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How to Celebrate Halloween the Christian Way

The CBCP released a missive yesterday accusing Halloween of being ‘anti-Christian’.

In said announcement, Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, CBCP media director, lamented how some Filipinos celebrate All Saints Day as a holiday “of ghouls and witches.” I don’t know about you, but people I know celebrate Halloween that way, not All Saint’s Day. Perhaps the monsignor’s friends and family are in the habit of going to the cemetery dressed up as characters from Twilight but the rest of the world is content to do their merry-making a day before.

 “All Saints’ Day was intended to enhance the feast of the saints but it morphed into something else… no longer about saints but evil,” laments Msgr. Quitorio. “Let’s celebrate it meaningfully because we would be emulating the saints. We can do whatever we want for as long as you don’t fall down to that level that would be glorifying the evil one,” he said.

 For once, I agree with what the CBCP has to say. Glorifying the works of the evil one, aka. Stephanie Meyers’s ghoulish Twilight series is just plain tasteless…

 If you’ve missed it before, read my vampire rants here.

So in an effort to put the “Saint” back in “All Saint’s Day”, I’ve decided to give Msgr. Quitorio a helping hand by coming up with list of helpful suggestions on how to dress up as your favorite Catholic Saint to really get in the spirit of All Saint’s Day.

Saint Agatha of Sicily – The Saint with Regenerating Boobs


Among the tortures she underwent was the cutting off of her breasts. An apparition of Saint Peter cured her… Saint Agatha is often depicted iconographically carrying her excised breasts on a platter, in which Agatha sweetly contemplates the breasts on a standing salver held in her hand. The shape of her amputated breasts, especially as depicted in artistic renderings, gave rise to her attribution as the patron saint of bell-founders and as the patron saint of bakers, whose loaves were blessed at her feast day. More recently, she has been venerated as patron saint of breast cancer patients.

Props / Costume: A plate with a pair of boobs

Saint Agnes of Rome – Hairy Virgin Martyr


The Prefect Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son, and, on Agnes’ refusal, he condemned her to death. As Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, Sempronius had a naked Agnes dragged through the streets to a brothel. Various versions of the legend give different methods of escape from this predicament. In one, as she prayed, her hair grew and covered her body. It was also said that all of the men who attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind.

Props / Costume: Wig/hair-extensions all over your girly-parts

Saint Apollonia – The Toothless Saint

“According to legend, her torture included having all of her teeth violently pulled out or shattered… These men seized her also and by repeated blows broke all her teeth. They then erected outside the city gates a pile of fagots and threatened to burn her alive if she refused to repeat after them impious words. Given, at her own request, a little freedom, she sprang quickly into the fire, but miracolously the fire did not do harm her. She ended up decapitated.

 … the major part of her relics were preserved in the former church of St. Apollonia at Rome, her head at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, her arms at the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, parts of her jaw in St. Basil’s, and other relics are in the Jesuit church at Antwerp, in St. Augustine’s at Brussels, in the Jesuit church at Mechlin, in St. Cross at Liege, in the treasury of the cathedral of Porto, and in several churches at Cologne. These relics consist in some cases of a solitary tooth or a splinter of bone.”

Props / Costume: False Teeth, Pincers, Ceramic Tooth

Bartholomew the Apostle – The Skinless Saint


“Christian tradition has three stories about Bartholomew’s death: “One speaks of his being kidnapped, beaten unconscious, and cast into the sea to drown. Another account states that he was crucified upside down, and another says that he was skinned alive and beheaded in Albac or Albanopolis”,near Bashkale, Turkey.

 The account of Bartholomew being skinned alive is the most represented in works of art, and consequently Bartholomew is often shown with a large knife, holding his own skin (as in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment), or both.”

Props / Costume: Full-body suit of the musculatory system

Saint Brendan of Clonfert – The Saint and the Sea Monster

“St Brendan is chiefly renowned for his legendary journey to The Isle of the Blessed as described in the ninth century Voyage of St Brendan the Navigator. Many versions exist, that tell of how he set out onto the Atlantic Ocean with sixty pilgrims searching for the Garden of Eden. One of these companions is said to have been Saint Malo, the namesake of Saint-Malo. If it happened, this would have occurred sometime between 512-530 AD, before his travel to the island of Great Britain. On his trip, Brendan is supposed to have seen St. Brendan’s Island, a blessed island covered with vegetation. He also encountered a sea monster, an adventure he shared with his contemporary St. Columba. The most commonly illustrated adventure is his landing on an island which turns out to be a giant sea monster called Jasconius or Jascon. This too, has its parallels in other stories, not only in Irish mythology but in other traditions, from Sinbad the Sailor to Pinocchio.”

Props / Costume: A whale or giant sea-monster

Saint Christopher – The Dog-Headed Saint


“The German bishop and poet Walter of Speyer portrayed St. Christopher as a giant of a cynocephalic species in the land of the Chananeans (the “canines” of Canaan in the New Testament) who ate human flesh and barked. Eventually, Christopher met the Christ child, regretted his former behavior, and received baptism. He, too, was rewarded with a human appearance, whereupon he devoted his life to Christian service and became an athlete of God, one of the soldier-saints.”

Props / Costume: A dog-head mask

Saint Denis – The Talking Head

“Saint Denis is a Christian martyr and saint. In the third century, he was Bishop of Paris. He was martyred in connection with the Decian persecution of Christians, shortly after A.D. 250. After his head was chopped off, Denis is said to have picked it up and walked ten kilometres, preaching a sermon the entire way, making him one of many cephalophores in hagiology.”

Props / Costume: A decapitated head, preferably one that talks


Saint Drogo – Patron Saint of Ugly People


Image credit:

“During a pilgrimage he was stricken with unsightly bodily affliction. He became so terribly deformed that he frightened the townspeople. In his twenties, a cell was built for him to protect the local citizens of the village from his appearance.”

Props / Costume: A sack over your head or Quasimodo make-up

Saint Edmund – The Talking Head, Part 2

“Local legend has is that, after being routed in battle against the Danes, King Edmund of East Anglia hid under the Goldbrook bridge. The reflection of his golden spurs glinting in the water revealed his hiding place to a newly wed couple. They gave away his position to the Danes who promptly captured Edmund and demanded he renounce his faith. He refused and was tied to a nearby oak tree. After whipping him, the Danes shot spears at him until he was entirely covered with their missiles – like the bristles of a hedgehog. Even then he would not forsake Christ and so was beheaded and the head was thrown into the woods.

 His severed head was thrown into the wood. Day and night as Edmund’s followers went seeking, calling out “Where are you, friend?” the head would answer, “Here, here, here,” until at last, “a great wonder”, they found Edmund’s head in the possession of a grey wolf, clasped between its paws. “They were astonished at the wolf’s guardianship. The wolf, sent by God to protect the head from the animals of the forest, was starving but did not eat the head for all the days it was lost. After recovering the head, the villagers marched back to the kingdom, praising God and the wolf that served him. The wolf walked beside them as if tame all the way to the town, after which it turned around and vanished into the forest.”

Saint Lucy – Eye-ay-eye!


“She consecrated her virginity to God, refused to marry a pagan, and had her dowry distributed to the poor. Her would-be husband denounced her as a Christian to the governor of Syracuse, Sicily. Miraculously unable to move her or burn her, the guards took out her eyes with a fork. In another version, Lucy’s would-be husband admired her eyes, so she tore them out and gave them to him, saying, “Now let me live to God”.

The oldest record of her story comes from the fifth-century accounts of saints’ lives. By the 6th century, her story was widespread, so that she appears in the Sacramentary of Pope Gregory I. At the opening of the 8th century Aldhelm included a brief account of her life among the virgins praised in De laude virginitatis, and in the following century the Venerable Bede included her in his Martyrology.In medieval accounts, Saint Lucy’s eyes are gouged out prior to her execution. In art, her eyes sometimes appear on a tray that she is holding.”

Props / Costume: A plate of eyeballs

Saint Margaret of Antioch – The Lady and the Dragon

“According to the Golden Legend, she was a native of Antioch, daughter of a pagan priest named Aedesius. She was scorned by her father for her Christian faith, and lived in the country, which is now modern day Turkey, with a foster-mother keeping sheep. Olybrius, the praeses orientis (Governor of the Roman Diocese of the East), offered her marriage at the price of her renunciation of Christianity. Upon her refusal, she was cruelly tortured, during which various miraculous incidents occurred. One of these involved being swallowed by Satan in the shape of a dragon, from which she escaped alive when the cross she carried irritated the dragon’s innards.”

Props / Costume: A dragon

Saint Mercurius – The Original PinHead


“The Emperor called Mercurius and asked him, “Is it true that you refused to worship the idols who helped us during the war?”

Mercurius answered with courage:

Your Majesty, the victory was not due to dumb idols made by human hands. It was accomplished by the grace of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who sent His archangel to give me a sword and strengthened me. I cannot deny my God and worship statues.

The Emperor was infuriated, and tried to persuade him to no avail. Mercurius’ faith was unshaken. He stripped him of his ranks and ordered him to be thrown in jail.

That did not stop the saint from praying and singing hymns in prison. During the night, Michael the Archangel appeared to him and told him: “Do not be afraid of the tortures. Confess your faith in Jesus publicly because He is the only One able to save you”.

The next morning, Decius’ soldiers hung the saint between two poles so that they could hit him with sharp nails. They tried also to cut his body with sharp blades and burn it, but Mercurius endured all these tortures in silence.

Props / Costume: A PinHead mask

Saint Perpetua and Felicity – Mauled to Death by a Cow


“Felicitas, who was eight months pregnant, was apprehensive that she would not be permitted to suffer martyrdom with the others, since the law forbade the execution of pregnant women, but two days before the games she gave birth to a daughter, who was adopted by a Christian woman. On the day of the games, the five were led into the amphitheatre. At the demand of the crowd they were first scourged; then a boar, a bear, and a leopard, were set on the men, and a wild cow on the women. Wounded by the wild animals, they gave each other the kiss of peace and were then put to the sword.”

Props / Costume: A mad cow

Saint Quiricus and Julietta – Massacred Mother and Child

“According to legend, Julietta and her three-year (sometimes described as three-month) old Cyricus had fled to Tarsus and were identified as Christians. Julietta was tortured, and her three year old son, being held by the governor of Tarsus, scratched the governor’s face and was killed by being thrown down some steps. Julietta did not weep but celebrated the fact that her son had earned the crown of martyrdom. In anger, the governor then decreed that Julietta’s sides should be ripped apart with hooks, and then she was beheaded. Her body, along with that of Cyricus, was flung outside the city, on the heap of bodies belonging to criminals, but the two maids rescued the corpses of the mother and child and buried them in a nearby field.

An alternative version of the story is that Julietta told the governor that his religion could not be accepted by a three year old child, whereupon Quiricus testified to his faith, and mother and child were tortured before being decapitated.”

Props / Costume: A doll of a dead baby

Saint Simon the Zealot – Saw, the Catholic version


“One of the original 12 disciples, “One tradition states that he traveled in the Middle East and Africa. Christian Ethiopians claim that he was crucified in Samaria, while Justus Lipsius writes that he was sawn in half at Suanir, Persia.”

Props / Costume: A giant saw


So is there a point to all this? Perhaps the monsignor has failed to realize how Catholicm itself has acquired its fair share of legends and lore… interwoven with historical facts are elements of fantasy, magic, and all sort of ghoulish wonders… some so astounding that even the mythology of vampires and werewolves may even pale in comparison.

When a man of the cloth criticizes the public obsession with witches and wizards yet fully believes in a man who can cast spells, duel with demons, and resurrect the dead from the grave, it seems too glaring a hypocrisy.

So whether you’re Team-Edward (vampire), Team-Jacob (werewolf), or Team-Jesus (zombie-wizard)… have a Happy Halloween everyone!

Posted in Humor37 Comments

Beauty and Belief

In the aftermath of the 2011 Miss Universe, the most oft-discussed question in the internet is: Did Shamcey’s “Love My God” answer cost her the crown?


Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong

Certain as the sun
Rising in the east
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty wants you to believe…


That would have been the theme-song of Miss Philippines’ Shamcey Supsup after her interview portion in this year’s Miss Universe pageant. Opinions have been tossed around left and right by people from all sectors of society. Some have even questioned the validity of the question itself. Was Miss Philippines’ question harder to answer than Miss Angola’s? Was it OK to put people on the spot by questioning their religious beliefs?

