Political/Social Awareness, Thoughts

The influence of the Filipino Online Minority

NOTE: This is a 2012 article, currently being updated for 2017. In line with the revival of this site, the article will be updated to reflect the current political situation in the Philippines.

And so the Philippine Republic Act No. 10175 or “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012” took effect last October 3, 2012.  This happened amid the immense outrage of online media groups and individual Filipino online users, including me. So what’s with all the uproar? At first glance, this law seems to stand on firm ground. But that’s only on the first glance.

The Philippines is in deep need of firm cyber-related laws in order to police online crimes within it’s sovereign territory. In the past, our country could barely deal with online pornography, online child abuse, online scams, online viruses and the like, due to the weakness of our constitution in dealing with computer related stuff.

Of course, the framework of our constitutional backbone was done back during the glory days of the post-people power revolution. It was an era of landline phones, CRT televisions, and printed newspapers; nothing digital whatsoever. Then came the digital age, something our government is still slowly adapting to. The RA 10175 was a law long awaited and badly needed. With this law, we could have some teeth against online identity theft, fraud, pornography, among others.

However, as the law was passed, keen eyes observed a disturbing provision on Chapter II, Section 4.c.4: That of Online Libel. By the most basic definition, libel simply means lambasting/discrediting a person or institution causing dishonor or defaming the said victim.

The said provision in RA 10175 merely pushes into the online world the regulations stipulated on Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code which states that libel by means of writing or other similar means would have a fine of 200 to 6,000 Pesos, or an imprisonment of 6 months to 6 years.

In addition, Section 6, Chapter II of the bill states that the penalties imposed would be one degree higher than prision correccional that was stated in the Revised Penal Code. This ultimately means an imprisonment of up to 12 years! And this from seemingly libelous postings in the internet.

Another disturbing provision is the Chapter IV of the bill which concerns on computer data collection & seizure powers of the Philippine government, as well as the power to block internet sites found to be in violation of the bill. While this could be a much needed power to combat the evils of online scam and pornography, websites which have dissenting opinions concerning the government could also be shut down by prima facie (upon appearance alone and without needing to present other substantial evidence).

Thus, RA 10175 has been dubbed by Filipinos worldwide as the E-Martial Law.

While the rest of the Cybercrime Law would do our country good, the libel provision in particular has sent warning bells ringing among Filipino Netizens. For one, critics of the corrupt lawmakers, pedophile theological ministers, unsavory actresses, greedy businessmen, and more, would be essentially gagged in the internet. The above mentioned people would now have the power to clamp down the noise of the Filipino Educated Juans.

Others may call these recent protests as paranoia, but here in viewpoint of the Philippine Political Reality, silencing the noisy critics of the government could be a really high possibility.

The internet is now a global necessity, no longer a privilege of the intellectual or financial elite. The ordinary man could now voice out and be heard by millions, complementing the works of the few vigilant journalists who write for printed papers and broadcast on televised media. The world wide web has literally become one of the tools of democracy, with a prime example being the Arab Spring where it was extensively used to unite the populace and topple down authoritarian regimes.

There are indeed dangers and downsides of too much freedom and democracy, that of the mob rule and anarchy. With this, the internet could also be abused by intellectually lacking people to curse foul mouthed words and bring down otherwise honest and helpless victims by means of viral posts. But this is what the internet was originally designed for during the era of Nuclear scares: to propagate and be uncontrollable. Not even the United States of America, with all its technological ingenuity, could control the critics, hackers, and cyber criminals in its population.

On a positive note, while there are abusers of posts to malign victims, a majority of the Filipino Netizens are responsible posters on forums and other social networks, ranging from the cultural to economic to political.

Philippine Online Libel

E-Martial Law

Unbelievably, no one seemed to own up as to who inserted the damning provision during its readings in the senate. Of the senators who voted for the bill’s passing, the bill’s author did not even know who inserted the libel provision, another one admitted oversight while studying the bill, and the others now claim to file future bills to immediately amend RA 10175. The alleged senator who inserted the bill denied outright his deed, while his chief of staff is saying otherwise. Well, it’s more fun in the Philippines.

