Nuffnang ad

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Justice" By Way Of Alabang And Palawan

More specifically, by way of the 2 "Alabang Boys" and a former Palawan governor, all acquitted or had charges dropped.

(Photo of 2 "Alabang Boys" above courtesy of Jesus Orbeta)

What great news to greet everyone.

In the case of the Alabang Boys, they were acquitted because the judge found a "breach in the chain of custody of evidence" - in short, tampered evidence. (Full news story here: The reactions of the people concerned, like Justice Secretary de Lima, was telling: For her, the verdict was a "surprising development". (Which would belie that she, like others who handled the case, thought this would be of the open-and-shut variety.)

A technicality comes to save the (2 Alabang Boys') day.

In other news, former Palawan governor Joel Reyes has been exonerated by a DOJ (Department of Justice) panel on a complaint filed by Gerry Ortega's wife (Gerry Ortega was a journalist killed in broad daylight in Puerto Princesa), because of "insufficiency of evidence".

What's puzzling is that the shooter surrendered moments after the act had taken place, identified the lookout as well as the others involved in the slaying, and the "head" of the operation pointed to Gov. Reyes as the mastermind behind it all, even going so far as citing where he got paid (500,000 pesos, at the house of the governor's brother, a mayor), and describing where he got the gun and how. (Full details in Solita Monsod's column, read it here:

Another technicality saves the (former governor's) day.

Is anyone celebrating the fact that "justice" has again won? I'm sure the people accused and their relatives are happy with the outcome. Not me. The reason being, in spite of glaring evidence that the accused where indeed guilty of what they were charged, they still got away scot-free.

All because of legal technicalities.

Is there anyone out there with a suggestion on how we can avoid this insiduous cycle again and again?

My suggestion would be to hire better people to work for government, and as shallow as this may sound, the best way to do this is to increase the salaries of people in public office. If they are paid better than lawyers or investigators in private practice, then they are bound to give good, if not great, attention to their work which will reduce these sorts of "lapses". The added bonus is that they are less likely to respond to bribery invitations if they are already paid well, or at least I would hope so.

More importantly, justice (without quotation marks), in the broader and more moral sense (as opposed to the technical, legal fashion), even though blind, will finally see her way through.

Where do we get the budget for better salaries for public officials? That is another problem for which I cannot give a definitive answer, seeing as how our national budget is lacking as it is.

This is just an eternal Pandora's Box.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Moral Dilemna

Take this test and find out how you stack against 1500 others who answered this question.

You pass by a small child drowning in a shallow pond and you are the only one around. If you pick up the child, she will survive and your pants will be ruined. Picking up the child is _______________.

(Your choices: permissible, obligatory, forbidden)

I've long since frequented the question "Is morality possible outside of religion?", and this paper (by Hauser and Singer) would be a good jump-off point to study this question from an academic point of view, sans hysteria. (Questions surrounding these topics tend to be high in it, hence, the disclaimer.)

Here is the link to the paper, along with two more questions.

More on this in a later post.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

For Pinoys, Pascal's Wager Means "Isama Na Natin"

Thanks to a quick chat in FaceBook with my old friend Grace, who gave me the idea for this post, and also got me into thinking how oddly - yet seamlessly - Pinoys have melded several belief systems and superstitions into a coherent, albeit somewhat jarring, whole.

I'm not also sure that most Pinoys have ever heard of Pascal's Wager - something I learned already in my college years, so here's a brief description, courtesy of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“Pascal's Wager” is the name given to an argument due to Blaise Pascal for believing, or for at least taking steps to believe, in God. The name is somewhat misleading, for in a single paragraph of his Pensées, Pascal apparently presents at least three such arguments, each of which might be called a ‘wager’ — it is only the final of these that is traditionally referred to as “Pascal's Wager”. We find in it the extraordinary confluence of several important strands of thought: the justification of theism; probability theory and decision theory, used here for almost the first time in history; pragmatism; voluntarism (the thesis that belief is a matter of the will); and the use of the concept of infinity."  (

The "wager" in question can be summarized simply: If God exists, and you believe, you go to heaven, and if you don't, you go to hell; but if God does not exist, then whether you believe or not, the status quo remains (assuming your death is the end of all things where you are concerned). Therefore, it would be better to believe in God as a matter of pragmatism.

A common argument against this wager is the question, "Which 'God' are you referring to?"

And the Pinoy answer: "Lahat ng pwede!" ("Everything that is allowed!")

You see, Grace was mentioning that sales are down this month (she works in the financial services industry) because it is a "ghost month" in the Chinese calendar, and business deals are being put off until the "ghost month" has passed. Which got me to thinking of how inconsistent but accepted it is in our culture to have several "beliefs" in place, without finding any incongruence.

Most Pinoys identify themselves as "Catholics".

And yet, they will also consult a feng shui expert (the two words in Chinese literally mean "wind" "water") when they start a new house or business, something that is very Chinese in origin.

And in the building where this new business will house itself, there also isn't a 13th floor, which is considered a "bad luck" number (so we've heard).

That same Pinoy will also visit an arbularyo ("organic herb doctor") for any ailment that he s/he may encounter, and may even resort to "pranic healing".

While this Pinoy will show his or her faith with a deliberate wearing or using of a rosary, that same person will also buy "anting-anting" (charms/amulets) which can be found right outside the Catholic church where s/he just heard mass.

The rationale for all this? "Wala naman mawawala sayo kung manigurado ka." ("You won't lose anything if you get some assurance.")

As someone who was first indoctrinated with organized religion for half my life, and spent the other half (so far, but counting) disengaging from it (in all its' forms) and actively/publicly disagreeing with it, I cannot help but have a chuckle (actually, more than just a chuckle) about how nonsensical it seems to me, this "joining" of all these beliefs and superstitions, because of what was taught to me in my formative years about "God".

I was taught that God is all-knowing and all-powerful.

God is also a jealous deity, who is more than troubled when other gods are worshipped. (Anyone who wishes to deny this need only look at the Ten Commandments. Case closed.)

Surely you can understand why I find all of these "other beliefs", at the very least, funny. (To be clear, I'm not laughing at the "other beliefs", but at the fact that they exist side by side by (possibly infinite) side in one person, without that person finding anything "wrong" with it.)

