Carlos Celdran and the “Damaso” Predicament

damaso-imageOn December 14, 2012, the Honorable Judge Juan Bermejo of Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila [Branch 4] promulgated a decision convicting Carlos Celdran y Pamintuan of the crime of “Offending the Religious Feelings” penalized under Article 133 of our Penal Code (Criminal Laws). Celdran was sentenced to 2 months (minimum) to 1 year (maximum) imprisonment.

Since this is a Metropolitan Trial Court, promulgation of judgment is usually not read in the presence of the accused. It is oftentimes mailed to the lawyers of the parties. The decision was maybe only received yesterday or this week (last week of January, 2013) by Celdran’s lawyer through mail. It however immediately became a national topic. Several editorials made it their early morning cup of coffee. Several hasty reactions were thrown. Even the President made his own remarks on the issue. The last time I checked, Celdran is bent on appealing the case to a higher court than applying for probation.

I have rummaged through the decision of Judge Juan Bermejo, the magistrate in this case. By the way, I’ve known him for some time. We had a long and good conversation then when he visited the law office of Justice Bellosillo in Roxas Boulevard, Manila. I was still then an associate of the good Justice.  I may say that Judge Bermejo is a relative because he married a “Vista”. He is also close to my Tita Cely Calupig and often visited her house at Kalayaan, Global City.

There was nothing really to prove much when it comes to what Celdran did because it was photographed and covered  by the media when it happened in September, 2010. It also became a headliner for several national newspapers wherein the views of Carlos Celdran were well-taken and conveyed by reporters to the people. The case then only boils down to the question of whether what he did was a criminal or not.

Let me reproduce to you the provisions of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code:

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.

As I see it, the penalty of imprisonment handed down by Judge Bermejo is within the parameters set forth in the particular provision of the law. You may refer to Title 3 of the Revised Penal Code for better understanding of the Spanish terms.

On the other hand, Article 133 has been dissected and formed to comprise two (2) elements:

1) The acts complained of were performed (1) in a place devoted to religious worship, or (2) during the celebration of any religious ceremony; and

2) The acts must be notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.

The first element can be said to have been easily satisfied with, because Celdran raised the placard “DAMASO” and uttered the words “Don’t meddle with politics!” inside the Manila Cathedral.

The second element however is vital since it determines whether the overt act he committed was criminal or not. The witnesses presented, who are “faithfuls” of the Catholic Church testified that what Carlos Celdran did had offended them. With the term “faithfuls” we mean bona fide Catholics and NOT followers of other religions or sects.

Judge Bermejo citing the case of People vs. Baes, G.R. No. L-46000, May 25, 1939, correctly justified that witnesses presented should be faithfuls of the Catholic Church –

Whether or of the act complained of is offensive to the religious feelings of the Catholics, is a question of fact which must be judged only according to the feelings of the Catholics and not those of other faithful ones, for it is possible that certain acts may offend the feelings of those who profess a certain religion, while not otherwise offensive to the feelings of those professing another faith.

To elucidate, the prosecution presented four witnesses, three of which are lay persons and the fourth is a priest. All of them testified that they were offended when Celdran raised the placard and shouted those words. Celdran, on the other hand, presented only two witnesses to defend his case. The two witnesses testified the contrary.

What really mattered here most, according to the judge,was how the four witnesses delivered their testimonies as against how the witnesses of the defense delivered theirs. The Judge observed that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were straightforward, natural, spontaneous, and credible. It means that the witnesses’ declarations that they were offended as Catholics are true. The testimonies of the four faithfuls outweigh in greater length the testimonies of the defense’s two.

My Opinion on this ISSUE:

I won’t go farther into the decision of the court. It is, as of this moment, considered lawful (until reversed, if reversed by a higher court in the future) and just. What I hate is the current media mileage given to CELDRAN. Worse, most people in the so-called intellectual and liberal corners of Manila wanted Article 133 of the RPC repealed, or they termed it “revisited”.

These people are trying to bring in their American style freedom of expression and force it to the Filipino culture. Celdran always boasted that he was molded in New York, and he brought with him this free-wheeling right of expression to the country. Yes, we were under the Americans for what? Fifty years? And we think we are whites.

But NO SIR. We have a different culture. We should have a different way of treating our freedom of expression. For all those dimwitted who does not know their rights – this particular “Freedom” is NOT ABSOLUTE.

The best example of our own true culture is our Penal Code. Look at the provisions there that clip our most espoused freedom of expression. The Penal Code is the true sentiment of the people. It tells us who we are as Filipinos. We cannot just bring in a foreign idea because it is COOL and integrate it into our system.

Celdran committed a criminal act and he must be punished. At the end of the day, it will always come to the conclusion that the “law is harsh, but it is the law” [Dura lex sed lex.] So, why make so much fuss about his predicament?

Celdran was barking at the wrong tree. He should have lobbied in Congress for the bill to be passed, and not malign another person or institution because it has the opposing view. He has gone too far with his cause.

I think it is HIGH TIME to discipline Filipinos. Celdran must be jailed to send a message to the whole word that we are not a BUNCH of F*%$ED UP people who play with our laws. We must show the world that we are dead SERIOUS with people who violate our rules. That’s why we have not gotten anywhere, all these years, because we treat everything lightly. We make rules, then we also bend them if they do not fit our likings. We are a land of JOKERS if that is such the case.

Link to the FULL DECISION –

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0ByIQb2-6J40ISGVXOTdXXzFpRGM/edit?pli=1

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