Trumped

When the US was under Trump, Donald J., I always said that whoever was going to be the President after him would have his, or her work cut out for him/her. The Trump era was so self-centered (in more ways than one) that the reputation of the nation as a credible world leader fell to its lowest. His attitude towards his allies was strained at best, and he was all googly-eyed for authoritarians Putin, Xi and Kim, traditionally seen as the “enemy” with whom he always boasted that he had a great relationship. Well, except maybe Xi what with the trade war and all…

Then Joe Biden comes along, beats Trump (regardless of whatever else Trump and his ilk may say), and takes over. Biden proudly declares that the US is back. People seem to be looking around and saying, “explain.” People thought this would mean that the US would be less of an ass, and more a good neighbor. So far, it’s not happening. Case in point: Afghanistan.

To be fair, Biden did not lose Afghanistan. The US never had it to begin with. Bush Jr. sent troops there to find and kill Osama bin Laden, head of the terror group Al Qaeda who was then residing in Afghanistan. He warned the Taliban who were then lording it over the land not to interfere, or else. Well, the Taliban just kicked the Russians, or the then USSR out of Afghanistan, and was not in the mood for another invasion.

Worse, the US couldn’t take out Osama early in the campaign; so, they had to change tack and think of a new justification for their stay. Be that as it may, they did not seem to be motivated by any love for the Afghan people; so, whatever they did was always half-hearted. How can it be any different when the US just generally saw them as the enemy. It was Vietnam all over again. They seem to have that “shoot them all, let God sort them out” mindset.

Then came Obama whose main weakness seems to be foreign affairs. Maybe he couldn’t be blamed for this since he was trying to get the US out of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the global financial crisis that we were all in at the time. Note that it was also during his term when the Philippines confronted China in the South China Sea that the US tried to resolve by getting into an agreement with China for a mutual de-escalation, and when the Philippines pulled out, China did not, and fortified itself.

Back in Afghanistan, nothing really happened, and Biden, who was then Vice President, was advocating for an end to the campaign and pull the troops out. Instead, the Surge happened. This was intended to protect the Afghans from militants, and already far from the original program.

Then Trump came along and one of the most bizarre things happened: a US Administration negotiated with the Taliban for the US pullout. What made it more unbelievable was the fact that the then Afghan government was completely left out of the negotiations. Negotiations that had terms like the release of prisoners held by the Afghan government. That’s how “self-centered” the US was at the time of Trump. Everything was transactional. “America First” simply meant whatever was advantageous to the US and everyone else be damned.

Parenthetically, it appears that the Afghan Taliban was not in the list of terrorist organizations of the State Department. However, it appears to be listed with the National Counterterrorism Center. Perhaps the State list is the main basis because, well, the US has a policy of not negotiating with terrorists and if Trump did it, then the Taliban must not be on the list.

Now that Biden was President, he simply implemented what he was advocating before, which, in a way, was now made more certain with Trump’s agreement with the Taliban. What was probably surprising was the speed by which the government collapsed before the pullout was even completed.

Honestly, I think the Afghan government would have folded one way or another. The fact that it was engaging the Taliban in talks in Qatar, if I remember correctly, already showed that it wasn’t on solid footing. The Taliban has been busy improving its position via targeted assassinations, and PR tours over the years that local governments just gave up without a fight in most cases. The US and its allies supposedly trained the Afghan soldiers but without their presence, the Afghans did not have the resolve to stand up against the Taliban.

And this is not the failure of the Biden Administration. It is the failure of the US and its allies from the beginning. Biden was just the guy who had the unenviable task of writing finis to the misadventure that was the longest war they ever fought.

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Context

We do not live in a vacuum.

Back when I was in high school, a priest asked our Religion class what we thought of this: if God was all-knowing and sees what we eventually be, would He still permit someone like Hitler to exist? I honestly don’t recall what I thought at the time but his answer has stuck with me through the ages. He said that even knowing that someone like Hitler was going to cause such death and misery for an entire world, God would still allow him to exist because somewhere along the way, Hitler would also be able to do good, or cause others to do good.

From that time on, that has been my way of viewing people: no one is 100% good or bad, ever. Everyone is capable of doing good and evil, and even people we consider as “bad” like say Stalin or Hitler have done some good for some. The lives of the saints show us that there are things in their lives we would consider bad, evil even, but somehow, somewhere they still do manage to do good. For most, however, the good is lost or forgotten given the attention given to the bad they do but its somewhere out there, and there will be people out there who would know that. “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones” (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar).

