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Tag Archive | "Carlos Celdran"

FF Podcast (Audio) 47: Secular DepEd, Catholic Bullies, and Ramon Bautista

FF Podcast 47: Secular DepEd, Catholic Bullies, and Ramon Bautista

In this week’s jam-packed episode, we talk about the Philippine government, for once, respecting secularism by removing “God-loving” from the Department of Education vision statement. Then, we talk about Pro-Life Philippines President Eric Manalang and his homophobic and violent comments against Carlos Celdran. We also talk a bit about Ramon Bautista and his being declared persona non grata by the Davao City local government.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Education, Politics, Secularism, SocietyComments (0)

FF Podcast (Audio) 36: Watching Your Words

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 36 - Watching Your Words

This week, we talk with Carlos Celdran about an encounter with the anti-RH and about watching your language around children.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Religion, RH Bill, Science, Secularism, SocietyComments (0)

FF Podcast 36: Watching Your Words

This week, we talk with Carlos Celdran about an encounter with the anti-RH and about watching your language around children.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, RH Bill, Society, VideoComments (0)

FF Podcast (Audio) 014: Carlos Celdran Convicted and Offending Religious Feelings

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 2.04.00 PM

This week we talk about Carlos Celdran’s conviction for the crime of “offending religious feelings.”

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Media, Politics, Religion, SocietyComments (0)

FF Podcast 014: Carlos Celdran Convicted and Offending Religious Feelings

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 2.04.00 PM

This week we talk about Carlos Celdran’s conviction for the crime of “offending religious feelings.”

You may also download the episode file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Podcast, Religion, SocietyComments (0)

Celdran Wins, Religion Loses

IMG-1425-jpg_061653Arguing against the motion “Religion is Good for Us,” Carlos Celdran (@carlosceldran) won the Intelligence Squared Asia debate in Hong Kong last Thursday night.

The Filipino cultural activist and performance artist, partnered with renowned Indian commentator and management guru Suhel Seth, went head-to-head with Selina O’Grady (celebrated journalist, historian and author of And Man Created God) and Prof. Azyumardi Azra (director of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta).

Religion is Bad for Us

Celdran and Seth had the task of proving that ‘the systematic belief and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially that of a personal God or gods’ is bad for humanity. For Celdran, philosophy and spirituality are not bad for us, but religion is.

“Religion is indeed detrimental to the development of progressive human societies and historically proven to cause terror, fear, guilt, war, genocide, and misogyny,” he said in his speech, adding that it is “perhaps one of the most damaging inventions of the human mind.”

Read the whole speech here.

2/3 Against Religion

Intelligence Squared debates are done in the traditional Oxford style, wherein the audience is asked to vote before and after the panel’s speeches, to see which side has persuaded the most people to change their vote.

The two succeeded in convincing all or most of the initially undecided 32 percent of the audience to join the 31 percent who were initially against, making 63 percent (almost two thirds) of the final votes against the motion. The votes in favor, which started at 37 percent, dropped to 34 percent (about one third). 3 percent were left undecided.

Intelligence Squared Asia (@iq2asia) live-tweeted the event.

Hitchslapping Damaso

“Christopher Hitchens Chic” was how Celdran described his outfit for the debate, channeling the late author who also participated in an Intelligence Squared debate before. Hitchens, one of the biggest critics of religion, argued that the “Catholic Church is not a force for good” along with actor, broadcaster, and author Stephen Fry. (Watch the entire debate here.)

Celdran is no stranger to the Catholic Church. In 2010, he made waves with his infamous “Damaso!” protest against the Church’s meddling in government, particularly with regards to the then Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. The Church filed a case against him and he was found guilty of “offending religious feelings.”

Meanwhile, with the RH bill now a law and its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) approved, the Supreme Court issued a Status Quo Ante Order that effectively stops its implementation for 120 days. Oral arguments will be held in June.

Sign this petition against the stoppage of RH.

Time to Leave the Church

A recent survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) revealed that one in 11 Filipino Catholics considers leaving the Church. It also found that members of the Catholic Church are “less devout and active in attending church services” compared to other religious groups.

