Author Archives | Marguerite

Of Heroes and Hoaxes: Painting a CNN Hero in a Dangerous Light

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not out to demonize a woman who has obviously done loads for maternal and reproductive health. At 54 years old, Robin Lim has helped thousands of poverty-stricken Indonesian women to experience a healthy pregnancy and to safely give birth, and for that, she most certainly deserves to be hailed as this year’s CNN Hero.

As a rabid supporter of the passage of the local Reproductive Health (RH) Bill, it gladdens me to know that a person has actually built her life around providing the poorest of mothers with prenatal and postpartum care, birth services, and breast-feeding support — and has done so for free. Her Yayasan Bumi Sehat Foundation has done more for reproductive health in a single day than the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has done in, well, ever. I seriously wish that there were more people as passionate and take-charge about the cause as she is.

Here we go again, Inquirer

What doesn’t sit well with me, however, is how the media is playing up the fact that she is an advocate of “alternative medicine.” I’m giving the stink eye to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, in particular, because as far as I know, CNN  and other news outfits have yet to mention the words “hilot,” “alternative,” “homeopathy,” and “herbal medicine” in its features of Lim, whereas the Inquirer has been practically framing her as the poster woman for “No Therapeutic Claims,” and actually sees this love for quackery as a good thing. (Incidentally, FF has had quite a beef with the Inquirer’s integrity, as can be read here, here, here, and here.)

Take note that Lim was awarded mainly for her outstanding efforts to practice and promote safe birthing. CNN as the awarding body did not bestow her the honor because she felt that “there should be a reinvention of the health-care system by including holistic medicine such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal medicine and physiotherapy.” If that were actually the case, then Deepak “Quantum Mysticism” Chopra should have been crowned President of the fucking Universe ages ago

Shit sells

Sensationalism is the culprit here, I think. It is this horrid excuse for journalism that possibly encouraged the Inquirer’s writers to play up the “alternative medicine” angle. In line with local media’s never-ending, unnerving campaign for this thing called “Pinoy pride,” there’s a good chance that this facet of the half-Filipino Lim was highlighted because her traditional healing background was the most “Filipino” of her qualities. This nation is, after all, known for its folkloric herbal concoctions and its faith healers, never mind that these concoctions can’t hold a candle to actual lab-developed drugs, and that these healers are money-grubbing quacks of the highest order. (This broadsheet has, unsurprisingly, had a history of publishing scientifically unsound things like “miracles” as fact, so there’s that.)

Another possibility is that Lim herself insisted on the topic of her Inquirer piece. If that were the case, though, then the Inquirer should have suggested a different angle, or at the very least peppered the article with disclaimers regarding the efficacy of traditional healing methods, in the hopes of maintaining the barest smidge of journalistic credibility. But they didn’t.

Ooga booga and mumbo jumbo

“Alternative medicine” is a load of bull. As the old joke goes, “alternative medicine” that is proven to work is just called “medicine.” It is this staggering lack of proof — and its advocates’ insistence that proof is neither necessary nor applicable — that sets the former apart from the latter. It goes out of its way to be baseless and unscientific, depending on flimsy, abstract concepts such as “auras” and “chakras” that have as much chance of being real as unicorns, mermaids, and the Jonas Brothers’ pledge of virginity. And while some unconventional healing methods are said to be okay complements for actual, scientifically proven methods and medicines, this so-called “complementary medicine” cannot and should not stand alone.

Even if Lim advocated the methods that worked in certain, complementary ways (and I use the term “work” very, very lightly), it was still publicized by the Inquirer in such a way that she seemed to be for “alternative medicine” in general, which includes a long, snaking list of  very bad decisions. (She espouses the whackadoodle fad that is homeopathy, which is bad enough, so imagine how much worse the stuff she doesn’t espouse are.)

