Tag Archive | "freedom of speech"

FF Podcast 64: Google Ranks Truthiness


Google is coming out with an algorithm that ranks truthfulness in articles, worrying some alt-med practitioners and conservatives.

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, Society, VideoComments (0)

PNP Starts Damage Control by Denying Official Connection to FB Page


UPDATE (10/4/12) [Pepe Bawagan]:

The following image is a screenshot from the Google Web Cache of another Facebook Page named PNP National Hotlines Directory (Metro Manila+Provinces):

Previously, it could be seen that the post in the shot had been deleted, but now the entire page is gone. Thankfully, a copy of the page dated September 5 is still available from Google Web Cache. (Here’s a screenshot of the page from Google Web Cache, in case the actual one has expired.)

Given this new evidence, the “long con” theory seems to have become a lot more complicated and a lot less believable.

UPDATE (10/1/12 9:37pm): The “Philippine National Police (PNP)” FB Page is up and running again, but without the controversial thread.

The reputation of the Philippine National Police (PNP) is in danger now, thanks to some comments made by the admin of the Facebook page titled  “Philippine National Police (PNP).” I’m being careful about how I worded the previous sentence because the admin of the Facebook personal account belonging to “Philippine  Nat’l Police” has released the following statement denying any “official connection” to the PNP FB page (emphasis added):

Press Statement of
PCSUPT GENEROSO R CERBO JR
PNP Spokesperson
Chief, Public Information Office
October 1, 2012

The PNP categorically denies any official connection to a message which appeared in one particular facebook account found by many to be offensive, threatening and malicious.

For one, official statements of the PNP to include press releases intended for public consumption are published
in digital form through our PNP official web site www.pnp.gov.ph or Facebook under the account name pnp.pio.

Further, said official statements can be released individually to our media friend both in hard and digital copies in the name of the PNP Public Information Office.

We shall have this incident investigated ASAP. You will be updated on the developments.

The phrase “official connection” immediately struck me. Do they have an unofficial connection to the “Philippine National Police (PNP)” FB page? If they do, that would explain why the page was taken down so quickly — it usually takes much longer for FB to act on page removal requests.

In a recent post on Rappler, PNP spokesman Chief Supt Generoso Cerbo Jr. — who wrote the press statement quoted above — told Rappler that “statements made on their Facebook page are not official. [emphasis added]” Does “their” mean they do own the page? Another source of confusion is Cerbo’s next statement:

“Di kami nagrerelease ng statement through Facebook,” he said, adding that the PNP only makes statements through their official website. (We don’t release official statements through Facebook.)

But as of this writing, Cerbo’s statement has not been posted on their official website. It has only been released on the PNP PIO personal account. Should I then suspect the PIO statement on FB to be less than official?

Another thing that bugs me is how Cerbo keeps referring to official statements. The Big Brother comments on the “Philippine National Police (PNP)” FB page were just that: comments. No one seriously takes comments as official statements.

Imagine that something similar happened to your organization. You discover that there’s an FB page posing as someone who is affiliated with your group, and worse, they’re posting comments that make you look bad. How do you respond? You wouldn’t say, “We don’t post official statements on Facebook.” You would say something like this: “We don’t know who is operating that Facebook page, but we can assure you that we have nothing whatsoever do do with it, and that its admin is nothing but a fraud.”

That the PNP statement says something less than this adds weight to my suspicion that the “Philippine National Police (PNP)” FB page, however unofficial, was run by someone connected with the PNP. According to several FB users who have frequented the page, it contained informative posts and was updated more frequently than the PNP PIO account. It also had almost 9,000 likes, dwarfing the PIO personal account’s 824 subscribers. Lastly, compare the headers used by each:

I don’t particularly like either, but the second one sure looks like more effort was put into it. Considering this, together with the amount of content and interaction in the “Philippine National Police (PNP)” FB page, it’s no wonder that many still think it was authentic despite PNP saying otherwise.

This isn’t the first time the authenticity of “Philippine National Police (PNP)” FB page was questioned. Technogra.ph posted an article arguing that the page was fake because (1) the behavior of the admin was too abusive for an official PNP page, and (2) PNP didn’t link to the page from their official website. Both are true, and I particularly agree with their first reason. PNP also took flack for what the FB page had said back then. But that was almost three months ago, and I don’t think the PNP was unaware of what had happened.

So why haven’t they taken action on it until now? And why was the page only taken down now? I hope these questions and more are soon answered by PNP’s investigation into this. And I find it interesting that the fascistic technologies and manpower mentioned in the “unofficial” FB page will be a big help to them now. (It’s also interesting that the PNP statement did not deny any of the statements made by the fake FB page. Are they really monitoring citizens this early?)

Lastly, I’d like to commend the allegedly fake admin of the “Philippine National Police (PNP)” FB page. I read that the page had been up since Jan 10, 2011. (The first activity of the PNP PIO account was on Jan 6,2011.) It takes dedication to attract 8,880 likes in only a couple of years. If this was indeed a long con meant to troll PNP, fool thousands of Filipinos online, including the reporters at Rappler and GMA News (they wrote a post about this but have since taken it down), then all I can say is well played, sir.

