Why Carlos Celdran was found guilty of ‘offending religious feelings’ but not Duterte

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Carlos Celdran (Philstar.com file photo)

The Supreme Court has upheld the decision against tour guide and activist Carlos Celdran who was found guilty of “offending religious feelings,” but some are wondering why other more outspoken critics of the Catholic faith have yet to suffer the same fate.

Offended religious feelings

Celdran posted pictures of his copy of the decision convicting him.

In the decision, the high court agreed with the Court of Appeals that Celdran was guilty of offending religious feelings under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code when he entered the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros holding a placard with the name “Damaso” during an ecumenical gathering on September 30, 2010.

The SC underscored that it was not a trier of facts under the Rules of Court and thus honored the findings of the lower courts.

Celdran, a renowned tour guide and artist, was protesting against the clergy opposition to what was then the Reproductive Health Bill.

‘Damaso’ is a reference to the villainous friar Padre Damaso in Jose Rizal’s classic novel “Noli Me Tangere,” a character regarded as a symbol of oppression and corruption by the church during the Spanish occupation.

Celdran had gone through the hierarchy of courts, appealing to the Metropolitan Trial Court, Regional Trial Court and the CA without success.

Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay in 2016 sought the acquittal of Celdran, arguing in front of the SC that Celdran’s actions constituted political speech necessary for public discourse and that said Article 133 was unconstitutional as it was void for vagueness.

Some are questioning the basis for the case against Celdran.

Among those is broadcaster Karen Davila, who asked why Celdran was charged with offending religious feelings when others such as President Rodrigo Duterte have had more violent reactions to the church.

Duterte has been known for a number of inflammatory comments on the church and God during interviews and public speeches as president.

As some have pointed out, the difference between Celdran’s and Duterte’s comments can be gleamed from the provision itself, which expressly states that the act must have been carried out “in a place devoted to public worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony.”

Duterte’s comments on God came during a public speech in front of a crowd of spectators in Davao City, and not while inside a church or in front of a crowd of faithful.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle in 2015 said that Celdran had been forgiven by the church for the incident.