Moreover, it’s also quite unfortunate and ironic that the article, which features a woman known for her hard work in furthering reproductive health, placed so much emphasis on highly suspect “remedies” that have nothing to do with RH, and in no way mentions how certain lab-developed medicines can do and have done so much for maternal health. In fact, it’s disheartening how the RH Bill, which promotes safe, effective, and clinically approved medicines in the form of family planning supplies, can be so easily dismissed by many, while something as impotent — and fatal — as faith healing gets good press at the drop of a hat.

A bad influence

In the end, by playing up this sorely misguided aspect of Lim’s, the Inquirer can be said to be taking part in putting people in danger. Ranked as the top newspaper in the Philippines, it’s safe to say that this broadsheet helps to influence many Filipinos’ opinions. It is only right, then, that they make sure that the stuff they offer as journalism is, in fact, journalism and not just a bunch of interesting-sounding yet highly deceptive words. But this is sadly not the case.

This piece on Lim could very well encourage many people to prioritize alternative methods over tried-and-tested ones and, thus, keep these people from getting the proper medical attention every one of them deserves. “If an actual CNN Hero is for it, then it can’t be wrong” is the kind of opinion that might proliferate. As much as we hope people to be more discerning of what they read, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and, in the Inquirer’s case, absolutely necessary to be factual than not.

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Images from thejakartapost.com; policeheadlines.com; and skepacabra.wordpress.com

Posted in Personal, Science, Society33 Comments

LGBT Pride March 2011: Putting the ‘Fun’ back in ‘Fundie’ (Again!)

The LGBT Pride March is one of the happiest days of the year for me.

Last year’s march, when my boyfriend and I suited up as Buttman and his Ladyboy Wonder, was great. It was one of my first major events with the Filipino Freethinkers, and the first time I ever photobombed a fundie and made out in public. FF even won Best Theme that night, although what our theme actually was still remains a mystery, even to us. Whatever it was, it was rewarding enough to be part of the celebration and show our love for the LGBT community. And make out in public.

A year later and FF is still putting the ‘fun’ in ‘fundie.’ We had a solid theme this time around: No Bigots, No Closets. We wanted to express our support for the newly established yet increasingly influential Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch, as well as the passage of the anti-discrimination bill. (As of this writing, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines wants the bill stripped of its gay rights provisions, which is downright stupid and incredibly infuriating.)

The team put together three closet costumes and named them Dogma, Authority, and Tradition, then had one FF-er march in each, acting out their discomfort and despair (which wasn’t that hard, since they were, you know, in a box). We also had our usual Bigot Bishops, and was also blessed with the presence of none other than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Once fundies were spotted on the route, these characters came a-runnin’ and made fresh batches of epic photobomb goodness. Good times all around.

 

The other groups had great gimmicks, too. A personal favorite were the brawny blushing brides of the Metropolitan Community Church of Quezon City (MCCQC). It was also the first time for our friends from Deaf Rainbow Philippines to participate, and even though they were few, I was happy to see them there.  I actually saw a lot of familiar faces from the 29 Steps event from a few months ago; it really goes to show that the LGBT community here is very tightly-knit and highly supportive of one another.

Rarely do I get to walk the streets of Manila surrounded by hordes of happy, fearless people. The march is really a party of the purest kind, where individuals, no matter how they define themselves, just come to have fun. Hopefully, in the near future, more and more folks — LGBTs and straight allies both — join in and allow this event to evolve into a far greater celebration of humanity than it already is.


Oh, and “Kiddie Kollege?” Seriously, people.

Photos c/o Michelle Keng, Garrick Bercero, and Troy Espiritu

Posted in Personal, Politics, Society2 Comments

In Response to the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Wholly Unsatisfactory Reply

(To read the original open letter, click here.)

 

To the editors of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

 

I didn’t think I would be sending a letter again to you so soon, but I’m afraid your response to my previous one left me—and likely a lot of your other readers—a bit cold, and with quite a lot more to ask. To recap, your response was a single line that read:

“We suggest that De Leon read the editorial more closely for its main message.”

Now, I will pretend that this response is not the wholly unsatisfactory—and, dare I say, smugly self-satisfied—response that I think it is, and actually take your suggestion seriously. So now, I have just re-read the editorial again as closely as I could, and I’m sorry to say that I still don’t understand why this issue and how it was discussed became a worthy main editorial.

Allow me to comment on your piece in detail:

Paragraph one introduces Calungsod and his impending canonization, describing the supposed “miracle” he was responsible for.

Now, I would like to think that seasoned journalists such as yourself would have developed a very keen sense of what is factual and backed up by evidence, and what is not. I would like to think that people in your line of work are able to take things such as miracles with a grain of salt. However, your editorial started off describing the miracle with a straight face, so to speak, and that is quite troubling for me. What other evidence-less things do you not only take for granted, but are more than willing to broadcast to the public as the “truth?”

Paragraph two is considerably more perturbing, as it discusses martyrdom, beatification, and canonization with a seriousness usually reserved for reports on financial crises or war.

This stuff is straight out of Catholic theology class. The thing is, how is that relevant to anyone? You took up so much space describing quite specific rules from a specific branch of Christianity, and for what purpose? For your non-Catholic readers, and much less for your non-Christian or non-religious ones, how can that information enrich their lives or, at the very least, help them to understand why Calungsod matters, considering that they don’t even believe in this stuff in the first place?

As I’ve mentioned in my first letter, not all Filipinos believe in Catholicism, or believe in any religion, period. Your making mention of these Catholic rules really strikes me as biased, or ignorant of the reality. I hate to say it, but it makes me wonder if the Inquirer aims to further Catholic propaganda. (Is it Catholic Mass Media Awards season already?)

Permit me to quote from another of your main editorials (“Art as Terrorism,” on the Poleteismo brouhaha):

“Predictably enough, Cruz also misrepresents Catholic iconography in order to suit his self-serving and ultimately erroneous thesis. Whatever the excesses of Filipino folk religiosity, it must be said Catholics do not worship images; they venerate them as sensual channels to the divine. Catholics worship God; they accord the Blessed Trinity “latria,” Greek for adoration. They don’t worship the Blessed Mother and the saints. To the latter, they accord “dulia,” Greek for veneration; to the former they accord “hyperdulia,” a higher form of veneration. Therefore, Catholics don’t practice polytheism. Cruz not only misrepresents Catholics’ monotheistic practice; he insults it by using Catholic iconography to poke fun at it.”

Defensive, much? This paragraph is unabashedly Catholic-centric, and in the most by-the-book sense. (And seriously, do most Catholics even know about these “dulias” and “latrias?”)

Now, going back to the Calungsod piece, I believe that the next few paragraphs contain the point that you’re claiming to make. You mention that the Visayans claim Calungsod, who was martyred in Guam, as their own. You mention that the Visayas could very well be considered the birthplace of folk Catholicism in the world. You mention how Catholicism’s feasts and rituals helped build our nation by highlighting communities’ milestones and ultimately fostering a sense of wholeness and legitimacy, and how this parallels how Europe became Europe through a certain annual pilgrimage. You mention how Calungsod and Lorenzo Ruiz—both martyred abroad—are therefore like the first Filipino OFWs, spreading Catholicism (a.k.a. “Filipino-ness,” apparently) across the globe.

From what I gather, then, your point is more or less: “We should celebrate the impending canonization of Calungsod because it helps Filipinos become more significant in the global realm. Through him, we Filipinos can be proud to be Pinoy. Through him, we learn that Filipinos can indeed be influential, most especially due to our Catholic-ness.” And while this may seem like a point solid enough to buttress your paper’s main editorial, it really isn’t. It’s hackneyed, it’s old hat, it’s impotent. This point is nothing we haven’t heard before, and considering the way things are right now, it isn’t as compelling as it used to be.

This never-ending quest of Filipinos to matter, to be admired by, or to just be plain recognized by other countries has not only become cloying, it has evolved into a glaring sign of our insecurity as a people. I don’t find Pinoy pride worthy of being a topic anymore, much less one for a main editorial.

And the thing is, I honestly don’t think that this point is why you wrote the piece anyway. As I’ve already mentioned, I think your piece is just poorly-guised Catholic propaganda, period.

So there, dear editors. I did what you told me to. I read your editorial more closely, and this is what I got from it.

The least you could do, then, is to just come out and clarify whether you are practicing outright agenda-setting or not. Will the Inquirer’s stance always favor the side of the Catolico cerrados? Is your paper’s motto really “Balanced News, Fearless Views,” or “What the Pope Says, Goes?”

I hope, dear editors, that your next response will be more substantial this time around.

 

Sincerely,

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon

Posted in Personal, Religion, Science4 Comments

An Open Letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer

To the editors of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I still recall a lot of basic journalism rules from my days as writer and editor for my high school paper. One of them is that the paper’s main editorial is supposed to reflect the views of the entire staff or, at the very least, of the editorial team. A consensus is made as to what topic to feature in the piece, as well as what the paper’s stand is on the chosen issue.

 

While most of your editorials reflect—or, at least, appear to reflect—these rules, I found today’s piece on San Pedro Calungsod a bit troubling. It talks about the impending canonization of Calungsod, to whom a doctor prayed in the hopes of recovering a woman who’d been clinically dead for two hours. It then goes on to mention Christianity in the Visayas and folk Catholicism, and even dismisses secularists’ notion that Catholic feasts are “wastes of time and resources” with a few handy quotes from two National Artists for Literature. The piece then ends with the following:

“The examples of Calungsod and Lorenzo Ruiz should indicate that the ‘hometown’ has grown to embrace as well the globe. Both of them earned the palm of martyrdom abroad—the latter in Japan, the former in what’s now Guam. They may as well have been the first Filipino OFWs! And although they died with clerics (Calungsod with the Jesuit Fr. Diego Luis de San Vitores, and Lorenzo with several Dominican friars), they were laymen, an indication of how Christianity had really taken root among the Filipinos. Their martyrdom having sown and watered the seed of Christianity elsewhere, they’re veritable ambassadors and embodiments of the catholicity of the Catholic faith. They’re the Philippine Church’s gifts to universal humanity. They make us proud to be Filipinos and Christians.”

Given the above rule as to what an editorial should be, is it true that every person working for your paper (or editorial team) is a proud Catholic? Is it true that all of you decided that this issue—which affects fewer people than you think, given that not all Filipinos are serious believers, much less Catholic ones—was significant enough to be the main opinion piece, when there are quite a few other issues (OWS, MILF, GMA, etc.) to be tackled?

I kind of understand why your editorial last October 17 was on the newly-appointed Archbishop Tagle.  Our country’s government, unfortunately, tends to be swayed by the opinions of the local Catholic Church’s leaders, so making mention of the new head honcho can be justified. As Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes admitted, “He could wield more influence to spread the opposition against the [RH Bill] legislation.” This piece gives “unrepentantly secular” individuals like myself reason to be alert. (And by the way, your use of “unrepentantly” in the piece’s first sentence smacked of prejudice.)

But an editorial on some guy from Guam who magically healed a dead woman from the future by way of a doctor who closed his eyes and mumbled for help, which is a story that is not based on a shred of evidence and is only sincerely believed by some people?

Sincerely,

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon

Posted in Personal, Religion, Society6 Comments

Against the Apple Apologist

Now that the rudimentary over-praising of Steve Jobs has subsided, a compelling deluge of criticism regarding Jobs’ decisions has flooded the Internet.  According to pieces such as this one, Jobs was a tyrannical boss, an unethical entrepreneur, a selfish billionaire, and an asshole of a dad. Not only that, he used to be a staunch believer in alternative medicine, and initially refused to undergo life-saving treatments for his cancer, only regretting his decision when it was far too late.

 

One author, however, has taken it upon herself to defend what she calls all this “finger-wagging” regarding Jobs’ death. She says that:

“…the notion that if we are not doing absolutely everything our doctors and our friends and our shamans tell us, we will commit the great error of not wringing the maximum amount of time out of life, well, that’s really a hell of a lot of pressure.”

“The pressure to make the right choices, the wrenching doubts and fears of disappointing everybody: Aren’t these too much to weigh upon any of us? How much ‘if only’ are we expected to bear? Mortality is grueling enough. But guilt-tripping is an entirely curable condition.”

She wants people to give the guy a break. Personally, though, I feel that it is important to take advantage of all this so-called “finger-wagging,” most especially since Jobs is a celebrity. Alternative medicine doesn’t work, but a lot of people still believe in it. Jobs’ example will continue to be one of the best and most visible cases you can pit against mumbo-jumbo meds. His death, in a sense, can help save lives. At this point, I would rather forego walking on eggshells if it means educating people about the dangers of pseudo-science.

Would you?

Image from technology.ezinemark.com

Posted in Personal, Science, Society11 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bragging rights

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

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

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

Health, held up

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

Health:

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

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

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

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

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

-HIV incidence rate

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

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

-Whether abortion is legal:

To save woman’s life

To preserve physical health

To preserve mental health

In cases of rape/incest

In cases of fetal impairment

Economic or social reasons

On request

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

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

PR and the Palace

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

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

 

 

Posted in Politics, Society2 Comments

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Personal, Politics, Society10 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers March in Solidarity with Palayain ang Sining

 

(August 21, 2011) Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City – The Filipino Freethinkers marched with Palayain ang Sining to commemorate Kulo’s now-thwarted closing day, and to show solidarity with our country’s fearless and passionate artistic community. Filipino Freethinkers brought placards that, among other things, said the following:

One man’s belief is another man’s blasphemy.
“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire
Censorship is so 12th century.
Censorship is offensive.
Censorship: protecting you from reality.
Blasphemy is a human right – United Nations
One freethinker marched in a Jesus costume and held a sign that said, “I am not offended.”

“The issue has definitely riled up individuals both in and out of the artistic community,” said Kenneth Keng, spokesperson of Filipino Freethinkers.

“It’s a reminder of our intrinsic right to freedom of expression,” said Keng. “In light of the UN’s affirmation that blasphemy is indeed a human right, it couldn’t have come at a more poignant time.”

Garrick Bercero of Filipino Freethinkers expounded on UN’s affirmation, at the same time reminding enemies of free speech of the resolution’s importance:

“It is encouraging that more enlightened bodies such as the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has released General Comment No. 34, which affirms the superiority of the right to free speech over the so-called right against blasphemy. Sorry, Atty. Imbong. General Comment No. 34 was put out by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which the Philippines is a member. As a signatory and ratifier, the Philippines is legally bound by international law to follow GC34.

“Members of the ICCPR are required ‘to guarantee the right to freedom of expression… This right includes… political discourse, commentary on one’s own and on public affairs, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism, cultural and artistic expression, teaching, and religious discourse. It may also include commercial advertising.’ The comment instructs members to embrace ‘even expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive….’”

For news coverage of the event, click here.

Image courtesy of GMA News

Posted in Press Releases2 Comments

Extreme Makeover: Advocacy Website Edition

Extreme Makeover: Advocacy Website Edition

Congratulations to farmer_tet for winning our FF Nostradamus Challenge!

a new webpage…and balato ko na si kenneth sa iyo. :)

- farmer_tet

Hear that, people? HE’S GIVING KENNETH AWAY. First to comment ‘dibs!’ in our comments section gets to kiss him!

And don’t worry, farmer_tet. While your selflessness is truly inspiring, we can’t bring ourselves to not give you a little sumthin’ sumthin’. So, please come to any of our regular meetups and get one Starbucks drink of your choice, on us!

Et voila! Welcome to our awesome website revamp, care of our resident one-woman Chinese sweatshop Tin! We now have a much prettier, cleaner interface, but more importantly, our site is much friendlier to new visitors. Our backgrounder, our hardest-hitting articles, and our latest pieces can now be better navigated through, so you guys can get a more comprehensive idea of who we are, what we do, and how you can join in on the awesomeness.

