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Philippine senator wants end to blasphemy punishments

Provision in penal code is a threat to the right of freedom of expression, Senator Leila de Lima says
Philippine senator wants end to blasphemy punishments

A file image of Philippine Senator Leila de Lima. (Photo by Roy Lagarde) 

Published: August 07, 2019 03:32 AM GMT
Updated: August 07, 2019 03:32 AM GMT

A Philippine senator is seeking the repeal of a provision in the country's penal code that punishes the crime of "offending religious feelings" through words and actions.

According to Senator Leila de Lima the "archaic" provision could violate an individual's constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.

"Freedom of expression, which is a fundamental human right, is indispensable in any democratic society," said the senator.

She said Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code also violates the Philippine Constitution's "non-establishment clause" and is "already obsolete."

Section 4, Article 133 of the code states that anyone who performs acts "offensive to the feelings of the faithful" in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony can be imprisoned.

De Lima pointed to the case of cultural activist Carlos Celdran, who is believed to be the only person in the Philippines to be convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in the modern era for blasphemy.

The court sentenced Celdran in 2018 to up to one year, one month and 11 days.

It stemmed from a 2010 incident in which Celdran entered the Manila 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 against the Catholic Church's alleged interference in the passage of the reproductive health bill then pending in Congress.

"While there may be basis for an action for damages against Mr Celdran, Article 133 of the [code] should no longer be considered a crime," said De Lima.

The senator noted that even the Office of the Solicitor-General itself submitted to the Supreme Court that Article 133 of the code should be declared unconstitutional because it is "simultaneously over broad and void for vagueness."

The opposition senator noted that the United Nations Human Rights Committee has emphasized that "freedom of thought and freedom of conscience are protected equally with the freedom of religion and belief and that these freedoms are non-derogable, even in times of public emergency."

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