ateneo de Davao website

“If the “Catholic Church” is truly convinced of its position, convince first the Catholics of it, then propose law based on their collective witness. Running to legislation to do the job of proclamation and religious education will not convince Catholics who are not convinced.”

In those two sentences Fr. Tabora summed up everything secularism stands for. It doesn’t matter if he never clearly stated his support for reproductive health, because he left a reminder that the legislature ought not to aid any religion. And as far as the advocacy for the separation of Church and State is concerned, this Jesuit educator is as secular as Catholic priests ever get.

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Author’s Note: I realize that the title of the article should have been “A Jesuit’s Apparent Doublespeak on the RH Law” and that a certain part should have been “…his apparent doublespeak…” to better reflect my own thoughts and interpretations. In the name of journalistic integrity however, the title and the article will remain as such albeit this note.

Posted in Religion, RH Bill, Secularism2 Comments

Why the Divorce Bill Should Be Easier to Pass than the RH Bill

The reproductive health (RH) and divorce bills have one thing in common: they both propose to grant certain rights to certain individuals. But their similarity ends there because the rights associated with each bill are very much different in terms of form and what they require of the State.

The rights that an RH law would provide are claim-rights, meaning they correlate to a duty in another person or entity. In this case, not only do the citizens have the right to use contraceptives, the government is actually duty-bound to provide them for free along with other reproductive health care services to those who need them.

Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus

The rights being promoted by the divorce bill introduced by Gabriela partylist representatives Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus, on the other hand, are merely privilege-rights, so there is no correlating duty on the part of the government or anyone else. To have a privilege to do something simply means to have no duty not to do it. With the existing Philippine laws, the offended spouse in a failed marriage still has a duty not to enter into a new marriage contract with another person. The divorce bill aims to remove that duty by providing the option of officially ending an irreparable marriage and thereby grant the privilege to start a new life – with or without a new partner.

Unlike the RH bill, the divorce bill does not seek to appropriate billions in taxpayers’ money for its implementation; the government will not be made to pay for the fees of the divorce lawyers and psychiatrists, or to provide financial assistance to the unemployed spouses and children.

The divorce bill also does not even try to compel churches to recognize divorce and marry divorcees.

The divorce bill is simply about granting freedom to those who need it the most – people whose marriages have caused them untold suffering and who want nothing more than to have another shot at happiness.

We have succeeded in getting the majority of our legislators to vote for the RH bill amid strong religious opposition in using government money to buy contraceptives, which they deem intrinsically evil. While the Catholic bishops are expected to fight more fiercely against divorce after their loss in the RH battle, if the Philippines is truly becoming a more secular state, the divorce bill should even be easier to pass since there is no billion-peso budget involved, and the only objections will be religious in nature and therefore irrelevant to the discussion.

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Image credit: EWTN News


Posted in Religion, Secularism, Society4 Comments

RH, Divorce, and Other “Divisive” Bills

The RH bill has been called divisive by its opponents over and over even as it is already about to become a law. And as if to cause further divide, another contentious issue is now being brought up by no less than House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, who revealed plans of enacting the divorce bill next congress.

Some say that the passage of the RH bill paves the way not only to divorce but also to same-sex union, abortion, and euthanasia, as depicted by Inquirer’s editorial cartoon, in that order, which also seems to be in increasing order of insult to the Roman Catholic Church.

But are these bills truly causing division in our nation? Or does it seem more likely that our beliefs and opinions are already as diverse as our religions and philosophies, and that these bills merely polarize the issues for us to look into and discuss?

To discuss is to exert an effort of checking one’s beliefs and biases and openly listening to what the other has to say, and then trying to see points where we can agree. Is that divisive behavior? Now compare that to those who stubbornly hold on to their dogmas and refuse to hear the other side’s story.

In a democracy, there will always be issues that seem to divide the nation. But if a country has to progress, its people will have to iron out these issues instead of ignoring them. Conflicts are healthy as long as both parties aim for resolution, instead of allowing disagreement to become an end in itself because one or both parties only want to prescribe their principles to the point of depriving the other person the right to be heard.