Criticisms like this only highlight a glaring fault in Philippine society – that even in the 21st century, questioning someone’s religious stance is still treated as somewhat taboo.

But in the sordid history of reality TV, Shamcey was definitely not the first to be put on a tight spot because of their religious convictions. In an episode of the Amazing Race, a distraught contestant wouldn’t enter a Buddhist temple to complete their task because she felt it was against her Christian beliefs to do so. In an eating challenge of Survivor, another contestant wouldn’t eat the food presented to her because she was vegan. In America’s Next Top Model, another contestant wouldn’t go on a racy photo shoot because it would show more skin than her conservative upbringing would allow. The latest bit of reality TV drama involved a young contestant on The Glee Project who wasn’t comfortable kissing a girl onstage because of similar conservative stances.

So our very own Shamcey Supsup is in good company. Depending on your liberal / conservative leanings, you would either praise people like them for remaining true to their convictions despite social pressures… or you’d feel sorry for people like them for being so narrow-minded and still desperately clinging on to outdated conservative norms. But for the sake of brevity, let’s skip the judgment and go straight to the meat of the matter, her answer:


 “If I had to change my religious beliefs, I would not marry the person that I love because the first person that I love is God who created me and I have my faith and my principles and this is what makes me who I am.”


Great answer. She showed conviction and confidence in her personal stance. It doesn’t matter what your personal views are on religion, she answered the question the only way it should be answered – you cannot and must not compromise yourself and your own beliefs just to please someone else; the decision is yours and yours alone. She could be a Scientologist or a Mormon, and it would still be the right answer.


“And if that person loves me, he should love my God too.”


I guess we could all agree this is where she crashed and burned. Blame it on pressure, the wrong choice of words, or just plain too much honesty… but it came across to many as too demanding and too one-sided. One could interpret her words in two ways:

1. She would only marry someone of the same religion as hers. This would make her stance too rigid…it implies close-mindedness, if not outright prejudice. In a world trying to embrace diversity in all its various flavors of creed, ethnicity, and lifestyle, is it any wonder she’d lose the Miss Universe crown with a mind-set like this? Even worse, as a representative of the Philippines, this is the image she’s projecting to the rest of the world – that Filipinos have a cristiano-cerado mentality.  Most Filipinos would find the practice of some ethnic groups like the Chinese or Spaniards preferring to marry only within their community a discriminatory social preference but fully support Ms. Shamcey’s equally discriminatory criteria in choosing a mate? C’mon people, let’s have some consistency here. Yes, there’s a huge culture-gap to overcome when it comes to inter-religion/racial/ethnicity relationships; it definitely takes a lot more work since both partners are out of their comfort-zone. It is definitely not a plug-and-play affair. It will challenge your dedication to each other – but isn’t that what marriage is about? “You and me against the world”? Several studies have even shown that the strongest relationships have partners with the most differing backgrounds. Take it as a testament of their love for each, their willingness to compromise, to put their relationship over all other things separating them – I think it’s an attitude like that that makes a relationship work, not the color of one’s skin, the shape of the eyes, or the god(s) you pray to. I believe in the  old cliche “that which does not break us, makes us stronger”.

2. She would only marry someone who’d convert to her religion. This alternative’s even worse. Firstly, marriage is a relationship of equals. That being said, one cannot demand something of your partner that you yourself are not willing to reciprocate. Would she volunteer to “love” Allah as well if her fiancé was muslim or Xenu if her boyfriend was a Scientologist? Probably not… That’s the problem with most world religions today – they demand exclusivity, leaving no room for the beliefs of others. And the painful irony here? If she managed to get her boyfriend to switch religion that easily, what does it say about his loyalty? His paninindigan?  Did it ever occur to Shamcey that a person who could switch religions could just as easily be as fickle in his love life? Just a thought.


I Love you Lord!


How then should she have answered the question? Personally, I’d go for a compromise. Let each spouse be allowed to practice their own belief, let them learn from each other’s perspective and nurture their relationship from the strength of their diversity. When they finally have kids, allow each parent to impart their belief system to the child and let the kid decide which one to follow, if at all.

There’s a saying that ‘opposites attract’. But that’s only true if both parties are willing to compromise instead of arguing on who’s right or whose decisions matter more. Ruffa Gutierrez may not be the poster-girl for inter-religion marriages but there are inter-faith marriages that do work out. I googled up celebrity inter-faith couples and miraculously, some of them are still together today!  But that’s only for couples who are willing to see past their differences and work with it, instead of against it. For starters, there’s Naomi Watts (Buddhist) and Liev Schreiber (Jewish), Angelina Jolie (Atheist) and Brad Pitt (Baptist), Katy Perry (Evengelical) and Russel Brand (Atheist). But the inter-faith couple I’m rooting for the most are Taye Diggs (Christian) and Wife Idina Menzel (Jewish). Not only are they inter-faith, they are also inter-racial. They have often been the target of various extremist hate-groups for their “inter-inter marriage” but have stayed strong together, even actively supporting several social causes promoting social acceptance of minority groups like the LGBT community. Inter-faith website On Being Both writes about this power-couple and their views on raising their child “in an interfaith community, he would grow up with knowledge of the stories and awareness of the history from both sides of his family.” Now that is a truly inspiring story of how true love triumphs against all odds.

And so yet again, the Philippines is denied the top spot. So close, yet so far away. Maybe that’s our problem – we dream of being “world-class” but can’t bring ourselves to embrace the world in all its diversity. When we’re put on the spot, our first instinct is to retreat back to our tribal mentality. Perhaps the hardest lesson we Filipinos have yet to learn is how to embrace other cultures without losing our own identity.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Society43 Comments

Censorship: Why Should You Care?

Censorship: Why Should You Care?

As the war between the CCP and the CBCP reached fever pitch during the past few days, culminating in the eventual closure of an artist’s exhibit deemed ‘blasphemous‘,  it has effectively polarized those involved into two camps: those who say that freedom of artistic expression should supersede religious sacred cows or vice-versa. If you were an artist, then you’d support the freedom to express yourself. If you were the conservative type, then you’d prefer that religious symbolism be given special immunity against the more radical artistic interpretations.

But what about those of us on the outside – the regular Juan (or Maria…or anyone in between, for that matter) who doesn’t go to artsy-fartsy art museums and discuss the merits of an artist’s work all day? Why should it even matter to us? Shouldn’t it be left to the art connoisseurs and bishops to duke it out till their lungs explode?

 The reason is simple: because art (and artistic expression) is not only limited to painting and sculptures.


Censorship in Music.


Early this year, while the rest of the world celebrated the launch of Lady Gaga’s newest pop anthem ‘Born This Way’, a song about acceptance and embracing diversity, Malaysian authorities decided to ban it on the grounds of possibly offending religious feelings.


Sounds familiar?

Never mind the fact that not everyone in Malaysia is Muslim, or even if you were Muslim but were open-minded enough not to be offended by the sentiments of the song, the ruling applied to everyone. Public access to the song was banned for everyone, regardless of belief.

That’s the problem with censorship. It’s a blanket restriction that applies to everyone. You don’t the get the choice of watching or not watching, listening or not listening, buying or not buying it because you can’t. You don’t get a choice in the matter, you simply can’t.


Can’t, can’t, can’t.    Period.


Somebody else makes the decision of what you can or can’t watch. Even if you’ve read the reviews, heard a clip, or watched the trailer then felt that you won’t be offended by it, you still can’t. It’s not a simple matter of simply putting up a sign that goes:

Warning! Contains images of excessive violence, nudity, or profanity that may be offensive to some people.”

Censorship takes the choice away from you. What is offensive to some may not be to other people. But if you let a few people make that decision for everyone else, then you’ve lost the very essence of a free society. The issue is very simple: If you don’t like it, then don’t watch it. If a song has risqué lyrics that offend you, then don’t listen to it.

In all likelihood, with all the various forms of media out there, there are more things you’ll not like (or at least be apathetic to)  than the ones you’ll actually like. But don’t take the choice away from everyone else. Artistic expression is a highly subjective matter and everyone should at least be free to make up his or her own mind. If you are offended by it, then don’t see it. How much more simple can it get? If an artwork is controversial in nature, put a warning, a disclaimer, or even an age restriction. But unless something is unanimously considered to be hate-speech, total censorship is not the way to go.

Lady Gaga isn’t alone in her censorship woes. Without even going to the realm of Heavy Metal music, mainstream Rock and Rap are already the frequent targets of conservative groups seeking to shut them down for their provocative or liberal lyrics or messages.

 A few weeks back, there was a protest action mounted by a conservative group to block the Manila concert of Incubus because of their perceived demonic influence.


There’s a whole bucket list of popular songs where artists have tread the fine line between “artistic expression“ and “offending religious feelings” from John Lennon to Tori Amos:


Censorship in Movies


Remember when the Da Vinci Code was the blockbuster summer movie of 2006? Everyone read the book and was eager to see it on the big screen… that is, if you weren’t living in Manila where it was banned by their ultra-moralist city officials.

So the erstwhile Manila mayor Lito Atienza had the movie not only banned in theaters, but also made the sale and distribution of the movie in optical media like DVD’s punishable by law, citing that The Da Vinci Code was “offensive to the established beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church“.

Or what about the 1994 movie Priest which also didn’t see the light of day in the Philippines because of its controversial theme of a priest wrestling with his secret homosexuality?

As works of fiction, movies like these weren’t even intentionally made to be offensive to religious belief yet still they fell to the mighty axe of Philippine censorship. But nothing tops the most glaring example of this type of overzealous censorship:

‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, arguably one of Martin Scorsese’s most controversial work likewise did not make it to Philippine cinemas because of implications of religious offense.  Never mind that Scorsese himself was Catholic and never meant to create a movie offensive to his faith, it was taken as a direct attack on religion instead of an artistic interpretation of the concept of free will.

Thankfully, The Golden Compass narrowly evaded similar censorship attempts by religious groups to ban the movie because of its anti-religious sentiments (but only after so much compromise and judicious editing by the movie’s producers to tone it down. But that’s as far as it went. Because of heavy Catholic lobbying to block the production of Book 2 – The Northern Lights, the sequel will never see the light of day. That’s pre-production censorship for you.

One could only wonder what we would be missing if they also succeeded in banning Harry Potter as well because of its “blatant promotion of witchcraft and sorcery”.

Make no mistake, the outcome of the CCP versus CBCP debate can and will be used as a precedent for all future censorship battles in the Philippines on just how much control a vocal minority can exert on what the rest of us can or cannot be allowed to see, hear, or purchase. It won’t stop with mere painting or sculptures. If conservative groups here can threaten, sue, deface, or outright remove an art exhibit, what’s to stop them from doing the same thing to more commercial forms of artistic expression like movies and music?

If you don’t care as to the fate of some artist you’ve never heard of and whose work you don’t particularly appreciate, what happens if this eventually happens to an artist you do like?

Images from Amazon, IMDB,,

Posted in Society7 Comments

Bastos is in the Eye of the Beholder

It has often been said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” that is, the things we see around us are interpreted differently from viewer to viewer. But what about the flip-side? Is the “profane” just as subjective as the “pleasing”?

In one of my travels, I found myself tagging along with my sister who was meeting her one-time Arts History professor Mr. Ybañez in Madrid. Now being a numbers guy, art was never one of my strong suits, in contrast to my kid sister who’s an Arts graduate. But thinking this was going to be a rare chance to expand my horizons, I begged to be the third-wheel in their art-tripping escapade.

The first stop was the Museo del Prado, one of the world’s largest art museums. Gazing at literally thousands of the world’s most treasured art pieces and listening to my two art-aficionado companions rattle trivia after trivia about the pieces we encountered was educational, to say the least. Turning a corner into another hall, we heard snickering from a group of teenage tourists who were calling their other friends to come see a painting that had piqued their interests. Curiosity got the better of me and I glanced at the artwork they were giggling at.

And there it was. A huge painting showing what looks like the Virgin Mary baring one of her breast, giving it a deft squeeze, and squirting a long stream of breast milk straight into the open mouth of a kneeling monk.

Kinky, I thought.

