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.”
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.”