Also, some of our honorable senators have admitted on not knowing what a blog means. It merely shows that they have not deeply studied this bill before voting it into law. According to the January 24 minutes of the Philippine Senate, the inclusion of online libel was inserted during the second reading of the bill at the morning during the highly publicized Corona trial which takes place every afternoon. Could it be that the senate at that morning was breezing through the bills just to get down immediately to the Corona business in the afternoon?

And so RA 10175 was passed by the 15th Philippine Congress and signed into law by the Executive Branch.

Our current president and justice secretary are standing by this specific provision, citing its importance and essence. Though I would like to believe they are merely covering up this staggering oversight by trying to look correct and seemingly righteous.

Philippine Online Libel

Philippine Congress

On the world of jurisprudence, RA 10175 has a lot of walls to crash into. On the 1987 constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, Section 4 of Article III (The Bill of Rights) explicitly states that “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…”

Just last July 2012, the United Nations passed a resolution that Internet Access is a Fundamental Human Right, and is specifically linked to the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression. Already, the libel laws of other countries are already being declared as obsolete and draconian in nature.

It is quite obvious that the old libel laws worldwide have become outdated during the ushering of the digital and internet age, when basically anybody could now publicize anything without government or institutional control.

I have several thoughts of my own concerning this bill. First and foremost, there are still no implementing rules and regulations for this law, so it would still be a mess in the weeks to come. Second, how in the world can you regulate the world wide web? Actually, nobody could. Not even the Great Internet Wall of China could stop dissenting remarks within its citizenry. Even Wikileaks is still up, by proxy or from host countries with more liberal online laws.

In line with this, could the government actually capture and imprison everyone if all of the 30 million Filipino internet users post libelous remarks online all at the same time? An arrest and trial concerning libel is a tedious process: the government first has to gather the evidence and to firmly prove it so as to garner a warrant to gather computer data and arrest the online user. With the historical data on the wheels of Philippine Justice, this will practically take forever unless your a highly placed political personality or celebrity. It would be advisable that the government first attempt to curb the rampant distribution of pirated discs on the urban streets before they focus on the online posts of the ordinary citizens.

Moreover, the Filipino government’s reach is only on Filipino nationals wherever they may be, as RA 10175 states. So how about the Filipinos who are US citizens and post libelous articles concerning the politicians of their mother country? Lastly, 50 million Pesos is allocated to implement RA 10175, of which I have a gut feeling would be somehow not be 100% utilized for the implementation of the law, and be channeled into some other dubious fund.

There are currently several appeals to the Philippine Supreme Court filed by certain groups to amend certain provisions of the RA 10175. This just goes to show how the people are truly reacting and moving against the bill. Other lawmakers have also proposed to decriminalize the outdated and obsolete 80 year old Philippine libel law. The high court has not issued at Temporary Restraining Order at this time, citing that it first needs to study the issue and the appeals.

Philippine Online Libel

Silenced Users

Realistically speaking, the Filipino Netizens are a really small minority in a country of approximately 93 million. According to a study conducted by Yahoo-Nielsen, only about 30 million Filipinos are internet users, with ages ranging from 10 to 39. Most of them are not even registered voters. This implies that they have no direct say during the election of the lawmakers.

But why is the government slowly backing down? Why are the politicians, originally hardline, now stepping back? The simple answer to it would be outright influence. The voice of this internet minority has a global reach. It was this same voice that called the world to attention of this online libel provision, caused immense online outrage, provoked massive government website vandalism, and outpouring of the opposite of the said law, which is more seemingly libelous online statements. This cannot be controlled, for better or for worse.

This is the true power of the Filipino Online Minority. Even if most of them cannot vote or are unregistered voters, their true power is to influence the rest of the Filipino people, and to voice out to the rest of the world concerning the happenings in our country. This massive influence is, of course, via the internet sites, forums, and social networks.

Philippine Online Libel

Protest

On another note, I urge the Filipino Online Minority to be responsible citizens of the online world; that is, to give out constructive criticism within social and ethical bounds, or to voice opinions without cursing foul-mouthed words or without hideous malice. We’re all mature and intelligent people here, folks.

In conclusion, I will sincerely and fully support the Cybercrime Law, if and ONLY IF the Online Libel provisions are removed. ‘Til then, this is what I have to say (see image below)…

Philippine Online Libel

Cheers!

