Tag Archive | "secularism"

It’s Not the Size That Matters: How the Team Patay Tarps Circumvent Comelec Regulations


Two weeks ago, on March 19, the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on the Team Patay tarpaulins. Dean Ralph Sarmiento of La Salle Bacolod, counsel for Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra, defended the bishop by invoking his rights to religious freedom and free speech, especially as a private citizen who does not belong to a political party.

In response, Chief Justice Sereno said that election laws apply to all, even to a diocese. Sereno said: “In the Bible, it is said that you have to render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s. If there is government regulation on taxes, even if God owns the whole world, you have to pay taxes.” She added that all materials “that tend to influence the electorate” should be regulated.

Justice Antonio Carpio shared Sereno’s opinion. He said that the penalties for violating campaign restrictions also apply to private individuals.

Section 95

These statements are promising. Yet I’m disappointed that they didn’t mention section 95 of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines. Also called Batas Pambansa Bilang 881, the Omnibus Election Code is the oldest law reference used by the Commission on Elections (Comelec); it’s been enforced since 1985. Which is why I’m surprised that both the Comelec and the Supreme Court missed such a crucial part of it, at least as it relates to the Team Patay tarps.

The crucial section of the Omnibus Election Code can be found in “Article XI. Electoral Contributions and Expenditures.” According to Section 95, “no contribution for purposes of partisan political activity shall be made directly or indirectly by… natural and juridical persons who have been granted… incentives, exemptions, allocations or similar privileges or concessions by the government.”

According to section 94, contributions include, “anything of value… made for the purpose of influencing the results of the elections… [including] the use of facilities voluntarily donated by other persons.”

Because the diocese of Bacolod is a religious organization, it receives exemptions on paying property taxes. Because they were granted this incentive by the government, they are forbidden from making contributions for political purposes. The Team Patay tarp, perhaps even the façade on which it is posted, clearly fall under the contributions defined in section 94.

Section 95 concludes by saying that it’s “unlawful for any person to solicit or receive any contribution from any of the persons or entities enumerated herein.” Which means that if the diocese is found guilty, the politicians listed under Team Buhay can be held liable as well.

Circumventing Comelec

During the hearing, Justice Teresita Leonardo de Castro agreed with Sarmiento that private individuals must not be punished for expressing their political views. She said that the government must show how private citizens could circumvent election regulations, particularly the limits on campaign spending.

In the case of the diocese of Bacolod, it’s quite easy to think of a hypothetical example. Consider Politician X. He has already reached his limit for campaign spending. But he still has money to spend. He decides to make a big donation to his local Church. He tells the local Bishop that he hopes the donation will help the church, and that he prays to God that he can win in the next election.

The local Bishop uses some of the money to create billboards on several parish churches, expressing how pro-life Politician X is. Of course, no one can prove that the politician’s donation went to paying for the billboards; churches, unlike other charitable organizations, aren’t required to report where donations go to. Politician X has thus circumvented election regulations.

The Team Buhay tarpaulins currently include senatorial candidates Mitos Magsaysay, Cynthia Villar, Gringo Honasan, Koko Pimentel, Antonio Trillanes, and JV Estrada. We don’t know how much these politicians have donated to the diocese of Bacolod – or to any church for that matter. We also don’t know whether these donations played a part in their inclusion in Team Buhay, or where the money used for the tarps actually came from. But the possibility that some campaign restrictions are being circumvented is there. This is one of the potential violations that can be prevented if Comelec enforced section 95 – provided the Supreme Court lets them.

But first, both institutions have to forget the poster size restriction issue. Because as far as section 95 of the Omnibus Election Code is concerned, the diocese of Bacolod shouldn’t be posting campaign materials in the first place. At least in this case, it’s not the size that matters.

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On Posters and Poster Boy


So the whole Pedro Calungsod canonization thing did its damage and you’d think that it’s all over for now, right? Wrong. The Catholic Church, it would seem, is not content with digging into the pockets of its faithful. It’s now going to continue doing what it’s been doing pretty consistently for the past hundreds of years: breaching secularism.

Apparently, Pedro Calungsod paper bills are slated to go into circulation this year by none other than the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. That’s right folks, they’re gonna be using state money to put their poster boy on, well, state money. State money, which I might remind you, came from citizens Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

All this blatant asking-for-money and spending-money-that-isn’t-even-theirs is really getting on my nerves, but not so much that I lose it and post something as tasteless as this video:

Good riddance, Papa Ratzi.

And as if that wasn’t enough, they exceeded their monthly political meddling quota by putting up a giant poster that tells Catholics who to vote for. Aside from endorsements, the billboard included a blacklist and both had lists of senators and party lists. As for what they used to separate the good from the evil, they looked to the handy dandy ever-black-and-whitening Reproductive Health Law. (And just in case you’ve been living under a rock, the Catholic Church is against this particular piece of legislation.)

Personally, I appreciate their very anarcho-communistic choice of colors.

Although the Bacolod diocese that put up this tarp was ordered by the Comelec to take it down for being oversized, they chose to attempt a technical ploy and simply cut the poster in half. Assuming, however that the original poster really was 6 ft. x 10 ft. as reported, I’m having quite a lot of trouble understanding how the halves would fit into the prescribed 2 ft. x 3 ft. areas*. Oh, right! They don’t because it’s physically impossible.**

Original area = 6 ft. x 10 ft. = 60 sq. ft.

