Tag Archive | "government"

FF Podcast (Audio) 008: The Palatino Bill Predicament


In our very professional podcast that is also a video, Red, Pepe and Margie talk about Kabataan Party-List Rep. Mong Palatino’s withdrawal of HB 6330, or the “Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act.”

You may also download the podcast file here.



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The Tale of the Juvenile Chief Justice and the Boy with the Messy Room


After three hours of an emotional roller-coaster that went from balling to boring at every turn, Chief Justice Renato Corona steered the impeachment trial toward an upside down loop that made everyone breathless. He said that he would waive his right to secrecy on all his bank accounts, domestic and foreign, but only under one condition: all of his accusers in Congress should do it with him.

Reactions in the court of public opinion varied. Some thought that Corona was brave, a hero for having the courage to challenge government corruption by putting his own integrity on the line. Others, myself included, thought that far from heroic, the dilatory tactic betrayed cowardice, and by involving others, he revealed his fear of facing justice alone.

But while people were split on Corona’s conditional waiver, his subsequent walkout, and the drama that followed, practically brought supporters and critics to a consensus. Guilty or innocent, Corona should have known better than to walk out of an ongoing hearing, and for an acting Chief Justice his actions were just too unprofessional.

But I believe “unprofessional” would be putting it too kindly. The walkout, and everything that led up to and followed after it, deserves a different description, another adjective that Corona would surely disapprove of — childish.

Even before the consensus on the unprofessionalism of Corona’s walkout, people agreed that Corona was anything but a public speaker. He spoke like a university freshman, sometimes even worse than a high school student, and his communication skills — or lack thereof — did not suit someone who was supposedly the greatest judge of the land. How could someone embody all the complexities of justice when he couldn’t even articulate simple sentences well? And his ineptitude knew no borders — he spoke poorly as much in English as he did in his native tongue.

His sophomoric skills at communication was consistent with his argumentation skills, and as language books invariably teach, sloppy speaking is a symptom of sloppy thinking. For starters, Corona’s speech was so unnecessarily long that he resembled a student struggling to find fillers for his essay to reach a minimum wordcount: “Mr. Corona, in 10,000 words, why should we acquit you?”

His speech so closely resembled the papers of so many seatmates I peer-reviewed in composition classes. More than building a defense that rested on facts, his speech was like the all-too-common “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” assignment, complete with long and cliche descriptions of characters that was only appropriate in the context of a classroom.

And discovering that his speech would not save him from conviction, Corona used one of the most common tactics a student resorted to in front of a teacher who failed him — crying. I’m sure he was under a lot of mental and emotional stress, but I expected more from the way he so confidently spoke about what he’d do before the hearing. And I don’t think it’s too much to set a higher standard of dignity and decency from a chief justice.

As I’ve said, opinions are still split on Corona’s conditional waiver. If you think it’s such a dignified idea, I hope to change your mind by showing you how childish Corona’s move actually is. Think of two brothers who each have a dirty room. Mom is trying to discipline them by assigning them the cleaning as a chore instead of leaving it to a helper like she usually does.

Unfortunately for the younger one, big brother is having his summer vacation at camp, and he would have to be the first to taste this bitter medicine. Just doing it despite the perceived unfairness would no doubt make Mom and Dad proud, but the boy is just not there yet. At his level of maturity, it would not be unexpected to hear him say something like this:

“But mom, it’s so unfair! Kuya is having the time of his life while I’m stuck here, and worse, you’re forcing me to clean my room!”

Mom and Dad try to convince the boy, offering him to remove his grounded status — earlier the boy did not tell his parents that his uncle gave him some cash, breaking the promise that he’d tell them if such a thing happened. Excited about the possibility of going out to play, the boy reluctantly agrees to clean his room but only under one condition: he would only do it once Kuya got back, and they would have to do it together.

It would take a couple of months before Kuya got back from camp, which meant that the parents would have to live with two messy rooms instead of one. Mom and Dad would have none of it, and it showed in their faces. So the boy, wanting to avoid an argument against grownups he just can’t win, stormed out of his folks’ room, trying to rush outside the house. Too bad for the boy: his parents used the intercom to tell their security guard to lock the gate.