Some sort of Catholic breast-fetish perhaps? Surely this must be some sort of poe. The very thought of showing Catholicism’s most venerated symbol of virginity and purity actually flashing her breast and feeding a grown man her own breast milk? Oh, the Freudian implications! The very idea, mixing the sacred with the sexual, soon had me joining in the barely suppressed mirth of the other viewers.

Then my killjoy sister gave me a subtle elbow jab while giving me that “don’t you dare embarrass me in front of my prof” look.  Mr. Ybañez then graciously explained that the painting was one of Alonzo Cano’s best-known work, “The Vision of St. Bernard”. He further explained that the Latin inscription above the Virgin’s head “Monstra te esse matrem” meant “Show yourself to be a mother”. The painting was the artist’s depiction of a rather fanciful myth attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux where the saint was deep in prayer to the Virgin Mary. In response to his devotions, the statue miraculously came alive, pressed her bosom, and fed the devout saint her own milk to symbolize her divine role of motherhood over the faithful.

Now this tale, as well as the art depicting it, is rich in symbolism. If one were to interpret the painting or even the legend behind it literally, it would most certainly be fraught with sexual connotations. A shallow interpretation of this artwork would deem it “bastos” or even heretical. Thus the critical need to look beyond first impressions and try to figure out what the artist is trying to tell us. If there’s one thing I learned from my know-it-all sister and her erudite professor that day was that “art” is the process of relaying abstract ideas through symbolism. Juxtaposing symbolisms of the carnal with the spiritual does not automatically make something “blasphemous”. Compared to analyzing a mathematical formula, which is as straightforward as it gets, art is never interpreted the same way by different viewers.

Interpretation is part of the whole art experience. The artist creates the art… but that’s only half of the process. How the viewer perceives it is “creating meaning” on its own. We apply our own world-views, biases, and personal symbology on the artwork, creating an experience unique to each spectator. (plus, it helps if someone more knowledgeable gives you the cliff notes version of its back-story and history for us noobs).

One then would be led to wonder how this painting would fare if instead of being housed in the hallowed halls of one of the world’s top art museums, it was instead displayed here in the Philippines. Would it suffer the way Mideo Cruz’s works did?

Would the Catholic bishops likewise raise hell over its supposed “blasphemous” imagery?

Would Pro-Life’s Eric Manalang likewise attempt to file charges over its public display?

Would lawyer Jo Imbong likewise call it an obscenity for “offending religious belief”?


Would religious extremist vandals also deface it… and have the CBCP actually blame the victim for the incident (perhaps, in the same way some bigots blame the victims of rape for “bringing it upon themselves” because of the way they dress)?

If art of this nature suffers so in the hands of our self-appointed local “art critics”, then maybe it’s a good thing they’re safely kept half a world away, far from the overzealous pinoy vandals and lawsuit-happy pinoy moral-police.

If this is the level of shallowness we can muster for art appreciation, then is it any wonder we are left with the mundane and banal which passes as “art”? While the rest of the world thrives in diversity and maturity in the appreciation of art, we are left with recycling what is safe and conventional lest someone be “offended” by what he sees.

Posted in Society7 Comments

The Top 10 List – Tips on Writing the Perfect “Non-Apology” Apology Letter

A public apology can make or break public sentiments towards well known public figures, be they philandering spouses caught with their pants down, corrupt officials caught with their hands in the cookie jar, or like in recent news… sneaky little clerics asking for special gifts from the President.

I'm soweeee!

An apology can elicit sympathy… or expose you for the creepy little rat that you are. Thus, scripting the perfect apology letter has become something of an art-form. In typical pinoy fashion, the best technique is to go for all-out drama. Take a cue from old-school Nora Aunor movies… shed a few melodramatic crocodile tears and utter the immortal phrase “kung kasalanan ang magmahal, then… I… AM… GUILTY.”


[Image from / get your copy now!]



So with a little bit of theatrical sleight-of-hand, you have turned from perpetrator to martyr,  transforming actual crime into a “crime of passion”. Suddenly, the only thing you’re guilty of is loving too much or helping too much. Bravo! The crowd applauses and you are guaranteed a FAMAS award for best dramatic performance.


So now you know the power of a good apology. So to help all you aspiring apologists out there caught red-handed and eager to turn the tides of public sympathy, here’s the:





  1. Apologize about everything except the crime you’re actually charged with. This is an apology letter, not a confession. Knowing the difference means this could never be used as court evidence as an admission of guilt. So what do you actually apologize about? That’s where Tip#2 comes in…
  2.  Apologize profusely for all the “sorrow” this incident has caused the general public. (even though it’s not actually sorrow the general public feels, its DISGUST). Apologize to your constituents, family and loved ones too. (again, even if its not sorrow they’re actually feeling, its actually closer to SHAME). Express your regret over the whole matter but be vague on exactly what it is you regret (people don’t want to hear that you regret getting caught).
  3. Garner sympathy by mentioning how much the incident has affected you personally. Recount the sleepless nights,  loss of appetite, and stress-induced wrinkles it has caused you. Make it look like you are hurting more from your crimes that even the victims themselves.
  4. Emphasize how deeply spiritual and religious you are. Invoke the name of God frequently (don’t worry, this doesn’t count as taking the Lord’s name in vain because it’s for a good cause). Make sure you mention over and over again how much you prayed for guidance. Quote a few bible passages with themes on forgiveness and redemption.
  5. Justify any previous attempts at cover-ups and intentional misdirection as unfortunate side effects of your clumsy attempts to protect your loved ones or those close to you from any collateral damage. It’s totally a SELFLESS act.
  6. Explain to people how difficult and stressful your job is, causing you to have the occasional lapse in judgment. You have so many balls to juggle that you are sometimes put into compromising situations. Your work is the most horrible, thankless job in the world and your critics don’t understand how terribly pressured you are. Those ungrateful wretches should be thankful that you’re even sticking around.
  7. Remind everyone of the virtue of forgiveness. Sprinkle words like “repentance“ and  “atonement” liberally. While on the subject of penance, don’t elaborate on exactly how you plan to do it. Leave it to people’s imaginations (or better yet, their short attention span). Never ever bring up the issue of punishment. Instead, segue straight into the future, where you hope to “build a brighter future for everyone.”
  8. Invoke justice and due process. Justice is not about you being punished for your crimes, it’s about you being protected from public scrutiny until proven guilty beyond any shadow of doubt. Due process is all about being completely innocent until completely proven guilty. Until then, you have complete immunity from criticism. If someone from the media or even the public condemns you for your actions, reprimand them for jumping the gun.
  9. Thank the people for all their love, understanding, and support. It doesn’t matter if there isn’t actually any… just thank them. That way, they’ll look like heartless bastards if they don’t actually show any sympathy towards you after you’ve profusely thanked them in advance.
  10. Turn this into a “lesson” for everyone. It’s not about you or the shameless crimes you’ve committed, it’s about the wisdom gleaned from all this. This is all merely a test from God. Sometimes, it’s tough being the instrument of God’s teachings. But with everyone’s unconditional support, we all learn a valuable life lesson today.



So hopefully after you’ve followed all these tips, you can come up with your very own soul-stirring, heart-wrenching “non-apology” apology letter guaranteed to evoke sympathy from even your most cynical critics.  If you’ve done it correctly, you’ll soon be swimming in high praise from everyone for your “humility” and “contrite heart“. Good luck crawling your way out of whatever mess you got yourself into.



Need a few good examples of a good “non-apology” apology letter? Take a cue from the Catholic Bishop’s conference letter, “A Time of Pain, A Time of Grace”.

Our Dear People of God,

Our Mother Church has been deeply wounded by the controversies in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office that have erupted in the past two weeks. Some members of the Church believe in the innocence of the bishops involved in the issue, while others do not. There is no doubt that everywhere in the Church there is great sorrow. We your pastors are one with you. As shepherds struggling to love you like Jesus the Good Shepherd, we are sorry for the pain and sadness that these events have brought upon you.

 We are saddened that many of you, especially the youth, the poor, our Basic Ecclesial Communities, have been confused because of the apparent inconsistency of our actions with our pastoral preaching.

 As we express our sadness, we also ask you to be slow in judgment and to conscientiously seek the whole truth behind the controversy. Let us seek the truth always in charity.

 We assure you that the bishops concerned are ready to accept responsibility for their action and to face the consequences if it would be proven unlawful, anomalous, and unconstitutional. We assure you that their action was done without malice. Out of their sincere desire to help their people, they failed to consider the pitfalls to which these grants could possibly lead them. They have also expressed their readiness to do everything that is necessary to heal this wound so that we can all move forward in hope.

 We also assure you, our beloved people, that we shall re-examine the manner of our collaboration with government agencies for purposes of helping the poor, making sure that pastoral sensibilities are respected and the highest ethical standards are observed. We shall examine our values in the light of our vocation to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We commit ourselves to the long journey of personal and social transformation required of all disciples of the Lord. We plead with you to walk with us in this path of constant renewal.

 We express again our deep sorrow for the pain that the recent events have brought to you our beloved people. The good Lord knows our love for you. The words of the psalmist come to our mind: “My sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn” (Ps.51). As the same Psalmist addresses the Lord, we take his words as our own to encourage and challenge us: “Indeed you love truth in the heart; then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.”


For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,


Bishop of Tandag

President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

July 11, 2011


Notice the deft use of techniques employed in Bishop Odchimar’s “apology”… it says a lot without… well, without saying anything at all. Even after reading it for the nth time, you’re still not sure what he’s sorry for… but somehow you feel sorry for him now. Now that is the mark of a truly well-written non-apology apology letter.





Now compare it with the apology letter Bill Clinton wrote during the Monica Lewinski sex scandal. Who did a better job at non-apologizing? :


Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House and to this day to which Hillary and the vice president and I look forward so much every year.

This is always an important day for our country, for the reasons that the vice president said. It is an unusual and, I think, unusually important day today. I may not be quite as easy with my words today as I have been in years past,

and I was up rather late last night thinking about and praying about what I ought to say today. And rather unusual for me, I actually tried to write it down. So if you will forgive me, I will do my best to say what it is I want to say to you – and I may have to take my glasses out to read my own writing.

First, I want to say to all of you that, as you might imagine, I have been on quite a journey these last few weeks to get to the end of this, to the rock bottom truth of where I am and where we all are.

I agree with those who have said that in my first statement after I testified I was not contrite enough. I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.

It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine: first and most important, my family; also my friends, my staff, my Cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness.

But I believe that to be forgiven, more than sorrow is required – at least two more things. First, genuine repentance – a determination to change and to repair breaches of my own making. I have repented. Second, what my bible calls a ”broken spirit”; an understanding that I must have God’s help to be the person that I want to be; a willingness to give the very forgiveness I seek; a renunciation of the pride and the anger which cloud judgment, lead people to excuse and compare and to blame and complain.

Now, what does all this mean for me and for us? First, I will instruct my lawyers to mount a vigorous defense, using all available appropriate arguments. But legal language must not obscure the fact that I have done wrong. Second, I will continue on the path of repentance, seeking pastoral support and that of other caring people so that they can hold me accountable for my own commitment.

Third, I will intensify my efforts to lead our country and the world toward peace and freedom, prosperity and harmony, in the hope that with a broken spirit and a still strong heart I can be used for greater good, for we have many blessings and many challenges and so much work to do.

In this, I ask for your prayers and for your help in healing our nation. And though I cannot move beyond or forget this – indeed, I must always keep it as a caution light in my life – it is very important that our nation move forward.

I am very grateful for the many, many people – clergy and ordinary citizens alike – who have written me with wise counsel. I am profoundly grateful for the support of so many Americans who somehow through it all seem to still know that I care about them a great deal, that I care about their problems and their dreams. I am grateful for those who have stood by me and who say that in this case and many others, the bounds of privacy have been excessively and unwisely invaded. That may be. Nevertheless, in this case, it may be a blessing, because I still sinned. And if my repentance is genuine and sustained, and if I can maintain both a broken spirit and a strong heart, then good can come of this for our country as well as for me and my family. (Applause)

The children of this country can learn in a profound way that integrity is important and selfishness is wrong, but God can change us and make us strong at the broken places. I want to embody those lessons for the children of this country – for that little boy in Florida who came up to me and said that he wanted to grow up and be President and to be just like me. I want the parents of all the children in America to be able to say that to their children.

