Saturday, December 11, 2010

UP Will Show You How

(Statement of the Director of the UP Center for Women's Studies, on the plagiarism issue against Prof. Marvic Leonen, Dean UP College of Law)

December 9, 2010

News reports dated December 8, 2010 announced the offer of resignation of Dean Marvic Leonen of the UP College of Law on his admission that he had inadvertently left out two footnotes that contain the source attributions in his 2004 article titled "Weaving Worldviews: Implications of Constitutional Challenges to the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997."

"I had made that mistake. It's an honest mistake but one I should acknowledge, apologize for, and basically meet the penalty. And I thought that a huge part of it would be to offer to resign the deanship," Leonen is reported to have said.

In so doing, Dean Leonen has taken the first step towards showing our people what integrity means for lawyers, whether as professors of law or as officers of the court. In so doing, Dean Leonen honors his commitment to the restoration of the integrity of the law profession and the Philippine courts which is the subject of a statement of the faculty of the UP College of Law (UPCL) on the allegations of plagiarism and misrepresentation in the Supreme Court.

Many sectors of the UP Community, including the UP Center for Women's Studies, supported the statement of the UPCL on that matter. I call on our leadership and my colleagues to stand fast in our support and to build on Dean Leonen's example. Let us show our people and the Supreme Court how to honorably handle a case of alleged wrongdoing on the part of one of our colleagues.

First, let us look clearly at the facts. One fact that is important in both cases is the opinion of the person or persons who were plagiarized. In the case of Dean Leonen, Prof. Owen Lynch has already stated that he does not feel that he was the victim of intellectual dishonesty. This is in marked contrast to the statements of those authors plagiarized by in the Vinuya v Executve Secretary decision.

This makes Dean Leonen's offer to resign an act of integrity. That he does not equivocate about admitting his plagiarism despite it being an “honest mistake,” makes it even more laudable. This contrasts sharply with the actions of Justice del Castillo who ignored calls for his resignation and the finding of the Supreme Court that “malicious intent” is required in plagiarism.

Teachers know that there are degrees and degrees of plagiarism and misrepresentation. Without excusing Dean Leonen who does not himself seek to be coddled by colleagues, it is my belief that there is a marked difference between the level of the misrepresentation in “Vinuya v. Executive Secretary” and in “Weaving Worldviews.”

I suggest to the UP leadership that if it be necessary, any body formed to judge the issue of Dean Leonen's plagiarism, be composed of peers who have no personal interests in seeing him absolved or punished.

Dean Leonen has shown us that public accountability does not lie in not making mistakes, but in owning up to them and being ready to face the consequences. Those of us in UP who have supported the faculty of the College of Law in their efforts to restore integrity to government service should take this as an opportunity to show our people that collegiality and compassion are never incompatible with the demands of justice.

If it should be shown that those who revealed this “new” case of plagiarism are motivated by reasons other than truth-telling, then they have made a serious error in judgment. With his offer to resign, Dean Leonen has proven, yet again, his moral capacity to lead the College of Law faculty.

If those who revealed the plagiarism are doing it to cover up their own errors, they have miscalculated. As it has in the past, as it will continue to do now and in the future, UP and its College of Law will show our people how institutions can behave with integrity.

Signed: Sylvia Estrada Claudio

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Science and Philosophy Lessons for the Pro-Birth (who call themselves Pro-Life)

Several of my friends do not particularly like discussing the question of “when life begins”. I refer to this debate in relation to the reproductive health bills pending in the Philippine legislature. These friends would include non-Filipino veterans of abortion rights struggles in their own countries.

My friends, some of whom are philosophers by training, know that the “where life begins” question is really unresolvable. The philosophically sophisticated understand that a question like that is the stuff that has driven and will drive philosophy through the millenia. It is similar to other questions like, “does matter exist?”. The question is unresolvable. I am aware that the philosophy of natural science, (I love science!) merely assumes this without attempting proof: “matter exists”. I am also aware that the Buddha (love the Buddha) takes a different view: “all is illusion”. You have got to love philosophy for tackling the eternal questions and the calm philosphers bring to facing immense uncertainties.

Of course, the reproductive health bills do not change the punitive Philippine laws on abortion. So this “when life begins” debate should not be pertinent. But the pro-birth (I do not concede the term pro-life to them as my advocacy for the passage of RH bills is to save women's lives) opposition keeps insisting that contraceptives are abortifacient. They also insist that conception is equal to fertilization. According to the pro-birth people, contraceptives should be banned because the Philippine Constitution states as a matter of policy that the state, “shall equally protect the life of the mother and the unborn from the moment of conception”.