So, when I hear that Toni Gonzaga interviewed Bong Bong Marcos, son of the late Ferdinand Marcos, on what he learned from his father, or what his father taught him, that was still how I viewed it. Someone that many in the Philippines consider a very bad man because of the Martial Law years could still have done good for his family. To them, as in most families, they would have simply viewed him as their father or spouse as the case may be.

He may have also done good for others. Many in the North consider him a great man who has improved their lives. I have a professor in college who will always be grateful to his family because they helped defray medical expenses of her mother. So, yes, I am sure he, and his family, was able to do good.

So, what was wrong with Ms Gonzaga’s interview? What was so wrong in highlighting what good the late President did, or see him in a different light? Nothing, and everything.

It has so much meaning to so many people: on the one hand, it is a feel-good piece. On the other, it glosses over truly terrible things suffered by so many. Personally, I think it needed context. Ms Gonzaga should have told her audience who Ferdinand Marcos was, not just to his family, especially his son who she was going to interview, but also to the many victims of the Martial Law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. This should not be seen separately but in connection with all that was known of the man who was President at the time of the Martial Law years. One or two lines wouldn’t do it. It had to be carefully explained to all would be listeners; otherwise, this was just what the critics call it: propaganda for the upcoming elections.

In the end, it’s her project. She says she doesn’t have to explain herself, and maybe she really doesn’t have to, in which case it will be up to the rest of us to remind everyone that whatever was said and done was only part of the story and there is much more to the man who taught his son whatever it is he thinks he did. We are not without our own abilities including the right to criticize her piece, and show everyone all the other parts that was forgotten.

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The Joyful Mysteries

Are they?

As a Catholic, I pray the rosary everyday and part of it is to reflect on the Mysteries but where the Sorrowful Mysteries are sorrowful; the Glorious, glorious; and the Luminous, luminous, the Joyful are, well, a bit off.

Take the Annunciation, the greeting leaves Mary troubled. Most women would welcome news of a pregnancy but her situation was truly problematic. What would Joseph say?

The Visitation. Mary, now pregnant, goes to help Saint Elizabeth. They are filled with joy but this is not just a social visit because St. Elizabeth herself is pregnant with the future St. John the Baptist.

The Birth of Jesus! Christmas! But the King of Kings is born in a manger. And while wise men may come to visit bearing gifts, the angel had appeared to shepherds out in the field to witness the birth of the King.

The presentation at the Temple fulfills a faithful’s yearning but brings sorrow to Mary.

Finally, the finding at the Temple. Like Murphy Brown, Joseph and Mary forgot their child. Well, they assumed He was with relatives. They were already on the way home when they realized He was missing, and when they did find Him, His words were beyond them.

None of these are just straightforward happy occasions. The Visitation is the closest to just a happy-happy, joy-joy moment but not quite. So, what do I make of this?

Well, that’s the thing about Catholic happiness isn’t it? It never is a straightforward matter. It comes with accepting things we don’t understand. Surrendering ourselves to His will. It comes with serving others no matter who we are. Elizabeth is surprised why the mother of her Lord has come to visit her. It comes with humility. Some will be wise enough to find Him, while others need to be guided to Him. Faithfulness has its rewards even if it comes at a cost. It is in serving God wherever we may be. Never fearing even if others appear to have “forgotten” us.

Our joy is in the Lord. These Joyful Mysteries are about Jesus and how He works in our lives, and how we should respond to Him. Otherwise, if it were just a straightforward thing, then we might lose focus and fail to see God working in us and that would not be joyful indeed. For losing sight of the Light will eventually lead us to darkness, and that is never the plan of God for us. True joy is in Christ and Christ living in us. Our response completes that Joy. That’s the Mysteries part right there.

God bless!

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On Images

Statues are falling all around the world.

One byproduct of the rise of Black Lives Matter is an aggressive assault against images that represent repression. Former slave owners whose statues stood tall and proud in plazas and universities suddenly found themselves attacked, brutalized, vandalized and, at times, violently removed from their pedestals and unceremoniously dumped. The statue of King Leopold of Belgium has seen the same treatment. Then there’s St. Junipero Serra in San Francisco, USA. There are those who find these actions unacceptable, criminal; however, there are those who find the same necessary. The removal is seen as a way of correcting the social injustices made possible by these great men of history.