A couple of days ago when I was in Florida a Jewish friend of mine gave me this liturgy book called ”Gates of Repentance.” And there was this incredible passage from the Yom Kippur liturgy. I would like to read it to you:

”Now is the time for turning. The leaves are beginning to turn from green to red to orange. The birds are beginning to turn and are heading once more toward the south. The animals are beginning to turn to storing their food for the winter. For leaves, birds and animals, turning comes instinctively. But for us, turning does not come so easily. It takes an act of will for us to make a turn. It means breaking old habits. It means admitting that we have been wrong, and this is never easy. It means losing face. It means starting all over again. And this is always painful. It means saying I am sorry. It means recognizing that we have the ability to change. These things are terribly hard to do. But unless we turn, we will be trapped forever in yesterday’s ways. Lord help us to turn, from callousness to sensitivity, from hostility to love, from pettiness to purpose, from envy to contentment, from carelessness to discipline, from fear to faith. Turn us around, O Lord, and bring us back toward you. Revive our lives as at the beginning, and turn us toward each other, Lord, for in isolation there is no life.”

I thank my friend for that. I thank you for being here. I ask you to share my prayer that God will search me and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, see if there is any hurtfulness in me, and lead me toward the life everlasting. I ask that God give me a clean heart, let me walk by faith and not sight.

I ask once again to be able to love my neighbor – all my neighbors – as my self, to be an instrument of God’s peace; to let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and, in the end, the work of my hands, be pleasing. This is what I wanted to say to you today.

Thank you. God bless you.


President Bill Clinton – September 11, 1998




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Posted in Humor9 Comments

Disturbing Realities

Since it’s April Fools, let’s talk about pranks…

Last week, a scandal erupted in the local Internet scene as a malicious prank was pulled on an unsuspecting commercial establishment. News soon spread on Twitter, Facebook, and various other social networking sites eliciting various reactions from netizens across the country. A savvy few immediately recognized it for the hoax that it was while the more gullible majority vented outrage at the supposed discrimination that took place.

I am of course referring to the now infamous ‘Disturbing Realities’ sign posted by anonymous pranksters still at large. The sign proclaimed in the most bizarre and politically incorrect of wordings: “This is a private controlled environment. Poor people and other disturbing realities strictly prohibited. Thank you

The news was quickly picked up by Yahoo News and soon turned viral across the Internet.

The commercial establishment in question was quick to issue an official disclaimer stating that the signage wasn’t theirs. Not that that it even needed to be said. The sign, as more astute observers pointed out, had several telltale clues of its illegitimacy. It had the wrong corporate logo, fonts inconsistent with standard design protocols and the name printed on the sign said “corporation” when it should have been “incorporated” (its official legal name).

But gullibility of the general public isn’t the real head-scratcher here. We’ve always known the average Juan will believe anything they see or hear. Case in point, the equally infamous “Harvard study finds that Filipinos are the World’s Most Gullible People” which was originally published as a satire by those wacky people over at the Mosquito Press. As if to prove the point, it was ironically cited by a rather clueless journalist in a leading daily as a serious study.

What surprised me more was the sheer amount of vitriol and rage expressed by over a thousand commenter against this perceived form of discrimination when the truth is, “discrimination” (in quotation marks) like this is already common practice in more than a thousand other establishments in this country.

Sign like this:

or this:

and even this:

are a common sight in various churches all over the country yet no one raises a fuss about it. Unless, there is conclusive evidence that it is physically  impossible to pray while wearing shorts, isn’t this discriminating against poor people who can’t afford to dress nicely for church?

When other commercial establishments discourage people who have no business there from loitering around its premises, it raises eyebrows. But whether it’s a mall or a church, the same expectations apply: visitors go in, do their thing, deposit money to the establishment, then leave. No difference there, except perhaps that the church still doesn’t accept credit cards…yet. Whether you choose to go to a mall and hand over your hard-earned cash over to Henry Sy or go to church to donate your money to the coffers of Pope Ratzinger, these are both places of business – whether they ply their trades in goods that are material… or spiritual.

Places like these also have the right to expect a certain level of decorum from their guests to maintain the ambience of the place. As they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do“. At least the fake sign got its choice of wordings right: “Disturbing Realities”. Whether it’s a trendy mall or a soulful cathedral, patrons don’t want to be reminded of the sordid reality around them… all the poverty and squalor of the outside world… At least during the time they spend inside places like these, the illusion that everything is all right with the world must be maintained. Whether you find happiness in communing with Jesus Christ or with Louis Vuitton, it’s not so different when you think about it. Whatever form of escapism you prefer, you want to feel good for a moment and not worry about your guilty conscience being bothered by the “disturbing realities” outside.

Back when I was helping out in our parish church, I’d spend the whole Sunday morning assisting in 3 or 4 successive masses. The street children were always an issue. One of the ministers would often shoo them away from the church steps for loitering, begging, or plying their trade selling sampaguita and cheap rosaries. He’d chastise them for bothering the people who came to pray but they’d always sneak back in to seek shelter from the heat outside. Needless to say, he thought it was an eyesore to see a bunch of barefeet street urchins inside the church. They were his version of “disturbing realities”. If it were a mall, it would be the security guards who’d be shooing them away. But somehow, people would feel offending by the seeming discrimination of his actions. Is it because these guards are paid to do their jobs, thus evoking the image of the “hired goon”?  How are their selective reception of visitors any different?

The more upscale the mall or hotel, the higher the standards one needs to be welcome inside. This is the same with the various churches. Churches in poorer parishes don’t mind the presence of “disturbing realities” too much but in the air-conditioned churches of the high-end residential communities and cathedrals we have signs like those, requiring rather stringent dress codes to be allowed inside. What then if you want to pray inside an uppity church but can’t afford to dress as well as their regulations require? One would just have to suck it up and find another church that isn’t so snooty with its parishioners. Going to a mall is the same thing – you go where you fit in.  Different establishments cater to different segment of the market just like different churches have different policies in dress code. So why criticize one and give the other a free pass? Double standards? Now that’s the disturbing reality…


Happy April Fools Day, everyone.


[Author’s note: Those pictures of church dress codes are no joke, those are actual official signs posted on church bulletin boards and doors.]

Posted in Humor, Society7 Comments

Toughest Place to Be

Meet Mang Rogelio

He’s your typical pinoy living in the streets of Manila, one among 94 million other residents of this country of ours. He drives his trusty jeepney everyday to support his family of 8. Still happily married all these years, he’s also a grandfather whose kids now have kids of their own… and they all live in the house he built with his own two hands.


But this story isn’t just about Mang Rogelio. Half a world away, Josh also makes a living driving people around the city. He’s a bus driver working the streets of London. Josh also comes from a large, close-knit, god-fearing family.


Two different people, two different lives in two different parts of the world… but having the same job and same family background. Yet for all the similarities their lives may have, these two people are about to realize just how different a hand fate has dealt them. By a simple accident of birth, one was fortunate enough to have been born in a first world country while the other lives here.

Josh has agreed to live a week in the shoes of Mang Rogelio and the BBC film crew was there to document all the tears, trials, and tribulations each person faced when their worlds collided. It’s not your typical reality-TV show where they take clueless idiots out of their comfort zone and wait for them to make fools of themselves. Josh and Mang Rogelio are genuinely nice guys who try to make the most of what life throws at them. But in the process of their own personal discoveries, they also allowed people a continent away a glimpse of life in Metro Manila as it is being lived by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos everyday. This is life as seen through the eyes of one who lived through it all… the hardships, the love, the camaraderie, and everything in between.

As Josh lands in Manila, “one of the most densely populated cities in the world”, as the program narrator describes, he gets a sobering look at life in Manila’s urban jungle. He meets his congenial host Mang Rogelio for the first time and gamely tours the 10′ x 10′ house Mang Rogelio built himself to house his family of 8. Filipinos will be happy to note that for a jeepney driver, Mang Rogelio has an impressive command of the King’s speech and has no problems conversing with the very British Josh without the aid of a translator.

He meets Mang Rogelio’s neighbor Elsie, who lives in a house half the size Mang Rogelio’s, yet still manages to fit all 13 of her children. She says she had her first child at age 14 and has had another one every year thereafter. She admits that she doesn’t know anything about family planning. Even now, she’s pregnant and is asking for Mang Rogelio’s help to take her to the hospital. Being the good, reliable neighbor that he is, Mang Rogelio opts to take the day off to help his sick neighbor. They reach the largest maternity clinic in the metro where things look even grimmer.

The facility has gone way beyond overloaded and has long past reached breaking point. Because of the lack of beds, 4 mothers have to share one bed among themselves. They talk to the resident doctor who explains the situation to the evidently disturbed Josh.

In the Philippines, there is strong cultural opposition to contraception, from one of the biggest influence in the country, the Catholic church,” the doctor explains.

Children are a gift from God,” he goes on, “they are a resource for you, source of help for you in your livelihood.” Which leads one to wonder if the proper way to treat “gifts from God” is to make them beg on the streets… or worse. Is this all children are to over-population deniers? Cheap, if not free, child labor?

Mang Rogelio, being more sensible and pragmatic than his neighbor Elsie, stopped at 3 kids. “I know it’s a sin against the church but rather than having a lot of kids that will die of hunger, I chose to go ahead with contraceptives,” his wife admits.

But Josh’s odyssey is far from over. He travels to Tondo, “one of the most densely populated areas on earth“, the program narrator says, with over 90,000 residents per This is where hope is bleakest, living conditions in its most dire. Here, you have to do whatever it takes to get by.


He gets his first look at pag-pag… literally garbage that has been thrown away but scavenged and re-cooked for human consumption. The shock value is palpable. If this is the first time you’ve known about conditions like these, your mind will be sent reeling at the depths of depravity one would stoop in order to survive.

This is the depth of poverty Manila has to offer… poverty that will be experienced by a hundred more newborn babies each day. Who’s to say is to blame? Society? The government? Their parents?  Sometimes, it’s easier to finger-point than to start working on practical and sustainable solutions.

Should one ask the question “Am I my brother’s keeper”? But we know that charity is rarely a practical long-term solution. The better choice would be to teach a man to fish. But how can one go out to “fish” when he already has 12 mouths to feed at home? It’s already a full-time job taking care of a dozen babies,  so how can one even find the time to actually earn a living? If you can afford to hire a nanny or a private tutor for your kids then well and good, but if not, what then? Will the thousand or so churches in the country open their doors and provide day-care support for all their faithful followers, gratis? Will Pro-Life? When one preaches about the “dignity” of human life, one should consider the fate of the baby even after it’s out of the womb.

Clearly, if we treat only the symptoms and not the root cause, then we won’t get very far. We’ll just be wasting donor or taxpayer’s money handing dole-outs forever. We have to get to the root cause of the issue, which is unplanned pregnancy. No matter how much rhetoric people spout about how government corruption is the root of poverty or the lack of education or opportunities, the plain and simple truth is that even if we fix all that, you still can’t go and earn a living when you’ve already got your hands full with more babies than you can handle.

We need to assist and educate the next generation of Filipinos to become responsible parents, to straighten out their own lives before they even think of bringing new one into the world.

But the fact is, children living in the slums are exposed to sex at a very young age. With hundreds of thousands of people all living under such crammed conditions, privacy is a luxury few can afford. It would be impossible to not witness someone having sex behind a cardboard partition or flimsy blanket even before reaching puberty.

In a news article published in the Inquirer, it stated that the “latest data from the National Statistics Office showed that of 1.7 million babies born in 2004, almost 8 percent were born to mothers aged 15-19. Almost 30 percent of Filipino women become mothers before reaching their 21st birthday.”

Not yet finished with school and already a mother. How then can people still claim that proper sex education as taught in schools is obscene? Isn’t it more obscene to leave children ignorant about their bodies only to find themselves pregnant at age 15? It’s high time for the bishops to get down from their ivory towers and see how life really works in the areas most in need of family planning and sex education.

All the tools for this to work are already there in the RH Bill but there is still vocal opposition against it. Their rationales are off the mark, citing irrelevant, and often times inaccurate basis for their objections. But when it comes down to it, actual lives are at stake here. While anti-RH groups are rallying to save the lives of imaginary babies threatened by condom usage, meanwhile real babies are dying everyday brought about by poor living conditions and parents who are hardly equipped nor prepared for the challenges of parenthood.

