Monday, October 04, 2010

More on the penal code's archaic Article 133

First of all, I apologize if this post is unformatted or looks weird in any way. Im sending it though email and I can't see if it came out right. In fact I can't see if it came out at all. You see Im in a country where blogger is blocked (along with Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, etc. -- a good reason to switch to WordPress which isnt blocked). Chi-cough-na, cough.

Anyway, an interesting piece by well-known lawyer Jose C. Sison came out in the Philippine Star site today in which he defends Article 133 of the Penal Code. He does this by arguing that the law is right in affording special status to religious rites in the eyes of the law so disruption of religious rites, in this case Catholics' view of the mass, is especially reprehensible.

Anyone who disrupts the mass like that Intramuros tourist guide (his name is not worth mentioning) certainly deserves to be imprisoned. His act can never be justified by his deep resentment against the prelates who oppose the RH bill. It is willfully, willingly and feloniously done during a rite most sacred to Catholics and therefore punishable under the RPC. Muslims and Buddhists would also feel offended if such disruption was committed against them. There is no reason why disruption of a Catholic ritual should be treated differently.

First of all, I agree. As a former Catholic, I recognize that the holy sacrifice of the Mass is indeed the centerpiece of Catholic faith and worship -- lex orandi, lex credendi. It is where the bread and wine is changed into the real and actual substance of the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ and where Catholics remember his sacrifice for all mankind. Disrespecting the mass is more than insulting to the Catholic; direspecting the mass is an insult to Jesus Christ himself. As a former Catholic I felt the insult. The Church's outrage against Carlos Celdran's act (he says it wasnt premeditated, let's give him the benefit of the daw) is in my opinion, more than justified; it was absolutely warranted. Any Catholic who wasnt outraged by that act does not deserve to call himself Catholic.

But that is neither here nor there. According to Atty Sison's piece, there is no reason to remove Art. 133 from the Code because religion is special, and that the law should recognize that it is special. I disagree. I believe the law should be neutral when it comes to religion. I do not have to remind anyone that there are different religious and irreligious beliefs in our country and our law guarantees these beliefs and protects the right of its citizens to hold them. That is why there is Article 153 in the Code which punishes any disruption of peaceful assemblies and meetings. But here Atty. Sison is arguing that a disruption of religious service deserves a greater punishment than a disruption of, say, a homeowner's association meeting. Section 5 of the Constitution is clear: No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. No religious test. In looking at a disruption of a peaceful assembly, the law should not ask what kind of assembly was disrupted, whether it was religious or secular. It should not care.

Let us look at the spirit of these laws. Why were the laws created? It is so that the powerless can be protected from the powerful. The citizens for instance should be protected from the abuses of the State, a peaceful man from a violent man. Section One of the Penal Code, to which Article 133 inexplicably belongs, contains prohibitions against public officers and employees. In the comment section of one of his blogposts, Manuel Buencamino (he doesnt think 133 is archaic either) surmised that Article 133 was enacted to protect smaller denominations from disruption by bigger ones; for example, if Catholics disrupted a religious service of Rizalistas. Let's take a look at Carlos Celdran's case. Atty. Sison thinks he deserves to be imprisoned and certainly the letter of the law says he deserves, according to Atty. Sison, imprisonment from 6 months to 2 years and 4 months. (In my previous post, I said the punishment was 6 months. I defer to the member of the Bar. It is up to 2 years and 4 months, which makes it all the more draconian -- a law enacted by tyrants. We'll get to that in a bit.)

But is this a case of the powerful oppressing the weak? Carlos Celdran was one unarmed man in a Rizal costume (Manuel Buencamino said he was in a Charlie Chaplin outfit). He was yelling against a powerful organization. He did not prevent his fellow Catholics from worshiping. Indeed he didnt have the power to. The Catholics' freedom of worship was not harmed one iota. Officers of the State took him away and the Mass went on. What he was guilty of was offending them. Just that. He did not damage Church property, he did not physically harm anybody. Atty. Sison believes this is sufficient reason to take Carlos Celdran's freedom away for 2 years and 4 months. And if the Church leaders do not withdraw the charges, they agree. In fact, 230 bishops think this deserves to have a man lose his livelihood. As mentioned earlier, Manuel Buencamino thinks that the Article 133 is there to protect small sects from bigger sects who might do them harm. I dont know about that. What is more plausible to me is that this law was used to 'protect' the powerful Spanish Catholic hierarchy from being offended by those pesky Indios.

Atty. Sison then turns to the subject of rights:

They may have the freedom to express their own views but they must also respect the customs, practices and the rights of others to express contrary views. They have no right to denigrate, defile and blaspheme those who do not agree with them.

Actually there is an abuse of freedom in our society today. People now think that they have the absolute right to act and speak freely even to the extent of trampling upon the rights of others or of imposing their individual rights over and above the rights promoting the common good.

One doesnt have the right to be free from being offended. On the contrary. The freedom to express views comes with the license to offend. One may use or not use that license as one sees fit, but the license is there, the license to denigrate, defile, and blaspheme. Imagine how offensive Rizal's writings were to the Spanish authorities or indeed Jesus' words were to the Pharisees and Sadducees. If the freedom of speech did not come with a license to offend, if we only spoke agreeably, if we dont have the license to satirize and insult, if we only had the right to speak in a politically correct manner, then speech wouldnt have sparked revolutions that set us free. The powerful can insult us, denigrate us, and blaspheme our beliefs. We the weak must have the right to do likewise to them. Rightly or wrongly, this is the right that Carlos Celdran claimed: that of the weak speaking to the strong. Of course common decency behooves us to behave with respect towards our fellowman and the views they hold, no matter how disagreeable they or their views seem to us. But common decency cannot be legislated without curtailing freedoms as well. And yes, freedom of speech has its limits. There's this famous saying by that famous Greek philosopher Anonymous that goes, "Your freedom ends where my nose begins." Freedom of speech should not cause harm to one's person. Shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater for example. Everything else is fair use of rights.

Im with Atty Sison's view of religion. Religion in society at its best is important and it is indeed special.  While it is true that -- to paraphrase Christopher Hitchens -- religion poisons some things, at its best it allows the flowering of our society. Our rights and freedoms came from the grand notion that God createdl Man in his own image and are therefore all equal and have inalienable rights, a patently unscientific belief. It is atheism -- the idea that no authority is higher than the authority of Man -- that poisons everything. The only reason to trust secularists today is because they have been imbued with ideals that came from religious faith. Once they unshackle themselves from these 'irrational' beliefs, that is the time we can view them as the enemy of society. Carlos Celdran is not the enemy, and he does not deserve to go to jail, no matter what the letter of the law says.

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