We are already divided by our beliefs, and silencing the dissenting opinions that might lead to new legislation will only build up pressure on the cracks. Yes, the passage of the RH bill will definitely give a morale boost to the advocates of divorce, marriage equality, abortion, and euthanasia. And it is no coincidence that all these issues share a common divisive denominator: whether to listen to the Church teachings or to reason and evidence. The Church will always try to impose its absolute dogmas in government affairs, and the secularists will always want to see the reign of an oppressive medieval empire come to an end, or at least restricted to the “spiritual” realm and to people’s private lives.

But disagreement does not necessarily have to result to division. To those who rely on reason and evidence, the government is expected to provide a secular venue for fair discussion. And for those who rely on dogma, they are always free to preach to their flock inside the walls of their churches. If both sides would only stay in their respective places, it becomes possible to transcend our differences, and we as a people can take one more step towards living in harmony by respecting the rights of those who don’t share our beliefs.

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Image credits: Philstar, Boy Santos


Posted in Advocacy, Religion, RH Bill, Secularism5 Comments

Did the 1987 Constitution Define Conception as Fertilization?

One of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, Bernardo M. Villegas, who happens to be an Opus Dei member and a vocal opponent of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, made a claim that conception is defined as fertilization.

In an article published in The Manila Bulletin in December 2010, Villegas confidently wrote:

In the Philippine Constitution of 1987, conception is defined as fertilization, the moment the egg is fertilized by the sperm. This was the majority decision (32 to 8) of the members of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 convoked by the late President Corazon Aquino…No amount of further debate will change that. Only a charter change can modify that conclusion… In the meantime, any contraceptive device (e.g. the “morning after” pill, the IUD, etc.) that can be medically demonstrated to be abortifacient, i.e. killing the fertilized ovum before implantation, will always be declared unconstitutional, whether or not the RH bill is passed.

Which makes one wonder, why then, during the period of amendments for the RH bill, particularly at the plenary session last November 19, did Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile propose to define conception as “the successful penetration of an ovum by a spermatozoa in the fallopian tube, otherwise known as fertilization, when a new life begins, to form in the mother’s womb.”

In the Records of the Constitutional Commission, there was a discussion between Bernardo Villegas and Blas Ople:

MR. OPLE: We say, “Protect the life of the unborn from the moment of conception.” Is there in jurisprudence anything now that will help us visualize the precise moment, the approximate moment when conception begins and, therefore, the life of this new human personality entitled to all the protection of the laws in the Constitution begins? Is there any standard legislature or jurisprudence that will support an interpretation of the moment of conception?

MR. VILLEGAS: Jurisprudence? None… We believe that the abortion debate from a scientific standpoint must proceed on the assumption that…human life begins at fertilization of the ovum.

MR. OPLE: But we would leave to Congress the power, the mandate to determine.

MR. VILLEGAS: Exactly, on the basis of facts and figures they would obtain from experts.

MR. OPLE: Yes, to legislate a kind of standard so that everyone will know what moment of conception will mean in terms of legal rights and obligations

So as far as the Commission was concerned, conception was not defined in the 1987 Constitution and the power and mandate to determine was left to congress. And since Enrile’s proposed definition lost 9 to 11, there is still no legal definition of conception up to now.

The proposed amendment of Enrile that did get approved, however, was to define abortifacients as “any drug or device that induces abortion or the destruction of a fetus inside the mother’s womb.” Based on this definition, drugs or devices that prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum are not considered abortifacients.

Now what does this all mean for the RH bill? Actually, not much. Contrary to the opponents’ claims that it will promote abortion, the RH bill is not defined by the pill or the IUD or any contraceptive drug or device that may or may not prevent implantation. The RH bill is about providing informed choice and free access to safe, effective, and legal means of family planning, and this even includes natural methods. If certain contraceptives are declared abortifacient by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an RH law will not provide for their distribution.

And to show their good faith, the authors at the lower house made an amendment to make sure that the services, methods, devices, and supplies provided by the State “do not prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum.” So even as the term conception is yet to be legally defined, the authors already took the initiative of crafting the bill to fit the conservative definition, which means fertilization, in case it gets adopted.

So the next time you hear the anti-RH folks say “abortifacient” and “unconstitutional,” you know that they are lying or parroting a lie out of ignorance. Either way, you know that their objection is absurd and that their argument was not forged with intellectual honesty and an openness to dialogue.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Posted in Advocacy, RH Bill2 Comments

A Rebuttal to the Defense of CBCP’s Stand on the RH Bill

In what seemed like an effort to show an appreciation of the separation of Church and State and to give an answer to Fr. Joaquin Bernas’s explanation that “public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution,” Antipolo Bishop Gabriel V. Reyes defended the stand of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the RH bill by saying that their opposition to contraceptives, which the RH bill seeks to fund and promote, is not based on faith or revelation, but on “natural law.”

In a statement, Reyes asserted that:

“By studying through correct reasoning the nature of the human person, we arrive at this teaching regarding contraception. All human beings, Catholic or not, are obliged to act according to right reason. By the efforts of the Church to go against the RH Bill, the Church is not imposing her religious beliefs on others. She is trying to stop a bill which is against natural law, a law which all human beings, Catholic or not, should follow. The RH Bill, judged from the principles of natural law, is against the good of the human person and the common good.”

But what exactly is this “natural law” the bishops keep bandying about? Is it the physical laws of the universe that are observable in nature?

The term “natural law” is actually a misnomer, quickly misleading those hearing it for the first time. An entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that:

Thomas Aquinas
Image Credit: Wikipedia

“If any moral theory is a theory of natural law, it is [Thomas] Aquinas’s [the 13th century Dominican priest and theologian]. Every introductory ethics anthology that includes material on natural law theory includes material by or about Aquinas; every encyclopedia article on natural law thought refers to Aquinas.”

Aquinas held that natural law is given by God. This premise alone already makes such law supernatural. And by insisting that not only Catholics but all human beings are subject to this law, Bishop Reyes is overstepping the bounds of religious authority and disrespecting those who do not share his belief in God.

Aquinas also held that procreation is a good that we ought to pursue and that we know this immediately, by inclination. While this may have a ring of truth and even a Darwinian explanation, in no way is procreation an absolute good. A statement released by the De La Salle University faculty in support of the RH bill says it best:

“[B]eyond protecting the very important right of the unborn, [the meaning of the right to life] must extend to a recognition that a life that is weighed down by poverty, sickness, and social inequality—now compounded by environmental stresses—deprives humans of agency to transform themselves and the world for the common good.”

What good would uncontrolled procreation do when our children are left to the streets, begging for food and exposing themselves to diseases and sexual predators? To declare procreation as an absolute good (and contraception as intrinsically evil) is to invoke dogma. So while Bishop Reyes may claim that the CBCP’s opposition to contraception and the RH bill is not based on faith or revelation but on natural law, it is clear that their arguments are ultimately religious in nature.

Fortunately, the constitutional separation of Church and State makes sure that Aquinas’s law or any religious law for that matter is not forced on our citizens. Philippine jurisprudence states that:

“If government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief, i.e., to a “compelled religion,” anathema to religious freedom.”

The CBCP’s objection against the RH bill is noted, and the bishops’ right to free speech is respected. Let us just hope that our lawmakers are keen enough to discern between secular and religious arguments, and that they do not forget to respect our Constitution, especially the clause that declares that the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.

Posted in Religion, RH Bill, Secularism8 Comments

How an RH Law Will Change the Dynamics of Reproductive Health Rights

Image Credit: ANC Video

Whether or not the RH bill is made into law, Filipinos have the right to use contraception. More precisely, they have the Hohfeldian privilege-right, which means they have no duty not to use contraception because there is no law prohibiting them from doing so. According to the Hohfeldian system for describing the form of rights, to say that one has a privilege to do something is to say that one has no duty not to do it.

This is what some of the opponents of the RH bill, including Sen. Tito Sotto, are saying. They also point out that free contraceptives are already being distributed by the government so there is really no need for an RH law.

But such distribution is only happening because the current administration supports it. Moreover, as Karen Davila said in an interview with Sen. Sotto last August 16, in many cities where the mayor or governor is a member of the Opus Dei or Pro-Life, they impose their religious beliefs on their constituents by pulling out all the contraceptives from the barangay hall.

