in fairness to carlos celdran (updated)

“Wherefore, premises considered, accused Carlos Celdran is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the crime of Offending the Religious Feelings under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code and applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, there being no mitigating and aggravating circumstance, he is hereby sentenced to suffer imprisonment of two months and 21 days as minimum to one year, one month and 11 days…”

in fairness to celdran, there was a mitigating and aggravating circumstance back then that drove him to take drastic action.  two days before, september 28, the new prez spoke out unequivocally in favor of RH in a town hall meeting with expats in san francisco, earning the royal ire of the church.  on the morning of september 30, newspapers and websites screamed the shocker that the CBCP was threatening the president with excommunication for being pro-choice and endorsing artificial contraceptives.  that very afternoon celdran dramatized his outrage by staging his rizal-bearing-damaso-placard act in the manila cathedral.

the CBCP denied that excommunication threat the very next day but it’s not clear now whose mistake it was, the bishops’ or the reporters’, and the damage had been done.

it is worth noting, too, that the guilty ruling was issued as early as december 14 but kept under wraps until yesterday (how did the church swing that?).  the house of reps had just passed the RH bll on second reading the day before, december 13, but the senate was dragging its feet and sotto had yet to deliver his may-I-ask-God-the-Father-to-forgive-us-for-we-do-not-know-what-we-are-doing huling hirit speech.  perhaps the bishops were still hopeful that sotto could get the votes, and they didn’t want the celdran case messing up things.

the rest is history.  the senate voted in favor of RH on december 18. theoretically, nothing to lose na ang church, but apparently they were able to put off the announcement of the ruling again, siguro papasko kay celdran, salamat naman, but what took them so long after the holidays?  it’s practically the end of january.

i suppose cardinal tagle’s january 9 homily should have warned us that the CBCP is truly going all out to battle the RH law.  though i’m not sure that showing an apologetic celdran no mercy is winning the church any points.


  1. manuel buencamino

    Inasmuch as I can’t stand those hypocrites in the CBCP and I admire Celdran for having the courage to do what he did despite the consequences, the fact is he was found guilty of violating art 133 of the RPC. (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)

    I understand art 133 as a provision meant to prevent religious conflict. Imagine a Catholic performing acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of muslims during prayers at a mosque or of christians during services at a christian church. To me art 133 says live and let live and we can all live in peace.

    From news reports I gather that Celdran will appeal his conviction on freedom of speech and expression grounds. In effect he will ask the appeals court to rule which right has a higher priority – freedom of speech or freedom of religion. I don’t know what comes first so it will be good if the court rules on it.

    There are calls to remove art 133 from the RPC. But I think it should remain until a better alternative is found. Religious tolerance keeps religions from going to war with each other. Too many have died because of religious conflicts brought about by intolerance.

    I don’t know what Celdran should have done. I don’t know if his message would have had the same impact if he had done his protest in a public area adjacent to the church. I guess he did what he did because he felt he had to do it. And he was willing to pay the price. I just hope he was aware of the price. But hey some people give up their lives when they protest so in that context a couple of months to a year in jail is not that high a price to pay. His protest did remind the public of Damaso.

    My sympathy is with Celdran but I also think nobody has any business disrupting a religious ceremony. In a way, Celdran was being intolerant.

    • manuel buencamino

      Mr Celdran,

      Art 133 includes “in a place devoted to religious worship”. I think the Manila Cathedral qualifies as one of those places devoted to religious worship.

      Anyway I am not knocking your message. Like I posted elsewhere, “Right message. Wrong place, wrong time.”

      And I admire your courage for doing what you did despite the consequences

  2. hi carlos :) yes, i remember reading back in 2010 a piece that said it wasn’t a mass, it was some ecumenical gathering, and there was a lull, or something like that, but ive been googling and can’t find a link. instead i found what i thought was a mitigating circumstance, that is, the context of your protest. it’s not as if you did it just then out of the blue. and yes, i’m so irritated at media, mainstream and online, most of them saying you interrupted a mass, argh, can’t even be bothered to get facts straight.

  3. it being a mass in a non-issue. the law says: ” “in a place devoted to religious worship OR [my emphasis] during the celebration of any religious ceremony shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.””

    notice the “OR”. its in a church, a holy place — end of story.

    but i do think the punishment for these should be scaled down.

