To the “friend” who let me down

I know walang connect sa pic! Pero kiver na!

As I was writing this piece, the famous lyrics to Justin Bieber’s song “Love yourself” hovered in my mind. “I didn’t wanna write a song, ’cause I didn’t want anyone thinking I still care I don’t but you still hit my phone up. And baby I’ll be moving on, cause I think you should be something I don’t wanna hold back.” 

Too harsh? That’s what you are to me as a friend. And recently I have been silent and forgiving, giving you the benefit of the doubt and hoping that we can fix our friendship. But it seems to me that you have stopped caring at all. It hurts to have a lump in your throat and today I am getting rid of it.

After many years of being friends, the two of us have fallen apart. We have finally called it quits. Yeah, I know. It’s so damn sad so tell me about it (insert eye roll emoji here). I wonder what took us so long? And I keep asking myself why it took me this long to realize that you weren’t actually my friend. In fact, you were never a friend to me. I have realized you were actually forced to like me because I used to be an indispensable part of the food chain. You were just there because you thought that I belong in your circle, or that we have something in common. It turns out we do have a lot in common but our commonalities weren’t enough to cover our differences.

Don’t get me wrong, I was willing to set aside the differences but you chose to play the silent treatment card on me. Thank you for making me feel like I was nothing because it actually helped me get a clearer view of who you really are. So you can play your silent card on me all you want but it’s been awhile and I have a life to live.

Ever since you ditched me, I took time to look back and reflect in all the times we have shared together as “friends.” It surprised me to realize that we have actually shared more memories together than some of the most genuine friends I have in my life. What made it worse is that some of my most treasured memories were spent with you. That is why I really thought you were my friend. The series of unfortunate events recently however, have led me to believe that we are never going to turn our closeness back. Our friendship is so broken that when I looked into it I can only see nothing but shattered pieces of something that was once beautiful –or so I thought.

In a nutshell, I’ve also realized I could have spent more time with you had you not been so fake to treat me well when we’re together and talk behind my back when I’m not around. I know what you have been up to all these years. You were talking shit about me and painting a bad image of me to our friends. In fact, you have been so professional in faking your stories that I think they actually believe you now.

I cannot blame them for choosing to sympathize with you over me. They have never heard my side of the story. Not that they gave me a chance to air it or that I care to clean my name. You know I was never a kiss ass to everyone. And I have always believed I don’t owe anyone an explanation for my actions because I have always been an open book —honest and true. Oh, it must be hard for you to understand what that means because it’s everything you are not. I was never the “people pleaser friend” who does anything to keep being friends with our well-off acquaintances. I cannot blame you either –fake people only respect people with power. I do not have the money or the power to help you when you need something.

It’s funny when you had your son’s Christening two years ago. I was invited yes. But I quickly noticed that everyone of our friends was selected as “ninong” or “ninang” except me so I opted not to attend. Please don’t get me wrong, it was fine but to expect me not to react and just understand your choices would have been a violation of the unwritten constitution of our closeness. Every single close friend of yours had a special role in the ceremony and I was just an spectator, a regular audience, an outcast. Of course I was hurt knowing you have set my feelings aside. Of course, I sulked about it because had it been my own son or daughter, I would have automatically put your name on my list without hesitations. Did you really expect me to just sit there like an outsider while everyone close to you gather in front to have an official godfather/godmother photo with your baby? It made me question what am I to you. Am I just a distant acquaintance? Am I just a common friend? You knew that things like that are like privileges bestowed to close friends only. You didn’t think we were that close because you were just faking your friendship with me. You deliberately crossed my name out in your list of sponsors because why would you choose me when you can opt for a richer friend for a godfather to your son, all right?

Remember that one time when we were supposed to hang out in this new roof deck bar in Makati and three days before our agreed date, you went and visit the same bar without me? I was hurt so I confronted you and you told me I was being ridiculous. You told me I was being unreasonable and childish. “‘Wag kang mag inarte!,” you lashed out at me. I remember how you did not even bother to hear where I was coming from at the time. You just voiced out your feelings to one of our friends who generously sympathized with you even though he knew I deserved to get angry. We had a plan. You ruined the plan and decided to visit the place prior to our scheduled date and without informing me. You were not apologetic at all. You made it seem like I was at fault, like I did not deserve to rant because you can do whatever you want because you didn’t actually care whether I join you or not.

Remember when we were in Davao back in 2015 and we had an argument about our bed assignments? You knew that for years, I am known to be generous and quiet when it comes to backpacking rules. I never complained even if I was getting less this and that despite the fact that I paid the same amount you guys did. You never hear me get mad even if I was constantly given the extra mattress on the floor while the rest of the guys get the regular comfier bed. Remember when one morning you woke me up at 5:00 fucking A.M. because my “extra mattress” was preventing you from opening the door? You pointed out that I should have asked for another room instead. You told me that I should have made sure that I got a bed for myself as well when you knew that standard hotel rooms only had two beds and that it would cost me a lot if I booked a room of my own. That time, I was being nice and cooperative. I was being a friend to everyone and yet you somehow had the nerve to make it seem like I was a burden to the group.

I’m sorry to have disappointed you. I’m sorry that I was not the friend you thought I could be. I’m sorry that I could not afford to be there all the time especially when you need something. You never asked for my help either –partly because you did not trust me enough and partly because you would rather ask for help from your richer friends. I think that’s quite practical, isn’t it? Having said that, I understand.

What I do not understand is how you have managed to pose as a friend and talk all kinds of shit behind my back all these years when you could have rejected my friendship in the beginning. What I do not understand is how you are able to attend your Sunday masses and be the perfect con artist at the same time. What I do not understand is how you put the blame on me when you knew you were not a genuine person to me from the very beginning.

When I look back to the words you said behind my back, I feel like the piece of trash I am to you all these years. It makes me want to regret knowing you. It makes me want to just throw away that page of my life where you had been and move on. It makes me want to be angry at you for betraying my trust and everything we have had as friends.

But I don’t want to be like you, a hypocrite. Although I am not as religious, I do maintain a certain set of principles that I quietly and religiously adhere to. 

Justin Bieber’s song maybe the most inappropriate for this piece but I wanted to point out that as the song says, it is okay to let go of the toxic people in our lives otherwise they will make it rain on our parades forever. So I will choose what is best for both of us and that is to forgive and move on regardless if I was being forgiven by you in return. 

You may think that what I have presented above are petty issues that mature individuals who have deep love for each other could have resolved through a gentle conversation. You may think that I am being a needy or clingy friend and whatnot. You are free to have an opinion. But if someone who are best friends with you for many years treats you like this wouldn’t you get crushed and deeply hurt? And this is beyond the issues I have mentioned. This is something more than just an issue of not getting invited to a night out or losing an important role in your friend’s son’s Christening. This is about the trust and respect that real friends reserve for each other. This is about the courtesy you always give your friend because you two have been through a lot together. And if I cannot trust you with petty things such as keeping my secrets and protecting my image like I did as your friend for many years, then I surely cannot trust you with bigger things. You suck, you don’t deserve me and vice versa. And I wouldn’t wish you as a friend to anyone.

I am done letting you disrespect my boundaries. I will not allow you to judge me again based on your biased interpretations and selfish ways. I will not allow you to spread false accusations against me anymore. I will not tolerate your fake friendship in my life again. Lastly, I am not going to let you put me down, nor will I allow your friends to belittle me and make fun of me ever again.

A letter to my present self

So I’m telling you, keep on fighting. I know it is hard. I know giving up seems an easier way out. But this is not the end of the world. This doesn’t mean your dreams are over. You will get through this.


Dear present self,

I know you are going through a very tough time. I know you are feeling down. I can’t imagine how much pain you must be feeling right now. A month ago, your world was shattered when doctors discovered you have a lump on the wall of one of your lungs. The lump can be anything benign but it can also be cancer. 

It’s hard for you to breathe. Your chest is hurting whenever you cough that sometimes, you even feel like it’s going to rip open; or that you might throw up blood. But it never happened. There is constant pain in your lower left chest and left back as well as your left shoulder. It could be a sign that whatever it is that’s inside your left rib is growing and posing a dangerous risk to your health. 