This argument alone is is more an example of the lack of scientific and philosophical training of those who espouse it. It is not an argument that should be dignified in the public debates. I know that certain advocates of this position are doctors, scientists and philosophers. But I have no fantasies about the guarantees that academic degrees confer. “Nil admirari”, my philosopher mother used to say. Admire no one. Certainly I am unhappy when people use their academic degrees to claim they are speaking the truth when they are not.

So let's see what science says and what logic demands. Science tells us that the argument that “contraceptives prevent the implantation of the fertilized ovum” is an unsupportable generalization. I cannot go into the scientific literature for purposes of brevity, but many lay people know that the condom prevents fertilization. Looking at the literature, there is SOME evidence that some contraceptives MAY prevent implantation of the fertilized ovum as possibly ONE OF SEVERAL mechanisms for their contraceptive effects.

But even if we were to concede this rather flimsy basis for their claim that modern contraceptives prevent implantation, it is a misrepresentation to say that these are abortifacient. There is a wide-ranging consensus in the scientific community that pregnancy begins at implantation. An abortifacient, by definition, terminates pregnancy prematurely. Thus, none of the contraceptives are abortifacients.

When pro-birth advocates like Rep. Anthony Golez claim that contraceptives are abortifacient they should at the very least specify that this is a minority opinion. When Rep. Golez states, as he did in the last public hearing at the House of Representatives, that he is giving his opinion as a medical doctor, he borders on the unethical. I am a medical doctor too and I am ethically bound to tell the public and my patients what the majority of experts are thinking on the medications I recommend or discourage. This is especially true if my position is that of the minority.

The last misrepresentation in this argument is that “fertilization equals conception”. As I mentioned in my intervention at the last hearings in the RH bill, conception is not a medical term. Terms like fertilization and implantation are scientific terms. But whether we can tie this to the term “conception” and the larger question of “when life begins” is a whole other matter.

Indeed advances in embryology show us that fertilization is not a “moment” but is a process that takes some time. Thus, to equate fertilization to “the moment of conception” is something of a fudge.

Pro-birth advocates, like ex-Senator Francisco Tatad, also take the line that “moral natural law” is a universal truth that should guide our personal and collective decision-making on this debate. Their version of this philosophical argument says that it is inherent in all of us to recognize a God. Additionally, their version of natural law states that it is inherent in us to recognize that we do not kill another human being, herein defined to include the fertilized ovum. I have no argument against the presentation of this philosophy. What is problematic is that they present this as if it is the only philosophical tradition that is pertinent to moral decision-making. The truth is it is a philosophy that tends to be overvalued in Catholic schools and largely relegated to a minor discussion in the secular University of the Philippines. Again, the point here is the misrepresentation. For philosophers like Mr. Tatad one wonders whether he was not taught other frames in the pontifical University of Santo Tomas; he forgot what he was taught or; he has failed to stay current with the changes in his discipline.

I agree with my philosophically sophisticated friends that debates around when life begins are probably futile in the determination of social policy. Constitutions of a number liberal democratic states inculcate this wisdom by working on a definition of “personhood”. But I do feel duty-bound to help increase our people's scientific literacy and to help craft social policies that are enlightened by the advances of human knowledge.

Yet I shall end this with a salute also to the wisdom of my philosopher friends who insist that we weigh the correctness of a political and philosophical premise on the basis of its effects. I always wonder why the pro-birth are blind to the unequal effects of their insistence that life begins at fertilization. To insist on this premise is to tie yourself to a position that allows you to argue for the control of women's bodies for your political purposes. Meanwhile, men's bodies remain free.

And so, I have been proposing to friends to think of the implications of a premise that states, “life begins at sperm production”. I doubt whether the pro-life religious men, philosophers and scientists would like the restrictions on their bodies such a premise would imply.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Support for the RH Bill

Intervention of Dr. Sylvia Estrada Claudio Director, University of the Philippines Center for Women's Studies at the Second Deliberation of the House Committee of Population and Family Relations on HB 96, 101, 513 1160, 1520 and 3387. December 1, 2010.

Thank you Mr. Chair, your Honors.

I have a prepared statement today but let me respond to the questions posed to the medical doctors by Representatives Biazon and Golez on the issue of when life begins.