    • not a non-issue to me. many more of those who are offended are offended bec it was reportedly done “during mass.” kung before the mass started, or when mass was over, it would be a different story, and rouse different reactions. during mass would have been truly extreme. before or after not so.

      but what’s more telling is that the bishops themselves know it was not during a mass, and yet no one cares to straighten out media. fyi man lang. i guess they’re afraid it might weaken their case?

    • manuel buencamino

      Yes those complainants could have let it slide.

      But you know if some fanatic Catholic went to one of those little chapels of those little Mt Banahaw sects and created a disturbance while they were gathered for an ecumenical service like the enthronement of their bible, I would take the side of the sect. That’s one reason why I don’t mind having art 133 or a better version of it. I think we should just leave worshippers inside their places of worship in peace. It is nothing personal against Celdran, he just happened to be the one there.

  4. Easily, the particular law pertinent to the blog post may be dissected into four parts:

    Art. 133.
    (1) Offending the religious feelings.

    (2) The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon anyone who,

    (3a) in a place devoted to religious worship or
    (3b) during the celebration of any religious ceremony

    (4) shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.

    Nos. 1 and 2 are the title and punishment, respectively.

    No. 3a. Place of worship: Manila Cathedral

    No. 3b. Incident happened during a sharing moment in the ecumenical service. Whether it is a “religious ceremony” or not is of no matter because of the presence of No. 3a.

    No. 4, which is the crime, may take a lot of dissection: (a) religious feelings and (b) notoriously offensive.

    • Some more details on People vs Celdran:


      The 1st witness (organizer) was offended by the shouting after the silent placard raising.

      The 2nd (organizer) was offended by the “DAMASO” written on the placard. The word instilled fear on the witness whenever it was mentioned.

      The 3rd (photographer, same surname as 2nd) was offended by the whole incident. Witness was tasked to document the ecumenical service and he was stationed at the cameramen’s post.

      The 4th (overall organizer) was offended by the “intrusion of holy religious liturgical worship”.


      Witness A (companion of the accused) only recounted what happened.

      Witness B (invited guest of the Bible Society, a lawyer) was not offended at all.

      While the offensive nature of the act may be subjective and, as we can see, variable, nonetheless, Celdran’s act had offended the feelings of the four Catholic witnesses. Whether the feelings is “religious” (or “sacred”) or otherwise (like “secular”, for lack of better word to give) remains to be ascertained. Although the Supreme Court already ruled that the religious feelings of the offended party bears a lot of weight in the case, the arbitrariness and the subjectivity by the one offended may not give easy rationalization of what the offense really meant and supposed to hurt.

      The unexplainability and indistinguishable character of a religious or sacred feeling from that of a non-religious or secular feeling provides reasonable doubt in the case.

      There were three prosecution witnesses who are organizers and another one, also may be a part of the organizers as he was hired to perform a task. Were their egos hurt by the commotion that had happened because, as organizers, they need to ensure order and security in such a special event? Will it amount to being a “religious pride” or “sacred feeling”?

      How come one defense witness was not offended at all? Not only was he an invited guest by the Bible Society, he was at the time Vice-Chairman of the Bishop Businessman Conference for Human Development.

      Well, the law may be considered both vague and overbroad in this aspect as regards “religious feelings” which is actually susceptible to misinterpretation.

      Probably, a rational discussion on all the following terms must take place? If it can be done:

      – State and Church
      – Secular feelings and Religious feelings
      – Disbelief and Belief
      – Unfeeling and Feeling

  5. To recap my previous two comments: taking into consideration the “feelings” of the prosecution witnesses, the offended feelings (which undisputedly done by the accused offender in a church) may EITHER be secular or religious in nature.

    This creates doubt as to what was really felt due to vagueness and over breadth of the word “feelings”. The arbitrariness of considering only the testimony of the offended party as against another party who was not offended contributes to uncertainty.

    An offended “religious” feeling to one may not hold true to another. The feeling is subjective as in “ugliness lies in the observer”. If one is always correct and the other always wrong, in this case, either the prosecution star witness (the 4th) or the defense witness (Witness B) had borne false witness against the accused.

    In order to remove the doubt, the law (Art. 133, RPC) specifically provided that the religious feelings (NOT the non-religious one like a hurt ego!) of the offended MUST be hurt “notoriously”.

