Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you come to find the humanist movement in the Philippines?
Alain Sayson Presillas: I only found out about humanism online. By joining atheist groups and eventually leading me to the humanist movement.
Jacobsen: What have been some of the major obstacles in personal and professional life as a humanist in the Philippines?
Presillas: For me, I cannot just go around telling everyone that I am an atheist but somewhat comfortable telling people of being a humanist. My job as a teacher somewhat keeps me at bay because most of my colleagues are very religious and closed to the idea of being an atheist or humanist. Even our department of education has a motto of “maka diyos” which means for god. Our values and decisions in the department are fashioned of being that of the biblical principles. And anything that is bible based is considered not good.
Jacobsen: What have noticed in terms of the law that discriminates against humanists there?
Presillas: Not really discrimination, but from documents and everything else, being religious and religion plays a role or a requirement, which in I find it unfair and self serving only those who are religious.
One thing to be considered is, I cannot write humanist in my birth certificate because it is not a religion.
Jacobsen: What about discrimination in culture and social life as general rules of thumb?
Presillas: Individuals who are not religious are considered evil or has no morals for the most part. If your family ties and culture are engrained in religious principles it is difficult to make a decision that is not religious based, the parents has a say, religion has a say and community has a say to decisions that you make in your own personal life.
Traditional and religious people tend to discriminate on you because you are viewed as somewhat free spirited and cannot be controlled by those who are older than you are.
Most good and quality schools are run by religious order, which is the curriculum is driven by religious dogma, even though you have an option not to take such subjects.
In every social event, that I attend, prayer is always a starting point before anything else
Jacobsen: How does religion have social privileges in society, especially Christianity?
Presillas: Majority of Filipinos are Christian, holidays, documents, etc. favors only one religion. It makes only the rest of the religion as a second choice and those that belong to that religion they’re not considered part of bigger privileges. It widens more the gap of Christians and not Christians.
Jacobsen: How can Christians be prejudiced against non-believers?
Presillas: My experience is mostly in treating non-Christians, I am referring to Muslims and other religions. For the atheists, they are considered evil and wayward individuals because they lack the morals and the Christian values.
Jacobsen: What is the relationship between religion and the state there?
Presillas: Very closely related, the constitution says it and part of it. Leaders are somewhat guided by the fact that their religion plays a role in important political decisions.
Jacobsen: How did you find HAPI? How does it provide a refuge for you from the mainstream religion and life?
Presillas: I found out about HAPI thru online. I was able to prove to myself and to others that we can help each other without religion, that we don’t need religion to be good and of service to humanity.
Jacobsen: What are your activist hopes for humanism in the coming few years?
Presillas: I am hopeful that humanism will flourish in the Philippines for the coming years as more of the Filipinos do have access to information and more advocacies in HAPI that others will actually value what do and somehow do get influenced by us.
Original Publication in Humanist Voices.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.