MANILA, Philippines—The Metropolitan Trial Court found tour guide and Reproductive Health advocate Carlos Celdran guilty of offending religious feeling under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code.
Based on the ruling issued by MeTC Branch 4 Judge Juan Bermejo Jr., Celdran is meted with an indeterminate sentence of 2 months and 21 days of imprisonment to a maximum of one year, 1 month and 11 days of imprisonment.
“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…” the MeTC Branch 4 said in its ruling.
The lower court gave credence to the testimony of witnesses saying “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 case stemmed from the complaint of violation of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code filed by Monsignor Nestor Cerbo of the Manila Cathedral.
Article 133 punishes those 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.”
On Sept. 30, 2010, Celdran staged a protest, where, dressed as the Filipino national hero Jose Rizal, he shouted inside Manila Cathedral that the church should stop meddling in government affairs while holding a “Damaso” sign referring to “Padre Damaso,” the antagonist priest in Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere.
Celdran said he would appeal against the court’s decision, describing the authorities’ use of the little-known and rarely used law as a threat to freedom of speech.
“I am calm but I am going to fight this till the end,” Celdran said in a statement posted on social media alongside a copy of the court’s decision. Celdran remains free on bail, pending his appeal.
International rights monitor Human Rights Watch said it was alarmed by the use of an “archaic” law to prosecute Celdran.
“This is a setback for free speech in the Philippines, which prides itself on being a democracy,” Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Carlos Conde said in a statement.
The proposed law that Celdran spoke out in favor of during his protest was eventually approved by Congress last year and came into effect on January 17.
The law requires government health centers to hand out free condoms and birth control pills, benefiting tens of millions of the country’s poor who would not otherwise be able to afford or have access to them.
It also mandates that sex education be taught in schools.
Catholic Church groups have filed petitions with the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn the law.
About 80 percent of the Philippines’ 100 million people are Catholic, a legacy of Spanish colonial rule that ended in the late 1800s, and the church remains one of the nation’s most powerful institutions.
Officials at the court that handed down the verdict were not immediately available to comment. With a report from AFP