Tag Archive | "Article 133"

FF Podcast 014: Carlos Celdran Convicted and Offending Religious Feelings


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This week we talk about Carlos Celdran’s conviction for the crime of “offending religious feelings.”

You may also download the episode file here.

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Against Empire: The Celdran Revolt


Celdran’s political protest challenges the hegemony of the Catholic Church, while his case tests the independence of the judiciary from the Church

Article 133: Legacy of Colonialism

In her review of Carolyn Brewer’s Holy Confrontation: Religion, Gender, and Sexuality, Barbara Watson Andaya tells us of how Spanish friars aggressively sought to replace the spiritual role of elderly women in the lives of our ancestors. During that time, women were the spiritual leaders.  Summarizing Brewer’s findings, Andaya tells us that “humiliation became a primary weapon [of Catholic friars], as young boys were recruited to locate sacred items and then urinate on them or perform other acts of desecration.” Our indigenous spiritual rituals and beliefs were replaced with “Christian rituals and symbols.” Our indigenous priestesses were called “bruja (female witch),” which we then “localized into bruha.”

If this happened today, we might say that under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code our indigenous priestesses would have a cause for action against the Catholic Church. After all, what the Catholic Church did to our ancestors was not only “notoriously offensive;” it was arrogant, violent, cruel, and inhuman. They deprived our ancestors of their own beliefs. They oppressed and dehumanized our ancestors because they are of a different civilization. They did this because they were so convinced that they had a mission to civilize the world; and for our Spanish colonizers, civilized and human meant Christian and European. The rest are savages, barbaric, non-human.  Article 133 wasn’t intended to protect our ancestor’s indigenous religions. The revised penal code is largely derived from the penal code of our Spanish colonizers. Since during that time Church and State were not separate entities, Article 133 was probably not meant to protect all religions but a legal tool to secure the hegemony of the religion of our colonial masters, who believed that Christianity is the only one true religion.

Separation of Church and Judiciary

Celdran’s simple act of protest challenges that hegemony. He deliciously used Rizal’s critique of that hegemony: Damaso. Some say that Celdran is just seeking attention.  If we are going to reduce Celdran’s action as mere attention seeking, then what is stopping us from doing the same to all acts of revolt against the Catholic Church that happened all throughout history in all nations that have been colonized by this religion? Others say that there is a “civilized” way of protesting against the Catholic Church. This view needs to be interrogated by an analysis of hegemony.

In The Conservation of “Race,” Kwame Anthony Appiah informs us that “hegemony sets the framework. It defines the dominant system of concepts, the ‘common sense,’ in terms of which social and political reality will be lived.” The “civilized” way of protesting against the hegemon is determined by the hegemon itself, who became the hegemon precisely because of having such authority to determine the norm.  So the civilized way of protesting against the Catholic Church is determined by the Catholic Church. The acceptable way of objecting to the Catholic Church is determined by the Catholic Church. If the Catholic Church says there is no acceptable way of objecting to it, then every form of objection to them will be considered  “notoriously offensive.” This danger is actually reflected in the 2013 ruling against Celdran that quoted the 1939 Supreme Court ruling on the Baes Case.

The 1939 Supreme Court ruled that, “whether or not the act complained of is offensive to the religious feelings of the Catholics, is a question of fact which must be judged only according to the feelings of the Catholics and not those of other faithful ones.” In his dissenting opinion, to which Justice Imperial concurred, Justice Laurel objected to that circular argument:

I express this opinion that offense to religious feelings should not be made to depend upon to the more ore less broad or narrow conception of any given particular religion, but should be gauged having in view the nature of the acts committed and after scrutiny of all the facts and circumstance which should be viewed through the mirror of an unbiased judicial criterion. Otherwise, the gravity or leniency of the offense would hinge on the subjective characterization of the act from the point of view of a given religious denomination or sect, and in such a case, the application of the law would be partial, and arbitrary, withal, dangerous…

Given that the Philippines is 80% Catholic, judges would most probably be Catholics. Whether or not we can get an “unbiased judicial criterion” to determine whether an action is notoriously offensive to the Catholic Church is a question of how courageous our Catholic judges are in ruling against the feelings of their fellow Catholics. Can Catholic judges say that they are not experiencing undue pressure in ruling in favour of their religious group?  This now leads us to the greater significance of the Celdran Case: If the RH Bill tested the independence of the executive and legislative branch against the Church, the Celdran Case is testing the independence of the judiciary against the Church.  Since the passage of the RH Bill into law, we are witnessing what the formal separation of Church and State means in substantive terms. Hence, there are two trials here: a legal one, which involves Celdran; and a political one, which involves the judiciary who must convince us that they are independent of the Church.

To conclude, Celdran’s political protest is a challenge to the hegemony of the Catholic Church, a legacy of Spanish imperialist ambitions. Depending on our attitude towards our colonial masters, we may view Celdran’s political action either as an insult to our masters or as a rightful defiance against our colonizers.  On the other hand, Celdran’s case tests the independence of the judiciary, who must convince us that it can come up with an unbiased judicial discretion that will determine whether or not Celdran’s action is notoriously offensive to Catholics.

Decolonizing the Philippines is an ongoing process. The separation of Church and all branches of government is a continuous struggle. Celdran’s revolt is part of that process and an embodiment of that struggle. Celdran’s action is a legitimate political protest against the oldest living imperial power in the world.