The Church finds this unbelievable, saying they can’t “accept the statistics without real evidence.” There is also no evidence of the so-called Catholic Vote.

Fact: Most Filipinos disagree with the Church’s position on RH and divorce, among other issues.

FF Welcomes You

People like Carlos Celdran show us that you don’t have to blindly follow your religious leaders and that you can–and should–stand up to them, especially when their stand is in conflict with your conscience.

If you feel like you don’t belong in your church group and you can’t relate to your religious friends and family anymore, you’re welcome in our community. You can join our bimonthly meetups, where you can meet freethinkers like Jong, Miam, and Keisi.

Like our Facebook page and follow @ffreethinkers on Twitter to get updates and announcements.

Posted in ReligionComments (3)

Article 133: Special Rights Not Equal Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Advocacy, Freedom of Expression, Religion, SecularismComments (9)

What Offends My Religious Feelings

With Carlos Celdran having been convicted and sentenced to jail time for the crime of ‘offending religious feelings’, reactions online have ranged from triumphalist anti-RH diatribes to sympathy to outrage to concern over the curtailing of freedom of speech. There also seems to have been a resurrection, so to speak, of the old discussion back when he first walked into that mass with the Damaso sign in support of separation of church and state. Did he have a right to do so? Isn’t he just getting what he deserves? Sure, maybe he doesn’t deserve jail time, but as a Christian I’m still offended, and shouldn’t that count for something?

The short answer is no, under international conventions to which the Philippines is a signatory, the shared possible offense to us Christians does not count for anything, nor should it. While there is currently some debate ongoing, the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in its General Comment No. 34, Article 19 clearly laid out that freedom of speech is incompatible with blasphemy laws like the one Carlos was convicted of violating. In this, the UN has essentially enshrined being able to commit blasphemy as a human right.

The reason for this is admittedly somewhat counter-intuitive, but there are documented historical examples of how badly laws banning blasphemy backfired in India that I’ve included in the links section below. I think it is summed up nicely by US President Obama in a speech explaining why he didn’t ban a video that offended Muslims (it should be noted that our constitution enshrines the same right to free speech he is talking about here):

“I know there are some who ask why we don’t just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs.

Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views — even views that we disagree with.

We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities. We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.”

One argument I often hear religious people throw at advocates of free speech in an attempt to get at the non religious sensibilities said advocates presumably hold, is ‘how would you feel if someone insulted your father or your mother?’

As an Episcopalean myself, I don’t even need to make that hypothetical leap. I can ask myself directly, how would I feel if Carlos Celdran walked into my church and held up that sign?

I’d want to know why. Though I might be annoyed at the interruption, I would genuinely be curious as to what this obvious act of protest was trying to get at. I’d say that the interruption of a single mass might be worth it, if it was to be made aware of something vitally wrong with the institution I literally put my faith in. I have been blessed in having been born and baptized into a loving and supportive church whose stance on social issues are in line with mine (pro-RH, pro-LGBT, pro-secularism), and which holds a tradition of relatively democratic involvement by the laity in church affairs. With the exception of the actions of some rogue, roundly publicy decried elements in Africa, I took the effort to research and make sure that it is not engaged in any activities I have a problem with. If it was, both as a member of the congregation and as a serving member of the church vestry council, I would want to know about it and work with the rest of the congregation, our parish priest and if need be the diocesan assembly and our presiding bishop to see what could be done to rectify it.

And that is what confuses me most about people who assert that they’re offended by Carlos Celdran’s action. If I found out that my bishops were bullying politicians to kill legislation that would save mother’s lives -and- reduce abortions, I wouldn’t want to attend a mass with those bishops in it anyway. Where is their offense and outrage over the lies being spread about how condoms supposedly don’t work, leading to more AIDS cases? Where is their offense and outrage at the ivory smuggling, or the bribes they took to keep quiet through all the corruption perpetrated by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Why do they keep giving money to an organization that not only can’t seem to stop raping nuns and children, but keeps spending that money to cover it up?