    Thus, the phrase:

    shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful

    was stipulated wherein “religious feelings” are hurt by “religious offenses”. The operational definition of such an offensive act is to perform “an act which must be DIRECTED AGAINST religious practice or dogma or ritual for the purpose of ridicule” (J. Laurel in People vs Baes).

    What the accused did was, first, a silent protest towards the clergies by raising a “Damaso” placard at the altar and, second, shouting at the clergies to stop meddling in politics when he was accosted and while being led out of the church.

    These acts were definitely NOT “directed against religious practice or dogma or ritual for the purpose of ridicule”.

    The standing up in front armed with a “Damaso” placard is a sign of discourtesy and disrespect. Any Catholic will be ordinarily offended; disrespected by the impolite act. Religious feeling is not necessarily involved. It is a different matter when the accused stood up in front and then waved a sign containing words to stop praying and bearing slogans of heresy.

    The “Damaso” act is political name-calling and “being a Damaso” is certainly not a religious practice or dogma or ritual.

    The shouting is also a sign of discourtesy and disrespect. Any Catholic will be ordinarily offended; disrespected by the impolite act. Religious feeling is not necessarily involved. It is a different matter when the accused shouted an invective and also shouted heretical speeches.

    The “Stop meddling in politics” act is sending a political message and “meddling in politics” is likewise not a religious practice or dogma or ritual.

    If the prosecution admitted that “being a Damaso” and “meddling in politics” are religious practices or dogmas or rituals and the prosecution presented (an) expert witness(es) to prove it, then the accused must be imprisoned under Art. 133 of the RPC for attacking or going against such religious practices, dogmas, or rituals.

    Why does one wonder why the accused, who is still enjoying the presumption of innocence until final conviction at present, stands to be punished with a harsh penalty?

    It is because the crime imputed is a grave one which the accused did not commit.

    • @bycas :) Objectively, since the intention was not religious but political, you are correct no crime has been committed. Subjectively, since the intrusion was in a place of worship covered by the law, the offended parties have the right to be respected but not a penalty against a non-existent crime.

      • Thanks, @joji.


        Over at raissaroblesdotcom, @Cha said:

        To my mind however, no one has yet explained satisfactorily why Celdran’s actions (while not acceptable) are in fact, notoriously offensive to religious feelings.

        There’s no denying that Carlos Celdran did a bad thing. But to slap on him Art. 133, was it right?

        Judge Bermejo was expected to elucidate on “religious feelings” and “notoriously offensive” which J. Laurel said is part of the second element of the crime in Art. 133 of the RPC. That’s why when news broke of the conviction I asked loudly for the Decision in black and white (Thanks again, @Martial Bonifacio for pointing me to a GMA News containing it.).

        Judge Bermejo failed to explain it in his decision. Nonetheless, my reading of the case led to my analysis in the previous thread on Prof. Gutierrez’s take on the “unconstitutionality” of Art. 133.

        The ego of the four prosecution witnesses, all organizers, may have been hurt by Celdran’s acts because they were tasked to ensure order and security of the event. Besides, if it will be construed as “religious feelings”, it will be subjective and arbitrary on the four prosecution witnesses to say so.

        It will not matter then what the accused offender Celdran did or what his intent was…just as long as the four “faithfuls” were offended by those actions the crime was already committed. And jurisprudence says so.

        But what Judge Bermejo, and jurisprudence for that matter, is not considering is that there are other Catholic “faithfuls” present when Celdran did his protest action. Atty. Monsod testified he was not offended. I believe Fr. Alunday and Atty. Monsod are telling the truth because it will be perjury to do that AND, most importantly, it will be mortal sin to bear false witness to a neighbor.

        The thin line of “religious feelings” is to judge it also by “religious” means…by dissecting Celdran’s actions into wrongdoings against a SECULAR (or political) situation or a SACRED (or religious) situation. The law says that the crime of OFFENDING RELIGIOUS FEELINGS is to perform an act which is “notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful”.

        Religious feelings are ONLY offended by religious crimes. It is because it is against the Constitution for someone to criticize, to attack, or to ridicule, or whatever, a Religion. The Right to Worship is what is telling us by Art. 133. Celdran did not attack or ridicule such right.

        I believe Celdran was convicted on a “religious” crime for his “political” action.

        I believe he will be crucified because of vainglorious feelings NOT a religious one.