Of course, there are those who see this assault as an attempt at whitewashing the past. Choosing as it were to highlight the negative over the good he has done. However, history today may be seen as whitewashing the past: highlighting only the good and pooh-poohing the negative. Slavery? Why focus on that? This man gave much of his wealth to support education, culture and society! Focus on that. Never mind that his wealth came from slavery and all the misery it brought to the unfortunate victims. Better they say to see them simply as great men rather than mere mortals like us. Is this wise?

There are those who say we should be forgiving because these people were living at a different time when slavery was not seen as the evil it is now. But isn’t that the heart of the problem itself? It is that way of thinking that justified generational racism that lives to this day. Why shouldn’t we see them in a new light when we are supposed to be more enlightened? Shouldn’t we precisely condemn their wrongs so we can truly determine who is in fact a “great man”?

And this applies equally to our saints. We all know that saints are mortals who rose above themselves to be shining examples for the rest of us. Kings, soldiers, mothers, nuns, priests, good-for-nothings and ordinary people become saints but there are those whose lives are more controversial than others. The case of St. Junipero Serra in San Francisco in California, USA, is one such case. A missionary, he is known to have saved native Americans but he is also seen as part of certain abuses that came with the mission life in California. Of course, the Catholic Church defends the saint but that is no different from, say, Oxford University defending the statue of the imperialist Cecil Rhodes for the longest time, and although a decision has recently been made to have the same removed, it appears that it will stay for at least another year until a commission has come up with a decision. The fact remains that, regardless of whatever else they may have done for society, there are still those who will view both St. Serra and Mr. Rhodes as instrumental to a period of oppression. I do not think the Church should ask for an exemption just because this man was a saint. The fact remains that there is a portion of society that sees him differently, and the Church should also take that into consideration. If need be, then we can move his statues into churches and chapels where he is better appreciated than in public where some may be offended in the same way statues of “great men” are moved to museums where a better understanding of their part in history may be appreciated by all. People may better appreciate their contribution when it is properly presented in its context that must also accept the bad with the good.

We are all human after all, and while we all strive to do good, we can be just as bad at times. I think that this is all part of our continuing enlightenment. Whatever injustice we may fight against, there is always something that may not be too flattering in ourselves. One can rage against slavery the most common form of which is the enslavement of Africans but it should be understood that the industry was not exclusively ran by whites. There were Arabs and Africans who were complicit in the slave trade. And various civilizations had their own versions of slavery. The Philippines had its alipin. Slaves. Let us, therefore, not be self-righteous. North to South and East to West, we all have something to answer for when it comes to oppression and slavery. We are — everyone of us — a Cecile Rhodes, King Leopold, and St. Junipero Serra. We must tear down, vandalize and correct that which is wrong in us. They are us.

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Shutting down the masses’ station of choice: NTC vs. ABS-CBN

The Philippine National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) recently ordered the private radio and television broadcaster ABS-CBN to cease and desist all broadcasts using radio and television frequencies over which it once held a franchise over upon the expiration of its current legislative franchise. The timing could not have been worse. We are in the midst of a pandemic, and one could not have missed the fact that even as its main competitor, GMA, and other stations like CNN Philippines and public stations went silent, or limited their broadcasts when the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) was imposed over the island of Luzon, ABS-CBN remained on air 24/7.

It should be noted that ABS-CBN’s franchise did expire, and one needs a valid Congressional franchise to legally operate a radio and television station. However, the NTC has admitted that it can issue a provisional license to operate even if there is as yet no franchise such as when the application for a new, or renewal of a Congressional franchise is still pending before a Congress as was the case with ABS-CBN. There were a number of entities that have benefited from such a provisional license. Once the Congressional franchise has been obtained, the NTC issued the license to operate. Those who fail to obtain the franchise are asked to explain why the license to operate should not be cancelled. If the broadcaster fails to provide a reasonable explanation, then the license is cancelled. Naturally, the process seeks to ensure that the cancelation of the license observed due process of law. The Philippine Constitution requires that no person, natural or juridical, be deprived of life, liberty and property – like the NTC license – without due process of law. The thing is, the NTC did nothing of the sort.