Prescribed area = (2 ft. x 3 ft.) x 2 = (6 sq. ft.) x 2 = 12 sq. ft.

(☞゚∀゚)☞ 60 sq. ft. > 12 sq. ft.

What wonders you can do with basic math!

It’s pretty telling, though, how the state’s reason for having the posters taken down is a mere issue of size when it’s a blatant violation of the requirements for tax exemption. The government seems to shy from the fact that the Catholic Church is not entitled to tax exemption, although they clearly act like it. To keep their tax-exempt status, they must comply with the law*** and only use their tax-exempt properties for their stated religious and/or charitable purposes. And to play in politics without having to pay the associated fees is simply not fair, especially given how this institution is chock-full of money. With this, I think it’s high time we started taxing the Church. Don’t you?

 

 

 

* The clauses that I’ve seen (online, at least) say “with an area exceeding two feet by three feet” while it’s enumerating “Lawful election propaganda”, which seems to be missing a “not” before the word “exceeding”. I’m just going to assume sloppy proofreading and not that our lawmakers have such horrible eyesight that they chose to ban anything smaller than 2 ft. x 3 ft.

** It’s pretty disappointing how nobody else seems to have seen or pointed out this technicality, even going so far as to imply that what the diocese did actually worked in this article.

*** Article VI Section 28 (3) of the Philippine Constitution states: “Charitable institutions, churches and personages or convents appurtenant thereto, mosques, non-profit cemeteries, and all lands, buildings, and improvements, actually, directly, and exclusively used for religious, charitable, or educational purposes shall be exempt from taxation.”

 

 

 

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Image from Rappler

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An Open Letter from the Filipino Freethinkers’ Parenting Chapter


Br. Armin A. Luistro FSC

Department of Education

DepEd Complex, Meralco Avenue, Pasig City

 

An Open Letter from the Parenting Chapter of the Filipino Freethinkers

While we respect and fully support the mission of the Department of Education, “to provide quality basic education that is equitably accessible to all and lay the foundation for life-long learning and service for the common good,” we believe that there is a need to review its mission, namely to be, “globally recognized for good governance and for developing functionally-literate and God-loving Filipinos,” and one of its core values, “Maka-Diyos,” as reflected in the current DepEd Mission and Core values in the following link, http://www.deped.gov.ph/index.php/about-deped/vision-and-mission;

(Image source: foundersintent.org)

While the Philippines is a country whose population mostly belongs to or adheres to a certain religion and believe in the existence of a Higher Being, we believe that such a fact should not find its way nor bias the vision and core values of government offices, but should rather support the separation of church and state and consequently, should be secular in nature.

By contrast, there is still a minority of Filipinos who are neither Catholic, Christian, nor sectarian but subscribe to alternative beliefs or unbelief, including the irreligious, and even Indigenous Peoples (IPs) with their traditional beliefs.

There are some who may argue that the wording, “God-loving”, and “Maka-Diyos” is not a major matter as these are not policies that the DepEd is implementing, per se. It should be clear though that their presence in the vision and core values of the country’s primary government agency involved with primary and secondary education assumes and gives license to the DepEd to translate these motherhood concepts into policies which it can strictly implement in the basic education curriculum.

Moreover, the presence of these two phrases undermines this diverse but significant group of non-theistic Filipinos whose beliefs or lack thereof has been disregarded, overlooked, and not represented by a national agency like the DepEd.

Therefore, there is an urgent need to have an inclusive mission and core values that would value and represent the diversity of all Filipinos’ belief or non-belief.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution is explicit in the primacy of parents’ roles in bringing up their chldren, as expressed in article XIV, section 2.2, “The State shall establish and maintain a system of free public education in the elementary and high school levels. Without limiting the natural rights of parents to rear their children…”

Moreover, educating children about religion still falls under the authority and jurisdiction of parents as reflected in Section 3.3 of the same article, “at the option expressed in writing by the parents or guardians, religion shall be allowed to be taught to their children or wards in public elementary and high school…”

Thus, the law is clear, religion is still primarily the business of parents, and not the State (as represented by DepEd). If parents or legal guardians do not want the state to teach any kind of religion or belief to their children, they are well within their rights to do so.

We also do not think that it would be costly for DepEd to re-evaluate these concepts while keeping true to its goals and aims. And while we heard of some news that DepEd is doing just that (reviewing its VM and core values) https://twitter.com/ffreethinkers/statuses/298730354322313216, the results remain to be seen.

This is our second earnest open letter on this matter to the DepEd, as our first one was already sent almost three weeks ago. http://filipinofreethinkers.org/2013/02/05/open-letter-to-the-department-of-education/

We expect much from the DepEd and we hope the department will not let us down.

Sincerely,

 

Frederick A. Fabian

Miriam Tan-Fabian

Joselito D. Paderes

Clarissa Therese Jagunap-Soco

Andrew Mark S. Uyboco

Lyza Maria Viejo

Cecilia Deveza-Bonto

Josephine Tiongco

Philippe Batingal Schleinitz

Manolo Luis Del Rosario

 

Editor’s note: the signatures of Cecilia Deveza-Bonto, Philippe Batingal Schleinitz, Manolo Luis Del Rosario, and Josephine Tiongco were added after the publishing of this letter.