READ: There is a lump in my lung and I’m not backing down on this fight

You have lost appetite. More often, eating becomes an ordeal to you because it is just difficult to swallow food, any kind of it. You do crave halo-halo and sundae (ice cream) though. You missed the times when you are free to eat anything you like. Now everything is different.

You have lost a lot of weight. You can feel the shape of your bones against your skin. And while most people deem losing weight as a sign of being fit, to you this is a sign of being malnourished and anorexic. Considering your normal weight was just 52 kilograms. Now you are down to 42 kilograms. This is very unfair because you have spent nearly three years just to achieve a fit body. You have struggled to fight your eating disorder and adhered to a strict diet in order to stay fit. And you have made it. The once skinny boy has transformed into a man with a leaner and fitter body. But now the lean physique that you worked so hard to achieve is slowly being taken away from you —along with your sanity.

You have been hospitalized three times and have endured many grueling hours in the hospital. Your body has taken too much dosage of antibiotics but none of them was able to heal you. The doctors who looked into your case were so incompetent it took them three consecutive hospitalizations and almost one month to figure out that they should have performed CT scan earlier and not when they have already exhausted every penny you have to fund the biopsy procedure.

At first, you were in great denial. You didn’t want to accept that you have fallen ill. That instead of doing your daily routine —going to work, doing business, working out, enjoying time with your family and friends, chasing your dreams—you’re now going to be confined in the four corners of the hospital room until you are well. And there is no assurance to getting well to be honest.

There is a lot of doubts in your head right now. You are feeling a lot of pain. Both physical and emotional. This is a crucial time for you but this is also the time when you get to learn who among your so-called friends are real and who are not. Because it will be easy to ignore and forget you at this time now that you are down and have nothing. It will be easy for them to just hold their grudge or judge you without understanding where you are coming from. Nevertheless, just let it pass because going after people who don’t care about you is useless when you should be taking a lot of rest. People who don’t care about you when you are in deep shit would not care for you when you are well. You should let them go but should continue to pray for them as you have always done so.

You will feel like you are alone in this battle sometimes. Even the very person who is so dear to you do not seem to understand your situation. All you did was love people and all they did was to use and hurt you without the slightest concern about what you are going through. And this makes you feel like you are trapped with the wrong person. I know you will figure it out soon and you will make a decision to finally let it go. And it will take its toll on you above all else because you are not in your best health to deal with it. During these times, do not give in to your loneliness and depression. Find comfort from your family because they will never leave you behind. Find solace in the genuine love of those friends who chose to stay and reach out to you despite everything that happened. They are the people who will be there for you when you need them.

So I perfectly understand your pain. I totally get why you are depressed and why you are crying most days and nights. It is okay to be bitter about life, about what you could have accomplished if you will be given a second chance at life. It’s perfectly fine to rant and vent out. You need an outlet so let it all out, pour all your pain when you need to; but remember not to wallow in bitterness and pain too much. Pick yourself up and continue the fight. Stop playing the victim and own up every battle you have. I know it is easier said than done, and what happened to you shocked you to the bones. You never imagined you’d be in such a terrible situation where you are fighting for your life. 

But you are now whether you like it or not. So I’m telling you, keep on fighting. I know it is hard. I know giving up seems an easier way out. But this is not the end of the world. This doesn’t mean your dreams are over. This is just the beginning. Hold on tight and keep on fighting for your life and for the people who believe in you. 


Do not let other people take away your inner peace. It is extremely important that you trust yourself during these trying times. It is important to have a positive attitude and a better outlook in life. Always choose to see the best in people because that is how you were raised. Hold on to your faith in God and be nice, be a true Christian even when others are not and cannot.

Lastly, I dare you to never ever give up. The moment you gave up is the moment you failed to fulfill your promise to yourself. You will get through this. Remember, you have been through worst and you were able to get out of every mess. You will get away this time. You will emerge victorious. You will survive this disease. You will prove them wrong.

And I’ll see you in the future.

Love,

Your future self

Six reasons why Maureen deserves to win AsNTM Cycle 5

If I were a product brand, I’d go for someone who has the power to influence people in a good way, someone who has no record of disrespecting her co-workers, someone who can actually sell my brand not because she has the perfect modeling skills but because of being herself and her good character, someone whom I won’t have a problem working with.

UPDATE: I’ve added #6 because why not?

I don’t know if the producers of Asia’s Next Top Model even realize this but I think it is high time that the show steps up and produce a real winner. One who is a total package —beauty, skill, and good character.

Now on it’s final week, only three contestants are left competing in the show. Shikin Gomez from Malaysia, Minh Tu Nguyen from Vietnam and Maureen Wroblewitz from the Philippines. All three are strong contenders, thus the top three. However of the three contestants, only Maureen Wroblewitz has what it takes to bring home the crown.

Why?

1. Maureen’s height is her asset, not something she should be ashamed of. I don’t understand why the host of the show, Cindy Bishop keeps on reiterating every elimination week that “Maureen is the shortest girl in the competition” when the whole fandom can already see it. When you keep on repeating that someone’s the shortest or whatnot, you make it seem like it is a major disadvantage. Yes, being tall is a common asset in most modeling agencies but it is not everything. Asia’s Next Top Model as the name of the show implies, is looking for a true Asian model and majority of Asians are known to be short anyway. Being one of my favorite Asian models, I know Cindy’s intention is nothing but good but that comment is completely unnecessary. She could have said something like, “despite being the less experienced model,” then that’s acceptable. Besides, Maureen would not be on the show if her height was a problem to begin with. Whether the minimum height requirement was 5’6 and she is 5’6, she qualified. She nailed it. She deserves to be there. Stop saying things like “despite being the shortest girl on the show.” Just stop!

Say hi 👋 to gorgeous Nametha, Valerie, Veronika, Maureen and Tu! #AsNTM #AsNTM5 #comingsoon

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2. Maureen has the perfect attitude. In modeling, attitude is everything. The rest of the AsNTM Cycle 5 contestants, with the exceptions of Cindy Chen from Taiwan, Angelica Santillan from Philippines, Alicia Amin from Malaysia and Layla Ong from Singapore, all exhibited gross attitude when it comes to working with their peers. What I hated most about watching the show is when these mean girls start putting one another down just so they could steal the spot light. That’s so uncalled for. That doesn’t make you a winner. They are so full of themselves and it came to a point that it disgusted me to watch them onscreen. Jenica Sanchez, for instance has repeatedly bashed and picked on her fellow “kababayan” Maureen instead of proving herself worthy of staying in the competition. Did it get her anywhere? No. Models with that kind of attitude are a disgrace to the modeling world. Some may argue that it is a competition so you should be confident and tough. However, there is a big difference between being confident and being arrogant. There is a difference between being tough and being boastful and selfish and bitchy. If I were one of the designer brands, I would never hire any of these girls. And I think many fans of the show already know that.

have a wonderful weekend 💓💓💓

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3. Maureen has a very beautiful face. Since Day One, it was evident that most of the girls especially Clara from Indonesia, Minh Tu, and Shikin Gomez already despise Maureen. Why? Because they see her as the biggest threat in the competition. When they say that Maureen did not deserve to be on the show, they were threatened by her beautiful face and what it can do. They even bluntly called her out and said that she’s just “beauty and no skills” and that she did not deserve to be on top six. In modeling, a beautiful face is your second best asset —next to attitude and good work ethics. 

