Humanist Voices
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Humanist Voices

In Conversation with Leonardo “Nards” Go — Member, Humanist Alliance International Philippines

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was family background in religion? What are your own story and educational background? How did you find humanism and HAPI?

Leonardo “Nards” Go: I grew up in a deeply religious (Catholic) and conservative, family. We were praying for the angels every night at 6pm, prayed with the rosary every night with my parents and grandparents in my elementary years, going to Church every sunday, participating in religious events.

My father was a Liturgical Assistant, my aunts and uncles, active in church groups, I was once an altar boy and ave maria, Boy Scout awardee (knights of the altar — the highest award for a Catholic Scout), went to catholic schools from prep all the way to college and of course, got my education from nuns in an exclusive school in my elementary then to proceeded to another exclusive school run by Jesuits in high school and all the way to college up to my Masters.

I once taught World Literature and Philosophy to a non-sectarian community college for a while in our hometown. At present, I work for the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (CDRRMO, that would be Emergency Management Agency in the US) in our city as assistant to the head.

My item is Environmental Management Specialist. Actually, I hold 2 offices, as I am also officially with the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (EPA in the US), but since my area and training is climate change adaptation and mitigation; hence, I also sit at the CDRRMO.

I found humanism, when I started to become politicized, during my college days, as I was starting to notice the hypocrisy, inequality, and beliefs and customs of society that I grew up in, specifically the kind fostered by the Catholic Church.

The most glaring is that of attributing everything as God’s will, even in gambling, Filipinos pray for signs before making a bet; ours is a combination of mysticism and Catholicism, after reading inspirational books (I started reading in High School) and exposure to Western culture through movies, TV, and other mass media sources, I slowly started to realise that we actually hold our destiny in our own hands.

While it is good to be inspired by God, to do good things in his glory, in our country, there were more disturbing cases to the contrary, our beliefs (and religious attitudes) in God have actually become a hindrance to our full potential as human beings.

Nowhere is it more evident than when it comes to disasters, it is a big part of my job to go around the city and the countryside giving lectures on how to make their communities more resilient.

It is always not easy, especially when people, believe that disasters are an act of god, and everything is his will and has a purpose and leave everything to his mercy and pray. Humanism for me is the ultimate empowerment, which seems to be the byword in government endeavors these days.

I came upon HAPI when I was invited by a Facebook friend, environmentalist and fellow caver, Jennifer Gutierrez, then the executive director of HAPI Phils International, it was only natural that I accepted the invitation.

Jacobsen: How does the world see the Philippines from the outside under Duterte? How are humanists generally treated in the Philippines? How do Filipinos, in general, view humanists and the humanist community?

Go: It’s mixed there are those who say, “It’s a dangerous place to live, what is with his War on Drugs and all the extra-judicial killings happening around,” while there also those who see that it is much safer since most of the criminals are either killed, arrested, or on the run: also because of his War on Drugs.

Jacobsen: How can the non-religious overcome religious privilege, e.g., building a coalition and a solidarity movement? What are the areas of religious privilege within the Philippines?

Go: By being non-political, and less confrontational, a lot of the non-religious groups are affiliated with the radical left, although they have worked with religious groups especially when speaking for human rights and against poverty.

That is because they find common ground, but that is still limited, when it comes to women’s rights, birth control. They are on opposite ends, using less confrontational methods, as opposed to leftist non-religious groups in promoting their agenda, which has actually turned off and alienated the middle class, who are actually the most influential sector in our society.

I am at a loss by what you mean by “religious privilege.” But if by that you mean, areas not influenced by religion, I can only say. Those that are affiliated with the left, of the political spectrum

Jacobsen: When in the Philippines, and looking at the political situation, how does religion influence politics?

Go: Very much, it has influenced our way of life, but consider this, almost every politician will always claim that he was sent a sign by God. Before he decided to run, he goes to church to pray prior to filing his candidacy.

If he wins, his victory is celebrated by a mass; no session, meeting, brain storm is done without prayers first. Elections take a form of evil vs. good, with everyone claiming to be the good guys. It was religion that helped the late Pres Cory Aquino topple the dictatorship of Pres Marcos.

It is religion that has influenced why family planning has never taken off here.

Jacobsen: Why is religion such a large influence on the country? What are some of the main prejudices that the irreligious experience in the Philippines?

Go: It is said that our history can be summed up with the joke: 300 years in the convent (Spanish Rule) and 50 years of Hollywood (The American Rule), blame it on the Spaniards, who justified their conquest as a mission to spread Christianity (by the cross and sword) and to keep the natives submissive, and the Americans who perpetrated the same albeit to a lesser degree, still to keep the natives in their place.

When it comes to religious prejudice, let me just site a few personal experience as an example, when my sister got married to an American in Thailand, only our parents, and their friends, came. None from relatives because the wedding was done in a Buddhist church and ceremony.

When my daughter decided to become a born again Christian missionary, I was chided by my friends, and relatives, for not controlling my daughter and letting her leave the catholic faith. During previous typhoons, our governor and mayor ordered that we would not receive relief goods from the UN Commission on Population and Development, and not to accept joint projects with them because they supported The Women’s Reproductive Health Care Bill because the Catholic Church was against it.

Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?

Go: Humanism is and will always be, the ultimate empowerment.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Nards.

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Official Secular-Humanist publication by Humanist Voices

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Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights.

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