Carlos Celdran gets jail term for offending priests

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Monday, January 28, 2013

MANILA (Updated) -- A Metropolitan Trial Court found Manila’s most popular tour guide, Carlos Celdran, guilty of "offending religious feelings" and sentenced him to suffer two months to not more than a year behind bars.

Celdran hogged the limelight in September 2010 when he entered the Manila Cathedral and went near the altar and raised a placard with the word “Damaso,” who is a villainous character in Jose Rizal’s acclaimed novel “Noli Me Tangere.”

He then lambasted the Church for interfering in the affairs of the State, particularly in its pursuit of the passage of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill or the Republic Act 10354.

The measure has since been enacted into a law, which is still facing opposition before the Supreme Court over its alleged unconstitutionality.

In a decision penned by Judge Juan Bermejo Jr. of the Manila MTC branch 4, the court found Celdran “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of the crime of offending religious feelings under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code.

There being no mitigating and aggravating circumstance, Celdran was sentenced to suffer imprisonment of two months and 21 days as minimum, to one year, one month and 11 days as maximum jail time.

The trial court gave merit to the testimony of witnesses who were present during the mass and were affronted by Celdran’s actions.

“All told, the positive declaration of the witnesses for the prosecution and the circumstances surrounding the incident are sufficient to satisfy the quantum of evidence needed for a criminal conviction,” the court ruled in its December 14, 2012 decision, but which was only received by Celdran on Monday.

To recall, it was Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, who was among those hearing mass, who ordered the RH bill advocate’s immediate arrest. However, the complaint was filed in court by Monsignor Nestor Cerbo, rector of the Manila Cathedral.

Celdran’s lawyer Marlon Manuel said the decision of the MTC is not yet final, and that they will appeal its ruling soon. He also said his client already posted bail for his temporary liberty.

Despite the court’s adverse ruling, Celdran said he does not feel any remorse for what he did, considering that the bill was already passed into a law.

The Archdiocese of Manila (RCAM) has refused to comment on the reported conviction of Celdran as they have not received a copy of the Manila court’s order.

“For as long as we have not received a copy of the ruling, we could not issue a comment,” said Peachy Yamsuan, head of the RCAM Office of Communications.

For his part, Manila Cathedral rector Monsignor Nestor Cerbo said he is not authorized to issue a comment.

A representative from non-government Human Rights Watch defended Celdran, calling the decision a setback for free speech in a democratic country like the Philippines.

“This verdict should be reversed. Nobody should be jailed for voicing out an opinion or position, especially on a subject that concerns the lives of millions of Filipino women and mothers,” said Carlos Conde, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

He said the government should ensure that pro-reproductive rights activists like Celdran are not targeted using the Revised Penal Code.

"This case shows the potential for misuse and malicious prosecution and hence the need for urgent reform to this provision of the code," he said. (JCV/Virgil Lopez/FP/Sunnex)

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