____
Check out Google’s cache of the allegedly fake FB page. Really seems legit.

Posted in Freedom of Expression, Politics, SocietyComments (3)

PNP FB Admin First to Abuse Cybercrime Law


UPDATE (10/1/12 9:42 PM): More updates on PNP’s damage control.
UPDATE (10/1/12 7:15PM): A press statement in this PNP PIO account denies any official connection to the “Philippine National Police (PNP)” page, which has already been taken down.
UPDATE: The FB thread below has been taken down.

The Cybercrime law hadn’t even taken effect, but that didn’t stop the Philippine National Police (PNP) from abusing it. At least that’s what the admin of their Facebook page did when they encountered an unwelcome comment.

The comment was a response to PNP’s post about criminology students doing poorly in English. Here’s a screenshot just in case they delete the comment, too:

I say “too” because right now these are the only comments I can read out of the ones included in a screenshot that is spreading all over Facebook. Here it is, just in case they get Facebook to take it down as well:

As several commenters have pointed out, the law doesn’t take effect till Wednesday, October 3. Yet the “CIDG Anti Transnational Crime is now conducting background investigation against” the commenter. This may or may not be true, but one thing is certain: some who read PNP’s comment are now thinking twice about speaking their mind. And when anyone is afraid of exercising their right to freedom of speech, something is definitely wrong.

Thank you, PNP, for proving that the Cybercrime Prevention Act (AKA Cyber Martial Law) must indeed be stopped. And fuck you.

___

Image source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=507445769267202&set=a.102182453126871.4645.100000053506248&type=1

PNP thread: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=407303659323060&set=a.145337415519687.39609.145291485524280&type=1

Posted in Freedom of Expression, Personal, Politics, SocietyComments (15)

Our Government was Hacked: Cyber Martial Law and the Sottovirus


Definitely not a government web page.

The true test of any system is its ability to respond to problems. A system can work most of the time, but you can’t measure its true capacity unless you subject it to stress.

This is what happened to several government websites recently when Anonymous Philippines hacked them to display a message protesting the Cybercrime Prevention Act. While proving their skill as hackers, they also proved another thing: the security system of these government sites has failed. There have been a range of criticisms to this hacking: from petty and ineffective on one end to ultimately counterproductive on the other.

Whatever the case, this serves as a good analog to the larger narrative. The government is designed to self-correct internal problems through a system of checks and balances. There’s a reason there are three branches of government, two houses of Congress, 24 senators, and so on. These bureaucracies make it hard for any single element to make the entire system fail, similar to a computer’s using several layers of protection, such as firewalls and anti-virus software.

So what does the passage of the Cybercrime bill say about our government? Our legislative system has been hacked; its many layers of security have failed. A malicious virus was uploaded, undetected, and resulted in the system behaving contrary to its intended design.

Let me explain the analogy. As part of a democratic government, our legislation was designed to create democratic laws. In contrast, the laws crafted by a dictatorial government would be undemocratic. By now it’s obvious to any intelligent person who has a basic understanding of democracy that the Cybercrime Law is undemocratic. I have yet to encounter someone who thinks otherwise. Despite their responsibility for the law, even our politicians agree, but it will take some explaining.

Most probably, the implications of the Cybercrime Law — particularly on the right to free speech and privacy — weren’t fully understood by most legislators when they first encountered it. I don’t think that any intelligent legislator would think that someone who simply tweets an unflattering sentence about someone should be at risk of government surveillance or spending a decade behind bars. This is just one of the Cybercrime Law’s implications that weren’t so obvious at first. These concerns possibilities may be absurd, but they’re legitimate ones, at least according to every lawyer I’ve read and spoken to so far.

Senator Escudero: Better late than never?

I believe that if you take a poll of our lawmakers, asking them whether they would have passed the bill knowing these implications, the results would show how much each lawmaker understands and values democracy. Only the undemocratic or incredibly stupid would still have passed it.

In spite of everything, I still think majority of our lawmakers are basically democratic. Yet the Cybercrime Law shows that a mostly-democratic legislative branch has created an extremely undemocratic law. The executive branch, which is lead by someone who would especially want to avoid any association with dictatorship, would have vetoed the bill had he known its dictatorial implications.

Sadly, most of them will never admit this. Senator Escudero has been the first and only one so far to have admitted his mistake, but only because he has good reason to. He is the author of a bill that decriminalizes libel. There could be nothing more embarrassing than his having passed a bill that not only perpetuates libel’s criminal status but broadens it as well. An error of this magnitude is better corrected sooner than later.

Which makes me wonder why Senator Angara, who has also authored a bill removing the prison penalty for libel, has yet to admit his mistake. It probably has to do with the fact that he is a principal author of the Cybercrime Law. Admitting that you shouldn’t have passed your own law is understandably more embarrassing. Two more senators, Sen. Honasan and Sen. Estrada, also have pending bills that decriminalize libel. Yet both have voted for a bill that makes libel an even graver crime, and both have yet to admit their grave mistake.

The other senators are not as hard-pressed to admit their error, and it will be interesting to listen to their excuses when (or if) they do. But I highly doubt that many will. Because if more Senators admit that they’ve made a mistake, then the integrity of the entire legislative institution will be jeopardized. Better to perpetuate the story that the Cybercrime Law, flawed as it is, is still the product of a working legislative branch.