Top 5 ✨This week was certainly a really tough one for me but another week proven that I'm not just a 'pretty face'. Even if I won my second Best Performance this week, I still can't be fully happy. I feel like Tu when she was FCO and Layla had to leave the competition. First Valerie, now my other twin Veronika. Who will I now be telling my stories to? 😔We used to be 3 girls sharing one bed and now I'm left alone. I'm missing the times we would watch movies together or the times we would cook for each other. At least you both are back together again @valerie.twns @veronika.twns ❤ I'll keep aiming for the top and I'll also be doing it for you two. I'm so lucky to have met both of you, my twinsies! Love and miss you both too much ❤ #AsNTM #AsNTM5 #ExpectTheUnexpected #TeamMaureen #TeamPhilippines #PhilippinesOnTop

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4. Maureen would make a flexible model. Since she’s already beautiful and charming, Maureen has the power to instantly win people’s heart. That gives her the power to successfully model almost anything and people will still believe whatever she’s selling no matter what. In fact, she can use any part of her body to model something and it would turn out just fine. Yes, her catwalk may not be that perfect but it is not that bad. And she can still make it perfect with time. It’s no big deal. 

glitter everywhere ✨ 2 more sleeps till the next episode 😌 #AsNTM #AsNTM5

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5. Maureen is confident. She is not insecure. She knows her place and she knows how to respect her superiors and the people who put her where she is. She can be confident without being cocky. A lot of the girls in the competition have shown disgusting attitude all through out the season but Maureen never did. She never backfighted or badmouthed anyone. She never put anyone down. She just compete fair and square. In the modeling industry, insecurity will kill your career if you don’t know how to control it. I will be goddamned if the judges of the show didn’t see that Maureen is a legend when it comes to taking control of her attitude in the competition.

6. Maureen is a fighter. When the other girls blatantly disrespected her and called her out, she did not fight back with the same hurtful words. Instead, she proved them wrong by topping the next photoshoot. In fact, she topped two other photoshoots that made her ahead of the competition since both Tu and Shikin topped only two photoshoots. Maureen had three pictures on the model house’s wall. Not bad for someone who is relatively new to modeling. When Yu Tsai was having difficulty with her, she proved him that she is determined to stay in the competition by improving her craft. And she has indeed improved a lot. Progress is very imporant because it means someone is listening. Someone is doing their home work. For someone who never had any professional modeling experience, Maureen is killing it. She’s got the numbers to prove it. She can compete. She can beat the two other contestants regardless if they are more experienced than her. And people admire someone who is not backing down. It is not easy to stay your ground when three other girls are bullying you but she did not give up. She even kept calm, and told the girls in a good manner that the judges thought she deserves to be on top six. Maureen showed a very strong character and it is a good thing because people is finally making sense of the show because of someone who is already a winner in her own right. And Maureen has a lot of supporters because people can see through her heart —she is genuine. She is the real deal. 

Who would've thought a 'pretty face with no skills' would fight her way to Top 3?! Tu and Shikin have been my biggest competitors from the start and it's crazy that I get to be in the top with them. We couldn't be any more diverse from looks to personality. The only thing we've got in common now, is the determination to win! Never have I expected to come this far! This makes me even more proud of all the things I've achieved during the competition. There are so many things I've learned and experienced, and now it's the last time I get to show it all. This week was very overwhelming for me. First, the really tough challenge, where I had to face my fear of heights in the most insane way and then the photoshoot where we had to create our own story. This is also where I decided to talk about my personal story, which wasn't an easy thing for me to do. After everything this week, I didn't expect to be part of the Finale. But I'm glad I am. I'm not done yet showing all I've got 💓💓💓 #AsNTM #AsNTM5 #ExpectTheUnexpected #TeamMaureen #TeamPhilippines #PhilippinesOnTop

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Shikin Gomez is a great model and contender. She can ace a photoshoot perfectly and comes out of the run way like a boss. But she possesses cockiness and superiority. And if didn’t sit well with many viewers as the comments on social media prove so, then it may not sit well with people in the industry she had chosen. She appears to be kind at times but she has the tendency to talk behind her peer’s back. She has great skills but all of it will turn to nothing if she didn’t stop attacking others for their weakness.

Minh Tu is very competitive —beautiful, tall, and determined. She knows what she’s getting herself into. However, just like Shikin, Clara, and the twins (Veronika and Valerie), Minh Tu also has a gross attitude of picking on others when she sees them as a threat. That’s not the proper way to deal with a competitor. That’s actually the most stupid way to deal with your rival. Prove them you can beat them with performance but not with unnecessary feedback. 

Let me tell those who agree that Maureen is just “beautiful face and no skills,” you are entitled to your opinion but that doesn’t define someone like Maureen. She is clearly more than her beautiful face. She has improved a lot since day one. She has proven to all that she is a tough nut to crack. She just used all the bashing and all the negative feedback to reinvent herself and metamorphose into a real model, someone who deserves recognition for the most amount of courage, determination, patience, hard work and diligent effort. She did everything she could and she made it. She put her heart into her craft and she earned the respect of many. 

If I were a top designer brand, I’d go for someone who is both beautiful and has great character and work ethics than someone who clearly has the skills but is disrespectful and downright arrogant. If I were a product brand, I’d go for someone who has the power to influence people in a good way, someone who has no record of disrespecting her co-workers, someone who can actually sell my brand not because she has the perfect modeling skills but because of being herself and her good character, someone whom I won’t have a problem working with. If I were one of the judges of the show, I’d pick Maureen because she has made the greatest impact to most viewers. Her attitude has become a role model to young aspiring girls of her generation. She just inspired many people to keep pursuing their dreams despite the people who will stop them from achieving it. Her character has become a household name because she has proven that it is okay to not have all the skills, that it is okay to just try and be yourself, that everything is possible even with less experience. She has inspired the whole world.

3rd Best Performance and Top 4?! 😍 I'm so close to the finale, just one more step! • I've learned a lot about myself throughout this competition. But the most important thing I've learned, is that I never give up. I'll keep fighting no matter what and I'll be doing this for all of you ❤ I also wanted to thank you all for the amazing support! You all mean the world to me! So many people have been telling me how proud they are of me and you have no idea how much those words mean to me. I hope I inspire every single one of you to go out there and do what you want to do. Don't ever give up on your dreams because other people make it seem impossible! Anything is possible! You just gotta work hard always and never doubt yourself ❤❤❤ #AsNTM #AsNTM5 #TeamPhilippines #TeamMaureen #PhilippinesOnTop

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If I had a say on who wins this season of Asia’s Next Top Model, I’d go for Maureen because she is a total package. I’d choose her because she is the epitome of the perfect model trained and honed from scratch and coming out as a professional marketable model by a brilliant show such as Asia’s Next Top Model. But I don’t have the say so I guess I’ll just hope that the judges will be wise and fair to actually give it to someone who deserves it, not because she’s the shortest or the tallest girl in the competition but rather because the show has a responsibility to produce a fashion model who is not only going to rock the brands but most importantly, the hearts of the young girls of her generation.

UPDATE: On the AsNTM’s finale held at the National Gallery Singapore in June 28, 2017, Maureen Wroblewitz won as this seasons Asia’s Next Top Model besting the two other contestants, Shikin Gomez from Malaysia and Vietnam’s Minh Tu Nguyen. Maureen is the first ever Filipina to have won the prize. She took home the coveted contract with London-based Storm Model Management and a brand-new Subaru Impreza car. She will also grace the cover of Nylon Singapore’s online edition and will be featured in major fashion campaigns.

In the end, I’d like to thank the judges of the show because they really worked hard to come up with the best and fair decision. I know it was hard because all of the three girls were extremely deserving. I acknowledge how all the girls reconciled in the end and put aside their grudges just like what Shikin said. I’m so proud of the three and all the other contestants who showed up in the finale.

There is a lump in my lung and I’m not backing down on this fight

I’ve felt as if a super tsunami came to where I was standing and swept me out to sea, never to be found again. I wish it was that simple.


Just three weeks ago, the doctors who were looking into my pneumonia case found out through a chest CT scan that I have an unidentified lump on the wall of my left lung. The lump can be anything benign but it can also be cancer.

As soon as I’ve learned the bad news, I’ve felt like the heaven and earth had collapsed their entire weights on me. I’ve felt the rush of tears desperately wanting to come out from my eyes. I just got the results of my HIV test a couple of days ago and I was very glad it was negative and now this.  I have never felt so defeated in my entire life. I’ve felt as if a super tsunami came to where I was standing and swept me out to sea, never to be found again. I wish it was that simple.

READ: The big fear that is HIV

Prior to these shocking findings, I was admitted to the same hospital three times in two consecutive months and for the same diagnosis: community acquired pneumonia.

