Tag Archive | "Tito Sotto"

Plagiarism and the RH Proxy War


After months of pompously brushing aside accusations of plagiarism, Senator Tito Sotto has finally been forced to take matters seriously. Of course, this was only after the daughter of his highest profile victim stepped forward to join the chorus of condemnation.

What Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, found most appalling and “twisted” in Sotto’s sin, is that not only did he plagiarize one of the most famous speeches in the English language, he wielded the late statesman’s words to deny women reproductive rights.

Unsurprisingly, Sotto’s apology to the Kennedy family was quite visibly insincere. Instead of acknowledging any wrongdoing on his part, Sotto said he was sorry if the Kennedys were offended. This is a textbook non-apology and the kind of victim-blaming one would expect from an opponent of reproductive rights. Sotto also predictably lashed out at his critics—the academics and writers who filed an ethics complaint against him in the Senate. (Disclosure: I, personally and along with Filipino Freethinkers, Inc., am one of the signatories of the complaint.)

 

Sotto was quick to label the complainants as RH advocates and, indeed, most of us are advocates for reproductive rights. This should be expected, since Sotto’s series of plagiarized speeches were made against the RH Bill. It takes little imagination to see that the people most closely watching his arguments would be RH advocates. Listening to the other side is only the intellectually honest thing to do in a debate, something Senator Sotto might not be aware of.

Conservative Catholic groups were also quick to make the same connection to RH as Sotto did and rush to his aid. One of the first to formally defend Sotto against the complaint is Romulo Macalintal, who claims that the RH Bill has nothing to do with his defense of the Senator. You may remember him from the Manila Cathedral incident when his group, Pro-Life Philippines, accosted reproductive rights advocates and tried to exorcise non-existent demons from them. Macalintal is also one of the lawyers trying to pass off BUHAY Party-List as a marginalized group in order to be registered candidates for the 2013 elections.

Not to be outdone, no less than the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the biggest opponents of reproductive rights in the Philippines, had several of its leaders come out to defend Sotto (and his anti-RH ally Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile). CBCP’s Father Melvin Castro said he admired Sotto’s “principles.” Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros dismissed the charges against Sotto as “trial by publicity.” Riding on their coattails is Filipinos for Life, which released a statement saying that they held Sotto “in the highest regard” and that the group was at his “disposal.”

While it makes sense that the complainants are mostly RH advocates (who were the first to notice the plagiarized passages), it does not follow that defenders of Sotto ought to be RH opponents. The content of our complaint of plagiarism has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of the RH bill. The evidence of plagiarism is incontrovertible, and to deny it is to reveal either unbelievable ignorance or unparalleled duplicity. That RH opponents almost exclusively rallied to defend an obvious and inexcusable transgression betrays their true intention of making Sotto’s plagiarism case a proxy war on the RH bill. In doing so, they are not defending a principle, rather, they are defending their anti-contraceptive club: a club that ostensibly uses any means necessary to achieve their ends, even if it is against their so-called principles. It is this same exact tribalist mentality that is used to justify the protection of rapists in the Catholic Church.

The narrative that the conservative Catholic establishment has always thrust upon the RH discussion is on morality—specifically, the medieval Catholic brand of ethics that they use to divine God’s apparent hate for contraception. It is quite curious, then, that they would casually ignore a clear ethical breach in order to pursue an anti-contraceptive agenda. It is not even that they believe that Sotto is innocent. Macalintal readily admits that Sotto used Robert Kennedy’s speech, shamelessly asserting that the late New York Senator would have been “proud” that Sotto used his words to shut down a bill that would provide women access to modern family planning.

This is moral expediency par excellence, which is particularly odd coming from these Catholic dogmatists. The Catholic ethical system specifically denies that morality can be seen in shades of gray. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, human acts are “either good or evil.” There is no in between. Their system has no room for the moral inconsistency practiced by those defending Sotto. Whether or not the consequences of their actions would bring about a Catholic ideal (which would be a ‘good’ consequence), if it is done with the ‘evil’ intention of lying, then it is still ‘evil.’ As the chief philosopher of the Church said, “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention.” By abandoning consistency in their absolutism and supporting the dishonesty of a public servant, these conservative Catholics have shown that not only is their ethical system out of step with the real world, even they don’t believe in it.

Image Credit: GMA 24 Oras

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Holding Sotto Accountable for Plagiarism is Not a Distraction


 

“Marunong pala managalog si Kennedy, ah!”

 

A common, probably the only mildly-reasonable, criticism of the public condemnation of Senator Tito Sotto’s pathological penchant for plagiarism is that it distracts from the issues—mainly the reproductive health bill. Sotto himself has taken this route to defend himself against the accusations, saying that his critics could not answer his unimpeachable points, so they’ve resorted to “cyber-bullying.” He challenged his opponents with an aphorism (which I’m sure he’d never claim to be original), to shoot the message, not the messenger.

Of course, if his intellectual honesty and credibility were irrelevant to the interests of the Filipino people, then his excuses would be valid. It is, however, not the case that calling Sotto out on plagiarism is an argumentum ad hominem fallacy.

Ad hominem or “to the man” argumentation is not fallacious if it is not taken to refute “the man’s” positions and if the subject is “the man’s” character itself. In the case of Sotto’s plagiarism, of course his intellectual dishonesty does not affect the credibility of his case against the RH Bill.

But, let’s first take Sotto’s claim on face value. Is it indeed true that nobody at all has even tried to rebut Sotto’s claims during his long-winded turno en contra speeches that spanned four parts? No.

On this website alone, we have exposed Sotto’s use of a non-peer-reviewed quack, Natasha Campbell-McBride, to claim that contraceptives are dangerous. We’ve shown that Sotto’s Texas sharpshooter-ed statistics themselves show even greater maternal mortality rates than the pro-RH camp’s “11 maternal deaths a day” claim. We’ve shown how Sotto quote-mined even his attributed literature to misinform the public regarding contraceptives. We’ve shown that the contraceptives Sotto’s wife supposedly took that killed their first-born son did not even exist when he said they did.

With that out of the way, we can tackle whether or not it is true that calling Sotto out on plagiarism distracts from the RH Bill.

Given the long years the RH Bill has been dragged on, there really are no new arguments for or against it. Well, Sotto’s introduction of anti-vaccination quacks to the mix was a breath of fresh air, but the core arguments are all stale and worn out: that contraceptives are not essential medicines, that contraceptives don’t even work, that contraceptives are poison, that contraceptives cause abortion, that poverty is not related to overpopulation, that the RH Bill is redundant, that the RH Bill removes freedom of choice, and that the RH Bill is against God.

Calling out Sotto on plagiarism is not a distraction from the RH Bill discussion because there’s no RH Bill discussion to distract from. The debates are over.

All that is left now is to vote on the RH Bill. The anti-RH camp claims they have the numbers, but they have repeatedly, successfully, and frustratingly delayed deliberations on the bill. These are not the actions of a confident majority bloc. These are the actions of cowards and dishonest politicians kowtowing to the Vatican-led Roman Catholic Church.

The issue of Sotto’s plagiarism is another matter entirely apart from the RH Bill. To that extent, I can agree. But it is not a distraction. Sotto’s unscrupulousness is in itself worthy of contempt, condemnation, and punishment.

Sotto plagiarized Sarah Pope, New York University, Marlon Ramirez, Feminists for Choice, The Truth of Contraceptives, and most recently, the late New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He then lied about doing so, in the case of Sarah Pope and in the case of Kennedy.

Greater men have been felled for less flagrant failures of integrity.

The Senate is supposed to be where the best of our society gathers to decide on the rules we all must live by. Our senators are styled “honorable” because that is what we expect them to be. What Sotto has done with his office as senator is not honorable by any stretch of the imagination. No less than the Senate President, Juan Ponce Enrile, defended the plagiarism of Sotto, his fellow anti-RH filibusterer. That the Senate has coddled this serial liar and plagiarist by failing to sanction him humiliates the entire institution and belies any such honor it claims to possess.

 

Image from Bandila’s stream of their Sotto interview

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How Senator Tito Sotto Misused Barbara Seaman’s Book


Senator Tito Sotto: Dishonest, Deceptive, and Intellectually Lazy (Part 2)

In Part 1, we have learned how the theme of The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth1, as well as Barbara Seaman’s political position, cannot be deemed as supportive of Sotto’s claim. Here, we will examine how exactly Sotto used the book to support his claims, and see whether he is right in doing so.

Sotto said that “The Greatest Experiment… stated that those who take pills but still got pregnant have more abnormal children and lower I.Q.” In order for us to believe him, we should verify whether or not this was really stated in Seaman’s book; and if yes, determine whether Sotto used it in the right context.

It wasn’t easy to find this supposed statement because Sotto, or whoever wrote his speech, didn’t offer the exact quotation. It was a summary of some sorts. (Perhaps next time, speech writers should learn how to footnote references: it’s good practice, it’s part of their job, and it wouldn’t take so much of their time.)

In order for us to verify the truthfulness behind Sotto’s words, we have to dissect his statement into three parts, and see whether we can find textual support from The Greatest Experiment.

A. There are women who got pregnant even though they take contraceptive pills;

B. These women have more abnormal children; and

C. These women have children of lower IQ.

There are women who got pregnant even though they take contraceptive pills…

I cannot find anything in Seaman’s book that supports this assertion. As I’m using the ePub version of the book, it is easy to find references to “pregnant women”. According to my search, these are the instances The Greatest Experiment used the word “pregnant” in relation to hormone products (NB: For obvious reasons, I’ve removed references to pregnant non-human animals such as mice and rabbits):

In Chapter 2:

“It is estimated that in the years from 1941 to 1971, over four million pregnant women in the United States were treated with nonsteroidal synthetic estrogen on the contention that it would prevent miscarriages and ensure their babies’ health.”

In Chapter 5:

“But there was this Texas fellow, Karl John Karnaky, a wealthy man who ran his own clinic, with no trustees or review board to question his methods of injecting stilbestrol directly into the wombs of pregnant women to prevent miscarriages.”

In Chapter 8:

“We were swamped with questions and comments on Enovid, the first oral contraceptive. Some viewers were disappointed that it ruined their sex lives, making them feel toujours pregnant.”

“Much less recognized in the 1960s, but nonetheless a part of our lives and of the Greatest Experiment, was Charlie Dodds’s misbegotten diethylstilbestrol, which held a larger share of the market than any other hormone. It was still prescribed for pregnant women, although the Karnaky/Smith claims that it would prevent miscarriage were never proved.”

In Chapter 10:

“If you miss two periods, see your doctor even though you have been taking the pill as directed. When you stop taking the pill, your periods may be irregular for some time. During this time, you may have trouble becoming pregnant.”

In Appendix: Over the Menopausal Rainbow:

“Pregnant women should avoid skin contact with testosterone topical gel application site in men.”

In Note 39:

“DES (diethylstilbestrol) is a synthetic estrogen drug that was given to millions of pregnant women primarily from 1938-1971.”

“Cancer: All DES daughters (women whose mothers took DES while pregnant with them) have a risk of about 1 in 1,000 for a rare cancer of the vagina or cervix called clear cell adenocarcinoma.”

In Note 64:

“In 1936 and 1937, Dr. White treated pregnant diabetics experimentally with Butenandt’s products prolutun and progynon , but no sooner did Doods publish his formula than she switched to stilbestrol.”