I note that the Chair called upon me because Rep. Biazon also asked who does not believe life begins at fertilization. I do not, for two reasons. The first reason is that as an agnostic I do not subscribe to the beliefs of the Catholic Church. In this regard I would like to remind everyone that the Constitutional provision on religious freedom protects not just the right to belief but also the right to non-belief. But I will leave the representative of the Filipino Freethinkers who is also here today to elaborate this point.

The second reason I do not believe that life begins at fertilization has to do with my expertise as a medical doctor. Rep. Golez states that as a medical practitioner, he believes life begins at fertilization. He cites among other things the banning of Levenorgestrel by the government as proof that other experts believe the same thing. He implies that obstetricians and gynecologists may not be the best resource as to whether drugs like Levenorgestrel and other contraceptives are abortifacient. According to Rep. Golez, it should be those experts, like geneticists and biochemists, who do not prescribe these substances or devices who should be consulted.

With all due respect, I will remind Rep. Golez that the government reveresed its ban on Levonorgestrel. I was one of those who petitioned for a reconsideration of the ban through one of the organizations I work with. An expert committee composed of both medical and legal luminaries decided unanimously that Levonorgestrel was not an abortifacient. To be accurate there was one dissenting opinion and it was that of Rep. Golez. But at that time we protested the inclusion of his opinion because he really was not a member of the panel. At that time, he was merely the person from the DOH assigned to facilitate the hearings and panel deliberations.

As a medical doctor also, I would urge everyone here not to overvalue our opinions and expertise. Doctors should also be more humble. The question of when life begins is not a matter to be left to doctors or other scientists alone. Pertinent to this discussion I would like to note that “conception” is not a medical term. The terms fertilization and implantation are medical terms and we can describe and explain these processes to lay people. Any scientific discussion requires the precise use of terms. The Philippine Obstetrics and Gynecological Society is correct when it states that the mainstream medical and scientific community agrees that pregnancy begins at implantation.

As many of you in this room know, this is at the very least, the 4th Congress where an RH bill has been proposed. Many of us here have faced each other on this issue before. I do recognize though that there are people here who are new to the issue and their voices must be heard.

But perhaps before we continue our debates we should congratulate ourselves. Because of the engaged citizenship that the proposed RH bills have evoked, we are on the brink of enacting a social policy that has been understood by our people and crafted with their input.

So all I ask of your honors is to trust our people who have indeed come to a decision. Today's headline of a leading newspaper reveals that a high level of support exists for the enactment of the proposed RH bills according to a non-commissioned survey conducted by a reliable polling organization. This verifies an earlier survey showing the same results except that the newest survey shows higher levels of support for the bill.

Contrary to the claims of those who would belittle the survey results, it also shows that our people are aware of the major provisions of the proposed bills.

As an advocate for women's rights, I too must listen to our people. Like the Catholic Church I am against any form of population control either as a framework for an RH law and certainly not as a goal for its implementation.

Like the Church I do not think that lowering the fertility rate has any direct effect on poverty levels at the macro level. I disagree with the Church because I think that having less children does mitigate the burden of poverty at the level of the family.

My involvement with the women's health movement began because I felt there was a need to protect women from the population control programs of the past. This is the reason why I, and many other feminists, participated in the international actions that led up to the 1994 Program of Action of the ICPD.

I would therefore caution both sides who use demographic arguments like population density and replacement numbers to argue for or against the bill. Women have been hurt on both sides of this argument. Some would have us not give birth and others would force us into pregnancy. These are both violations of women's rights. Speaking again as a practitioner, I would caution against the use of any drug, device or technology for considerations other than a woman's well-being.

My support for an RH bill has always been because I am heartbroken by the harm and death that the lack of services brings to women and their families. No woman should die because of the lack of emergency obstetric services or due to violence from her intimate partner. No family should be left motherless because of preventable deaths.

I see the surveys. The Filipino people like the proposed bills. They agree with arguments for reducing population numbers in order to ensure the delivery services and national development.

Your honors, I accept the reasoning and judgment of our people. I hope you will too. Please pass a consolidated and comprehensive reproductive health bill as soon as possible.

Thank you.

