Meeting Jesus

Photo Credit: txmx 2 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: txmx 2 via Compfight cc

I had a personal encounter with Jesus in Cebu last weekend, at this wonderful place called Hamerson’s Hotel. I was one of the guest speakers at a leadership meeting and general assembly of Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI).

I was having my breakfast when Bobby Olarte, the event chairperson, came over to my table and asked, “Have you met Jesus?”

I stared at him for a few seconds, wondering if he was serious. He seemed to be, so I mumbled, “Uh, well, you know, not personally, but…”

“Oh great, let me introduce you to him,” he said, then turned around to a neatly-dressed young man behind him who extended his right hand towards me. “Andy, meet Jesus,” said Bobby and we shook hands. Since I’ve always been encouraged to get to know Jesus more, I decided to take this time to do so.

“Jesus” turned out to be Atty. Jesus Falcis III. And no, he is not “He-sus.” His name really is pronounced as  “Jee-zus.” His friends found it amusing to call him that when they found out he was an atheist. Eventually, the name stuck and he has taken to introducing himself as “Jee-zus.”

Oh wait, did I just say Jesus is an atheist? Here’s another fun fact. Not only is Jesus an atheist, he is gay as well. That statement should make Manny Pacquiao and his bible-thumping fans squirm a little.

Jesus made headlines last May, 2015 when he filed a 31-page petition to the Supreme Court seeking to legalize same-sex marriage in the Philippines. The petition is the first of its kind for LGBT rights. The usual route is to go through congress, and while there have been actual bills authored in the past,  none of them have seen the light of day. Perhaps because politicians inclined to back such a bill would hesitate, as doing so may offend their predominantly Catholic or Christian voter base and hurt their chances of winning a second or third term.

Jesus’s method seeks to short-circuit the process by going directly to the Supreme Court, and arguing that the 1987 Family Code (Executive Order 209) — which defines marriage as between man and woman only — is unconstitutional. The 1987 Constitution itself does not define marriage as between man and woman, nor does it limit a family (Article 15) as being composed of one male and one female spouse.

In an article published in Rappler last January 2016, Falcis stresses the inequality in how LGBT people’s rights are treated and how equality simply cannot wait.

“Gay Filipinos will continue to be born and raised while equality waits. Gay Filipinos will continue to grow up in a society being bullied and ridiculed while equality waits. Gay Filipinos will continue to grow old and die, alone or as a couple deprived of legal protections, while equality waits.”

He further states that same-sex marriage harms no one while benefitting many.

“If you’re straight and not gay, you’re not forced to marry the same-sex. If you’re religious and do not believe in same-sex marriage, you’re not required to enter into one or to perform religious ceremonies for gay couples. If you’re bigoted and just irrationally hate gay people, you are not forced to love them.

When same-sex marriage is allowed, the world will continue to revolve and you can continue with your own life. When same-sex marriage is prohibited, the world of LGBT people stops when they want to elevate their relationship to a legal status.”

One argument against same-sex marriage is that same-sex couples are unable to procreate. However, the law does not prevent heterosexual senior citizens (where women are past the menopausal stage) to marry nor does it prevent sterile heterosexual couples from marrying. The inability to procreate thus cannot be a valid ground for preventing same-sex marriage because the law cannot be discriminatory.

Another argument is that children raised by same-sex couples will grow up with psychological and sociological disadvantages because they will not have a role model either for their own gender, or for treating the opposite gender. This line of reasoning, however, is refuted by studies such as those conducted by Biblarz and Stacey in 2010 who concluded that “the gender of parents…has minor significance for children’s psychological adjustment and social success.”

Furthermore, Jesus argues that “Homosexuals can raise children well in the same manner that heterosexuals can. While there is no assurance that gays will not be bad or incompetent parents, there is also no assurance that heterosexuals will not be bad or incompetent parents.”

Of course, Jesus doesn’t expect things to be easy. He readily admits that the Supreme Court could simply dismiss his arguments, given that this is a very sensitive issue and given the conservative, religious nature of most Filipinos, public officials included. The battle will be long, drawn-out, and hard-fought, but given the positive results seen in the United States, Ireland, and many other progressive countries, it is a battle that he hopes to win and see equality happen in his lifetime.

And in this cause, I trust in Jesus.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Deadpool and Dreadful

Photo Credit: DarfStudio via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: DarfStudio via Compfight cc

A lot has been going on my mind lately — mostly about Deadpool, Manny Pacquiao and the dangers of biblical literalism and cherry-picking.

Before I went to see Deadpool, I saw a couple of posts on Facebook linking to articles on why Christians shouldn’t watch Deadpool. At one point in my life, I took these kinds of articles seriously, so I decided to read them, for old times’ sake. One article said, “Choose not to see Deadpool because it will be unhelpful to your godliness.”

