By Hannah Torregoza
Detained Senator Leila de Lima is now seeking the passage of a measure seeking to repeal a provision in the Revised Penal Code (RPC) that punishes the crime of “offending religious feelings” through words and actions.
De Lima, in filing Senate Bill No. 628 said provisions under Article 133 of the RPC was already “archaic” and could infringe 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.
De Lima recalled the case of social activist Carlos Celdran, 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.
Celdran, a popular historian and cultural activist, created a stir when he staged a one-man protest in 2010 to show his disapproval of the Catholic church’s stand against the Reproductive Health bill which has been passed into law.
Celdran sported a black outfit and brought out a placard with the word “Damaso” in September 2010 at an ecumenical service inside the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros as part of his protest stunt.
The Supreme Court affirmed Celdran’s sentence of two and a half months to one year last August 2018 for offending the Church.
“While there may be basis for an action for damages against Mr. Celdran, Article 133 of the RPC should no longer be considered a crime,” de Lima maintained.
“The archaic Article 133 also violates the Constitution’s non-establishment clause and is already obsolete. It is no longer necessary,” she added.
Article 133 of the RPC penalizes “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.”
De Lima noted that even the Office of the Solicitor General itself submitted to the Court that Article 133 of the RPC should be declared unconstitutional since it is “‘simultaneously overbroad and void for vagueness” and that it does not contain an “objective standard and thus left [sic] judges with wide discretion over cases that may affect freedom of speech.”
Under SB No. 628, de Lima said the sentence of the persons convicted for violation of the Article 133 of the RPC shall be automatically commuted and the persons serving said sentences shall be immediately released, provided that they are neither serving a prison term nor detained for any other legal cause.
De Lima, a known human rights and social justice activist, noted that the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s (UNHRC) General Comment No.22, Article 18, further emphasized 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.”