Two weeks prior to my first hospitalization, I started experiencing asthma-like symptoms at random times when I’m at work or when I’m just about to go to bed. I had wheezing issues accompanied by shortness of breathing. After five days, the shortness of breathing worsened to the point where I could no longer complete a single sentence without being interrupted by my fucked up breathing patterns. I didn’t like it at all. Additionally, I’ve acquired a dry cough. It was tolerable at first and it seemed like just another ordinary cough that would soon go away after a week. Only it didn’t.

After two weeks, the cough was still there. At one point, I had serious difficulty breathing at work and had to run to the clinic a couple of times during my eight hour shift just to nebulize. The nebulizing helped a lot during the early stage of my sickness. But it didn’t cure it. 

One Saturday morning in the second week of March, right after my Friday night shift ended (I’ve been working graveyard shift for the past eleven years), I came home feeling weak and my breathing pattern was worse than ever. This time, I’ve felt like it was never going to stop and the nebulizing did very little help. That’s when I’ve felt the alarm inside of me. I need to get to the nearest hospital. Now.

I mustered every remaining strength I have and through struggled breathing and coughing, I approached the entrance of the hospital. I was alone.

I have always dreaded hospitals and the smell of antiseptic in their hallways. I have been admitted only once in ten years. I didn’t want to get admitted anytime soon but I knew it was time. I had no idea I have pneumonia. I thought it was a chronic type of asthma just because the symptoms were the same. After listening to the wheezing sound in my breathing, I was confined and rushed to the emergency room right away. It didn’t come as a surprise. I was a total mess during that moment and I seriously did not think I could last another hour.

After 24 hours, the attending physician confirmed I had pneumonia. The first thought that came into my mind was HIV. Recently, I’ve had a number of people in my acquaintance circle who died suddenly after being diagnosed with pneumonia-related diseases. Rumors quickly spread within our circles that they were HIV positive and that the pneumonia had complicated it. It was a nerve-racking thought but I couldn’t help thinking about it.

I was treated with different antibiotics such as Cefalexine, Cefexime and Supime in vials. With the IV included, I literally had three bottles hovering above me while my body consumed the injected medications. I was discharged after ten days. I still have the cough when I received advise that I can already go home. At first, they had me take Levofront syrup for my cough but later endorsed a granule solution called Flemex. The shortness of breathing was still there although the attacks have lessened considerably. I asked the doctor why I was being discharged when I still have the cough and shortness of breathing symptoms but was told that it was because my x-ray showed clear and they could not see anything. She said that the take home medications should eventually cure whatever was left of my pneumonia. I knew right then that nothing has been cured. I wasn’t feeling well at all and yet I had to follow the doctor’s advise.

After one week of rest, I went back to work. And after two weeks, just after I have consumed all the prescribed antibiotics and cough medications —the shortness of breathing and cough started to get worse again. I had to come back and get admitted once more. It was like an ordeal I had to go through. I hated every minute of being in the hospital. 

For my second hospitalization, the doctor waived my IV and any injected type of medication. I was asked to take oral medications such as Bactrim Forte and Azithromycin. For my cough, they prescribed a new mucolytic. A 200mg granule solution called Acetylcysteine Fluimucil. I stayed in the hospital for ten days and was discharged again —by the same attending doctor. The take home instructions said I was to take the medicines for another two weeks. I’ve followed it and was relieved that for the first time in a month, the shortness of breathing disappeared. The cough was still there although it lessened and seemed on its way to healing as well. Only it didn’t. After a few days the antibiotics ran out, and the shortness of breathing came back like a thief in the night. 

In that moment, and in the middle of my prayers —I cried buckets of tears because I was so lost. It was very difficult for me to understand what was going on. Why am I experiencing this pain? What did I do?

Another week passed by, I delayed my consultation with my physician because I was afraid they’d confine me again. I had work and corporate commitments to attend to. Eventually, my sickness got worse again and I had to get checked up. The doctor who looked into my case issued Bactrim Forte and Cefalexine again for a week because I told him I can’t afford to be admitted due to work commitments, at least not yet. He told me to go get an x-ray after I finished taking the antibiotics. A week passed and nothing changed. I went back to the hospital and had another x-ray procedure done to me. This time, they saw scattered cloud of mucus around my left and right lungs. The doctor asked me if I was willing to get confined again. I didn’t know what to say. Is this a joke? What the fuck is going on? Of course it was just my rebel self but seriously I knew I needed to be admitted and get treated asap.

The doctor asked if I knew my HIV status. I said no I didn’t. He advised me to have myself tested and I did. That’s when I learned I was non-reactive (negative) to HIV1 and HIV2 —something I have fervently wished and prayed for. Thank God! That was a major hope booster.

Knowing my HIV status gave me some kind of weapon to fight the fears that’s engulfing my whole being. If I was reluctant to come back to the hospital for the third time, the thought that I am HIV negative made me feel powerful and resistant to the pneumonia. I knew I wasn’t going to die. I knew they will find a cure and I’ll get back to my old healthy self once again. Only I didn’t.

My third hospitalization was more of a traumatizing experience rather than a road to healing. I was treated with various antibiotics such as Levox (500mg vial) and S-Omipin (40mg vial) and again, Supime (1g vial) which they injected through my IV. At first, the antibiotics felt a little painful when they enter my veins but I got used to it after a few days. I was also on oxygen 24/7 to help with my breathing and had nebulizing sessions three times a day. After reading the result of my latest x-ray, the doctor said I had to undergo a CT scan procedure on my chest. The process costs around PHP13k and includes an eight hour fasting and injecting a serum that apparently cleans up my blood veins so that the CT scan results is clearer or something to that extent. I agreed to the procedure. The next day, they broke the bad news to me.

It wasn’t entirely bad news though especially since the status of the lump is unknown. A lump can either be benign or malignant. I’ll be lucky if my lump is benign. But according to my doctors, “the only way” to determine if the lump is cancerous is to undergo a biopsy procedure. I immediately told my mom and my sisters and they instantly declined the idea. Despite advise from doctors not to turn to Google, I just couldn’t help it. 

A quick search through Google would tell me that 50% of biopsy patients are diagnosed with some type of cancer. Medical forums argue that this percentage is due to medical malpractice or the disadvantage of biopsy where it breaks into the cells inside to get a sample thereby potentially breaking the body’s defenses and triggering an otherwise benign lump into a real life cancer. I knew for a fact that I should not be assuming my real health condition. I knew that not everything that’s written on the internet is true. I still need to listen to the experts eventually. But I was horrified about what I’ve read. I told the doctors I’m not convinced I needed the biopsy procedure. At least not yet. I was acting out of my own instinct. I was throwing my best judgment based on what I feel physically and mentally. The doctors at Victor Potenciano Medical Center in Mandaluyong did not introduce any other alternatives even though I asked for it. It’s 2017, I could not believe there are no other alternatives. I have read about other medicines that can melt the lump inside our body. They kept telling me that a biopsy is needed in my case.

The following day, my corporate health card ran out of funds. It has a P200k limit per sickness and I have consumed every cent. Really? Where did it go? I don’t feel better and I’m far from it. But I had to make a decision to get discharged immediately otherwise, I’ll shoulder the remaining expenses on my own. It was too late though. Before I was able to finally walk out of the hospital, my excess bills have piled up. The doctors were adamant to make me stay so I had to explain to them that I could no longer afford to shoulder the excess which at the time had accumulated to almost PHP100k. I had to pay it using my personal savings because My corporate healthcard does not allow limit extensions. Despite my physicians’ opposition, I asked to get discharged without knowing the status of my lump. They were unable to provide final diagnosis due to my decision. In addition, my attending physician had me sign a waiver that basically says the hospital and their medical team are not to be held accountable in case something unprecedented happens to me. Of course, why should they care when they’re all for the money, right? It seemed to me that the hospital only cared about the business more than helping their patients in times of need. I can’t help thinking that perhaps the reason why it took me three hospitalizations for the same complaint before the doctors at VRP Medical Center finally get hold of their senses and endorsed me to undergo a chest CT scan was because they know my HMO would pay for it anyway. Three hospitalizations at VRP Medical Center and they were not able to heal me. Nothing in my condition changed. I felt robbed and betrayed by the doctors who attended to me.  Nevertheless, I paid all the bills, signed the damn waiver and went home just so it would be over.