It is notable that the NTC simply issued the cease and desist order (CDO) against ABS-CBN even without asking the latter to explain itself. Even as it acknowledged that it had previously allowed other entities to continue broadcasting despite the lapse of a Congressional franchise, it sought to justify the issuance of the CDO by highlighting the fact that, unlike in the case of the other entities, the franchise of ABS-CBN was legally challenged. I assume they are referring to the fact that the Solicitor General has filed a Quo Warranto proceeding against ABS-CBN for allegedly being partially foreign-owned when the Constitution requires 100% Filipino ownership. This case, however, is still pending having been caught up in the pandemic and the restrictions imposed by the Philippine government with the ECQ.

People and ABS-CBN have latched on to this as an attack on the free press, which the Constitution also protects especially since this particular Constitution is a direct reaction to the Martial Law years where a free press was practically nonexistent. It is undeniable that ABS-CBN has earned the ire of the current President for its alleged failure to show his campaign materials during the last election period. ABS-CBN says the President’s campaign team dragged its feet in deciding when the materials were to be shown. When it did finally decide, the slots were already full, and the network offered to return the payments made. It is said that the campaign took this in stride and, as it turns out, the President won anyway. The President now remembers things differently, and has openly declared his desire, and intention, to see the station closed. Viewed from this prism, I do not believe it is an attack against a free press. Regardless of the station’s actual political leanings, or the content of its broadcasts, the current situation is nothing more than a personal matter between two parties. It is just unfortunate that one happens to be the President and the other a broadcaster.

It is also worthy to note that the application to renew the franchise was originally filed around 2014, which was during the previous administration. For some reason, the President then was not supportive of the application. Speculation was that it was around the same time that the sister of the then President left the network. The network appears to have withdrawn that application. Perhaps it was waiting for a particular Presidential candidate to win as he may be more inclined to support its application for renewal. The candidate appeared to lead in the polls, and (more importantly?) is the partner of a news presenter of the network. Well, imagine their surprise when the former mayor of Davao took the crown instead! The network was then forced to refile their application under new, more unwelcome circumstances as I noted above. What chance do they have when the House of Representatives is dominated by the President’s allies, and those courting his favor? Despite the time the application was pending before the House, the franchise lapsed without being renewed. Why? Well, it appears that, aside from the President’s interests, there was a lot of opposition to the franchise renewal because of the network’s allegedly illegal operations that aims to kill off the cable industry (even if the reason for that is because of the coming of content streaming over the internet – cut the cable, view on demand – which is cheaper: P1,000/month for cable versus P500/month for a Netflix subscription) as well as a host of other alleged violations that the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the NTC itself have dismissed as unfounded.

Which brings us back to the fact that the NTC did not issue a provisional license while the application for a Congressional franchise was still pending before the House. It should also be noted that, one, the NTC said it can issue the provisional license; two, both the House and Senate leadership supported the issuance of the provisional license And have asked the NTC to do so; and, third, the Department of Justice has declared (although not through a formal opinion) that the NTC can issue a provisional license to ABS-CBN. Only the Solicitor General was not on board, and, as I noted above, filed the Quo Warranto case against the network. He also wrote a letter to the NTC threatening its leadership with graft charges if it will allow the network to continue to operate without a Congressional franchise. Well, as we all know now, the NTC did not issue the provisional license and instead issued the CDO allegedly on advise of counsel. The fact that they actually had to say this is also notable. “Laying the basis” as lawyers would like to say.

To my mind, this was a reversible error by the NTC. There is no argument that whether or not a license should issue is up to the NTC but it should do so in a transparent manner. Due process. Under the circumstances, I think the NTC failed to observe due process when it simply issued the CDO against the network. Remember, ABS-CBN is not an unknown entity without a track record in broadcasting seeking a new franchise. It was a station that existed before the Martial Law years that was shut down by then President Marcos. When Marcos was ousted in 1986, the network regained a franchise to operate and has done so until 2020 when said franchise expired. I think the law clearly allows the NTC to issue a provisional license independently of the network’s application for a Congressional franchise.

