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Prosecution of priest for violation of archaic law bucked

May 27, 2023 Jester P. Manalastas 226 views

A lawmaker expressed hope that Dominican Fr. Winston Cabading — who is facing a court case for “offending religious feelings” and upheld the Vatican nullification of the 1948 Marian Apparition in Lipa, Batangas — must not suffer the miserable fate of Carlos Celdran.

Cabading was arrested and detained on a warrant issued by Quezon City regional trial court on May 13.

The case against the priest, who is also an exorcist of the Manila archdiocese, was filed by Atty. Harriet Demetriou, the country’s former elections chief and former justice of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan.

Demetriou’s Facebook post said the bottom line in her legal fight against Cabading “is the vindication of truth” in the 1948 alleged Marian apparition in the Carmelite Monastery in Lipa City, Batangas.

She claimed the priest, among others, “are the purveyors of lies and falsehoods against Our Lady, Mary, Mediatrix of All Grace.”

Lagman said Celdran was prosecuted and convicted, albeit without finality, of the archaic offense of “offending religious feelings” under Sec. 133 of the Revised Penal Code.

Celdran made a political statement, not a religious one, that unlike Padre Damaso, the Catholic hierarchy must not interfere in secular affairs like the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill even as Protestant ministers, Muslim imams, and pastors from other Christian denominations did not oppose the measure, Lagman pointed out.

It will be recalled that during the height of the arduous crusade for the enactment of the Reproductive Health Bill, now Republic Act No. 10354, on September 30, 2010, Celdran, dressed as national hero Jose Rizal, meandered towards the main altar of the Manila Cathedral where an ecumenical activity on bible distribution by Catholic and Protestant leaders was being held.

He raised a placard with the name “Damaso” in reference to the villainous friar from Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere. Those who were fans of the telenovela “Maria Clara at Ibarra” are familiar with the loathsome Padre Damaso and his detestable deeds.

“Verily, Article 133 is a prior restraint on free speech. It forbids a citizen from expressing views which purported offended parties would subjectively consider ‘notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.’ This is vastly different from the victim’s objectively ascertainable death in murder, bodily infliction in physical injuries, damage to property in arson or even a damaged reputation in libel,” Lagman said.

“In Article 133, the proscription of an act under pain of penalty is a veritable prior censorship or restraint on the freedom of expression because one is foreclosed from expressing his opinion or forced to fossilize his thought on a public issue that demands articulation,” he added.

Aside from alleging Celdran’s display of the Damaso placard, no other “inculpatory” act was attributed to Celdran in the Information.

Incidentally, the “offended” religious leaders mentioned in the Information, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, Papal Nuncio Edward Joseph Adams, Ambassador Henrietta de Villa and Msgr. Nestor Verbo did not testify for the prosecution.

They must have realized that the advocacy of Celdran for modern-day Filipino priests and bishops to shun the sordid reputation of Padre Damaso is a reform shibboleth which does not ridicule or castigate, but on the contrary, challenges, even elevates.

Anticipating a delay in the judicial process, Lagman has filed House Bill No. 5170 in the 18th Congress to repeal Article 133 for being unconstitutional as an affront on the right of free speech and free expression.

The repeal of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code will forever foreclose similar prosecutions and travails of well-meaning critics which Carlos Celdran unjustifiably suffered and endured and which may wreak havoc to Fr. Cabading’s freedom of expression.