The Chapter 8 of the book actually has a passage very fatal to Sotto’s contention that Seaman’s book state that “there are women who got pregnant even though they take contraceptive pills.” In this chapter Seaman quoted Dr. Elizabeth Siegel Watkins’ On the Pill: A Social History of Oral Contraceptives (1998), a book that Seaman called “authoritative.” It was a long quote that ended in this sentence: “The pill offered easy, reliable effective protection against pregnancy, which empowered women to plan when to have children and how many to have.”  Is Sotto, or his staff, aware of this? Not, if they haven’t actually read the entire book.

The women who got pregnant even though they take contraceptive pills have more abnormal children…

There is no reference to this in Seaman’s book. However, in Note 203 of the book, there is a reference to a study entitled “Limb Malformation and Abnormal Sex Hormone Concentration in Frogs.” Is Sotto referring to this one?

Perhaps Sotto is referring to this passage in Chapter 2 of the book:

“The Shimkin-Grady paper was far from the only warning about DES. Dr. Charles Geschicter of Johns Hopkins reported in Radiology magazine that he produced mammary cancer in Wistar rats by injecting them with DES and other estrogens. Probably more shocking was the much later discovery by Dr. Karnaky of Houston and Drs. George and Olive Smith of Harvard and others who followed their lead of the abnormalities in the reproductive organs of children of mother given DES in pregnancy.” (emphasis mine)

However, this doesn’t support Sotto’s claim at all. First, nothing in this passage refer to women taking contraceptive pills. The passage clearly refers to pregnant women who were given DES, which, according to Note 39 of the book, is a synthetic estrogen drug used from 1938-1971 to prevent miscarriages. Second, DES is not a contraceptive pill. And third, the abnormalities of the reproductive organs of the children were linked not to the contraceptive pills taken by women before they got pregnant BUT to the DES pill women took when they were pregnant.  How is this related to the RH Bill can only be explained by the bizarre workings of the mind of Sotto and his staff.

It is also worth noting that women who are pregnant should never take any drugs that have hormones in them. Even the product information of Diane, the contraceptive pill that, according to Sotto, Helen Gamboa used, clearly says this: “This medication should not be taken by pregnant women as it can cause harm to the developing baby. If you become or suspect that you may be pregnant while taking this medication, contact your doctor immediately. After stopping treatment, you should wait until at least one normal menstrual cycle has occurred before trying to get pregnant.” If Gamboa was really taking Diane during that time, perhaps the reason their first born son died of heart complications was that she kept on ingesting Diane even though she was pregnant.

Nothing in Seaman’s book provides evidence to Sotto’s claim that taking contraceptive pills when you are not pregnant can cause harm to your future babies. What the book says is that taking estrogen products while you are pregnant can cause harm to your baby.

The women who got pregnant even though they take contraceptive pills have children with lower IQ

IQ is only mentioned twice in Seaman’s book. These two instances can be found in two related paragraphs in Chapter 2:

“In the mid-1950’s, numerous Auschwitz survivors told Dr. Jean Jofen, a psychologist at City University in New York, that they were fed daily doses of liquid estrogen in their rutabaga soup. The women stopped menstruating and the men lost their sex drive, just as the Nazis expected. But these refugees were not left permanently sterile. Indeed, Dr. Jojen, herself born in Vienna, had occasion to question these Auschwitz survivors because she was testing the IQs of their five-year-old children at a Hebrew parochial school.” (emphasis mine)

“When I interviewed Dr. Jofen in 1976, she recalled that ‘the synthetic estrogens were similar to those found in the current pill. They just poured it in the soup. There was no dosage.’ She later said the contraceptive pill was called salitrum. There were long-term repercussions to this fortified soup. In a paper presented at the fifth World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, Jofen reported that after testing hundreds of children of holocaust survivors, the Auschwitz contingent had the lowest IQ range. Jofen wondered if the hormone experiments did some permanent harm to the ova of these mothers. The comparison group, mothers who’d been interned at other concentration camps, also endured dreadful conditions, but they received no estrogen and their children’s IQs were higher.” (emphasis mine)

Hurray! We now have passages that might actually support Sotto’s claims! But not so fast. These two passages need to be analyzed.

First, this passage is referring to “liquid estrogen,” called salitrum, fed by the Nazi’s to the Jewish men and women interned in Auschwitz. Although Dr. Jofen said that this is similar to the contraceptive pill used in the 70’s, this cannot support current circumstances. In order for Sotto to be able to use this passage to support his claim, he needs to prove that the current contraceptive pills are similar to salitrum. And second, this passage only refers to children born of mothers who were fed liquid estrogen in Auschwitz, the findings of Dr. Jofen cannot be used outside this context.

In order for Sotto to effectively use these passages as a valid support for his claim he needs to:

1) provide robust arguments that the conditions in Auschwitz are similar to the Philippines;

2) the RH Bill is going to feed women liquid estrogen; and

3) the contraceptive pills that the government will be distributing for free is similar to salitrum.

Unfortunately, he has not demonstrated this in his speech, so we have no reason to be persuaded by him, unless of course we don’t care about the truthtfulness of Sotto’s claim.

Conclusion

In sum, assuming that Sotto and I are referring to the same book, Barbara Seaman’s The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth does not in anyway support Senator Tito Sotto’s claims. More importantly, after learning who Barbara Seaman is, there is no reason to believe that Seaman herself will support Sotto’s position on the RH Bill. Seaman must be rolling in her grave right now.

Lastly, we have to ask whether Sotto and whoever is responsible for his speech have actually read Barbara Seaman’s book. Did they really research? If they have read it, they have either “accidentally” misinterpreted the book or deliberately twisted Seaman’s arguments in order to support Sotto’s position regarding the RH Bill. If they haven’t read it, why on earth are  they using it as their evidence? That is a very irresponsible and deceptive act.

The Philippine constitution says that ability to read and write is one of the requirements of being a senator. Ability to read must be interpreted to include the ability to comprehend what you are reading. Sotto may be able to read, but does he have the ability to comprehend what he is reading? Based on this instance, he doesn’t. Senator Tito Sotto’s turno en contra speech is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Ordinary students are routinely punished for dishonesty, deception, and intellectual laziness, why would a senator get away with it?

1 In this article, I’m using the ePub version of Barbara Seaman’s The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth being sold at Kobo books.

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How an RH Law Will Change the Dynamics of Reproductive Health Rights


Image Credit: ANC Video

Whether or not the RH bill is made into law, Filipinos have the right to use contraception. More precisely, they have the Hohfeldian privilege-right, which means they have no duty not to use contraception because there is no law prohibiting them from doing so. According to the Hohfeldian system for describing the form of rights, to say that one has a privilege to do something is to say that one has no duty not to do it.

This is what some of the opponents of the RH bill, including Sen. Tito Sotto, are saying. They also point out that free contraceptives are already being distributed by the government so there is really no need for an RH law.

But such distribution is only happening because the current administration supports it. Moreover, as Karen Davila said in an interview with Sen. Sotto last August 16, in many cities where the mayor or governor is a member of the Opus Dei or Pro-Life, they impose their religious beliefs on their constituents by pulling out all the contraceptives from the barangay hall.

To which Sotto replied, “That’s looking at it on the other side of the fence, Karen. Look at it on the other side…you are removing the freedom of choice of the mayor and the governor and the next president.” He argued that if the next president is against contraception, you will remove his freedom of choice if RH is already made into law.

Which is precisely the point of the RH bill not only as far as contraceptives are concerned, but also in providing for age-appropriate sex education, reproductive health information, midwives, emergency obstetric care, and maternal and newborn health care in crisis situations. For now, all of these are merely privileges or privilege-rights in the sense that there is no law prohibiting people from using contraception, and there is no law prohibiting the national and local governments from giving everything that the RH bill seeks to provide.

An RH law, however, will add to this privilege a claim by imposing on the government a duty to provide qualified people access to free contraceptives, information, emergency obstetric care, etc. To say that one has a Hohfeldian claim-right means that another has a duty to satisfy that claim. In other words, an RH law will take away a mayor’s right to be a douchebag by depriving citizens of RH services in the name of his religion.

And this is one of Sotto’s major objections to the RH bill. It seems that he is more concerned that the mayors, governors, and the next president will have the “freedom of choice” to withhold lifesaving information and assistance, than to grant the claim-right to the thousands of Filipino women who badly need them and whose lives could be saved by an RH law.

Which makes us wonder, is Sen. Sotto really pro-life? He sounds more like pro-choice ― not choice for women, but choice for the public officials.

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Bad Father or Evil Politician: Did Sotto lie about his son’s death?


Despite his patent lies and his staff’s excuses, Sotto’s plagiarism  is now an established fact. They have even changed their defense to plagiarism being an acceptable practice for Senators. I’d first thought that Sotto was alone in his stupidity, but it appears even Sen. Santiago thinks the Senate is exempted from academic standards of honesty.

But all this talk about plagiarism has overshadowed the most controversial part of Sotto’s recent speech: his claim that oral contraceptives killed his son. Some critics have hesitated to attack this claim, and those who haven’t, such as former health secretary Esperanza Cabral and Rep. Janet Garin, have taken flack for even entertaining the idea that Sotto would lie about something as serious as his own son’s death.

But since Sotto, a public official, has entered his personal tragedy into public record, it is fair game to consider the possibility that Sotto is lying. And I believe this is precisely what he did. Sotto is lying about the death of his son to further his fight against the RH Bill. Many of his statements and actions — these past weeks and even during his entire career — point to this conclusion.

1. Sotto lied about the pill his wife was on.

Sotto said his wife was taking Diane in 1975. Diane was introduced in 1978. This is the kind of detail you never forget. Rather than an honest mistake, he is probably lying.

Back in high school I got contact dermatitis (eczema). Today, almost two decades later, I still remember the name of the ointment I was prescribed by my dermatologist: dermovate. It came in a small green tube, and you could also get it in a more expensive cream version.

Sure, Sotto’s tragedy happened much earlier. But all I got was a bad summer; his son died. You’d think that such tragedies etch every minor detail into memory, especially the name of his son’s killer. Could Sotto have forgetten this? I don’t think so.

2. Sotto lied about his medical sources.

The first time Sotto defended himself from plagiarism allegations, he denied it. He asked, “Why should I quote a blogger?” He explained that he and Sarah Pope were reading the same author, and that’s who he’s citing. This defense was echoed by his chief-of-staff, Atty. Hector Villacorta.

Again, Sotto and Villacorta were lying. They have already admitted to not even having a copy of the book, using Pope’s blog to indirectly (but incorrectly) cite McBride.

Yet even if Sotto had a copy of McBride’s book somewhere, it couldn’t have been his source for long because Gut and Psychology Syndrome was first published in 2004. Sotto’s other source, The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed On Women — a source he misrepresents just as much as Sarah’s post — was first published in 2003.

So as far as we know, all those years blaming contraception for his son’s death was because of his physician, Dr. Carmen Envarga-Santos, who has passed away and can no longer confirm or deny Sotto’s claim.

Thankfully, her family is still around and has said that if Dr. Envarga-Santos were alive, she would be pro-RH. And I don’t doubt that she’d be furious that Sotto is using her reputation to argue against contraception.

3. Sotto hasn’t attacked his son’s killer for almost 4 decades.

Sotto learned 37 years ago that oral contraceptives killed his son. Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that his wife was on the pill (some pill that actually existed back then) and that he was really told that the pill killed his son by his doctor (who was pro-RH but rather incompetent, at least in this story). If that were true, Sotto has done nothing for almost 4 decades to fight his son’s killer.

And it’s not like he didn’t have the opportunity. He was already a TV host in 1975. He could have used his celebrity status to raise awareness about the dangers of oral contraception. But he didn’t.