P-Noy thoroughly examining something.

Which is precisely the story that the executive one has been telling so far. His spokespersons have said that he endorsed the Cybercrime Law only after studying it thoroughly. Which is a good political move considering the alternative: admitting that he and the people who work for him weren’t doing their jobs (or as his critics love to call it, Noynoying).

Our government may not admit it, but the integrity of the legislative and executive branches has been tested, and it has failed badly. Like the handful of government websites hacked by Anonymous PH, our democratic system has been hacked — the Cybercrime Law is the malicious web page to prove it.

But there is hope. The third branch of government has yet to fail, and it is now being tested. Several citizens have separately filed motions asking the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on implementing the law’s undemocratic provisions. Some have even asked that the entire law be repealed. But it will be hard for the Supreme Court to do either. Whichever they choose, it will mean the failure of the executive and legislative branches. Understandably, Chief Justice Sereno would think twice before painting P-noy and his administration as less than competent.

And if there’s any branch who understands how undemocratic and unconstitutional the Cybercrime Law is, it’s the Supreme Court. Regardless of what the SC decides, it’s up to us citizens, the programmers and owners of this system, to make sure that the error is corrected. We deserve some of the blame, having installed these faulty components. But it’s a good sign that unlike the incompetent government we’ve elected, we’ve detected the virus.

CJ Sereno and the SC: The Last Bastion?

What’s left is to deal with it — telling our anti-virus software to put the virus in quarantine (issue a TRO), delete it (repeal the law), and of course, uninstalling those responsible for it (not re-electing them). The Cybercrime Law is testing our country — whether we’re truly a democracy or just a democracy on paper. It is then fitting that some have dubbed it “cyber martial law.” Forty years ago, when Marcos declared martial law, we faced a similar test. I hope it doesn’t take us as many years — or casualties — to pass this one.

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For updates on the fight to junk the Cybercrime Prevention Act (Cyber Martial Law), join the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA) on Facebook. Filipino Freethinkers is a proud member of PIFA.

Posted in Advocacy, Freedom of Expression, Personal, Politics, SocietyComments (1)

On the Cybercrime Law: How Sotto Violated the Democratic Process to Violate Our Democratic Freedoms


When Senator Sotto plagiarized Sarah Pope in his recent turno en contra speech, it wasn’t discovered by traditional media. Sotto’s plagiarism was first pointed out in a post on our website at FilipinoFreethinkers.org.

From there other bloggers spread the word, and some even discovered that Pope wasn’t the only one Sotto plagiarized. By then, traditional media had picked up the story, and Sotto’s plagiarism became national news. Soon, it even went international.

Sotto’s critics were those who, unlike the Senator, understood that plagiarism was a serious offense, especially for a public servant. It was surprising that Sotto’s colleagues in both houses of Congress were mostly silent on the issue. Was it because they were guilty of plagiarism themselves? Were they simply looking out for one of their own out of professional courtesy? Whatever the case, one thing became clear: If someone was going to call Sotto out for his erroneous views on plagiarism, it wouldn’t be his fellow legislators.

Fortunately, Filipino netizens took the responsibility. To the extent that public officials kept quiet, Filipino netizens made noise — writing blogs, creating posters, spreading memes — exposing, criticizing, and even mocking Sotto for his plagiarism and how little he understood its seriousness.

This was democracy in action: Ordinary citizens were fearlessly criticizing a representative they had elected. They didn’t have regular columns in which to publish their thoughts. They couldn’t interpellate or give privilege speeches to denounce Sotto. But now, they could have their say, and they were heard. Sotto heard. To a small degree, the playing field was leveled. And this was thanks to the internet.

But instead of listening to netizens, Sotto claimed that he was being bullied. He said that his alleged bullies would one day be held accountable. A few weeks later, the cybercrime law was passed, and it contained a section that made e-libel a worse crime than defamation in print. It’s not a mystery who we have to thank for this.

Much can and has been said about e-libel, but one thing is clear: anyone who uses the internet to criticize public figures has good reason to be afraid. The possibility of spending more than a decade in prison tends to have that effect. As a result, people will think twice before criticizing people like Sotto online. Or as Sotto would like to call it, “cyberbullying.”

But bullying is defined as “the use of superior strength or influence to intimidate or force someone to do what one wants.” Sotto has used his position as a Senator to intimidate and force others to keep silent or think twice before criticizing people like him. Who’s the bully now?

With the Cybercrime law, how will ordinary citizens criticize elected officials without fear of being sued and fined, or worse, put in jail? Should we all join traditional media to receive the same protections journalists receive? Should we all run for public office to receive the same privileges politicians enjoy? These are unrealistic expectations. And if only a few have the freedom to criticize public servants, what does that say about the democratic process? As President Obama said at a recent speech in the UN–a statement I will gladly and properly attribute to him–true democracy “depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear; on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.”

Speaking of democracy and the democratic process, we could have used more of that while the Cybercrime Law was still a bill in legislation. The most controversial section of the bill was the section on e-libel. But it seems that it was the least discussed and debated. That is, it didn’t get any time for discussion and debate at all. No one even got an opportunity to interpellate. Why? Because the e-libel section was a last-minute addition by Sen. Sotto during the period of amendments. Note that there wasn’t even an e-libel section to amend — it was an entirely new addition.

