By Raïssa Robles
Celdran was neither obnoxious or offensive. And Christian Monsod should know — he was there when Carlos Celdran staged his protest before some 20 senior Catholic bishops.
“He looked like Charlie Chaplin to me”, Monsod said laughing, when I asked why he did not find Celdran’s action offensive. Chaplin is a well known American comedian and mime artist in the era of silent movies.
Indeed, Celdran looks like a Chubby Chaplin.
Monsod was one of the two eyewitnesses presented by Celdran’s lawyer Marlon Manuel in the criminal case accusing his client of “offending the religious feelings”. Attorney Manuel found out Monsod was there and asked the former Comelec chairman whether he was willing to testify on what he saw inside the Manila Cathedral that mid-afternoon of September 30, 2010, while seated on the third row just behind the bishops.
I asked Monsod whether he was deeply offended by Celdran’s action. I asked him because he is one of the very few laymen and businessmen who has been physically working closely with bishops for the last 40 years in the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference (BBBC) where he is currently a co-vice-chair.
I asked him because he is one ex-public officials who did not make money for himself while in office as Commission on Elections chair. It was Monsod who had repaired Comelec’s tattered reputation after the Marcoses fled.
And so I asked Monsod whether he had felt offended seeing what Celdran did before the altar because I knew I would get a frank answer from him.
No I was not.
I asked him why.
Well actually, at the beginning even the organizers – when he (Celdran) first appeared – (they) thought he was part of the program.
Unobtrusively, he just walked there in the middle. He didn’t say anything. He just stood there and then he took out this placard. He raised it. He did not say anything.
He (Celdran) showed the placard left side, middle, right side and all that, and the bishops were there. But you know, not a single bishop testified to say he was – that it was a notoriously offensive gesture. Not a single bishop. There must have been 20 bishops there.
In fact, I don’t know if others missed him.
Maybe after two or three minutes, two policemen approached him quietly. Said something to him and he quietly went with them. There was no commotion. No disruption.
The mass was not going on.
I thought it was a little funny because when he came on, he was just like Jose Rizal – well actually, he looked a little also like Charlie Chaplin. And so I thought it was amusing.
And then I saw “Damaso” (written on the placard) and that was the message. Everybody knows about Fr. Damaso in Rizal’s book.
And that was it. And as he was being led out, when he was already on the side, he raised his voice and he said, “Don’t interfere on matters of state or something like that.”
That was it.
No commotion. No disruption.
But did Celdran, at any time, brandish the placard at the bishops inside the Cathedral, I asked Monsod.
No. The bishops were on the first two rows. I was on the third or fourth row.
I kidded Monsod who is also a lawyer that “apparently, the judge did not give much weight to your testimony.”
No,no, but if you read the decision, the judge was saying – as long as there were members of the religion who felt offended, then a crime has been committed.
In other words, there may be 10, 20 people who said they were not offended but the organizers said they were offended and he took that. In other words, he (Judge Bermejo) said as long as there were people who felt offended –
My ano on this – was it a notoriously offending gesture? I don’t think it was.
In fact, he (Celdran) was trying to send a message but he was not obnoxious or anything.
I did not feel offended. In fact I thought it was a little funny.
You know, it was not as if he was deliberately provoking something. You know in the other cases involving this (crime of offending religious feelings), somebody threw something at a priest or somebody was drunk or –-
There was no – I was asking myself, were there Catholics there who were offended? But then the law says ‘notoriously offensive’.
Curious, I asked Monsod: Who asked you in court if you were offended?
Nobody . The lawyer said (to me) is it possible the faithful there were offended? I said it’s possible. But I did not see that. There wasn’t any action on the part of the bishops. They did not stand up. They were just there. And then after that when he (Celdran) left, the ceremonies continued.
By the way, it wasn’t during mass. It was before mass.
And it was interdenominational. Not just Catholic.
The occasion was the Second Anniversary of the “May They Be One Campaign” and the launching of the “Hand Written Bible” – a joint project of Catholics and Protestants to distribute five million bibles in five years. Besides the bishops, the Papal Nuncio, a rabbi, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and police and military officers were there.