You don't see it?

In simple terms - if the God you claim to faithfully and religiously cling to is as all-powerful and as all-knowing as we are all taught, and we're also taught - through the Ten Commandments, no less - that worshipping other gods/deities/belief systems is "jealousy-inducing", why then the need for assurance from all these other sources of faith or comfort?!?

Don't you think that a God that is all-powerful would find it disconcerting - to say the very least - that you needed an amulet from the proverbial "ilalim ng Quiapo" ("under the Quiapo bridge") in order to ensure your pregnancy would go through?

Or in order to pass your exam, you needed a "lucky pen"? Whatever happened to that faith that you professed to say is as strong as the biblical Samson?

In short, if everything is under God's control, why the trinkets?

You see, having all these "things" to ensure a business deal goes through, or that all house repairs will go smoothly, whilst claiming an unshakeable faith in God, seems to me to be a high form of faithlessness in God to "see you through". And this show of faithfulness, by the amount of prayer time or confessions you make, this is something, of course, you never let people forget.

Just like the Pharisees of the Biblical mythos, who proudly claim to one and all how devoted they are to God, yet do all sorts of despicable things after "The Faith Show" is over.

And spare me the crappy rationalization of "don't blame humans for what wrongs they do, they're not perfect", ad nauseum. Or - and this is something used a lot lately - "they're not REAL Catholics/Christians". If you saw the reactions from conservatives just recently, on how they immediately disengaged themselves from Anders Behring Breivik and the Norway killings, you'd think he contracted "the plague".

Whatever happened to "by their fruit you shall know them"? (Ironically, this is also from the same Bible.)

More than hypocrisy, I believe this is a situation of pragmatism and convenience on the part of Pinoys. I'm all for doing what you can to salvage a rotten situation or to ensure uninterrupted success. And if buying a little "bottled charm" or consulting a "geomancy expert" will make that happen, then it's all in the service of the goal, yes?

While I don't have to face that moral quagmire personally, the people who practice "multiple beliefs" also do not consider it a quagmire (for very different reasons from my own). But they should.

Before most everyone wakes up to the truth.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Happy 40th Birthday, Evil! (Revisiting The Stanford Prison Experiment)

Forty years ago today, Stanford researcher Dr. Philip Zimbardo conducted what would now be dubbed as "the most notorious psychology experiment of all time", the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE). It is a wealth of information and insight into humanity (or what we think we know of it), of how roles can define us, how powerful situations and self-images are - and, how evil and cruelty can manifest itself in seemingly "normal" human beings.

(Photo courtesy of

Zimbardo himself had to stop the experiment after only 6 days (Stanford researchers originally planned this to be a 2 week experiment) because the "guards" were bordering on sadism and behavior that was too shocking to behold.

Let's break it down.

Zimbrado had a print ad detailing the need for middle-class male subjects of college age to be part of an experiment. Accepted subjects would earn $15 a day for each day of the experiment. They were also subjected to pre-screening tests to ensure they were of sound mental and physical health.

Once selected, the experiment then began.

One clear day, several individuals (those who would be assigned as "prisoners" in this experiment).were rounded up by the "police" (wearing glasses, with complete uniforms and paraphernalia), blindfolded and brought to a facility (for "processing") that would become their prison.

They were stripped naked and then searched.

The degradation procedure was planned, partly to humiliate prisoners, and partly to ensure that they were not bringing any germs. ("Prisoners" were inspected for lice and given an anti-louse "hosing".)

"Guards" were instructed to never physically harm "prisoners" but they could pretty much do anything else that they deemed fit their "role".

"Prisoners" had on a heavy chain bolted on their right ankle at all times, and hairs were outfitted with a stocking cap made from women's nylon stocking (replacing the shaving that is done in actual prisons). They were given "smocks" but no undergarments. Immediately, researchers observed that "prisoners" started walking and sitting differently - more like a woman than a man.

They were assigned individual numbers, and no names were to be used, so the only means of identification were their given numbers. (On both the "prisoners" and "guards" parts.)

That meant making the prisoners feel helpless, with no control over the situation they were in, and making the "prisoners" feel that their fates were being determined by the "guards". Some were confined to solitary, others were given forced exercises like pushups. The general consensus of the finding was that once the "roles" assigned began to be imbibed into either group, they acted out accordingly.

At 230AM, the "prisoners" were rounded and lined up, made to say their numbers aloud. With both camps feeling out their roles that first night, the "prisoners" still asserted their individuality and the "guards" were still not that controlling - this would be the first of many confrontations between the two groups, which would devolve into the "guards" exhibiting more power and the "prisoners" getting into various states of mental distress. Pushups were instituted as punishment, with the "guards" either stepping on the backs of the "pushup-ee", or asking other "prisoners to do the "back-stepping".

A "rebellion" broke put the next day ("prisoners" took off their stockings) and the "guards" called in for reinforcements (the other subjects that weren't in the night shift), and they sprayed the fire extinguisher on the "rebels". They stripped the prisoners naked, got all their beds and placed the "rebellion leader" in solitary confinement.

The "guards" starting talking amongst themselves, that they couldn't possibly contain all the prisoners all the time (since they had shifts), so a solution was arrived at by themselves: They set up a "privilege cell", awarded to those who were the least involved in the "rebellion" - they had beds, a nice space and better food to eat than the rest, in full view of the other "prisoners".

Here's the kicker: "Guards" then exchanged the "prisoners", putting the rebellious ones in the "privilege cell", while the "good ones" went back to the regualr ones - which resulted in confusion for the "prisoners", making the "rebels" suspect the "good ones" as informers.

(Real life application: Guards in actual prisons try to stoke distrust and anger among the inmates themselves, thereby deflecting any danger that might have been directed to the guards onto each other.)

Bathroom privileges were under the strict control of the "guards". "Prisoners" had a bucket in their cells to urinate and defecate when they weren't allowed to use the bathroom, and at a certain point, these buckets weren't collected, making the cells filled with the stench of human waste - adding more to the degradation.