I have been at home for three weeks now while my family raises enough money to send me back to a state hospital, most probably the Philippine General Hospital or the Philippine Lung Center. Now I need help raising money to fund my hospitalization. I can use a portion of my insurance but since I’ll be on leave without pay for God knows how long again, I’m pretty sure it won’t cover everything. I am thinking of creating a GoFundMe.org account for myself however, I don’t have many capable connections on social media so I don’t think it would work.

I wrote this article on June 12th, which is the day my country, the Philippines received its Independence from Spain. I do hope though that one of these days, a miracle —some sort of an alternative cure, would liberate me from the curse of this lump as well.

Despite the fear, I am determined to fight this disease. My family needs me because aside from the fact that I play the role of a breadwinner, they simply need me alive. I can see how painful my situation is for them especially to my mother who is 65 years old and has been fighting diabetes herself. Most importantly, I am young and still have so much dreams and hopes in life. There’s just so much things that I want to do and accomplish. I know I can make it. I hope I could find help before it’s too late.

WANNA HELP? 

For those who want to help raise funds for me, cash donations may be deposited to the following bank account details: Bank Account Name: Renante Beron / Bank of the Philippine Islands / Bank Account no: 3549-0964-16

You may also shoot me an e-mail at renante (dot) c (dot) beron (at) gmail (dot) com so I could thank and include you in my prayers.

Do you know of an organization that can help me? Are you a doctor and specializes in pulmonary care or lung cancer? Can you comment below and let me know your thoughts?

—King Ray, the Ninja

I don’t lose people, people lose me

They say that as you grow older you lose your false friends and keep the best.

LIKE THE SCATTERED SHELLS and stones by the seashore, friends come and go. But when you find the good and genuine ones, you keep them. Photo circa 2016 in Samal Island, Davao Del Norte

Understand this. I am no angel and I know I’m not the best friend anyone can ever have. But my friendship is always genuine and I have learned the hard way of choosing who to give it to. They say that as you grow older you lose your false friends and keep the best. That is true and that is not because life is unfair or whatnot. That is just how life is.

I shake my head whenever I look back to my elementary and high school days, or even my university years. I used to have a lot of people around me. They were the ones whom I shared my wildest dreams with. I laughed and cried with them. We used to roam our little hometown together; learning things together, falling and helping each other stand again. We shared our crushes and puppy loves with each other. We talked about who we lost our virginity to. We LOL’d nonstop to our dumbest decisions and mediocre experiences. Back then, I used to think of everyone as my friend. But of course, that’s not always true.

As we grow apart, each independently and quietly building their lives; some getting married and some pursuing their teenage dreams such as owning businesses or traveling the world, our common interests began to shrink. We grew distant and eventually stopped talking to each other. Falling out with our childhood friends is a normal thing that all of us go through one way or another. It wasn’t everyone’s fault. On the other hand, there are people who remain close friends no matter how different their present lives are. Lucky for them. For some of us who don’t get to keep much of our old friends, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. That’s just how life is supposed to be.

Luckily, I’ve earned new friends along the way. Some of them I’ve met while I was traveling or doing volunteer works. Most of them I’ve known from my workplace and previous companies. I love and cherish all of them.

You can say I’m good with most people. I say “most” because I don’t always look as good to everyone. Yeah but anyway, it seemed that most people find me easy to be with and they instantly grow a special fondness of me. When I ask why, they would normally tell me that I have that positive aura that makes them feel like they can trust me. Some told me I am very transparent and it means I have no pretensions in my life. I don’t care what people think of me. I’m just going to be me. Some say they see me as a brother whom they can just talk to whenever they needed someone —a shoulder to cry on. It is no surprise then that most of my friends, men and women, straight, gay, bisexual or whatnot all go to me whenever they have a problem —be it family, relationship, or even financial. Yes I’m that go to person. I always try and give them a sound and fair advise and if I can, I normally try and help them to the best of my ability.

They say some people will always have something to say against you no matter how nice you try to be.

They say some people will always have something to say against you no matter how nice you try to be. If there are people who instantly accepted and loved me, there are some who instantly hated me. With that, I can only do so much.

I had a neighbor once who seemed to be so pissed just by my mere presence. Whenever he sees me around, he would make all kinds of faces and do the silent treatment on me. And I never did anything wrong to him at all except that I was a close friend of his best-friend-turned-mortal-enemy. I mean, what did this guy expect me to do? Did he want me to stop being friends with people just because he hated them? I knew he was the typical spoiled brat. He’s one of those rich kids who came from prestigious schools who are used to getting what they want. I used to adore him and at some point, I even thought we were friends. It took me a while before I was finally able to grasp that he hated me to the point that he didn’t want anything to do with me. He even blocked me in his social media. Yes, he was that personal. When I confronted him in a good manner he said he just didn’t like me and that is all. I tried to ask why and even offered to start over again but he refused. I was in denial for a time. I couldn’t believe some people can be so heartless. What’s worse is that we belonged to the same faith, worshipped together in the same congregation and part of our church’s teachings is to love one another and forgive those who sinned against us. I have always taken those teachings by heart, letting them guide me wherever I go. There is a saying that goes like, “sometimes the nicest people you meet are covered in tattoos and sometimes the most judgmental people you meet go to church on Sundays.” Going to church does not make you a Christian. Apparently, this guy was a living example. But while he was mean and arrogant to me, I have learned to accept that he will never like me. Maybe it wasn’t his fault. Maybe that’s just how life is supposed to be. And in the process, I have learned to understand that in life, you cannot be nice to people and expect them to show the same to you in return. We are born different and made to think differently. Maturity is not using your pain to seek revenge. Maturity is learning to stop playing the victim and owning up to how your life will turn out. Maturity is putting yourself in other people’s shoes and trying to understand their situation rather than holding a grudge towards them. I have forgiven the man. It doesn’t matter if he does the same to me. It doesn’t make him a bad person. That’s just how life is supposed to be. And it feels great not to hold anything in.

I had friends who now work abroad and undoubtedly enjoying better lives. They are the people who stopped at nothing to achieve their dreams and I admire them. I am proud and happy for them. The sad thing is, as they moved to new chapters in their lives they kind of acted as if we never knew each other. They just stopped talking to me. I never took it on these innocent people though. For all I know, it could be just life being a dick, always getting in the way. 

I had friends who were extra nice to me during those times when it seemed to them like I’ve got a lot to offer. I kind of acquired that image of living the good life, buying the latest gadgets, traveling to places, and talking about the most relevant stuff like posh gym memberships, living in a high-rise condominium in the city center, and buying cars. Stuffs that they can relate to such as wine, parties, and other social climbing activities. Back then, everyone seemed to be so fond of me. They would always check on me asking where and how I am. They used to beg for a few minutes of my time for a little chitchat (catching up). They used to spam me with messages every year on my birth month to ask if I was planning to throw a mini-party. They’d also ask for “mandatory” gifts for their birthdays but never bothered to give one. Not that I fancy gifts but it is called “giving and taking.” Real friends are not dumb and insensitive to the needs of each other. Real friends also don’t need to be told of their responsibility to keep the fire burning. But these people were a shameless bunch. Their audacity to “make friends” just for gains is unbelievable.

Then I stopped meeting with them and declined birthday parties for I’ve felt it was just a fake gathering for people who don’t really like each other. I also stopped posting beautiful things on social media and watched as the invites and messages quickly fade away. It doesn’t mean I stopped living the good life or lost the means to do so, I just stopped posting about what I do or buy and where I live on social media.

Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough to achieve more in life. Maybe I should have packed my bags and worked/lived in a first world country as well so I could boast of my Ibiza, Russia and Rio de Janeiro vacations three years later. Maybe some people see me as a stagnant piece of crap and so they thought I no longer deserve a seat in their circle. Maybe they thought I’m too broke to be their friend. I’m not broke, I’m just low-key. And just because some people are not on the same path doesn’t mean they are lost.