NB Upon reviewing the decision of the technical committee that convened to hear our petition to lift the ban on Levonorgestrel, I realized I was mistaken in claiming that the committee was unanimous in its decision. There was one dissenting opinion. Anthony Golez also gave a dissenting opinion but I still hold the opinion that he should not have done this and that he acted beyond the role assigned to him in doing so.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Support for the UP College of Law

The University of the Philippines Center for Women's Studies endorses in full the statement of the faculty of the UP College of Law titled “Restoring Integrity” on the allegations of plagiarism and misrepresentation in the Supreme Court in connection to the case, Vinuya v. Executive Secretary.

As a research center concerned with promoting gender equity in the UP System and the larger society, the UPCWS lauds the statement of the College of Law upholding the quest of Filipino “comfort women” seeking redress for a decades-long injustice. A Supreme Court decision in their favor would have added to recent gains in human rights standards that recognize rape and other forms of sexual violence as war crimes.

We are disappointed with the Court in its decisions related to this because we have worked with the Supreme Court in its efforts to integrate gender-sensitive perspectives in the Philippine Judiciary; in fact, through this work, the UPCWS received the Justice Davide Justice Reform Award. We believe that if the Court had taken into consideration the women’s experience of sexual slavery within the context of prevailing international standards on human rights and state responsibilities, it would have recognized the merits of the case for our government to pursue the claims of the women against the Japanese government.

We find it disturbing that the Supreme Court has not only rejected the points of the supplemental motion filed by the petitioners, alleging that the decision promulgated had plagiarized sections, but it even upheld, in the process, this decision that was made on less indisputable grounds, at the cost of another injustice to the women. To make matters worse, the Court had to display “judicial muscle” and sought to punish the faculty and dean of the UP College of Law for their declaration of the paramount importance of integrity in the decisions of the Court.

Furthermore as a university research center, we are with the College of Law on its assertion that plagiarism is unacceptable and unethical. Issues of plagiarism and misrepresentation are serious violations of academic ethical standards. Ethical standards are sacred to the academe because they are a foundation on which the claims and strength of our work stands.

Yet caveats against plagiarism and misrepresentation do not merely apply to the academe. They apply as well to professional and governmental institutions, especially the Supreme Court, which undertakes the research, analysis, interpretation and application of social policy that governs our lives.

In choosing to make its statement on the issue, the faculty of the College of Law fulfilled their ethical duties. As professors of law, they are duty-bound to remind practitioners of the ethical standards of the discipline. As practitioners of law, they are ethically bound to speak against what they perceive as threats to the honor and integrity of the practice of law. Various ethical codes for professional disciplines both locally and internationally uphold this principle of speaking out against what one perceives as unethical behavior on the part of professional colleagues.

Government institutions in democracies, by character, must be transparent and accountable to the people. Criticism and dissent from the people should not be taken as an affront rather these are indications of our engagements in governance and the vibrancy of our democracy. Criticism may hurt. But those who wield government power must understand that openness to criticism is central to the wise use of power. We hope that the Supreme Court can view the statement of the UP College of Law in this light.

25 November 2010

Sylvia Estrada Claudio


Odine de Guzman

Deputy Director for Research and Publication

Ma. Theresa Ujano-Batangan

Deputy Director for Training and Outreach

Friday, November 26, 2010

Welcome Remarks* for “If supporting the RH Bill means excommunication, then excommunicate me!”

(An excommunication party organized by the Filipino Freethinkers, November 26, 2010.)

Welcome, everyone—atheists, agnostics, deists, humanists, Wiccans, Catholics and all other religious friends.

Let me start by qualifying the word, “Catholic”. Last week, Mr. Eric Manalang, President of Pro-Life Philippines, said to those of you who went to the Manila Cathedral that you are not “Catholics in the sense of real Catholics, you are dissident Catholics, what are you freethinkers?”

By this reasoning the majority of Philippine Catholics, who according to reliable surveys support the reproductive heath bill, are also bogus. If such is the case, the Roman Catholic religion has just become a minority religion in the country.

But lest I be accused of disrespect, I want to wish our Catholic comrades well in their fight to democratize their Church and return their faith to values truly worthy of Christ. I doubt very much that Christ would approve of Manalang's taunt from the steps of the Manila Cathedral, “You tell your mother to abort you!”

While I am on this topic, the Roman Catholic Church is in an uproar over Pope Benedict's remarks that condoms are now acceptable if the intent is to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. I hope that this concession that real problems happen outside the fantasy land of religious dogma on sexuality, can be brought to a logical conclusion. If the goal is to protect from infection, then all men should just use a condom. Given what we know of human sexual behavior, few of us can be certain of our partners' HIV status.

