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I could not imagine an atheist convention in a very religious country. The Philippines is made up of 94%-97% religious people, whether Roman Catholic, Iglesia ni Cristo, Ang Dating Daan, or any type of religion with Jesus as the main ingredient.
After 8 months of planning and pounding the ground, PATAS was able to hatch the very first atheist/agnostic convention in the South East Asia, which was held in Manila, Philippines, in Bayview Plaza Hotel in United Nations Avenue. The location was perfect due to its topnotch security measure, just in case of theist terrorism.
We were lucky to have the assistance of Atheist Alliance International (AAI) via the generosity of Tanya Smith, President and International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) via the kindness of Roar Johnsen. Other major players were American Atheists Inc, and Institute for Science Human Values (ISHV).
The speakers were varied and led by the CEO of Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), Mr Dan Barker. Equally important speakers were Jeremiah Camara, author of Slavesermons and Holy Lockdown, Dr. David Orenstein from New York City Atheists Society, Mark Tier, Red Tani, President of Filipino Freethinkers, Norm Allen from ISHV, and our very own John Paraiso , Executive Director of PATAS and Ilving Tabios Zamora, PATAS BOD.
The convention was a huge success with 180 participants from all over the world, mostly from Manila, of course. Some islanders came from Davao, Cebu and Iloilo. Others took the bus for 8 to 12 hours just to attend the convention, they were from Baguio and Bicol region.
We spent a fortune on this convention since we paid for 220 and only 180 attended, so much for Filipino procrastination and empty promises and ningas-cogon (short-lived enthusiasm). A common attitude of some Filipinos is clicking “attend”, while they will not really show up, such a behavior borrowed from the Spaniards. They were told to wear something nice and formal but others came in shorts and plain shirts.
The convention was covered by 2 major media stations: ABS-CBN and GMA news. ABS-CBN was there from 7 A.M. – 12 P.M., however, none was aired since the owner was religious. GMA news aired the convention four times and we got a lot jeers and scoffs.
Translation: Veneracion: After the release of a study suggesting Filipinos are the most faithful people in the world when it comes to the existence of god, a convention was held by non-believers and those who are skeptical. They say that they demand respect from Filipinos who choose to belong in a religion.
News by Trisha Zafra
Zafra: If 9 out of 10 Filipinos or 94% believe in a god, according to a study released by a research organization in University of Chicago recently, these are the 6%.
For the first time [in the Philippines], atheist and agnostics gathered in a convention.
An atheist is a person who does not believe in a god. An agnostic, on the other hand, is someone who believe we may never know.
The convention was titled: Godless Philippines, Are You Ready For This?
John Paraiso: Some of us here are ok to help even though we don’t expect of what we call rewards in heaven. So we can stand-up and say, “Hey, I don’t believe in a god but I’m a person.”
Zafra: The Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society or PATAS were just established last year and has 2000 members all over the Philippines. Many of them are atheists because of the lack of justifications and lack of proof to support the existence of a deity.
Paraiso: There are many closet atheists because when you say here you don’t believe in god you are stereotyped to be evil, immoral, etc…
Zafra: But according to Bro. Clifford Sorita, a sociologist [and professor in Philippine Women's Univesity], there’s no reason for non-believers to hide their lack of faith because society doesn’t disregard them despite the fact that the Philippines is a Catholic Country.
Sorita: Our country is a rich country when it comes to what we call “kuro-kuro” or knowledge in this kind of sets of studies about God. Ergo, if they are a minority, then yes. But marginalized? (slight laugh) No.
Safra: Deep-rooted as it may seem, the beliefs of the Filipinos/Pinoys whether Muslims or Christians, we still need to be open-minded and respectful with the path our fellow Filipinos chose.
Sorita: Each faith [and non-faith] have the right to a dialog, why? Because it has been the formula of our country, The Philippines, that when you add thesis and anti-thesis together, the result is what we call synthesis. That means, with the exchange of ideologies we get an understanding and an introduction to new concepts that will benefit society.
Since our convention, there is an outpouring of memberships and coming out of atheists and agnostics and cooptation of PATAS on the internet. This is a good sign, since in the Philippines, the sincerest form of flattery is imitation.
Nonetheless, we plan to do the next convention in 2016. We hope to get Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, or somebody huge, definitely a huge ambition and undertaking , but who knows, we dream big to succeed!