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Interview with Ceejay Deriada Pastrana — Lead Convener, Humanist Alliance Philippines International (Jr.)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/08/29

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

Ceejay Pastrana: It’s kind of expected to be inheriting the religion that your parents have by the time you are born and my parents happened to be Latter Day Saints, but that was until I was in first grade. We converted to Roman Catholicism and being a Mormon was never mentioned again. I recently asked my mother why that happened and she said to me that they were obliged to do something that was “not right”. (She did not go into details as I noticed that she did not want to talk about it.) So, my family left for good. We were not really full-fledged Catholics either (religion was just not a topic in our house), or were against religion. We just realized the impracticality and illogicality of religion.

Since the beginning of my educational path, I attended a Catholic school and it was okay with me. As expected, we were made to recite prayers and sing chants. Again, it was okay with me. I was okay with everything as long as it does not affect or harm me in any way. I only have one principle and that is to “Do good and avoid evil.” As biblical as it sounds, we cannot deny that it applies in all situations.

I’ve always devoted to doing things to help others and for the sake of helping only. I wanted to step my game up and widen my exposure. That was when I met the current Executive Director of Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI), Alvin John Ballares. He introduced “Humanism” to me and asked me to try out and attend a meeting of HAPI. I found my niche and I have been an active member of HAPI since then.

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?

Pastrana: The world outside of the Philippines considers Duterte as the Filipino version of Trump. Should I be happy? Of course not. It is sad, but it’s true. It is sad because not only that they consider him as Trump, but also the fact that he really is like Trump, a populist, saying only what the mass wants to hear (like some of the churches). This affects how humanists are viewed in the country. We see and foresee the truths and realities of life and it is not something that most people want to hear. They like to be blinded, to see only what they want to see.

Most Filipinos merge “humanism”, “atheism”, and “secularism” into one concept and automatically regard it as “evil”. That is why I have to lay low for a while, while I am still in a Catholic school. People need to be enlightened about the terms mentioned earlier or just be taught not to be judgmental and not to assume stereotypes. You should not look at a person for what he or she is, but look at what he or she does.

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?

Pastrana: I am handling the HAPI Jr. right now and we have projects such as conducting seminars to schools on education, leadership, environmental, etc. Whenever we try asking permission from the principal of the school, we usually don’t mention “secularism”. We try to be on the safe side as some people don’t like the idea of secularism and, again, they tend to associate it with atheism which is a different concept.

Religious privilege does not only affect the non-religious ones, but also the ones with religion as well. I go to a college wherein they offer working scholarships to people who are Catholics and strictly Catholics only. It is sad to know that some students (with religion other than Catholic or none at all) who are less fortunate are doomed to suffer and embrace poverty because of this so-called “religious privilege”.

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

Pastrana: Populism, an act of appealing to ordinary people. As I mentioned earlier, some politicians use this method to gain support as they try to say and promote what the people want to hear. Some, if not most, use religion in fishing out votes. They use this to their advantage knowing that the population of the Philippines comprise mostly of Roman Catholics.

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?

Pastrana: Even in the history of the country, religion is a major topic. The Spaniard used it to try and rule the Philippines. It contributed greatly to what the Philippines has become and that is why it is still a great influence on things today.

Some of the main prejudices that the irreligious experience in the Philippines is that they are called and assumed as a cult member or worst, a Satanist. People just want to believe what they want to believe and disregard anything that disturbs their comfort zone. We are all humans who are capable of feeling compassion. “Not all believers are good; not all non-believers are evil.” Simple as that. Just because we are more realistically attached to the concrete world, does not mean we are bad either. We cannot live a closed life believing things we want to believe. The world and the universe are too big for our little-sheltered eyes.

Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?

Pastrana: To conclude everything, just stick to the main principle — “Do good and avoid evil.” Look at a person for what he or she does and not what he or she is. Do not cling on to the past; have a wondrous eye for the future. We, humans, are always hungry for answers. Question everything and don’t let judgments cease your curiosity.

Being different doesn’t mean drifting away. It is blending in while standing out.

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


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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