Four witnesses were presented by the prosecution:
- Teresita Azurin – a long-time Theology teacher
- Marcelina and Angelito Cacal – both employes of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)
- Catholic priest Oscar Alunday SVD who also works in a unit under the CBCP
I found a curious passage in Fr. Alunday’s testimony. He said Celdran “genuflected before the altar” just before showing the “Damaso” sign to the bishops. Was Celdran’s act of kneeling a way of respecting the Lord or mocking Him?
In his decision, Metropolitan Manila Court Judge Juan Bermejo Jr. described what Father Alunday said:
Not one of the witnesses testified that Celdran shouted before the altar. They said Celdran shouted when he was already far away from the altar, being led away.
Can the Church say it had nothing to with the Celdran case?
The Church said it had long forgiven Celdran and actually decided not to pursue the case. A statement from Peachy Yamsuan, communications chief of the Archdiocese of Manila said”
“The Archdiocese of Manila did not pursue the case against Mr. Carlos Celdran for violation of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. While deeply disturbed by the incident, (Cardinal Rosales) gave instructions for the Archdiocese to no longer pursue the case.”
She said it was actually the government, through the prosecutor, who filed the charge against Celdran for “offending religious feelings.”
I asked University of the Philippines law professor Carmelo Sison whether the Church could wash its hands and say it had nothing to do with the case. Professor Sison used to teach Constitutional Law for a long time and was part of the Criminal Law Reform Project. He told me the Church statement was correct. Once a complaint is filed with the fiscal or prosecutor, it is out of the complainant’s hands:
It is up to the prosecutor to determine whether there is probable case to warrant the filing of information. Probable cause is based on a finding, on testimony, on evidence. If no witness appears, what other evidence does he have for finding probable cause?
If he finds probable cause, he files the information. Then a warrant of arrest is issued.
I asked Sison at what point a complainant could withdraw his complaint so that there would be no case at all. Sison explained:
This can be done before the finding of probable cause. Puwedeng mag affidavit of desistance. Pero kaso criminal case ito. Bawal yon. You can’t compromise a criminal case. Ang nangyayari lang, pag hearing of probable cause, the witness does not appear. That is what happens to criminal cases here. But you really can’t compromise a criminal case.
I pointed out to him that in Celdran’s case, the complainant was the rector of Manila Cathedral. Doesn’t that make the Church the complainant?
They (the Church) consider the priest as just a witness, not a representative of the Church.
I asked Prof. Sison whether he thought the crime of “offending the religious feelings” was unconstitutional.
He said it would be up to the Supreme Court to decide this:
The state has the power to make it a crime as against the right of a person to invoke his freedom of speech. The SC will balance this. If it finds out the interest of the individual is higher than the power of the state to keep public order to make it a crime, then it will consider the statute unconstitutional.
To my mind, the issue is simple. People get killed over religious beliefs. Will offending religious beliefs lead to disorder? I think it will. In Islamic countries this has led to burning and looting. I say it’s the exercise of the state to promote public order. They balance that usually with the Bill of Rights.
He also said President Benigno Aquino III can give Celdran a presidential pardon, but only after his conviction is final.
How I feel as a Catholic
Some commenters on my site as well as those on Twitter and Facebook share the sentiments of @Joey who said:
try doing that in a Muslim religious gathering and see where it will lead you — downunder the ground coz you’d be killed for sure, not jailed!
First of all, Celdran was a Catholic staging a protest inside a Catholic Church against Catholic clerics. Celdran would be stupid to do that inside a mosque because there is no logical reason for him to do it. His message – for bishops to stop meddling in politics – would be lost there.
I believe Celdran knowingly crossed the line when he staged his one-man lightning rally inside the Manila Cathedral.
His message would have been muted had he done it outside the Cathedral.
I was shocked when I heard he had done such a thing. But I was not deeply offended because Celdran was delivering a political statement to senior clerics who had become quite political – who had also crossed the line separating the Church from the State during the previous administration.
Celdran is an artist at heart. An artist has to rebel and break the boundaries of our sensibilities to make us think about the issues he is confronting us with.
With Celdran, however, the ego also seems to stand in the way.
I believe Celdran should be monetarily fined for what he did, made to do community service, made to clean latrines, made to say 30 novenas. But a jail term is too harsh a punishment and a mismatch to the crime.
