Carlos Celdranâs jail term is blatantly unconstitutional. For shouting, âYou bishops, stop involving yourself in politics,â he was convicted of the circa-1930 crime âoffending religious feelings.â 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.
âOffending religious feelingsâ can only be committed through an act ânotoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.â 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: â[An act] must be directed against religious practice or dogma or ritual for the purpose of ridicule.â Professors emphasize that the crime must be ânotoriously offensiveââmere 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 Celdranâs 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 cathedralâs center, silently carrying a placard with the word âDamaso.â While being led out, Celdran shouted, âYou bishops, stop involving yourself in politics.â The service resumed after Celdran was led out of the cathedral to face TV crews and his adoring social media public.
Bermejoâs decision did not explain how Celdran offended the narrow legal requirements. Witnesses merely claimed they were deeply offended by Celdran. Christian Monsodâs testimony, a witness who is vice chair of the Bishops-Businessmenâs 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 ânotoriouslyâ offended people were. Further, although it was an ecumenical service, Bermejo did not detail how Celdran ânotoriouslyâ offended all the different faiths.
All this violates the constitutional requirement âNo decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.â
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 Celdranâs counsel, I would not know how to appeal the decision. This is why Judge Bermejo violates due process. [More]