The sad fate of our country’s Reproductive Health policies are already being talked about all over the world in different forms of media. The sick man of Asia, now with a dozen crying babies in tow… While people in other countries just shake their head in disbelief, we here are unfortunate enough to live it first-hand.  What do foreigners visiting the Philippines see the most when they walk the streets of Manila? Child beggars. They swarm around any foreigner naive enough to hand out a few coins to a begging street urchin. Before you can blink, there are a dozen more of his friends with palms outstretched, hoping to receive the same. Dig a little deeper and you come across a darker side to the dangers faced by these street children. The Philippines is widely known in shadier circles to be one of the world’s capital in child prostitution and pedophilia. Not convinced?

Take a look at Google’s backroom for a few worrying statistics:


Now, we can continue to ignore the reality of all these dangers faced by children born of parents who cannot provide a safe, nurturing home for them, continue blaming government corruption for the problem of poverty, or maybe… just maybe… we can help empower all these would-be parents to take control of their lives… postpone having children until they’ve earned enough to provide a good environment for their children to grow up in. Then maybe we can finally see  a future where a thriving population becomes blessing instead of burden to this country.




For more information on the program cited above, visit the BBC’s program profile at:

BBC – Toughest Place to Be

Posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Society2 Comments

Earth Hour 2011: "Shocking" Facts and Figures

This coming weekend marks the annual Earth Hour awareness campaign. It’s that time of the year again when we’re reminded of the growing toll our energy expenditure takes on the planet. But energy conservation isn’t just for tree-hugging environmentalists and people who just want to jump in the conservation bandwagon because it’s the “in” thing. Far from it, energy conservation should be on every Filipino’s minds because it not only impacts our planet, but our wallets as well.

As everyone should be aware by now, the Philippines has the dubious honor of having one of the most exorbitant utility rates in the world. Blame it on the monopoly, the inefficient power generation and distribution system, or the rampant energy theft… but in the end, we just have to grin and bear it.

So what’s poor Juan to do? Solar power? pedal-powered generators? Nothing quite so dramatic. Just a few simple changes in the way we use our appliances can make all the difference.

What was that? You thought Earth Day was just about shutting down the lights for a few minutes? That’s just to get your attention, my friend. If that’s all you did for Earth Day, then the real message didn’t get through to you. So time to make a few changes in your household and be a pal for Mother Earth? But what’s in it for you? Besides doing your part in reducing your carbon footprint, you can save a whole lot in your monthly electricity bill as well, making your wallet very happy. So its a win-win situation for everyone. So let’s get cracking…

For a while now, we’ve been conducting energy awareness campaigns in our local neighborhood, and offices around the area. A lot of people today are still woefully unaware just how much their appliances are costing them. We use a digital watt-meter capable of measuring the actual wattage of real-world appliances in actual use to get the most accurate picture of the energy expenditure each electrical device in your house actually costs to run. This way, we don’t rely on the labels and brochures that sometimes show misleading figures when it comes to actual electrical consumption. Another problem we point out is the issue of vampire-drain: appliances that continue to suck electricity in standby mode even when you think it’s already off. You’d be surprised at how some of your appliances draw as much power as an open light when you think you already shut it down.


Tech Talk


First off, let’s talk about computers. Is your current system a good fit for what you use it for?  If all you do is word-processing or surf the net, you’re better off with a laptop or netbook.


Low-end netbook – 15 watts

Mid-range laptop – 30 watts

Low-end desktop (no videocard) – 40 watts

Mid-range desktop (2-core, cheap videocard) – 150-200 watts

High-end desktop (4-core, premium videocard) – 150-400 watts

The good news is, most computers nowadays are capable of automatically adjusting their energy consumption according to actual usage, that is, it powers down if you’re just typing a report and cranks up the juice only when you’re doing something graphics-intensive like playing a game or watching an HD movie (thus the range I indicated in the mid-to-high end systems). But still, there is a minimum overhead and it’s still highly inefficient to use your souped-up high-end system just to surf the web as it still uses 5 times more power than a regular laptop at its lowest operational mode.


CRT monitor – 40 watts

LED monitor – 15 watts

If you’re still using a CRT monitor, you might want to replace it with an LED version. If you use your computer the whole day, the energy savings you get by using an LED monitor will eventually add up and pay for itself.

Other things to watch out for:

Desktop PC (turned off but still plugged) – 3 watts

Desktop speakers (turned on but no sound) – 10 watts

Do unplug your computer and speakers after use. They drain power even when idle. If you’re using a laptop and it’s always in one place, consider taking out the battery pack altogether and run it straight from the plug. The constant battery charging also wastes a lot of power. Current battery technology is still highly inefficient. It slowly loses its charge when not in use, and the power used to charge it compared to the actual power you can later squeeze out of it still leaves a lot to be desired. Watch out for gadgets that have a power-brick or AC-DC transformer. Those things continue to drain minimal power from the tap even if the equipment’s off. If you feel the brick with your hands, it’s warm to the touch even though you’ve turned off the power. Better to unplug those or use a multi-adapter that has its own power switch.


CRT TV (14″) – 60 watts

LCD TV (14″) – 15 watts

CRT TV (32″) – 110 watts


Other things to watch out for:

CRT TV (standby) – 7 watts

LCD TV (standby) – 2 watts

Cable digibox (standby) – 6 watts


Some Like it Hot, Some Like it Cold…


Electric fan – 50-60 watts

Ref (small) – 120 watts

Aircon (small) – 800 watts


Coffee maker – 800 watts

Toaster – 1000 watts

Iron – 1200 watts

Here we see that the big-ticket items when it comes to energy expenditure are heating and cooling. This is where you’d want to concentrate on if you want to see big savings in your next electricity bill. You might want to pass on using the water heater for the shower during summer and leaving the air conditioner on the whole night during the cooler months. Cooking using LPG instead of electrical appliances will also net you big savings.


Energy-saving Gimmicks


What about those energy-saving gadgets you see in the mall? Do they really work?

We bought one of those power-savers and tested it out at home. Since it’s a capacitor array and is supposed to work best for appliances with a motor or compressor, we tried it out on just those appliances. The digital read-out of our before-and-after comparison shows a whopping savings of 1 watt on the 60 watt electric fan we tried it on. A far cry from the 30-40% energy savings being advertised but at least it actually works… kinda. The thing is, the engineers who designed most of our appliances already tweaked them to work as efficiently as possible. If all it takes to boost its efficiency by 40% is to add a few more capacitors, don’t you think the manufacturers would have thought of it by now? I have no idea what kind of clunky motor they use in the store demos but it sure as hell ain’t the ones you’d buy for your home. Sure, you could probably see a bit more dramatic results if you’re using it on an old antique appliance from the 1980’s… but don’t you think its better to just upgrade to a newer, more efficient model rather than buying a gadget that costs more than a thousand bucks on its own?

What about those new Inverter-type air-conditioners? Those are the real deal. They do work 20-30% more efficiently than their regular counterparts. If your office or home is air-conditioned most of the day and you can install a split-type unit without any major reconstruction, go for it. It’s a bit more expensive but the price difference will pay for itself given our horrendous local electricity rates.

Now these are just a few tips on how to reduce your monthly bills, you could probably find a bit more useful tips if you scour the Net. A little bit of know-how goes a long way in the road to energy conservation. So if you have your own bits of good advice you’d like to share, do post a comment and let other people know how they can save both the environment and their hard-earned cash.

Posted in Society9 Comments

Review: Next to Normal

Meet Diana Goodman.

Loving mom and devoted wife. Everything seems picture-perfect in their cozy little home. Their daughter Natalie is growing up to be a talented young girl.  but its her son that she had a special fondness for…  a son she lost in childbirth but is still very much alive in her mind, even more so than the rest of her family. Diana is bi-polar and her delusions are getting worse. She’s losing more of herself as the years go by. Pieces of her memory flitter in and out her consciousness as the drugs and electric shock therapies takes its toll. Her family tries to cope, but as her symptoms get worse, it becomes harder and harder to ignore.

Who’s crazy, the husband or wife?
Who’s crazy to live their whole life
Believing that somehow things aren’t as bizarre as they are?

Who’s crazy, the one who can’t cope?
Or maybe, the one who’ll still hope?

Soon the family must make a decision: continue to fight or let go.

Next to Normal is the Tony-Award winning stage musical about a family trying to cope with the ups and downs of having a loved one in the throes of mental illness. It mixes equal parts of pathos and dark comedy to narrate the tragedy of losing someone you love little by little until the familiar is all but replaced by the unrecognizable.

Mental illness is an issue rarely talked about. More often that not, instead of having a rational discourse on a subject matter as serious as this, people tend to couch it in humor. Jokes like “kung mahirap ka, ang tawag sa iyo sira-ulo. Kung mayaman ka, you’re eccentric” only help to mire the topic in myths and misconceptions.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about mental illness? A raving lunatic in a straitjacket or a psychotic killer from a horror film? Fact is, there are thousands of ways the brain can go wrong and just as many gradients of “normalcy”. But then again, what defines “normal”? What if you have an unusual phobia? an addiction or obsession perhaps, or maybe even a bout of depression now and then… what separates normal from abnormal then? With all the different personality quirks one can have, Who actually fits all the standards of normalcy?

I don’t need a life that’s normal
That’s way too far away
But something next to normal
Would be okay
Yeah, something next to normal
That’s the thing I’d like to try
Close enough to normal
To get by

The first time I saw this play two years ago, I found merely entertaining but I couldn’t relate much to it. The  show’s topic was controversial and it received mixed reviews from critics. Some called it exploitative, sensationalizing, or even trivializing the plight of those suffering from mental disorders. Others praised it for bringing to the mainstream a topic that is rarely discussed in polite conversation. How do you deal with someone who is manic-depressive, schizophrenic, or suffering from autism?

Should you empathize?


or just ignore their bizarre behavior altogether?

At that time, I treated the subject matter merely as a curiosity but years after I first saw the play, I actually met real people who are coping with mental illnesses… young people who’ve had the misfortune of having their brain chemistry misfiring at the prime of their lives, older relatives who are in various stages of dementia. The issue becomes even more painful when relatives and loved ones are involved.

The sensation that you’re screaming, but you never make a sound.
Or the feeling that you’re falling, but you never hit the ground.
It just keeps on rushing at you day by day by day by day.
You don’t know, you don’t know what it’s like to live that way.
Like a refugee, a fugitive, forever on the run.
If it gets me it will kill me, but I don’t know what I’ve done.

Suddenly, it became all that more real… the uncle who took you to the park when you were young now rocks to himself in his own little world, gibbering nonsensical phrases at phantoms only he can see, or that classmate from high school who now has to take medication for severe bouts of manic-depressive episodes… They’re no longer things you just see in the movies, it could happen to you… or people you know. And its that sinking realization of just how fragile our brains are that makes one question all the preconceived notions on consciousness and the sense of “self“. Are we just the sum total of the electrical impulses jumping from neuron to neuron? a glorified biological computer that can break down just as easily? and if something goes wrong with the circuitry, do we also say goodbye to our sense of self? And just how much of our personality is actually self-determined and how much is merely chemistry?

They tried a million meds and
They strapped me to their beds and
They shrugged and told me ‘that’s the way it goes.’
But finally you hit it!
I asked you just what did it.
You shrugged and said that no one really knows.

It becomes harder to consider the notion of a “soul” or a consciousness independent of our physical brains we realize that so much of our memories and personality is dependent on brain chemistry. The more we understand how the brain works – what drug influences which chemical reaction in the brain which in turn regulates a specific behavioral pattern, the less “mystical” it all becomes. In fact, its a sobering thought – realizing how easy it is to influence a person’s behavior either by nature or by design. Can you blame a person for being  immoral when his brain is telling him to act that way?

The story asks this very question – chemistry or consciousness? who’s really in control? Can you shock people’s brains back to a semblance of normalcy? (Even today, electro-shock therapy is still one of the viable options medical doctors consider to treat certain mental disorders). If one believes in the soul, does the soul turn crazy as well? Where then should be the focal point of treatment?

What happens if the medicine wasn’t really in control?
What happens if the cut, the burn, the break was never in my brain,
or in my blood, but in my soul

These and many other questions will fill your mind after watching this riveting drama.  If you want a story that’ll get you thinking about how we think, don’t miss out on this.

