MANILA – A lawmaker at the House of Representatives on Monday filed a measure seeking to repeal the “archaic provision” of the Revised Penal Code that punishes the crime of “offending religious feelings”.
In filing House Bill 5170, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman proposed the repeal of Article 133, which he said is “an odious remnant of the Dark Ages” and “offensive to the freedom of expression”.
Article 133 provides: “The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prison correctional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon anyone who, 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”.
Lagman filed the measure in memory of Carlos Celdran, a fellow Reproductive Health advocate, who faced imprisonment in 2018 after the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the decision of the lower court and found him guilty of the crime of offending religious feelings.
The lawmaker stressed that Celdran died a freeman because the Supreme Court failed to resolve with finality his latest pending motion for reconsideration of his conviction of “wounding religious feelings”.
“Article 133 is anathema to freedom of speech and expression which is guaranteed under the Bill of Rights in the 1935, 1973, and the present 1987 Constitution,” Lagman said.
“It is now incumbent on the Congress to accord justice and redress to Celdran by repealing Article 133,” he added.
Lagman recalled that at the height of the “arduous crusade” for the enactment of the Reproductive Health Bill, now Republic Act No. 10354, on September 30, 2010, Celdran, dressed as national hero Jose Rizal, walked towards the main altar of the Manila Cathedral where an ecumenical service was being held on the joint distribution of bibles by Catholic and Protestant leaders.
Celdran raised a placard with the name “Damaso” in reference to the villainous friar from Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere.
“It was a clear political statement that unlike Padre Damaso, the Catholic hierarchy must not interfere in secular affairs like preventing the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill even as Protestant bishops did not oppose the measure,” Lagman said.
He further argued that Article 133 is “utterly subjective and leaves to the undue discretion of the court to divine the inculpatory element of ‘wounded religious feelings.’ It is an amorphous offense and fails to set any objective standards on the gravamen of the crime”. (PNA)