Announcement: Join the FF Saturnalia Party 2017.

Author Archives | Mike

Dr. StrangeBrain, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Lose My Religion.

Dr. StrangeBrain, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Lose My Religion.

Mike’s note: while watching “Harapan” on ABS-CBN last night and surveying the faces in the anti-RH crowd, I spotted someone I used to work for. He left a significant impact on my life, though perhaps for very different reasons than he might like. Anyway, I’d like to share this personal reflection I wrote and posted on my blog some time ago.

This is what an officemate asked me one evening, in all innocence. The words aren’t exactly what was said, but you’ll get the drift:

“So, since you don’t believe in God anymore, you can go and fuck around, and that would be OK, right, won’t be a problem for you?”

In fairness, my officemate’s been a churchgoer his whole life, as was I until about five years ago: I understand the Christian perception of a Godless life as necessarily an immoral one, or at least one without any moral guardrails.

I pondered that point, as I ripped my officemate’s tongue from his head. Continue Reading

Posted in Featured, Personal, Religion, Stories6 Comments

“Contraception Doesn’t Decrease Abortions” – Busted!

“Contraception Doesn’t Decrease Abortions” – Busted!

“Nations that have adopted contraception have not seen a drop in abortions,” fulminated a recent post in an anti-RH Facebook page. “That’s a patent lie.” This is such a common anti-choice trope, that anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson can repeat it without supporting data, and without fear of rebuttal.

Too bad the data doesn’t support their claims. More widespread contraceptive use correlates strongly with lower abortions. Diehard opponents of the pending Reproductive Health Bill will find this statement difficult to parse, much less accept: after all, aren’t abortions and contraceptives just two cogs in the same anti-life mechanism? Don’t abortion rates go up with rates of contraceptive use?

Actually, no – many studies show that abortion rates recede if decision makers are provided enough information and a wider range of contraceptive choices.

The states comprising the former Soviet Union are the perfect place to test this – a large population for whom “abortion was legal and widely available, whereas contraceptives were in limited supply” (Marston & Cleland). The data supports the conclusion that as more contraceptive methods were introduced, the rate of abortions began to drop precipitously. Continue Reading

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science16 Comments

"Sleeping with the Enemy": A Conversation with Armida Siguion-Reyna.

Digging through my portfolio, I unearthed this interview with Armida Siguion-Reyna, done for Preview Magazine in October 1998. This was during the Estrada Presidency, where Armida’s reign as the Chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) was just about the only good thing that ever came out of his administration, in this writer’s opinion.

The MTRCB has always been controversial – its potential as an empowering agency for a particular segment of society is constantly prone to being taken over by short-sighted individuals who seek to use this government agency for their own ends, usually to promote their own brand of morality at the expense of free expression.

The interview may be thirteen years old, but I think much of it is still relevant today – Siguion-Reyna believed that her role as MTRCB chair was not to serve as a guardian of morality, but as a guide to help the movie industry mature and provide better quality output. In this view, sadly, Armida is in the minority. The MTRCB fell back in the hands of the morality-police after Estrada’s ouster, and some would say it’s stayed there ever since.

– – – – – – –

In the bloody battle between the censors and artists, film producer Armida Siguion-Reyna gets the last laugh


It’s funny, the tricks life plays. One moment you‘re a distinguished producer and anti-censorship activist, the next you’re chairperson ofthe censorship board you’d battled so fiercely in the past. For Armida Siguion-Reyna, former producer of Reynafilms (responsible for Ligaya ang Itawag mo sa Akin) and present chairperson ofthe Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), the joke never ceases to amuse her.

Assisted by a new Board composed mostly of showbiz people, she aims to guide MTRCB away fiom its arbitrary stance as guardian of public morals to its real function as a transitional body to help the movie industry towards self-regulation and artistic growth. The editing-room scissors, for instance, will be given back to the producers; less arbitrary guidelines on classification are implemented; and stricter discipline is imposed on errant production outfits and theaters. Preview dropped by her windowless, cramped government office that comes with the controversial, often-difficult job. To laugh with her.

