CA upholds RTC ruling on tour guide, RH advocate

January 8, 2015 1:24 am 

By Perfecto T. Raymundo

MANILA, Jan. 7 (PNA) — The Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld the Manila Regional Trial Court's (RTC) ruling finding tour guide and Reproductive Health (RH) advocate Carlos Celdran guilty of offending religious feelings under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).

Celdran was meted with the penalty of two months and 21 days as minimum to one year, one month and 11 days of imprisonment for shouting inside Manila Cathedral calling the church should stop meddling in government affairs while holding a “Damaso” sign referring to “Padre Damaso,” the antagonist priest in Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere in 2010.

In a 23-page ruling, the CA's 12th Division through Associate Justice Carmelita Salandanan-Manahan, said that "the RTC was correct when it found that in conformity with one's right to free exercise of religion, the faithful may, within the limit set by laws, rightfully practice and observe their beliefs, unimpeded by unfair interference from other people."

"It goes without saying that those people observing certain form of religion or sect are equally entitled to the state's protection as any of its citizens," the CA said.

The CA turned down Celdran's argument that Article 133 of the RPC shields religion from criticism.

"It imposes a penal sanction on anyone who performs acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful done inside a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony. The petitioner [Celdran] cannot give any additional meaning to the clear and plain language of the law," the CA said.

The CA added that Celdran's assertion that Article 133 is unconstitutional "lacks substance."

"It should be borne in mind that religious freedom, although not unlimited, is a fundamental personal right and liberty, and has a preferred position in the hierarchy of values. It has been said that the religious clauses of the Constitution are all designed to protect the broadest possible liberty of conscience, to allow each man to believe as his conscience directs, to profess his beliefs and to live as he believes he ought to live, consistent with the liberty of others and with the common good," the CA said.

Concurring with the ruling are Associate Justices Japar Dimaampao and Elihu Ybañez.

The case was elevated to the CA after the RTC upheld the ruling of Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) Branch 4 Judge Juan Bermejo, Jr., who convicted Celdran.

The MTC gave credence to the testimony of the witnesses saying that “the positive declaration of the witnesses for the prosecution and the circumstances surrounding the incident are sufficient to satisfy the quantum of evidence needed for a criminal conviction.”

The case arose from the complaint of violation of Article 133 of the RPC filed by Monsignor Nestor Cerbo of the Manila Cathedral.

Article 133 punishes those 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.” (PNA)

RMA/PTR/EDS

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