One Man Ever Convicted Of Blasphemy In Philippines

From Atheist Republic a piece on the use of Blasphemy law to suppress criticism of religious authority. 

Photo Credit: Flickr

Carlos Celdran took on the Catholic Church eight years ago accusing the Church for its efforts to prevent people in the Philippines from accessing birth control. His actions led to him being convicted of blasphemy which made him the only man ever in Modern Philippines who was found guilty of “offending religious feelings.” It was September 30, 2010 when he arrived outside the grand Manila Cathedral dressed as Jose Rizal, a man revered as a national hero in the Philippines, to protest against the Catholic Church's interference in the process of providing people in the Philippines with contraceptives. The result of the protest was the arrival of the police and Celdran's arrest.

Celdran's idea was to protest in front of the Cathedral dressed as Jose Rizal, carrying a sign reading "DAMASO" as a reference to the notorious Father Damaso, from Rizal's novel Noli Me Tángere. In this novel Father Damaso is a dear villain who rapes the protagonist's mother so Celdran used his name to protest the Church. Actually, his initial idea was to dress as a bishop and have his picture taken outside the Cathedral, but the day before the protest things started to go wrong.

"The day before the protest, the costume I was going to rent out got caught in a flood," Celdran said, according to VICE. "Jose Rizal was my second option. On the day itself, instead of staying outside for the photograph, it started to rain. So I ran inside the cathedral.” Celdran, still dressed as Rizal, found himself in the middle of a meeting between Catholic clergy and Protestant bishops and then he yelled to them to stop meddling in politics. The police arrived and arrested him and then, in January 2011, the Manila Metropolitan Court found Celdran guilty of “offending religious feelings” under Article 133 of the penal code. He appealed his case to the Supreme Court in 2013 but his appeal was denied so he recently filed a motion for reconsideration on the Supreme Court’s decision.

Article 133, the blasphemy law under which Celdran was found guilty of "offending religious feelings" might be unconstitutional at its core. This law is a holdover from the Spanish colonial years and the Philippines' constitution which established Philippines as an independent nation. “It is a vague law since offending religious feelings curtails the separation of church and state, as well as one’s constitutional right to freely express,” said Red Tani, the president of Filipino Freethinkers, which is one of the country’s largest activist organizations promoting secular thought according to VICE. Unfortunately this law is still in effect and it led to Celdran being convicted. If his second appeal is denied by the Supreme Court, this may lead to wider use of the blasphemy law in the Philippines.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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