As for the Solicitor General’s Quo Warranto case, it is still pending in Court. If this is the basis for the NTC’s decision, then it appears to have prejudged the case. It also deprived the network of its right to due process since it was not given the opportunity to contest the allegations of the Solicitor General. There’s just something fundamentally wrong if a government agency takes such an extreme act as issuing a CDO on the mere say-so of an interested party. Due process dictates that ABS-CBN be given its day in accordance with the two-notice rule established by the Supreme Court in the venerable Ang Tibay case. So, it should have either waited for the Quo Warranto case to be resolved, or opened a separate administrative proceeding against the network. To be honest, the Quo Warranto case should be dismissed and the matter referred to the NTC or the SEC if due process is to be properly observed.

I hear that ABS-CBN has filed a petition before the Supreme Court challenging the NTC’s CDO. I think it’s best case lies in the denial of due process rather than alleging its an assault on press freedom but that’s just me.

Meanwhile, the Palace, on behalf of the President, has shrugged off any implication that the President was involved in the issuance of the CDO pointing to Congress as the culprit because it failed to issue the Congressional franchise. Congress, for its part, its leadership at least since some Congressmen have issued a mea culpa, pointed to the NTC as the culprit. No doubt the NTC will just stick to its guns and say “no franchise, no license” even if history, jurisprudence and the law appear to say otherwise.

The masses, however, are left without their favorite news anchors and reruns of their favorite programs at least as long as the ECQ persists. Even as the network has moved its shows to media other than radio and television, it is not making, or even reaching as much as it could. In a country so technologically challenged as the Philippines, radio and television are still king. For us, you can never take anything for granted because these are the most unusual of times in more ways than one…

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On Family: of Wales and Skywalkers

The once Prince Harry is the son of the once Princess Diana, while Rey is no Skywalker unless you allow it the same way Rose became a Dawson in Titanic.

Harry has been a sort of black sheep of the Windsor-Mountbatten-Wales family after the death of his uber superstar mother having once been photographed in a nazi uniform for one but have recently been doing well for the UK Royals serving in Afghanistan and being active with the Paralympics, among others.

Then he married an American actress and everything changed. Not so much the prince himself but his family, the Sussexes. Well, things got too difficult and he, they, decided to leave the family business. And who can blame him? The UK Royals are a brand that demanded much from each of them but if they look at your wife differently because of how different she is from Kate Middleton, then that is an instant recipe for disaster. And the Good Book did say that when a man marries a woman, they leave their families and become one. That’s who they are now, and it seems they will now walk a different path from their family.

On the other side of the Galaxy, we have the end of the First Order and the Sith with the showing of The Rise of Skywalker. Rey is not a Skywalker. For many fans of the Star Wars franchise, this was a letdown. It damaged the Skywalker brand as the hope of the universe. The film The Last Jedi even made it appear that the universe will be fine without the Skywalkers thank you very much.

Worse, Rey was a Palpatine. The grandchild of the former Emperor. The enemy of the Skywalkers. In the end though, that was one way to put an end to the Sith, the First Order and the Empire for good: the grandchild becomes The Jedi and defeats all of them with one go, with a little help from the last of the Skywalkers, Ben, the former Kylo Ren, who rejoined the Light and ended the Dark.

However, they could not have done it without the inspiration and training of the two Skywalkers: Leia and Luke. In the end, Rey became a Skywalker by association not by blood.

Harry may have stepped away from his duties as a royal but I am quite sure he is still loved by his family. Rey is not a Skywalker by blood but everything about her made her one. Ben Solo was half a Skywalker and yet he could not see it. We are confused at times. Lost. But we find our way home. Back to our family.

In the end, family is more than blood or being part of the family business. It is who we are. Whether we are apart, together, dead or just plain lost. Family has a way of supporting one another both near and far. It’s just who we are.

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End of Days

It has been known for some time that Saudi Arabia and Iran have been competing for dominance in the Middle East. Even as the Kingdom is being backed by the US, Iran has found some support with China and Russia, who, to me, are the best candidates for the biblical Gog and Magog. Russia, the has-been, and China, the up and coming superpower wannabe, which makes for a very dangerous combination indeed.

Russia has gained some points recently when it managed to ease the US out of the Syrian conflict much to the delight of Turkey, who has taken full advantage of the new found open license to effectively attack the Kurds. So, Turkey appears to have thrown its lot with Russia and China, its NATO membership notwithstanding.

China, of course, has taken over the South China Sea illegally. Not that anybody else seems to be doing anything about it as China has managed to turn its charm offensive on to keep everyone happy. Some free flowing dollars here and there also helps keep new found friends on their side in any debate affecting China.