One of the "guards" puts it quite tellingly:

"I really thought I was incapable of this kind of behavior, I was really dismayed that…I could act in a manner so absolutely unaccustomed to anything I would ever really dream of doing. And while I was doing it, I didn’t feel any regret, I didn’t feel any guilt. It was only afterwards, after I began to reflect on what I had done that this began to dawn on me and I realized that this was a part of me I hadn’t really noticed before.”

After a mere 36 hours, one of the "prisoners" had to be released because he was suffering distress, fatigue and started acting out in anger and desperation.

To see the full experiment as narrated by Zimbardo himself, click on this link:

I find it fascinating that this study isn't disseminated more. (I certainly did not encounter it back during my undergraduate days as a psychology major.) One of the things I took away from reading this horrific, telling experiment is that we can never, ever be sure of how we will act until we are in the situation ourselves.

Zimbardo himself made this astute observation: "The study makes a very profound point about the power of situations — that situations affect us much more than we think, that human behavior is much more under the control of subtle situational forces, in some cases very trivial ones, like rules and roles and symbols and uniforms, and much less under the control of things like character and personality traits than we ordinarily think as determining behavior.”

This makes me think of the anecdotal observation made that Filipinos abroad are some of the most law-abiding members of their (particular foreign) society. Could it be that the cues that Filipinos get from those particular instances and places make it "easier" for them to follow the rules? And if this is true, then it follows that the situation in our own country makes it equally conducive to wantonly disregard the same rules, think of pocketing millions and even billions from the public coffers which we "normally" wouldn't do...which is blatantly in direct contradiction to the "claim" that we are a "religious, moral" society.

I am not holding perpetrators of evil and injustice free from their actions. But if our environment and the roles that we assign ourselves - or have been bred by others into our own systems that we believe these to be true - are much more powerful than we ever realized, then this may be the jumping off point for anyone wishing to institute behavioral changes on a massive scale.

As I've always maintained, all of us have that equal capacity for both good and evil. What's chilling is that, like that "guard" observed, we may not feel any remorse or guilt at all while engaging in evil because it is "expected" of us, by forces both within and outside.

Something to think about, thanks to Dr. Zimbardo.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Face" It: Beauty - Truly - Is Power

And this is borne out in research.

(Photo above courtesy of

This post represents a fitting complement to my previous one. (

After all, while I generally scoff at how physical attributes are valued over one's intellectual capacities or emotional maturity, it is a (sad) fact of life that having this currency - beauty - makes the bearer's life much easier, richer (and I mean that in a financial sense) and more exciting - compared to someone who doesn't carry the "cash".

We've all known this fact since we were young: People who were on the attractive side tended to get much admiration and leeway from authority figures, and were probably the most popular kids from our memory vault: It's rare that someone was well-known back then other than for beauty - unless you were the school druggie who dropped out (you can achieve fame or notoriety, which would be flip sides of the same coin). When we pore through yearbooks or discuss school nostalgia, inevitably we find ourselves thinking about who were the most good looking ones.

It's a good thing to learn that fact early on, because even as adults, we remain ensnared with the potency of beauty's touch - and what this actually translates to in real-life terms.

 As Ken Eisold, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today, quoting research conducted by Newsweek, ""Handsome men earn, on average, 5 percent more than their less-attractive counterparts (good-looking women earn 4 percent more); pretty people get more attention from teachers, bosses, and mentors." (

And here I thought the only way beauty was translated to actual monetary gain was either through beauty pageants or the escort service industry.

Besides, who could forget the claim of  90's "supermodel" Linda Evangelista, who (playfully) claimed, "We don't wake up for less than $10,000 a day."? ( Is it a wonder then that countless others wish to partake of the "modeling pie", where you are basically paid for how you look, walk or are seen in designer clothes? When I hear of models whining about how hard their "job" is, I have had to stifle the urge to get a barf bag: How hard can a job be when it only demands that you be the luckiest person in the genetic lottery? Where's the "work" in that? Either you have it or you don't, period.

If you aren't part of "the lucky ones", don't despair: Beauty is available in a jar - or so they claim. Cosmetic companies - with revenues in billions of dollars - promise to wipe away the years off your face - for a fee, of course, this isn't a charitable project. Slick advertising portrays the opportunities and doors that will be opened to you if you are considered "beautiful". And just like what PANA (Philippine Association of National Advertisers) claims as its' byline, there really is "Truth In Advertising".

Directly quoting from the Newsweek research mentioned above that surveyed 202 corporate hiring managers, as well as 964 members of the public, this is what they found: "Fifty-seven percent of hiring managers [said] unattractive candidates are likely to have a harder time landing a job, while more than half advised spending as much time and money on ‘making sure they look attractive' as on perfecting a résumé. When it comes to women, apparently, flaunting (our) assets works: 61 percent of managers (the majority of them men) said it would be an advantage for a woman to wear clothing showing off her figure at work."

This reminded me of the survey that my friends from the UP School of Economics conducted - they won that year for the best undergraduate thesis university-wide - where they presented actual HR (Human Resources) managers with two equivalent resumes, one with a more obviously physically attractive appearance - and overwhelmingly, the "prettier" candidate always got  the (hypothetical) job when asked "which of these 2 candidates would you hire"?

I have had to think twice about knocking those who lean too much on their beauty to get ahead in life. When scientific research is practically unanimous in announcing that beauty is an actual advantage in the workplace - other than the jaw-dropping awe everyone exhibits upon seeing a near-perfect specimen of humanity - it may be time to stop writing beauty off as a factor that is merely trivial or frivolous.

Upon closer inspection, it may spell the difference in getting the job or not.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Will Someone Kindly Explain What Those "Society Pages" Are For?

My gut level response would be "to show off one's wealth". Which I find truly offensive, especially in a country like ours.

What would be the point in doing so?

I couch my incredulity and disbelief of the existence of these "society pages" on the basis of the economic realities of our lovely islands. Yes, yes, you should be proud of high purchasing power as a result of your hard work. No one can take that away from you. But to flaunt your high-end goods, the yacht parties and the decadent trips is a world away from being proud of one's monetary achievements.