What really offends my religious feelings are people who go out, declare themselves holy, and then spread hate and fear and lies and pain in the name of God and Christ. I am deeply offended at how the words and deeds of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) are giving us Christians a bad name, and that is why I actively and openly fight them. I live in hope that someday more Catholics, like Carlos used to be before they banned him from San Agustin, may rise up to do the same.

source links’that-she-may-dance-again

Posted in Advocacy, Freedom of Expression, Personal, Politics, Religion, Secularism, SocietyComments (82)

Carlos Celdran Declared Guilty of “Offending Religious Feelings”


On September 30, 2010, Manila tour guide Carlos Celdran was charged for Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, or “offending religious feelings,” when he displayed the now-infamous Damaso placard to the crowd at the Manila Cathedral.

Two years later, after many efforts from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) to shirk and delay the hearings, the Manila court has declared Celdran guilty of the said charge.

Below is the complete written decision:



You may also access the document here.

Posted in Advocacy, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, Secularism, SocietyComments (6)

The Justice System, Courtroom Fashion, Typos and Why You Need to Read the Noli Me Tangere

The Trial of Carlos CeldranLast Tuesday was the first day of Carlos Celdran‘s trial. The charge? Apparently, he hurt some people’s feelings toward their imaginary friend — a crime in the Philippines. His trial is one of the highlights of the fight for the Reproductive Health Bill, which is encountering a ton of opposition from the Catholic Church and other Catholic organizations, even though the people themselves seem to be all for it. When Carlos entered that church in Ibarra garb, held up a sign saying “Damaso” and shouted to the priests to stop interfering with politics, it was because the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) had been trying to use religion to influence the outcome of the RH Bill’s passing, such as making thinly veiled threats of excommunication towards the president of the country.

The court session was scheduled at 1.30 pm, so some of us from the Filipino Freethinkers met up with Carlos at Starbucks around noon. I was trying to hold up one of the posters from the people at Sex and Sensibilities, but turns out I was holding it upside down.

Today in court

Carlos was in good spirits, even giving us a short demo of his current favorite gadget, the Samsung Galaxy Tab. (Which totally rocks, by the way.)

Today in court

Inside the courthouse, we saw a bunch of people in anti-RH bill shirts. These shirts were unfortunately colored bright yellow — the exact same color as that of the detainees who were there for their criminal trials. (Note to self: when dressing for court or planning propaganda shirts to wear to court, make sure to not wear the same regulation prison colors as suspects in custody. Because when you leave, the judge will try to get security to stop you.) I was wearing the grey “excommunication” shirt, while the others were in white, “Damaso” printed on the front and “Pass the RH Bill Now!” on the back. (Speaking of suspects, it was interesting that there was no effort made to separate the detainees and the spectators. There were guys in prison outfits and handcuffs standing right next to me during the session.) The room was airconditioned but there were too many people inside so it was still hot, and I kept fanning myself with my poster. It looked like this. I was seated close to the anti-RH bill people, so I’m pretty sure they saw it. No one said or did anything confrontational, though, which was promising.

It was over under an hour, I think. The complainant presented their case, the defense denied everything. The judge advised them to settle out of court. I don’t blame him. There was a woman who was jailed because she stole clothes amounting to around 1 to 2 thousand pesos, which was bailable, but apparently she couldn’t afford bail, so she’s been in jail for months. I believe our judges have better things to do than entertain ridiculous cases like “offending religious feelings”. After all, who here thinks we should go to prison for mocking Xenu? Oh, and next trial date was set for March 10. (Or was it May? I’m getting old.)

Today in court

When it was over, we trooped outside with the other pro-RH Bill advocates from the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP) in the parking lot and waited for Carlos and his attorney to finish up the last details with the MTC. There were a few media people there with cameras and they took photos of us. When Carlos appeared, he posed for photos with us, holding up the posters.

Today in court

Today in court

The anti-RH Bill advocates had a banner. Don’t ask me why being the world’s greatest boxer should make your opinion on whether or not women should have access to reproductive health care weigh more than the rest of ours, because I’m stumped. Don’t ask me either why they spelled Pacquiao’s name wrong — I didn’t notice because I was too distracted by that colon. Later, a friend had to point out to me the missing ” ‘s “.

Today in court

Oddly, the Anti-RH advocates wanted to have photos taken with Carlos, too. They did not appear hostile in any way. In fact they were quite nice, logical fallacy and typos notwithstanding.

