Friday, October 01, 2010

The aberration that is Article 133

When I heard that Carlos Celdran of the walking tours fame was arrested for disrupting an ecumenical service at the Manila Cathedral by protesting, I thought it would be an interesting case study. I heard about it via a plurk pointing to a tweet from @inquirerdotnet from before any details were available on the news sites. It just said Celdran yelled 'Politics' in front of the altar during an ecumenical service.

Surely, I thought, he wasnt arrested for protesting. Speech is protected in this country. Unless he did it in a disruptive manner in the middle of the mass in which case he'd be running smack dab into the 'disturbing the peace' provisions of the penal code. Chapter 5 of the Revised Penal Code says
Art. 153. Tumults and other disturbance of public orders; Tumultuous disturbance or interruption liable to cause disturbance. — The penalty of arresto mayor in its medium period to prision correccional in its minimum period and a fine not exceeding 1,000 pesos shall be imposed upon any person who shall cause any serious disturbance in a public place, office, or establishment, or shall interrupt or disturb public performances, functions or gatherings, or peaceful meetings, if the act is not included in the provisions of Articles 131 and 132.
Arresto mayor as defined in the Code is imprisonment of from one month and one day to six months so a medium period would be somewhere in the middle of that timescale. As details of the protest came online, it became clear that Celdran might have behaved in a disruptive manner, parading in front of the altar with a placard with the word Damaso on it and screaming at the top of his voice while the ecumenical service was going on. In his words:
"I started screaming, ‘Stop getting involved in politics!’ I kept screaming until I could not scream anymore, then they took me away."
That mustve been some pretty loud screaming. But Carlos Celdran is such a harmless bloke that I was expecting he would be kept in prison til he cooled down, reprimanded, then sent home lesson learned. And besides, this is the Church, arguably the most powerful non-government organization in the country with a membership numbering in the millions. What can a lone tour guide do against a force like that? His continued detention depended on the Church filing a complaint. If there is no complaint, then he would be released. One word from Cardinal Rosales wouldve ended it yesterday and the Cardinal and his buddies would have a good laugh about it. But apparently, he was to be made a lesson. He spent the night in jail and is still in jail as of 1:00 pm today, 1 October.

That's the law. But wait! It turns out that he wasnt charged with disturbing the peace or disruption of public order. He was charged with violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code which is -- seriously -- offending the religious feelings.
Art. 133. Offending the religious feelings. — The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional 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.
It's bad enough that 'disturbing the peace' can get you in jail for over about 3 months minimum as per Article 153 of the Code which covers what Celdran did, a draconian punishment just for being an annoying prick, but the Code has to have a special provision against religious feelings -- religious feelings! -- with a jail time of six months.

Now the Penal Code is supposed to be a list of crimes against person, property, public order, and State. Article 133 is under the general heading of Section One. — Arbitrary detention and expulsion, which covers Articles 124 to 133. If you'll notice, Articles 124 to 132 covers prohibitions against state officers or employees. Article 126 for instance says
Art. 126. Delaying release. — The penalties provided for in Article 124 shall be imposed upon any public officer or employee who delays for the period of time specified therein the performance of any judicial or executive order for the release of a prisoner or detention prisoner, or unduly delays the service of the notice of such order to said prisoner or the proceedings upon any petition for the liberation of such person.
Here's Article 132.
Art. 132. Interruption of religious worship. — The penalty of prision correccional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon any public officer or employee who shall prevent or disturb the ceremonies or manifestations of any religion.

If the crime shall have been committed with violence or threats, the penalty shall be prision correccional in its medium and maximum periods.
Section One contains prohibitions against public officers and employees except inexplicably Article 133.

Article 133 covers everyone, and this is the provision thrown against Celdran. Notice that Articles 124 to 132 protects citizens from actions of employees of the State while Article 133 protects religious feelings which runs perilously close to the Church and State clause of the Constitution. Article III, the Bill of Rights says
Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.
So Article 133 of the Code is on its face unconstitutional and in light of Article 153, totally not needed. And one more thing, the principle of free expression, along with the liberties recognized by the Bill of Rights transcends any written law or constitution. We do not have these rights because the constitution says so. We have these rights because we are human. The State is there supposedly to protect the defenseless members of our society. When the law is used to protect a powerful institution such as the Church from being offended by a peaceful albeit disruptive protest, something is fundamentally wrong with the way the law is implemented, but such is the society we live in. Article 133 is an affront to a free society since propriety is supposed to be society's own sense of right and wrong imposed not because of the threat of penalty but because decency demands it if one is to live with other people, some of whom may not share the same beliefs. Carlos Celdran's act, for which he has already apologized, did not do a whit of harm to the Church's private property nor to its members; they just didnt like his message. That Article 133 is still there as part of the law of the land is a sign of the weakness of that society.

On a personal note, I disclose that I am a non-Catholic Christian but I have been on record on the internets in defense of the Catholic Church, especially its right to participate in discussions of public political issues. Separation of Church and State does not take away the church leaders' right to express their political opinions in the public sphere and to try to influence public policy. Celdran is wrong in using separation of Church and State this way. Indeed trying to influence public policy is what we all are trying to do in our own ways and we should not begrudge the Church this right. They do contribute something to the public sphere. Suppressing their views no matter how wrong we think they are narrows our democratic space by that much and we will rue the day when their stand on issues is silenced. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights, and this includes the rights of the Church's leaders as Filipinos.

One more thing before I close. The God I believe in does not need me to defend him. I do not take offense at the incredulity, even the 'blasphemy', of others against my faith and those who share it, and to the God who is at the core of that faith. I will defend my views and my person when attacked or challenged but if anyone expresses disrespect for God himself, I'd rather stay out of the way. God can very well take care of himself. That an institution such as the Catholic Church would seek the protection of the State from somebody like Celdran (or at one time the gay party Ladlad) shows some kind of crisis of confidence they have in the God they serve.

Update 1 Oct, 6:26 pm: Carlos Celdran posts bail.


R.O. said...

Geez, I'm not aware such a law exists. Because I think there's no need for it. Basic human decency will tell you that any decent religion must be respected, no matter how you don't agree with its tenets. My problem lies in indecent religions, religions that espouse violence, like militant Islam, and beliefs that I find immoral according to my worldview. If I criticize them, will I go to jail? What if I criticize the St. Aelred Gay Church? Will I go to jail like Carlos Celdran? Where does freedom of expression stop in the face of religious feelings?

Jego said...

It came as quite a shock to me as well when I saw it on the news. Another small shock is 'disturbance of public order' can get you jail time of up to 6 months. That is too much. Being an ass is not a crime. Certainly not a crime that merits a 6-month prison term.

Article 133 won't jail you if for instance you criticize the Gay Church but they can jail you if you walk into a church service and started yelling anti-gay slogans at them.

There is no right against being offended, so freedom of expression doesnt stop even in the face of religious feelings. At least the law specifies that it criminalizes disruption of religious services. For example, if Celdran yelled at the priests after the service, he wouldnt have disrupted anything and wouldnt be guilty of a crime.