A tourist guide who is also a TV personality was sentenced to one year in prison by a lower Philippine court for the crime of ‘offending the religious feelings,’ reports said.
Sentenced to suffer imprisonment of two months and 21 days as minimum to one year, one month and 11 days was Carlos Celdran who, in 2010, dressed like Philippine national hero Jose Rizal went inside the Manila Cathedral while a mass was going on and shouted to the celebrating priest to stop meddling in government affairs.
Celdran was protesting the Catholic Church’s continuing opposition to the then Reproductive Health Bill that promoted family planning.
A municipal trial court judge found him violating Article 133 of the Philippine penal code which punishes those “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.”
Celdran has been featured by Living Asia as a tour guide of Manila’s walled Intramuros District where Jose Rizal was held in prison before the Spanish colonial government executed him in December 1896, sparkling a revolt by the Filipinos.
The Catholic Church has since been exerting its strong influence over the affairs of the Philippine government although there is a Constitutional provision of the separation of the powers of state and the church.
President Benigno Aquino III has defied and gotten the ire of the powerful Catholic Bishops Conference in the Philippines when he certified as urgent the Reproductive Health Bill which Philippine Congress eventually approved and passed in December last year.
Aquino signed the measure in late December despite protests and warnings from the Catholic Church.
Human rights groups here immediately reacted on the court ruling.
Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Carlos Conde said, “we are alarmed by the court’s decision today finding reproductive health advocate Carlos Celdran guilty of ‘offending religious feelings’ and sentencing him to a maximum of one year in prison.”
“This is a setback for free speech in the Philippines, which prides itself on being a democracy. This verdict should be reversed. Nobody should be jailed for voicing out an opinion or position, especially on a subject that concerns the lives of millions of Filipino women and mothers,” Conde added.