Why we need secular journalism

Rey Ty

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'Secularist journalists are not in the business of defending one religion over another but of reporting facts.' Is the Philippine media secular?

My mom was from Leyte and my dad was a “boatperson” from China, even before the word was coined to refer to Vietnamese refugees. I was born and raised a Roman Catholic in Chinatown, Binondo.

We practiced traditional religion, as my siblings and I had anting-antings (amulets) bought from outside the Quiapo Church. But on Sundays, we went to church, then to Buddhist or Taoist temples. I looked forward to these trips as a child, since vegetarian dishes always came after burning incense and kowtowing.

My parents saw no contradiction in visiting each other’s sacred places. I grew up interfaith to the core.


I attended Xavier School in Greenhills, which was founded by European Jesuit priests whose mission was to serve in China. When they were ejected during the Chinese Liberation, they served Chinese-Filipinos. Students observed everything Catholic: daily prayers, rosary, Friday fasting, weekly confessions, and Holy Communion.

One day, a Spanish Jesuit priest went around each classroom. He said the priests knew we have shrines at home with portraits of our ancestors, statues of Buddha and Taoist saints, and that we kowtow and burn incense. But he reassured us that Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are compatible with Christianity.

Buddha never said he was God, but was a prophet, talking about human equality and doing no harm. Taoism calls for harmony with Nature, similar to the stewardship story of Genesis. Meanwhile, Confucianism advocates respect for elders, similar to “Honor thy father and mother.”

The priest assured us we are fine continuing the practice of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, along with Christianity.

Media, secularism

In my human rights, social justice, and peace involvements, I have worked with Roman Catholics, mainstream Protestants, Muslims, indigenous peoples, and atheists. We share common concerns for grassroots empowerment, caring, and sharing.

Together, we have climbed mountains, crossed rivers, negotiated with the security forces, and immersed with women, peasants, farm workers, indigenous peoples, and workers. When I almost drowned, a Badjao saved me. We can all live and work together, despite our differences.

As a secularist, I see a problem as there is a very strong Christian bias on the radio, television, and the Internet news in the Philippines. I empathize with Muslim Filipinos against whom the mainstream mass media discriminate, immediately blaming them for the armed conflicts and the toll on human lives.   

My experiences propelled me to be a firm supporter of secularism. (READ: Charlie Hebdo and religion

Religion is a personal thing and many people are defensive about it. From Xavier Jesuits, I learned to empathize and dialogue with people of other faiths. Instead of only knowing one’s own faith while criticizing others, we could learn from each other. (READ: PH education, allergic to religion?)

When practicing secularism, journalists will investigate issues from all sides, not just defend automatically the predominantly Christian politicians’ anti-Muslim sentiments but report fairly on all sides to the conflict. Secularist journalists are not in the business of defending one religion over another but of reporting facts.

Politicians should also keep religion out of the state, especially if we are a society of different faiths.

I was lucky to have been socialized at home and at Xavier where interfaith and inter-ethnic dialogue was a daily reality. Imagine if we, as a society, are engaged in interfaith and inter-ethnic dialogue, how much more goodwill, mutual understanding, respect, non-aggression, benefit, equality, and peaceful coexistence we could demonstrate to fellows who belong to another faith or to no faith at all?

Interfaith, inter-ethnic

My family and Xavier upbringing prepared me to be “endowed with a passion for justice and skills for development” and a life of service, which helped me in my professional work training interfaith groups on community service.

I was lucky to have worked for 10 years as the Training Coordinator of the International Training Office at Northern Illinois University. We gathered indigenous, Muslim, and Christian Filipinos. Interfaith and inter-ethnic Filipinos shared stories about themselves and their communities. They all learned from each other.

They talked about their stereotypes of other communities, then each faith group smashed those stereotypes.

They also reflected on their problems, needs, dreams, and concrete steps in generating positive change. We tell them to have humungous dreams but to start with small steps, and to do good work but to have fun as well.

People of different faiths and ethnicities are paired as roommates. Engaging in community building, they eat, study, have fun, do volunteer work, and plan community projects together. Upon returning home, they are involved in coalition and alliance building when implementing their community projects, doing social justice work together for social transformation.

They are now spread out all over the Philippines, but mostly in Mindanao and Sulu, where armed hostilities are intense.

Frustrated with the mainstream media for pushing one viewpoint mostly, my Muslim friends, some Catholic priests, and lay persons devoted to interfaith dialogue horizontally air the other side of the story. They use Facebook to educate readers about what witnesses reveal.

In times of armed conflicts and killings, instead of spreading revenge, we need to reinvigorate our efforts for interfaith and inter-ethnic dialogue to address the roots of problems. Rappler.com

Rey Ty is a political observer, author, political theorist, comparativist, political risk and policy analyst, and lecturer. He received his doctorate from Northern Illinois University and Master’s degrees from the University of California at Berkeley and Northern Illinois University.

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 Newspapers image and religion books image via Shutterstock. 

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