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A Rebuttal to the Defense of CBCP’s Stand on the RH Bill


In what seemed like an effort to show an appreciation of the separation of Church and State and to give an answer to Fr. Joaquin Bernas’s explanation that “public money is neither Catholic, nor Protestant, nor Muslim or what have you and may be appropriated by Congress for the public good without violating the Constitution,” Antipolo Bishop Gabriel V. Reyes defended the stand of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on the RH bill by saying that their opposition to contraceptives, which the RH bill seeks to fund and promote, is not based on faith or revelation, but on “natural law.”

In a statement, Reyes asserted that:

“By studying through correct reasoning the nature of the human person, we arrive at this teaching regarding contraception. All human beings, Catholic or not, are obliged to act according to right reason. By the efforts of the Church to go against the RH Bill, the Church is not imposing her religious beliefs on others. She is trying to stop a bill which is against natural law, a law which all human beings, Catholic or not, should follow. The RH Bill, judged from the principles of natural law, is against the good of the human person and the common good.”

But what exactly is this “natural law” the bishops keep bandying about? Is it the physical laws of the universe that are observable in nature?

The term “natural law” is actually a misnomer, quickly misleading those hearing it for the first time. An entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that:

Thomas Aquinas
Image Credit: Wikipedia

“If any moral theory is a theory of natural law, it is [Thomas] Aquinas’s [the 13th century Dominican priest and theologian]. Every introductory ethics anthology that includes material on natural law theory includes material by or about Aquinas; every encyclopedia article on natural law thought refers to Aquinas.”

Aquinas held that natural law is given by God. This premise alone already makes such law supernatural. And by insisting that not only Catholics but all human beings are subject to this law, Bishop Reyes is overstepping the bounds of religious authority and disrespecting those who do not share his belief in God.

Aquinas also held that procreation is a good that we ought to pursue and that we know this immediately, by inclination. While this may have a ring of truth and even a Darwinian explanation, in no way is procreation an absolute good. A statement released by the De La Salle University faculty in support of the RH bill says it best:

“[B]eyond protecting the very important right of the unborn, [the meaning of the right to life] must extend to a recognition that a life that is weighed down by poverty, sickness, and social inequality—now compounded by environmental stresses—deprives humans of agency to transform themselves and the world for the common good.”

What good would uncontrolled procreation do when our children are left to the streets, begging for food and exposing themselves to diseases and sexual predators? To declare procreation as an absolute good (and contraception as intrinsically evil) is to invoke dogma. So while Bishop Reyes may claim that the CBCP’s opposition to contraception and the RH bill is not based on faith or revelation but on natural law, it is clear that their arguments are ultimately religious in nature.

Fortunately, the constitutional separation of Church and State makes sure that Aquinas’s law or any religious law for that matter is not forced on our citizens. Philippine jurisprudence states that:

“If government relies upon religious beliefs in formulating public policies and morals, the resulting policies and morals would require conformity to what some might regard as religious programs or agenda. The non-believers would therefore be compelled to conform to a standard of conduct buttressed by a religious belief, i.e., to a “compelled religion,” anathema to religious freedom.”

The CBCP’s objection against the RH bill is noted, and the bishops’ right to free speech is respected. Let us just hope that our lawmakers are keen enough to discern between secular and religious arguments, and that they do not forget to respect our Constitution, especially the clause that declares that the separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.

Posted in Religion, RH Bill, SecularismComments (8)

“Your Mother Should Have Used RH,” Says BUHAY Spokesperson


I recorded this video interview with Frank when I got home from COMELEC before writing this post. Some details might be inaccurate, which I hope this post corrects. Toward the end of the video is footage of the BUHAY spokesperson saying the titular statement.

“Your mothers should have aborted you” is so 2010. I’m of course referring to members of Prolife Philippines wishing out loud that we hadn’t been born as we were leaving Manila Cathedral. We were there to listen to a discernment mass on the RH Bill, but weren’t allowed to attend because of the DAMASO shirts we were wearing. Aside from wishing we weren’t alive, a public exorcism on us was also attempted by Eric Manalang, president of Prolife Philippines.

Now it’s 2012, and the Prolife greeting has been updated. It now goes, “Your mother should have used RH.” We learned this yesterday when we expressed our opposition to BUHAY’s party-list accreditation at their COMELEC review hearing. After witnessing the most absurd justification for applying to be a party-list, we had an exchange of words with BUHAY that reflects a lot of what happened in the Manila Cathedral incident of 2010.

It began with a question. The BUHAY spokesperson who had represented them during the hearing approached us and asked, “Are you pro-RH?” “Yes,” answers Kenneth Keng, who had earlier expressed at the hearing our intention to oppose BUHAY’s accreditation. “Then your mother should have used RH. So you wouldn’t be here today.”

At this point, I was approached by another BUHAY member. “Did you go to school?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Then why aren’t you using your education,” he said. He probably meant that my pro-RH position betrayed a lack of education.