Judge Bermejo’s curious background
In closing, I would like to share with you a Supreme Court case that Alan found. It showed that in 2004, Judge Bermejo was judged guilty by the Supreme Court of violating specific parts of the Code of Judicial Conduct — he grossly delayed a case and tried to cover up proof that the accused had received his order of judgment. The court said:
ACCORDINGLY, the Court finds respondent Judge Juan O. Bermejo, Jr., of Branch 3 of the Metropolitan Trial Court of Manila guilty of delay in the rendition of judgment in violation of Rules 1.02 and 3.05 of the Code of Judicial Conduct for which he is fined the amount of P5,000.00. Respondent Judge is also declared guilty of impropriety in violation of Canon 2 of said Code and is fined the amount of P10,000.00.
It appears that Judge Bermejo had issued a judgment against a defendant but kept delaying and delaying the execution of judgment, prompting the complainant Dr. Conrado T. Montemayor to filed an administrative case against him. You can read all about the case here.
* * * *
I’d like to thank law professor Oscar Franklin Tan for uploading the actual eight-page decision of of Metropolitan Court Judge Juan Bermejo Jr. on the website sharing-platform SCRIBD. For easier reading, I have re-uploaded the document on Slideshare.
Criminal law professor questions constitutionality of the crime of “offending religious feelings”
Uh, oh – Who will be jailed next for “offending religious feelings”?
Senator Pia Cayetano signs and files Senate Bill no. 3402 repealing Art. 133 of the Revised Penal Code on Offending Religious Feelings. http://instagram.com/p/VWAeCWPk3X/
Regel Javines says
Although the case of Celdran involves careful consideration to the right to freedom of speech, still no absolute right guaranteed by the Constitution. When there is one thing affecting the other, it isn’t simply normal, and thus disturbing the balance. The way Celdran exercised his right is subjective to what others may be felt. However, the burden of proof is to establish a probable malice, premeditated inorder the court to render the best decision. In the case of Celdran, what do you think about his thought of his action before he started exercising his right to free speech?
At the Inquirer today there is an article by Christine Avendaño about a cyber libel case in progress. My post on the whole article is awaiting moderation.
A cyber libel case in progress. At PDI today.
CA affirms libel case vs teen blogger for ‘maligning’ another girl
By Christine O. Avendaño
8:29 pm | Sunday, February 3rd, 2013
107 623 502
MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld a decision by a Marikina Regional Trial Court (RTC) to proceed with a libel case and the issuance of arrest warrants against a minor and five other persons for alleged defamatory posts on a social networking site.
In an 11-page decision dated Dec. 28, 2012, recently posted on its website, the CA Special Ninth Division dismissed the petition of the girl, a minor identified only as JRV CICL-IS-NO. 08-1614, for a review of the RTC branch 192 ruling early last year. The petitioner said the judge committed “grave abuse of discretion.”
The CA decision paves the way for trial on the merits of the libel case even as the Supreme Court deliberates on the constitutionality of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which essentially penalizes malicious posts on such sites as Facebook and Twitter, among many others.
On March 13, 2012, an information for libel was filed in the RTC against teenager blogger, as well as Justine Dimaano, Francesa Vanessa Fugen, Roberto Armando Hidalgo, Danielle Vicaldo and Anthony Jay Foronda. The group was accused by Celine Quanico of maligning her on a blog posted by Dimaano on April 6, 2008, on the website Multiply.
Quanico said that Dimaano put a Yahoo Messenger conversation between them on her blog she titled “Meet My Backstabber Friend” but “edited” her chat name into “Jopay.”
She said several persons commented on the blog “further mocking me with contempt and insults.”
“Worse, details of confirming my identity were placed, like deliberate and obvious hints in a sarcastic fashion of a futile attempt to cover up,” Quanico said.
One of those who commented was JRV who referred to the object of the blog as a “bitch” and other derogatory names.
The libel charge against JRV and her co-accused was based on the March 24, 2011, recommendation of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Quanico went to the DOJ after a Marikina prosecutor dismissed her libel complaint in August 2009. The prosecutor said malice could not be inferred and that there was no clear reference to the complainant as the object of the blog.
The DOJ reversed the prosecutor’s findings and noted that “all the elements of libel” were present in the case.
“Calling a person ‘backstabber,’ ‘ugly,’ ‘frikin face,’ ‘mother frikin dead kid,’ ‘loser,’ ‘bakla,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘ass’ and ‘liar’ within the knowledge of other persons is defamatory because there is an imputation of a condition or a status, which tends to cause dishonor or contempt of the offended party,” the DOJ said.
