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