Jail for Filipino activist who offended religious feelings

Manila Archdiocese said the church did not pursue any legal case against Carlos Celdran
Jail for Filipino activist who offended religious feelings

Filipino activist Carlos Celdran posted a selfie on his Facebook page after the Philippine Supreme Court handed a decision convicting him of offending religious feelings. (Photo from Carlos Celdran's Facebook account)

The Philippine Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of an activist who offended religious feelings by staging a protest inside Manila Cathedral in 2010.

The court sentenced Manila tour guide and cultural activist Carlos Celdran to serve a minimum prison term of two months and 21 days and a maximum term of one year, one month and 11 days.

In 2010, Celdran took church officials by surprise when he entered the cathedral during a Mass and raised a placard with the word "Damaso" referring to the fictional character Padre Damaso from national hero Jose Rizal's novel Noli me Tangere, which tells about the abuses of Spanish friars.

The activist was protesting the Catholic Church's alleged interference in the passage of the reproductive health bill then pending in Congress.

In 2012, a Manila court found Celdran guilty of offending religious feelings. The verdict was affirmed in August 2013 and by the Court of Appeals in December last year.

In a ruling released on Aug. 7, the Supreme Court dismissed Celdran's petition seeking to reverse the Court of Appeals' ruling.

"We agree with the [Court of Appeals] in finding that the acts of the petitioner were meant to mock, insult and ridicule those clergy whose beliefs and principled were diametrically opposed to his own," read the Supreme Court decision.

The court said Celdran failed to present evidence to show that the lower courts erred in their rulings.

In his petition filed in October 2015, the activist asked the Supreme Court to decriminalize the offense under the country's Revised Penal Code by declaring it unconstitutional.

Article 133 of the Penal Code 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."

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Manila said Celdran's case was up to the government.

Father Roy Bellen of the Archdiocesan Office of Communication said the archdiocese did not pursue any legal case against Celdran.

"Although there was an initial complaint made to make the authorities aware of the incident and that they may help prevent such situation to take place again, there was never any legal move from the part of the archdiocese," said Father Bellen.

"We do not say that the archdiocese is pleased [with the court decision] simply because a person has been convicted," he said, adding that the church has always desired the good of persons and institutions.

"We are not the only institution with such desire. I am sure the government also works for similar good," said Father Bellen. "We leave to [the government] the tasks that are properly theirs, especially in implementing the law, so long as the rights and dignity of a person are respected." 

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In a post on his Twitter account, Celdran said: "It's come to pass. My appeal in the Supreme Court has been denied and my sentence is upheld."

In 2015, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila said Celdran has been forgiven, adding that "as far as the church is concerned, it is over."

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