A couple of years ago, I woke up one morning and bam! I realized the life I was living was not the life I wanted for myself all along. All of the glamour, the good life, the sweet vacations I have ever posted on Instagram and Facebook do not define who I really am. You can say I can afford all of them if I wanted to. I have a nice job that enables me to buy things that I want and go to places, but most (but not all) of the people around me only wanted me as a friend because we have the same interests. They thought I was one of them. But they were wrong. Unlike them, coming from a family who had nothing and worked hard to get to where we are, I am still very much attached to my roots and have no qualms being labeled as “poor” even though that would be a lie now. But I was more than what I buy or post on social media. I was more than the free treats I used to throw during my birthdays. I was a good friend. I will still be there for them when they no longer have those materials things they boast on social media but they wouldn’t be there when I needed them. Their friendships were all bogus, mine was genuine. 

So I began to stay away from these people. I started to drift away slowly but always cautious and nice to everyone. I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I did not want them to feel like I did not love them anymore. I do. It’s just that it was not healthy being friends with them anymore. We still have the same interests though —nice gadgets, beautiful clothes and accessories, traveling, shopping and spending. But the huge difference is that I live beyond my means. Most of them just go around splurging their money and then comes up to borrow from people (me included) when they are broke. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the act of borrowing money from others because I was also broke and had to borrow money from friends many years ago. But these people are different. Most of them are one day millionaires —or those who are rich only during paydays. They like to spend beyond their means just to please people on social media. Their mind were as corrupted as the life they lead. Again, I am no angel and I certainly do not have a “perfect life.” These are just the result of my personal observation being with these types of people for many years. I can’t blame them. Social status and prestige have always been relevant to being accepted in the society even in medieval times.

A very good article published in The New York Times by the Harvard associate professor Michael I. Norton summarizes this phenomena and argues that, “the expansion of consumer credit in the United States has allowed middle class and poor Americans to live beyond their means, masking their lack of wealth by increasing their debt. We might think that people who have “zero net worth” have nothing. But in fact, having zero net worth increasingly means owning a lot (cars, televisions, even houses) – but also owing a lot. As a result people with zero net worth, and even negative net worth, can still feel that they are living the American dream, doing “better” than their parents did while keeping up with the Joneses.”  I second the motion. While directed to Americans, the argument is true in the Philippine society as well.

They say that you are the first five people you hang out every day. I’ve realized I did not want to be associated to these types of people anymore. I’ve realized I did not want to be a part of their bogus life and fake friendships. I have proven many times that these people are only nice to me when they want something but easily disses me the moment I turn away. What’s funny is that the same type of people tells me that they accept my sexual preferences yet they are actually the same ones that condemn my lifestyle and laugh at my relationships. They never respected me at all. They were just there for me because they thought I was one of them. But I’m sorry there’s more to me than birthday treats and lavish gifts. I was all for the love and friendship.

I don’t regret my past nor the time I’ve wasted with the “wrong people.” In fact, I still value the memories I have of them. I believe there is no such thing as a “wrong person” in our life. Every single person we interacted with, even if they were genuine or not, is destined to cross our path and teach us something. We met them for a reason. We should understand that. But I could not stand staying friends with people who drag me down and talk behind my back. I could not stand the idea of a conditional friendship —that we-are-friends-because-i-get-something-from-it kinda friendship is not friendship to me at all. That’s being a leech, a parasite, a freeload, a sponge, a mooch! I’ve always despised two-faced people, because it’s hard to decide which face to slap first.

I’ve come across a beautiful article by Dennis Green on Business Insider. The title of the article is “What wearing a $6,000 Rolex for a month taught a 24-year-old about wealth and status.” And these last two paragraphs from that article stayed in my mind since.

It says, “when you’re spending this kind of cash on yourself, you should be spending it for your own enjoyment. Don’t wear a luxury watch for prestige and status because it’s not going to work. The only ones who will notice and comment on it are already experts. And if you get to talking with them and don’t know your Tourbillon from your chronograph, you’ll look silly anyway.”

“When I strapped on the Rolex, I thought it was going to change my world. It didn’t, but it did change my worldview.”

And so going back to the title of this article, I have realized I was losing friends here and there. When I discovered this truth, it struck me and caused a great pain in my heart. I cried, a lot. I cried because I was confused. Was it all my fault? Was I an asshole of a friend? I paused and assessed myself. How bad did my relationship go with these people? How irreparable is the damage I have inflicted? I couldn’t think of any grave offense I have done for these people to turn away from me. And then it all became clear. They turned away because I’ve changed. I became more and more real in the recent years. I have stopped tolerating their bullshits. I no longer entertain their gossips and no longer put up with their show. I knew their secrets and I would never tell anyone. I have even forgiven them for everything that happened. But I’d like to put a stop to the friendship simply because there was “no friendship” to begin with. Indeed, the group of friends that I have come to know was all a show. And when the music stopped, they consumed all the food and left the party without looking back. 

My circle has gotten smaller and smaller as I grow older but I’m proud to say that the ones in it are the real deal, most genuine people I have ever met. Their friendship isn’t conditional. We’re like brothers and sisters. I am most thankful to these people for they remind me that the world is still worth living for; that there are people still worthy of our friendship and trust.

As for the fake ones, let’s just say that no matter how painful, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m better off without them and vice versa. One fake friend can do more damage than five enemies, so they say. Fake people do not surprise me anymore, loyal ones do. You see a person’s true colors when you are no longer beneficial to their lives. And after all the reflections, I knew I’m not too guilty of losing people in my life. It was them who lost the friendship I have given them. It was them who broke my trust. But I have forgiven those people and I hope they forgive me too. Not that they give a fuck or two.

Here’s a popular song by Drake that proves how fake people can drag you down if you don’t let them go.

I’ve been down so long, it look like up to me

They look up to me

I got fake people showin’ fake love to me

Straight up to my face, straight up to my face

I’ve been down so long, it look like up to me

They look up to me

I got fake people showin’ fake love to me

Straight up to my face, straight up to my face

What is your personal experience with fake friends and fake people? How did it affect your views of friendship? Tell me in the comments.

—King Ray, the Ninja

I stopped going to church and my life got better

I cannot tolerate arrogant preachers for their hypocricy and audacity to claim they are living prophets of God but do not even understand the real meaning of love. Just shut the fuck up!

Three years ago, I’ve stopped going to church. Not that I’ve lost my faith in God (because my personal relationship with God is an impenetrable connection that goes way beyond religion and nothing can change that) but mostly because I have lost faith in the members of the clergy and the system that makes up the entire church. This is the very same church which I have come to love and where I was literally baptised. This is where I have decided to accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy. It took many years of prayers and contemplating in order to come up with such a decision. It took me a lot of tears and pain before I was finally able to walk away from the old facade that I used to call as my second home. But for years, I have felt sick witnessing these so-called religious people spread hatred, division and confusion among people through their blatant hypocricy and lies.

I was born in a highly devout Born-Again Christian family in a beautiful city of a hundred thousand people called Calapan, some 30 kilometres away from the famed tourist town of Puerto Galera, Philippines. Born-Again is a local denomination of the Protestant (evangelical) movement in the Philippines. As I understood it, the phrase “born again” refers to the “spiritual rebirth” due to the atonement of one’s sins following his acceptance of Christ as his own Savior and the repentance of his own wrongdoings. The bible reference can be found in the book of John 3:3-5 NIV. My parents were church workers and my sisters used to assist kids in Sunday schools. As a young man, I started serving the Lord as a Sunday school preacher and was an active organizer of my church’s Daily Vacation Bible school when I was 15 until I was 21 years old. As a member of my local congregation’s music ministry, I also sang and played instruments in countless masses and church occasions. As a small group leader, I’ve facilitated many prayer meetings and prayed with different groups of youth in many different occasions. As an outreach gospel preacher, I was part of a youth group that went to remote provinces and towns braving rivers and mountains to tell people about the word of God and also giving out religious fliers and newsletters. Having said that, I know exactly how the concept of religion and congregation work because I grew up in it and surrounded by it.

I have also been to many Christian churches —big and small, rural and metropolitan, and those what we call “little funded” and “heavily funded” ones. I have witnessed Sunday services ran by multimedia engineers (as many as twenty of them) dabbling on the keyboards of their Mac computers inside a glass-covered control room and I have attended one that is so stripped of money they can barely afford a microphone or a pulpit for their preacher. 

