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Philippine senator wants end to blasphemy punishments

MANILA (UCAN): A Philippine senator, Leila de Lima, is seeking the repeal of a provision in the country’s penal code that punishes the crime of “offending religious feelings” through words and actions, saying that the “archaic” provision could violate an individual’s constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.
“Freedom of expression, which is a fundamental human right, is indispensable in any democratic society,” De Lima said.
She said Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code also violates the Philippine Constitution’s “non-establishment clause” and is “already obsolete.”
Section 4, Article 133 of the code states that anyone who performs acts “offensive to the feelings of the faithful” in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony can be imprisoned.
De Lima pointed to the case of cultural activist, Carlos Celdran, who is believed to be the only person in the Philippines to be convicted and sentenced to imprisonment in the modern era for blasphemy.
The court sentenced Celdran in 2018 to up to one year, one month and 11 days.
The matter stemmed from a 2010 incident in which Celdran entered the The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception during a Mass and raised a placard with the word Damaso—referring to the fictional character, Padre Damaso, from national hero Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli me Tangere, which tells about the abuses of Spanish friars.
The activist was protesting against the Catholic Church’s alleged interference in the passage of the reproductive health bill then pending in Congress.
“While there may be basis for an action for damages against Mr Celdran, Article 133 of the (code) should no longer be considered a crime,” said De Lima.
The senator noted that even the Office of the Solicitor-General itself submitted to the Supreme Court that Article 133 of the code should be declared unconstitutional because it is “simultaneously over broad and void for vagueness.”
The opposition senator noted that the United Nations Human Rights Committee has emphasised that “freedom of thought and freedom of conscience are protected equally with the freedom of religion and belief and that these freedoms are non-derogable, even in times of public emergency.”

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