He became vice mayor of Quezon City in 1988. He could’ve restricted access to oral contraception (the way it was done in Manila). But he didn’t.

He became senator in 1992. He could’ve proposed a bill to ban oral contraceptives (or at least add “birth defects of future children” to the list of complications found in every box of pills). But he didn’t.

He led the Dangerous Drugs board in 2008, and he could’ve included oral contraceptives on that list. But he didn’t.

What kind of man is Tito Sotto?

Sotto has done nothing for 37 years, waiting for the very moment the RH Bill is on the verge of passing, to reveal one of the most damaging details about oral contraceptives that even those on the anti-RH side has failed to discover. The way I see it we can interpret this in one of two ways:

Either Sotto is a bad father, who has realized just now that he owes it to his son, his family, and his constituents to reveal the truth about his son’s killer so that they could avoid a similar fate.

Or Sotto is an evil politician, willing to do anything to block the RH bill, which includes plagiarizing and twisting the words of writers, tarnishing the reputation of physicians who can’t defend themselves, and lying about the death of his own son.

Whatever Sotto is — a bad father or an evil politician — he does not deserve to be a senator.

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Timeline of Senator Sotto’s Plagiarism (Updated September 7)


Quickly unfolding after one of our authors, Alfredo R. Melgar, exposed Senator Tito Sotto’s unattributed word-for-word lifting of significant segments of a piece written by Sarah Pope, has been the public excoriation of the Senator for plagiarism. Pope’s blog, The Healthy Home Economist, was used by Senator Sotto to oppose public funding of oral contraceptive pills in the first part of his turno en contra speech against the Reproductive Health Bill. The Senator and his staff still contends, however, that if they used her blog at all, it was only in the citation of Pope’s own attributed source, a certain Natasha Campbell-McBride (whose medical opinion is, on its own, highly suspect).

The following is a timeline (a web log, if you will) of the events on Sotto’s apparent plagiarism. It will be periodically updated for further developments on the matter.

Updated as of September 7, 7:20 AM (added the confirmation of Feminists for Choice blogger of Sotto’s plagiarism)

“Bakit ko naman iko-quote yung blogger? Blogger lang ‘yon.”

 

August 13, 2012

Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” C. Sotto III delivers the first part of his turno en contra speech on the floor of the Philippine Senate against Senate Bill 2865, the Reproductive Health Bill. In his speech, he makes several claims regarding the relationship of the bill with abortion, an act the bill acknowledges to be illegal. He makes further claims that contraceptives, such as the oral contraceptive pill, have severe side effects. He supports these claims by citing a Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. He reveals that his son, who died over 30 years ago at the age of five months, died due to his wife’s use of contraceptives.

 

August 15, 2012

Filipino Freethinkers publishes a piece by Alfredo R. Melgar, who points out that several stretches of Sotto’s August 13 speech were lifted “almost word-for-word” from the blog of a certain Sarah Pope, who writes as “The Healthy Home Economist.” Melgar further points out Pope’s views on medicine, such as a thoroughly-debunked link between vaccines and autism.

Senator Sotto delivers the second part of his turno en contra speech, in which he accuses former Department of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and Iloilo Representative Janet Garin of being callous for questioning his claim that his son died due to contraceptive use by Sotto’s wife. Sotto, who is backed by the Roman Catholic Church represented by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, also purports to expose the identities and motives of foreign organizations lobbying for the RH Bill.

 

August 16, 2012

Senator Sotto appears on Headstart on the ABS-CBN News Channel with Karen Davila. He states that he opposes the RH Bill because, if it is made into law, it removes the freedom of choice from mayors and governors for denying their constituents access to contraceptives, should they choose to. He warns, “Do not remove their freedom of choice.”

Sotto denies the allegation of plagiarism, saying, “Bakit ko naman iko-quote yung blogger? Blogger lang ‘yon. Ang kino-quote ko si Natasha Campbell-McBride.” (Why would I quote a blogger? That’s only a blogger. I was quoting Natasha Campbell-McBride.) Karen Davila asks him whether his speech writing staff looks at blogs and Sotto says, “We don’t.” When Davila presses him further asking, “Not at all?” Sotto responds, “No.” He further reveals, “When I prepare my speeches, I prepare it with them. We talk about it. We sit down and discuss what we need to say.” Sotto questions his accusers’ capacity to refute his claims saying, “They attack me kasi nauubusan sila ng sagot.” (Because they run out of answers.)

Sarah Pope, author of the passages that Melgar had shown to have been lifted word-for-word, posts on her Facebook account that she was indeed plagiarized, saying, “A Senator in the Philippines plagiarized one of my blog posts to use in a speech. Can’t even believe this!!!”

Sarah Pope writes about the experience of being plagiarized by a sitting Philippine Senator. She echoes the accusations put forward against Sotto, “It seems one of [the Filipino people’s] esteemed Senators, Tito Sotto, plagiarized a blog post I wrote on February 23, 2011 entitled How The Pill Can Harm Your Future Child’s Health, lifting entire sections of the article basically word for word that were delivered in a speech to the Senate floor regarding the possible passage of the highly controversial Reproductive Health Bill.” She also noted Sotto’s denial of the charge. She is unconvinced, however, saying, “A thief is a thief, Mr. Senator. Denying it doesn’t get you off the hook; it just makes you a lying thief.”

Pope goes on to lament the manner of use of her writings by Sotto, “Women of the Philippines: I am terribly sorry my blog was used and twisted against you.” Furthermore, she notes that she does not support the way her work was used by the Senator, “While I want you to know that this choice has health consequences as does the decision to use any pharmaceutical drug, I in no way would ever condone taking this choice away from you!”

On Pope’s article, a person named “lezel” who claims to be writing in the name of Senator Sotto’s Chief of Staff, Atty. Hector A. Villacorta comments. However, despite media reports of admission by Sotto’s camp to plagiarism, Villacorta’s words reveal no such confession, “Let me say that after asking my staff, indeed your blog was used but only in quoting also from the same book of Dr. Campbell-McBride. We are both indebted to the book’s author but if you wish that you also be credited with the contents of the book, let this be your affirmation. I can do it and by this message, I am doing it.” [Emphasis and proper capitalization mine.]

Regarding Pope’s accusations of plagiarism, Villacorta asserts the innocence of Sotto, “What have we done to deserve your incriminating words? The Senator did not lift it himself, we did. Did you want us to tell him to admit what he did not do? Who would you like to crucify for this oversight?” [Proper punctuation and capitalization mine.]

Villacorta then ostensibly asks for pardon, “Forgive us our single trespass. We had no malice, we thought you would be happy about it. There was no injury. Hope this makes you feel better.” [Again, proper capitalization mine.]

Pope responds to Villacorta, “I don’t like the fact that my blog was used without my permission against the education of the women of the Philippines and their reproductive rights.” She does not accept Villacorta’s claim that the Senator was innocent saying, “If his staff did it, he condoned it. He is responsible for your actions.”

Directly contradicting Sotto’s claims since his appearance on ANC, Pope maintains, “My Blog was quoted, not Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. I put her work in my words and you copied my words.” She also appears not to have appreciated Villacorta’s appeasement, “No, your lame comment does not make me “feel” any better.”

The account under the name “lezel,” through which Villacorta’s message was relayed, later responds to Pope, “A blog is meant to be shared and we shared it.” [Proper capitalization mine.]

ABS-CBN News confirms that the message was indeed the words of Villacorta. The author’s identity as Sotto’s Chief of Staff was also reaffirmed to Rappler. Later research turns up that this lezel appears to be a certain Lezel De Villa, who posted the same message from Villacorta on her Facebook account.

Investigative journalist Raissa Robles reports that, upon being informed by several commenters, it also appears that, for his second turno en contra speech, Sotto also had word-for-word plagiarisms from at least 4 sources, including several blogs (contradicting Sotto’s claim to not using blogs at all): The Margaret Sanger Papers Project of New York University, Marlon C. Ramirez’s Talking Sense, FeministsforChoice.com, and TheTruthofContraceptives.blogspot.com.

 

August 17

In an interview with Rappler, Sotto Chief of Staff Hector Villacorta maintains that Sotto has nothing to apologize for because, “He can’t apologize for something he did not know.” Rappler reports, that Villacorta, as Chief of Staff, takes responsibility for the scandal.

Villacorta says that they committed the error “in good faith,” despite repeating the same error on four other sources. He also says that it was “inelegant” to have quoted a blog. Despite having a law degree, Villacorta also adds that blogs are “part of public domain.” It should be noted that Sarah Pope’s blog, The Healthy Home Economist, is copyrighted and not in the public domain, given the statement below each of her articles showing that the rights to the content of her site are under Austus Foods LLC.

Villacorta further denies that they plagiarized the sources revealed by Raissa Robles, “I doubt it’s word for word because we’ve been going over and meeting about this research for months. It’s the product of our minds.” This doubt should be sorely tested by Robles’ highlighting of the said word-for-word copies on her article.

In another interview, one with GMA News Online, Villacorta further submits his opinion, “You have a blog, it is meant to be shared, it’s in the public domain, so it’s not plagiarism.”

Villacorta also reveals that it was actually him commenting under the name “lezel,” using a staff member’s account.

It appears that Villacorta understands plagiarism as copyright violation, saying, “Hindi naman copyrighted ang blogs kasi.” (Blogs are not copyrighted.) It is important to point out that plagiarism is not necessarily copyright infringement. Rather, it is taking someone’s work and presenting it as your own.

GMA News Online’s own coverage of the matter reveals that even a misplaced comma in Pope’s article (“According, to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD…”) is also present in Sotto’s published text of the first part of his turno en contra speech.

International news agency, the Associated Press, picks up on the Sotto plagiarism scandal, distributing it to various other news desks all over the world.

Apparently taking responsibility for any scandal, Sotto finally comments on the matter to GMA Network’s 24 Oras as reported by ABS-CBN News, “Whatever it is, the buck stops with me. I’m the senator.”

ABS-CBN Show Bandila, also hosted by Karen Davila, reports further on the scandal. They interview Villacorta who says, “What law did we violate? Only [Sarah Pope’s] sensitivity was affected.”

Pope on ANC’s The World Tonight, subsequently re-aired on Bandila, advices Sotto’s camp that they should have acknowledged that they “made a mistake” and that “proper credit should have been given for this information that was taken illegally from [Pope’s] blog.” She says that they should have said, “We’re sorry and can we move on?”

 

August 18

ABS-CBN News reports further that on Pope’s appearance on The World Tonight, she accused Sotto of “acting as though he’s above the law… to get his agenda through the Philippine legislature.” She continues, “That’s just wrong, that’s very poor behavior.” She later calls on Filipinos to “think about this when they go to the election booths when he’s up for reelection.”

Commenting on Villacorta’s supposed apology, Pope calls it a “ridiculous insulting rude comment” and that it “should be an embarassment to his office.” She demands an apology from the senator himself, “[I]f he, Senator Sotto writes a sincere letter of apology saying ‘this was a mistake, we apologize,’ I would post that on my blog.” Then, she would “consider this issue done.”

 

August 19

The Philippine Star reports Sotto announcing that he will postpone the closing of his turno en contra speech in order to defend himself on Wednesday against the public outcry against plagiarism in his speeches. He blames RH advocates, “It’s their fault. I am ready to close my turno but now I will postpone this for my privilege speech.”

He maintains his same defense, despite using verbatim Pope’s and several other sources’ exact words without attribution, saying that Pope was not “the author of the book,” referring to the writings of Natasha Campbell-McBride. He goes on to admit that he also “did not mention several other people’s names.”