Now, back to "economic reality". Here are some facts compiled by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) about the economic situation of the Philippines. (

- "Economic growth in the Philippines averaged 4.5% during the MACAPAGAL-ARROYO administration. Despite this growth, poverty worsened, because of a high population growth rate and inequitable distribution of income."

- 32.9% of our population live below the poverty line (rounding that off to 33%, that would be exactly 1/3 of our population)

- as of 2010, our unemployment rate stands at 7.3% (In a population of 90 million, that translates to roughly 6.5 million people unemployed.)

- this just in: the July 2011 estimate for our population now stands at 101,833,938, making us the 12th most populous nation in the world (and increasing the actual number of unemployed people, and we haven't even discussed underemployment in this equation as well)

This isn't exactly a rosy economic snapshot, and yet, strangely, week after week, we have sections in our national dailies entitled "Society" (or any permutations, thereof), which focus on the lives of the "ultra-rich glamorous jet-setters and their wild escapades", complete with party details (where the club is, how exclusive it is, how much a drink will set you back) and of course, let's not forget, complete snapshots of the chic party-goers in their oh-so-gorgeous killer dresses, chauffered in the latest sedans.

How can we thank these pages as well for the literary gems that we have now, thanks to these purveyors of "high class society": If you don't have a BFF (Best Friends Forever), or don't even know what that means, you're, like, so baduy noh. And if you're still not sure what course to take, may I suggest a bachelor's degree in "Eventology"? You get to party all night, drink like there's no tomorrow, and be one of a few to be called an "eventologist". (The suffix -logy has for its' root the word logos, and once you know what logos means, the term "eventology" becomes a joke and a half. As far as I know, there's only one person in the country who appropriates that term with pride. You could be next!)

You can't be seen in these "Society" pages if you don't have the proper footwear:

(Shoes by Louboutin)

The proper bag:

(Hermes Birkin bag)

Or you aren't using the proper moisturizer.

(Creme de La Mer, which retails for $1600 a bottle.)

Or how about those fashionable catfights (for the ladies) and brawls (for the guys), all of which are standard Society Page Decorum, the better to be gossiped and talked about?

Yes, a slice of the "rich life". If I wasn't being politically correct, I might say that everyone wishes to have a piece of that pie, that we can just throw away 67,200 pesos to ensure our skin will stay soft. (The price of the La Mer moisturizer in pesos.) Or maybe we can even do away with the cream and just go straight to the plastic surgeon - after all, high cheekbones and a pointy nose seem like requisites to be in those pages. (Do not forget the skin whitening treatments, as Filipinos are racists in general - yes, I said it aloud - and will look down on anyone with dark or black skin.)

Meanwhile, the rest of us have to struggle on a daily basis to make ends meet. While the "fabulous" party it up with a trip to Paris "just for the fun of it", some people cannot even earn 100 pesos a day to feed their family of 7. Juxtaposed with the scintillating glossies that perpetuate the myth of the glamorous life, it almost seems criminal to have these goods and parties thrown in our faces, when we live in a country that wakes up with the stench of poverty and sleeps under its' fitful gut-wrenching hunger.

Do we need to glorify pointlessness for the umpteenth time?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hypocrites, Hypocrites Everywhere

While channel surfing the other day, I chanced upon the TLC reality show of former Alaskan Governor, former US Vice Presidential Candidate (2008) and currently a 2012 possible contender to replace Obama, Sarah Palin, entitled "Sarah Palin's Alaska".

The show depicts her "normal day", as well as a mini-travelouge for the state, though it wasn't quite clear what exactly it was she does in an official capacity. In the particular episode I saw, she went white water rafting, signed the chainsaw of a lumberjack, and "fake argued" with her daughter who wanted a car for her 16th birthday.

One thing that struck me was when she talked about her daughter Bristol, the one who got pregnant, she  mentioned that she wanted to take her away from the spotlight, as Bristol had received negative comments in general from the press and public.

So, of course, Sarah does the most logical thing: star in a reality show, and have her daughter Bristol appear in it as well.

HELLO. Is there no one else seeing the problem with this picture?

But then, how could we not see this coming? During the 2008 US presidential debates (when she got introduced for the first time to the national and international stage as McCain's running mate), she fervently espoused the efficiency of abstinence as a birth control method - and mere moments (in politics) later, her underage unwed daughter showed up with a baby bump, with an annnouncement that she would marry the father's child.

I guess when she batted for abstinence, she failed to check her own backyard.

Why is it so much fun to see the conservatives go down? And why do they enjoy the taste of feet so much?

She is but one in a long line of hypocrites who act so sanctimonious and so better-than-all-of-us, yet are guilty or party to an act that conservatives have long called "immoral".

Locally, how can we forget Bishop Teodoro Bacani?

When he appeared in the GMA "Grand Debate" earlier this year, proclaiming his sadness that in the RH Bill debates, the dimension of morality has been discarded, all everyone can think about was the news item that starred him, in 2003.

"Bacani faces sexual harassment charge." (See

It wasn't enough that he laughed maniacally at his opponents in the debate, at every chance he could muster. It didn't matter that his arguments were nothing short of stupendous - stupendously out of touch with reality. He deigned to lecture everyone on the pitfalls of moral bankruptcy - that's rich. I'm not a saint, I know that, I never claimed to be one. But at least I've never been accused of ever forcing anyone in a sexually compromising manner. If the self-proclaimed "guardians of morality" cannot seem to refrain from their own amorous advances, on what laughable grounds can they now impose "holding off sex" as something doable for those they wish to consign to a life of celibacy as well?

We should also mention the former U.S. Senator Larry Craig.

A staunch opponent of everything "gay-friendly", the senator was caught in a now infamous bathroom scene in 2007 in Minneapolis, soliciting sex from a male police officer, making him such a go-to joke for the late night talk show circuit. He still vehemently denies that he is gay or has done anything "gay" in his life, decides to resign from the Senate because of the backlash his arrest could have on his political career, then withdraws that resignation, and continues finishing his term.

Right. Okay, we believe you. We also believe that child molestation is a consensual act.

And let's not forget on this list, Shirley Phelps Roper. The spokesperson of the Westboro Baptist Church, her church, headed by her father, Fred Phelps, espouses the belief that every word in the Bible must be followed to the end, and any and all "ills" in the world can be traced to ayone loving or supporting a homosexual.