Now comes the US killing off one of Iran’s best loved generals in an airstrike in Iraq where Iran has been waging a proxy war with the US and its allies, ie, the Saudis. I don’t recall the US and Iran directly attacking each other before, at least not recently, so this is a bit unprecedented for the US. The US says its actions should not be seen as a move for regime change, or an attempt to start a war with Iran. They clearly said they were already fighting one with Iran and this is intended to stop it. Well, good luck with that.

Iran for its part has vowed to avenge the murder of their beloved general (just how beloved, considering there are also protests against the regime in Iran, is debatable). It might not be in a position to challenge the US one-on-one so it is more likely that they will target its allies instead; again, the Saudis, or, worse, Israel.

If they choose to attack Israel, then things get really dicey. You already have Iranian fighters in Syria, which is just north of Israel past the Golan Heights. If the Iranian fighters get past these, and Nazareth too, then they will find themselves in Megiddo, which you might know better as Armageddon. Yup, the last battlefield in the Bible.

So, an attack on Israel by Iranian fighters themselves or their proxies, or both, into that Biblical hotspot may trigger alliances to come into play compelling their respective allies to send troops to come to their aid. The US and maybe NATO on the side of Israel, China and Russia (Gog and Magog) and a third of the earth’s nations on the other. A war of biblical proportions. The end of days.

Would it be fair to suspect that the Evangelicals are forcing the issue to hasten the second coming of Christ? Man, they sure would be pissed if they did and there was no Rapture…

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Sunset

Hong Kong is doomed.

To begin with, it was ripped away from mainland China as compensation after the Opium War. I mean, there were the British (or its subjects) bringing opium into China and making addicts of them to the point that China cracked down on these “businesses” that the British naturally didn’t like and, went to war for. For all their trouble, they got Hong Kong. Fine, it was called a lease…for 99 years, which might as well be another way of saying “forever.”

Then there’s the people in Hong Kong. Most of them fled from China during the civil war between Mao’s communists and Chiang’s nationalists. Mao won that one; so, the rich ran to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Over time, Taiwan and Hong Kong prospered while China floundered along in the shadows.

Then, of course, empire fell out of style and Hong Kong was handed back to China. True, the Thatcher government got China to commit to a One China, Two Systems set up where China will recognize Hong Kong’s system until 2047 but that was back when China was still much of a recluse. That was before globalization brought China wealth, and with wealth, power.

Now, China is a fledgling superpower wannabe. It has the second largest economy that is projected to eventually surpass the US, the current No. 1, in a few decades. Its military is stretching itself out in the world most notably for us, in the South China Sea. Even a ruling by a duly constituted arbitral tribunal in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea would not slow down their aggressive incursion into the West Philippine Sea and other parts claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

China is also becoming aggressive in Hong Kong. It started with missing booksellers and outright interference in elections. The current leaders of Hong Kong appear to have been chosen mostly by businessmen with strong links to the mainland. In other words, China’s candidates.

Then came the infamous extradition law that started something that has not died down: protests that is evolving into something more violent. From vandalism to petrol bombs. Hong Kong is now on fire.

Hongkongers do not like China and everything about it. The protesters all grew up in a totally different setting that China does not care for. Unfortunately, the reality is that Hong Kong will eventually be folded back into China. The very idea of Hong Kong, like Macau for the Portuguese, was never going to last “forever.” There is no scenario where the protesters will win, and so I suppose some have chosen to fight to the end, and violently at that. If they were going down, then they were going down swinging.

Hong Kong is now in recession. It’s commercial districts awash with tear gas. It has lost its prestige. Soon, it will be nothing more than another city in China. Another failed legacy of the once mighty British Empire.

Once upon a time, it was said that the sun never sets in the (British) Empire, and while this is understood more of the relation of the sun with the British territories, or what’s left of it anyway, the loss of its prestige seems to be a better representation of the setting of the sun over the empire. Darkness is coming and Hong Kong is just one more tile in a row of falling dominoes…

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The Power of the Mind

The mind is a powerful tool: you can achieve a lot, and it begins with what you believe you can do. It is at the heart of yoga, meditation and de-stressing. They humorously say it’s just “mind over matter.” If you don’t mind, then it does not matter.

