The RH Bill in the Philippines is such a polarizing topic. However, this post is not about whether you agree with it or not. Nor is it a debate about secular vs. non-secular governments. We all have different opinions on that. Instead, I want to focus on the latest story about the conviction of Carlos Celdran by Judge Juan Bermejo Jr.
To recap, here’s an excerpt from Carlos Celdran’s Wikipedia page:
On September 30, 2010, Carlos Celdran staged a protest action against Church opposition to the reproductive health bill. Dressed as Jose Rizal, Celdran entered Manila Cathedral during a mass, carrying a sign and shouting “Stop getting involved in politics!” before he was taken away by the police.
(Photo Credit: gmanetwork.com)
However, there seems to be a dispute on what exactly happened and how back in 2010. Carlos tweeted below that it wasn’t a mass, and one of Carlos’ followers (@Simply_Clinton) also tweeted that it was an ecumenical service.
So, here is how I see things. I think the key to understanding and dissecting the issue is asking the right questions. Hence, I started my post setting the context that it is not about whether you support RH Bill or not, or whether the church should meddle with the affairs of the state. These are both valid questions, and in fact, should be the same questions that lawmakers and citizens alike should really ask when making a stance or decision. But, I am going to leave those topics to another post and instead focus on Carlos Celdran’s conviction. I am not a law practitioner, so I may not have full understanding of the intricacies of the law. But I consider myself fairly literate and I try to think things logically.
In my mind, here are the right questions I think we should ask. By the way, the responses are my opinions only, and I understand that some might beg to differ. I encourage you to rebut my opinions though, but please be respectful. We are a civil society so let us treat each other with respect. And if you are a lawmaker/law practitioner who can shed more wisdom, I welcome your thoughts too.
1) Does Carlos have the right to stage a protest to express his opinion?
Yes. I believe in freedom of expression. I believe it is a universal right that democratic societies should support and tolerate. Imagine if we live in a world where there is no way to express an opinion, and in fact those places exist! There is so much repression in those societies and there’s also a correlation with other basic rights being taken away from people in those environments as well, which makes things even worse.
2) Was Carlos guilty of violating Penal Code Article 133 (Offending Religious Feelings)?
Maybe. However, this is purely from a point of view of interpreting what we assume is already logical and just, and not questioning whether the provision makes sense or not. Does that make sense? In other words, this is only based on the thought that “hey let’s compare the actions of the accused to what is written in the book,” and not really whether the book is rubbish or not (which is question #3), so it is purely from an execution standpoint.
Also, I based this on how the code is defined as “imposed upon anyone who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.”
3) Does Penal Code Article 133 make sense?
I don’t think so, because any action can be interpreted by church leaders as “offensive to feelings of the faithful.” If I say something against church leaders on a blog or a newspaper article and that offends them, does that mean I am guilty of the offense too? I don’t think so, otherwise it contradicts against freedom of expression. In my opinion, Article 132 makes more sense, which talks about “interruption of religious worship,” which I think Carlos may be more guilty of, assuming the media story is correct that he staged his protest inside Manila Cathedral during a church service. It doesn’t really matter if it was a mass or ecumenical service I think, but the whole shouting thing, if true, may be done inappropriately.
The fact of the matter is, I think Carlos’ protest was done at the wrong place. I fully support the idea of protesting, let’s say if he did it outside, it would have been completely fine, but if it was true that it was inside the church then Carlos might have crossed the boundaries because church people have the right to practice religion too, without disruption or interruption from anyone who contradicts with the beliefs.
The other thing that is slightly messed up with the code is, it includes both offense/action (i.e. offending the feelings) and punishment (The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum), which shouldn’t be the case. Is that how the entire Penal Code is written? Hmm, if that’s the case, then I think we really need the lawmakers to take a look at how these laws are written. Wasn’t this a derivative of rules back in the Spanish era anyway?
4) So what is Carlos guilty of (or should be guilty of)?
At minimum, I’d say something along the lines of “disorderly conduct” or “disturbing the peace” if those offenses exist in the Philippine code (sorry but my legal data reference is limited). But hey, I try to approach this from a common sense standpoint, which I think should be the basis of the law too, aside from, of course things like protecting the lives of people and respecting basic human rights.
5) Was the punishment/sentence of jail between 2 months and 1 year justified?
No. The punishment is way too harsh. Assuming he is guilty of “interruption of religious worship,” at minimum it should just be a misdemeanor so something like fines would be a reasonable penalty. But what do I know? I am just an average person who likes to eat sushi and talks about computers.
Thanks for reading. Again, I want to emphasize that this is my personal opinion only, so please pardon me for some inaccuracies on how enactment of law works.
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