Next to Normal shows on March 11-27, 2011
Fri & Sat – 8pm, Sat – 2pm,

Sun – 3pm & (March 27)8pm

at the 4th Floor Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium RCBC Makati, Philippines

For more information, visit the show websites at:

Posted in Entertainment, Reviews9 Comments

The Idiot’s Guide to Qi

What is Qi (Chi)?

Abstract concepts often have a way of getting  “lost in translation”. There’s something about the subtle nuances of language that gets lost along way when translated from one language to another, more so because of differences between Eastern and Western conventions when it comes to semantics. So what is Qi? Is it a mysterious force used to channel your inner strength into fireballs and lasers? Is it a form of energy that can be manipulated to bring good fortune? Spiritual strength that medicine men use to treat various illnesses?

To answer that correctly, one would have delve into the Chinese language to gain proper perspective…


In standard Mandarin Chinese, “Qi”, using the annoyingly counter-intuitive Pinyin system used to romanize Chinese words, is pronounced “chi” or better yet “tsi“, not kwee” or “ki“. Say this with a downward inflection using an accent similar to how you’d pronounce the last word of an imperative sentence.


As the illustration depicts, the word’s appearance and usage evolved over time. From its first evolution as a character derived from fusion of the pictogram of “fire” and “vapors”, it’s modern-day strokes are derived from the fusion of “vapors” and “rice” aka. steam.

c/o The Straits Times

Looking at its history, the word “Qi” was literally “steam” in its earliest incarnation, a mixture of fire and vapors as indicated in its pictogram. As time went on, it evolved into its modern-day form as a pictogram derived from “vapors” and “rice” which still referred to “steam”. Before the days of electricity, steam was the earliest source of power for machines in those days. So what better word for energy than “Qi”?


With some words having more than one, often unrelated meanings, Eastern languages are often more dependent on context clues. This, IMO, is why Western minds have a hard time grasping words that are Eastern in origin. A Chinese word may have myriad meanings. One picks up the appropriate usage of the word from how it is used in the sentence and other context clues of the conversation. For example, “Qi” by itself can either mean any of the following:

Dictionary definitions:

[source: Taken from Google’s online Chinese language dictionary]


  1. gas
  2. air
  3. breath
  4. weather
  5. energy
  6. odor / smell
  7. symptom / state
  8. anger

Depending on how it is used in the sentence, it’s often easy enough to pick out what someone means. When one is talking about a person’s emotional state of mind, it’s hard to mistakenly interpret the use of “Qi” in the sentence to mean that someone is feeling “vapory” at the moment. Applying a bit of common sense, you’d figure out that he means to say that someone is “angry”.

It’s not exactly the most precise of linguistic modes, but like any other language that developed organically over the centuries, it has its own share of quirks. When added to other Chinese characters to form new compound words, the meaning of “Qi” likewise expands from its original meaning. Take for example the compound words that can be formed from the root word “Qi”:

The Western Viewpoint

c/o Street Fighter, Capcom

The common notion westerns have about “Qi” is a mysterious internal energy residing in our bodies, more often than not, channeled by anime characters to shoot fireballs and laser beams out of their fists. Thus the bad rap the term “Qi” gets when applied to other areas like martial arts conditioning and the practice of acupuncture. Skeptics are quick to pooh-pooh the notion of “Qi”, claiming that this strange form of energy called “Qi” cannot be detected by modern-day scientific measuring devices.

So here we have a classic case of “lost in translation” where the western mindset has a tendency to take a word’s literal meaning, often times out of context. The subtle nuances of the word’s original flavor often doesn’t carry over well when trying to translate something to a non-native speaker.

So to explain further, let’s take a closer look at the common misconceptions most westerners have whenever the word Qi is used in the modern world…

In Martial Arts…

c/o The Karate Kid (2010) , Columbia Pictures

You often hear the word Qi being used in martial arts movies when the old sensei urges his brash young prodigy to “focus his Qi”. But what exactly does he mean by that?

If your martial arts sensei instructs you to focus your “Qi”, he may be referring to proper breathing techniques (Definition #1: BREATH), muscle control or how to throw a punch correctly (Definition #2: ENERGY ), or not to let your emotions get the better of you during a match (Definition #3: ANGER). Now you just have to figure out which one he meant 🙂

In Feng Shui…

In the field of interior design, Feng Shui has evolved (or should I say devolved) into an over-commercialized parody of its original, more sensible design philosophy.

Case in point, a popular Feng Shui chain opened a stand-alone store near our place. Practically speaking, it was the worst place to open a retail shop – no foot traffic, wrong target market, little exposure… not even the hundreds of “lucky trinkets” being sold in that store could forestall the inevitable… it closed shop after a few months. So take my word for it, I am not, nor will I ever be suggesting that Feng Shui can ever be used to manipulate luck.

Mr. Wilson Flores of the Philippine Star wrote a smart and sensible article this week on on the real secret of Chinese success :  The True Secret of Chinese Success is Neither Feng shui nor Zodiac. I would strongly invite everyone, whether Chinese, Filipino, or any other ethnicity to go and read it.

Originally a set of practical guidelines to ensure proper lighting, air flow, and to avoid any untoward accidents in the house due to cluttered and haphazard positioning of objects, Feng Shui was the earliest form a what we would today call a “building code”.

Feng Shui – literally “Wind‘ + “Water” was named thus because of its primary usage to design a building with good air circulation and plumbing. The “Qi” of the house originally referred to the basic airflow within the house (Definition #1: Air) , ensuring that every room is kept well ventilated, allowing as much natural air and lighting into every nook and cranny. Before the days of electrical lighting, modern indoor plumbing, and air-conditioning, designing a good floor plan was paramount to having a livable house. Houses in those pre-Communist days in China were labyrinthian in design with rooms adjoining other rooms in maze-like connections to accommodate huge extended families. Wealthy families had wives and concubines each brooding a dozen children each.

Good design guidelines were needed to ensure that all the rooms in the house were optimized in terms of placement and spacing. Proper airflow design was needed to insure that bedrooms and parlors were kept breezy and comfortable, hot air from the kitchen and most especially vapors from the garbage dump and latrines (Definition #2: Smell or Odor) had to be directed elsewhere. So when a Feng Shui practitioner in the olden days says he needs to deflect the “bad Qi”, he might literally be thinking of a way to keep bad odors away from the living area.

But years of variations, gullible clients, and self-declared Feng Shui masters out to make a quick buck have added more and more crap into the “rules” that it has lost much of its practicality. Nowadays, a lot of media-savvy , self-proclaimed Feng Shui gurus have thrown in so much superstitious nonsense into the pot ranging from astrology to luck attraction that the name of Feng Shui has forever been thrown in skeptic’s hell for all time.

In Science…

As seen in a sidewalk billboard urging citizens to conserve resources, like Natural Gas (qi)

In chemistry, gases  in general are all called Qi; which is after all, on of the standard dictionary-definition of Qi. For countries that have piped in natural gas used for heating buildings, that’s also Qi.

Since we don’t use Natural Gas in the Philippines, the closest equivalent we have is LPG used for cooking. That’s also Qi, or more specifically 石油氣 (Petroleum + Gas).

In meteorology, weather (天氣 sky + energy state) and climate (氣候 energy state + time) also takes their name from Qi because weather patterns describe atmospheric energy states over different periods of time.

In Anatomy…

In the field of medicine, Chinese doctors may use the word “Qi” to refer to the body’s natural electrical impulses traveling through the nervous system. And this is where the source of confusion lies. “Qi” is the generic Chinese word for “energy”. It doesn’t refer to any specific form of energy but Westerners have thought it to mean some new form of “secret energy” previously undiscovered and cannot be detected by instrumentation. Acupuncture and acupressure practitioners during ancient times didn’t have the benefit of modern day tools like ECG or MRI to peek inside the body but through trial and error (and a lot of poking and prodding) did map out a rudimentary blueprint corresponding roughly to how sensations travel across the body (aka. the human nervous system).  Like Plato’s early model of the solar system, it was flawed;  but given the level of technology they had back then, it was still a good effort.

So there you have it folks, I hope everyone enjoyed a bit of cultural trivia. It doesn’t hurt to brush up on a little foreign language skills here and there to broaden your horizons and get a more holistic view of how people from different cultures use language in different ways to convey ideas and concepts that more often that not, have several layers of meaning not obvious to non-native speakers. As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his book “What the Dog Saw”, sometimes you have to put yourself in another person’s shoes to get a better perspective.

Posted in Philosophy, Science7 Comments

The Top 10 List – Tron versus Christianity

You don’t have to be a conspiracy buff to notice the none-too-subtle parallelisms between Disney’s new remake of Tron and Christian mythology. Intentional or coincidental? You decide…


The Top 10 List:

Tron versus Christianity

.(aka. The Theology of Technology)


First off,  the “Holy Trinity” of Tron…
1. The Father / Creator – Kevin Flynn, the programmer/creator of the digital world of the Grid

2. The Son / Savior – Sam Flynn, only begotten son of the father,  the archetypal messiah who came to their world to save it

3. The Holy Spirit – Quorra was the non-human member of the “Tron Trinity” (she was an ISO) who was the confidante/messenger/sidekick and most importantly, embodied the love of the Father (who loved her as a daughter) and Son.

Other important archetypal characters:
4. The Fallen Angel – like Lucifer, CLU was the source of conflict in their world. He couldn’t create his own minions, only the Creator can. He could only corrupt existing programs to his side. But as was later revealed, he was only doing what he was created to do.

5. The Traitor – like the Judas archetype, the movie also had its traitor in the character of Zuse who sold the protagonists off and also died without having benefited from his ill-gotten gains.

6. Humanity- the ISO’s (Quorra’s race) are obviously a metaphor for mankind, described as innately imperfect but possessing great potential. They were the catalyst for the conflict between Flynn and CLU. In biblical lore, Lucifer revolted when he refused to serve mankind, thinking them below his station. In Tron lore, CLU saw them as aberrations in the perfect world he was tasked to create.

And miscellaneous bits of flavor details which have their counterpart in Christian mythology:
7. The Soul – like the Discs on their backs, entities in the Grid have their “essence” separate from their physical selves. It held their life-force, it was their greatest weapon and most precious possession.

8. The Last Supper – one would wonder why they would have to even “eat” when they’re in a digital world… but like the Last Supper, it was  more to foreshadow the conflict to come.


9. The Garden of Eden – Notice the “apple” that CLU discovers in the room when he finally breaches Flynn’s refuge in the Outlands… a reference to the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. It was the place where the Creator rested and meditated. Quorra was his digital “Eve”… protected, nurtured and maintaining a pure innocence. The conflict finally escalates after the snake has entered the garden.


10. The Fall and Redemption of Man –

There are actually 2 different allegorical forms of redemption shown in the movie:

  • The warrior Rinzler, who was later revealed to be the original Tron from the first movie, was corrupted by CLU to serve in his army. But upon meeting Sam (the Savior), repents and sought absolution for his crimes. It builds upon mythical “fall of man from grace” complete with the irksome Catholic twist that you “need” Jesus to save you.
  • Sam, the allegorical Jesus, also fulfills his role as the biblical “New Adam”. Together with Quorra (the digital “Eve”), they flee the doomed Grid world to start anew. It was a rather clever bit of allegorical writing since he fits the criteria of the mythological archetype because he was a “user” and literal son of the Creator, thus free from the imperfection and limitations of the other programs and ISO’s in the Grid world. The only inconsistency was that it was his father’s death, not his own, that purchased their salvation.



With so many biblical references buried within the storyline, one would expect the religious crowd to grow fond of this movie like they did with the Narnia series (where Jesus was a friggin’ lion! *Rowr*)

Actually, the sentiments were quite the opposite. If you trawled through the online discussions about the movie, some very vocal Christian critics were appalled or even offended by the movie.

So what has gotten them so riled up about the movie?

  • The “Creator” is portrayed as helpless and impotent, trapped within his own creation and forced into a stalemate by something of his own making. In fact, he had to sacrifice himself in the end to negate the threat posed by CLU. Imagine the implication that the ultimate creator is just at par with the arch nemesis he himself created. *ouch*
  • CLU was just following what he was created to do – that is, to help create the perfect world. In order to achieve his primary objective, he had to get rid of the innately imperfect ISO’s. It wasn’t pride or personal ambition that drove him to usurp power from the Creator, it was his programming – it required him to do everything that is necessary to ensure perfection in their world, even if it meant the genocide of all the ISO’s. And therein lies the ultimate blame – the Creator’s own bad programming of his chief steward.
  • The ISO’s weren’t even created by Flynn intentionally. They were accidental beings whose genesis was spontaneous and unplanned.