(Picture above shows them picketing the funeral of Heath Ledger, who they say was "killed by God" for "potraying homosexuals in a positive light".)

Some time ago, they agreed to have their daily lives filmed by a British interviewer (BBC's Louis Theroux). He filmed them "ala reality show", a camera following them around as they proceeded to sing in church, or making picket signs, etc. Theroux was able to ascertain that Shirley herself had a child out of wedlock, and when he commented that it was rather hypocritical that she wished to impose her religious views on the world, when she herself could not "follow to the letter" what it was she was preaching, she then invoked the "I have made my peace with my God" line.

Since they have continued preaching their gospel, I thought it would be enlightening to see what fruits their sermons have borne. (Please note that the WBC's members are primarily the (extended) family only, with only a very few who can be considered "outsiders".)

Doesn't this give you a gooey, warm, fuzzy feeling inside? (Video clip above courtesy of, uploaded by OnKneesForJesus. Again, my question was both rhetorical and sarcastic - it surprises me how many people are irony-challenged.)

I don't know about you, but if this is a sampling of what valuable lessons we can learn from the so-called "paragons of morality", then I'd rather not take anything these "leaders" say with any weight nor value.

How unfortunate then that many people still do not see them for who they truly are: Hypocrites.

Someone has commented that I seem to take a hard line on hypocrites - something I can't really deny - but then that person made the mistake of adding "well, maybe you should consider that you're not also perfect". Excuse me. I never claimed to be perfect, nor an angel, nor any other virtuous label that ever existed. The problem is that these people above did. And my next problem is that they are seen as some authority on what to consider as right and wrong. In the end, we all have to make our own moral decisions, but I certainly will not be getting help from these four - and countless others like them - in making them.

I hope you are having a wonderful Sunday.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

We Aren't Really A Democracy, Are We?

Thanks to Mideo Cruz, visual artist, whose current work, "Poleteismo" (Polytheism), exhibited until recently at the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines), drives home that very point. Having lived in this country for all my life, I must say that the negative reaction (to put it mildly) to Cruz's art isn't exactly unexpected, but remains to be a disappointment.

(Photo above courtesy and credited to Reuters/Romeo Ranoco. For the full Reuters article, please go to

Disclosure time: I am NOT a Catholic. This makes me a minority in this country in terms of religious preference. To Catholic conservatives, this gives me the "devil's advocate" voice - how apropos that pun is in this context, seeing as how Cruz has been called a "devil" because of his work.

It also magnifies how one cannot escape the topic of religion in this country, whatever sphere of discourse or discussion is to be had.

Specifically, how Catholicism permeates practically all aspects of our lives on a daily basis. And given that I was never a Catholic to begin with, I have felt this intrusion more acutely, all my life. Which really begs the question of this post's title - are we really a democracy, where it counts - in substance?

Constitutionally, we are established as a democracy. From everything that I have read and understood about democracy, a democratic government cannot impose a state religion, precisely because it would go against the concept of freedom of religion, which is guaranteed under our Constitution. (See Section 5 of Article 3, Bill Of Rights, Philippine Constitution:

At this juncture, I need to emphasize a salient point, one which conveniently escapes most conservatives when they make impassioned pleas on behalf of their religion: RELIGION IS A CHOICE. No one is "born" a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Protestant, etc. This is a choice every person has to make on his/her own volition, notwithstanding the customary fact that babies in this country are "automatically" baptized as Catholic within a certain amount of days from birth. The reason for the emphasis is that most of the criticisms leveled against Cruz has been that he has been "blasphemous" and "disrespectful" of the Catholic faith, and how "insensitive" he is, given that we are "the only Catholic nation in Asia" (as that phrase has been drilled into us in every social studies class that ever existed in this country).

Excuse me, are you saying that no one can criticize or say anything construed as "negative" against the Catholic faith?

I find that idea to be utterly laughable, except that this is exactly what's happening: anybody who hits the slightest of discordant notes about Catholicism in this country is automatically judged as an "enemy of the (Catholic) faith", and must be dealt with. Which is why I'm not laughing at all.

This is how Cruz explains his "Poleteismo": "This speaks about objects that we worship, how we create these gods and idols, and how we in turn are created by our gods and idols." (Quoted from the same Reuters article, link above.) The portion which offended the conservatives - a crucifix with a movable penis - is merely a small part of what the artist intended to convey, but naturally, this is where the "controversy" centered, who on earth cares about the other "pieces". The myopia exhibited is simply staggering in its' audacity to be propped up as the truth.

In return, Cruz has received death threats - from the pious defenders of the "offended" faith. (And quite obviously, from the artist's explanation, it was not his intention to single out any one faith - the title says it quite succinctly, polytheism.) Members of the CCP who were responsible for allowing this exhibit were also given death threats (see Raissa Robles' excellent commentary on this as well,

This issue is another litmus test for the elasticity of democracy - that it should allow different beliefs and views to be expressed freely. Unfortunately, we have failed this test, yet again. You may not agree with the views presented by Cruz, but it doesn't give anyone the right to stifle his views as well. Anyone is free to disagree with his point of view, but to threaten him with death? Is this an example of our purported "democracy"?

I have never subscribed any kind of adoration for Mary as she is seen through the eyes of every Catholic. As it was explained to us both in the school and church of my childhood, she was merely a vessel. It could have easily been Samantha, or Louella. And if you've ever sat through one of our pastor's sermons, you would know that he has a special section devoted to lambasting Catholics: the amount of statues that Catholics pray to was - in his view - a direct violation of the Biblical admonition, "Thou shalt not have any other gods before Me." In fact, while he says he is friends with several Catholics, it saddens him that "they will never get to heaven".

Will Catholics now have the right to stone me to death for not having the same amount of reverence and adoration that they have for "Mama Mary"? Does that give them the right to now kill my (childhood) pastor for having these "blasphemous" thoughts - he practically consigned all Catholics to hell? On the scale of gravity, I would sumrise that what the pastor said about Catholics would be even more diabolical than what Cruz exhibited in "Poleteismo".

If you think I'm being facetious with these questions, think again.

