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Celdran jailed for offending political feelings

January 31, 2013
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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]

SOURCE:

INQUIRER

  • 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.

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