Refusing to apologize to Pope and his other unattributed sources, Sotto again lashes out at RH advocates, “This is clearly a wrecking job.” He states his own view on the matter of plagiarism, “Plagiarism, whether you give attribution or not, applies only if you contend that the contents are yours.”

Bukluran UP System, the alliance of student organizations across the University of the Philippines (UP) system of campuses, calls on Senator Sotto to resign over the plagiarism scandal. The group’s National Spokesperson, UP Manila University Student Council Chair Jason Alacapa, says that Sotto’s resignation would be the “dignified thing to do.”

The group cited the resignations of Hungarian President Pal Schmitt and German prime minister prospect Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg over plagiarism as precedents for such an action. Recalling Sotto’s own dismissal of the stature of Sarah Pope as a blogger, the group’s Deg Daupan says, “…kung blogger lang iyon, senator lang si Sotto. Itong mga nag-resign sa ibang bansa, presidente at prime minister-to-be.” (If that was just a blogger, Sotto is just a senator. Those who resigned in other countries were a president and a prime minister-to-be.)

Noting a predictability of the plagiarism scandal, Topher Porras, Secretary-General of the RH AGENDA UP student organization, “This plagiarism case is not surprising. The anti-RH camp has been misinforming the public through lies and superstitions from the very start.”

 

August 20

The Philippine Daily Inquirer publishes an editorial, calling the scandal “so comical” and “so ridiculous” that they “invite disbelief.” Entitled, “‘Iskul Bukol’ in the Senate,” the editorial refers to Sotto’s stint in a comedy television show about students and their mischief. In addition to plagiarism, the editorial points out that Sotto used “dubious or at least ambiguous research” and “emotional blackmail” to stop the Reproductive Health Bill from passing. The editorial calls this “the real joke.”

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Sotto’s partner as the staunchest opponents of the RH Bill in the Senate, comes out to defend Sotto, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports, against accusations of plagiarism. On Sotto’s word-for-word copying of several sources, Enrile says, “He did not deny that the speech was a product of research. Meaning, there was attribution.” He goes on to say, “Is there an idea in this world that was not copied from others?” On using copyrighted material, Enrile declares, “Once you release an idea to the public, unless you copyright it, it can be used.” As reported earlier on this piece, Sarah Pope’s content is copyrighted under Austus Foods LLC.

 

August 21

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Senator Pia Cayetano, co-author of the Senate version of the RH Bill, was “blasted” by “netizens” for “the same offense” of plagiarism as Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto.

It was pointed out that two of Cayetano’s privilege speeches also contained word-for-word copies from sources apparently unattributed. These two speeches were “Privilege speech on the status of the Philippines in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)” and “On World Environment Day.”

However, upon being informed of the lack of attribution, the office of Cayetano immediately added the necessary references. On Twitter, Cayetano responded to the accusations, “If at any time, I fail to attribute, I immediately make the necessary corrections and amends.” She continues, “Citing authors and sources is part of the writing process I am happy to do because it shows the depth of research done.”

In contrast, Sotto’s immediate response after facing the initial charges of the scandal was to deny even using blogs at all. His camp has still failed to acknowledge Sarah Pope and the (at least four) other unattributed sources as references in his speech.

It should be noted that these statements by Cayetano were all readily available on Twitter. Despite the Inquirer mentioning an attempt to “get a comment from Cayetano,” the paper’s piece has no mention at all of any of these responses from Cayetano.

 

August 22

Sotto’s camp admits to not reading Campbell-McBride’s work at all, according to ABS-CBN News. Upon trying to access her writings, Sotto’s office apparently could not get a copy of her book off the Internet. Believing instead that Pope’s work was an accurate depiction of her work, they decided to use her words. Sotto Chief of Staff declares, “Researchers tried clicking the book but ayaw mag-download.” (It wouldn’t download.) “Kaya ang pinakamaganda, refer to blog dahil baka accurate naman,” (That’s why the next best thing was to refer to the blog because it might be accurate.) Villacorta went on to explain.

This defense completely contradicts Sotto’s initial claim that he was quoting Campbell-McBride and not Sarah Pope, who he believes is just a blogger.

 

August 23

Sotto Chief of Staff Hector Villacorta says, in a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, that “copying is a common practice” in the Senate. Citing that bills are usually refiled by other legislators without much revision or attribution to previous authors, Villacorta rationalizes, “Re-filing is an accepted practice. It is also called copying.” He goes on, “We plagiarized the US Constitution… but do they call us a plagiaristic country? No, because the law is based on precedent.” He said these in response to accusations that his office plagiarized not a bill or a legal document with boilerplate wording, but a personal privilege speech delivered in the name of Senator Sotto.

Further justifying his office’s actions, Villacorta calls upon his religious opinion, “Even our image was copied from God. We are all plagiarists.”

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, co-author of the RH Bill in the Senate, excused the plagiarism, saying, “Maybe the speech just writer overlooked it… we should give more leeway to senators as long as later on they admit that they took it from some other source…” It should be pointed out that while Cayetano immediately placed citations on the speeches found to not have them, Sotto’s camp has still refused to officially acknowledge the several bloggers whose words were delivered in the Senator’s name without attribution.

Villacorta further states that it is “awkward” to deliver a speech that says, “according to this blogger who quoted this author,” even though this was, in fact, what his office did. He goes on, “A whole gamut of ‘according to’ would also not make the speech credible,” referring to the speech Sotto delivered that cited outdated 1970’s sources.

In an “ambush interview” at the Senate, Senator Pia Cayetano responds to allegations of plagiarism. She notes that on the speech where she was accused of plagiarizing the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the footnotes her office had for the speech were accidentally left out when it was uploaded to their WordPress site. She also mentions that she had already cited the UNEP as a source in the relevant paragraph. Contra Sotto, she concedes that “dapat talagang ma-identify ang mga source.” (Sources definitely have to be identified.)

In the case of her speech on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), she complains that her accusers should have done a little research. She reveals that this speech was never delivered in the Senate. She delivered an entirely different speech “ad lib.” Then, her undelivered speech was accidentally uploaded to their site instead of the transcript of the manifestation she actually delivered in the Senate.

She says that she finds it “quite malicious” for her accusers to “impute malice on this.” She further acknowledges, “that your literary work should always be protected and should always be acknowledged.”

August 29

ProPinoy reports that the copy posted on the official Senate website of Sotto’s first turno en contra speech has been taken down without notice. It is available for access on Filipino Freethinkers servers.

Sotto’s turno en contra speech has apparently been moved to a different URL. This new transcript perhaps much more accurately reflects ad lib remarks and revisions Sotto made as he was delivering the speech on the Senate floor. It is, however, noteworthy to point out that this new transcript removes the (PERSONAL EXPERIENCE) note at the end that implied original authorship of the speech. It also removes the incriminating typographical error that matched Sarah Pope’s own blog from which Sotto’s office copied word-for-word segments, which were delivered without attribution in his name.

After much delay, Sotto finally delivers his speech defending himself from accusations of plagiarism, which was delivered mainly in Tagalog. He opens his speech by condemning his accusers of doing a “demolition job.” He opines regarding his accusers’ motives, “…upang humina ang aking panindigan laban sa RH bill.” (…so that my resolve is weakened against the RH bill). He claims that his accusers did not listen to his speech and decided to find a “small” issue to throw at him, “…ang mga kalaban ay naghanap ng maliit na isyung makakapuwing sa akin.” (…the enemies looked for a small issue that would blind me.)

He maintains, as if it were a sufficient replacement for proper attribution, that his blanket turn of phrase would be enough to deflect accusations of plagiarism: “Hindi ko po iniimbento ito. Itong mga kino-quote ko po ay mga fact na pinatotohanan ng mga eksperto sa larangan ng agham at batas.” (I am not inventing these. These things I’m quoting are facts that have been proven by experts in science and law.) Sotto is accused of plagiarizing Sarah Pope (among others), an anti-vaccination blogger and economics graduate who has no degree in law or science.

He further claims that he is the first Senator that has been a victim of cyber-bullying, particularly, he says, by supporters of the RH Bill. He opines, “Bahagi siguro ito ng kanilang istratehiya, lalo pa’t may milyun-milyon silang pondo.” (This is probably a part of their strategy, especially since they have millions in funds.)

Sotto claims that none of the points of his turno en contra speech were answered. Of course, a casual search on the Internet will provide a plethora of rebuttals of the content of his speech, such as those by Prof. Sylvia Claudio of the Center for Women’s Studies, which is just one among many.

He quotes no less than three different dictionaries, and this time properly cites them, in defining plagiarism. However, he does not defend himself regarding the definitions he had just presented. Instead, he says that plagiarism is not a crime, “…walang krimen ng plagiarism sa Pilipinas. Kahit hanapin ninyo pa sa Revised Penal Code, sa Intellectual Property Code, at maging sa Special Penal Laws, wala kayong makikitang krimen ng plagiarism.” (…there is no crime of plagiarism in the Philippines. Even if you look in the Revised Penal Code, in the Intellectual Property Code, even in the Special Penal Laws, you will not find the crime of plagiarism.)

Taking exception to attacks on his intellectual capacity he says, “Kahit mukha akong walang pinag-aralan kung ikukumpara sa mga pinag-aral nila at hindi kasing dunong nila, ang mahalaga ay ang ipinaglalaban ko.” (Even if I look unschooled compared to what they studied and not as wise as them, what is important is what I am fighting for.) He also mentions that his stint in the variety show, Eat Bulaga where he appeared with his brother Vic Sotto and fellow comedian Joey De Leon, was also made fun of. Sotto, who disparaged Sarah Pope as a mere blogger, says that he would rather be a clown than to say bad things about others.

In his closing, he reads a poem by Joey De Leon as well as enjoins his enemies to read Psalms 56, 63, and 64. He also mentions his god, “…ang tunay na Awtor ng aklat ng ating buhay at bawa’t kaluluwa ng isang sanggol na nabuo na sa sinapupunan ng kanyang ina.” (…the true Author of the book of our lives and of every soul of every baby that is already formed in the womb of their mother.)

He moves that the entire paragraph referencing Campbell-McBride, which included the plagiarized blog post of Sarah Pope, be stricken from the record.

Sotto does not mention Pope by name nor does he mention the word-for-word copies of other sources in his second turno en contra speech.

 

September 5

After several delays, Sotto finally delivers the third and fourth parts of his turno en contra speech on the same day. However, it was shown by several online commentators that the ending of his fourth speech was plagiarized from Robert F. Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation speech given to the National Union of South African Students in Cape Town. Though Sotto’s speech was delivered in Tagalog, it is quite clear that his words were unattributed translations from Kennedy’s famous speech.

Shortly after delivering his speech and amid the public furor on another clear case of plagiarism all within the span of a few weeks, Sotto defended himself on ABS-CBN’s Bandila. The segment showed Senate President pro-tempore Jinggoy Estrada asking Sotto on the Senate floor whether the words he had just delivered were his own. Sotto responded that they were indeed his own words. He continued, “Kaya ko ho tinagalog. Kaya ho Pilipino na ang ginamit ko para ‘wag nang magbintang ‘tong mga kung sinu-sino, at subukan nila.” (That’s why I made [my speech] Tagalog. That’s why I used Filipino so that these nobodies won’t accuse me, and they can try.)