I don’t know how one person can judge whether something will be helpful or not to someone else’s godliness. How does one determine a person’s godliness anyhow? You might as well ask that question of every other movie out there. How is watching Avengers, Transformers, or Beauty and the Bestie helpful to your godliness, for example? In fact, if you’re really serious about improving this godliness, you should probably stop watching 95% of all movies out there and go cloister yourself in a monastery.

People watch movies with certain expectations in mind. You don’t fall in line at a roller coaster ride and expect to come out enlightened about the metaphysical transcendence of being. You just want to be thrilled, to have fun. In the same way, you don’t watch Deadpool with the intention of improving your prayer life or biblical knowledge. You just want to have fun.

And it is a fun movie. I found the script witty and the pacing just right. Of course it is not wholesome fun for the family but it never pretended to be. It was properly rated as R-16 and there were warnings to parents against bringing their kids along. However, it was fun a mature adult could thoroughly enjoy, so I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. What irritates me is when some people feel uncomfortable about what they see on screen and they use themselves as a standard and impose that standard on other people. “Oh, I feel guilty about watching this, therefore, you should feel guilty about it too.”

Another article quoted Matthew 5:28-29 “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell,” and declared that, “Seeing naked women on the screen — or naked men — causes a man, or woman, to sin with their minds and their desires, and often with their bodies.”

Well I have news for this person. Some people can actually look at naked men or women and not feel anything — or they can simply be appreciative but not go beyond that. This is again another case of someone imposing his personal standard of morality on others. Just because he thinks he “sins with his mind and desires” then others ought to feel the same way.

Which brings me to Manny Pacquiao and his dreadful “common sense” remark that those practicing homosexual acts are worse than animals, for which he later apologized (probably when he realized that he just lost a huge chunk of LGBT voters, and oh, there goes that endorsement deal with Nike). As of the moment social media is polarized between those supporting Manny for “being true to God’s word” and those angry at his bigotry.

We have to realize though that the Bible was written by primitive people trying to make sense of their existence. By “primitive,” I do not mean to degrade them, but to state a simple fact that they were in a much less enlightened state of mind than we are. As such, we see that their writings are no different from similar writings gathered from their neighbors in almost the same era. In other words, their practices and morality derive from what was culturally accepted in their time.

The problem with biblical literalism then is taking their edicts and applying it to our time. And indeed it is a problem because if we were to truly credit Manny with being true to God’s word, then he would have to follow every jot and tittle of it. So what does it really say? “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (Leviticus 20:13)

So for Manny to be true to God’s word, he should go ahead and put these people to death. He should also go ahead and read the entire book which prohibits eating pork, shrimp, crabs, and what’s that on his body? Yep, tattoos. Oh, better peel those off. God isn’t too happy with those.

Oh and remember that other verse I quoted earlier about gouging one’s eye out? Shouldn’t Manny and other die-hard Bible fans have just one eye now if they were really true to God’s word? Of course not, because the truth of the matter is that people, even Christians, do not really follow the Bible. They just use it as an excuse to either promote or demonize their prejudices.

But you could always prove me wrong, you know, like giving ALL your possessions to the poor or something.

Go on. I’m waiting.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Edited image. Original Photo by: Skley via Compfight cc
Edited image. Original Photo by: Skley via Compfight cc

I learned a lot about love when I was in my senior year of high school. I had fallen in love with a girl. That in itself would have been unremarkable. I have had crushes since second grade. As early as third grade, I even imagined my crush in a wedding gown, and for a while, that became my standard for evaluating my crushes — whether they looked good in a wedding gown or not. Anyway, falling in love was nothing new to me.

What made it different this time was that I had actually gathered up enough courage to tell her about it.

It was around this time, in English class, that we were discussing a short story called The Chaser by John Collier, about a young man in search of a love potion that he wanted to give to his lady love and buying it for a dollar.

In the middle of the lecture, our teacher asked, “Is love a will or an emotion?” A lively debate ensued. On the one hand, there were people who thought that love is an emotion — a fleeting thing given that people fall in and out of love all the time. If hashtags had been invented then, these would be the people saying #WalangForever (there is no “forever”).

On the other hand, there were people who thought that love is a will — that one makes a conscious decision to love another in spite of his or her shortcomings, in spite of the original rush and thrill being gone — like when couples grow old together and still love each other despite the wrinkles, the falling hair and missing teeth. This is the kind of love that says #MayForeverNga (“forever” exists indeed).

At that time, I heavily defended the second answer. Today, I tend to think it’s a bit of both, but still more of a decision than a feeling. The emotion is necessary for the initial spark, but it is the will and commitment that keeps the fire burning through the years.

Before I got married, a colleague of mine gave me a rather obscure but marvelously insightful book called The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason. It was a “pirated” version, meaning she photocopied her copy and gave me a bound version (though I don’t think she did it to save cash but more likely she couldn’t find an original version anywhere).

Of course, I would probably not agree with most of the book now but I still remember it fondly for the chapter on vows. It asserted that the vows were the be-all and end-all of marriage. When the attraction has faded, and things turn sour, and the shortcomings of your partner have been laid bare before you — when you at last stop seeing through love-tinted glasses — you are left with nothing holding your marriage together but your vow.