You could access and study the full text of RA 10175 at the official Philippine government website here.

Photo credits to Interaksyon.com, Rawjustice.com, Pinoyinfocentral.blogspot.com, Digitalquarters.net, Ebookbotics.com, and Webtablab.com.
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News, Travels

Weather-based Philippine Vacations

NOTE: 2012 article, updated for 2017 (including updated image credit on end).

Weather Vacation

The Philippines (from FreeWorldMaps.net)

With the endless torrential rains in the Philippines, it is quite discouraging and even dangerous to go to the various travel hot spots: beaches, mountains, tourist destinations, and the like. Add to this mix the constant promos of airlines for the lean months, and you have a dilemma on how to schedule a vacation in such a way that you would have to enjoy it to the fullest. And this would include romantic sunsets, delay-free flights, walking sightseeing trips. In other words, you’d have to ensure a rain-free travel.

I have gathered data in order to avoid (or minimize) experiencing rain-drenched travels. However, this is not absolute, as Philippine weather is as unpredictable as Love (LOL). Anyway, the current weather data today might not be applicable decades from now due to the evident Global Warming.

Weather Vacation

Philippine Climate Types

There are currently four climate types in the Philippines, of which the categories are based on the amount of rainfall on the affected regions:

  • Type I. Two pronounced season: dry from November to April and wet during the rest of the year.
  • Type II. No dry season with a pronounced rainfall from November to January.
  • Type III. Seasons are not very pronounced, relatively dry from November to April, and wet during the rest of the year.
  • Type IV. Rainfall is more or less evenly distributed throughout the year.

As could be observed in the said map, the eastern coastal regions as well as a substantial part of Mindanao are have constant rainfall throughout the whole year. This could be substantiated by my childhood in Davao City where it would be clear by day and it would always rain by nighttime. As for the coastal regions, it would be a hit-and-miss scheduling for beach vacations, but it would be a boon for surfers who would love strong winds which translate to higher waves.

The rest of the country has a relatively stable weather pattern, with a dry season approximately from November to April. However, there are clear signs that the seasons are being jumbled by mother nature possibly due to the ill effects of pollution and greenhouse gases worldwide. In some parts, summer has arrived earlier and with accompanying heat waves, while in some parts it’s still affected with heavy rainfall with no letup. This brings us to another fact of life in the Philippines: depressions, storms, and typhoons.

Analysis of the climate map reveals that Mindanao and the southern Visayas islands are good to visit any time of the year, while tourist spots in Luzon and northern Visayas islands are good destinations during the summer months.

Weather Vacation

Typhoons in the Philippines

Tropical depressions, Tropical storms, Typhoons. They all essentially the same, with the only difference being their wind speeds. Still, Tropical depressions and storms don’t equate to safety just because they don’t have winds that could tear apart billboards and flatten houses. They could even be more dangerous compared to fast-moving super typhoons because of on heavy thing they bring: immense rains with accompanying floods and landslides.

As seen in the map, although Philippine storms and typhoons generally come from the southeastern side of the country and travel north, Mindanao is virtually untouched by typhoon paths, save for a few which cuts across the northern Mindanao area and crossing into the western areas of the country. Historically, the eastern seaboard of Luzon is most affected, especially the Bicol region as it is usually the first to be in the typhoon’s path. Also heavily affected are the Samar and Leyte islands.

Although storms and typhoons come in throughout the year, the months of January to April have shown a smaller probability of such. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there will be no rains on these months. Also, June to November months have shown the most occurrences of typhoons crossing the Philippines.

Aside from typhoons, the Philippines constantly experiences Low Pressure Areas (LPA) and Inter-Tropical Convergence Zones (ITCZ). Both are merely complicated terms for rain, haha.

While rains could dampen your mood and hamper some vacation activities (unless it’s some rain festival or something), there are quite a few benefits for the budget-conscious travelers: cheaper airfares and accommodations! Such is the effect of supply and demand on the lean months.

Weather Vacation

Rain-free

In conclusion, while you may be equipped with a few decades worth of data on Philippine weather patterns, which could be helpful when you are doing some long-term vacation planning (especially with the current airfare promos), bear in mind that these are merely general predictions.

