UCAN Philippines Catholic Church News
Happy Easter to all

Celdran jailed for offending political feelings

January 31, 2013
Celdran jailed for offending political feelings thumbnail

Carlos Celdran’s jail term is blatantly unconstitutional. For shouting, “You bishops, stop involving yourself in politics,” he was convicted of the circa-1930 crime “offending religious feelings.” The judge never explained how religious dogma, the key to the jail term, was offended. We must decry how a court of law was hijacked as a tool of political persecution under an archaic law.

“Offending religious feelings” can only be committed through an act “notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.” The crime is so obscure that the Supreme Court has not yet interpreted it. The decision convicting Celdran quotes what we teach in law school: “[An act] must be directed against religious practice or dogma or ritual for the purpose of ridicule.” Professors emphasize that the crime must be “notoriously offensive”—mere rudeness or obnoxiousness does not merit a stay in Bilibid.

What, then, was the religious dogma Celdran notoriously offended?

None whatsoever, based on the decision of Judge Juan Bermejo Jr. of the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 4. According to Celdran’s accusers, he entered the Manila Cathedral after 3 p.m. on Sept. 30, 2010, during an ecumenical service attended by Catholic bishops and cardinals, leaders from other Christian churches and other VIPs. He dressed in a black suit and bowler hat in homage to national hero Jose Rizal. He walked to the cathedral’s center, silently carrying a placard with the word “Damaso.” While being led out, Celdran shouted, “You bishops, stop involving yourself in politics.” The service resumed after Celdran was led out of the cathedral to face TV crews and his adoring social media public.

Bermejo’s decision did not explain how Celdran offended the narrow legal requirements. Witnesses merely claimed they were deeply offended by Celdran. Christian Monsod’s testimony, a witness who is vice chair of the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development but was not offended, did not raise sufficient doubt. The lack of explanation is exacerbated by how witnesses initially thought Celdran was part of the program, which casts doubt on how “notoriously” offended people were. Further, although it was an ecumenical service, Bermejo did not detail how Celdran “notoriously” offended all the different faiths.

All this violates the constitutional requirement “No decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.”

This is the most basic requirement of fairness: Tell a man his crime before sending him to jail. I am a lawyer but cannot understand how exactly Celdran committed the crime. I am a professor of constitutional law but cannot understand what to teach regarding the boundary between free speech and crime. Were I Celdran’s counsel, I would not know how to appeal the decision. This is why Judge Bermejo violates due process. [More]



  • Anonymous

    I don’t think that sending Carlos Celdran to jail is helpful. But I object to the way truth is being distorted in reports of this
    story and comments on it.

    Your story today, January 31, 2013, “Bishops ‘forgive’
    jailed activist” confirms that the Archdiocese of Manila is not pursuing a criminal case against Carlos Celdran. It is the State that has pursued it.

    You carry another story today, “Celdran jailed for offending
    political feelings”. Yet the first paragraph of the article by Attorney Oscar Franklin Tan says he was convicted for “offending religious feelings”. In other words, the headline, taken from the PDI, the source of the story, is utterly misleading.

    Then Attorney Tan asks in the third paragraph of his article, “What, then, was the religious dogma Celdran notoriously offended?” Mr Celdran wasn’t convicted of offending any dogma but “feelings”. Again, a serious inaccuracy.

    Attorney Tan then says in paragraph 4 that an ecumenical service was going on in Manila Cathedral at the time which he later refers to as “a Mass”. An ecumenical service is totally different from a Mass. Attorney Tan is not the only one to get this confused.

    In paragraph nine Attorney Tan states, “contrary to free speech, Celdran is being jailed for a political message”. This is
    untrue. Mr Celdran was found guilty of “offending religious feelings”, as Attorney Tan stated in his opening paragraph. The PDI’s misleading headline reinforces Attorney Tan’s inaccurate statement.

    Attorney Tan’s plea for fairness for Mr Celdran, with which I don’t disagree, would carry more conviction if his article didn’t have serious inaccuracies. Mr Celdran’s right to free speech has not been violated. It clearly is a different thing to state your point of view peacefully on the street than to interrupt a religious service of any kind.