The department also held it clear that the “imputation was directed”’ at Quanico, contrary to the prosecutor’s position.
“Basic is the rule that in order to maintain a libel suit, it is essential that the victim be identifiable, although it is not necessary that she be named,” it said.
The DOJ also noted that the affidavits of three witnesses of Quanico “reveal that they recognized her as the object of the libelous statements not only probably but with a high level of certainty.”
Likewise, it noted that the facts and circumstances stated on the blog “perfectly fit the description of the complainant.”
On May 6, 2012, the Marikina RTC found probable cause for the issuance of arrest warrants against JRV and her co-accused. It also denied a motion for reconsideration filed by JRV.
In her petition for certiorari in the CA, JRV accused the RTC of grave abuse of discretion. She argued that the words “bitch” and “f*ck” were not libelous; that the blog did not give sufficient description to identify Jopay as private respondent Quanico and that she was 16 years old when the alleged offense was committed.
But in its ruling penned by Associate Justice Mario Lopez, the appellate court said JRV’s petition was “bereft of merit.”
“Probable cause is such set of facts and circumstances as would lead a reasonably discreet and prudent man to believe that the offense charged in the information or any offense included therein has been committed by the person sought to be arrested,” the CA said.
In this case, the appellate court noted the RTC judge made the finding of probable cause after examining documents submitted by the DOJ and the city prosecutor.
The CA observed that JRV “never questioned how the trial court reached the conclusion that there was probable cause,” only questioned its conclusion.
“In other words, petitioner is merely questioning the trial court’s evaluation of evidence or its factual findings which, we reiterate, are not within the ambit of a petition for certiorari,” it said.
On JRV’s statement that she was a minor when the alleged offense was committed and, thus, should be protected under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, the CA noted the city prosecutor’s certification that the accused “acted with discernment.”
Associate Justices Romeo Barza and Socorro Inting agreed with the decision.
I just hope that she gets acquitted. But as I had been saying, there is no such thing as “unfettered speech.”
The God’s Particle of Quantum Physics of the Legal World Has Spoken!!!
brought to your attention by your excited and exhilarated friend, Parekoy!
I am not a lawyer nor a simpleton wanting to be a Legal Luminary, but I am proud that my ideas are confirmed and aligned with the following Legal Minds with very strong credentials!
Criminal Lawyer Ibarra, UP
Atty. Christian Monsod
Constitutional Professor Oscar Fanklin Tan, UE
Constitutional Professor Carmelo Sison, UP
Dean Andy Bautista, FEU (See inquirer Damning Damaso, Feb 2, 2013)
with the latest addition of our esteemed Constitutionalist,
is a Jesuit and is Dean Emeritus of Ateneo Law School in Makati City, Philippines. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission which drafted the present Philippine Constitution.
Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.
Now I’m cultured by these esteemed Legal Minds!
(Goodnight my friends, I need to get ready for the fresh assaults tomorrow…zzzz..zzzz…)
why don’t you post my article side by side with the legal luminaries article you cited.. it is in my blog.
yvonne, thanks.. ;)
Pasensya na, I did my endorsement to Young Pilipinos to visit your site, sa tingin ko tama na yun.
You already argued it lengthily and in profuse postings. Sa tingin ko tama na yun.
Baka kasi may magpuna na magaya ka kay Ricky Lo nong interview nya si Anne Hathaway, sabi ni Anne
Why don’t you invite them? I think they better much hear them from you!
Don’t worry, there is one similarity that perhaps make you feel better: You are both Bicolanos!
Mas Oragun si Bernas!
precisely, you consider bernas authoritative because his position on the issue supports your own bias. :)
I have my bias. My biased to learn.
It just so happens that legal minds with strong credentials are aligned with my view in this particular topic.
And speaking of law knowledge credentials, I compared to you is non-comparison.
You are a lawyer, I’m not.
BTW, did you get back your license? Damn those IBP guys huh, quibbling for a mere few thousand pesos that they alleged you took. You are right to pursue and clean your name, seems they did you injustice according to you. What is update on that? Hope you win your appeal!
Nice exchanges and healthy too! Thank you.
icant post my answe to rene ipil and parekoy.. am i being banned?
chit navarro says
the site was down for a few hours…
i am very sure in this site, everybody is welcome!
you were not banned – it was just that the site was down. check out Raissa’s article on this.