The boy would now surely get the talking of his life, and knowing this, he resorted to one of the all-purpose tricks that got him out of school or homework: he pretended to be sick. Mom and Dad had barely resisted the boy’s babyface as he made his conditional offer, but now he was a babyfaced boy whose asthma was acting up, a condition he’s had for a long time. The parents just could not resist their child, and it would border on child abuse to force him to speak despite his sickness.

I’m sure you’ve made all the connections necessary to relate this to Corona’s behavior, and the logic of the boy, at least in terms of manipulating his parents to get the result that he wanted is surely commendable. But in Corona’s case, a commendation is not in order for one simple reason: he’s chief justice of the Philippines, not some bratty boy.

To make our analogy fit more closely, we can add one detail to the story of the boy with the messy room: the parents are the progressive kind that would respect their children’s privacy, allowing them to not only keep the doors locked but also to keep the bedroom keys. For the parents to check whether the chore has been done, the boy would have to unlock his room to reveal it.

In this version of the boy story, the parents don’t know whether any of the rooms is messy, which is why they wanted to find out. The boy is still grounded for the summer, with big brother in camp, and the revelation of a clean room would grant him his freedom. All he has to do is unlock his door.

But the boy, despite all that he could gain from such a simple action, refused to do so unless his big brother faced the music of a possibly messy room with him. Tell me. Do you think little CJ has a clean room?

___

Note: I think little CJ’s room is messy — and so is big brother’s — but this is my personal opinion; the Filipino Freethinkers do not have an official position on the Corona trial.

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FF Podcast (Audio) 007: Lady Gaga vs Bigots and Fundies


Filipino Freethinkers Podcast #7

Our newest podcast (that’s also a video) is up! Here, Marge, Ria and Red discuss the current protest of some Christian groups against the Lady Gaga concert, the difficulties of satire in a country where the news reads like stories out of The Onion, and how beauty queen Miriam Quiambao’s courage in defiance of popular opinion has contributed to the awareness of LGBT rights.



What are your thoughts on these topics? Please comment on this page.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Missing the Point By a Mile


A false notion of secularism is that it prohibits any form of public religious expression. At least that much I can agree with on John Pesebre’s recent article. Where he chooses to go from there, however, is an entirely different train wreck.

First and foremost, he states that Red’s recent article exhibits the false notion stated above. Nowhere in the article was it stated that the act was an outright violation of the separation of church and state. All it did was express valid concern over how this prayer was done in poor taste.

Let it be clear that we know how secularism does not prohibit any form of public religious expression. If we’re going to delve strictly into legal terms–“No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”–there was no violation as no laws were made that pass the criteria for one. As some would incessantly insist, it would appear to be “just another prayer”. Well it would not have been a problem if our dear senator had said the prayer in his bed, or with his family, or before his meal, or before eating his family in bed. Heck, he could have even prayed in senate on his own and you wouldn’t have heard as much as a squeak from us. The clincher, however, is how the obviously Christian prayer was broadcast on a pedestal that is the highest legislative office of a country to its pluralistic people. If that does not send a message of Christianity dominating as the pseudo-official state religion, then I don’t know what does.

In the end, Pesebre even suggests that we just let it go, arguing that there are many more important things to speak up about. True, there are many other important things that we could speak up about, but that in no way stops us from speaking up about something seemingly small in society that we find wanting correction. Non-participation would be a valid option in most cases, but this is the Senate we’re talking about, and unless you’re willing to boycott the national facade that we call a democracy, I would suggest you speak up when there’s something you want to change about it. And it’s not like it will take tons of effort to fix this one problem. Pesebre’s suggestion of spending effort on other things implies that not praying would take lots of time away from other more important things, when the truth is all that has to be done by each senator to solve the problem of expressing religious favoritism during government time is not praying.

There are some of us who are sick and tired of being told to just deal with it, as if it was the most harmless thing in the world. It gets even worse when we see our taxes paying for time wasted on fancy words that don’t work. Yes, our taxes. Session time is secular time is precious time. And I can’t think of a worse way to defend secularism than to argue in favor of accommodating all forms of religious expression altogether. If the members of senate were diverse enough to belong to 10 different religious sects, I wonder how many would still be in favor of hearing each and every one of their prayers before settling down to finally do what their constituents are actually paying them to do.