 

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Posted in Advocacy, Freedom of Expression, Politics, Religion, RH Bill, SocietyComments (1)

Article 133: Special Rights Not Equal Rights


The verdict is out and the courts have sentenced Carlos Celdran to a maximum of 1 year, one month, and 11 days in prison for having “offended religious feelings” under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. There is, however, some misunderstanding among those following the case regarding what the crime truly was. As will be clear, Article 133 privileges those with faith above those who have none, giving them special rights. And with these special rights, the faithful enjoy protection with no equal in secular society.

Apologists for Celdran’s imprisonment invariably open their arguments by saying that they are not opponents of free speech. Should Celdran have chosen a different venue, say Mendiola, he would not have been arrested. True enough, I regularly criticize the powerful Roman Catholic Church and have suffered little for it. In this country, I can make all the jokes about silly Catholic doctrines from the comfort of my home without fear of imprisonment. Article 133 specifically stipulates that the offense to religious feelings must be done inside a place of worship or during a religious ceremony.

What Celdran did was not polite, to say the least. But it did send a message, and nobody was hurt, molested, or tortured. There was no fear of clear and present danger with his placard. And nobody shielded him from the police. People like me who sit behind laptops cannot even dream of getting the reach of Celdran’s protest. And because Celdran was very effective, he was seen as a threat. The powers that be in the Church can take the tiny bloggers ranting online. After all, the old men running the Church don’t even use the Internet. They allow the nation this small freedom to appease those who think free speech is about posting half-baked Facebook commentaries. But, no. People didn’t die for the right to idle chatter. Free speech is about saying things that piss people off. Free speech is about saying things where people will hear what you say and be pissed off.

Filipino Freethinkers is a regular attendee of the Philippine LGBT Pride March that happens every December. While not an LGBT organization, FF supports the recognition of LGBTs as equal human beings. During this march, there are also regular Christian fundamentalist protesters. They shout at marchers and hold signs around the parade, saying that homosexuality is wrong. This has caused great offense to attendees, who come out to the parade to celebrate their identity, only to be shouted down in the one place they publicly proclaim their pride.

Because the parade grounds are not religious grounds, because the march is not a religious ceremony, the LGBT Pride marchers must take such offenses in stride, often making their own jokes to make light of the clearly stressful situation. LGBTs experience oppression and violence every day and choose one day of the year and one place to celebrate. They are a true minority deserving of protection. However, because they do not have politicians in their pocket and because they are decent human beings, they do not have special rights under the law to protect them from religious free speech.

It is quite ironic that those who see LGBT equality as affording “special rights” are exactly the people who have special rights under the law. While LGBTs only ask for their recognition as equal citizens, anti-Celdran apologists enjoy a unique class of speech that the non-religious cannot have. Had Celdran done the same kind of picketing the fundamentalists did but during a religious parade, he would still have been charged under Article 133. LGBTs cannot have Christian fundamentalist protesters arrested regardless of the degree of anguish they feel, which is certainly more than the attendees of the Manila Cathedral ecumenical event where Celdran protested. Witnesses even said at the trial that they had no idea what “DAMASO” meant until after the fact and that they thought Celdran was part of the activity. If they found Celdran disruptive, all they had to do was escort him out of the building. At most, they could have filed a case against him for trespassing. After all, the tax-free Manila Cathedral is private property of the Archdiocese of Manila. But, no, the CBCP flexed their muscles and showed the Philippines who was in charge. You can tweet all your criticisms, but don’t you dare make us hear them. Or else.

People have the right to peaceably assemble. People have the right to freedom of and from religion. What we ought not have a right to is unequal speech. Article 133 says that some kinds of speech are more equal than others. Article 133 is clearly archaic. It is a law that belongs to the time when the Catholic Church could do more than send people to prison. It is a law that has no place in a modern society that encourages the free exchange of ideas.

Only people who believe that their faith cannot stand on its own merit need Article 133.

Posted in Advocacy, Freedom of Expression, Religion, SecularismComments (9)

Offending Religious Feelings


Out on a P6,000 bail, Carlos Celdran is facing charges on “offending religious feelings” under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code:

Offending the religious feelings. — The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period shall be 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.

Considering what he did last Thursday, Art. 133 seems to apply. But upon closer look of the law, it appears Carlos may have a way out:

ART. 133. OFFENDING RELIGIOUS FEELINGS

ELEMENTS:

1. Acts complained of were performed –

…….a. in a place devoted to religious feelings, or

…… b. during the celebration of any religious ceremony;

2. Acts must be notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful;

3. Offender is any person; and

4. There’s a deliberate intent to hurt the feelings of the faithful, directed against religious tenet.

Carlos’ act obviously satisfied the first three elements, but possibly not the fourth. If all elements are to be present in order for the act to qualify for Art. 133, notice that Element #4 has actually two parts, namely:

1. There’s a deliberate intent to hurt the feelings of the faithful

2. Directed against religious tenet

If those two also need to be present at the same time (meaning the 4th element should be taken as a whole), then Carlos may have a way out because he did not direct his actions towards religious tenet (practice, dogma or ritual) but towards the Church’s meddling in government affairs.

Acts must be directed against religious practice or dogma or ritual for the purpose of ridicule, as mocking or scoffing or attempting to damage an object of religious veneration.

Assuming there was “deliberate intent to hurt the feelings of the faithful” (and I think even this is debatable), the act was not directed against religious practice, dogma, or ritual, but on the political practice of the CBCP. Carlos never criticized the Catholic dogma on unborn life, but rather the CBCP’s meddling in government affairs. He did not say that Humanae Vitae is antiquated or fallible; he merely shouted “Damaso,” “Stop interfering in politics,” and “Stop meddling in government.”

And with that I think Carlos should not be charged with Offending Religious Feelings.

Posted in Politics, ReligionComments (29)


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