I always wonder every time I post something here about the Philippines, if I sound like I hate my homeland, which isn’t true at all. Unfortunately, the absolutely ridiculous actions of government leaders and other aspects of authority here aren’t helping much to change the perception.
Yesterday, tour guide and activist Carlos Celdran was found guilty by a Philippine court for “offending religious feelings”, and sentenced to 2-13 months in jail. His crime? Holding up a placard that says “Damaso” on it inside a church while mass was being held. It should be noted that the judge was changed at the very last minute to one Juan Bermejo, Jr., who was sympathetic to the CBCP (Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines)’ cause. Allegedly, of course.
For those unfamiliar with what ‘Damaso’ means, this is a reference to Padre Damaso, a character from Philippine national hero Jose Rizal‘s novel, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and its sequel, El Filibusterismo (The Filibuster). In the novel, Damaso was a Spanish friar who constantly abuses his power as priest to further his own influence, to the point where he is more powerful than the village mayor. One of his most notorious acts in the book was to rape a Filipina, begetting the female protagonist, Maria Clara, in the process. In many ways, Rizal likened Damaso to the church during his time, who has been guilty of similar abuses in the three hundred years they have held control in the Philippines until the Spanish-American War – and in many ways, still do today.
Carlos Celdran was contesting the church’s stance against the RH Bill, which I have already mentioned rather indirectly in another post. According to the Philippines’ Revised Penal Code (created in the 1930s and unrevised till today), Article 133 says this:
“Art. 133. Offending 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.”
This, however, contradicts the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which says:
“Section 4. 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.
Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”
While it can be argued that there should be consequences for his actions, holding up a placard during mass does not constitute 2-13 months in jail when a hefty enough fine seems to be most fair. Moreover, the terminology associated with “offending religious feelings” is too overtly broad, as most of Philippine law seems to be. What is the definition of “religious feeling”? No specific examples are given regarding how they can be ‘offended’. Celdran’s stance was political in nature, directed towards church meddling in affairs of state, rather than in any tenet of their religious doctrine, the only aspect this law covers.
What infuriates me most of all, is that the Philippine church is resolute when pursuing these trivial offenses, but is spending most of their church contributions on settling child molestation cases instead of charity. The Economist states that only 2.7% of overall church contributions actually make their way to charities.
The Philippines has its share of child abuse cases, the most notorious of which involves one Father Cristobal Garcia, who NatGeo reporter Brian Christy exposed as dealing in illegal ivory trade. A Philippine archbishop’s response? He wants investigative reporter Brian Christy banned from ever entering the Philippines again. Despite Garcia’s being previously investigated for a child molestation case (which the Vatican claims to be following up on despite the already TWENTY YEAR lapse) people are still flocking to his cause.
Ivory-smuggling pedophile priest? WE MUST FORGIVE HIM AS CHRISTIANS. CHARGES MUST BE DISMISSED. An activist protesting against the lack of separation of church and state? TO THE DUNGEONS WITH HIM.
Celdran disrupting mass? Reproductive Health Bill about to be passed into law? CALL FOR CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE. PILLS ARE ABORTIFICENTS. CONDOMS INCREASE AIDS AND PROMISCUITY.
Personally, I believe the Philippine Catholic church ought to be punched in the throat with a high-speeding car. They are one of the two main reasons why this country will not be achieving any kind of political or economic progress any time soon. (the other being oligarchs wanting to keep the rest of the country poor to maintain their wealth and monopoly over Philippine industries)
And yes, this IS the Philippines in a nutshell. And possibly everywhere else with an extreme sense of Catholicism, but since the Philippines has a higher Catholic population than the United States, forgive me if I claim a better right to be so. So. Furious.
Incidentally – the last famous person before Carlos Celdran to be found guilty of “offending religious feelings”? None other than national hero Jose Rizal himself. He was executed before a firing squad on December 30, 1896.
It boggles the mind, understanding how most people here claim him as the national hero, yet is willing to unfairly jail someone who did something he would do had he still been alive today.