        • meanwhile, does the church kaya realize how much they offend churchgoers from the 7 out of 10 pinoys who favor RH whenever they take to the pulpit DURING MASS to inveigh against RH? i know of many, women lalo na, who have just stopped going to mass, because they we are sooooo notoriously offended!

          • wow, this is actually a good test case for this law.

            accrding to jurisprudence, it is not necessary that church authorities are offended.

            from what i understand, anyone who is offended can, theoretically, file suit against anyone.

  6. Even in Europe and other parts of US,one can feel empty pews of local Catholic churches are being occupied by expatriate workers. Some even mass services are assisted (run) by our kababayan,specially in Italy. While this is a sign of the decline of the influence of Catholic church on the life of progressive societies, in our case, the Church must radically transform itself as the leader of progressive thought (EMPOWERMENT OF THE POOR & tHE and not its impediment.

  7. Again, I believe Celdran was convicted on a “religious” crime for his “political” action

    Political, not religious

    But how can Celdran be irreligious when his intent was merely to be impolitic? In other words, what we have here is not religious speech. It is political to the core. His intent was to protest the clergy’s opposition to the then reproductive health bill. His explicit message was that the Church should keep its hands off secular politics and respect the constitutional wall of separation. His symbolism, the bowler hat and funereal suit, came from Jose Rizal, and Damaso is from Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” that all students are required by law to read.

    The Catholic clergy  act like a political party when they disagree with officials elected by the people, and then ask to be protected like a religion when the people disagree disagreeably. They shouldn’t have their cake and eat it, too.

    They have used the pulpit to lobby against the RH bill that they dislike, citing biblical and papal teachings. But when they preach to captive audiences during Sunday Mass, I know many churchgoers—myself included—who feel gravely offended at the intrusion into their contemplative space, however urbane and civilized the assault. Yet for me, the solution is merely to suffer the officious proselytizer, not to jail him.

    Two strands

    This brings us to the other approach, namely, constitutional law. There are two strands to the legal defenses for Celdran. The first is criminal law, to show how the “elements” of the crime are not present. It wasn’t “notoriously offensive” since the prosecution witnesses themselves initially thought it was innocuous at worst. It didn’t offend religious dogma, nor did it intrude into the sacrament of the Mass.

    And surely, if the Catholic Church had been offended, then why has its highest officialdom deliberately stayed away from the case? After all, if on RH the clergy has positioned itself as the sole interpreter of what is religiously correct, shouldn’t the court take its bearings from them as the true interpreter of what is religiously offensive?

    The second strand is constitutional law, for the court to strike down the specific provision because it privileges the religious over the secular. Professors Harry Roque and Florin Hilbay have compared this law to lese majeste (that punishes disrespect for the King as “God’s temporal embodiment,” says Hilbay) and which was thrown out by our courts during the American period.

    It creates double standards that protect the religious but not the secular from those who disagree with them. If the shoe were on the other foot and, for instance, the Filipino Freethinkers felt affronted by a religious sect, can they file criminal cases against the sect? That is the double standard that offends two of the most important clauses in our Constitution. The Equal Protection clause ensures equal treatment to all and prevents the privileging of religious over secular belief. The Non-Establishment clause bars the use of governmental power to support religion, of allowing a church to rely upon the sword of Caesar to do its work.

    The preceding was an excerpt from:

    Missing the forest as well as the trees
    By Raul C. Pangalangan
    Philippine Daily Inquirer
    11:55 pm | Friday, February 8th, 2013

  8. And again, I always believe that Freedom of Expression protects even offensive mimes, speakers, and writers as I wrote in raissaroblesdotcom.

    Raul Pangalangan said in his PDI column February 8, 2013 “Publisher’s Note” (already linked above) as takeaway message in the last part:

    Finally, many commentators, before they defend Celdran, would first lament his irreverence. When it comes to freedom of speech, irreverence is irrelevant. Nice speech doesn’t need constitutional protection. Only offensive speech does. Chairman Mao said: “A revolution is not a dinner party … it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.” Given the deep injustices that the Damaso caper protested, including dark episodes in the Catholic Church’s own history, Celdran’s rant was far too genteel and civilized, and only exposes the gap between the worship that is performed in the temples and the transformative faith that we must live out in our lives.

    Emphasis mine.

    While Celdran made an offensive act, it is very far from being a religious offense (a notorious offense to the feelings of the faithful). And such an act was protected mime and speech.