Ultimately, this revamp is our way of ushering in a great new period for the Filipino Freethinkers. So much has happened in the span of two years, and we know that things can only get better from here. The ongoing Globe Tatt Awards is certainly proof of this, and we can’t thank you guys enough for your support. (For those who haven’t voted yet, SHAME! Vote for us under “The Advocate” and “The One” categories here.)

This is only the first phase of the revamp, however, so this site will get even better in the near future. We just need a little patience from you guys. :)

Welcome again to the new and improved filipinofreethinkers.org! We hope you like what we’ve done with the place. Please, make yourselves at home!

Posted in Announcements8 Comments

Palayain ang Sining! A Solidarity March for Freedom of Expression

Calling all Freethinkers!

August 21, Sunday, was supposed to be the last day of the Kulo Exhibit, but due to all the furor surrounding Mideo Cruz’s Poleteismo,it has been regrettably shut down. The issue has definitely riled up individuals both in and out of the artistic community, reminding them of our intrinsic right to freedom of speech and expression. And in light of the UN’s affirmation that blasphemy is indeed a human right(http://filipinofreethinkers.org/2011/08/14/un-affirms-blasphemy-as-a-human-right/), it couldn’t have come at a more poignant time.

In commemoration of Kulo’s now-thwarted closing day, and to show our solidarity with our country’s fearless and passionate artistic community, a march for freedom of expression will take place on the afternoon of the 21st.

Marchers will congregate at the side entrance of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (across the Harbor Square-side parking lot) at 1 PM, and will march up the center’s main ramp. Bring banners, placards, small artworks, and your own unique way of supporting the freedom of expression, and rejecting censorship and persecution. Please wear white.

For coordination, you can text Kenneth Keng at 09179681387.

We’ll see you there!

Posted in Announcements0 Comments

The FF Nostradamus Challenge: Can You Figure This One Out?

The FF Nostradamus Challenge: Can You Figure This One Out?

We have only five days left ’til the end of the Globe T@tt Awards voting period! And thanks to your awesomeness, the Filipino Freethinkers are leading in both their categories (i.e. “The Advocate” and “The One”)!

As of this writing, we are totally owning “The Advocate,” with approximately 950 votes more than the second placer. In “The One” category, however, it’s been nail-bitingly close from the beginning, with only a handful of votes between us and fashion blogger Laureen Uy. We’re more or less a hundred paltry votes ahead of her, and while we’re sure that the beading on her dress is very pretty, it’s frankly too close for comfort. WE NEED MORE VOTES, GUYS! If we win both categories, that’s 200,000 pesosesoses that will go to our many projects lined up for reason, science, and secularism.

 

The local Catholic Church has 17.5 BILLION PESOS in its pockets, whereas the Filipino Freethinkers make do with whatever cash — and spare cardboard — we can scrounge up. 200,000 pesos will most certainly go a long way for us.

In light of all this, we have a very special surprise coming up very, very soon — something that quite literally exhibits our thrust to grow and improve as an organization. To help you figure out what this surprise is, we’ve created a special quatrain a la Nostradamus, legendary bullshitter/bad poet/is-there-a-difference. Many Freethinkers have already been exposed to one BS verse after another, and can see why people interpret these lines the way they do. Can you figure out what this one says? Rest assured that this prediction, unlike everything else predicted by people in robes and funny hats, will come true.

The many thoughts, they have been freed, and rightfully so

In the isles of Philip and beyond , through a gossamer web wrapped across the world.

Yet a new face lays in wait, one cleaner and purer and a salve upon our eyes.

It shall arrive on the morrow, and they who think shall rejoice. 

Whatisitwhatisitwhatisitwhatisit? A kiss from Kenneth to whoever gets it right!