I was about to explain how education actually leads to being pro-RH when I saw Ken being approached by several BUHAY members. They were trying to grab his camera away from him. I walked over and learned what was happening. The BUHAY spokesperson complained that Ken had started recording without his permission.

They had also asked whether Ken was with the media. Ken had initially said yes out of fear and confusion; their demeanor had given him the impression that they might harm him. He later clarified that he wasn’t with the media and was just a regular blogger, something that I’d clarified earlier with the BUHAY member I’d been speaking to.

At this point we were all huddled between the elevators and the COMELEC reception, where several security personnel were watching. The BUHAY member I’d been speaking to, the one who asked whether I was educated, started talking. He said that if we weren’t with the media, he doesn’t have to treat us that way, and can just treat us like kanto boys. He repeated this, removing his coat as if preparing for a fight. He told us that he would meet us at our levels as kanto boys and invited us outside.

I clarified: “Just to be clear, are you inviting us to a fist fight outside?” He replied, “Anywhere.” I was actually surprised that he was behaving like this in front of COMELEC security. When they finally got on the elevator, we decided it was probably wise that we stayed. Some members of the COMELEC security thought so, too. They advised us to stay for a bit because the BUHAY members might be waiting for us downstairs with less than good intentions.

Surely enough, they were waiting. As I was exiting the building, the BUHAY spokesperson blocked my path, holding a cameraphone to my face. “Excuse me, I need to get out,” I said. He stands aside after a few moments, keeping the cameraphone on me. He asked me for my name and organization, and I give it to him. At this point, Ken also has his cameraphone out, and we were recording each other (another member had a proper camcorder, too).

With all the cameras turned on I wished that Ken’s was on when the BUHAY spokesperson wished Ken’s mother had used RH. Luckily, he repeated his wish, and we got it on video. At first he said that he didn’t mean anything bad when he said this. After all, he says, isn’t RH a good thing? To this we agree, and I further explain that my parents used RH: after all, it includes family planning, birth spacing, etc.

Then he says that my parents used failed RH, because after all, I am here. By doing so he betrays the malice in his wish. To him failed RH means we are born, and successful RH means we aren’t, and it’s pretty clear which of the two outcomes he’d been wishing for us.

We explain that RH isn’t abortion, which is what he keeps on implying, but he disagrees. He advises us to read the Cairo conference. I explain that the RH Bill and the Cairo Conference are two different things. At this point Atty. Macalintal, who had been mostly quiet this time, left in a car with the BUHAY member who had challenged us to a fist fight.

We also headed for our car, leaving the BUHAY spokesperson alone, waiting for his. As we were leaving, I saw the Manila Cathedral and thought about how similar the event from 2010 was: the wishing we hadn’t been born, the prolifer’s fear of being caught on video, the trying to forcefully take our cameras. I sort of expected the BUHAY spokesperson to shout “Your mothers should have aborted you!” as we were leaving. But then I corrected myself: “Your mothers should have used RH.” Because “Your mothers should have aborted you” is so 2010.

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The Unborn Representatives: How BUHAY Makes a Mockery of the Party-List System


Note: Please also read how BUHAY responded to our opposition of their party-list accreditation in COMELEC.

The party-list system of representation is broken. Want proof? Consider the case of BUHAY party-list.

According to COMELEC, you have to be a member of the sector you claim to represent. BUHAY claims to represent “the unborn, the sick, the disabled and others not capable of protecting themselves alone, through observance of their basic right to live.” Never mind being sick and disabled and incapable of self-protection (all at the same time!). Is even a single BUHAY representative unborn?

Even if we grant for rhetorical purposes that every BUHAY representative is unborn, they would still be disqualified for one simple reason: the unborn is not a sector recognized by COMELEC. This fact was repeated several times at BUHAY’s accreditation hearing at COMELEC yesterday.

And every time the COMELEC official mentioned this, the BUHAY spokesperson would answer the same way: BUHAY representatives actually represent its own political party, which is the one marginalized and underrepresented.

Setting aside how self-serving this reasoning is, does BUHAY actually think that a political party should be considered a sector of society? Let’s humor them a little and pretend that it is. Why is BUHAY party marginalized?

According to their spokesperson, it’s because aside from their party-list seats, they haven’t won any major political positions (senator, president, etc.) in the past elections, so they aren’t a major political party. And according to BUHAY, that means they are marginalized. Poor BUHAY. Since 2004, they’ve only won 7 seats in the House of Representatives.

That’s right. Seven seats in almost as many years have been allotted to the unborn representatives of BUHAY party, each representing the unborn citizens of the Philippines, and of course, that other marginalized and underrepresented sector, the BUHAY party itself. If that can’t convince you that the party-list system is a joke, I don’t know what can.

But there’s hope. COMELEC has been reviewing the current party-list candidates, and from the way they’ve been conducting these accreditation hearings — I’ve witnessed a few — they seem to mean business. I just hope it translates to disqualification, especially in the case of BUHAY and Ang Prolife — another conservative Catholic religious group trying to disguise itself as a political organization.

When we opposed Ang Prolife’s application, I thought nothing could ever beat the absurdity of their claiming to represent OFWs and “the structure of the Filipino family.” Well played, BUHAY party. Well played.