How did a fighter against censorship end up as Chairperson ofthe MTRCB?

Well, I`m still fighting censorship. I accepted this job so I can push for amendments to PD 1986. The spirit and intent of PD 1986 is for MTRCB to be a transition body to eventual self-regulation, once the industry has proven it can self-regulate. How can you prove that unless we are given the chance? This is the chance. I don`t think there will be another movie personality made Chairman ofthe MTRCB ever again. If we can`t make it now, we can’t make it at any other time.

With you at the helm of the MTRCB, who do you see as possible opponents to amending PD 1986?

Last year, the MTRCB [Board members] were the main opponents. They felt na mawawalan sila ng power because there will be a Cinema Evaluation Committee that will rate films, similar to the Film Ratings Board noon. And the members will also be from the industry–so kaya pala nilang mag-self-regulate! They saw that. so they really fought it with all their might. This time. I`m not going to tight that bill. l’m helping it! Me, after l push those bills, ayoko na. This room looks like a morgue! Walang bintana!

What kind of work do you see you have ahead of you?

Yung self-regulation it may take long. Aher 68 years of censorship, you cannot just clean that up in one day. The artistic growth of the   people, nai-stunt ‘yon. Unti-unti mo na naman iyon palalaguin. lt may take three, five years. Dalawa naman ang interest ko dito, eh. To effect self-regulation. And the bills. Pag-a-amend na ‘yung PD, kahit magsabay-sabay maupo sina Etta Mendez, sina [Manoling] Morato, at Jess Sison, hindi na agrabyado ang industry! Of course. you have to have members who will understand not only filmmaking, but also what life is all about.

And that was an insight the old Board lacked?

It’s terrible! They`re so arrogant. Ang tingn kasi nila sa sarili nila, guardians of public morals. That they can tell your children what to do, what to see, what to read. Bale wala na ang mga parents. But the ones who make the final decisions on what the children will watch are the parents! You cannot relegate that to the church or the school or the govemmgnt. Eh kung gusto ko ba papanoorin ang anak ko ng In the Realm of the Senses kahit I2 years old siya, ano’ng pakialam mo? Nowhere in PD 1986 does it say that this board is a guardian of public morals.

Critics say that the viewing public isn’t ready for films like Miguel/ Michelle, Pusong Mamon

When will they be ready kaya? l‘ve heard that line from way back. Martial law pa. “Let`s take care of these babies, kasi they`ll never be ready.” Now, it doesn’t mean that anything goes. As a matter of fact, we`re very strict on rules and regulations. To teach the industry how to professionalize. Bahala ka kung playdate mo bukas, ngayon ka lang nag-present lor review. Tatlong nakapila diyan, eh di umiyak ka! [laughs] Hindi ka naman mamamatay kung iiyak ka lang. eh. Pumila ka ulit sa dulo.

You’ve had to say that to old friends and colleagues in the business. How do they take it?

A:When I caught MAQ Productions with illegal insertions in a theater in Pasig, Mother Lily came here. “’Tita Midz,alam mo, I admit, it’s our fault.” Sabi ko, “I’m glad you admit it. We have to revoke the permit of that movie for five years.” Wala siyang magagawa. [The MTRCB] is a very powerful board. That’s why I say with the power of this Board, it should have been used a long time ago to professionalize the industry. Pero hindi. [PD 1986] is a very powerful decree, but it’s a Marcosian decree. During a dictatorial regme, you want to control the mind, di ba? Pero noong si  Cory na’ng Presidente, mayroong Constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression, bakit hindi sila nag-push for the amendment of PD 1986? Because they [the previous board] became so in love with the powers! They’re no different fiom Marcos.

Do you also assume a role in pushing for better-quality films?

You cannot legislate taste. Freedom must be enjoyed even by people who do not have taste. Guaranteed in the Constitution ang freedom of expression. However, in cases of movies like Ligaya, Curacha, siyempre nakakalamang kung maganda ang pagkagawa ng pelikula. Like Gangland. It’s a very violent film. It’s not my kind of film, but you cannot use that against the filmmaker. .You have certain criteria. You must first satisfy the jurors that your movie has artistic, cultural, scientific or literary merits. Kung wala lahat ‘yon at wala ring context, zero ka rin sa manner of presentation, sa intention, o sa culture, eh dapat talagang itapon sa kangkungan ang pelikulang ‘yon at i-X na ng todo, di ba?

How has your new position changed your working relationship with your son, Carlitos Siguion-Reyna (film director)?

But since day one, we’ve always fought! This time, when a movie directed by Carlitos gets reviewed, I have to step down from this chair. Delicadeza naman. Especially, if the movie is directed and produced by Carlitos for Reynafilms, I cannot take part at all.Two-thirds of the Board is made of the industry people–if anyone is involved in any capacity with the movie to be reviewed, he has to inhibit himself.

Did you let your children watch anything which the former MTRCB would disapprove of?

Ay, naku! I raised my children the way I‘m running the Board now. When you teach your children how to fight for their rights, you have to teach them to respect the rights of others. Walang bawal sa bahay nu’ng lumalaki sila. Nakakalat ang Playboy, ang Penthouse. Siyempre ang mga bata,very curious,‘di ba?Alam mo,they grew up mas conservative pa sa akin. Even Carlitos now, he gets embarrassed when I talk about sex.

So you want to free the public from censorship. How much damage do you think you have to repair?

Nobody forces anybody to go to the movies. Kung ayaw mong monood ng  Bomba Queen,nobody can force you to do that. So the choice is yours. What I’m saying is to give people the choice.I bought a nice book [Virtuous Reality by Jon Katz], it’s so nice. Ang sabi niya:

“lf l really want to protect my own children, I will make sure they have more, not less access to the world. I won’t ever call them stupid for watching things I don’t like. I don’t have to be at war with them. I can work out a social contract with my children that protects them, guides them through their new culture and brings peace and rationality to our home.”

Na-brainwash na kasi ng mga censors ang public na “Ay naku, it’s too bloody. Ay, naku, naghahalikan. Ay naku, nagsasampalan ang mag-asawa. Hindi dapat makita ng mga bata ‘yan.” Who are we kidding? Ang mga bata sa iskwater, naggaganyanan ang mga magulang nila, alam nila, dahil same room. So when you say, “Ay naku, makikita ng mga bata,’ they’ve seen it since birth. So anong hypocrisy yan?  Na-brainwash na tayo masyado ng censorship, para bang,“If you don’t go along with the idea  of censorship, you are immoral.” I admit that it’s very difficult to change that.

What would Lino Brocka or Ishmael Bernal do if they saw you here at this table?

Tatawa sila ng tatawa. My production people in Pagudpud, we would talk about censorship problems. Kaya nu’ng pumunta sila dito kanina, naku, ang una nilang ginawa ay tumawa ng tumawa. “O ano ngayon?”’ Sabi ko, eh di magtatrabaho tayong lahat.

Text © Summit Media, all rights reserved. Fair Use Notice: This page contains copyrighted material whose use has not been authorized by the copyright owners. We believe that this not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the copyrighted material. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Fair Use notwithstanding, we will immediately comply with any copyright owner who wants their material removed or modified.

Posted in Politics10 Comments

With Apologies to XKCD…

Citation Needed, at rally in front of CBCP

Awesomely epic photobomb from yesterday’s rally in front of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ headquarters. Photo nicked from today’s Philippine Inquirer, captioned “Msgr. Juanito Figura [CBCP Secretary-General] answers questions from supporters of the [Reproductive Health] bill at the gate of the CBCP office in Intramuros, Manila.” That’s Red Tani of Filipino Freethinkers behind him, together with an homage to a classic xkcd cartoon.

Posted in Humor, Politics, Religion16 Comments

Now Who’s Being Unreasonable?: Carlos Celdran, the Catholic Bishops, and the Failure of Reason.

I sympathize with the folk who find Carlos Celdran’s actions offensive and unreasonable. I can see where you’re coming from. But let me suggest, too, that there’s enough unreasonableness to go around, and maybe it didn’t start with Carlos shouting in Manila Cathedral.