Permit me now, a moment of confession. I find making opening remarks somewhat wearisome. Recently, I have had to do more openings than I prefer.

Yet I insisted that I open tonight's festivities. During the preparations for this party, I was a shameless publicity hound. It is an honor to open the very first excommunication party ever. I want to claim ownership of this idea. The idea of requesting excommunication as a sign of support for the RH bill, had been thought of by several people independently. But I may be the first to think of “party”. I am tickled pink that I will now have a new image---from nerd to party animal.

Many of you know that I am an agnostic. When I was born, my parents were both agnostics. This is my identity and moral tradition. Unfortunately, pushy relatives prevailed upon my parents to baptize me. I used to think of my baptism as a trivial matter, not even of real interest to me. Yet it has become a burdensome truth each time the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines claims to speak for millions of Catholics. Those of us gathered here know, that which Mr. Eric Manalang wished to imply. Millions of those counted as Catholics are nominal Catholics.

I will no longer be spoken for by the bigoted. I seek excommunication and welcome it!

I stand to be counted with you here tonight and with those who wanted to come but could not (as we seemed to have filled the place, among other things). I will be counted among the tolerant, the thoughtful and the moral. I will stand for human rights including sexual and reproductive rights.

In behalf of the Filipino Freethinkers, particularly its Diliman chapter, I thank you for being here and formally open this party.

*Revised and edited prior to posting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Academic Travelogue: Seoul, Korea

I walked on the right side of the main pathway of Seoul's Gyeongbok palace. It is the first palace compound built by the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), which established Seoul as its capital.

Normally, when walking though ancient imperial sites, I take a childish delight in taking the emperor's path. No woman would have walked the sovereign's path, unless she was to marry him. In all likelihood she would have walked her way to permanent incarceration inside the palace.

And so with vengeful glee, I would skip down the emperor's path, a gawking and irreverent tourist. I am a woman footloose and free. I have no intention of being incarcerated within any man's palace.

It is almost a cliché to talk of the transient nature of pomp, power and glory. But I still amuse myself with these thoughts when confronted with the monuments of patriarchal power.

In Gyeongbok, the main pathway leading through the gates and courtyards of the imperial palace is divided into three. The central path, slightly raised, was reserved for the emperor. To its left, the path taken by his ministers and other members of the bureaucracy. To its the right, the pathway for the scholars. I am told also that when the emperor sits on his throne, he is slightly oriented to face away from his ministers and towards his scholars.

I am aware of my dislike for feudal patriarchies and yet I am happy to find an ancient tradition that reveres scholars.

I am in Gyeongbok, a day after speaking at a women's studies conference in Duksung Women's University. My task at the conference has been to share how I think we may establish scholarly cooperation in the Asian region.

I started my presentation at the conference by saying that I teach postmodernism by taking a Buddhist framework. I quote the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn: “Nothing in itself contains an absolute identity. This means a rejection of the principle of identity, which is the basis of formal logic.” And then I quote the feminist postmodernist Judith Butler: “Identity is a culturally constructed principle of order and hierarchy, a regulatory fiction.”

When I teach, I explore the main tenets of postmodernism through Buddhist sayings and practices. It helps even my Christian students grasp the difficult concepts better. Certainly my Asian colleagues who are more steeped in Buddhism, seem even more amused by my approach. Like any nerd, I could just go on about this , but that is not the point of my lecture.

My point is that there is a different set of histories and traditions that mark the Asian academes. The point is that Asian women's studies must begin with the understanding of the power dynamics in global knowledge production. It remains true up to this day, that the questions asked, how the questions are to be answered and who decides what are the good answers, remains a matter of power that skews knowledge production along race, class and gender dimensions.

Women's studies began with such a power analysis. Women studies scholars understand that women's knowledge and experience is often devalued in the academe as well as in society. Women's studies therefore. is about bringing balance to the knowledge of men so that we arrive at human knowledge.

We cannot engage in a dialogue without being aware of the differences in our histories, in our traditions, in our epistemologies and in our relative power positions within different academic settings.

One of my colleagues in Ateneo believes that Western society took a wrong turn when it took on the trappings of enlightenment and modernity. This is an argument for postmodernism, but it is also an argument for Eastern philosophies that lie outside the Western traditions. Thus, I engage both East and West dialogically by teaching postmodernism through the way of the Buddha. And yet I understand that I am making a dangerous proposition, this banging two philosophies around like that.