Why no one objected to this is a mystery to me. I refuse to believe that so many senators failed to understand the negative implications this has on freedom of speech. Whatever the case, I’m sure that one of the main reasons for this was the very short time they had to review and discuss it. I heard that Sotto, as majority floor leader, immediately closed the period of amendments after introducing the new e-libel section.

As an advocate of the RH Bill, I find this disturbing. Where is the meticulousness that led to the pointlessly long discussions on the meaning of certain words? In the RH Bill, it was “life.” Couldn’t the same attention to detail be applied to words such as “defamation,” “malicious intent,” “justifiable ends,” and “libel” itself? Why is it that in discussing the RH Bill every detail of implementation is carefully questioned, while in the Cybercrime bill, implementation details were left for later?

This lack of discussion and due process has surely lead to the vagueness of the current Cybercrime Law, and I’m sure that had our legislators realized its implications, they wouldn’t have passed it so haphazardly.

This is why we fully support the various motions to amend, replace, and even repeal the Cybercrime law, especially the section on e-libel. At the very least, we want the SC to issue a TRO on the said law. This law has implications on our most basic freedoms, but most of our legislators seem to have overlooked this because the democratic process was hurried, if not entirely violated. And as citizens who are guaranteed free speech by our democratic constitution, we deserve better.

Filipino Freethinkers is part of the Filipino Internet Freedom Alliance, a newly formed coalition that seeks to repeal the current version of the Cybercrime Law and replace it with something more democratic. We invite allied individuals and organizations to join us. Together, let’s ensure that democratic freedoms like freedom of expression and information, both online and off, are preserved and protected.

Image from pineswire.net

Posted in Advocacy, Announcements, Freedom of Expression, Organization, Politics, Press Releases, SocietyComments (2)

Are We Free to Believe?


It is essential to any free society that its citizens have freedom of speech and freedom of thought. It is practically impossible to conceive of a society we can reasonably call “free” that polices the thoughts of its citizens and enforces the only kinds of thoughts that its citizens may have.

To illustrate such an unfree society, let us take Christianity. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus extended the prohibition on adultery even to the realm of the mind. According to Christianity, not only should we ought not to have sex with someone other than our lawfully wedded spouse, we are forbidden from even having the thought of straying or “lusting.” In fact, the mere lustful thought itself, no matter how fleeting and regardless of any possibility of actual adultery, is not just wrong, but as wrong as actual adultery. This moral equivalence is often lost on people.

A society built upon such thought policing principles cannot be called “free” in any sense of the word. It is one thing to find the breaking of a consensual marital agreement despicable; it is completely another thing to prohibit even the thought (even if that is all that it ever will be) and damn it as equally immoral. The human mind is the ocean of a river of incongruous and undesired whims, such as intrusive thoughts and addictions. Thoughts do not always (in fact, often do not) result in action.

Freedom of thought is essential to a free society and orthodox Christianity is plainly incompatible with this principle. Let us discuss, however, whether a society can actually have “freedom of belief.”

A belief is more than just the thinking about a proposition. It is an active assent to and confident acceptance of a proposition. We can see how Jesus proscribes not just certain beliefs (such as, “I actively want to commit adultery”) but also certain involuntary thoughts (such as, “My biological predisposition to find mates gives me sexual stirrings towards persons other than my spouse”).

Let us move to belief outside the moral realm and include other facts about the world. Are we free to believe, let us say, in a certain religion? On paper, such as the Constitution of the Philippines, we have the right to freedom of belief. But, in practice, freedom of belief may simply be an artifact of bad intuitions about what the mind is capable of.

Let us take the case of a hypothetical person, Jane. Jane looks at the world and, according to the best of her ability and experiences, concludes that Catholicism is true. She believes that the world only makes sense if the specific claims of Catholicism are true (that a God exists and that Jesus established a Church that exists to this day to proclaim God’s Word). Was Jane free to believe in Catholicism? I don’t think so.

I need to clarify that one need not reject the notion of a soul or free will in order to agree with me here. Of course, hard determinists and compatibilists will already agree that free will, in the popular supernatural understanding, is incoherent. They will already agree that, if it even makes sense to call any desire “free,” our minds are not free from the effects of natural things beyond our control (such as genetics).

Even if we assume that she has supernatural free will, Jane does not control which facts about the world are true. She does not control the “fact” that a person called Jesus lived about two thousand years ago. She does not control the “fact” that Catholicism is the one true religion and that it holds certain views about the nature of the universe and how it applies to homosexuals. She cannot help that these things just make sense to her. She is no more free to believe in Catholicism than she is free to believe that she is human. Jane is a victim of facts about the world.

Now, of course, Jane may be mistaken about the world. She might not be intellectually honest enough to be consistent in her thinking. For example, she might strictly require evidence when buying a used car, but in matters of religion, she is not as critical. It is completely possible that she unquestioningly accepts the religion of her upbringing as true. It is possible that she is not skeptical of supernatural explanations for events in her life, such as the sheer fortune of passing an exam despite not studying all that much.