It could be that you scheduled your vacation on a surely dry season in some part of the Philippines, but with just a bit of bad luck, it happened to rain on that very day. Or you could be traveling to a sunny part of the the country, but your flight got delayed due to heavy rains on your departure location. Well, we’ve nothing and no one to blame actually.

As for immediate and short-term travel plans, it pays to check on the various Philippine weather sites which give daily and weekly forecasts.

To check the weather on a regular basis, you could check on the Philippine government agency Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA), or the popular May Bagyo (Typhoon 2000). These sites constantly update their weather status and forecasts.

With these in mind, have an enjoyable “well-scheduled” vacation!

For the pictures, credits to the various sites, in order of appearance: FreeWorldMaps.net, Top Destination Choice the Philippines, and Cebu Experience
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Political/Social Awareness, Thoughts

Inundation and the Follies of Man

Inundation Manila

Flooded Manila, photo from Business Insider Site

In the direct path of the typhoon belt and constantly under the heavy monsoon clouds, the Philippines, the tropical country in the edge of the Pacific, is in a rather tight corner in terms of weather events. And within a span of five years, we have been experiencing extreme events such as long droughts, heat waves, and severe storms.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the new normal now. Last 2009 the National Capital Region as well as the surrounding provinces suffered a deluge brought about by the tropical storm Ondoy. Last year, the southern cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan were flooded when Mindanao was suddenly passed by the tropical storm Sendong. Now, we have a heavy rainshower with no name and which has lasted for about five days now, and it has brought back the specter of Ondoy on Metro Manila, that of rampaging flood waters down the streets and alleys of this crowded region of 15 million Filipinos. Major floods are cyclical, in 5 to 100 year periods, but having a few “once every hundred years” flooding within two years is something really attention-grabbing.

Inundation Manila

The view outside our condominium.

It’s quite depressing to see in the television the constant flashing of scenes of people clinging for dear life, shivering in the rooftops, huddling in evacuation centers, and the like. There is a high degree of certainty that these scenarios are sure to become regular in the years to come. Such disasters have a series of repercussions: paralyzed public/private institutions, delayed schedules, damaged and lost properties, personal stress and trauma, as well as the huge financial losses in cleanup, repair, business shutdowns and personal wages.

Inundation Manila

Man awaiting rescue

Naturally, in moments of despair people would look for scapegoats to place the blame of this calamity: an incompetent president, an unreliable weather bureau, a corrupt legislature, shortsighted city planners, pestering informal settlers, or even a vindictive God. Whether or not those in the list are largely to blame, one thing is for sure: we ALL have a hand on it, intentional or not. Even I am party to this crime against earth. I would just like to clarify that the following analysis is not some blame game. Rather, it is a neutral write-up that would hopefully serve as a wake-up call for all of us.

It’s quite impossible to clearly delineate the environmental follies of man, given the complexity and number of factors involved. For a start, most of our cities and towns are badly planned in terms of zoning, drainage, and the like. The city and municipal planners seem to disregard the readily available geohazard maps which detail the landslide and flood prone areas, and the local governments don’t have the political will to enforce critical plans such as relocation of people, construction regulation on some areas, and dismantling of some structures. The famous Daniel Burnham who designed the master plan of downtown Chicago and Washington, D.C. also came to the Philippines more than a century ago to design the cities of Manila and Baguio. Sadly, these plans never bore fruit.

Inundation Manila

The Pasig river as envisioned by Burnham, picture from The Grandeur Traveler site.

In the political world, the politicians who seemingly don’t look beyond their three/six year terms blatantly tolerate the unregulated growth of informal settlers’ population among the various areas of the metropolis to ensure their voting base. Besides the accompanying crime and poverty, these informal settlers clog the waterways and pollute the rivers with their human and material wastes. Also, waterways are essentially risk areas when it comes to flooding, and with the congestion of informal settlers on such places, disaster is sure to follow.

The government has made some measures to relocate informal settlers, but some of these are ill-planned as the relocation areas are hazard prone. Now, why is the National Capital Region heavily congested? People from the provinces come to the metropolis in search of employment, sacrificing the good and simple life in their hometowns. We can’t blame these folks, the Philippines has a skewed economy as Metro Manila accounts for a third of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In short, the money is in Manila, and not in some rural region. Now add the factor of people uneducated on proper family planning, and we have a population bomb on our laps.