Where else do you have government offices with a Marian statue, complete with flower offerings, candles and a spotlight? I remember going to the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) mid-afternoon, and when the clock hit 3 PM, everything stopped: an announcement came on the speakers that it was time for the 3PM Prayer, most everyone stood up and recited along (while I, along with 2 others who were obviously non-Catholics, just sat and waited for it to end). Even malls have the Catholic rituals before they open their doors: Prayers are being said over the PA system right before the gateway to crass commercialism leads more shoppers deeper into their chosen vice.

At least malls get to pull their "I'm a private entity" card. What's irrational - and unforgivable - is the government more than tacitly supporting the Catholic faith - and as a result, its' viewpoint in its' very own corridors. This is a blatant violation of our Constitution. Before any lawyers gang up on me, I'm saying this as a private citizen who makes his views plain and simple: the State cannot endorse - nor be seen as endorsing, not even in the slightest - any religion under a democracy. That is how I understand that particular consitutional provision. (If any lawyer can say or convince me of another viewpoint, I would love to hear it. Honestly.)

This explains why the Catholic leaders in this country have long felt their entitlement in meddling into our national, political and legal affairs. The government has always made it more than allowable. In the current RH (Reproductive Health) Bill debates, it is rather clear that the Catholic edict that disallows any use of artificial contraception is the driving force behind the opposition to its' passage. This bill - in all its' forms - has been languishing in our Congress for more than a decade (we're nearing a second one as we speak), and it has been in this state precisely because of the power that the Catholic hierarchy has wielded. Threatening excommunication, staging rallies, going on media to air their views as the "correct" and "moral" one - they certainly believe in the end justifying the means.

The end being that only the Catholic view be held as "true" in this country.

So it really isn't surprising that Cruz and others who support his work are facing death threats by conservative people who think they have an exclusive birthright to morality and decency. If it's in service of the end goal, then everything is permissible. Don't get me started on the endorsement of the Philippine Daily Inquirer that those who tried to destroy Cruz's art in a physical sense are doing something "understandable" (see How a member of an institution that is supposedly a bastion of free expression can condone censorship is beyond me.

"Poleteismo" achieved its' goal in that it certainly provoked closer scrutiny and discussion. The question becomes, if it affected you negatively, why and how did it do so? Could it be that his expression served as a mirror that challenged your preconceived notions and ideas about something as personal about faith? Note that the artist was showcasing his point of view - why does it seem to be so threatening?

Let's call it like it is. We are essentially a Catholic theocracy - where the Catholic viewpoint is viewed as king, nay, as god - but with the Filipino rationalization of "that's not what it says in our Constitution!", which allows those who push the Catholic way of thinking into our laws a disingenious way to avoid owning up to what is really happening.

Anyway, who cares? On paper, we are a democracy. You're free to dissent - as long as the Catholic leadership says it's "permitted".

Basta (as long as) on paper we're a democracy.

Ah, basta.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Love Affair With Cigarettes

I'm not sure how it all began. But as with anything that comes under the heading of "first loves", you fall hard and you fall fast.

Maybe "first love" isn't the correct term. I remember being more-than-slightly repulsed from the first few puffs I had. But, see, I didn't smoke for the "taste" of cigarettes - that would come much later. I had other reasons for smoking, which at that time, seemed like all that mattered.

I only started smoking when I was in college - coming from a conservative religious high school, smoking was more than frowned upon. (In all my time in high school, I don't recall anyone ever being caught red-handed with cigarettes in their possession.) Mind you, this is a school where a few teachers practiced corporal punishment - so you get a picture of what hellish delights await students who ever broke anything in the official student handbook.

Once I stepped into college, the overarching sense that I felt was freedom. Free from all the stifling rules, freedom to dress the way I wanted, freedom to go anywhere and be anyone - I'm sure most, if not all, of my classmates would have felt that same sense once we got out of our high school. The world being our oyster, and all those other expressions - it really did feel like a different world was being opened before my eyes.

I also fell into a wonderful group in my undergraduate days. Everyone was incredibly smart, and save for a couple of people (making them a miniscule minority), no one bothered to make judgements and moralistic pronouncements on what we did, laughed about, etc. What a big change from where I came from - where every opportunity was seized to tell us of our "shameful" ways and what we had to do to be "healed".

I got introduced to my first Marlboro, partly because many people were doing it, but also because the need to be part of a group was stronger. Thanks to a huge ad budget, Marlboro seems to be the brand that most people first taste when they start smoking - at least on campus.

I remember being the "rebels" in our block, the kind who would tune out in class, generally just do the minimum work and yet still manage to get through subject after subject. Part of the "signature" of the small group I was in was the smoking, and somehow, it felt really good to be seen as the "bad element" - believe me, I've never been identified as a bad anything up to high school; if anything, I was an overextended extra-curricular achiever back then. The Marlboro represented my badge of freedom.

I was also facing difficulties on the homefront. It's exasperating to come home, day after day, when one continually argues with family, over things which I had no control of. I had to find a way to also tune out the ruckus that awaited me on a daily basis. Smoking easily provided me with that escape - I could be in my room, with my (generally brooding) thoughts, focused on myself and on no one else.

It was also only during this moment that I felt decisive enough to do something about my weight, and started going to the gym. Having been called "fat" all my life (I have a picture of when I was about 4 or 5 years old, I had leg braces on because I was so heavy that my legs turned in) I had developed a thick skin and had learned to deal with any negative comments (generally by being snarky). An interesting side effect that I had learned from smoking was that my taste buds felt "dead" (read: I couldn't taste food at all, or very minimally), and I also felt my appetite decreasing. I could actually go on a full day with no meals as long as I had my cigarettes.

In hindsight, this "formula" would be idiotic (if I was to be kind), but when I started going to the gym to work out, I coupled the physical exertions with my nicotine inhalations. In my mind, I figured, calories burned from the workout and no food intake, thanks to the ciggies - more success with the weight loss goal. (The idiotic part? When one works out, our lungs become more open due to the increased oxygen supply needed - and right after that was when I would light up my cigarette. It didn't help that I also had a social group at the gym with whom I smoked with, undoubtedly with the same skewed method of reaching our goals.)

