Notoriously Damaso

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

ON Sept. 30, 2010, Carlos Celdran, dressed as our national hero, Jose Rizal, walked into the Manila Cathedral, carrying a placard with the word, “Damaso.” Interrupting an ecumenical service, Celdran yelled as he was being led away, “You, bishops, don’t meddle in politics.”

Celdran was protesting the Catholic Church’s involvement in the acrimonious debates over reproductive health rights. Damaso, as all Filipinos should know, is a fictional character in Noli Me Tangere, Rizal’s acclaimed novel which depicts the abuses of Spanish friars in the Philippines.

For pulling off this theatrical stunt, Carlos Celdran has been convicted of “offending religious feelings,” a crime under Article 133 of our 83-year-old Revised Penal Code which carries a penalty of two months and 21 days minimum to one year, one month and 11 days maximum in prison.


I am aghast. First, that this law exists. Second, that such a ridiculous decision could be rendered by our judiciary. (But as the pundits have spoken on the error of this decision, I will speak no further on this matter.) Third, that anyone should be jailed for speaking their minds.

Offending religious feelings? And who determines when and how religious “feelings” are offended? This crime is as VAGUE as it gets. The law further qualifies that the act should be “notoriously offensive.”

Well, Celdran is notoriously theatrical. But notoriously offensive? He was not desecrating any religious symbol. He was not attacking any church dogma. Infuriated by the Church’s interference with the passage of laws in this country, he was simply speaking his mind. And was he lying?

The case of Carlos Celdran reminds me of the case of Carmen Campbell who famously stood up in the middle of a priest’s homily at Mobolo Parish Church in Cebu City to tell him to stop using the pulpit for politics. The congregation reportedly applauded.

Should Carmen Campbell and Carlos Celdran be jailed for speaking their minds? Have we lost our minds?

Why do we have a law penalizing actions that offend “religious feelings?” If the state must defend religious sensibilities then it should also defend secular sensibilities. I personally find the statements of many bishops offensive. What crime can I charge them with?

If the Church is going to be perpetually insulated from so-called insults from the public, who’s going to protect the public from insults coming from the Church?

If the Catholic Church was offended by Celdran’s protest, Celdran was also offended by the Church’s interference in legislation. Carmen Campbell was offended by the priest’s politicking. So are many other parishioners. But if we walk out to protest a homily we feel is offensive to us, will we also be jailed for “offending religious feelings?”

If Celdran must be jailed so should the rest of the clergy for publicly issuing so many self-righteous statements that offend public sensibilities.

Celdran could have been banned from the Manila Cathedral for life if they so wished. But jail time? Beyond notoriously offensive, that’s notoriously oppressive and notoriously Damaso.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 03, 2013.


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