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Church critic Carlos Celdran convicted for raising Damaso sign in cathedral

January 28, 2013 3:25pm

(Updated 12:39 a.m., 29 January 2013) – A Manila court has found Manila tour guide and RH advocate Carlos Celdran guilty of "offending religious feelings" for disrupting an ecumenical service at the Manila Cathedral in September 2010 in protest of the Catholic Church's opposition to the then Reproductive Health bill.
 
Celdran, then dressed as national hero Jose Rizal, held up a placard with the word “Damaso” before the Papal Nuncio, Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, several bishops and other religious, a reference to the villainous friar from Rizal's novel "Noli Me Tangere." 
 
Dressed as Jose Rizal, Celdran stood in front of the Manila Cathedral altar during a mass, holding a sign bearing the words "Damaso." Photo from All Voices
"All told, the positive declaration of the (prosecution) witnesses... (is) sufficient to satisfy the quantum of evidence needed for a criminal conviction," said the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court handling the case in its resolution.
 
Celdran was found guilty of violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code which penalizes offending religious feelings. The law has been in the books since 1930.

Article 133 punishes anyone who "in a place of worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony, shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful."
 
Celdran was sentenced to spend between two months and one year in jail. 

Celdran's case is not the first time someone was accused of violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. There have been numerous instances since the 1930's in which people have been hauled to court over the law.

An early example is the August 1934 case, in which a group of people were accused of disrupting a pabasa in La Paz, Tarlac, when they began constructing a barbed wire fence in front of the chapel where it was being held. The group was acquitted after the court ruled that the act of building the fence was, while irritating to those present, could not be seen as offensive to the Catholic faithful.

Celdran to appeal decision
 
In an interview with GMA News Online, Celdran—who is out on bail—said he wants to appeal his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which he hopes will declare the archaic law unconstitutional.

Celdran told GMA News Online in an interview that "this proves that any parish priest can put you in jail if he is offended... The laws of 'Noli' are alive and well and still working. The time of Jose Rizal is not over."

"This issue will just get bigger. It's a freedom of speech issue," Celdran said.

"I'm ready to fight, but right now I just want a halo-halo," he told GMA News Online.
 
Lawyers have begun weighing in on what could become a landmark case. "The decision is unconstitutional. It does not explain why Celdran's acts violated religious feelings; it merely narrated the events and stated that witnesses claimed they were offended," says law professor and Harvard-educated lawyer Oscar Franklin Barcelona Tan."The decision stated that an act violating religious feelings must be 'directed against religious practice or dogma or ritual for the purpose of ridicule.' However, Celdran was quoted only as saying, 'You bishops, stop involving yourself in politics,' which is a political (not a religious) message."
 

 

Celdran's camp vowed to move for the abolition of that particular section in the Revised Penal Code pertaining to offending religious feelings.

Meanwhile, In a statement signed by Carlos Conde, Asia Researcher of Human Rights Watch, the group said: "This verdict should be reversed. Nobody should be jailed for voicing out an opinion or position, especially on a subject that concerns the lives of millions of Filipino women and mothers.”

'Damaso'

In 2010, Celdran, while raising the "Damaso" sign at Manila Cathedral, screamed, "Stop getting involved in politics" before he was taken away by the police at around 4:30 p.m.

At the time, Manila Cathedral rector Msgr. Nestor Cerbo said that Celdran was guilty of "disruption of worship, which is a very sacred thing which should be given utmost respect."
 
"To make a scene and call that freedom of expression? That is pagbabastos," Cerbo had said.
 
Aside from leading popular walking tours of Manila's historical spots, Celdran was also a vocal advocate of the Reproductive Health Bill. 
 
He has used his blog, Facebook account, and Twitter account to criticize the Catholic church for its stance against artificial contraceptives and sex education. 

The RH bill was passed by Congress late last year and signed into law by President Aquino shortly before the New Year.

(An earlier version of this report stated erroneously that Celdran had disrupted a Mass in the Manila Cathedral. It was an ecumenical service.) — with a report from Howie Severino/Amanda Lago/KG/RSJ/DVM, GMA News

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