All this arguing about RH aside, we’ve quite forgotten that a reasonable accommodation already exists. It is this: allow government health offices to offer both artificial and natural family planning resources; permit anybody, of whatever faith, to choose the family planning resource that they need. The Catholic Church is absolutely free to pressure its believers to make a choice consistent with its dictates – but cannot pressure the government to limit its offerings only to that choice consistent with Church teaching.

But apparently, for the bishops, this accommodation is simply not reasonable enough. And it is only the Church hierarchy and their stalwarts who have rejected this reasonable middle ground.

After decades of the Philippine media and politicians indulging the Catholic bishops’ threats, tantrums, and drama, it’s easy to overlook the accommodation that’s been under our noses all along – and the bishops’ unreasonable refusal to join the rest of us in compromise.

“We’ve tried reasoning with the bishops, and it didn’t work. Now let’s try plan B.” It could be that Carlos was the very first person who came to this conclusion. He certainly won’t be the last.

Originally published as a note on Facebook.

Posted in Politics, Religion1 Comment


President Aquino has recently verbalized his support for government health offices to offer artificial family planning methods alongside natural ones. We welcome President Aquino to the 21st century. We denounce the religious fundamentalists who seek to drag him (and our country) back to the sixteenth.


The Roman Catholic hierarchy – as embodied by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines – is using its outsize influence to impose its particular views on our government and the people of the Philippines.

By forcing government offices to provide ONLY natural family planning methods, it forces the government to ignore the needs of all Filipinos in favor of the opinions of a few fundamentalist Catholics.

By imposing its will on nominally secular government offices, it makes a mockery of our supposedly secular Constitution and institutions, while revealing it cannot walk its own talk about the “absolute dignity of conscience”.

By demanding obedience and usurping secular authority from our elected officials, the Church effectively dictates the observance of its particular religious views upon all Filipinos, regardless of religion.

When we permit the Catholic hierarchy to substitute the Catholic agenda for the government’s, everybody loses. The Church loses moral authority. Government decision making powers are hobbled. And constituents end up being badly served by decisions driven by dogma instead of reason.


The Catholic Church has no power to compel obedience from Filipinos or the government. But you wouldn’t know that by the way our society’s stakeholders have, up to now, crumpled before the bishops’ demands for compliance.

The government continues to grant special privileges to the Catholic hierarchy, according it a reverence that it grants no other religious group. This flies in the face of our Constitution and its mandated separation of Church and State.

The mass media continues to report the Church stance, disproportionately and without due balance. Do we hear from other religious groups, Catholic or otherwise, who disagree with the bishops? Do we hear from intellectuals who can debunk the CBCP’s continuing efforts to spread misinformation about artificial family planning?


The path is clear for the President and his administration: government health offices must be permitted to provide information and supplies that promote reproductive health and family planning, in a manner consistent with the Constitution and our secular laws.

For many of our fellow Filipinos, government health offices are their only source of health information and medication. These Filipinos have a legal right to be educated about all aspects of family planning; they have a right to artificial methods of family planning if they ask.

Our fellow Filipinos cannot be deprived of legal family planning resources simply because the bishops of the CBCP say so. The CBCP’s interests cannot predominate in a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional community.

A Muslim or Protestant mother must not be compelled to settle for government services tailored only to meet Catholic sensitivities, which is what happens when the Church is able to bully legislators into substituting the Catholic agenda for the government’s.


As Filipinos who support policies driven by science and reason, we must do our utmost to oppose the Catholic hierarchy’s retrograde policies.

We will be vigilant. We will counter Catholic misinformation with accurate information, supported by scientific evidence.

We will be heard. We will match protests with counter-protests. We will send letters to public officials. And we will take our message to the Filipino people through all media channels available to us.

We will not be afraid. Beyond the power to cause fear, the Church has no power whatsoever. Excommunication, refusal of sacraments, or the disapproval of bishops cannot hurt us. What remains to be done is to show these bishops we cannot be cowed.

But we cannot oppose the Church alone, or piecemeal. Now is the time for all of us – those of us who cannot brook the CBCP’s incursions into government policy, those of us who find our personal beliefs colliding with those of the bishops – to speak up.

“The state’s duty is to educate our families as to their responsibilities and to respect their decisions if they are in conformity to our laws,” President Aquino has said. As President Aquino raises his voice in support of family planning choices for all Filipinos, let us raise our voices with him.

Raise your voice in support of a secular society.

Raise your voice in opposition of a Church hierarchy 500 years too late.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society39 Comments

In the Philippines, Wolves Amidst the Sheep?

In the Philippines, Wolves Amidst the Sheep?

A conviction over a sex abuse scandal more than 20 years ago continues to hound an American Catholic priest who was ordained in and continues to serve in the Philippines.

[Joseph] Skelton was ordained in the Philippines, with Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak ordaining him without knowing about his conviction.

Here’s my reaction to the sex abuse Catholic priest found in the Philippines: not surprised.

I’m only surprised that our local media hasn’t caught on to the Filipino priests who have been accused of sexual abuse within our borders.

Based on this comprehensive (but almost outdated) 2004 report by the Catholics for Free Choice and Likhaan, no priest accused of sexual abuse in the Philippines seems to have been successfully prosecuted.

Most of them have overcome their cases in different ways: settled out of court, acquitted, or moved to other parishes by their superiors, or have cases pending but are quietly reinstated to pastoral duties.

After acquittal, settlement, or a wait of a year or so, the priests mentioned in the report have mostly been reintegrated into active ministry within the Catholic Church.

Here’s a brief run-down of the priests mentioned in the report, and the results of a morning’s Googling of their names. Assuming the search hits reflect the same people mentioned in the Likhaan report (insert margin of error here), it’s my opinion that the Catholic hierarchy’s actions show a tendency to minister to the wolves at the expense of the sheep.


According to the CFFC/Likhaan Report:

On 1 August 1990, Fr. Agustin Cuenca, OFM, a parish priest assigned to the Our Lady of the Abandoned Church in Sta. Ana, Manila, was accused of sexually molesting two of his teenaged acolytes. The complaint alleged that his accusers, 15 and 16 years old, were abused sexually for a period of two years starting in December 1988 until June 1990 by Cuenca.

A certain Agustin Cuenca OFM is attached priest at St. Anthony Padua Shrine in Sampaloc, Manila. As of 2006, Cuenca was the director of the Franciscan Missionary Union. Claretian Publications lists a Fr. Cuenca as the house bursar of St. Gregory the Great Friary in Quezon City. Here’s a Flickr image of a Fr. Agustin Cuenca blessing a privately-owned icon of St. Anthony.


According to the CFFC/Likhaan Report:

In the city of Dagupan, north of Metro Manila, Fr. Macario Apuya, SVD of the Saint Therese Parish, was accused of two criminal charges, one charge of rape and one of child abuse as defined under R. A. No. 7610.... The case had historical significance since it was the very first time that a priest was being prosecuted for pedophilia in the Philippines.

A priest with Apuya’s name is seen here celebrating the Jubilee Mass for the Divine Word Missionaries. A Macario Apuya is currently serving in Mary Consolatrix Convent in La Union – if it’s the same Apuya who was accused of raping underage girls, is it wise to have him running loose in a cloistered convent?


According to the report’s overview of reported cases of sexual abuse by priests: “Florida officials issued a warrant for the arrest of Fr. Polienato Bernabe, 61, a native of Pangasinan, who had been charged with sexually abusing an 8-year-old girl more than two decades ago in Gulfport, Florida.” Bernabe took shelter in the Philippines and died – avoiding  trial to the end – in 2006.


The overview cites that Fr. Diesta was the subject of a request from a US lawyer regarding an accusation that Diesta had abused him when he was a boy. Another report, issued by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, maintains that “Plaintiff reports that he was sexually abused by Fr. Diesta from approximately 1982-88.”

A certain Fr. Arwyn Diesta is still active in the Parish of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Sorsogon. Other Google search hits turn up a Fr. Arwyn Diesta who said a funeral mass in 2008. A Father Diesta is also mentioned as an English professor. A priest named Arwyn Diesta is seen here celebrating a Mass in Sorsogon in 2006 – the blog entry shows a clear picture of Fr. Diesta.