What these things do not suggest, however, is that Jane is consciously choosing what things about the world she’d like to believe are “facts.” At the very least, some self-deception is necessary for Jane to convince herself that an obvious lie is true. Jane is not free to believe in what facts she thinks are right, even if she could be mistaken about the truthfulness of those facts.

If Jane were to be more consistent in her thinking, though, she might reach different conclusions. It is possible that if she were to consciously apply scientific principles to her religious views, she might find that Catholicism no longer makes sense.

She might notice that the reality of gratuitous suffering is not consistent with the existence of a benevolent and intervening God. She might find that the supposed cosmic importance of humanity is incompatible with our existence as one species on one unexaggeratedly tiny dust particle in an unimaginably vast universe (perhaps one among many). She might find that the existence of evil only makes sense under the light of nature’s indifference. She might then conclude that the best explanation of the facts in our universe is one that includes no God. Was she free to believe these things? No.

It is strange that many believers still argue for belief via Pascal’s wager. The challenge insists that regardless of the truthfulness of the claim that a god exists, it is still best to bet on a god existing rather than betting against it. Of course, the wager presumes that non-belief actually has eternal consequences, such as hellfire. It also presumes that there is only one god to bet on, the Christian afterlife-giving God.

It is very rare and, I think, practically impossible to be that insincere about belief. Of course, because of peer pressure or fear for her life, Jane could pretend to other people that she believes in Catholicism. But, I don’t think she could actually bet on a god if the facts aren’t convincing her of a god’s existence. She could be involuntarily self-deceiving; she could willfully not expose herself to scientific research; she could willfully not reason out the logical implications of her beliefs. What she cannot do, however, is to accept a belief simply because she consciously decides to believe.

While “freedom of belief” sounds like a perfectly desirable principle, a closer inspection reveals that it is unintelligible. We are no more free to consciously believe the things that we believe than we are free to change what facts in the world are true.

What we are left with is the fact that if there is any liberty to be had at all, the last thing we ought to surrender is control over our thinking to an authority or tradition. If we are to be free at all from any misapprehension of facts, then we must consistently ask for evidence and reason out our positions. Whatever conclusion we reach, however uncomfortable or counter-intuitive, we must accept. Then, and only then, can we have the only kind of freedom of thought worth having. Then, and only then, can a person be a freethinker.

Posted in Philosophy, ReligionComments (14)

This Government is Brought to You by Catholicism


“Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished. Government should keep out of the battle and not weigh the odds in favor of one side or the other.” — John Milton

How much would it cost to advertise in government? The question is rhetorical, of course, because such a thing is not allowed, but just imagine for a moment that it were. What publicity a brand could gain from a single event!

Supreme Commercial

Just recently, most major TV and radio stations covered the Corona trial. Live feeds were streamed online, and commentary was all over Facebook and Twitter. Imagine the Senate walls filled with posters of anti-aging and skin-whitening products. Imagine Coke cans or Gatorade bottles on top of every senator-judge’s table. Imagine them wearing race car driver uniforms displaying the logos of their sponsors. Or the prosecution and defense wearing jerseys endorsing competing products. Court-side announcers saying things like, “Senator Sotto’s speech was brought to you by Eat Bulaga,” or, “Senator Bong Revilla’s decision was brought to you by Panday–only in theaters.”

This is absurd in many ways, but I want to focus on the most important one: These public spaces belong to every Filipino, these public servants work for every Filipino, and as national representatives, they represent every Filipino. Senator Enrile endorsing Ray-Ban sunglasses doesn’t mean he alone endorses it. It means 1/24 of the Philippines endorses Ray-Ban. And what does a Coke can on top of every table represent? It means the Philippines endorses Coke.

What about the citizens who prefer Pepsi? Or Dr. Pepper? Or those who don’t care for carbonated drinks at all? Too bad for them. And too bad for the companies who sell those marginalized products. With their competition getting such prime advertising, they’d more likely be outsold in the market.

All they could do is ask for this unfair practice of government advertising to end. And who would they ask? The same representatives who are already endorsing the products of — and receiving money from — the dominant companies.

This is obviously wrong. For companies to compete fairly, and for consumers to get the most of a fair market, the government has to stay out of it. It’s unfair to make laws in favor of one company — or against another — but so is mere advertising that shows preference for one over the other. Such is the power of advertising, and companies would pay millions — if they could — to get public servants to publicize their product.

The government doesn’t have to make laws that promote a product to give a company an unfair advantage over its competition. Just endorsing products, however indirectly, would do the job. Pretty simple, right?

I found Jesus — in COMELEC

So why is this concept lost on so many when it is applied to religions? How is it fair for statues of Jesus and Mary to be displayed instead of statues of Shiva, Vishnu, or any of the millions of Hindu gods? What makes it fair for Christian prayers to be said and Christian ceremonies to be performed instead of Wiccan chants and Pagan rituals? What makes commercial advertising different from religious advertising?

Religion is a business, and every church is competing for the business of believers. When there is no competition for business, a monopoly exists. Such a religious monopoly is called a theocracy, and the last time the Catholic Church had it they used a viral marketing strategy called the “Inquisition & Crusades.” It was a killer campaign.

The Catholic Church threatened, tortured, and murdered those who wouldn’t buy their products. They destroyed fakes by burning books–and their authors. (It’s interesting to note that the Bible was one of those books.) And they waged wars against companies who threatened to bring their exports into their monopolized market.