Regarding Kennedy’s words that he had translated and delivered in Filipino, he asks his accusers on Balita, “So para nga safe, tinagalog ko. O, sino ngayon ang kinopyahan ko na Tagalog? Meron ba silang alam na pinanggalingan na Tagalog doon?” (So it would be safe, I made [my speech] Tagalog. What is it this time that I copied that was in Tagalog? Do they know a source that is Tagalog [in my speech]?) Referring to his own stint as a comedian he says, “Nakakatawa na sila. Sila ang komiko, eh. Hindi ako.” (They are hilarious. They’re the comics. Not me.) Apparently incredulous at the fact that he delivered the same thoughts of Kennedy in 1966, but merely translated, he says, “Marunong palang managalog si Kennedy, ah!” (Oh, Kennedy can speak Tagalog!)

 

September 6

One of the other bloggers Sotto plagiarized in the second part of his turno en contra speech, Janice Formichella of Feminists for Choice has come out to confirm that she was indeed plagiarized. More than that, she says that here words were “twisted into an argument against an important reproductive rights bill.”

Formichella clarifies in the Ms. Magazine blog that, in context, her work was not a condemnation of Margaret Sanger but of Gandhi and his “little-known sexism.” She says that Sotto’s quote-mining is ironic because the part he lifted “aptly reflects [Gandhi’s] hypocrisy as a political leader.” She says she would “love nothing more than to see this bill passed” and that she was angry that her work was used to delay the bill’s passage. She asks Sotto to apologize to “each of the bloggers he has plagiarized.”

In the GMA News Online report, Sotto instead says that it was “impossible” that Formichella was right because his office got the information from a book. He could not, however, provide the name of the book. Similar to how he considered Pope, Sotto says Formichella was “pathetic” and that she was just riding the bandwagon, “gusto lang niyan sumikat.” (She only wants to get famous.)

 

Image Captured from ANC’s Stream of Senator Tito Sotto’s Appearance on Headstart with Karen Davila

Posted in Politics, RH BillComments (13)

Sotto’s Pseudoscientific Source: Who is Natasha Campbell-McBride?


Senator Tito Sotto responded to allegations of plagiarism by denying them on national TV. In case comparing his speech with the blog post isn’t enough, the blogger herself, Sarah Pope, has confirmed that she was indeed plagiarized. And as it turns out, she might not be the only victim of Sotto’s plagiarism: some count at least 3 other plagiarized bloggers.

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride

Let’s humor Tito Sotto and entertain the possibility that his excuse is valid — that he wasn’t quoting the blogger, he was quoting the blogger’s source: Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. But was citing Dr. Natasha a good move?

I don’t think so. As far as Sotto’s credibility goes, citing Dr. Natasha was even worse than plagiarizing Pope. Because Dr. Natasha is a quack. She is most known for inventing the idea that autism — and many other symptoms and diseases — is caused by bacteria in our gut, a condition she calls “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” or GAPS — because “gut bacteria” just doesn’t sound as scientific.

The Consequences of Gut Bacteria

And what causes gut bacteria? According to Dr. Natasha, children who aren’t breastfed get gut bacteria. Sure, breastfeeding has benefits, and even real doctors prescribe it. But they don’t scare people with invented consequences, especially not without any real evidence. And by evidence, I mean the results of proper clinical trials. Does Dr. Natasha have such evidence? No. All she has are testimonials.

And when you replace the objectivity of Science with the subjectivity of anecdotal evidence, anything goes. Without the need to adhere to the rigors of Science, Dr. Natasha can confidently claim that like vaccinations, oral contraceptives cause gut bacteria, something Sotto now believes to be the cause of his son’s death.

Dr. Natasha’s disrespect for scientific procedures translates to a distrust of mainstream medicine — a distrust Sotto seems to share, both of them claiming that the pharmaceutical industry only cares about making money. And what alternative does she prescribe? She sells plenty of them in her online store, where anyone can purchase books, DVDs, probiotics, supplements, kitchen equipment, and garden hose filters, all based on the principles of the GAPS diet — an alternative solution that I think Sotto should promote.

Because if he believes Dr. Natasha, he should recommend these products to other alleged victims of vaccination and oral contraception. After all, these are the same products that could’ve saved his son. Unless, of course, he doesn’t buy this bullshit and he’s just trying to grasp at any scientific sounding nonsense to further delay voting on the RH bill.

____
Image sources: 1, 2

Further reading:

  • http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/08/01/gaps-in-a-doctors-reasoning-about-vaccines/
  • http://thesecondsight.blogspot.com/2010/10/self-reinforcing-circle-of-improbably.html

Posted in Politics, ScienceComments (19)

Sotto’s Reckless Method of Legislation is Inexcusable


Senator Tito Sotto suffered a personal loss with the death of his son. We understand his grief. What we cannot understand is why he chose to rely on an unknown blogger to explain his son’s death.

Right before asserting that he lost a child due to contraceptives, Sotto said he has scientific proof about the “damaging effects to children born from mothers who were using contraceptives prior to their pregnancy.” He then went on a lengthy explanation about gut imbalance, opportunistic flora, exposure of the fetus to toxins and zinc depletion.

His scientific proof was copied entirely and almost word-for-word from an article by a blogger calling herself “Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist.”

Do the comparison yourself. See the second to the last paragraph of Sotto’s speech and Sarah’s blog.

Sotto’s speech

Actually, these contraceptives are not just detrimental to women and the unborn. They are scientifically proven to have damaging effects to children born from mothers who were using contraceptives prior to their pregnancy too. According, to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, the use of the pill also causes severe gut dysbiosis. What is worse, drug induced gut imbalance is especially intractable and resistant to treatment either with probiotics or diet change. 1 Gut imbalance brought on through use of the pill negatively impacts the ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. As a result, even if a woman eats spectacularly well during pregnancy, if she has been taking oral contraceptives for a period of time beforehand, it is highly likely that she and her baby are not reaping the full benefits of all this healthy food as the lack of beneficial flora in her gut preclude this from occurring. 2 Pathogenic, opportunistic flora that take hold in the gut when the pill is used constantly produce toxic substances which are the by-products of their metabolism. These toxins leak into the woman’s bloodstream and they have the potential to cross the placenta. Therefore, gut dysbiosis exposes the fetus to toxins. 3 Not well known is also the fact that use of the pill depletes zinc in the body. Zinc is called “the intelligence mineral” as it is intimately involved in mental development. 4

Sarah’s blog

1 According, to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, use of other drugs such as the Pill also cause severe gut dybiosis. What’s worse, drug induced gut imbalance is especially intractable and resistant to treatment either with probiotics or diet change.

2 gut imbalance brought on through use of The Pill negatively impacts the ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. As a result, even if a women eats spectacularly well during pregnancy, if she has been taking oral contraceptives for a period of time beforehand, it is highly likely that she and her baby are not reaping the full benefits of all this healthy food as the lack of beneficial flora in her gut preclude this from occurring.

3 Pathogenic, opportunistic flora that take hold in the gut when The Pill is used constantly produce toxic substances which are the by-products of their metabolism. These toxins leak into the woman’s bloodstream and guess what, they have the potential to cross the placenta! Therefore, gut dysbiosis exposes the fetus to toxins

4 Not well known is the fact that use of The Pill depletes zinc in the body. Zinc is called “the intelligence mineral” as it is intimately involved in mental development.

Sotto should know that Sarah has also written several articles against vaccination, with a summary piece entitled “Six Reasons To Say NO to Vaccination” having these two wild and reckless claims:

  • ALL Vaccines are Loaded with Chemicals and other Poisons
  • Fully Vaccinated Children are the Unhealthiest, Most Chronically Ill Children I Know

Sotto should also have read Sarah’s disclaimer on her site which says: “The information on this website is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for the advice provided by your doctor or other health care professional. … The nutritional and other information on this website are not intended to be and do not constitute health care or medical advice.”

Sotto ignored decades of studies and declarations by the World Health Organization and the Department of Health that contraceptives are safe, only to rely on an unknown blogger making wild claims. He even ignored the blogger’s disclaimer. Sotto’s reckless method of legislation is inexcusable.

Posted in Politics, RH BillComments (130)

Bigotymology: What it Really Means to Be a Bigot (Like Sotto, Pacquiao, and the CBCP)


Whenever I listen to Senator Sotto on the RH Bill, Manny Pacquiao on homosexuality, and the CBCP on pretty much everything, one word uncontrollably comes to mind: bigot. The impulse is almost as strong as God bless you! follows a sneeze.

In Catholic Philippines, it seems that some people can’t help sneezing, the most recent being former beauty queen Miriam Quiambao. And always, freethinkers everywhere can’t but say bigot! in response.

Recently, some conservatives have gone on the defensive, because intolerance is no longer as fashionable as it used to be back in the good old Dark Ages. Conservative cohorts of the CBCP are arguing that anti-LGBT Christians are being called bigots just because “it’s so cool” (it’s actually so mainstream that it’s not) and that their accusers are equally deserving of the accusation:

But you know, it’s so ‘cool’ these days to call Christianity bigotry… It’s funny, though, how those who scream and call for tolerance are the very same people who are the first to call ‘foul’ when their own beliefs, behaviors and/or lifestyles are challenged…

Let’s face it, anti-Catholicism/anti-Christianity is the last acceptable prejudice. Tolerance is only real when it goes both ways. The LGBT crowd have their own beliefs, let Miriam have hers.

In other words, calling out Christian bigotry is just as intolerant and prejudiced as being anti-LGBT in particular and anti-conservative-Christian in general. Thus, the critics themselves have become the bigots.

But is this true? Is harsh criticism of the Christian perspective a form of bigotry? If both progressives and conservatives can correctly call each other bigots, has the term bigot become meaningless? What does it really mean to be a bigot?

These questions are important to me because I’m guilty of being one of the first to call bigot! — sometimes even before whole sentences are formed — and I belong to an organization that recently gave out a Bigot of the Year award.

To answer them, I studied the word bigot: how it is defined, how it was formed, how it was originally used, and how related words clarify its meaning. By the end of this post, you’ll know who you can call a bigot and whether doing so makes you one.

Bigotefinition

The dictionary defines bigot as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”

No one can be faulted for being opinionated, but bigotry lies not merely in having opinions but being devoted to them. Obstinate devotion means you believe something “in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion.”

You might think that we’ve finally hit the nail on the head, but reason is another problematic word: everyone has their own criteria for what is rational, so it’s easy to accuse anyone of bigotry simply because you cannot persuade them with your reasoning.

When it comes to the second half of the definition, conservatives can deflect charges of hatred and intolerance with the usual excuses: “We hate the sin, not the sinner.” (Although there’s absolutely no excuse for inciting violence, the way Pacquiao recently did.)

At this point, some might think that “obstinate devotion” can equally apply to progressives, but this won’t be the case if you understand what it means to be devoted.  Devotion is more than mere commitment; it implies “religious fervor,” an act of “private worship.”

A bigot isn’t just passionate about an opinion — holding the opinion is a form of worship, a prayer to God. And as you’ll soon find out, it’s by God that we’ll separate the merely opinionated from the blatantly bigoted.

Bigotymology

There are three theories about bigot’s origin. The first is that it’s based on Visigothus, the name of a people in southern Gaul. The second is that it’s from the Germanic oath, “by God.” The third — my favorite — is that it came from the Spanish, bigote or mustache.

There’s not much evidence to support any theory, but they think the third is the strongest “by virtue of it not having any evidence against it.” (Maybe I’ll send them some articles on Sotto and pics of his signature ‘stache to cement the third theory’s position.)