I have also attended star-studded services. Yes, one where Sarah G., Piolo Pascual, Christian Bautista, Daniel Matsunaga, Rachel Ann Go and the likes all seated in the front row that people find it hard to focus on the sermon because most of them are busy scrutinizing the outfit of the stars.

I have witnessed pretty much all kind of services, from the classic, serene and mostly piano organ accompanied Baptist services to the powerhouse drums-driven and concert-like Born Again praise and worships. (I loved listening to Hill Songs and Planetshakers.)

I have also seen people giving tithes of what seemed to me as a hundred thousand in cold cash and even counting the bills in their hands mid-way to the service for other members of the congregation to see (why else would they count the money there or expose how much they give to the church when they can just discreetly hand an envelope to an officer of the congregation?) Yuck!

I have watched members of the church cry buckets of tears in their prayers and during praise and worship inside the holy church only to hear them utter profanities and see them hit their children when they get home a few hours later. Are you fucking kidding me?

I have also listened to pastors who used their designated hours of sermon to talk about the politicians they support and how the members of the congregation should also vote for their candidate of choice. When did the church start to have a say in who I should vote? I find it very ridiculous. I find it “kagaguhan” (go figure) when the church start to influence members of the congregation on who they should vote and not vote. I don’t like being a puppet of my church. Nobody tells me who I should vote. That’s fucked up!

Most importantly, the church I have come to love preaches of the great love of God to mankind that He gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. And yet the church condemns LGBTQ people for being themselves. The church is blatantly and unmercifully opposing gay people for something we did not even have control about. Where is the love in that?

I remember one occassion at the local church I attended where one of our pastors (yes, we have a lot of pastors because it was a fucking corporation err they have to accomodate our growing congregation cough cough), in the middle of his homily, started blasting the LGBTQ community and how they will never get to enter the kingdom of heaven if they won’t turn themselves to “straight men and women” right away. The pastor spoke using strong words and he sounded so angry that the whole church seemed to shake at the sound of his voice while he stood there at the pulpit humiliating gay and lesbian people. After a few minutes, I heard a commotion from the front rows followed by the silhouette of two men walking past the crowds and towards the exit door. As they get near to where I was seated, their faces became clear and I could see one of them got tears flowing down his face. Both of them were tall but one of them was foreign looking —European perhaps. They held each other’s hands while they continue their stride to the exit and out of the church. We looked at the pastor who only gave a hand gesture that seemed to say “oh well. Bato-bato sa langit.” I could sense the scorn from everyone in the room but I could not tell if it was directed to the pastor or to the gay couple. But it only took a moment before another gay couple stood up from the third row and walked away. They were followed by more people, most of them alone but undoubtedly members of the gay community. A community that I also belong. They cat-walked out of the church like models in America’s Next Top Model with fierce but disappointed expressions on their faces. Some of them walked quietly with their heads down. Harmless, beautiful people who are good citizens of the country. The pastor did not tell them to stop. He just paused for awhile and then continued with his sermon. After that, the pastor ordered for silence and prayed for the sinful soul of gay people. Everyone was dumbfounded. I myself was deeply hurt by what the pastor had said. He made it sound like we chose to be gay because we wanted to have sex with every good looking guy we meet. He was so wrong. He was the most disrespectful “preacher of God” I have ever encountered and I’ve felt so miserable listening to him that day. I wanted desperately to stand up and join my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ but I did not have the guts to disrespect the pastor and my church. Yes, I could not walk out on him even if he was disrespectful of my sexual preference. Anyway, that was the last time I have ever attended a mass.

Most people will judge and even condemn me for leaving the church but we all have our different opinions and beliefs and we live by those beliefs. My personal beliefs include practicing what we preach and staying truthful to ourselves and to God. 

And so slowly and surely, I have drifted away from the church. I chose to avoid it. It is no longer helping me become a good citizen of the world. In fact, it came to a point where the teachings of the church had confused me so much that I didn’t want anything to do with it. I honestly think I am on my way to secularism but for now, I’ll leave it at that.

Most people will judge and even condemn me for leaving the church but we all have our different opinions and beliefs and we live by those beliefs. My personal beliefs include practicing what we preach and staying truthful to ourselves and to God. When we say we love God and God loves us, it means we are capable of loving everyone —regardless of their color, race, sexual preferences etc. When we say we are sons and daughters of God, we accept everyone without hesitations and we welcome them to our homes with open arms. When we say we are Christians, we are pure, honest, and kind in heart and deeds not just in public but when nobody else is looking. Sadly, most if not all members of the congregation are fake Christians who are either confused about their faith or just there for a sense of belongingness (LOL!). I cannot stand these people. I abhor their fake lives and their fake faith. I cannot tolerate arrogant preachers for their hypocricy and audacity to claim they are living prophets of God but do not even understand the real meaning of love. The LGBTQ people are harmless people and like everyone else they deserve to be treated with utmost respect and be given rights similar to what their “straight” brothers and sisters enjoy. We did not want this. We were made like this. We were born this way.

Faithwire.com and born-again Christian writer Jenna Shackelford made a point when she said in her article, “we are living in a time in which people are leaving the church frequently due, in part, to intellectual questions that are unresolved and doubts they may have, many of which seem to spring up or be nurtured in more secular environments, whether it is a social media or discussions on college campuses.” You can say I am one of those who left the church due to its primarily authoritarian structures rather than a more democratic structure. In my case, it was more than intellectual questions. It was a question of integrity and truthfulness of the congregation.

In the same article titled, “Why Katy Perry’s Rejection of Her Childhood Faith Should Concern Every Bible-Believing Christian,” Shackelford added, “we (referring to born-again Christians) should not wait for people to leave the church to realize we have a problem. We need to equip ourselves to answer questions, so that we can equip others to grow in their faith as well.” It seems to me that the church has always been ready for a rebuttal no matter what topic. The real score is whether they are being true to their goddamn selves. Are they walking the talk? The answer is no. Most of them are not. Even if they were believers. Sometimes, non-believers appear to be more Christ-like in thinking, in words and in deed. And this creates the confusion that makes good Christians leave the church.

Others may argue that I simply stepped in to the wrong congregation and that not all preachers are the same and I agree with that. I have encountered a very honest and loving congregation of true Christians. I knew a bunch of unbelievably good pastors and preachers of the Word. But this is not just about my encounter with a few congregations or some preachers. This is more about how fucked up the concept of religion is to me —how it fools most people and make them believe lies after lies in order to make a living out of them.

In the book of Romans 3:10 under the New International Version (NIV), the bible says, “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Indeed, nobody has the right to judge other people for they know nothing of the battles these people had to deal with. There is a story behind every single person; there is a reason why they are the way they are. Think about that before you judge someone. Shame on you if you are a pastor / priest who preaches of God’s love but spreads hate and bigotry and causes confusion among us. Shame on you if you are a priest who condemns homosexuality but engages in sexual relationship with another man (or woman for that matter). Shame on you and all hypocrite judgmental people who go to church on Sundays. You people should hear yourself talk. 

I am neither an atheist nor an agnostic person. An atheist do not believe in the existence of God, I believe that there is a Supreme Being who created life and everything. An agnostic individual neither believes nor disbelieves in a god or religious doctrines. I only believe that some teachings of the bible may be true and worth following but at the end of the day, the bible for all its worth is still a work of many men whose past time was to write and create stories based on their own realities and superstitious beliefs. There were no internet back then. People needed something to do. I do respect the intellectual and spiritual teachings of these writers but to claim there were divine intervention in their works, that’s another story and that’s something that has long been refuted by scholars. When it comes to the bible, I honestly take the ones that I can use in my daily life (mostly the verses about love, friendship, family and being a good person) and ignore the ones that question my own relationship and faith in God. And I do not intend to demean or argue about religion either because I believe every individual should be entitled to their own beliefs. Let me be entitled to mine.

I still pray to God every day and my faith is stronger than ever. I may not read the bible as often as before but I do carry with me the most important teachings it has ever taught me; 

1 John 3:16-18 — “16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or a sister in need but has no pity in them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words and speech but with actions and in truth.”