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Note: This post isn’t meant to be a comprehensive opposition to BUHAY’s application. We’ll leave that to our formal opposition, which we were given 3 days to file, and will post as soon as it’s available. For now, check out Kontradaya’s reasons for objecting to the accreditation of BUHAY (follow the link for other party-list groups they argue should also be disqualified):

Buhay claims to represent the following sectors: the unborn, the sick, the disabled and others not capable of protecting themselves alone, through observance of their basic right to live.

However, none of its present representatives in Congress, and nominees for 2013 elections belong to these sectors.

First representative Mariano Velarde, Jr., the son of El Shaddai’s Mike Velarde, has a personal net worth of P53.326 million for 2011. He does not belong to any of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors Buhay claims to represent. He is not unborn, sick, disabled, nor incapable of protecting himself.

So is second representative Irwin Tieng, whose net worth amounts to P20.054 and whose family owns Solar Sports. He does not belong to any of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors Buhay claims to represent. He is not unborn, sick, disabled, nor incapable of protecting himself.

Second nominee for the 2013 elections is Jose L. Atienza, more famously known as Manila Mayor Lito Atienza. Mayor Atienza served as Manila Mayor from 1998 to 2007. Previous to that, he served as Manila Vice Mayor from 1992 to 1998. He also held other high positions in government, being appointed by former President Gloria Arroyo as the Secretary of Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Clearly Mayor Atienza can compete for a position in Congress through regular elections. This is in addition to the fact that he does not belong to any of the sectors that Buhay claims to represent, and neither is he marginalized and underrepresented.

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Pro-RH Catholics: Please Create a Pro-RH Church


Dear Pro-RH Catholics,

You’ve been asking the Vatican for pro-RH reforms for over four decades. During that time, your leader, the Pope, has made it absolutely clear that to be Catholic means to be anti-RH. You have been called “fake Catholics,” “cafeteria Catholics,” and even “oxymorons.” You have been told that if you cannot obey, you should just leave. Your Pope has answered requests for reforms by saying he prefers searching agnostics over fake believers.

You have no control over what your church officially does and decides. Yet you have fought long and hard to cling to your Catholic identity. I respect that, but I respect even more the fact that you recognize the moral value of RH despite the denigration of your detractors. So I’m suggesting that you consider indulging them.

What if you left the Roman Catholic Church completely and formed your own one? It would be identical to your old church, except for one critical difference: it would be pro-RH officially. Of course, your new church will no longer be recognized by the Vatican.

But what would losing Vatican recognition do anyway? If you cared about the Vatican’s official position, you wouldn’t be pro-RH Catholics. This implies that you don’t think the Vatican is the highest authority.

You probably think that Jesus Christ is, and that He is pro-RH. So don’t you owe it to Jesus to create a church that truly represents Him? If you create a church with pro-RH bishops and priests — and you’ve claimed that there are many of them — don’t you think that Jesus would let them represent Him even without the Pope’s permission?

Surely you don’t think Jesus gave the Vatican unconditional power. If the Catholic Church suddenly taught that child abuse was a sacrament, do you think Jesus would still be OK with them representing Him? Similarly, do you think Jesus would have a problem with good bishops just because they removed the “Roman” in “Roman Catholic”?

So you should have no doubt that Jesus will bless this Pro-RH Church that you are forming. Being a pro-RH God, it’s even reasonable to think He’d bless it even more. Your new church may not be as extravagant as your old church, lacking the expensive decorations and extravagant costumes (and you won’t have billions in reserve for that occasional child abuse settlement). But I don’t think a carpenter’s son who was born in a manger would care much for appearances.

I don’t think Jesus would mind plain silverware.

You may find the different surroundings striking at first, but I’m sure you’ll get used to it soon. Because you can keep almost everything in your new church the same as your old one. A blind person attending a Pro-RH mass wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. At least not until the priest sermons about the importance of informed choice, freedom of conscience, and of course, contraception.

Imagine not having the urge to walk out because you vehemently disagree with your priest. Imagine not feeling tricked whenever you’re asked to kneel, bow your head, and then pray against the RH Bill. Imagine not thinking twice about donating money that could be used to fund anti-RH campaigns. Imagine not feeling cognitive dissonance about supporting an anti-RH institution that claims to represent the pro-RH God you have faith in.

Forming a new church would surely take some courage, not to mention resources. But it wouldn’t take a lot individually if you did it together. If most of you joined this new church, yours would still be the largest church in the Philippines. Since most Catholics are pro-RH, you’ll be bigger than the Roman Catholic church.

The Philippines would now be predominantly Pro-RH Catholic (which it already is anyway). Your new bishops — who will actually represent your RH stance — will have more clout than your old bishops, who can no longer claim to represent 80% of the population.

Knowing the danger of bullying bishops, your new leaders probably won’t use their religious authority to meddle in politics. And they wouldn’t even have to. Because from now on, your representatives will no longer fear pressure from the bishops.

Anti-RH legislators who were just bullied by bishops could change their position. Closeted pro-RH legislators could now openly support the RH Bill. The passage of the RH Bill will finally be a reality, enshrining RH as a fundamental human right. This alone should make you consider forming a pro-RH church. Pro-RH Jesus would be pleased.