Oh, I was successful with that goal. I lost over a hundred pounds. At that point in time, I was smoking from sun up to sun down. The moment I left the house, I would light a cigarette, and the only time I would put the light out was when I was entering our gate at home. My tastes in cigarettes also changed, and I felt I had "graduated" into a "sleeker" brand. This was when I wanted something "smoother". So I seeked out other brands, the ones called "blue seal" in smoker parlance, as they were imported. (Surprisingly, despite the general "deadening" of my taste sense, I could tell the difference between these newer brands and my faithful Marlboro.)

The physical symptoms I had from smoking progressively worsened. I had an infernal itch in my throat that didn't bother leaving, the way it did when I was just starting the habit. Phlegm was now being exhumed from both nasal and oral cavities, and they were slightly green-orange in color (I assume some blood was also being expelled together with the mucous-like substance) and very, very sticky. I once blew my nose and only blood came out, without the phlegm. At this point in time, I was smoking 5 packs a day. I became so identified with my cigarettes that other smokers who knew me would come up to me and ask or offer to buy from me when their supply ran out. (2 professors of mine even asked me for some.)

Like all smokers, I had attempted to quit also. Right before that current load of 5 packs/day, I had tried quitting at least thrice, limiting my sticks, cold turkey, or switching to the "Ultra Light" Marlboros. (Which was a big hit with smokers, giving the false illusion of ingesting less nicotine.) But like all first loves, the only way to end it was with a devastating blow - one that will ensure that you will wake up with the realization that your first love is over.

I was waiting in line for another semestral registration (UP is known for its' delightful registration process) when I felt like someone clubbed me from behind, that I felt a gush of air exhumed out of both my nose and mouth, and I suddenly felt weak in my knees, that I had to stagger to the next available seat I could find. I started shaking uncontrollably - I remember those images of epileptic patients haveing an episode - and when I tried to get to the pay phone to call for help, I couldn't even put the coins in the slot provided nor dial the number because of the intense shaking of my arms and fingers. As my breathing became more hurried and shallow, I started sweating profusely and looked like someone in a wet T-shirt contest. I inadvertedly became a sideshow during the registration process as students just continually gasped, stared and pointed at me.

This went on for a good half hour (definitely more than that). I had to exhaust all my focus on calming myself voluntarily until I got to normal breathing once again. I could smell the sweat on me - it smelled like a cloth that was dunked over a pool of used cigarettes. The nicotine was literally seeping out of my pores. It didn't want my body anymore. And on that day, both my body and mind never looked back.

It took a week to clear out all the residual phlegm from my body. Mentally, I was resolved to no longer have that insane experience again - not when this was something I could control.

The love affair was over.

This is my personal experience with smoking. I don't know if someone else had the same or a similar experience, I'm just grateful to have kicked the habit and I have been nicotine-free for more than a decade now. I don't mean to judge, although I realize that this piece may well be thought of as such. But these are the facts as they have happened to me. I know how difficult it is to quit - the pull and the romance of the stick can be very, very difficult to overcome. A non-smoker will never know what that struggle feels like (for those who wish to quit).

They say that the only way to quit an addiction is to replace it with another one. If anyone has any suggestions, I'm open to them.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Theory On The Christopher Lao Phenomenon

By now, this video must have made it to your radar - it's going viral in YouTube and all the social networking sites. (The video above is courtesy of, which was shown last night on the evening news program of local station GMA 7.)

Let's break it down.

Christopher Lao (the driver of the car) goes along Mother Ignacia Avenue in Quezon City, which is one of the areas perennially flooded (in some portions) owing to the up-and-down terrain. (I've lived in Quezon City for more than half of my life, so this is something I know firsthand.) Inexplicably, he drives his car into the flooded area, and suffers the soggy consequence.

Upon getting out of the floodwaters, he is interviewed by Jun Veneracion of Channel 7. (Admittedly, not the very best time to be having one, but I guess Mr. Veneracion knows a story when one, er, floats by.) Mr. Lao proceeds to lambast certain public departments for not "informing" him of how deep the waters were, insisting that there should have been blockades set up to prevent people from going in to the waters further.

When the reporter makes the (obvious) point that no one was going into the area, Mr. Lao then begins to repeat his "no one informed me! I should have been informed!" line.

Which set off a firestorm in all social media.

Many Facebook pages are being set up to commemorate this "event", with less than flattering descriptions of what transpired. Twitter is all abuzz with comments about IQ levels. People have dug up Mr. Lao's academic record (Reportedly, he is a UP - University of the Philippines - graduate with the highest of honors in academic excellence and is a law student in the same university. This was confirmed because one of his teachers at UP Law defended him online. See When you read through people's comments, you get the feeling that this is a combination of a comedy show with a lynch mob and a disaster.

That's because that's what this really is. I learned this in Literature class freshman year, in, yes, UP also. The term my professor used for how people are now reacting to Mr. Lao was schadenfreude.

Here is how Merriam-Webster defines it: "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others." ( It is German in origin, from the words schaden (damage) and freude (joy).

And, Mr. Lao, if you're seeing all these comments and reactions, you are witnessing it firsthand.

It certainly doesn't help that Mr. Lao came off as a rich, spoiled brat, incapable of taking responsibility for his actions. In this country, having a car automatically defines you as being "better off", so that's another item against him. Then the level of indignation that he exhibited, blaming everyone else around him - he even included Mr. Veneracion in his tirade - well, it suddenly became a gloves-are-off situation. The fact that he was educated at the country's top university makes the schadenfreude cake that much sweeter. (To quote my favorite character in Will And Grace, Karen Walker: "This is so rich, it's GOT to be fattening!")

It's human nature, and it always will be. That's because deep down, in the recesses and in the corners of our minds where we aren't supposed to linger, we really are jealous of other people's successes. We don't need a constant reminder of how someone is doing so well. As I mentioned in a previous post, in this country, what's on the surface is what counts the most. So those who have it made show it off as ostentatiously as they can. And those who hate those same facts must hide their envy with the most dazzling of smiles and pearly whites. (

Vicariously, this incident just mirrors how we all feel: finally, someone who represents "having it all" stumbles. And in full view, on national TV.