Proverbs 10:12 — “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongdoings.”

1 John 4:7 — “Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

Mark 12:31 — “The second is this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than this.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 — “4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails but where there are prophecies; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

Matthew 23:8 — But you are not to be called “Rabbi,” for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers.”

Luke 6:31 — “Do to others what you would have them do to you”

Religion has led this world into so much hatred that led to wars that led to divisions. Religion is still the root cause of the chaos in many parts of the world. Instead of coming to church and adhering to a certain religion, I choose to let the above teachings become the very foundation of my core values. I am no angel. I don’t claim to be an all-knowing person. I am not a perfect man either. I sin, I fall, I swear, I commit mistakes, I make bad decisions but I do try to live by these core values and try to remember them every day, wherever I go and whatever I do. 

I’m not saying people do not need religion to grow their faith but to each his own and eliminating the concept of religion in my life worked for me. To clarify my views about the bible; I agree with some of the great teachings of the bible but I must admit that most if not the rest of it are entirely irrelevant to my time and should not be justified or exaggerated by preachers in any other way just so it will appear valid and applicable to the present time. The Lord has blessed my life so far because my faith in Him is rock solid and no religion can break it. He has been my Provider and I couldn’t ask for more. With regards to the 10%, I make sure I give back to charity and the community. Not that it’s better than giving your ten percent to a corrupt church but that’s just “my way” of giving back. But I don’t need religion to tell me how to love my God when preachers, pastors, deacons and most religious people I know do not present as a good example either. Please, just admit most of you are there for the money and stop confusing people.

Have you been astray? Have you ever considered quitting religion? Did you do it? How was the experience? Tell me in the comments!

—King Ray, the Ninja

The Power of Online Bashing and How It Successfully Divided a Nation

I started questioning where my country’s democracy went wrong. Has our Constitution become too lenient already that we have come to abuse our freedom? Have we been so ruthless and egotistical for us to give up our friendships just because some people do not share the same opinion?

Modern Keyboard With Colored Social Network Buttons.

Criticism is good as long as it is constructive. A truly democratic nation should encourage differences in political and spiritual opinion among its people because freedom of expression is precisely the very essence of democracy. People of a free country are constitutionally and rightfully entitled to healthy intellectual discourses because they inspire literacy and progress. But when an act of criticism becomes harsh, unnecessary and prejudicial in nature, it becomes an attack. It becomes bashing. But what if bashing becomes so powerful even on the internet that it builds walls between people and divides an entire nation?

The Macmillan dictionary refers to bashing as either “a severe public criticism or a violent physical attack on someone, especially because of the group they belong to.” In this article, I would like to focus mainly on the power of online bashing that is motivated by bigotry and how it I think it has contributed to the demise of national solidarity among Filipinos.

Online bashing has been in existence ever since the ascent of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to popularity. To some extent, online bashing is now being seen as a factor in the rising numbers of suicide and depression cases and in fact viewed to play a big role in social unrest. But I do not remember it being seriously prevalent in the Philippines until recently. It may have started during the post Arroyo administration and enjoyed steadfast growth during the Aquino administration as more and more people become aware of current national events through sharing of any type of news deemed as “viral.” The advent of cheaper brand of smartphones also contributed to this online awakening because it enabled for everyone, even young people and the poorest of the poor to own one even if they cannot afford it —a very bad Filipino way of life where one tries to live beyond his means only to please people they do not like.

In any case, the failure of the previous administrations to provide a definite resolution to major national issues such as graft and corruption, transparency in government, poverty, unemployment, lack of better infrastructure, poor transportation system, unreasonable taxes for the rising lower middle-class, and rising prices of local commodities has led to a national frustration so bad that people took to social media to air their own.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement of his presidential candidacy in 2015 and his subsequent win as the 16th president of the Republic of the Philippines in the May 2016 election has signaled the start of a new era of online bashing in the Philippines. An era that is not only filled with blood of those that died in his war against drugs but also filled with hate and bigotry online.

Duterte’s charismatic and apparent pro-poor style aided by his choice of expletive-laden outbursts has both put the Philippines back on the map and created an international controversy that put Filipinos around the world in shame. Sometimes, I think the president, no matter how he denies it, enjoys being the center of the world’s attention.

Almost 9,000 people have lost their lives in Duterte’s war on drugs campaign, a move that sparked global outrage and criticisms from Human Rights organizations around the globe. What made it even worse is that millions of the president’s supporters have embraced his views of extrajudicial killings as an acceptable way of fighting drugs and crimes in the country. Suddenly, it is okay to kill as long as the subject is a criminal. Whatever happened to the rules of the law and due process.

In social media, Duterte trolls attack everyone who possesses a different opinion. You are automatically labeled a “yellowtard” if your opinion contradicts any wrongdoings of the president, even if he makes jokes about rape over and over again. It was like a civil war of sort, with computers, smartphones and the internet as their weapons of choice. Everyone just started attacking each other. Facebook was filled with hate comments. Friends and even some families have started unfriending each other due to conflicting political opinions. In a country where social media connection is valued as the online equal to real-life friendship, it was a heartbreaking sight to behold.

It came to a point where it became so difficult to express one’s opinion on a simple Facebook post without the risk of being bullied or unfriended. And so most of us have remained silent even when we badly wanted to say something. The brave ones were verbally attacked, their accounts either hacked or reported on biased grounds, and their lives threatened. Worst, some of them may have even suffered death because of their opinion. After all, the president’s encouragement of killing has become easy to just end someone’s life and accuse them of being a drug user or a pusher.

His staunchest supporters were given high positions in the government regardless of their qualifications and educational attainment. Celebrity supporters like Mocha Uson are allowed to say anything they like on social media without fear of being bashed themselves, for the supporters of the president exceeds in numbers with all the trolls they hired to spread online mercenaries.

During this point, I started to wonder how all the hate and bigotry of Filipinos towards their fellow Filipinos began. Most importantly, I started questioning where my country’s democracy go wrong. Has our Constitution become too lenient already that we have come to abuse our freedom? Have we been so ruthless and egotistical for us to give up our friendships just because some people do not share the same opinion? Do we feel so relieved when we let people who once meant something to us go because they do not like our president as much as we do? And do we achieve peace of mind when we lambast and threaten them online for merely exercising their rights to freedom of expression, just like what we do?

These and all that I have ever read online have stopped me completely from posting anything that would offend my friends on social media. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do especially to someone of liberal blood like me —a millennial who grew up fighting for what is right and just. However, I also had to consider that my friendships have always meant everything to me and I did not want to commit the same mistake that everyone else did —that is building walls instead of bridges.

I knew that in order for change to come, we must do our part. I have chosen to do mine by speaking up about what I believe in. Whether the current administration accept or denies it, it has played a big role in cajoling social media unrest and division in the Philippines. And whether Duterte and his supporters agree or not, democracy in this country is bruised. Where they tell the world it is now safer in the Philippines is nothing but a tale of “fake news,” just like how some of his popular supporters are good at doing.

Some people may have chosen to do their part in the nation building albeit in ways that may not always please us but attacking other people for their opinion is an attack to our constitution and our democracy. What the Philippines needs is unity and solidarity during this time when our country is slowly waging a war with China over the long disputed territorial waters in the South China Sea, our relationship with the United States and European Union allies strained and when we are still very much struggling to keep up with our ASEAN neighbors in terms of economy, education, internet speed, and even sports.

The Philippines is a very small country. It cannot afford to be constantly divided over the idiosyncrasy and arrogance of many of us. We should abandon bigotry and embrace the difference in our opinion so that our country can move forward. We should support and acknowledge the good doings of the government and speak fairly as one voice to condemn the ill ones. Let us once again work together to destroy our division and love one another.

The social media is so powerful it can be used to successfully organize a protest against a bad government policy or be a platform for peace and progress. We, being responsible citizens should know how and where to rightfully use it. The government should also revisit our existing laws against online bullying and spreading fake news that mislead people and derails the country’s progress and punish those who trolls and spread hate. The Filipino netizens should unite to bring back the true state of our democracy —one that is strong, truthful and unconditionally protects the interests of the people.

These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

—Sir T. Wyatt