It wasn’t just bad for the competition. The customers, aside from being under constant surveillance and afraid for their lives, didn’t have any say about the product they were forced to buy. They couldn’t complain. The customer was always wrong.

Those who had no problem with the product (Catholicism) couldn’t be called informed buyers because they often had nothing else to choose from. And even if they did, it was forbidden to choose. Those who did were branded heretics (from the Greek hairetikos meaning able to choose) and were given a preview of the Hell they were condemned to.

Today, the Catholic Church can no longer use such methods to maintain their monopoly. But lucky for them, they don’t have to. For centuries, all that threatening, torturing, and killing to sell their products gained momentum.

Even without so much Church intervention, parents, teachers, and other authority figures perpetuated the hard selling to their children, and their children would sell to their children’s children, and so on, generation after generation. We call that shared upbringing culture, and we call that momentum tradition.

When Rep. Mong Palatino proposed a bill promoting religious freedom in government offices, all he did was ban religious advertising to ensure that religious businesses competed on a level playing field. When religions compete on a level playing field and citizens are truly free to choose which religious products to purchase (or not) — this free market condition is called secularism.

Critics cried that he was attacking Filipino culture and tradition, severing a link to some glorious past worth perpetuating. But I don’t think they want to go back to those good old days of religious monopoly. There’s a reason it’s called the Dark Ages.

___
Thanks to Jeiel for the CJ trial image.

Posted in Politics, Religion, SocietyComments (3)

Join Our “What Would Jesus Do?!?!?!?” Cosplay Contest!


In celebration of Blasphemy Day 2011, the Filipino Freethinkers invite you to join

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?!?
a Jesus H. Christ cosplay contest

Dress up as Jesus doing something batshit blasphemous, and be in the running for awesome prizes!

Rules:
1) Participants must be fans of the official Filipino Freethinkers FB page

2) Submissions can be either a photograph or a video

3) Persons/animals/objects other than Jesus may be in the entry

4) Entries featuring Jesus in public are very highly recommended

5) PLANKING IS NOT ALLOWED. EVER.

6) If the submitter wishes to remain anonymous, they should ensure that they are unidentifiable in the entry

7) Post your entries on the COMMENTS SECTION OF THIS EVENT PAGE.

8) Entries must be submitted no later than 11:59 PM, OCTOBER 23, 2011, FRIDAY

9) Criteria are as follows: 40% creativity, 30% offensiveness, 20% execution, 10% online votes

10) Online votes (i.e. number of “likes” per entry) will be collected from SEPTEMBER 30 to OCTOBER 28, 2011

11) Three finalists will be announced on October 29, 2011 via the FF FB page

12) Finalists will be invited to come in costume on October 30, 2011 at the FF HALLOWEEN PAR-TAY

13) Finalists’ places (First, Second, Third) will be announced at the PAR-TAY

14) Prizes are as follows:
Third Place – 1 official FF t-shirt
Second Place – 1 official FF t-shirt + 1 Fully Bookd gift certificate worth Php500
First Place – 1 official FF t-shirt + 1 Fully Bookd gift certificate worth Php1000

Again, the crucial dates are as follows:
Deadline for Submissions: October 23
Voting Period: September 30 to October 28
Announcement of Top 3: October 29
Coronation Night: October 31

Visit our event page to post your entry!

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Filipino Freethinkers March in Solidarity with Palayain ang Sining


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For news coverage of the event, click here.

Image courtesy of GMA News

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Comment on “Freedom from Offense is Offensive to Human Rights”


Why should the CCP be compelled to shut down an art exhibit simply because Mideo Cruz’s iconoclastic works are deemed by some religious quarters to be blasphemous and obscene? Why should religious beliefs be exempt from satirical criticism and be deemed worthier of respect than freedom of inquiry and expression, which is the lifeblood of democracy? The problem with the state’s accommodation of religious prejudices is that it dignifies a mindset that claims immunity from criticism and any obligation to prove its ideas to be true and thus worthy of respect. When the state indulges sectarian sensibilities to the extent of censoring criticism of sectarian prejudices out of fear that criticism might incite religious unrest, it reinforces religious fanatics’ sense of entitlement and emboldens them to engage in acts or threats of violence that would have incurred legal recrimination had they not been committed in the name of god and faith.

Who is the offended party in the case of a painting of a long-haired and bearded man, with a wooden penis attached to his face where his nose should be? Does the figure represent any real person, living or dead, which warrants the flak that Mideo Cruz received? Knowledgeable scholars such as archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and bible experts Robert Price and Bart Ehrman have produced volumes of evidence that cast doubt on the historical authenticity of biblical figures such as Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that Jesus has been portrayed in varied and often conflicting ways with cherry-picked bible verses – as a preacher of prosperity by dollar-waving evangelists, as a Che Guevara-like revolutionary by liberation theologians, as a miracle-working mystic by Pentecostals, and as a pleasure-hating moralist by conservatives, etc. – should prompt Christians of all sects to critically examine their faith and to observe prudence when their most cherished beliefs are challenged. The “blasphemous” works of Mideo Cruz are no more an excuse for a faith-driven riot by Christian fanatics than the portrayal of Batman and Robin as gay lovers are an excuse for superhero fans to lynch the spoof-makers.