Sincerely,

Red

PS

It wouldn’t hurt to disassociate from an organization that censures progressive theologians and nuns, discriminates against women, LGBTs, and non-Catholics, protects pedophile priests more than potential child abuse victims, and thinks that you deserve to burn in Hell.

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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.

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FF Podcast (Audio) 009: How straight allies can fight for LGBT rights


FF Podcast Episode 9 – How straight allies can fight for LGBT rights

In our 9th episode, Red is joined by our LGBT advocacy group to talk about how straight allies can help in the fight for LGBT rights, especially this week, UP Pride Week.

You may also download the podcast file here.



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Lessons Learned from the Proposed Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act


Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino has withdrawn House Bill 6330 otherwise known as the Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act, which seeks to ban religious images and ceremonies in government offices, “in response to the appeal and clamor of some of our members, constituents and supporters, various groups, institutions and the general public to reconsider the filing of such measure.”

While this is definitely sad news for the advocates of secularism, the fact that one legislator actually had the guts to file a bill like this in a country where the Roman Catholic Church holds considerable influence in politics is already an achievement in itself.

As Palatino said in a statement, “We are encouraged by the fact that despite the misunderstandings, the bill initiated relevant discussions on freedom of religion as one of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.”

Religious freedom is a tricky issue because it is comprised of two principles incorporated in a single provision of the Philippine Constitution: Non-establishment and Free Exercise. In Art. III Section 5, the two sides of religious freedom are laid out as follows:

No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The first part is the establishment (also called the non-establishment) clause. Jurisprudence has expanded it to mean beyond that of congress making laws that establish a state religion. In Ladlad v. Comelec, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that “it was grave violation of the non-establishment clause for the COMELEC to utilize the Bible and the Koran to justify the exclusion of Ang Ladlad.” Here there was no law made to establish a state religion and it was not even congress that was involved, but Comelec. With this jurisprudence (and possibly others), the (non)establishment clause was interpreted to encompass other government actions and not just those having to do with legislation.

As for the free exercise clause, the rest of Art. III Section 5 states: “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Isagani A. Cruz wrote in Constitutional Law:

The right to religious profession and worship has a two-fold aspect, viz., freedom to believe and freedom to act on one’s beliefs.  The first is absolute as long as the belief is confined within the realm of thought. The second is subject to regulation where the belief is translated into external acts that affect the public welfare.

On the freedom to act on one’s beliefs, Cruz added:

As long as it can be shown that the exercise of the right does not impair the public welfare, the attempt of the State to regulate or prohibit such right would be an unconstitutional encroachment.

After reading the full text of the now dead House Bill 6330, I believe it needed some revisions because it seemed incomplete – and yes, unconstitutional. The entire bill was only four pages long including the two-page explanatory note, and the meat of the bill can be found in Section 4 where the heads of government offices, departments, and bureaus are empowered to ensure that:

(a) Religious ceremonies shall not be undertaken within the premises and perimeter of their offices, departments and bureaus, including publicly-owned spaces and corridors within such offices, departments and bureaus.

(b) Religious symbols shall not be displayed within the premises and perimeter of their offices, departments and bureaus, including publicly-owned spaces and corridors within such offices, departments and bureaus.

Section 4(a) does not need any revision because it does not seek to ban personal prayers but only religious ceremonies within the premises and perimeter of and publicly-owned spaces within government offices, departments, and bureaus – and not on public parks and streets since religious activities are not prohibited in these places. In Ignacio v. Ela, the Supreme Court ruled that:

Public squares, roads, highways and buildings are devoted to public use, and, as such, are open to all, without distinction. Incidentally to such use, religious acts may be performed in said public property… So long as the use of public property for religious purposes is incidental and temporary, and such as to be reasonably compatible with the use to which other members of the community are similarly entitled, or may be authorized to make, the injunction in section 23 (3) of Article VI of the Constitution is not infringed.

But as for Section 4(b) of Palatino’s bill, I think it should have been worded to disallow only large religious symbols from being prominently displayed in the halls, corridors, and yards of government buildings, and to allow government employees to place small religious icons on their own desks and cubicle walls – and especially to wear crosses around their necks.

Without clarifying the scope of the ban on religious symbols, the bill would be unconstitutional because it violates the freedom to exercise and profess one’s religious beliefs in ways that don’t impair the public welfare.

While I fully support Palatino’s intention of giving more teeth to the establishment clause, a religious freedom bill simply cannot violate the free exercise clause or any part of the Constitution for that matter. The fatal defect of House Bill 6330 gave our theocratic opponents a legitimate excuse to suppress it and prevented our country from reaching a significant legislative milestone towards a more secular government.

But as freethinkers, we get to learn from our mistakes as well as those of others with whom we share advocacies. And since the issue of religious freedom and especially the non-establishment of religion have now been brought to public debate, the proposed Freedom of Religion in Government Offices Act did not live and die in vain.

While we can wait for another legislator to file a similar bill in the near future, for the meantime we can also hope for a jurisprudence that would declare religious ceremonies and large symbols in government offices unconstitutional if we take the issue all the way to the Supreme Court.