Today in court

The epic moment was when they shook hands with Carlos.

Today in court

Oh, and someone asked for Carlos’s autograph on a poster.

Today in court

There were some spectators watching us speak with the anti-RH Bill advocates and talk to the press. Lots of them wanted to have their photos taken with Carlos, and even one of them asked Carlos to kiss her baby (he obliged, laughingly). The funny thing was, some of them thought he was a priest. Most of them thought his name was Damaso. I’m not sure they knew what exactly was going on, it just seemed they wanted to have their photo taken with him.

“Magpapa-picture ako kasama si Father!” (I’m having my photo taken with Father.)

“Hindi siya pari! Tour guide siya.” (He’s not a priest, he’s a tour guide.)

“Oo, pangalan lang niya Damaso.” (Yes, he’s just named Damaso.)

(Ah, so they know Damaso was a priest, at least. Madame, I suggest you should put down your books once in a while and turn on the TV to watch the news. Haha.)

One of them asked me if I was the girl in the poster. Flattering, but no. For one, she clearly had better hair than I did.

Today in court

The posters were a hit, though. Lots of women (the spectators were mostly women) asked us if they could have some. One of them asked me what they meant. Before going home, we gave Carlos the remaining posters so he could distribute them on his tours.

Some of us stopped by Makati for a late lunch before braving the traffic home. The trains were full and the lines at the taxi stand were ridiculously long, so we took the bus. It took me more than an hour to get home. The truth is, no matter what side of the condom debate you’re on, we all get screwed by rush hour.

This post was reposted by the author from her personal blog.

Posted in Media, Pictures, Politics, Religion, SocietyComments (7)

What actually happened at Manila Cathedral: Revealing the lies and bigotry of Eric Manalang and Pro-Life Philippines

In TV interviews and several published articles, Pro Life Philippines President Eric Manalang lied about the events at Manila Cathedral, when members of Pro-Life Philippines harassed RH Supporters. Hopefully, this post (and the attached video) adds some clarity and reveals the lies Anti RH groups (including the CBCP) have been publishing — despite photos and videos that clearly shows what actually happened.

1. We were invited to this event.

Or at least we weren’t told that we couldn’t attend. There were invites posted on bulletin boards with the words, “Everyone is cordially invited.” The organizers did not say that the event was exclusively for anti-RH bill Catholics only. We were even given invitation flyers outside Manila Cathedral, despite the fact that we were visibly wearing Damaso shirts.

2. We were told to stay — at least initially. We weren’t asked to leave at once.

Marita Wasan, executive director of Pro-Life Philippines, told us we could wait outside until the mass was over. So we waited peacefully near the steps to the Cathedral — until Eric Manalang, president of Pro-Life Philippines attacked us, forcing us to leave.

3. Members of Pro-Life Philippines attacked us. We didn’t fight back in any way.

We were respectful — we kept calm, even as they repeatedly insulted us and eventually resorted to violence. They called us Satan. They asked us to tell our mothers that they should have aborted us. They pushed us and tried to grab our cameras. The media has made it seem that there was an exchange of harsh words. There was no exchange. We have videos proving that all the violence came from the Pro-Life side.

4. Eric Manalang is bigoted — even toward fellow Catholics.

When a Catholic mother said that she was still a Catholic despite her support for the RH Bill, Manalang said, “That’s an oxymoron.” Manalang was saying that you cannot both be a Catholic and a supporter of the RH Bill. If that is the case, then the Church should stop claiming that 85% of all Filipinos are Catholics, because recent surveys show that most Filipinos support the RH Bill.

But aside from claiming to know what it means to be a True Catholic, Manalang insults supporters of the RH Bill by calling them Satan. What’s worse, he — and other Pro-Life members — asked them to tell their mothers that they should have been aborted. Is he saying that he prefers RH Bill supporters were never born? Or worse — if abortion is killing — that they were murdered?

5. The Catholic Church Hierarchy and Pro-Life Philippines are liars.

In addition to expressing our support for the RH Bill, we attended the event to learn why the Anti-RH groups opposed the RH Bill. We found out that their opposition was based on nothing but lies.