How I wish everything was that simple. In philosophy, we learned from Rene Descartes cogito, ergo sum: “I think, therefore I am.” The challenge is on what the heck you are thinking. The picture above from babylonbee.com just takes it to the next level.

It seems that just because someone, or a group of someones, thinks one way, then the rest of us have to accept their reality. It does not appear relevant what that might be. If they believe it, then so it is, and everyone else has to abide by it or be branded whatever-phobic. We are suppose to accept their reality regardless of what it may mean but the other side’s reality is then ridiculed as an antiquated view of life. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous what they believe is real, the opposite side will always be the biased one. The unreasonable one.

Let us be clear: I have no issues with them believing what they believe. I can respect that. I can accept that. If that’s what they think, then I’m fine with it but if you expect me to accept what they are thinking as truth, then that is a whole other matter. Something I hope they will equally respect.

Take flat-earth societies. If that is what they believe in despite all evidence to the contrary, then so be it. However, I will stick to a round Earth thank you very much.

Recently, a transgender female (male to female, or MTF) cyclist smashed the world record for women’s cycling. Naturally, there were those who questioned the wisdom of allowing MTF in women’s events, me included. He defended himself saying that he lost 11 of 13 races to a female athlete. If you don’t mind his pink colored long hair and dark nail polish, then you would say, yup, he is male.

In any case, there were pro and anti comments on the news article, and someone posted an article on whether or not the MTF has an advantage over females. The long and short of it is that we do not know. There are not enough studies on the matter and not enough MTF competing in women’s events to make a valid conclusion according to the article.

The International Olympic Committee appears to have a rule allowing MTF to compete in women’s events if they present a sworn statement that they identify as females and they should be taking testosterone lowering meds for a year prior to the event. The problem is that there is weak monitoring — in fact in some countries, you can just self-declare — and there is no science to the thinking that the one-year dose is enough to level the playing field.

According to the same article, there appears to be a study that found that there is a 10% reduction in performance in MTF if they do abide by the IOC rule. This covers runners and cyclists. The problem is of course what is the starting point of the reduction? The 10% reduction would mean nothing if the male performance was high to begin with.

Also, once you’ve grown up male, how much does one really lose when you take the meds? You’re already built as a male. Adding breast implants may mean nothing in terms of performance. Yes, the meds are intended to reduce bone density, muscle mass and increase fat but what is all that when you continue to train?

Lastly, wouldn’t the taking of testosterone inhibitors be like reverse doping? Instead of trying to even things out, it may end up creating new advantages for MTF.

In the end, the whole thing is a red herring. The fact remains that males are competing in female events. Period. The MTF may think they are females but the reality is that they are males thinking they are females. To reiterate, I can respect the fact that they think that way but I cannot accept their reality. To my mind, they are males. I can readily accept that among males, there are some more feminine than others. It does not, however, mean they are females.

I mean, think about it: if someone thinks he’s a dog — even walks on all fours and wears fur and a collar — then does that make him a real dog? A man in his 60s identifies as a 40s male to the point that he actually sued for recognition…and failed. There are whites who identified as blacks and even put a “black face” on. Finally, a white guy also identified as Filipino. Does that make him a Filipino? To answer that one, we look to the Philippine Constitution that follows jus sanguinis or bloodlines to determine citizenship but the point in all of these is that just thinking one way does not mean it is real.

No, not everything you think is real, is.

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No Place for God

Once upon a time, people attributed a great many things to gods in general, and God in particular. Be it good or bad, life events can be seen as a blessing from on high, or a curse upon the wicked. Bountiful harvests and victory in war were blessings while severe droughts, destructive storms, illness and other afflictions were judgments of the gods against those who offended them.

Over time, the influence of the gods over our fate and the lives of men waned. Today, being an atheist is a thing. We have sidelined our gods with knowledge of nature and sciences. We are now the gods. We have no need for supernatural beings.

One by-product of this change is that certain laws still reflected the old beliefs. Old oaths called out to God — one Nation under God; so help me God — but the people are no longer the Christians of old. Most Christians these days call themselves Christians but rarely practice it, or limit it to the general events: Christmas and, if the Church is lucky, Easter. Otherwise, it is practically a forgotten religion.

Of course, there are exceptions. Christianity is on the rise in Africa, while Islam appears to be going strong despite the war within itself between Sunnis and Shias.

