The woman who lit the fire – Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS)Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS)

As Vince Lombardi puts it, the achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.

Lighting the fire has never been an easy task to accomplish. You have to endure the heat, before enjoying the light. You have to keep the fire aflame by having strong perseverance and continuing determination. How long the fire remains depends on how determined the one who protects it.

Same goes with how an organization works. If a leader doesn’t convey passion and intensity towards it, then there will be no passion and intensity within it.

In the Philippines, when atheism was not making a big boom, critical thought seemed to have been declining to below zero, logic was not a prevalent subject, and ignorance was taking the large step, nobody was taking action to dismantle illiteracy. Although books, Science classes, and academicians were in a large scale, still, the number of individuals walking the brave road is still in its low level.

Good thing, there is a woman whose great influential prowess dawned a now internationally recognized organization, the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS), named Marissa Torres Langseth. A woman who all her life has been fighting for the extirpation of an inescapable human gaffe and profound public ignorance hiding behind a cloak called atheism/humanism.

Who is she and why did she found such an organization?


Marissa Langseth, called by her acquaintances and colleagues as “Ms. M”, is a woman of bravery, compassion and intelligence. On top of that, she is a woman of humility who does not act as boss but as a leader. The line between a boss and a leader can be drawn bigger than expected. A leader could be a boss or a boss could be a leader or it could be the complete opposite where a leader is not a boss, nor is a boss a leader. While boss orders his followers to take the road, leader accompanies his followers on how to take the road. Often times, or always, Ms. M acts as the latter more than the former, which in turn became instrumental to making her organization prosperous and uncannily successful.

She established PATAS in February 14, 2011 which initially aimed to be an agent of social awareness and public understanding concerning non-belief. This organization has taken its wings too far by performing several activities through its international brand. The organization is committed to replacing traditional falsity with rational and secular explanations to social difficulties, grounded in the lack of belief in the supernatural.

Ms. M is an atheist and philanthropist who enjoys her married life in the United States of America. She works in one of the biggest companies in the USA,  same country as a consultant and a medical practitioner, happily married to a Protestant  since March 31, 1996. She envisions an organization that can make a difference one community at a time. By representing the PATAS organization in various Humanist associations, Ms. M has established multiple international bonds and given the society its global acknowledgment. These international bonds include the American Humanist Organization (AHA), International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), Atheist Alliance International (AAI), to cite a few more.

In addition, the construction of the local PATAS libraries and international offices is greatly attributable to her dedication of making her organization a success, a huge reality. She donated books and funded personally the establishment of the libraries, which now cater to the atheist minority bereft of resources to buy books.

Ms. M has been spending her personal funds for the activities and undertakings of the said organization. These activities include the humanistic endeavors, coming out  campaigns, be it as an atheist or a homosexual, and charity efforts, say, feeding programs, to help those who are in need. Also, activities for the introduction of atheism in the country are mostly personally funded by Ms. M, with the collaborative effort of the above mentioned international communities.

One of the many remarkable undertakings of her organization is the very first atheist/agnostic convention in the South East Asia, which was held in Manila, Philippines, in Bayview Plaza Hotel in United Nations Avenue under the ameliorative assistance of Ms. M herself, AAI through the kindness of its president, Tanya Smith, and IHEU through the benevolence of Roar Johnsen. Other major international societies were American Atheists Inc., and Institute for Science Human Values (ISHV). The convention was a huge accomplishment with 180 participants from all over the world, most of whom from Manila.  Some visitors came from Davao, Cebu and Iloilo while others, from Bicol region and Baguio took the bus for 8 to 12 hours just to attend the said convention. The convention came out as a revolutionary, radical crusade to do away with religion and dogma, something that the organization initially stood for.

The convention was covered by 2 major television news networks in the Philippines: ABS-CBN (Alto Broadcasting System, Chronicle Broadcasting Network) and GMA (Global Media Arts) news. ABS-CBN was there from 7 A.M. to 12 P.M., however unfortunately, none was aired since the owner is religious. The other news network, GMA, aired the convention for four times, featuring interview from John Paraiso, who then was the president of PATAS.

Another feather to its cap, and another first, is the Asia Humanism Conference, with its theme, Combating Injustice: Humanist Approach for Disadvantaged or Marginalized Youth in Asia , held at the DepEd Ecotech Center, Cebu City on June 21 to June 23, 2013, sponsored by Ms. Marissa Langseth herself, with her organization’s  international affiliate, International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organization (IHEYO). The conference was conducted to show that humanism is a positive ground for altruism and benevolence through different talks and experiences shared. Furthermore, it was conducted to showcase how learning about Humanism can be a more ethical choice rather than subscribing to any religious movement. The conference worked in trying to deliver the message that to believe in humans and their capability to do good things is a more logical stand than to look up to the heavens and pray for good things to happen. The conference focused on major issues including women’s rights, matters regarding the LGBTQIA’s, and the modern roadblocks to achieving Humanism.

But sometimes, you get tired protecting the fire because of too much disturbance, and you have to let someone protect it for you.

The woman who started it all is now vacating her post to give a bigger road for her health and her marriage.

Ms. M is scheduled to retire as the Founding Chairwoman of PATAS in 2015 but was moved in January 2014 due to health and personal issues.

However, she said she would still continue her philanthropy to support her scholars and focus more on her work as a medical practitioner and consultant in the US.

PATAS waits for her decision to come back again soon. It wishes her the best in life and it hopes she still continues to help those who need one. She may be leaving but her legacies won’t.

Thank you, Ms. M.

(Article made by Aljohn de Leon on Nov. 2013)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *