HRW ‘alarmed’ by court ruling on Carlos Celdran case

United States-based human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed the decision of a Manila judge finding reproductive health rights advocate Carlos Celdran guilty of violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) which penalizes actions that “offend religious feelings.”

Celdran is facing imprisonment of up to a year after Pairing Judge Juan O. Bermejo Jr. of the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court ruled that he committed a crime when he disturbed a mass at the Manila Cathedral last September 2010 by raising a “Damaso” placard while dressed up like Jose Rizal.

Celdran’s camp said it will appeal the ruling before the Supreme Court. Article 133 of the RPC penalizes “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.”

carlos celdran guilty
Art critic and RH supporter Carlos Celdran was found guilty of “offending” the Catholic Church (credits: Red Tani)

HRW’s Asia Researcher Carlos Conde hit the court ruling as a “setback for free speech in the Philippines.” He added: “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.” Conde likewise called for reforms to the “archaic” RPC, saying that some of its provisions can be misused and utilized for malicious prosecution.

Article 133 – precedent from 1939

The Supreme Court tackled a case involving Article 133 in 1939. In People of the Philippines vs. Baes (click this link to read the decision), Jose Baes, a parish priest of a Catholic church in Lumban, Laguna claimed that he got offended after a funeral procession of a non-Catholic passed by his churchyard. The High Court believed Baes’ story that he allowed the funeral procession to pass through his territory after he was subjected to “force and threats of physical violence.”

Then SC Justice (and future President) Jose P. Laurel led the dissent to the Court’s 1939 ruling. He wrote: “I express the opinion that offense to religious feelings should not be made to depend upon the more or 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.”

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Mark Pere Madrona

The Filipino Scribe (TFS) is managed by Mark Pere Madrona, a multi-awarded writer and licensed professional teacher from the Philippines. Mr. Madrona earned his master’s degree in history from the University of the Philippines-Diliman last 2020. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in journalism cum laude from the same university back in 2010. His area of interests includes Philippine journalism, history, and politics as well as social media. Know more about him here:

7 thoughts on “HRW ‘alarmed’ by court ruling on Carlos Celdran case

  1. ACT NO. 3815
    8 DECEMBER 1930


    SECTION FOUR. — Crimes against religious worship

    Art. 132. Interruption of religious worship. — The penalty of prison correctional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon any public officer or employee who shall prevent or disturb the ceremonies or manifestations of any religion.
    If the crime shall have been committed with violence or threats, the penalty shall be prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods.

    Art. 133. Offending the religious feelings. — 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.


    First and foremost, I have nothing against Carlos Celdran. I personally admire him for his passion and dedication on all of his advocacy.

    Yesterday, he was sentenced by Judge Juan Bermejo Jr. of the Manila MTC Branch 4, “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of the crime of “offending religious feelings” under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code.

    This was the result of a case filed against him by the Rector of the Manila Cathedral, Msgr. Cerbo, after his stint on an Ecumenical Service last 30 September 2012 inside the Cathedral where he, dressed-up like national hero Jose Rizal, went near the altar, raised a placard with the word “Damaso” above his head then shouted “Stop getting involved in politics!” lambasting the local Catholic Church for interfering in the affairs of the State, particularly in the Church’s pursuit against the passage of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill or the Republic Act 10354.

    As the news of his conviction spread throughout every means, many argue that this is a suppression of Freedom of Speech and that the Catholic Church is just being vindictive because of his advocacy of the RH Bill which was just passed into law.

    But for me, the core of the issue is, did he violate the law?… sad to say, yes.

    Should he serve time for his violation of the law? yes. Why?

    Art. 133 is not solely for Catholics, it protects all religious denominations of their right to practice and conduct their liturgical services w/o being offensively interfered.

    What if someone who is totally against Same Sex Marriage did the same stint as Carlos on an LGBTQ Church at the middle of a same sex marriage with a placard lambasting GLBTQs, I guess everyone will feel that what that person did was totally uncalled for, offended their feelings, and disrespected their faith. I assume that one of those present or the minister would recourse to legal means so that this instances would not happen again.

    Or what if this scenario happened on a Mosque, where someone again did the same stint as Carlos and placed a placard lambasting Muslims. The same feeling of offense will arise from those present and would seek justice for the disrespect done. Thank goodness the Sharia law is not observed on our country or else, that person would have a greater punishment.

    The freedom of speech, enshrined in the Philippine Constitution, Article III, Section 4 of the Bill of Rights, stipulates that: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

    Art. 133 does not abridge Sec. 4 and compliments Sec. 5’s provision that states “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.”

    Should the majority of the Filipino People feels that the Law is no longer adequate in protecting our rights as a citizenry and as an individual, the Law can be repealed through legislation by making our voices heard by our elected legislators in both Senate and House of Representatives.

    If Carlos did his stint outside the Cathedral, I’m sure that what he did was protected by the Bill of Rights and that the Catholic Church could not file a case against him nor would Mayor Lim has a right to have him arrested, and we will not have him be set an example for this provision of the law.

  2. Celdran will appeal to the Supreme Court? Is he sure of what he is doing? It will be dismissed most probably for his case is not one of trancsendental importance.

    He should file first in the RTC of manila and observe the hierarchy of courts.

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