No. They manifested. The conditions were right and they came into being.

– Kevin Flynn

Evolution vs. Intelligent Design?


But at least Flynn recognized their great potential and sought to keep them despite their “imperfection”, at least in the eyes of CLU who saw them as flawed because unlike him who was literally made in the image and likeness of the Creator, they were creatures of chance (or perhaps of natural selection) instead of design.

  • If Quorra were the new “Eve” then that would make Sam her “Adam”. But he was already playing the archetypal “Messiah” role. And we already know from the “Da Vinci Code” what happens when Hollywood tries hint at the notion of Jesus in a love team… Jesus and Mary Magdalene? Ooh, the righteous indignation! Jesus and Eve? Sacrilege!

Posted in Entertainment, Humor, Others, Reviews13 Comments

The Top 10 List – Why Religion is like the Lotto

I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad
Buy all of the things I never had
I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen

Oh every time I close my eyes
I see my name in shining lights
A different city every night oh
I swear the world better prepare
For when I’m a billionaire

-Travie McCoy

It was a sad day for literally hundreds of thousands of people last week when their hopes of turning into an overnight millionaire shriveled up with the news that the lottery prize has already found an all-too-happy owner. Weeks before, the tension has been steadily mounting as the pot climbed steadily to a mind-blowing P741-M. Even people who don’t usually buy lottery tickets tried their luck at the guessing which among the 29 million possible combinations will be drawn next just for the heck of it.

Everywhere you go, the conversation meanders its way to the lotto. People were talking about betting techniques, dreaming of ways to spend all those millions, security concerns, and generally how it could change your life overnight – for better or for worse.

Now it’s strange that one of the most vocal critics of the lotto is the Catholic Church who opined that gambling is a sinful vice. But the irony here is that choosing to believe in a religion itself is a gamble. Mathematician Blaise Pascal was credited with formulating what is now known as Pascal’s Wager – that is, he reasoned that betting that there is a god is a winning proposition since you lose nothing but stand to gain everything by believing that there is one.

Now the argument may be sound if there was only one religion to believe in or not. But as it stands, according to Wikipedia, there are over 4,000 active religions, cults, and sub-denominations in the world today, each one claiming that they have the One True God(s) and/or Goddess(es). And in most cases, simply aligning yourself to a specific religion is not enough to “win” salvation, you have follow their often times vague and seemingly wishy-washy rules and regulations as dictated by their “sacred scriptures” so that come Judgment Day, you would have garnered enough points to pass your deity’s imponderable standards. Factor in extenuating circumstances like the accuracy of translating and interpreting said “sacred text” (the bible itself has over a hundred different variations) and depending on which denomination you belong to, you can’t really be sure which rules to follow anymore.

Suddenly, the numbers don’t seem to be in your favor. Religion has become the ultimate lottery game. You play against impossible odds but still, people get suckered in time and again because they’ve got their sights set on the ultimate “pot money” – heaven.

When you ask the man on the street what he’d do if he won the lottery, more often that not, he’d say that he’d put it to good use by making sure that his and his loved ones’ needs are met and he’d make sure that they’d never want for anything else ever again… well that’s “heaven” in a nutshell – the ultimate freedom from all worldly concerns and problems, where no one goes hungry ever again and you spend your days in  eternal happiness with your loved ones forever and ever… and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s an effective lure. Just look at the sales figures for lotto tickets during the height of the frenzy. The odds didn’t improve any more than it was during the last draw, but people didn’t care about that, they had their eyes set on the pot money and were already dreaming of all the ways to enjoy all that money… how much to spend, how much to give away, how much to invest… but now that someone actually walked away P741 million richer, everyone just sighed and went back to their daily grind, hopes dashed but still dreaming of someday being “the one“.

So what lesson have we learned from all this? The analogy between religion and lotto goes beyond winning or losing, so we have the…

The Top 10 List – Why Religion is like the Lotto:


  1. You’re playing against ridiculous odds but…

  2. It’s easy to ignore the odds if you’re fixated too much on the prize.

  3. There may not even be a “winner” at and you just wasted all that time and money for nothing.

  4. In most cases, you’re actually playing a Lucky-Pick game, because your choice of religion depends largely not on personal choice, but on the circumstances of your birth

  5. If the lotto was like religion, you are forced to use the same combination every time.

  6. If the lotto was like religion, you can’t bet on more than one combination at a time. That is, you can’t improve your chances of “winning” by playing the field.

  7. You have to play continuously and (pardon the pun) religiously because you don’t want to run the risk that your “number” was drawn on the day you didn’t prepare.

  8. Lotto tickets aren’t free. Bought one at a time, you may think its small change. But add up a lifetime’s worth of constant betting and it’s easy to regret all that time and money wasted on buying losing tickets.

  9. Some people may claim that they’re buying a ticket to “help charity” but everyone knows they’re just after the prize.

  10. There’s no shortage of quacks and superstitious nonsense all claiming to know the secret to getting the winning combination.

And a bonus #11: If everyone just stopped wasting all their time and money betting on the lotto and concentrated their efforts on something more tangible and realistic, a lot of good could have gotten done instead.

In recent senate reports, the aggregate lottery sales of PCSO’s accredited operators have grown to P23 billion in 2009. That’s 23 billion in disposable income that people were willing to throw away in a game with ridiculous odds. Now granted a third of that amount is supposed to go to charity, what if the whole amount instead went to a worthwhile cause? It shouldn’t be too hard of a strain to the imagination to think of ways to put the whole amount to good use, instead of 2/3 of it getting lost to the system.

In the same way, imagine a world where people found more productive ways to spend their time instead of worshiping their deities in the slim chance that he/she/it actually exists. And the same reasoning applies when apologists give the same lame excuse that religion does “some good”. If people *really* wanted to help their fellow men, then wouldn’t it make better sense to spend more time helping people than performing those inane religious rituals over and over again?

In the end, its a question of priority – do you want to spend your time and energy making this world a better place? or do you just want to play the odds that there’s a better one in the next world?

You do the math.

Posted in Humor, Religion, Society13 Comments

World Expo 2010: The Good, the Bad, and the WTF?!!…

The World Expo is a bi-annual event that showcases the best each country has to offer in terms of culture and technology. Each participating country has the chance to put its best foot forward and show the rest of the international community its proudest achievements. It’s an architectural smorgasbord too, with each country housing its display inside a specially designed structure that’s part of the overall presentation.

If one were to summarize the spirit and flavor of a nation at a glance, this is the perfect opportunity to show the rest of the world what image each country is trying to project. Some succeed, some do a lukewarm performance, and an unfortunate few fall flat at the task.

Its a rather curious social barometer too, with popularity being measured in how long people were willing to wait in line to get in. The longer the queues, the more prestige and interest generated for that host country. If you’re hosting a particularly impressive show, people will line up as long as 4-6 hours (and that’s on a slow day) just to get a glimpse of what you have up your sleeve.

The 5 hour long queue to get inside Saudi Arabia's famed Space-ark themed Pavilion

The seemingly endless queue at the China Pavilion
(approx waiting time:4 hours)

Some try to highlight their culture and rich history, some going as far as bringing in original pieces of high profile artwork like what France, Italy and Mexico did. Some went for the technological prowess angle like Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia (who spent close to USD 0.2 Billion to build their cutting-edge pavilion which houses the world’s largest IMAX theater). For first world countries, it was a chance to show-off; for countries not so fortunate, it was still an opportunity to gain some PR points and perhaps generate interest to boost their tourism.

Click to enlarge

There’s a lot at stake in this year’s World Expo as the host country China went all-out (like they did with the Olympics) with the logistics. With over 5.28 square kilometers (just traversing the breadth of the Expo grounds is already akin to running a marathon) and more than 200 participating countries, this is the largest, most expensive, and comprehensive world showcase ever. One would have to spend 2 whole weeks from opening time at 9AM till 12MN at a minimum if you plan to see everything the fairgrounds has to offer.

The towering China Pavilion - a gigantic reverse pyramid 
with a Chinese red lantern theme

UK Pavilion

France Pavilion

Italy Pavilion

Germany Pavilion

Norway Pavilion 

Spain Pavilion

I’ll leave the architectural critiques to the more specialized websites in the Internet and jump straight on the social implications of some of the country’s offerings. If you had 10 minutes to describe to a total stranger what your country is all about, that should be answered in the way you designed your overall presentation. The pavilion’s architecture should express your cultural heritage and artistic expression. What you choose to put on display tells a lot about your country. What is it most proud of? What does it want the rest of the world to think of it? What image is it trying to project? These are some of the important questions that need to be answered when designing a well-made presentation.

Needless to say, religion plays a big part in the overall presentation of some countries. Iran in particular, designed its pavilion with a mosque-inspired architecture.

Above the doorway’s threshold : “One limb impacted is sufficient for others to feel the mace”. Not the most welcoming of messages to greet visitors with. Some might even detect the hint of a threat implied, which led me to wonder at first why this particular passage was chosen.

I later googled up the passage which turned out to be a poem from the 12th century Persian (Iran in ancient times) poet Saadi.

Of One Essence is the Human Race,

Thusly has Creation put the Base.

One Limb impacted is sufficient,

For all Others to feel the Mace.

The Unconcern’d with Others’ Plight,

Are but Brutes with Human Face.

It’s a quotation often used as an Islamic call towards world unity, thus the “one human race”. It’s supposed to be interpreted as “if one person is hurt, others would empathize with the pain thus our humanity is based on compassion for the welfare of all.”

[*whew* for a minute there, I thought it meant that you only had to whack one person’s limbs with a mace to scare everyone else into submission]

Palestine came up with a rather “hopeful” display, declaring itself a “city of peace” with the symbols of both Christianity and Islam prominently displayed in the background.

Before leaving the building, you can stop by their gift shop, stocked with all manner of religious icons and knick-knacks from crucifixes to rosaries, strangely no Islamic-themed trinkets are available which does present something of a detraction from the over-all theme of “religious equality”.

Afghanistan brands itself as the “heart of Asia” (probably after suffering a stroke and having to require a triple-bypass…). A “land of opportunities and resources” too… though as to what “opportunities and resources” in particular, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Mongolia’s pavilion is closed (I am not kidding). A black cloth shrouds the glass doors and all the windows so you can’t even sneak a peek inside. There’s a note on the door that this exhibit is closed until further notice. One can’t help but speculate if the strained relationship with China had anything to do with it.

Fortunately, Japan didn’t suffer the same fate. Despite its rocky relationship with China, its pavilion [if you’re wondering what the heck it’s suppose to be, it’s a gigantic anime silkworm made of high-tech space-age fibers] is still going strong and quite popular with the locals too (the queue is 4 hours long). Thus, the great irony embodied – the eternal love-hate relationship of China and Japan that started all the way back in the 1930’s with the invasion of Manchuria then followed up by the Rape of Nanking … an unforgivable  crime in the eyes of many Chinese up until the present day. Even today, the hatred burns deep and any diplomatic ties between the two super-powers are perched precariously on a needle’s edge. So it’s unsurprising that one would read headlines in the papers that mention of such animosity. Just this week, China revoked entry of a thousand Japanese schoolkids and popular Japanese rock band into the Expo following yet another territorial dispute. Some call it patriotic extremism, some call it justified retaliation… though I suppose some Filipinos could relate, seeing as there are still a few here who still harbor resentment towards the Japanese for similar war atrocities committed well over a generation ago.

And then we come across another oddity… North Korea has also decided to participate. Flashbacks of watching Angelina Jolie in “Salt” came to mind and we wondered if we would be able to get out in one piece if we tried to sneak a peek inside.

But lo and behold, nothing would prepare us for what lies inside. It simply defies explanation. Inside, visitors are greeted with rainbows, and murals of dancing oriental fairies, colorful fountains with statues children frolicking with doves of peace…

The sign says it all…

But before you go, do stop by the gift shop and grab a copy of Kim Jong Il’s bestsellers (quick, take a guess why they hit the all-time bestsellers list in its home country)

But not all the pavilions were as cringe-inducing as those. Some countries did pull off rather tasteful and creative ways of integrating its religious traditions into the overall design.