They distributed pamphlets claiming, among other things, that even mere condoms — which they wrongly consider abortifacients — could give cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and disabilities to the user and their offspring. They claimed that there was universal evidence that condom use increased the spread of AIDS. There is absolutely no evidence that supports any of these claims — and plenty of evidence that contradicts them.

6. The writers of CBCP Online are liars:

In their retelling of the incident, they said that we “forced” to get inside the Church. We have video of the conversaton with Marita Wasan showing that there was no force — we simply asked if we could go in. When she said we should wait, we simply waited.

They said that the pro-RH group were mostly teenagers from the Filipino Freethinkers. Of the more than twenty people there, only two were teenagers. And more than half were members of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines.

They lied about what Manalang said. They quoted him saying the following:

“You are Catholics but you are dissidents. We are Catholics but we follow God’s commandment to protect life strictly,” shouted Manalang as the rallyists were leaving the cathedral.

Manalang never said any of this — neither did any of the other members of Pro-Life — while we were leaving the cathedral. What they actually said was harsh beyond imagination — “Satan!” “Your mother should have aborted you!.” Fortunately, we have the video to prove it.

* * *

The Church has repeatedly said that it is open to have a dialogue on the RH Bill.

But it’s now clear that not only are they unwilling to have a conversation, they are going to use lies, harsh words, and even violence to ensure that only their monologue is heard.

Catholics believe that Satan is the prince of lies. When Manalang shouted for Satan to stay out of the Church, it may have been too late. He was already inside.

Posted in Politics, Religion, SocietyComments (242)

CBCP: Catholic Bishops, Criminals of the Philippines

Since Carlos Celdran shouted “Damaso!” Filipinos have been echoing his call for secularism — the separation of church and state. But were they right in asking the CBCP to stay out of politics?

Some people say “no.” They think that however wrong the CBCP is, it’s their right to meddle in politics.

But they’re wrong. Because when the CBCP meddles in politics, they perpertrate a form of tax evasion. (I’ve written about this before, but this time I have a legal precedent.)

The regulations on charitable institutions

The CBCP is registered as a charitable institution. In exchange for doing some public good, the government grants such institutions tax exemptions and privileges. But there’s a catch: charitable institutions must only participate in activities of a charitable nature — religious, educational, scientific.

Once they participate in non-charitable activities — private, commercial, political — their status as a charitable institution is investigated. Which is what happened to the Lung Center of the Philippines in 2004.

The case of the Lung Center of the Philippines

Like the CBCP, the Lung Center of the Philippines is registered as a charitable institution. They are also entitled to tax privileges in exchange for participating in charitable activities: free treatment of patients with lung-related ailments, and other activities that aim to reduce the incidence of lung-related ailments in the country.

But the Quezon city assessor discovered that in addition to their charitable activities, the Lung Center also operated for profit. Because of this, the assessor taxed both the land and the hospital. The Lung center made an appeal, claiming that as a charitable institution, they are exempted from paying real property taxes. They appealed — and lost — to four other courts. Eventually, they brought the case to the Supreme Court.

The Lung Center’s (and CBCP’s) defense

It’s important to understand the arguments used by the Lung Center because they are the same ones used by defenders of the CBCP’s political meddling.

The Lung Center argued that the profit gained from leasing out space (a profitable activity) is used to fund their primary purpose — attending to charity patients, reducing the incidence of lung-related ailments, etc. Defenders of church meddling are saying that meddling in politics (a political activity) fulfills their primary purpose, which is ultimately religious.

Essentially, they’re both saying that although they also participate in non-charitable activities, these activities are performed to further their primary goals. And since their primary goals are still charitable in nature, the organization still qualifies as a charitable institution exempted from paying real property taxes.

But is this defense valid?

The Supreme Court’s decision

The Supreme Court decided that those parts of the hospital leased out for profit are not exempted from taxation. It doesn’t matter whether the profits are used to fund the Lung Center’s main goals. The fact that a non-charitable activity was done at all automatically disqualifies a property from tax exemption.

How does this translate to the case of the CBCP? When a priest makes political statements during a sermon, the church in which the sermon is made is liable for taxation. In the same way, other CBCP properties — publications, radio stations, TV stations — that make political statements should be taxed.