Inundation Manila

Manila Slums, picture from Heckeranddecker WordPress Site.

Back to the aspect of zoning and urban growth, we have raped our forests and populated the riverbanks. The trees are there for a reason, to absorb water and hold the ground. The flood plains and natural catch basins are called as such since they are naturally flooded in a seasonal manner. People move in to flood plains and cry for help when it rains. But then again, it’s not really their fault since its property developers who created these subdivisions, buildings, and townhouses. How did these construction firms get away with it? It comes back again to the city and municipal planners and those darned hazard maps. Since urban growth is inevitable and permanent, measures should have been done to avoid possible problems such as spillways, dredging, pumping stations, dikes, among others. How come these are still not enough or that some plans going as far back as the 70’s remain in the drawing boards? It comes back again to the politicians and powers that be.

Then there’s climate change. The insatiable greed of the western world in the past few centuries has enclosed our planet with greenhouse gases and it cannot be helped, lest our global economy, which stands on oil, collapse. With the obvious change in weather events, third world countries such as ours are bound to suffer due to exposure to extreme drought or unusually severe thunderstorms. With the seas rising at approximately 3 millimeters per year due to the melting ice caps, and parts of Manila literally having sunk several feet below sea level due to water table depletion by deep wells, what would happen next is a no-brainer.

Inundation Manila

From road to river

Really depressing, right?

Do we have a right to blame the above listed? Not really. We put our leaders there in the first place, we throw cigarette butts and candy wrappers on the ground thinking that no harm would come from such teeny bit of a litter, we don’t heed the words of the wise to curb our population growth in the face of ever shrinking resources, we just half-heartedly recycle and conserve, and most of all, we just let the days pass by without even taking initiative to push the government or educate the people. We simply think that “some guy/agency is assigned to do that, it doesn’t concern me.” In the end, when we face disaster, we blame that “some guy/agency” for all our ills. When the government does one thing, people complain. When the government does the alternative, people still complain. Filipinos are naturally a complaining and never satisfied people.

Guess what, we are in a web, we’re all in this together. To blame the government, to blame the president, to blame the informal settlers, to blame the capitalists, to blame the church… means we are blaming ourselves.

Inundation Manila

Assistance

We have to face this new reality of disasters head-on, there’s not much choice concerning it anyway. We have to stop merely criticizing from the comfort of our laptops in the web, and start acting by being more environmentally concerned and by sharing what we have with those in need, whether it be financial, logistical, or by our other talents. Our country has for too long been suffering from strife and discord, unity is our utmost need right now.

With all our follies and disasters, it’s about time we give finger-pointing a break, and simply seek help from one another. After all, no man is an island. And with this climate change, all small islands sink.

You can view the Flood Hazard Map of Manila created by the Philippine Mines and Geosciences Bureau. If you’re interested in viewing specific various areas, you can check the Philippine Landslide & Flood Maps at the Philippine Information Agency. If you’re Googlemap-savvy, you can check out the Regional Flood Maps of the Nababaha.com site.

Some pictures courtesy of AJ Casañas and the Vincenton Post site.
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Development, News

Vitamin C Overdose

Vitamin C

Picture from Ramblings of a Beauty Bird Site

I recently got sick with the flu and was absent from work for a couple of days. My doctor recommended that I should gulp down as much Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) as I could to strengthen my immune system, rather than taking some medication that only relieves the symptoms of the sickness.

It’s common knowledge that Vitamin C is a water soluble nutrient. Meaning, in excess amounts it just exits the body via your urine. So no worries for me. I bought a dozen 500 mg Vitamin C tablets and a big can of Pineapple juice, with the intent of taking in the said vitamin three times a day (it was prescribed) and chugging down the 1.5 liter juice along the day.

This went on for a few days, with the pineapple juice being replaced by Kalamansi juice (it was extremely cheaper) spiked with a teaspoon of natural honey. And so I got better.

However, I woke up at 4 AM due to a severe stomachache, after which I had a short bout of diarrhea until sunrise. After a quick research, I discovered that Vitamin C does have an overdose level, and it could be deadly on rare occasions.