Anyway, without no clear origin, we can focus on its original usage. Bigot was first used in the late 16th century to mean “sanctimonious person, religious hypocrite.” Bigotry (based on the French bigoterie) came in the late 17th century to mean “sanctimoniousness.”

A sanctimonious person is “hypocritically pious or devout” — he projects a righteous image through religiosity, a self-righteousness that is contradicted by his own actions. As hypothetical examples, consider an outwardly pious politician involved in the rape of Pepsi Paloma or a Bible-thumping boxer involved in an affair with Krista Ranillo.

Compared to its current usage, the earlier one lost this sanctimonious sense of hypocrisy, while retaining, however subtly, the sense of religiosity. In the original usage, a bigot projects a religious image through behavior; in the current one, he does so using belief.

It is this strong sense of religious belief that characterizes a bigot. This becomes even clearer when we examine bigot in relation to words with similar meanings.

Bigotesaurus

Searching Roget’s International Thesaurus (1922) online returns three words strongly-related to bigotry: credulity, certainty, and obstinateness. These words — and other related ones — illuminate how a bigot believes. As you look at the words below, think about whether it applies more or less to progressives or conservatives. I highlighted ones that are particularly revealing.

CREDULITY, credulousness &c. adj.; gullibility, cullibility [obs.]; gross credulity, infatuation; self-delusion, self-deception; superstition; one’s blind side; bigotry (obstinacy); hyperorthodoxy
BE CREDULOUS &c. adj.; jurare in verba magistri [L.]; follow implicitly; swallow, swallow whole, gulp · down; take on trust; take for -granted, – gospel; take on faith;

CERTAINTY; necessity [See Necessity]; certitude, sureness, surety, assurance; dead -, moral- certainty; infallibleness &c. adj.; infallibility, reliability, reliableness; indubitableness, inevitableness, unquestionableness.
gospel, scripture, church, pope, court of final appeal; res adjudicata, [L.], res judicata [L.]; ultimatum.
FACT; positive fact, matter of fact; fait accompli [F.].
BIGOTRY, positiveness, dogmatism, dogmatization; fanaticism.

OBSTINATENESS
BE OBSTINATE &c. adj.; stickle, take no denial, fly in the face of facts; opinionate [rare], be wedded to an opinion, hug a belief;
creed-bound; prepossessed, infatuated; stiff-backed, stiff-necked, stiff-hearted; hard-mouthed, hidebound; unyielding; impervious, impracticable, impersuasible, impersuadable, unpersuadable; untractable, intractable; incorrigible, deaf to advice, impervious to reason; crotchety [See Caprice] BIGOTRY, intolerance

A bigot is credulous: he believes things strongly, even superstition, to the point of self-deception because he takes things on faith.

A bigot is certain: he believes with such sureness the infallibility of his chosen authority to the point of dogmatism and fanaticism.

A bigot is obstinate: he believes even in the face of contradictory facts because he is married to his opinion and bound by his creed.

To a bigot, it’s not the opinion itself that has power; it’s the authority figure from whom the bigot received the opinion. Whether you believe by authority — especially religious ones — is ultimately what determines whether a believer is a bigot.

Bigotefinition Revisited;

I actually made a mistake and checked the thesaurus too early, entirely forgetting that the dictionary also provided related words: synonyms and antonyms, which can better define the boundaries of a word’s meaning. My dictionary lists the following related words:

Synonyms: dogmatist, dogmatizer, partisan (also partizan), sectarian
Related Words: doctrinaire, fanatic, purist; jingoist, nationalist; racialist, racist, supremacist; chauvinist, sexist
Near Antonyms: freethinker, latitudinarian, liberal

There’s so many here that we can use, but the first synonym and near antonym are more than enough.  A dogmatist takes dogma as fact, forming opinion based on it; A freethinker denies religious dogma, forming opinions independent of authority. Both form opinions; what differentiates them is whether they’re based on dogma. A bigot is a dogmatist, not a freethinker.

If the Bigote Fits

Let’s go back to our original question. Is harsh criticism of the Christian perspective a form of bigotry? If the criticisms are based on reason and not infallible dogma, then no. Criticizing Christianity, however harshly, is not a form of bigotry.

The term bigot has not lost its meaning. When examined closely, it correctly applies to only one side of the debate: the right (conservative) side.

Although both sides hold their opinions strongly, only one side does so because of their credulity, certainty, and obstinacy to believe the Bible and every authority that claims to represent their God.

Yet it’s not enough to call someone a bigot and just leave it at that. It’s better to explain why you think certain people are bigots — or at least hold bigoted beliefs. Doing so raises awareness not only of bad opinions but also of better opinions and the ways in which they are formed.

And who knows? Maybe someday Sotto or Paquiao or the CBCP will finally listen and learn. Even bigots deserve compassion. Remember: hate bigotry, not the bigot.

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The Most Powerful Force in the Universe (Part 2)


The RH Bill and Exponential Growth

In my article What the Debate on the RH Bill Should Not be About, I argued that overpopulation is a non-issue in debates over the passage of the RH Bill. There I reasoned that the battle over the RH Bill is a women’s rights battle and that overpopulation has little if anything to do with it. While I am still convinced that the RH Bill is a women’s rights issue, the following observations forced me to reconsider the relationship between the bill and the Philippine population problem:

  • The world population has exceeded 7 billion. What’s worse is that it shows no signs of stabilizing on its own anytime in the foreseeable future (contrary to the claims of the laissez-faire advocates).
  • The successful population management measures in many countries around the world, particularly in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, have yielded very positive effects. In fact, the said countries have already overtaken the Philippines in terms of social and economic progress.
  • Our legislators, particularly Senator Sotto, continue to use overpopulation denial myths as arguments against the passage of the RH Bill.
  • Conservative estimates have pegged the Philippine population at 101 million as of July 2011.[1]
  • The Philippine population grew by 1.904% in the year 2011.[1]

The above observations should be enough to convince any rational person that the RH Bill is not only important but is urgently needed. Sadly, many of our politicians aren’t really of the rational sort.

 

Seven billion. That's a pretty big number, dontcha think?

 

Sotto Voce?

On a Senate interpellation on the RH Bill held last December 5, Senator Tito Sotto parroted the same old ridiculous arguments that supposedly prove that the world is not overpopulated. Worse still, Sotto went as far as to claim that the world would never experience overpopulation. In his own (?) words, “These people think that they are smarter than God. Sa tingin ba nila gagawa ba ang Diyos ng mundo na mapupuno? [Do they think God will create a world that will be overpopulated?]”

"Dapat bang maging senador 'to?" "HINDE!!!!11!!!1!!"

Sotto’s argument is blatantly invalid in two ways. First, it is legally invalid; such a theological argument has no place in a secular interpellation (and that goes for you too, Senator Miriam Santiago). The fact that such a theological argument can be used in a Senate interpellation without drawing any objections from the other senators is enough to give any secularist a conniption. Second and perhaps worse, Sotto’s argument is logically invalid; it does not follow that if there is a god, then that god will create a world that will never be overpopulated.

Setting aside the invalidity of his arguments, Sotto’s claim that the Philippines will never be overpopulated is also demonstrably, disturbingly and dangerously false. The key to debunking Sotto’s absurd claim is contained in just two words: exponential growth.

 

Three Chinas in a Philippines

This year, the Philippine population experienced a growth of 1.904%. If this population growth rate is maintained, the Philippine population will double in a mere 36 years and 9 months – around 37 years.[2] If there are 101 million Filipinos alive today, that means there will be 202 million Filipinos alive 37 years from now. Give another 37 years (that’s 74 years from now) and there will be 404 million Filipinos alive. Fast-forward to another 37 years (111 years from now) and our population is already at 808 million; by then our population is rapidly speeding toward the 1 billion mark. Does this pattern sound familiar? Why of course, it is nothing but the geometric progression that we’ve met in Part 1 of this article. By now you should know that if our population keeps on growing in such a pattern, then we’re in for a lot of trouble.

Shown below is a table of the projected population of the Philippines in the next two centuries under the assumption that our population growth rate remains steady at 1.904%.

Table 1
Year Population
2011 101 million
2048 202 million
2085 404 million
2122 808 million
2159 1.616 billion
2196 3.232 billion

 

Under this steady growth rate scenario, the Philippine population would exceed 1 billion somewhere around the year 2130. Our great grandchildren, perhaps even some of our grandchildren, would still be alive at that time and would be among the 1 billion Filipinos trying to fit inside a country 32 times smaller than China. By the end of the 22nd century, the number of people trying to fit inside the Philippines is more than thrice the number of people living in China today. By the year 2500 the Philippine population is already, quite simply, astronomical. Now matter how look at it, the Philippines can be overpopulated and it will be overpopulated if we will do nothing about our population growth rate. Take that, Tito Sotto.

 

The Philippine Population Growth Rate: Good News and Bad News

Three objections can be leveled against the previous hypothetical scenario. The first one goes like this: Malayo pa naman ang taong 2196 ah, bakit natin po-problemahin yun? [The year 2196 is still many, many years away, why should we bother about what’s going to happen then?] The degree of myopia implied by this objection is, sad to say, exhibited by many of our politicians and citizens. This can be remedied only by good moral education. But this remedy takes a long time, perhaps several generations. We need to act on the problem now. The only way to expedite the solution is to replace our myopic politicians with wise, far-seeing leaders. For this purpose we have the democratic process of voting our future leaders.

The second objection is worse than the first: Malapit namang magugunaw ang mudo. Bakit pa tayo magpapakahirap sa pag-ayos nito? [The world is going to end soon anyway. Why waste your effort making it a better place?] Unfortunately, many people, some of them even intelligent, sincerely hold this view that the world is ending soon. It is our job as freethinkers and as people who love the earth to think of creative ways to convince these people to care for the future of our planet. We might need to convert them to freethought or to more liberal versions of their religion. We might also try to convince them that if they believe that the god they love created this world, then they should do everything to take care of it. Whatever our strategy is, we must do everything we can to decrease the number of people who believe the world will end soon because if we don’t, then it surely will.

The third objection is a rational one: The steady growth rate scenario is an oversimplification because the Philippine population growth rate isn’t really constant but is in fact decreasing. This objection is in fact valid. (It does not, however, negate the fact that the scenario in the previous section disproves Tito Sotto’s claim that the world will never be overpopulated.) Official records show that the Philippine population growth rate has been on a general trend of decline over the past decades. The Philippine population growth rate over the past few years is shown in the table below. [3]

Table 2
Year Population Growth Rate
1970 3.08%
1980 2.71%
1990 2.35%
2000 2.36%
2007 2.04%

 

There is good news and bad news in the trend of the population growth rate.

Let’s begin with the good news. The decline in our population’s growth rate is either an effect or an indicator of the following:

  • Our government’s previous family planning programs have been, to a certain extent, effective.
  • Filipino women have been slowly gaining empowerment over the past decades.
  • The Filipino youth have been slowly gaining accurate RH information in recent years.
  • Philippine cultural values have shifted from the valuing the quantity of life to valuing the quality of life.
  • The Church’s anti-contraceptives stance is quickly losing support among Filipinos.

Now off to the bad news. I will first state them in somewhat technical language. Later I will unload them in layman’s language. Here they go:

  • While fertility rates have been steadily declining in middle- to high-income families, the fertility rates in low-income families have not dropped; in fact, studies show that they have increased in the period between 1997 and 2000(see Reference [7]).
  • The disparity between our country’s fertility rate (somewhere between 2.79 and 3.19[4]) and population growth rate (1.904%) is an indication that there remains a high infant mortality rate in the Philippines.
  • The decline in our population growth rate is better modeled by a decreasing exponential and not a decreasing linear plot.[5]

Now let us explain the bad news in layman’s language one by one.