In a nutshell, we contend that there should be no prayers or sectarian practices in any government-sponsored event. Whether or not this is legal is open to much discussion, but it is clearly an ideal that some of us seek to achieve, not only for our wish that religious influence in government affairs be lessened, but also for the simple courtesy of being considerate to people of other (or no) faith when engaging matters concerning our common government. If you say that you’re going to talk about something that concerns all of us, don’t go ahead and talk about something that doesn’t concern all of us. That is, unless you’re passive-aggressively hinting that we don’t matter. But c’mon, senators wouldn’t do that.

Would they?

 

 

[Image from: http://ashleyconnick.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/off-target.jpg]

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My Life as a Minority in Asia’s Vatican City


Years ago, I needed to go to the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) to file something-or-other. It pains me to have to go through this country’s bureaucratic, uhm, processes, but some things are just unavoidable. I remember going mid-afternoon because of the stifling heat, and wanted to minimize my exposure to it.

The guard directed me to the main office where the general transactions are filtered. I forget now if there was a queue or a number system, but I was waiting to be served. Suddenly, there was an announcement over the PA system, saying “It is now 3 o’clock. Please stand up for our midday prayer.”

Dumbfounded, I searched for the insignia that said “Republic of the Philippines – Bureau of Internal Revenue.”

I was in the right place, at a government office that I needed to be in.

Why was I suddenly in the middle of a prayer meeting?

This is my life as a non-Catholic, in what has long been touted as “the only Catholic nation in Asia”.

Back at the BIR, most everyone stood up, and recited what seemed to me like a rehearsed prayer. It was apparently something they’ve been doing all their lives, because even as they “prayed,” some were combing their hair, some were passing snacks around, still others were fiddling with their computers or documents on the table, all while “praying.” Talk about multitasking.

There were two other people in that area who also remained seated, like me. Our eyes glanced at each other, and I remember the older gentleman shrugging his shoulders as our eyes met, as if to say “Wala tayong magagawa.” (“We can’t do anything.”) We obviously were the non-Catholics in the room, and saw no reason to pray – certainly not a prayer that wasn’t one of our choosing or one we didn’t even know the words to!

 

This exclusion from the religious majority is something that I have had to deal with all my life. I have never been a Catholic, nor had the desire to be one, even though we lived in a village that had their more-than-plain-pious Catholic badge stamped all over. The village church would always broadcast its prayers so that the entire neighborhood could hear them, and when the announcer always came to the part that said “pray for us, now and in the hour of our death,” my mom would always cast a frown, because in the religion that we were taught, once you’re dead, no more intercessions can be made, you will be judged on how you lived, period. She would always say that if we could “pray our way into heaven,” then there really is no point in doing/being good, because people on earth could still “pray” for you to get into heaven anyway, which made a lot of sense to me back then, and even until now.

I was pretty much shielded from the exclusion up until my high school years, because we went to a conservative Protestant school, and boy, was religion pounded into us rigorously. We had Sunday school, church services, one of our required subjects was Bible class, and every school activity started with prayers, invocations, and a smattering of Bible readings and verses. As you can tell, I was never a stranger to religious indoctrination or preaching. So I am well aware when a religion is trying to extend its influence on my life.

Only when I entered college did I slowly but surely start feeling that I was a very small part in the religious mix of this country. As is the case with most freshman classes, they usually assign “blocks” which made sure that you would have the same classmates subject after subject. When they started introducing themselves, they were all from Saint something-or-other school. And there would be the ever-present “preachers” who would ask if I wanted to join them in Bible study or some prayer meeting (I don’t really know what it was called). Whenever the block would meet socially or for homework/assignments, there would be a rosary and a corresponding prayer present. One of them asked why I didn’t seem to be praying, and when I said that I wasn’t Catholic and I didn’t know what they were praying, she said, “Oh…that’s right. You’re a Protestant.” Then she looked at me with a mixture of pity and ridicule.

Outside of school, in other social gatherings like parties of our relatives, the same thing would happen over and over. Most of my relatives are Catholics, and we would be forced to go along with whatever rituals it was that they did.

The biggest observation I’ve gathered,  based on what I experienced in my formative years in school, and what I experience now that I have become the minority, is that the Protestant indoctrination happens in a private setting, either in a church or a school that was clearly affiliated with that religion. And my parents chose that school – children don’t really have a say yet where to study in the elementary and high school years – it was chosen out of their own religious convictions.