How much politics can a sermon include? To answer this question, let’s review why the Supreme Court decided to tax the Lung Center.

Actually, exclusively, and directly

Before 1973, the arguments of the Lung Center (and the CBCP) would have worked. But since the 1973 Constitution took effect, replacing the 1935 Constitution, their defense is no longer valid. What’s the difference?

Under the 1935 Constitution, properties exclusively used for charitable purposes are exempted from taxation. Under the 1973 Constitution (and our present version), properties must not only be used for charitable purposes exclusively, but actually and directly as well.

What does this mean? Here’s a section of the Supreme Court decision:

What is meant by actual, direct and exclusive use of the property for charitable purposes is the direct and immediate and actual application of the property itself to the purposes for which the charitable institution is organized. It is not the use of the income from the real property that is determinative of whether the property is used for tax-exempt purposes.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what the Lung Center uses the money for. The fact that they made money at all is enough to disqualify their hospital from tax exemption.

A property is liable for taxation the moment a non-charitable activity is performed — even if it ultimately serves an institution’s charitable purpose .

In the CBCP’s case, it doesn’t matter whether a political statement is made to ultimately fulfill a relgious purpose. The fact that a political statement is made at all is enough to disqualify a church from tax exemption.

But what if the dominant part of a sermon is religious? What if only a minute out of a half-hour sermon is used to make political statements? Here the Supreme Court ruling is also relevant:

If real property is used for one or more commercial purposes, it is not exclusively used for the exempted purposes but is subject to taxation. The words “dominant use” or “principal use” cannot be substituted for the words “used exclusively” without doing violence to the Constitutions and the law. Solely is synonymous with exclusively.

So in the same way that a single lease could disqualify a hospital from tax exemption, a single political statement could disqualify a church from tax exemption.

Tax-evading Damasos

The CBCP does not have the right to meddle in politics. At least not while they are registered as a tax-exempt charitable institution. If they want to continue their pulpit politicking, they must register as a political institution and pay their dues. Otherwise, they’re just evading taxes. What’s worse, this illegal politicking is funded indirectly by every Filipino — whether they agree with CBCP’s politics or not.

Carlos Celdran was right when he shouted “Damaso!” and called for bishops to stop political meddling. And every tax-paying citizen is right when they make a similar call.

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Cruz’s Lament, Silent Dissent

“Damaso!” Carlos shouted. “Damaso!” critics of the CBCP echoed.

Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz waited for Filipino Catholics to reply in their defense. All he got was silence.

“The silence of these well spread Catholic organizations was deafening,” said Cruz. “They were almost all so peaceful and at ease during such a shameful episode in their Church.”

While Cruz lamented the Catholic organizations’ actions, he seems impressed by ours:

“It is definitely amazing how such a notably well-concerted effort could be staged – fast and effective – saying but one and only substantive and loud shout, viz: Shut up CBCP! Step aside Church! Shame on you Churchmen! Angry texts and bitter calls suddenly invaded the tri-media.

There were even lighting rallies made here and there – all denouncing the supposedly Church doctrine thus perceived, shouting the shameful sins of the clergy, and most of all, cursing the CBCP for its alleged dictatorial nature and pursuant stance,” he said.

First of all, good job, people! When a former archbishop calls our efforts well-concerted, fast, and effective, we must be doing something right.

But why were we so effective? Shouldn’t we be outnumbered by the 80% of Filipinos allegedly represented by the CBCP?

Cruz thinks that they still have the Catholics on their side. It’s just that they’re . . .

“Oh, yes, Churches are full on Sundays,” Cruz said. “People frequent novenas and processions in honor of their favorite saints. But their faith appears both eclectic and superficial while their morals remain juvenile.”

Cruz seems to think that if you go to Church, you should blindly follow what it says, which in this case means opposing the RH Bill. If you don’t support it, if you keep silent, then your faith is superficial.

I agree that most Filipino Catholics have an eclectic faith. Eclectic means “selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles” or “composed of elements from various sources.” Despite being against their doctrine, contraceptive education and use are now accepted and supported by many Filipino Catholics.