First bad news: Families with means voluntarily undergo family planning while poor families continue to have more babies than they can feed. (But who doesn’t know this already? Apparently the anti-RH camp.) So even though the population growth rate of the Philippines is declining on average, the decline is not uniform across all income levels.  This causes the top of the social pyramid to become thinner and the base to become wider. If this keeps on going, this means that in the near future our society will be composed of fewer and fewer people with means and more and more people who cannot feed their families. (Wait, am I describing the future here or the present?) An economist of any feather will tell you that this is really bad news.

A Philippine porridge line. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Second bad news: If there are many children born for every woman in the Philippines, then why is our population not growing as rapidly as it should? Surely this is not because of an increased natural death rate; our natural death rate is in fact declining. The only explanation available is that many infants are dying. High infant mortality rate is an indication of high birth rates among low-income families. That brings us back to bad news number one.

Third bad news: Yes, our population growth rate is decreasing, but its rate of decrease is slowing down over time. This means that as years go by, it won’t decrease fast enough to curb our growing population. For example, by year 2100, our population growth has decreased but is still at 1.52%. That’s 89 years from now when our population growth rate is at 1.904%! End story: our population will keep on growing exponentially if we do nothing about it. The decline in population growth rate is not enough to curb the exponential population growth that has been going on for decades now.

The graph below shows the projected Philippine population in the coming decades as assessed by the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the graph, the Philippine population will be at 150 million in the year 2050. Note that this projection is around 75% of the value projected in Table 1 for the year 2048.

Projected growth in Philippine population. From the U.S. Census Bureau.

 

Lessons From the Losing CEO

If we learned anything from Part 1 of this article, then it is that one should never underestimate the power of exponential growth. We are therefore faced with the following fact: Our population is already at 101 million and it continues to grow exponentially. Even if our population growth rate is declining, it is not declining fast enough to curb the dangerous rise in our numbers. Worse still, studies show that while families with means tend to have fewer children, poor families tend to have many.

But we’ve seen that there’s good news. As long as you give families and especially women the freedom to choose, they will choose to keep their family size manageable. This is shown by the significant decrease in the fertility rates among middle to upper class women over the past decades. Poor families and poor women in particular, however, still do not have the means and the freedom to choose the family planning method that suits them best. This explains why the fertility rate among low-income families remain dangerously high. All the facts indicate, however, that if we give them the power to choose, low-income families will voluntarily plan families of manageable sizes (1-4 children). Note that they will do this for their own good without knowing that they are, in effect, helping to solve a national problem.

Herein lies the magic of the RH Bill: It solves two different problems in one stroke. On the one hand, it will give poor families the power of options in planning their family. On the other hand, its end effect will be the curbing of our population growth. The RH Bill will do these and more. At the most basic level, the RH Bill will give women their basic rights to family planning services and it will give the youth their basic rights to scientific and age-appropriate education.

 

The RH Bill: An Urgent National Concern

Never forget that one does not kid with exponential growth. If we are to secure our future as a country, then we must manage our population now. In fact, we should have started decades ago.

Congress and Senate must pass the RH Bill by January of next year, or else it will be too late. Remember, we are racing against time in our battle against the most powerful force in the universe.

Reproductive Health = our Republic's Health.

* * *

 

Notes:

[1] Taken from the webpage of index mundi, Reference [4]. See also References [5] and [6] for official data.

[2] The equation for any kind of exponential growth is similar to that of compound interest: FV = PV(1 + i)n. Here, FV is the future value (of an investment or of a population), PV is the present value, i is the rate of increase and n is the number of times the value is increased. In our case, PV is 101 million, the present population of the Philippines. If it doubles, this means that FV is 202 million. Meanwhile, i is 1.904% = 0.01904, the population growth rate. We want to solve for n, the number of years it takes for PV = 101 million to become FV = 202 million. This is accomplished by dividing both sides of the compound interest equation by PV, then taking the logarithm of both sides and then finally using the properties of logarithms. The solution is going to be n = 36.75.

[3] See References [5] and [6] for the official estimates. Reference [4] provides more recent, unofficial estimates. Reference [8] provides projections based on UN studies.

[4] The high estimate is from Reference [4], the low estimate is from Reference [8].

[5] The best fit exponential curve in the population growth rate has an equation of f(x) = (2×10-7)e-0.01x with coefficient of determination R2 = 0.935. I tried the best-fit linear curve, and its coefficient of determination is only at R2 = 0.932; even then, the slope of the linear trend line is negligibly small so that difference between the predictions of the linear plot and those of the exponential plot will not be very great.

* * *

References:

[1] Miller, G. Environmental Science, 10th ed, 2005.

[2] Campbell, N.A., Reese, J.B. and Mitchell, L.G., Biology, 5th ed, 1999.

[4] Index Mundi. <http://www.indexmundi.com/philippines/population_growth_rate.html>, accessed 15 December 2011.

[5] National Statistics Coordination Board. <http://www.nscb.gov.ph/secstat/d_popn.asp>, accessed 15 December 2011.

[6] National Census Data via the National Statistics Office. <http://www.census.gov.ph/data/sectordata/popproj_tab1r.html>

[7] Asian Development Bank, Poverty in the Philippines: Income, Assets and Access. 2005.

[8] Costello, M.P. and Casterline, J.B., Fertility Rate Decline in the Philippines: Current Status, Future Prospects. 2005

 

 


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The International Women’s Health Movement in The Era of Globalization


(Plenary address delivered at the 11th International Women’s Health Meeting, Brussels, Belgium, September 15, 2011)

Permit me a moment of personal sharing. Before I left the Philippines, Senator Vicente Sotto, during his interpellation of a proposed bill to ensure reproductive health services in the country, projected the website of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR). He chose particularly that part of the website which discusses abortion. He added that Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio is the Chair of WGNRR, and that she has been seen frequently with the authors of the reproductive health bill.

The proposed legislation does not, in fact, change the Philippine’s restrictive law on abortion. The proposed law however, will mandate humane treatment of women seeking post-abortion care. It will also assure access to sexuality education, emergency obstetric services, modern contraceptives along with a range of other services such as those which treat and prevent reproductive tract infections.

I will add that Senator Sotto and other legislators who oppose any legislation related to reproductive health, divorce, LGBTI rights, are open about the fact that they are doing the work of God. Many advocates also state that they are doing it out of obedience and respect for the Bishops of the Catholic Church. And yes, in case any of you were wondering, the Philippines is a secular republic. But in the Philippines, as well as in other countries, legal guarantees on secularism have not restrained the fundamentalists from violations.

Perhaps I should move to assure you that I do not yet perceive myself in danger. I should also add that the rabidness of the religious fundamentalists at home is related to the strength of our efforts for the reproductive health bill. Two weeks ago, Philippine President Aquino certified the bill as a priority measure.

I mention this because this is the 11th IWHM, we are on our 34th year of the contemporary women’s health movement since the very first IWHM was held in Europe in 1977. On the one hand we have achieved much as a movement. And yet on another, whether it be in Asia or Europe we are experiencing backlash and the continuing control of our bodies.

In 1977 and today regimes of control determine the way we work, love and live. Then and now, women have resisted. As long as there is a need for resistances there is a need for a movement. Where women work together to free themselves from class, caste, race, colonial, neo-colonial, heterosexist, and other regimes of control, there we shall find our movement.

In a paper of mine that has been put in our conference kits, I have mentioned a few reasons for our success. Permit me now to state where I think we must go. Why, despite our success, we are facing increasing poverty and control whether we be in Europe or Asia, or any other region of the world.

My dear sisters, I open my eyes and see that the world is poorer. There are large gaps that exist between the rich and the poor and the gap is ever-widening. Apart from this, the world is at war, led by a nation which reacted to the aggression of a few by punishing whole peoples. But big wars are not the only threats. Small wars are waged everywhere and the streets of our communities and the bedrooms at home can also be places of violence.

In places of worship, in the academe, in newspapers and websites, in village halls and international convention centers, whether these be in progressive democracies or known fascist regimes, women are experiencing serious attempts to roll back the gains of freedom. These are often led by religious groups but any type of group and individual may be the source of this.

In the meanwhile world organizations such as the UN, which we have invested in so that they may reflect our resistance and solidarity, have become increasingly bureaucratized and impotent. On top of the previous institutions of control like the Vatican, we see the rise of minor despots or major power institutions like the World Trade Organization.

In the meantime the environment is suffering and we are threatening the life of the earth itself.
Whether through militarism or environmental degradation we are being brought to the brink of destruction.

Please, I do not wish to raise a panic. Whenever there is a panic it is the women and children who are trampled in the stampede. Women are likely to be blamed for overproducing people causing poverty and environmental degradation. This is one reason we are told by some to stop making babies. Or, we are told the breakdown of our communities is caused by our licentiousness and that we had better go back to our homes to produce babies.

Shall I be honest now? As if I have not been honest before? Shall I have a small tantrum? For the last 21 years that I have been working with IWHMs I have watched as those of us coming from the global South had to speak louder when we said we wished to oppose the imperialism of the World Bank which made our governments cut down on health spending and impose user fees. I have also heard the criticism of lesbian women about their marginalization. And we may go on about others: the disabled, the women from various indigenous populations, etc.

I have seen how organizers have succeeded or failed to root out the very elements of the oppressive structures which the movement wishes to change. And as it is with the IWHMs so it is with our social movements.

But I am tired of recriminations and guilt. They are the power tools of the despots and the messiahs. We are a movement that understands that life means pleasure and that those who wish to create our lives for us will end pleasure for us, and that is where poverty starts. So resistance means an insistence on food, housing, health, but also pleasure.

And why is this so? Because I have come to understand that in the era of globalization control is not merely political it is also biological,

In magazines conceived in London but sold in the corner store in Bombay or Prague, people are told what bodies to have—what kind of hips, what kind of lips, what kind of sexual aspirations.

Fast and global systems of market surveillance all over the world make the gestures of rebellion or alienation by people in any part of the world today tomorrow’s chic and latest consumerist trend. Fashions are designed in New York, cut by women pattern makers in Manila and rolled out as clothes in Shanghai.

The extraction of profit at every moment of our human need to communicate or create has never been more efficient. Indeed, life itself is being patented for a profit.

This profit taking is so frenetic and so efficient that in capitalism’s boom and bust cycles, trillions of dollars are lost or gained over very short periods of time.

We cannot delude ourselves that this efficiency in profit making is not resulting in global poverty.

We cannot delude ourselves that this enslavement of our human capacities to capitalist extraction happened independently of gender, race, class, caste and other dimensions by which they wish us to perceive our humanity.

Let me be clearer: class, sex, race, heterosexist and caste systems are not separate entities. There is no such thing as a less racist capitalism or a less heterosexist caste system. The feminist insight that brought us to reproductive and sexual rights has been validated by the evolution of the world’s economy. Productive and reproductive systems derive from the same human creativity. When wealth is extracted from the poor, it begins by making us accept that these two moments of life, production and reproduction, can be separated. When power moves it dictates what we think of ourselves and our world. It does so only because it has to—because our lives are not like this and we resist.

But to understand the our own envelopment by hegemony is not a call to stop noticing the race, class, caste and other differences that cause divisions among us. I have no wish to excuse myself from my own shortcomings. I have no respect for those who would use political theory to excuse their own bigotry.