It was, therefore, a big surprise that even in a supposedly non-conformist and secular environment such as UP (the University of the Philippines), the Catholic influence is so pervasive and intrusive so as to force people to do things that are clearly counter to one’s religious convictions or preferences. True, it wasn’t a police state situation, where there were armed guards ready to beat the daylights out of me if I failed to pray a rosary. But the ensuing judgement and pressure to act Catholic – in appearance only, which is what truly matters – is something even more potent than if it were a stick threatening to beat me for not conforming.

A well-meaning (Catholic) friend did listen to me harping on this point, and her response was something that I have heard countless times as the “bleeding heart” response: “I know it’s hard, pero ano ba naman mawawala sayo kung mag rosaryo ka, o magpakitang tao ka na nagdadasal ka din? Ilang minuto lang naman yun, tapos back to regular programming na, diba?” (“I know it’s hard, but what will you lose if you do the rosary, or just show people that you are also praying, just for show? After a few minutes, we’re back to regular programming, right?”)

I suppose I could let it slide, but what about the concept of freedom of religion?

Last I looked, we have a Constitution that guarantees that “no law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion” and “no religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.” (Section 5, Article 3, Bill of Rights, 1987 Philippine Constitution. See http://www.chanrobles.com/article3.htm for full entry.)

Which is what has been weighing on my mind as a response to that: Why should I be forced to do it? Why should I be forced to follow Catholic doctrine when I am not a Catholic by faith nor choice?

In the current debates about the RH (Reproductive Health) Bill, it is rather clear to me that despite all the secular arguments that the anti-RH camp has come up with, the “fire” that keeps them burning with the intensity to oppose the RH Bill is because their religion (and religious leaders) dictates to them that artificial contraception is “immoral.” Note, however, that they are not against contraception per se – withdrawal, rhythm method, abstinence, these are all forms of contraception. (For those foaming at the mouth at this last sentence, kindly check the meaning of the word “contraception,” because it includes any method that prevents the sperm from meeting the egg.) So, as long as the kind of contraception has the “Catholic-approved” seal stamped on it, they see nothing “wrong.”

This intrusion has gone far enough.

The “fire” that gives me my intensity to fight for the RH Bill is because this is symptomatic of what I have had to fight for all my life: The freedom to choose my own religion, and be free from attempts to undermine that choice by clerics who would have their religious doctrines – Catholic, of course – be inscribed into law, subverting the concept of freedom of religion. This is essentially what the battle lines have become: Which side will you be on? One which honors and respects everyone’s religious preferences, and even the absence of one, as not everyone needs religion to have a fulfilling, meaningful life? Or the side that forcefully abrogates a singular religious doctrine, so that all will be forced to follow, regardless of religious preference?

I was never against Catholicism. I still am not. (Even though I find its mysogynistic and homophobic stances horrible.) Most of my friends are Catholics. This doesn’t hamper our friendships because they have never sought to forcefully induct me into their religion. Neither do I wish for them to change their religions because I don’t share the same one as theirs. We live and let live.

But when my rights as a non-Catholic are being readied to be trampled on, you can expect me to be uncompromising in defending my rights to the last. Stay out of my life, religious or otherwise. Why can’t we learn to respect each other’s preferences? Are tolerance and respect such alien and difficult concepts that men who claim to be the arbiters of morality cannot comprehend them on any given level?

Until the day that we officially turn into a Catholic theocracy, I will not be silenced.

Image taken from bible.ca

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FF Podcast (Audio) 005: Ayala Alabang Village Ordinance vs. RH


In this episode we recap what happened at the public hearing on the Ayala Alabang Village Ordinance that, among other things, required prescriptions for contraceptives — even condoms.

We talk about how the ordinance was created, what the anti-ordinance advocates are doing to stop it, and what we’re going to do next, given recent developments and all that’s happened at today’s hearing.

Joining us is Kevin Punzalan, one of the organizers of the anti-ordinance advocates and admin of the We Oppose the Ayala Alabang Ordinance 01 of 2011 Facebook group. Enjoy!



You may also download the podcast file here.

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