That is the essence of saying that love is both an emotion and a will.

Moreover, Mike offers this little gem: “To keep a vow, means not to keep from breaking it, but rather to devote the rest of one’s life to discovering what the vow means, and to be willing to change and to grow accordingly.”

By now you are probably wondering what happened to that girl to whom I had declared my love. Well, let me just reiterate what I said at the beginning — that I learned a lot about love that year, and that includes learning about how to deal with a broken heart.

Advanced Happy Valentine’s Day!

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How To Analyze A Scam (Part 2)

Edited image - Original photo by: theloushe via Compfight cc
Edited image – Original photo by: theloushe via Compfight cc

Last week, we discussed some often-used arguments in Ponzi-type scams like the recently closed Jacama Sales and Marketing. We dealt with the first two arguments in the previous article — that nobody is complaining, and that the company offered certain products for sale, thus proving it is legitimate. Today we’ll talk about the next two arguments often brought up, namely:

  1. That they have the necessary government permits, and that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had no business meddling in their affairs because the company is registered as a sole proprietorship, and thus is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
  2. That they have a detailed analysis showing how the company is sustainable.

First point, just because I can wave around  a piece of paper with a seal from a government office, does not guarantee that I am operating legally. The reason is quite simple. At the time of registration, I can make everything appear to be legal and above-board, but during actual operation, when I ALREADY have the necessary permits, I can perform certain actions which are actually illegal.

The business permit of Jacama allowed it to operate as a “retailer of general merchandise such as grocery items, food supplements and other dry goods and wholesaler of appliances (booking office).” Did it offer such products? Yes, however, it also offered something else — it offered a promise, in the form of dated vouchers that you could exchange for cash from the company, guaranteeing you a 150% return on your initial cash outlay in 3 months — and that, is what is called a security.

Republic Act 8799 (otherwise known as the Securities Regulations Code), defines securities as “shares, participation or interests in a corporation or in a commercial enterprise or profit-making venture and evidenced by a certificate, contract, instrument, whether written or electronic in character.“

The vouchers that Jacama offers in exchange for your “investment” are as good as “contracts” between you and the company. This is the reason why you are willing to pay four times the market value of a product that you would not otherwise buy from them in the first place. You are not just buying a bunch of gift certificates, or a cellphone, or a bottle of pills, or a grocery basket, you are really after the security — the contract or promise that Jacama will pay you a certain amount over the next 90 days.

Now, since it is in the business of selling such securities, the company should secure the necessary permits to do so. Section 8 of RA 8799 says, “Securities shall not be sold or offered for sale or distribution within the Philippines, without a registration statement duly filed with and approved by the Commission.”

Whether or not the company is a corporation, partnership or sole-proprietorship, the moment it engages in the sale of securities, it automatically falls under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission (Sec. 5 of RA 8799).

The closure order thus has a very strong legal basis, and is not just a government conspiracy to prevent the poor from getting rich (as many protesting the closure are claiming). No, this is government actually doing its job to protect the general public from an illegal operation.

Now, answering the second point, just because I can show you some formulas or write some numbers on a board showing you that my investment is sound and secure, does not necessarily make it so. You have to actually understand what is going on and see if it makes sense.

There is a Youtube video of someone explaining why Jacama is supposedly sustainable. That video is still available as of this writing. You can search “youtube jacama safety net” to see this video for yourself. To a layperson, that video may seem sensible but if you analyze it carefully, it is damning evidence that this is indeed a scam.

Just over a minute into the presentation, you will see that the company earnings is dependent on the person who buys AFTER you do. The presenter assumes that there is a line of people waiting behind you to also buy into the scheme. He assumes it as a fact, and then uses that to conjure his magic trick. He shows you that the company can pay you back 150% of your investment and still make money (making it appear sustainable).

But here is the trick, in order to pay you your 150% and still be sustainable, there MUST be 3 other people who also buy into the scheme. Following this line of logic, when those 3 people join, there must be 9 other people who join after them so that they can be paid. To pay those 9, you need 27 more people. To pay those 27, you need 81 more people, and so on and so forth. This will go on and people will be happy investing and reinvesting until it comes to a point where it is impossible to sustain anymore simply because there are not enough investors (or re-investors) in the next round to sustain the current one. For example, if 30 million people join in one day, that means the company needs to find 90 million other investors in order to pay out those 30 million people. That number alone is already more than the population of the entire country.

When it reaches that point, that is when the perpetrator takes all the money he has acquired and disappears, and leaves a multitude of “investors” suddenly holding worthless pieces of paper that they cannot encash anywhere. As I stressed last week, this has been the story of such investment scams for close to a hundred years since Charles Ponzi first thought of it in 1920.

Please study your history. It ALWAYS ends the same sad way. I hope you learn from this and not have the same sad ending that thousands before you had to endure and agonize over. Do not succumb to the lure of easy or quick money. It’s not worth it.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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