@jcc, if it makes you feel any better, I want to say that if ever I get sued for something I would like for you to be on my defense team.
Few days back, a visitor in this blog flaunted his credential as a lawyer and told non-lawyers not to discuss the law with him. I do not share his view, but somehow his bravado carries some truth in it. Still I am not prepared to share his arrogance. I am only saddened by the supposition that non-lawyers can become legal luminaries by reading a case law online. I am not a legaly luminary and I had been reading laws for more than 2 decades.ss
IIED is not directed against officials in power alone. It can be committed by ordinary people like you and me. A person kicking the dog of his neighbor in-front of a young kid who loves that dog so much can be found liable for IIED.
I cited IIED which requires “outrageous conduct” simply to point out that that there is nothing vague about the phrase “outrageous conduct” or the phrase “notoriously offensive” in Art. 133. We can always find a rational
being that can put a face on what is an “outrageous conduct,” or a “notoriously offensive conduct.”
The “reasonable person” standard is the default whenever the law needs an observer. Or in “negligence cases” the issue of fault is framed using a “good father of a family” standard. But please take note that the Supreme Court in the case of Baes, limited the “reasonable person standard” in interpreting Art. 133, only to those persons professing the same faith. The interpretation was policy directional. Imagine if a Catholic church service had been mocked and we call an atheist to the witness stand who observed the whole event and ask him if he finds those acts “notoriously offensive.”
The Falwell case was decided on the issue of free speech. The court balanced the burden on speech against the right of Minister Falwell to claim for damage for emotional trauma. The claim that he had sex with his mother at the outhouse was a parody. Meaning it was a literary module published by Larry Flint in his own magazine, Hustler – and the court argues along the concept that almost nobody would believe it had happened specially those who knew the Minister, therefore he was not subjected to ridicule and extreme emotional trauma.
In the case of Mr. Celdran, he used the Church (not his own magazine) to deliver his political and social commentary in a place which does not welcome his speech and of which he has no free speech privilege. There is no balancing interest. I know that even laymen can understand the difference.
Rizal commentary was about a member of the Friar Church, Fr. Damaso. It was not a wholesal attack against the church if you consider that he was a student of Ateneo and University of Santo Tomas. And his forum was his novel not the church premises. It must also be taken in the colonial context where the Spanish friars lord over the civil government. And Rizal used a literary medium to deliver his message while Mr. Celdran used the church premises.
In Rizal’s time there was no need to cajole the civil govt. to promote its own agenda. Both the civil government and the church worked in tandem in the supervision, control and exploitation of the natives.
Now there is a separation between church and state, and both are now run by domestic prelates and civil servants respectively. No more colonial overlords.
The church believes that RHB is a moral issue because it would flood our society with condoms and contraceptives that would corrupt the moral fiber of its flock. The church wanted to be heard in this debate. Mr. Celdran was wrong in his analysis that RHB is purely a civic issue and not a moral issue. Even assuming that the church was wrong in its submission on the morality implication of RHB, the wide spectrum of free speech allows not only correct speech but also erroneous speech. Free speech is tolerant not only of those speech that support ours, but also those speech that are opposed to us. Mr. Celdran would gag the prelates by “ad-hominem,” suggesting that they were wholesale hypocrites and adulterers like Fr. Damaso, therefore have no business to interfere in the business of the State. That is intolerance and bigotry.
The prelates had exercised their free speech using their pulpit, Mr. Celdran, by trespassing church properties.
BTW, Parekoy, what I parsed is the evidence already on record. It is not the ambiguity of the law that I was parsing. Besides, I submit that the law was clear and there was no ambiguity or vagueness in it whatsoever.
approved! heh, heh.
Romeo Maglunsod says
Kung nag-iisip lang ang milyong milyong Pilipino at nakakaintindi ng kwento ng nakaraan. Malabo kang maging isang KATOLIKO. Unang una maraming pinatay na pilipino ang relihiyon na yan. Pangalawa panahon ni damaso konokontrol nila ang gobyerno. Pangatlo sila ang nagpapatay kay Rizal. Pangapat madaming katarantaduhan na turo at dios diosan.
Kung si CARLOS CELDRAN ay isa ng KRIMINAL ano pa kaya ang tawag sa mga MIYEMBRO NG IGLESIA NI MANALO???