Posted in Announcements6 Comments

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Photos courtesy of Patrick Charles Rigonan 

Posted in Meetup, Politics, Recap, Society5 Comments

In Response to Much Anger

To those who have read my recent piece:

The past few days, I have been accused by a number of people of victim-blaming and slut-shaming. As someone who has undergone much physical and verbal abuse when she was young, and has become the target of sexual harassment more times than she would care to count, it pains me that my point has come across so poorly, and I have become quite sad and confused. Because the fact of the matter is that I was neither blaming nor shaming anyone in my article, and I think I was misconstrued, most especially because of the aggressive, pedestrian tone of the article (which has been my voice as a writer for as long as I can remember). Some may contest to this, and I understand and respect their points, but I suppose I deserve to explain myself once again as best as I can, if only to help me sleep at night.

In an instance of rape or harassment, the fault lies with the doer of the nasty deed, period. Rape and harassment are horrible, despicable acts, and no person deserves to undergo such a terrible experience. If a woman dressed scantily and felt bad about being harassed, they have every right to feel bad. I believe paragraphs 4 and 5 of my article was misread as the said slut-shaming and victim-blaming because of the tone, but that was not what I meant at all. I was simply saying that it would be more practical in the future to wear something less revealing if you’ve been receiving catcalls and have been feeling bad about it. (In the instance that you do want to provoke — say, at someone’s party — and you were harassed on the commute to the venue, then maybe wear a jacket first, before the big reveal at the party? Something like that.)

It was not your fault you received these catcalls, and yes, you should have every right to wear what you like, but at the end of the day, it would probably be best not to wear something provocative if you do not intend to provoke anything. I was just trying to convey that it would be better to be commonsensical in such matters. Not prudish, not prohibitive, not repressive, but commonsensical.

I completely understand the need to express yourself through clothing. I like dressing up. I like short shorts. I like — nay, love — my cleavage. I like looking hot. And I would be upset myself if someone came up to me on the street and told me that I shouldn’t be walking around looking like a harlot. I’m just saying that there are consequences to how we present ourselves, and we should just be aware of these consequences and ensure some form of safety. I respect my body, and one way of showing this is to understand the context of the environment and doing what’s best for it.

I apologize for not putting the word “heterosexual” prior to “men are predisposed” in the 5th paragraph. It was an honest mistake, and a fellow FF member took it upon himself to fix the error. That particular paragraph has received quite a lot of ire, but I was just trying to put things at a more practical, biological perspective, at least based on what I have read and understood. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, and that’s it. I was just trying to focus on the “is’s” rather than the “ought’s,” and it seems that doing so has ruffled quite a few feathers. But I didn’t mean to go against what many determined women have been fighting for. I believe very strongly in all people being treated equally. I was just focused on a different perspective, and I wasn’t trying to set up some sort of enemy camp.

Again, this might be my tone and my lack of prowess in writing about gender, and I think I would like to say a little about this. This is the first time I’ve written something this closely linked to an issue many feminists hold dear. But it was just unfortunate that a) my voice as a writer can sound confrontational, and b) I am not well-versed in the more academic or institutional concepts and arguments regarding gender, and that I was simply writing how I felt, no more, no less. This, it seems, has made my piece weak in the eyes of many. But I just tried to express myself. I tried, and if many believe I have failed, then I should probably come to terms with that. I suppose I was just taken aback by how vitriolic some of the response has been.

I was hoping for dialogue, not for my article to go up in flames. I was hoping for my piece to be read just a bit more closely, to be digested just a bit more intensively, with a bit more diligence and empathy as to what I was trying to say, but what has happened has happened, and maybe people have been too quick to react, and maybe my naivete and insistence on my writer’s voice had something to do with it, too.

My bottom line — I am not against women. I am not against furthering women’s rights. I am not against a mature society composed of equals. I am for all of this, a hundred thousand percent. I wrote the piece in the hopes that I could give my perspective on the matter, and I didn’t expect that so many would find this piece shameful. I wasn’t out to make enemies, and it saddens me that I may have made a few.

I also feel horrible that a few have expressed indignation at this piece coming out on the FF website. I love the Freethinkers. I am so proud of what we are doing, and I have such great hopes for us, and I am distraught at the thought that this piece may have muddied what has so far been an awesome website. If there are freethinkers out there who feel offended by what I have written, I apologize. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to cause much anger.