Netizens have been busy making commentaries on how "lawyer-esque" it was of him to try to blame everyone when he should have used his head and not proceeded on his route. Or how arrogant he was to react the way he did, expecting someone to "inform" him that the road was not passable. There have been many "posters" in FaceBook, all for the purpose of "informing" Mr. Lao what not to do and where not to go/pass. And you can't pass by any of the commentaries without seeing the word "stupid" at least a million times.

In truth, any one of us could have done the same mistake he made. I am not defending him, or the way he reacted - that is something he has to defend alone. But we all do silly things because we weren't entirely focused on the task at hand - I've personally left my keys at the dining table and gotten to the parking lot before realizing I have to go all the way back for them. How many of us have "chanced" not bringing an umbrella on the probability that "it won't rain, it's just makulimlim (overcast)"? Or because we insist on using our cellular phones while driving, we end up in a ditch (or close to being in one)?

But the combination of Mr. Lao's mistake, coupled with his apparent arrogance and propensity to blame anyone but himself, the disclosure of his highly regarded academic record, and the appearance of coming from a well-to-do family (his Chinese lineage and name only fuels this some more, as most Chinese families are seen as financially successful in this country) makes this the perfect brew for a schadenfreude picture perfect moment.

Hey, if we seem to be relishing in his misfortune and how he is now being treated in public fora, that's perfectly acceptable because it's only human nature, right?


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When I Grow Up - Wait, I'm There Already.

As far back as I can remember, much of my youth was spent wishing that I was a tad bit older. If  I was older, I could see "adult films". (Which, in hindsight, seems to be the primary reason why boys that age wanted to be "adult".) If I was older, I can stay up late and not worry about being scolded for not turning in early and doing homework. If I was older, I could drive a car, preferably one that would make everyone wish they had my car. If I was get the drift. Some things are just relegated to the box called "fantasy" when one wasn't still "older".

As my birthday is approaching, I am surprised at my willingness to review my life as it has unfolded these past three decades - give or take a few years. Most people I know are loathe to dwell on their impending natal celebration - and the realization that another year has gone by. I do not know that there is a manual for any of us to navigate through aging - we all undergo it, we will eventually face it, what makes it different for everyone is how we face it.

The part of me that's OC (obsessive-compulsive) is itching to make a list of sorts - I do that quite often in order to make some sense of what I am doing at any given moment. So, this would be the list of things that I have learned or observed to be true from living my life - so far.

1. Quality counts more than quantity where friends are concerned. Pretty much self explanatory, but with the advent of social media like Facebook, many people seem to think that having thousands of "friends" is the mark of someone, uhm, "successful". How many of those FB friends can you call up in the middle of the night? (Disregard people working in call centers from this question, they work at night.) The proper term that FB should have used is "acquaintances" - you know these people, but that doesn't exactly make them your friends. I am grateful I have more than a handful of people that I can truly call friends. The ones who will be there when the situation is so bleak, everyone is trying to get out.

2. Just because you're wrong/evil/incompetent, doesn't mean you won't succeed. We are given many, many lessons and reminders from our childhood that essentially amount to a singular message: do good/the right thing and you will be rewarded. Anyone who doesn't find that line of thinking suspect, given what we now know, must have been living under a rock all this time. Lawyers use their knowledge of the legal landscape to allow their guilty clients to walk free. I remember this serial killer who was arrested in France who had to be let go because of some "technicality" and is now a free man back in his home (Japan). And how many people have bosses that, by some miracle - despite the stupidity, incompetence, intolerance, heartlessness and kakapalan (having a thick hide) they have exhibited, all of which are obvious to all - still manage to be on top, holding jobs and people's lives in ransom, in the palm of their hands? We haven't even delved into public officials who have enriched themselves while in office - that's a separate class altogether.

3. The maturity of a person is inversely proportional to one's obsession with the physical. And yes, I am talking about when a person seems to gauge his/her worth on how s/he looks. It's a losing proposition. Everyone gets older. Wrinkles will come knock-knock-knocking on your skin. Your metabolism will slow down, that is just basic scientific fact. Gravity will take its' toll on the body. No matter how much hair coloring you put and how talented your hairstylist is, you will always know that it's white underneath. The best thing to do is to accept it as a part of life. Once you do, then it becomes imperative to answer the question: Without my looks, what will make me attractive as a person? The more you hold on to your looks, the less time you have to devote to developing the other, more important aspects of your life. Are you kind to people? Do you have a sense of decency that allows you to respect others regardless of their beliefs? Do you try to make this world even just a little bit better than when you entered it? Do you develop your conversation skills and really try to listen to what others are saying? Many, many things of importance are totally removed from how one looks - almost everything, in fact - but it says something about the 21st century that the beauty and image business is an industry worth billions. (I'm betting in whatever currency)

4. Many of the things our parents told us are true. Many are also...not that true. Vegetables are really good for you. Santa is not the one responsible for the wonderful gifts. Education is the one thing you can rightfully call your own and should strive for. A "bumbay" (person of Indian descent) will not take you away if you were naughty. Parents will be the last, if not one of the last, people who will ever stop trusting and loving you. Everything will be solved by prayer and patience. If you do good, this will be retuned to you. If you do good, this will be returned to you.

5. You have to forge your own way, no matter what everyone else may say. Your parents, your family, your friends, your neighbors, even the neighborhood lush, will have their opinion on how to live your life, what to do, etc. Take it all in - after all, some of them do want what's best for you - but realize that you truly have the power to make your life what it is today. You may not be able to control some things that happen out of circumstance - if you have an accident, or someone in your family dies - but you can control your attitude towards these circumstances. When life gives you lemons, don't just make lemonade (as the saying goes), there's a whole world of fruits waiting for you to be solely focused on lemons alone. You'de be missing out by just sticking to making lemonade.

These are just some of the things I have learned so far. Of course, there are more, but maybe that will be for a future post, or two. Some of these things are to be learned over and over again in one's lifetime. While others are just a product of "the new age" - I want to be around a long time to see everything changing before my eyes. It's both exhilirating and terrifying to venture into the unknown - pretty much what it means to be facing up to one's own life and what it may yet be in store.

Welcome to your life.