During the entire conference, a young student from Duksung University is assigned to help me. She picked me up at the airport, waited patiently to escort me to the conference room the following morning, carried my backpack when she could beat me to it, asked about exchange rates and tours, walked me to the restaurant for meals.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I asked her whether she did not feel like we were betraying the youth movement. I felt like one of those older activists making the young ones do menial work.

She was aghast. On our way from airport to hotel she had talked about how happy she was to volunteer for the conference. How she had looked me up on the internet and was happy to have been assigned to me. She answered by reminding me of these things and by adding that respect for one's elders was part of her culture even in modern and wealthy South Korea. I felt trapped between the two poles of ageism---was I treating this young person with disrespect and being ageist or was she treating an older person with respect and being non-ageist? Once again I am confronted with another Asian nuance to ponder.

I have come to realize that in the global social movement and the universal academe, we are unable to escape the hegemony of the colonial traditions and neo-colonial ways. Those in the margins need to work double time to recover our own modalities and transform them, while engaging with the mainstream within and outside our social movements.

Thus I walked the scholar's path in Seoul, wondering about the old and the new, thinking about traditions and transformations.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We Could Try "Nice"

It isn't nice to block the doorway,
It isn't nice to go to jail.
There are nicer ways to do it.
But the nice ways always fail.

It isn't nice, it isn't nice.
You've told us once,
You've told us twice.
But if that is freedom's price,
We don't mind.

--Malvina Reynolds

The current controversy engulfing the university where I teach is one that could happen in any sufficiently open society. It is about whether a group of protesting faculty and students were right in painting slogans on walls; lobbing paintballs at one of our chancellors and destroying some chairs.

Yesterday I sent our Faculty Regent a song for those who believed the actions were justified. I have loved this song for a long time and I would urge people to look up Malvina Reynolds', “It isn't nice”.

The impulse to send the Faculty Regent the song comes from years of being an underground propagandist during the Marcos dictatorship. I have criticisms to make of those who used paint and destroyed chairs. Yet the song is a perfect vehicle to express their sentiments.

Only a few lines need be said about those who stood up for their beliefs in ways that were branded as impolite, improper, barbaric, unwise and criminal. Apart from the those who took up the early protests against the Marcos dictatorship, there are those who fought against apartheid, those who joined the civil rights movement in the US--- I could go on and on. I will add only that these movements were started by small groups who were initially vilified, only to be supported later by millions.

My criticisms have to do with why I have become a pacifist, though an angst-ridden one. Anyone who supports violent tactics and strategies needs to reflect on whether that particular form of violence (say, armed struggle as opposed to suicide bombings) can be justified. I am still convinced that there is a moral basis for violence. I am just setting the bar very high for when violent acts can be moral.

I think that using violence to defend oneself, one's loved ones and those in the immediate vicinity, against battering, sexual violence, torture, mutilation and attempted murder is eminently justified. I would not say that violence is only justified for these grand instances. I once slapped away the hand of my eldest son with enough strength to make him wail. At the time he was a toddler, trying to insert a pair of tweezers into an electrical outlet.

I do not think the methods used at the rallies in question were justifiable.

It is not just the University's officials who are condemning the methods. Several faculty members and researchers have expressed their disagreement in our discussions as well. I am also told that as the slogans were being painted on the walls, rank and file employees in the building were upset because the University would need additional funds to repaint. In their minds, the very people who had made an issue of the state's budgetary neglect of education, were squandering the very resources they wished to augment. Additionally, the discussions have now become about the methods of protest and not the issues of the protest.

I disagree with those who have tried to justify the violence by essentially taking the line that there is violence in society that is far more immoral than the case-at-hand. One cannot justify bad practice by stating that worse things have gone unpunished.

I must say that the tactics used do not rise to the level of truly gut-wrenching violence. In the opinions I have read or heard on the matter, I have noted some hyperbolic descriptions.

Furthermore, I do not condemn these actions just because these were impolite or bad mannered. Even the genteel may be roused to cussing when unduly provoked. I also urge the reader to look into the book entitled “Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior”, to find out how and why a person should deliver a social snub—of which there are several varieties. The lack of politeness in the protest is self evident. The proposition that bad manners per se are condemnable is put to rest convincingly by the sentiments expressed in Reynolds' song.