The death of a single bill in no way spells the death of secularism itself.

So let us continue the fight.

* * * * *

Image by: Jong Atmosfera

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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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FF Podcast 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.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes




Image from bulatlat.com

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Creating “Godly” Students at a UP Leadership Seminar


 

“Let us bow down our heads, and pray to the Lord. … In Jesus’ name, we pray amen.”

That was how the leadership seminar that I attended the other day started.

Apparently, every student organization seeking university accreditation had to send a representative to the said seminar, and since the Filipino Freethinkers-University of the Philippines Los Baños was one such organization, I was made to attend.

Having studied in the university for more than two years now, it was no longer surprising for me to see a university-sponsored event started with a prayer. However, none of my experiences so far prepared me for what was to happen next.

By my standards, citing Nehemiah, the Old Testament prophet, as the ideal model of a good leader is acceptable, since he might have existed in real life, after all. Giving out the verses in the Book of Nehemiah to back up the speaker’s claims is valid somewhat—at least, she tried to prove her claims with historical (?) documents. But telling the students who attended the seminar to be “godly leaders,” to pray every time, and to read the Bible was just too much.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the Bible or the claims of Christianity, at least for this article. But claims of a religious nature should not be presented as fact inside a secular university.

And these were not the only breaches of secularism made by the speaker, Dr. Leticia E. Afuang, the Dean of Student Affairs. Her whole speech was infected with misplaced evangelism. She even stressed the importance of godly leaders in paving the way for national development.

Thankfully, she sort of saved us from any further Christian drivel when she told the students to read the Qur’an instead, in case they happened to be Muslim—but I highly doubt that she would have made such a clarification (?) in the first place if she hadn’t noticed that one student wearing a hijab, who most probably was Muslim.

Which makes me wonder: what does she think of non-theists, then? What does she think of Nordic and former Eastern bloc countries, which happen to be composed mainly of atheists? Following her viewpoint, these countries must be rife with poverty; corruption must be widespread; and crimes rates must be pretty high since many have no god to fear.

Or perhaps my extension of her logic is flawed. Maybe, she didn’t mean those at all. So let us give the honorable dean the benefit of the doubt. Let us assume that what she actually meant was that Christian-led (or at least, theist-led) countries fare better, with no negative implication to nations populated by a majority of non-believers. Then how about war-torn Ethiopia or drug cartel-dominated Mexico? Does that also mean that the Philippines is not godly enough to reap the divine blessings of national development?

So before I continue any further, let us read a passage from the Holy Book:

“Members of the teaching staff enjoy academic freedom; Provided, however, that no instructor in the University System shall inculcate sectarian tenets in any of the teachings, nor attempt either directly or indirectly, under the penalty of dismissal by the Board of Regents, to influence students or attendants at the University System for or against any particular church or religious sect or political party.”

— University of the Philippines System Code Article 177 (emphasis mine)

Or as I would like to shorten it: “Thou shalt not preach inside the university.”

Yes, I do believe as well that the dean’s intentions were in good faith. However, they were also in poor taste. And while the rest of the program was fairly more secular thanks to other speakers, waking up at 6:00 AM for a seminar clouded by religious propaganda is something that I will never really look forward to.

This reminds me of the time when a friend of mine asked me why a secularist student organization would be still needed in the already-secular university. My answer remains the same.

Secularism in UP is a joke. Nobody respects it. Nobody cares about it. Religious evangelism inside the university is alienating, divisive, and self-serving. That is why there is a need to safeguard secularism from elements that would otherwise prefer it gone. And that is the Filipino Freethinkers’ mission.

Note: Between the time of writing and publication, it has come to my attention that Dr. Afuang committed yet another breach of secularism when she gave out free Bibles to attendees of the 2012 UPLB Freshmen Orientation. Yes, that surely is the best way to orient students on what UP is all about!

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A Firestorm from Tyrants: Why Rep. Palatino’s Bill Doesn’t Threaten Religious Freedom


I found Jesus — in COMELEC

When I read Cito Beltran’s Philippine Star column criticizing Rep. Mong Palatino’s recent bill, “The Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act,” I didn’t want to dignify it with a response.

But a recent editorial published in The Freeman is giving me second thoughts. Maybe Beltran’s way of thinking is less anomalous than I’d initially thought among the writers of the Philippine Star (The Freeman is published in Cebu by the Philippine Star.)

In a single column, gross misunderstanding of secularism is forgivable, but in an editorial it cannot be ignored. It says that the entire editorial staff of the Freeman — and to some degree the Philippine Star, who published the piece on their website — doesn’t appreciate the constitutionally enshrined separation of church and state.

Since the opinion of Beltran is similar enough to that of the Freeman editorial, I believe refuting the latter is enough to refute both, as well as the many comments online that are based on the same flawed premises. I’ll comment on the editorial in full to avoid any misrepresentation. (Editorial text is italicized and underlined.)

***

There is a proposal — House Bill 6330 — now pending in Congress that seeks to prohibit the conduct of religious ceremonies and the display of religious symbols in public places and in government offices and buildings.

This is probably the only sound statement in the entire editorial.