To avoid turning this write-up into a geeky science article, I’ll explain it as simple as possible.

Yes, Vitamin C is water soluble, and yes, it simply exits our bodies if in excess. What matters is, what the excess Vitamin C does inside our bodies before it’s flushed out. The daily recommended for non-sick individuals is 90 mg per day, while the maximum tolerable dosage of Ascorbic Acid in the medical community is 2,000 mg, so I was bordering with my 1,500 mg during that time.

To cut the long story short, a high dosage of Vitamin C could cause diarrhea, and really high dosages could lead to kidney stones (not yet generally established, but some studies have linked it).

Well, I’m not instilling paranoia on people. In fact, I highly recommend that all people should include Vitamin C in their daily diet, with a higher dose during sickness. All I’m telling you is just be aware of the possible upset stomach side effects.

All animals except for humans and a few chimpanzees and fish don’t make Ascorbate (anion of Ascorbic Acid) on their own, which makes us dependent on this drug, er, vitamin. Anyway, moderate amounts of Ascorbic Acid is extremely beneficial due to its anti-oxidant and immune system-boosting properties.

In closing, the moral for the day is: anything in excess is bad, even good ole’ Vitamin C. I learned that with straining difficulty while contemplating in the comfort room. This is in a sense, a diary diarrhea story, harhar.
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Books, Reviews

Hope for the Flowers

Hope for the Flowers

Photo by Dianna Agron (yup, the Glee actress)

Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus is a truly adult book deceptively packaged as a children’s book (in a positive way).

I read the book when I saw it from my sister’s cabinet at our old house. It really grabbed my attention that the bright yellow cover and text were hand drawn, with the witty line “for adults and others (including caterpillars who can read)”. Well, I’m not a caterpillar. But I’m an adult so that made me eligible anyway, snicker.

Trina Paulus did the art and lettering from cover to cover, though I could tell that the author did not have much difficulty. The whole story is so simple you might ignore it by mistaking it as a ho-hum kiddie read. But it is in here that Trina Paulus hit home, it’s in the simplicity that lies the beauty of the story.

For the book background, the story was written during the 70’s which was a hippie era, or the age when the youth really rebelled against the establishment and experimented on a lot of stuff both good and bad. Anyway, to connect, the book was made at a time when people were disillusioned by the state of society and turned to drugs, sex, and music as a way to escape or assert their status in life.

The book, in a way, mirrors real life during those times. The title speaks for itself, it is about Hope. Beyond the counterculture period of the 60’s and 70’s, the story still holds true and is as applicable today.

The story starts with two caterpillars named Stripe and Yellow, who met each other at a time of disillusionment and a lingering powerful feeling that there ought to be more to life than what they do. The book tells of their journey, which led to separation, and leading to a false conclusion which purposely shows the current state of human affairs. However, as with all good books about Hope, of course it leads to a good ending, with a simple conclusion but huge moral about making changes into one’s life in order to rise, excel, and find true meaning.

The overt simplicity itself of the book could be a downside on attracting readership, since it is almost always mistaken for a simple children’s novel. Only well-read intellectuals, or referred readers would actually grab a copy of this. Well, it’s the loss of the common reader, not us informed bookworms.

The book is so simple and the story so short, you could actually finish reading within a few minutes. But the impact of the story to you is so huge in comparison to its simplicity. The story is inspirational in the sense that it could also make you ponder on where you are now in your life, and it silently prods you to not just aimlessly seek for the meaning of life, but for you to create your own answer, and fly away with it.

Trina Paulus has a website for Hope for the Flowers, you can check it here. They also have two FB pages, you can check out both the first and second one.

The author has a blog herself, you can also check it here.

Juan’s Say: [rating=4]
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Legal Ramblings, Thoughts

Withdrawal of House Bill 6330 for appeasement

NOTE: This is a 2012 article, currently being updated for 2017. In line with the revival of this site, the article will be updated to reflect the current political situation in the Philippines. (And besides, the House Bill has already been withdrawn way back).

Sto. Niño, Photo by Paul Cayanes

Sto. Niño, Photo by Paul Cayanes

And I thought we were getting somewhere.

When Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond V. Palatino filed House Bill 6330, officially known as “Religious Freedom In Government Offices Act”, it was actually sensible, logical, and appropriate for the times. And when I meant appropriate for the times, it’s that most Filipinos are actually becoming progressive Catholics, remaining faithful but shunning the impracticality of some tenets and practices of their church.

House Bill 6330 was filed by the honorable partylist representative to enforce in usage of government resources the constitutional foundation of separation of church and state. In simple terms: to not put any religious symbols on walls of government offices such as Sto. Niño, Picture of Jesus, Mama Mary, and the like, and not use government resources for religious purposes such as Mass on Multi-Purpose Hall or Frontyard of government offices. I have yet to get a complete copy of the HB 6330, but this would be  the gist.

The logic is quite simple, really. We are not a theocracy, we are a secular nation with no bias to any religion whatsoever. Religious symbols and activities of government institutions is tantamount to putting the picture of Benigno Aquino III on the office of the Parish Archbishop and holding political rallies inside the church. We just happen to have a population with a Christian majority (with the Roman Catholic church as the largest denomination) and a Muslim minority.

However, being 80% Catholic out of 93 million doesn’t equate to having Catholic rites and symbols on government offices. Even Jesus himself said “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”, according to Matthew 22:21.

Now why do I keep mentioning Roman Catholic when there are a few more Christian denominations in the Philippines? Well, for one, they are the ones who are making the most noise against the said House Bill. Again, we go back to the archaic Filipino culture of a domineering Catholic church, from the heydays of Spanish colonization, when it was used as a subtle tool for subjugation, obedience, and oppression.

Incredibly, “Religious Freedom In Government Offices Act” became “Anti-God Bill” or “Anti-Christ Bill” on news and social media (talk about responsible journalism) when nowhere in the House Bill does it insult God or Jesus.

I myself am a believer of God, but I will wholeheartedly support this endeavor, on the basis of fairness to other denominations. If we want equality without this House Bill, then we should display on government facilities the religious symbols of other groups.

Then, there’s the bad news.

In the face of seething anger of the Catholic Church and affiliated ultra-conservative groups, it seemed that Hon. Raymond V. Palatino has withdrawn the House Bill and issued a public apology.

For what?

It seems that the Partylist Representative didn’t realize that a lot of concerned citizens are supportive of the House Bill. A lot of Filipino Catholics are faithful, but are also against the arrogance of the bishops and priests in meddling with state affairs. Not yet that much, but their numbers are growing, as more and more are becoming educated to the realities of our world and are realizing the obsolescence of some church principles such as anti-contraception and anti-death penalty.

In my theory, Sir Palatino took into consideration the bulk of future votes: those who are still narrow-minded and choose to blindly follow whatever the priest says. He knew that the intellectual and progressive Catholics still do not outnumber the religious fanatics.

In other words, the honorable partylist representative may have gone by the way of the traditional politician, courting the church and appeasing the bishops. And to think, he represents the Kabataan Partylist, a supposedly left-leaning but pro-youth group. I don’t think the Filipino youth of today are keen on supporting the statements of the Damasos of the church.

Of course we know that Sir Palatino got a seat not on his own, but through the Kabataan Partylist. The Philippines partylist system requires at least 2% of all partylist votes cast, in order to obtain a seat in the lower house. It could be either the representative was pressured by his partylist, for the same reason of appeasement and assurance that Kabataan would not lose votes in the next election, or he is building up his individual foundation by being in good graces with the bishops and by basking in the spotlight, albeit in an allegedly bad perspective, should he consider running on his own in the future.

Anyway, it’s all theory and assumption. But whatever true reason it may be for the withdrawal of resolution, we can only connect the facts that the withdrawal and public apology was done right after a tumultuous protest by the Philippine Catholic hierarchy.

I sincerely hope some other politician would have the guts to push this House Bill, without fear of repercussion from the church and without fear of losing the Catholic vote in the succeeding election.

Please do take note that I’m not anti church. What I’m against is the way the church flexes its muscles to influence decisions of a temporal and wholly autonomous institution. We can live without holding masses at the office, we have churches for that. We can live without a picture of Jesus peering at us while we work, it would be better to post patriotic Filipino messages on the office wall.

Let us be a country untainted by religious biases, let us remove a cultural and societal obstacle which hinders our nation’s progress.
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