The Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld the conviction of tour guide and reproductive health advocate Carlos Celdran for the crime of offending religious feelings over the “Padre Damaso” incident during a mass at the Manila Cathedral in 2010.
In a 23-page decision, the 12th Division of the appellate court dismissed the petition of Celdran seeking the reversal of the guilty verdict for violation of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code handed down by Judge Juan Bermejo Jr. of the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 4.
The CA agreed with the ruling of the lower court that “the right to free speech does not guarantee an unbridled license to say whatever one may wish.”
In the assailed ruling, Celdran was sentenced to imprisonment ranging from two months and 21 days up to 13 months and 11 days for shouting inside the Manila Cathedral, calling on the church to stop meddling in government affairs while holding a “Damaso” sign referring to “Padre Damaso,” the antagonist priest in the novel “Noli Me Tangere” of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal.
The conviction was upheld by the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) before Celdran elevated his appeal to the CA.
“The RTC was correct when it found that in conformity with one’s right to free exercise of religion, the faithful may, within the limit set by laws, rightfully practice and observe their beliefs, unimpeded by unfair interference from other people,” read the CA ruling penned by Associate Justice Carmelita Salandanan-Manahan.
“It goes without saying that those people observing certain form of religion or sect are equally entitled to the state’s protection as any of its citizens,” it added.
The CA rejected Celdran’s claim that Article 133 of the RPC shields religion from criticism.
“It imposes a penal sanction on anyone who performs acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful done inside a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony. The petitioner cannot give any additional meaning to the clear and plain language of the law,” it held.
Associate Justices Japar Dimaampao and Elihu Ybañez concurred in this ruling.
The case went to the appeals court after the RTC affirmed the conviction of Celdran.
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.” The Philippine Star