The proposal, entitled “The Religious Freedom in Government Offices Act,” may sound innocuous enough. But in reality, it is an assault on the Roman Catholic faith…

I find it interesting that secularism is often seen as an assault on Catholicism. Because one of the first religions to benefit from secularism is Catholicism. Catholics escaped from religious persecution in Europe to America where secularism protected them from it.

This allowed Catholicism not only to survive but to thrive. It seems that many Catholics don’t know this, or are simply forgetting the fact now that Catholicism is the dominant religion.

They’re also ignorant of the plight of their fellow Catholics who are still begging for secularism in the parts of the world where they’re still being persecuted.

…which is the only religion known to practice the acts sought to be banned by the bill

Freeman thinks that this fact shows the discriminatory nature of the bill. But it’s precisely this fact that makes the bill’s necessity so blatantly obvious. Their criticism of the bill would be marginally more valid if different symbols and ceremonies from other religions were allowed equal time and space.

The fact that Catholicism is the only religion out of hundreds — even thousands if you count each denomination — exclusively in violation makes the inequity more obvious.

Actually, the bill violates constitutional guarantees against the passage of laws that curtail religious freedoms.

Secularism and religious freedom are two sides of the same coin–you can’t have one without having the other. Religious freedom is not absolute. When it comes to public space — which ideally belongs to each citizen equally — a citizen can’t practice their religion if it means that another is prevented from doing so. One religion that occupies public space with a display or a ceremony prevents all other religions from doing so.

Unless each religion is given equal use of the public space — which is impractical, if not impossible — the public space is best used secularly. Public space can even be called secular space without doing damage to the secularism and religious freedom mandated by our Constitution.

Nevertheless, there is a need to send a message to the bill’s author, Kabataan partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino, to stop his nonsense.

It’s quite common to dismiss Rep. Palatino’s arguments as nonsense or call him a loon or an atheist or an attention-whore. Name-calling, ad hominem, and other irrelevant arguments are used by critics to distract from the real issues, trying to project a confidence in their assertions which actually betrays a lack of it.

The bill attempts to use the bigoted argument that not everyone is Catholic and therefore any Catholic symbols should be removed from places where there are non-Catholics.

I knew the straw man would pop up sooner or later. The bill refers to public places–not all places.

What the bill’s author overlooks is that the acts he wants banned are there not by law but by common consent.

I don’t think public servants ever signed a contract that says they are OK with Catholic symbols and ceremonies. And even if they did, it wouldn’t be enough because public spaces do not belong to public servants–they belong to every Filipino citizen. I’m not aware of any recent referendum that resulted in “common consent.”

There being no decree on record mandating religious ceremonies or displays, it follows that no law should also be passed to curtail them.

There are no decrees on record mandating murder, theft, rape, graft and corruption, child trafficking, sexual abuse, or any criminal act. Therefore…

These things happen as a matter of fact and it is the fault of no one that the Philippines simply happens to be predominantly Catholic.

Everything that happens does so as a matter of fact. It is the fault of no one — no single person — that the Philippines is poor or that children still die of hunger. Each individual is at fault for his fellow human beings to some degree, and for better or worse, we are responsible for the society we live in. Yes, these things happen as a matter of fact, but that does not mean we shouldn’t do anything to change it.

Palatino forgets that non-Catholics are not being forced to participate in Catholic ceremonies or pay obeisance to Catholic icons.

In at least one case that we know of, they are. Also, you don’t need to force someone to remove their right to choose. Sure, non-Catholics (and even Catholic for that matter) don’t have to participate or pay obeisance, but many of them would rather not have to make the choice (“Should I pray with them or just wait for five minutes?) or would prefer to choose otherwise (“I’d rather use this time praying talking to my boss about something really urgent.”)

Truth is, until Palatino came up with his bright idea, things in this country have stayed unruffled by religious tensions born of such nonsense.

Again with the sarcasm and insults. Anyway, the lack of religious wars or religious terrorism doesn’t mean religious tensions don’t exist. Most acts of discrimination — racism, sexism, bigotry — are subtle and nonphysical, but it does not mean they don’t count as violence. On the contrary, these tend to be more pernicious, and often serve as seeds for the physical violence that could follow.

As a partylist representative, Palatino gained access to Congress through the “backdoor” so to speak, on the strength of nothing more than two percent of the vote. That is hardly mandate enough to tackle an issue that affects 80 percent of the country, more than he can chew really.

More irrelevant insults. Not only on Rep. Palatino, but on the partylist system itself. Also, it’s another fallacy: the appeal to popularity.

A final word to Palatino — if it aint broke, don’t fix it. These matters took root long before even his great great grandfather was born. He can’t just barge in as if he owns the place, or is he prepared to face a firestorm if he insists.

It’s somehow appropriate that they ended with yet another fallacy: the appeal to tradition. Many of the things we now accept as evil took root long before the great great grandfathers of those who fought against those evils — slavery, sexism, racism, the Inquisition — were born. Rep. Palatino is not acting “as if he owns the place.”

He’s reminding Filipinos that public spaces belong to every citizen equally. Rep. Palatino may be “courting a firestorm,” but it won’t be coming from the Filipinos who understand secularism. It will be from the tyrants who think they own the place just because they happen to be Catholic.

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