To which Sotto replied, “That’s looking at it on the other side of the fence, Karen. Look at it on the other side…you are removing the freedom of choice of the mayor and the governor and the next president.” He argued that if the next president is against contraception, you will remove his freedom of choice if RH is already made into law.

Which is precisely the point of the RH bill not only as far as contraceptives are concerned, but also in providing for age-appropriate sex education, reproductive health information, midwives, emergency obstetric care, and maternal and newborn health care in crisis situations. For now, all of these are merely privileges or privilege-rights in the sense that there is no law prohibiting people from using contraception, and there is no law prohibiting the national and local governments from giving everything that the RH bill seeks to provide.

An RH law, however, will add to this privilege a claim by imposing on the government a duty to provide qualified people access to free contraceptives, information, emergency obstetric care, etc. To say that one has a Hohfeldian claim-right means that another has a duty to satisfy that claim. In other words, an RH law will take away a mayor’s right to be a douchebag by depriving citizens of RH services in the name of his religion.

And this is one of Sotto’s major objections to the RH bill. It seems that he is more concerned that the mayors, governors, and the next president will have the “freedom of choice” to withhold lifesaving information and assistance, than to grant the claim-right to the thousands of Filipino women who badly need them and whose lives could be saved by an RH law.

Which makes us wonder, is Sen. Sotto really pro-life? He sounds more like pro-choice ― not choice for women, but choice for the public officials.

Posted in RH Bill6 Comments

Sen. Sotto Turns Personal Tragedy Into Fair Game

Image credits: Joseph Vidal, Philippine Daily Inquirer

I’m sorry to hear about Sen. Tito Sotto’s son.

Unfortunately, Sen. Sotto himself turned his own personal tragedy into fair game. He did so by putting it up to public debate, when he used his son’s death as an example for his plagiarized argument on the health hazards of contraceptives, which his wife allegedly used but still got pregnant. And when he was challenged by former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral to produce the death certificate showing the cause of death, Sotto described her as “callous and insensitive” and even said that he is “ready to declare war.”

Well, Mr. Sotto brought this war upon himself and his family. For no matter how tragic it is to lose his son, such tragedy could easily be matched by the tragedies of the children, husbands, and parents of the 11 mothers who die every day due to maternal complications, the same mothers whose names and death certificates Sotto laughingly asked for, and who could have been saved had they received proper information and assistance for which the RH bill seeks to provide.

Senator Sotto, I really am sorry about your son Vincent Paul. But please understand that just because it was something so tragic doesn’t mean that it is no longer subject for verification, if you use it as evidence in the hottest debate happening in our country today. Even dogma deemed infallible by the Roman Catholic Church isn’t above scrutiny in our pluralistic society, so how could you even expect the circumstances of your son’s death to be treated as sacrosanct in an issue where others’ lives are at stake?

Again, I am sorry Mister Senator, and I hope that we can begin the difficult process of healing our country. No matter how much you deny the statements of the World Health Organization and our Department of Health only to copy from the article of a single blogger, the RH bill seeks to save lives, and while it’s definitely too much to ask for you to vote for it, at least don’t try to delay the voting.

At least don’t try to delay our efforts to save our dying mothers.

Posted in Politics, RH Bill2 Comments

FF Davao Meetup – Friday, June 29, 2012

Date: Friday, June 29, 2012
Time: 7pm
Venue: 2nd floor Harley Blvd. Motor Cafe
Address: Juan Luna St., Davao City (opposite Better Components)
RSVP on Facebook

Location map (click to enlarge):


Main discussion topic: Religious freedom (which will then most likely segue into other issues like secularism, separation of church and state, Rep. Raymond Palatino’s proposed and now-dead Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act, and many more)

* Newbies are welcome.

* 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 if you don’t feel like it; you can just sit in and listen while enjoying your drink.

* Food and drinks sponsors will be highly appreciated 🙂

* Harley Blvd Motor Cafe closes at around 10pm but we usually transfer to another venue to continue enjoying our fellowship (and drinks) until way past midnight.

Image credit: Andy Uyboco

Posted in Meetup1 Comment