The protesters have every right to go beyond the formal or sedate ways of handling dissent (more Board of Regents meetings, administrative cases, court proceedings, fora, petitions and scholarly papers). The history of revolutions and transformations shows this to be a necessity. But the decision to use non-formal methods is not necessarily a decision to escalate to violence. The methods of Gandhi and Martin Luther King are but two examples of this.

The question about tactics that should be answered is whether the wrong that is being protested justifies the slogans on the wall, the throwing of paint and the destruction of chairs. I have tried my best to follow the issues and believe that the protesters have very legitimate concerns. But I do not believe the tactics were just.

I believe this is why, confrontational tactics are being rejected by many ordinary citizens. We have too often planned protest actions that have resorted to minor forms of violence when, in the minds of a significant number, the moral basis for proceeding to violent action had not been met.

I am one of those who ascribe to the political ethic that the means must be justifiable in themselves. On a very practical level, questionable tactics are a barrier to revolutionary change. I am not the first to be discouraged by the fact that the people have not been more active in their resistance to the shenanigans of the Arroyo administration. I am not the first to note that the Left has been unable to provide the disgusted majority with tactics that evoke wide-spread action.

Folks from all walks of life have a deep desire for effective governance and democracy. This is true in all social institutions including the academe. If we are to be so arrogant as to call ourselves activists, we must come up with creative methods that can harness these passions in ways that do not trade off the future of activism for present gains.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Good doctor, Bad Priests

Note: This was published in the Yellow Pad column of today's Business World.

Today, I received this text message: "They are crucifying Dr. Esperanza Cabral because of her decision to take HIV prevention seriously. Please write for Ma’am Espie." "They" are the extremists of the CBCP and their allies among the laity.

I send my apologies in advance to Dr. Cabral who taught me more things than just doctoring. I am unable to obey your lessons in graciousness. I am just too disgusted with the lies.

I will not engage in sophistry. I will give the public specifics that can be validated by the public themselves. I will trust in ordinary folk by telling it like it is: condoms protect against HIV infection.

Check out the literature of the World Health Organization (WHO). Check out the literature of the purveyors of death-by-AIDS. Here is one significant thing: the latter’s literature cites the few scientific studies that say condoms don’t work. The WHO will cite both types of studies and explain why they conclude that condoms protect against HIV. For one thing the studies that prove this are in the majority and are better constructed.

While you are at it, please remember what was taught you in grade school: there will almost always be contrary studies. I leave you to decide on the truthfulness of those who won’t tell you that they are citing the oddball findings.

I should end this piece here so that the reader can establish for himself or herself the truth of my specific claim. But I will beg your indulgence and request that you let me add a few more things.

The opposition to the condom is based more on the belief that people should not have sex unless they leave the women open to pregnancy. The propagandists will say "open to life," but anyone who understands basic biology knows the more accurate term is "open to pregnancy." Those of you who are shocked by my lack of respect may be comforted: in matters of religious belief I can be more respectful. I can say that I disagree with them and leave it at that. I only ask that they respect my views as well.

I think it is moral to use condoms to prevent HIV infection. Using condoms saves lives. I do not engage in their word play. Proper and large-scale condom use prevents the spread of HIV and other reproductive tract infections that cause death and disability. This is a pro-life stance in the real sense, not a pro-pregnancy stance that has been dressed up to look pro-life.

I also do not see anything moral about such fanaticism. Fanatics prefer hard and fast rules and acquiescence to authority figures. The authority figures seek power, not in respectful persuasion, but by encouraging compliance. Both leaders and followers are unable to accept the immense diversity of human beings and embrace the tolerance this diversity demands. This is why they misbehave in secular space and do not respect our country’s allegiance to secularism.

When these fanatics wander into secular space by making bogus scientific claims that threaten our people’s well-being, they must not hide behind the customary respect we accord each other for our moral beliefs and disagreements. And so I feel I am not being ill-mannered when I say: they lie and they lie repeatedly.

I will also state the obvious. I am not saying all Catholics are extremists. Many Catholics do not agree with extremists on their interpretations. Many who agree to their sexual morality are nonetheless disgusted by their methods.

We are often told we should choose both our doctors and spiritual guides wisely. Beware of the priests that lie. On the other hand, choosing Dr. Cabral as our nation’s doctor is wise. I know her, I was her student. She taught me in medical school that scientific rigor is necessary to compassion and moral rectitude.

Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a doctor of medicine and a doctor of philosophy in psychology. She is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. She heads the project Watch Out When Women Vote (WOWWVOTE) that hopes to encourage women to vote for candidates that uphold women’s rights.