But my agreement ends there. Having an eclectic faith — choosing to believe what you think is right instead of believing everything your Church tells you — is not a sign of a juvenile morality; it is a sign of a mature one.

And not responding to criticisms against the CBCP is not a sign of a superficial faith. If Catholics do not appear to support the CBCP, maybe it’s simply because they don’t. If they were quiet during such a “shameful episode” for their church, it could be because they are ashamed — not because the church is being criticized, but because the criticisms are valid.

They may not have joined the protests or even spoken out against the CBCP. But sometimes, the most deafening form of dissent is silence.

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Why Carlos Celdran is NOT My Hero

On September 30, 2010, late in the afternoon, Carlos Celdran did what most of us could only hope to achieve. He a gave voice to the growing number of secularists in the country, a voice to those who are sick of the undue influence the Catholic Church holds over society.

Arrested and detained for “offending the feelings of the faithful” after his daring stunt, Celdran became an overnight sensation. And we know this for a fact because his Facebook fan page skyrocketed to almost 15 thousand fans. On a more important note, this provided an avenue for people to actually have intellectual discourses regarding the issue.

Well, at least, for the most part.

Personally, Celdran’s feat inspired me so goddamn much (pun very much intended), to the point where I even cried my eyes out just to be allowed to go to the rally in front of UN Avenue Precinct No. 5. This, coupled with P-Noy’s uncompromising stance against the Catholic Church made me feel for the first time that maybe there is hope for the Philippines. Maybe things really are about to change!

And then, of course, Celdran had to apologize.

“I am sorry for the method I used, but my message is unapologetic.” – Carlos Celdran

Whether or not, this apology comes from immense public pressure or was sincere, I wouldn’t know. But while this statement generally appeased the people, I was, on the other hand, disappointed.

I personally think that the method was perfect. It was exactly what the Philippines needed! Think about it. The Catholic Church has the gall to threaten civil disobedience against the very own government which grants it tax exemption because it knows (or rather, believes) that the masses will back them up. No one would ever dare disrespect the Catholic Church because it is legitimized by the scriptures (READ: THE BIBLE)and a god who supposedly put them there to lead us to salvation. Of course, NO ONEwould ever dare question the validity of that because ZOMG YOU JUST DON’T QUESTION THE BIBLE.

The problem, I think, is that people actually acknowledge the supposed moral unsoundness of the RH Bill, and are now morally conflicted as a result, despite seeing the necessity of the legislation of the bill. However, the problem with this mindset is that we are conceding that the Church is right. And this, in turn, makes them believe that they are empowered to prevent the legislation of the RH Bill. In other words, you give them the moral authority over you and society.  (On a side note, assuming without conceding that the RH Bill is morally unsound, does this mean the bill should not be legislated? The answer is in this short reaction paper I wrote on Holmes’ essay, The Path of the Law, regarding the congruence of law and morality, which can be read here.)

It was, however, Celdran’s attempt at moderating his fan page that got me to go cold turkey:



Despite previous claims of standing up for free speech and democracy, here we see Celdran contemplating on killing the fan page because people are expressing their distaste for the Church, such as this:

How does one know for certain if a priest is good or bad?

Okay, I concede that the previous comment wasn’t the most sensitive or appropriate statement. Still, if Celdran is actually attempting to segregate priests between “good” and “bad”, even so far as to suggest that we should “reform them”, then he’s doing no better than the Catholic Church because he’s also imposing his on standards of morality on others.

We can’t say that a priest is “good” just because he supports the RH Bill. Conversely, we can’t say that a priest is “bad” just because he condemns it. The Catholic Church is entitled to their own opinions, just as we all are. No one can take it against them for going against the RH Bill because they’re just doing what they think is right, which is their interpretation of the scripture. It’s just the same as Carlos Celdran believing the RH bill is goodOr that I think fraternities do more harm than good to society. Everyone is entitled to opinions. What we are not entitled to are facts.

So what now? What we can (and oughta) do is exactly what Carlos Celdran did: Tell them to stop getting involved in politics and tell them to stop shoving their moral standards on other people’s throats just because they can’t even adhere to it themselves.

And why he had to apologize for that, I’ll never understand.

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