Posted in Personal6 Comments

Why I Will Not Walk Like a Sl*t

Why I Will Not Walk Like a Sl*t

Disclaimer: The asterisk in the title was used in order for this post to come out on our Facebook pages. Just to make it clear, I’m as much of a pottymouth as the next person. Kepyas kepyas kepyas.

“Slut” is a derogatory term, and it should stay that way. This is coming from someone who dry heaves at the term “making love,” and made casual sex her sport of choice when she was single. No matter how comfortable I am with the idea of mindless sex and its pursuit, I believe that there is a difference between being in full control of one’s sexuality, and just being plain promiscuous.

SlutWalk - "Why I will not walk like a slut" by Marguerite de Leon
Walk like a slut

A group of female activists inToronto, however, have started a pride march of sorts dubbed the “SlutWalk” last June. It was sparked when a local police officer suggested that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” to avoid sexual harassment. In protest, these women have taken to the streets in an effort to redefine slut-dom, with many of them donning tacky, skimpy clothing and daring men not to ogle or wolf-whistle. The movement has become so popular that SlutWalks have been held across the world ever since, including in uber-traditional, harassment-heavy New Delhi.

I am totally for women speaking out not only against harassment, but also in support of their right to be open about their love for sex, whether mindless or meaningful. What I find very weak about these women’s concept, however, is their dependence on the image of a scantily-clad slut to further such a well-intentioned cause.

SlutWalk - "Why I will not walk like a slut" by Marguerite de Leon
Who you callin’ hot mama?

If you go out on the street in a low-cut blouse, hot pants, and heels, and then feel bad that people are staring at you, you should probably reassess your situation. What other reason is there for women to wear revealing clothing other than to attract attention? “To make me feel good about myself and/or my body” may be a valid sentiment, but  the fact remains that at the very root of your feeling good about yourself and/or your body via clothing is your being found sexually attractive by others.

Why bother wearing something revealing if sexual attractiveness is not the message you’re willing to convey? For the love of fashion, you say? Most skimpy haute couture wasn’t meant for the commute to work in the first place. Heterosexual men are predisposed to like boobs and legs and butts, and if you feel offended that your halter top/micro-mini/low-rise jeans has garnered you unwarranted attention, then it would be best for you to sit down and read up on biology and gender studies before heading out again.

SlutWalk - "Why I will not walk like a slut" by Marguerite de Leon
Frankness and foresight

The odd wolf-whistle or two, of course, is absolutely nothing compared to rape, and the best way for any individual to avoid it is to avoid vulnerable situations. Marching the streets in a bikini and waving a placard that reads “This is NOT my I WANT YOU face!” is not going to keep some depraved schmuck from taking advantage of you.

Instead, try lucid communication. On a night out, for instance, not only should you verbally make your intentions with your date clear, but also look and act that way you want to be treated. Want sex on the first date? Go for it – drop as many double entendres as you deem necessary. Want to play it slow or show that you’re not interested? Then stop trying to spill your cleavage onto your plate and laughing at every other thing your date says. Better yet, for either case, just say what you feel. “I like you. Want to come up to my apartment for a drink?” “I like you. Maybe we can have dinner again this week. When are you free?” “You’re very nice, but I don’t think we’re a good fit. I should go on ahead. I hope you understand.”

At the end of the day, however, anyone, regardless of what they’re wearing, can become a victim of rape. There are bad people out there, and they will not listen to what you tell them. The key to eradicating such a horrid crime is more about advancing an intelligent, empathetic, and conscientious society and less about pitting men against women through the Pussy Power Patrol.

So, if you want to redefine how men and women interact with one another, don’t parade yourself in your panties and dare people not to stare at you. Don’t try to alleviate the perils of mixed signals with even more mixed signals. Just quit the ambiguous bullshit, period.

Click here for a follow-up to this piece. 

(Images from IBTimes, TnT Magazine, Lisa VanDyke, and The Guardian)

Posted in Personal, Society52 Comments

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