Saudi Arabia’s state-of-the-art “space-ark” features a wrap-around LED marquee that flashes different messages throughout the day, among them a lunar countdown of the different moon phases during the season of Ramadan.

With Greece’s recent declaration of bankruptcy, it would be understandable that it would experience budget constraints in its presentation. But what it lacks in resources, it still managed to think up creative ways to showcase its rich cultural heritage. It highlighted its role a major port hub in the Agean Sea and designed its whole display area as a huge indoor maze probably as a nod to the story of Theseus entering the minotaur’s labyrinth. Each dead end leads you to an audio-visual room showing various facets of city life in a typical Greek “polis” or city.  When you find your way out of the maze, you end up in the Garden of Hesperides with the iconic mythic tree that bears the golden apples. Guests can dine under the Tree of Hesperides and choose from a wide variety popular Greek cuisine.

Kazakhstan, eager to rehabilitate its international image as a modern, thriving, and bustling metropolis after its unfortunate encounter with Borat, did an impressive job in convincing visitors that it has indeed come on its own into the 21st-century. It shows the country as a clean, orderly, and technologically updated young nation proud of its cultural heritage (funny hats and all).

Nepal designed a twisting helix going up and around its pavilion to the shrine on top that holds the All-Seeing Eye. A nod to the pilgrimage devotees undertake going up Nepal’s Himalayan Mountains. Not up for climbing the peaks of mount Everest? Then take this fast-track tour.

Sri-Lanka had an elegant Buddhist-themed display complete with an abstract gold-leaf Bodhi tree (the tree the Buddha meditated under). Watch native craftsmen creating intricate works of art in gold, silk and other local materials while sipping hot Ceylon tea.

But atheists need not feel left out. Denmark is high and proud of its non-belief as the sign staunchly proclaims. Aside from giving us Lego, the Little Mermaid, and Carlsberg beer, all of which were also prominently displayed in their showcase, Denmark is proud to be predominantly atheist. A refreshing sight, to say the least, that a nation wouldn’t hesitate to tell the rest of the world that yes, there are places where prayers aren’t de rigeur.

It’s not a statement meant to flaunt atheism nor denigrate other countries who are religious, it is merely a statement of fact. Short, simple, and honest. So its good to know that at least one country is paving the way for secularism in the international arena. It’s a hard road ahead but I think the Danes are up for the challenge.  Remember all the hot water that Danish newspapers got itself into for publishing cartoons of Muhammad? Well Stine wasn’t that infamous cartoonist but apparently, he draws too.

Venezuela may be better known for its winning streak in the Miss Universe, but one of the central themes in its presentation is Humanism.

Rough translation (oh my aching Chinese reading skills…) : we are building a social model centered on people focusing on peace and equality. It is based on the rational use of natural resources while balancing population growth and pollution. Keeping in mind the needs of even the poor to health, food, education, and culture. Quality of life through 21st century infrastructure like roads, bridges…

One of my personal favorites was Hungary’s display. It was unique from all the others because it chose to feature a rather geeky presentation. It didn’t go the high-tech route nor the historical or the artistic. Instead, it featured Hungary’s contribution to the world of mathematics – the Gomboc. Never heard of it? The textbook definition of the Gomboc is: a convex three-dimensional homogeneous body which, when resting on a flat surface, has just one stable and one unstable point of equilibrium.

In layman’s terms, its like the rolly-polly toy you used to play as a kid, the one you tried to knock down but it would always roll upright again. It had one center of equilibrium so it would always bounce upright on its own. But it kinda cheated the effect because the material wasn’t homogeneous since its base was rigged to be heavier than the top. A Gomboc is made of the same material all throughout, its the unique shape that makes it stand upright by itself.

This one is the biggest model in the world. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to rock the model to see it in action. But still, its kinda cool in a geeky sort of way and the presentation was top-notch. I give their presentation two-thumbs up for the sheer novelty.

And last but not least, the Philippine Pavilion. Though I honestly hoped for the best, it sadly fell way below expectations. The lack of anyone actually lining up to see it bears silent testimony to the apathy and general lack of interest in what the Philippine Pavilion had to offer. I had to agree with a local journalist who called for our pavilion’s designers to be thrown into the Pasig river for such a dismal show of lackluster effort.

Philippine Pavilion: Performing Cities

To be fair, we shouldn’t be comparing our pavilion with those of other 1st-world countries who had bigger budgets to create their masterpieces. But it still pales in comparison beside other Asean countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand (which incidentally rates as one of the consistent favorites among the pavilions in the SE Asian region). While our Asian neighbors put up quite a good show and was heavily promoting their tourism industry to millions of people attending the Expo, ours was just a plain generic boxy warehouse. No effort at all was expended in designing a unique architecture that would attract attention and capture the essence of what the Philippines is today (for better or for worse). Its only saving grace was a rather artistic mosaic tiled outer layer that lights up well at night.

At first we were puzzling over what the hands represented. Were they begging for alms? In light of the never-ending massacres and shoot-outs that always finds its way into our headlines, Was it a stop-sign gesture as in “Wag po kuya!” or “Don’t shoot!” ?

With special guest appearance of a certain un-named boxer

Notice the hands with boxing gloves in the mural. so that’s what the hands stand for – the Philippines is proud of its boxers, its “world-class” performers in the arts, and the “working hands” which most probably alludes to its OFW’s. Predictable… but honest. At least we didn’t try to project a totally irritating false image like some other countries did. We may be underachievers, but we’re not liars 🙂

Inside, you get a taste of down-to-earth Philippine living… perhaps a bit too down-to-earth… Perhaps the people who conceptualized the display didn’t quite grasp the notion of trying to impress visitors enough to actually want to visit our country. And with the recent tourism hit the country suffered, it really needs shock-and-awe tactics to upstage our Asean competitors in luring tourism dollars. I doubt anyone’s to be impressed by showcasing typical tiangge trinkets, ordering halo-halo in a faux carinderia and getting a 5-minute hilot massage.

It’s really time to step up the game if we’re still trying to peddle our tourism industry to the rest of the world. Other Asian countries are already pulling out all the stops in their tourism marketing. Indonesia focused on its bio-diversity tour packages with a bit of ethnic cultural flavor, Malaysia went for the high-end resort angle, and Thailand totally impressed everyone with their cultural tours.

Malaysia Pavilion

Indonesia Pavilion


Vietnam Pavilion

Thailand Pavilion

If we don’t up the ante soon, its a sure bet we’ll be trailing behind other Asean neighbors who know how to properly market themselves. It’s not for the lack of talent as our pavilion’s theme does ring true… we really are quite rich in talent in the performing arts. It’s that we don’t know how to package ourselves well. Unlike Thailand which has got its tourism industry running like clockwork, we still have miles to go in terms of improving our basic tourist infrastructure and weeding out travel hazards like what has recently occurred in recent headlines. Only time will tell if we can still get back in the game.

If given the chance, how then would you have designed our Pavilion? What aspect of the Philippines would you have chosen to highlight to the rest of the world?


For more information:

Visit the official website for a sneak peak of the 200+ pavilions on display:

The World Expo 2010 in ongoing until October 31, 2010

For a detailed look at some of the unusual architecture and other artistic oddities, including the Hungarian GÖMBÖC:


[All photos herein copyrighted by the author. Please permission from author prior to any sort of external usage]

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Give the Gift of Life

Want to help save someone’s life without any pain on your part, cost, or even an ounce of effort? Just by signing your name and ticking a box may allow another human being a new lease on life thanks to your decision. Too good to be true? Not so. Interested to learn more? then read on…

Every year, thousands of people die from the lack of suitable organ replacements. The under-supply has even led to more unsavory, underground practices in the black-market trade for organs. A few years ago, there was an expose on a ring of human organ harvesters operating in third world countries preying on those desperate enough to sell a kidney while still alive. But such is the unfortunate result of sheer desperation. When it comes to survival, people may be driven to desperate deeds.

My father couldn’t have kidney transplant and had to endure the painful hemo-dialysis treatments until the day he died. Every other day, he had to endure having a thick needles being inserted into his fore-arm. These needles are many times thicker than a regular hypodermic needle for the volume of blood needed to circulate in and out a dialysis machine. This is the almost daily torture being endured by many patients suffering from kidney failure throughout the country. Many other families share the same problems or worse. Though some organs may be obtained through a living donor, most others like a heart may only be obtained from a deceased donor.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Common sense tells us that there are more people dying every day with a few good organs intact than there are patients who actually need organ transplants. Its a simple numbers game. After those people die, those viable organs are no longer of any use to the owner but they are just left to decompose instead of being donated to a needy patient in need of a lifeline. Such is the cruel irony of wasted potential. Who would appreciate your gift more? a needy patient… or worms? Unless you’re into the practice of ancient Egyptian burial rites and prefer to have your internal organs all nicely pickled in their own little canopic jars awaiting physical rebirth, then there is nothing stopping you from making the right choice.

When you die, you no longer need your body parts so if there is a worthwhile cause that may benefit from it, why hesitate? And who better to understand this fact than people who have no superstitious baggage about needing their bodies intact for some magical resurrection in the future. And you have no worries about your “immortal soul” feeling some sort of pain feedback when your physical body is “desecrated” (in any case, your body will be quite literally violated anyway during the embalming process. Having watched the entire procedure done to the body of a loved one, I can tell you in all honesty that no matter how respectful the morticians do it, it is still not a “gentle” process having to work through the rather cumbersome rigor mortis.). And that is why I whole-heartedly implore atheists, skeptics, freethinkers and everyone else everywhere to participate in the local organ donation program. So stop watching horror movies like “The Eye” or worse…. “Repo! the Genetic Opera” that’ll give you the heebie-jeebies about organ transplants and start signing up!

Now here’s the tricky part – you can’t tell people that it’s OK to donate your body to a worthwhile cause after you’re dead. Ghostly apparitions and “messages from beyond” aside, you have to let people know ahead of time that its OK with you… while you’re still alive. I know its an awkward conversation to discuss with your family but think of the life you’re possibly saving. That’s why Operation HOPE (Human Organ Preservation Effort), an advocacy campaign launch by the National Kidney Institute is helping raise awareness to the general public. Hopefully, this will encourage people to talk about it and lessen the social taboos regarding conversation about death.

Without your family knowing that you support the program, chances are, when the times comes, your family would be in too much grief or would be hesitant to give away parts of their loved one’s body without specific permission from you, the original owner. You make a last-will-and-testament to tell people what you want them to do with the possessions you’ve left behind, but what about your most intimate possession… your own body? This is where the Organ Donation Card comes in…

We already have the RA 7170, the Organ Donation Act of 199l that formalizes one’s intent to donate one’s organs via an organ donor card. So how does this work?

  1. You talk to your immediate family (or the people who can act as your legal guardian during emergencies) about it and even encourage them to participate as well. You will need witnesses to confirm your intent to join the program. These are the people who will inform the doctors that you are an organ donor when the time comes.
  2. If you have a driver’s license, don’t forget to check the organ donation tick-box at the back. If not, you can get an organ donation card, sign your name and two other witnesses, preferably immediate family members. Indicate which parts you wish to donate or you can opt to donate everything. (Unfortunately, there is no check-box for opting to donate your schlong. So no matter how proud you are of yours and are hoping to give some poor schmuck some measure of joy by being the proud owner of a penile implant, tough luck there is no demand for dong donations…yet :))
  3. In the absence of a national organ donation registry (which hopefully they will establish in the future), carry this card in your wallet or in any place easily accessible.

It’s that simple. Just prepare the card and don’t give it any more thought. After you pass away, your death may yet give the gift of life to someone else. In a way, it’s a win-win situation. Just like an expectant mother who takes better care of her body because two lives are depending on it, think of it as an additional incentive to live healthier because your body may outlast even you 🙂


For more information, visit these links:

Want to find out who else are proud supporters of Operation HOPE? Chances are, your favorite celebrities are already one of them:  Why are all these stars asking you to carry this card?

FAQ’s on Operation Hope:

The National Kidney Institute’s Operation Hope website

Want to help save a life while you’re still alive? Consider donating blood too.

Posted in Society5 Comments