Am I trivializing the anger and pain felt by those offended by the “blasphemous” exhibit? Let it be so! Had I the talent of a Michelangelo, I would have done a wall painting of the 4th century C.E. Alexandrian philosopher Hypatia, a heroine for the cause of reason and secularism. Hypatia was murdered by a mob of Christian fanatics who, at the agitation of Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, dragged her from her chariot, and repeatedly stabbed and cut her up with oyster shells, for her criticism of religious dogmatism and advocacy of separation of secular and religious authority. There would be two images of Hypatia – one at the bottom featuring her mutilated body, over which her murderers gloat and brandish the symbols of their faith, and the other one on center top, with the transfigured body of the resurrected Hypatia being surrounded by historical figures known for their advocacy of freedom, reason, justice and universal fellowship such as Giordano Bruno, Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, Helen Keller and the like. The heroes of the painting would be set against the background of varied images suggesting humankind’s struggle for progress in science, economy, politics and ethics, reminiscent of Diego Rivera’s wall painting. Hypatia’s torturers would resemble John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Mother Teresa, Aloysius Stepinac, Escriva de Balaguer, Pat Robertson, Osama Bin Laden, Ayatollah Khomeini and other modern-day theocrats. Though the theocrats would be set against the background of a pit with fire and brimstone, they would be unaware their infernal predicament and would even appear to be reveling in it. The principal villains will be surrounded by a supporting cast of cheerleaders that includes Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Tito Soto, Manoling Morato and other religious hypocrites attired in miniskirts and with matching pompoms. The victims of theocracy will be depicted at various phases of their emancipation – some enduring torture, others discarding their burqas or breaking their chain-like rosaries, and the rest of them climbing out of the infernal pit to take part in the ascent of human progress.

Image taken from womanastronomer.com

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Conservative Catholicism as Absurdist Art


I recently had the pleasure of watching the absurdist play HARING +UBU-L XXX staged by the Sipat Lawin Ensemble at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Surprisingly, the content of the play wasn’t the most bizarre and surreal part of my day hanging around the CCP. At the open forum held on the Kulô exhibit and Mideo Cruz’s controversial Poleteismo, Catholic conservatives composed of priests, businessmen, and anti-choice activists lectured artists on what art is, in CCP. Apologies to the Sipat Lawin Ensemble but even their hilarious avant-garde piece couldn’t possibly compete with the sheer audacity of these conservatives.

 

What the conservative Catholics kept braying about during the forum was that Cruz’s piece offended the majority of Filipinos, which is still dominated by the Catholic Church, just going by the numbers. They still seem unable, however, to fathom the possibility of dissent among their ranks by naively assuming that every person baptized in the Catholic Church as a baby agrees with their single-minded cause of suppressing individual freedoms.

Yolly Gamutan, National Secretary of the Catholic Youth League of the Philippines, should be commended for saying something in the forum that every other conservative has been thinking these past months but was never brave enough to voice out. She said that “…to be Catholic, we cannot be independent in our thinking….” This brief moment of sincerity perfectly frames all the culture war issues in the Philippines right now—from divorce to the ever-contentious RH bill.

The underlying idea being fought over via church bulletin boards, bumper stickers, and Facebook walls is the seemingly novel concept of freedom. In this issue, the CBCP and its cohorts seem unaware that the concept of free expression is meaningless if it were meant only to protect the agreeable but not the offensive. And it appears that the word “freedom” means entirely different things depending on whether a conservative Catholic says it or whether a proponent of free speech says it.

To the conservatives, freedom is simply the “freedom” to act according to God’s will. This Bo Sanchez-esque cliché pervades each and every action the CBCP and its front organizations present to the public. The whole notion of self-determination and the freedom to act according to one’s own independent thoughts and beliefs is alien to them. The clerico-fascism that is the spirit of our times is crusaded for by the Church under the guise of well-meaning and an honest belief that they know better than everyone else. They’re only suppressing liberties because they know for a fact that people couldn’t possibly willfully disobey God or freely choose to go to hell.

Another absurdity proudly flaunted by the conservatives during the open forum was their call for relying on a so-called “absolute universal standard for art”. Instead of progress and a sign of maturity, they see the acceptance of new things as a sign of relativism, which is a mortal sin. The call for universal standards for art itself betrays a sense of crippling self-doubt on the part of the conservatives that the brain their Creator made for them is incapable of reaching its own conclusions. This Creator who is apparently so thin-skinned that even though he is able to create supernovas and black holes, he is still insecure enough to be insulted by what some insignificant creature built in some tiny planet. I am amazed at the gall and bravado of these mere humans who claim to speak for the feelings of an omnipotent deity, saying that God is offended by some art installation no one else would have seen had they not raised a stink about it. And they say it is the atheist who is arrogant and self-possessed.

Children, as expected, were used as arguments against Cruz’s work. Think of the children who would see such obscenities and sex-related imagery! But, I think I understand now who the children they keep referring to are. It is the conservative Catholics themselves who are the children—incapable of deciding for themselves what is right, impotent in the face of nuance, and unable to comprehend that other people exist and that they have their own wills and minds.