In the Philippines, we once proclaimed ourselves the sole Catholic nation in Asia but how many of us now follow its traditions and teachings? I still remember the days when Holy Week was truly holy. Other than for religious ceremonies, no other activities were allowed. Today, it’s nothing more than a long holiday.

Then Mr. Carlos Celdran passed away. He was an advocate of that Reproductive Health Act that, as expected, was opposed by the Church, and despite the conditions described above, it had a hard time passing Congress.

Mr. Celdran stepped into a church while mass was being celebrated with a sign that said “Damaso” — a reference to a hated character, a Spanish friar, in Jose Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere (“Touch Me Not”) — and when accosted shouted (that the Church) should not meddle in politics. He was brought to the police and charged with Offending Religious Feelings that is penalized under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code.

There are those who think that the particular provision should be repealed because it was allegedly archaic. How could it be when it came with all the other provisions that penalized Rape, Murder and Estafa (swindling)? One cannot be archaic without the others. So, are we to repeal the laws against all the other crimes as well for being just as archaic?

Or is it their argument that only Art. 133 was archaic because it still focused on religion when religion is already passe? I cannot agree.

In the first place, we have given the people the right to freely exercise one’s religion (Article III, Section 5, 1987 Constitution). In so doing, it makes perfect sense to protect them while doing so.

Article 133 reads:

“The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correcional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon anyone who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful (emphasis added).”

Note that this is not an all-encompassing anti-blasphemy law. Rather, it is very limited in application: it has to happen in a place of worship (not limited to a church, mind you), or during the celebration of a religious ceremony, like a mass being held in a church, which is precisely where Mr. Celdran was when he made his “protest” that, unfortunately for him, offended the feelings of the faithful. Note, further, that it is not the Church or religion that is being protected but the religious feelings of the faithful. Again, this appears consistent with the provision of the Constitution.

Note, finally, that had he simply stood outside the cathedral with his sign, he probably would have escaped prosecution. As things turned out, however, he found himself inside and the rest as they say is history. He was convicted and the ruling was upheld by the appellate court and by the Supreme Court. Rather than being incarcerated, he went into exile in Madrid, Spain, and after a few years, passed away.

Should the Court have nullified Art. 133? I, for one, am glad that they did not. Again, it seeks to protect the feelings of men of all religious leanings and no particular faith that is consistent with the rights granted under the Constitution. Should the Court have made an exception because it was Mr. Celdran? What would that make of the principle of equal protection of the law? Is it wise to repeal the law for being archaic? Why should we when there are still men of faith that deserve to be protected from the bigotry of others? Again, 133 is of limited scope. It does not cover instances done outside a place of worship, or before or after the celebration of a religious ceremony. You can write an article attacking the idiocy of men who believe in a supernatural being without material proof of its existence, or how that belief is detrimental to society, and you will not be prosecuted under this law. Again, it is the misfortune of Mr. Celdran that he satisfied all the requisites for the commission of the crime of Offending Religious Feelings.

Does the law contravene the right of Mr. Celdran to free speech and expression? I will not be the first, and hardly will be the last, to say that the right to free speech and expression is never absolute. Again, 133 is not all-encompassing. You have to be within the four corners of the law to be convicted. Mr. Celdran was squarely inside those corners. Had he bothered to step out, he would be a free man.

As a lawyer, I believe that one should not argue that the law should be repealed simply because it is archaic. Again, what makes this law archaic when it comes with other provisions penalizing other crimes? Why single out Article 133? Then what about the Negotiable Instruments Law and all those we haven’t amended all these years? Should we repeal them as well? I do not think anyone would want to; so, please, either prove that it is unconstitutional or itself contrary to law, or respect the same even if a majority of today’s people are not as religious as others. We could say the same thing before anyway. I think we can be quite sure not everyone was as religious as the others even in the past. We wouldn’t have Noli Me Tangere otherwise.

One final note: when Mr. Celdran died, his criminal liability was extinguished. That is a principle maintained under the same law that penalized him, the Revised Penal Code. Can we then argue that the principle is also archaic and, therefore, he is still guilty even after death? Let us not take this thing too far, which is the whole point of this article anyway. For him, the argument is over. I may not agree with him or with his politics but, sincerely, Rest In Peace, Mr. Celdran.

At least he gets to know ahead of us if religious beliefs are something we really should bother with or not. Until then, however, I would rather err on the side of caution.

Amen.

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