However, my ability to be bigoted is not the problem. Bigotry is the default option that biopolitical mechanisms of control instill in us. The problem is my ability to accept the world according to their making. Where I exclude myself from others and their struggles, there is where I fall into error. Where I conceive of the women’s health movement as not also a movement against globalization; where I conceive of the movement against sexism as not also a movement against heterosexism, where I conceive the movement against racism as not a movement against caste—that is where I fall into error.

Where I conceive that my ability to love can be stunted so that it stays in the confines of my home or tribe or nation, instead of allowing it to expand towards solidarity with all the world’s poor, there is where I fail.

We cannot be blind to the fact that the world’s economy is in trouble. Everywhere people are insecure about their futures and their jobs. In the meanwhile, the world financial crisis has not brought an end to capitalist greed because it cannot help itself. It falls to all of us to deal with this crisis.

It is wrong to think that world poverty comes about from the lack of democracy and equity in the area of production and not in the area of reproduction. The women’s health movement must not feel itself out of its depth when it engages the movement against globalization. At the very least we must recognize that the medicalization of the bodies of women who can afford the expensive drugs and procedures, something I have seen discussed well in this meeting, comes from the same logic that denies life saving drugs to those who cannot afford to pay.

War, militarization and fundamentalisms are not distinct from the economic crisis. Wars have become police actions against leaders, nations or groups that would challenge the expropriation and concentration of wealth. But wars and intimate violence are never only about the free flow of goods and capital, it is also about how women must behave. Let us not be fooled by the rhetoric that those who would liberate us from our usual despots because these puppets can no longer to serve capitalism effectively, will also protect women’s rights—as if our sisters from advanced capitalist economies were so liberated. We cannot throw off one set of dictators for a set of liberators who will instill the same norms for women’s being. If real democracy is to be had it must be radicalized to extend to freedom for women as well.

Similarly do not let the urgent need to protect our environment blind us to the fact that it is not the world’s majority poor who are the main polluters. The solution cannot be to lessen the population of a country by imposing sanctions on women’s fertility.

But I do not wish to make a list of huge tasks addressed to some anonymous group called “us”. Rather I would like us also to think how easy it is to work on all these issues because we are already in resistance. The movement for sexual rights and freedoms is everywhere. We can begin by refusing the identities that oppression wishes to impose– “us”, “other” and “others”.

There is after all no need to submit our political actions to any unifying principle or hierarchy. As if our desires and our creativity have not always been polymorphous and unregimented. To ask a any woman to prioritize only this struggle or that is to say a woman is a good Muslim when she fights prejudice against Islam but chastise her when she criticizes the fundamentalists in her religion. Or it is asking a woman to be solely a lesbian and fight against heterosexism while denying that she is also a worker fighting against contractualization. We cannot fall into the these dichotomies.

In the Philippines, the Catholic spokespersons accuse us of going against Philippine culture and identity when we refuse Catholic norms for sexuality. Our response has been to insist that those among us who are not Catholic, and/or do not subscribe to their views on sex, must have equal citizenship rights and not be forced to live under their norms. To put it succinctly, I am a feminist and a freethinker and very much a Filipina. All women, as citizens, have a right to participate in social institutions and culture so that they may work to change the patriarchal norms embedded within them.

Second, we need not submit to any geographical hierarchies of struggle. Let me appeal to you that the local struggle in the Philippines may be as important as larger regional and international struggles. Our struggle in the Philippines is important because we are one of the last bastions of Catholic fundamentalism in the old colonies. Here, the local is global. Similarly, the struggle of Dr. Agnes Gereb, imprisoned in Hungary for providing home births is of equal importance–as are a thousand other individual struggles.

At the same time I would not make boycotting or attending UN activities a litmus test for our alliances. As we go to the UN for the review of the ICPD for example, my question is whether those who go will speak of all our struggles. My question is whether those who will go to the UN will still do so out of a sense of joyous struggle rather than gloomy obligation. Because, as we grapple with the bureaucratization and isolation of the UN, we shall see how the global can be extremely parochial. Cairo and Beijing are not supposed to be the maximum, they are supposed to be the minimum. And we cannot forget what was not won in Cairo but knew we wanted. Sexual rights are not a matter to be compromised this time around.

Whereas the enemy prefers us to think of homogeneous and stable identities and institutions, we are actually a heterogeneous and nomadic movement. Whereas the enemy would divide the world into distinct arenas of struggle, we make the linkages, the confluences and the synergies. This is not a way of saying we must respect the diversity in the women’s movement, as if diversity was a difficult but unavoidable condition. I am saying that it is only through diversity that we subvert the sterile homogeneity of fundamentalist prescriptions.

Lastly, we must trust our immense power to create what is positive. The first-ever IWHM did not speak of rights; it spoke of self-help, the capacity of women to help themselves. Indeed, the regimes of power and control that envelope us survive only on our strength. This is why they lock us in their death embrace. As the world stands on the edge of increasing misery we must counter-pose a new regime of life enhancement for all the world’s population. Universal health care, jobs for all, housing, clean water, food, security — these are not mere words, they are attainable social projects.

Thank you and good morning.

Images from wn.com, aibartincontext.wordpress.com, and manilatimes.net

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Stop the Witch Hunt of RH Bill Advocates


 

Sen. Vicente Sotto’s interpellation of the RH Bill at the Senate has deteriorated into a witch-hunt of organizations supporting the bill that, in his opinion, have an agenda to legalize or promote abortion in the Philippines. The organizations that he has named so far are the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP), Likhaan Center for Women’s Health (Likhaan), the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), and the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP). More could follow as the senator has asked for a list of all organizations that have expressed support for the bill.

Instead of arguing about the content of the RH Bill, Sen. Sotto has shifted to attacking advocates.

This crude antic is an implied admission of weakness in conducting a reasoned and respectful debate with fellow senators who are, in the final analysis, the authors and sponsors of the measure. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are formally invited to public hearings on proposed laws and asked to present and argue their position. This engagement of CSOs is a key feature of democracy, of governance through dialogue. Unfairly using the immense powers of the Senate to attack CSOs for their different points of view is the act of a bully and violates the tenet of responsive governance.

Some RH Bill advocates—like the organizations maligned by Sen. Sotto—are truly concerned about the harm to women and their families of unsafe abortion. Because of our work in very poor urban and rural communities, we know firsthand of women who have suffered severe complications—hemorrhage, infection and perforated bowels—some of whom survived, while others died. We know of women survivors who were subjected to verbal abuse, maltreatment, and neglect in hospitals by the medical people who were supposed to help them. We know too that the reasons that push women to have an abortion are desperate, that the decision to have an abortion is never easy, and that if women could prevent abortion, they would.

Beyond the RH Bill, we stand for openly and soberly discussing the impact of abortion in the Philippines and finding humane and workable solutions. Last time we heard it, discussing abortion is legal in this country. A century of criminalizing abortion has not stopped its widespread use, but only made it dangerous.

The RH Bill has at least three features that can substantially reduce abortions without even changing the law. Family planning—whether through natural or artificial methods—can address the root of abortion, unintended pregnancy, by enabling women and couples to plan the timing, spacing and number of pregnancies. Post-abortion care, including medication, surgery and counseling, can save women’s lives, preserve their health, and help them to use family planning that will prevent repeat abortions. School-based sexuality and RH education can address peer pressure and sexual coercion and violence, delay sexual experimentation, and promote responsible behavior so that unintended pregnancies are reduced.

Those who obstruct family planning while exulting in the Philippines’ extreme anti-abortion law—which has no exception even when a woman’s life is in danger—are morally responsible for the vicious cycle of unintended pregnancy and abortion that continues to kill and maim masses of women. If government-supported measures to reduce abortion or to treat and counsel women with post-abortion complications are denied, where else could women go? What else could women do?

Sen. Sotto, if he has a modicum of sympathy for women, should find solutions to the problem of abortion instead of maligning organizations that support RH. If he is against RH, what is he for?

Anyone concerned about the health of women and the families that they care for will find it unconscionable to object to the RH Bill. If Sen. Sotto is worried that the bill will legalize abortion, then he needs to simply study the text and accept or reject it based on what he actually reads, not on what he reads of advocates’ intentions.

Released 7 September 2011 by:

Roberto Ador
Executive Director,
Family Planning Organization of the Philippines

Junice D. Melgar
Executive Director,
Likhaan Center for Women’s Health

Sylvia Estrada Claudio
Chairperson,
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights

Elizabeth Angsioco
Chairperson,
Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines

For further information, contact: Joy Salgado • Likhaan Center for Women’s Health • 926-6230 • 411-3151

Image from trialx.com

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Another Prayer


The following was published in Manila Standard Today on August 27, 2011

If you respect the separation of church and state mandated by our Constitution, you can find better ways to start Senate hearings than saying a prayer. Yet this is just what our senators do, and the start of the debates on the reproductive health bill were no different.

What bothers me more than the fact that a prayer was said in a supposedly secular setting was what the prayer implied, politically.

The prayer was supposed to be led by Senator Panfilo Lacson, but because of problems with his voice, he asked Senator Vicente Sotto to do it in his place. Considering the content of the prayer, I’m sure Sotto was more than happy to oblige.

The prayer was originally delivered in 1996 by American Pastor Joe Wright to the Kansas House of Representatives. Legislators, including the House minority leader, criticized the prayer for its “extreme, radical” views. At least one legislator walked out. When the same prayer was said in the Colorado House of Representatives later that year, more legislators were angered; several walked out.

The reaction of our own senators to the same prayer was apathy—it was just another prayer. But senators who respect secularism, especially those who support the reproductive health bill, should have reacted at least as strongly as the American legislators did.

Not only is the prayer sectarian, it’s also anti-choice, and therefore, anti-RH. Here it is in full:

Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance. We know your Word says, “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.

We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of your Word and called it moral pluralism.

We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism.

We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.

We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

We have killed our unborn and called it choice.

We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem.

We have abused power and called it political savvy.

We have coveted our neighbors’ possessions and called it ambition.

We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our fore-fathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us O God and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.

Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by you, to govern this great state. Grant them your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the name of your son, the living savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

What do these words imply?

“Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance. We know your Word says, ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.”

Right from the start, the prayer privileges Judeo-Christian religions over non-Abrahamic ones. It implies that talk on good and evil should be done in religious terms, and it precludes the possibility of secular morality.

“We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of your Word and called it moral pluralism.”

This implies that the Christian Bible is the basis for truth, and that pluralism —respecting the beliefs of many religions instead of just one—is bad.

“We have worshipped other gods and called it multi-culturalism.”

So belonging to religions other than Christianity is wrong?

“We have killed our unborn and called it choice.”

Although our senators do not support killing the unborn, this statement frames the discourse by associating choice with abortion, a tactic frequently used by anti-RH legislators and advocates.

“We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.”

This part is more relevant to a previous Senate hearing on the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ “Kulo” issue. Just the same, it privileges the Christian perspective as the arbiter of what’s profane and pornographic.

“We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.”

This implies that the “time-honored values” criticized by the Enlightenment —theocracy, anti-rationalism, clericalism, etc.—are better than Enlightenment values—democracy, rationalism, secularism.

“I ask it in the name of your son, the living savior, Jesus Christ.”

Although most senators are Christian, the content of the prayer promotes a particular brand of conservative Christianity. What’s worse, the prayer completely ignores the beliefs of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and other non-Christian Filipinos our legislators are equally obligated to represent.

After Sotto concluded the prayer, not a single senator walked out. As far as I know, none have criticized it. Instead the other senators reverently made the sign of the cross and raised their bowed heads—like they always do. After all, it was just another prayer.

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