They called Cruz’s piece “trash” and “pornography” while unwittingly involving themselves in what is itself art—the unending discourse of what art is. And I should love to see a reenactment of the farce that occurred that Friday at the CCP. No avant-garde movement could ever challenge the sheer bombast and ludicrousness of the Catholic Church and the people who speak for it.

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What is the Extent of Religious Tolerance?


Religious tolerance: a string of words that has been thrown around for centuries, used and abused to justify the continuous subscription to supposed higher powers and the entire van of crazy that comes along with it. My interest in this subject stems from recent news of the U.N. General Assembly re-affirming a resolution condemning religious defamation last December 21, 2010, for the sixth year in a row now, despite dwindling support. I’ve unsuccessfully scoured the internet for a copy of the resolution, but I did find the resolution that was adopted in March 2009. Although the revised 2010 resolution presents notable differences, the general gist of the resolution still holds the same. A summary regarding the recent convention can be read here.

Sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference in response to incidents such as artists drawing Mohammed and activists burning copies of the Qur’an, the resolution can be used to justify the implementation of so-called “blasphemy laws” or laws which criminalize activities deemed “offensive” by a religion. The OIC rationalizes this by alleging that believers of Islam have fallen victim to racial profiling and expresses “deep concern… that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.”

I do condemn hate speech (and more so, hate crimes) as much as the next guy hates the Ku Klux Klan, however, banning and criminalizing them is an all-together different story because it impedes an individual’s right to freedom of speech. Eileen Donahoe, US ambassador, explains, “We cannot agree that prohibiting speech is the way to promote tolerance, because we continue to see the ‘defamation of religions’ concept used to justify censorship, criminalization, and in some cases, violent assaults and deaths of political, racial and religious minorities around the world.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to argue that lynching fundamentalists should be legalized. However, I’m here to examine the extent of religious tolerance people are entitled to, and whether or not this entitlement is well-deserved. In other words, is religion that important to be protected at the expense of freedom of speech?

A common assumption most people (including religious moderates and atheists) live by is religion should be treated with utmost respect and reverence. Religion is not open to scrutiny and the slightest offense against it is met with fervent agitation at the least. This is exactly the mindset that the OIC and various other religious groups exploited in gaining favor for the resolution. It is also this mindset that would willingly sacrifice the values of freedom of speech and freethinking for the sake of the preservation of a religion’s undeserved infallibility.

An interesting case to examine would be that of James Nixon, a twelve-year-old public school student back in 2004, who won the right in court to go to school in a shirt that said, “Homosexuality is a sin. Islam is a lie. Abortion is murder. Some issues are just black and white.” The ruling was based on the principle of “freedom of religion”. Now, while I would have reluctantly conceded to the ruling had it been based on the principle of freedom of speech, there is something that simply doesn’t sit well with me because if we were to take the principle of ‘religious defamation’ seriously, then the ruling is flawed because someone of the Islam faith could have taken offense from the shirt’s message as well. However, a gay man would practically have nothing against this case. I think the problem with protecting religion is that it’s virtually impossible to do so without offending someone else’s religion. When the state propagates a principle such as this, it is not only contradictory, it also unconstitutional because we are stifling free speech.

What I’m trying to get across is simple: all religious tolerance really means is, “accepting or permitting others’ religious beliefs and practices which disagree with one’s own.” (Wikipedia, 2011) Basically, all this really means is that your boss can’t fire you because of your beliefs and I can’t refuse to sit beside you in an airplane, but I can disagree with you and I am free to do whatever I want even if it contradicts what you believe in and even if (and especially when it) offends you. Religious tolerance does not also legally entail “religious privileges” such as Saturdays or Sundays off. To illustrate, I found this interesting response in a thread on Yahoo! Answers,

“McDonald’s has the right to schedule you on Sundays. I don’t know of any place left that still has enforced Blue Laws. Think about how many people work on Sundays… retail employees, restaurants, anything in the entertainment industry (movies, theme parks, casinos, etc.), gas stations, athletes and so on. It’s obviously not illegal to schedule people on Sundays.

You have the right to take Sundays off. (It’s called “quitting your job”.)

If you decline to work on Sundays, McDonalds can terminate you. Realistically they can fire you for whatever reason they want, but refusing to work the required schedule is more than enough reason.

If your church and youth group activities are that important to you, you need to look for alternative employment that doesn’t ask you to work on Sundays.”

Contrary to what we’ve been taught in Catholic school, responsible freedom (and how we ought not to hurt anyone with we say and do) is, excuse the french, bullshit, especially when it stifles free speech and more so when it puts the lives of those who dare pierce the veil of religious infallibility in danger, like say, when teachers are in danger of being mobbed and lynched because they named a teddy bear Muhammad.

The good news, at least, is that support for the resolution has been steadily declining over the years, with the resolution passing with merely 79 votes to 67 (with 40 abstentions), a significantly low margin of difference of 12-votes compared to previous years. These figures were preceded by a 57-vote margin in 2006 and 2007 that dropped to 33 in 2008 and to 19 in 2009; impressive for the first decade of the century. And it is with this that I end this entry with a simple greeting: Happy 2011 and I hope the rest of the century folds out quite nicely for you!

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