On January 28, the Metropolitan Trial Court of Manilia convicted performance artist Carlos Celdran of offending religious sentiments with his publicized protest staged on September 30, 2010.
On that day, Celdran had entered Manila Cathedral dressed as national hero José Rizal bearing a sign that read “Damaso”—the name of the contemptible priest in Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tángere (1887). In front of the main altar, he railed against the Catholic Church’s efforts to thwart the passage of a reproductive health bill that would mandate sex education in schools and provide free or subsidized contraceptives to the poor.
Monsignor Nestor Cerbo, rector of the Manila Cathedral, filed the complaint against Celdran, calling upon Article 133, which penalizes actions “notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.”
On Monday, in a phone interview with InterAksyon, Celdran said, “The issue is bigger than me now . . . It’s about religion. Anything that one does that might be offending to his or her own religion could put him or her in jail. This is a bad precedent.”
Human Rights Watch’s Asia researcher Carlos Conde viewed the charge as an infringement on freedom of expression. “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 an opinion or position, especially on a subject that concerns the lives of millions of Filipino women and mothers.”
Celdran faces between nearly three months and more than one year in jail, but remains free on bail for now pending his appeal against the sentence.