The overview cites the case of Fr. Apolinario Mejorada, who was accused of sexually abusing altar boys in Cebu between 1995 and 1998. “About a week later, Mejorada’s superiors admitted he was involved in some ‘transgression’ and paid Php 120,000 pesos in settlement.” Where is Mejorada today? All we know is that a certain Apolinario Mejorada is currently a parochial vicar somewhere in San Pedro, Laguna.

The following priests were involved in cases that went public AFTER the CFFC/Likhaan report was issued.


In 2006, Jose Belciña was charged with rape and child abuse – the rape charges were later dropped for lack of evidence, but the child abuse charge was allowed to stand. Belciña laid low for a while – to quote SunStar columnist Bong Wenceslao: “When asked by the authorities on the whereabouts of Fr. Jose Belciña, Msgr. Achilles Dakay answered: I am not his custodian. Reminds me of Cain’s answer when asked about the whereabouts of his brother Abel: Am I my brother’s keeper?”

As of 2008, Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal has restored Belciña to pastoral duties in Minglanilla, southern Cebu – a move that has stirred up more controversy.


In 2007, Fr. Benedicto Ejares was accused of sexually harassing teenage girls under his charge in a “Life in the Spirit” seminar in Cebu. Despite orders not to publicly say Mass, Ejares did so in a government building in 2008. Ejares has contested a ruling finding probable cause in charging him with child abuse.

Posted in Politics, Religion21 Comments

Filipino Freethinkers Film Festival 2010 Challenges Religion, Celebrates Reason.

Filipino Freethinkers Film Festival 2010 Challenges Religion, Celebrates Reason.

A series of films about faith and belief will be screened at UP’s Cine Adarna on February 27… but these films will leave you with more questions than answers.

The Filipino Freethinkers Film Festival is the first film fest in the Philippines intended to challenge your thinking about belief, faith, and reason.

The films include a bittersweet one-woman show by a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member, a documentary exploring the link between religion and terrorism, and a couple of short films originally screened at the American Atheist Film Festival.

“Most of us don’t question our faith or religion at all,” says Ryan Tani, president of the Filipino Freethinkers. “But when religion increasingly conflicts with reason in society, we need a public discussion of the merits of faith. Especially we Filipinos, who live under laws shaped by the Catholic Church whether we’re Catholic or not.

“Showing films that question that assumption, that faith is always a good thing… I think that’s a really important first step to get the debate going,” says Tani.

The films screened during the Filipino Freethinkers Film Festival are intended to reach out to both the religious and the irreligious, questioning long-cherished assumptions on both sides of the debate.

Letting Go of God, a one-woman show by Saturday Night Live alumna Julia Sweeney, is a funny yet touching tale of Sweeney’s conflict with the Catholic faith of her childhood. The story (with its surprising conclusion) is told in an upbeat monologue style that the New York Times called “searing and bracingly funny”.

Root of All Evil? is biologist Richard Dawkins’ look at how religious faith serves as a primary motivator for evil in today’s modern world. Throughout the two-part film, we see Dawkins taking on religious fanatics of all stripes, including disgraced pastor Ted Haggard, and building the case for humanity being better off without faith.

Fun For Heretics showcases bits of classic comedy, shocking songs and searing rants from all around the world, with clips from George Carlin, Monty Python, David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Woody Allen, Roy Zimmerman, Marcus Brigstocke, Edward Current, and many more.

Imagine No Religion blends the funny and the serious to tackle the conflict between faith and reason. With excerpts from the late Theo Van Gogh & Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “Submission” and Lisa Seidenberg’s moving memorial to 9/11, “In the Name of God.”

The Filipino Freethinkers Film Festival is on for one day only, on February 27, at Cine Adarna from 1pm to 8pm. Admission is free. For more information on the Film Fest and Filipino Freethinkers, and to RSVP, visit the FF Film Fest Facebook event page.

Posted in Meetup13 Comments