    In 1976 in my own parish church in Dublin, Ireland, while on a visit from the Philippines, a man in the congregation
    interrupted my homily at a Sunday Mass by standing up and asking loudly, “Are we here to listen to a political speech or to the Gospel?” I had referred to the murder of a policeman in Northern Ireland that week as a “killing of a Temple of the Holy Spirit”. I and others were upset but I continued. At least the man was commenting on what was going on in the church, unlike Mr Celdran. And it didn’t cross anyone’s mind to call the police or, indeed, to do anything about the matter. The man sat down after making is point.

    I repeat, I don’t agree with sending Mr Celdran to jail, even if he was really guilty as charged. Attorney Tan may well be right in arguing that he wasn’t. But the case was pursued by the State, not by the Church. Mr Celdran’s right to free speech has not been violated. He was found guilty of “offending religious feelings”, not religious dogmas or political feelings. Whether he should have been found guilty of this is another matter. But let Attorney Tan and all of us get the facts straight.

stay in touch
Subscribe to UCAN Philippines
Free newsletter here
Invite a Friend
top stories
  1. about us - 15 emails
  2. Who is a Roman Catholic? - 10 emails
  3. Creation not man’s property, pope says as Advent begins - 7 emails
  4. Pacquiao plans ‘preaching session’ after fight - 7 emails
  5. Bishop accused of diverting millions - 7 emails
  6. Priest backs Filipina’s bid in ‘American Idol’ - 6 emails
  7. Tagle says Church needs to be rescued from self-interest - 6 emails
  8. ‘Weeping’ Mary draws hundreds to Windsor residence - 5 emails
  9. Porn documentary to show at World Youth Day - 5 emails
  10. Exorcism is God’s gift ‘to help us believe’ - 5 emails
  1. Why do some Catholics dislike Pope Francis washing feet?
  2. Bishops and the environment
  3. Philippines bishops call on Catholics to diet and exercise
  4. Gunmen kill Philippine mayor and bodyguards
  5. Philippine greens slam 'US militarism' on Earth Day
  6. Philippines press club demands media workers protection
  7. Philippine bishops warn against self-flagellation
  8. Philippines bishops say typhoon victims still need urgent aid
  9. Pope's team of eight to start scrutiny of the Curia
  10. Philippine crucifixions go ahead despite Church disapproval
  1. Wanted: new ways to seek justice for Philippines tribals
  2. Philippine organic farmers urge end to GMO rice
  3. Questions raised over speed of papal canonizations
  4. Bishops and the environment
  5. Why do some Catholics dislike Pope Francis washing feet?
  6. Philippine greens slam ‘US militarism’ on Earth Day
  7. China set to be ‘world’s most Christian country’ by 2030
  8. Gunmen kill Philippine mayor and bodyguards
  9. Boat capsizes during Indonesian Holy Week procession
  10. Philippines press club demands media workers protection
  1. On September 20, speaking to a gathering of gynecologists, Pope Francis said: "E...
    Said FrSeanCoyle on 2013-10-09 16:05:00
  2. Here is what Pope Benedict said to the bishops of Switzerland on November 9, 200...
    Said FrSeanCoyle on 2013-10-09 16:02:00
  3. stop RHbill for Gods sake!!!...
    Said joy on 2013-07-17 20:03:00
  4. a woman who agree this RH bill has no heart. God forgive her she do'nt know what...
    Said joy on 2013-07-17 20:02:00
  5. It is very hard to trust a muslim. They worship a false god and will break the ...
    Said on 2013-07-17 12:23:00
  6. Assuredly, thus said the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY YISRAEL to Roman Christian Catholic B...
    Said Angel Santie on 2013-06-28 19:39:00
  7. God let man or as we say permit man to create this way of comunication, why we w...
    Said joy on 2013-06-26 20:46:00
  8. Pray for the victims of clergy sexual abuse....
    Said on 2013-06-06 08:01:00
  9. 'Activist priest Robert Reyes is in the minority among the clergy when it comes ...
    Said on 2013-04-24 15:04:00
  10. 90-year-old Fr Emmanuel Non SJ had a letter in last Monday's Philippine Daily In...
    Said on 2013-04-18 10:41:00
UCAN India Books Online