The late Carlos Celdran who died of heart attack in Spain in 2019 was known as one of the few who were convicted of the crime of “offending religious feelings” under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. It was known as the “Damaso Act”. In 30 September 2010, an ecumenical celebration was held at the Manila Cathedral during the time the issue on the Reproductive Health Law was at its peak. The Philippine Catholic Church has expressed its views against the law through letters and mass actions. In an act of protest and criticism against the “meddling” by the church on the said issue, Celdran entered the Manila Cathedral while someone was reading the word of God dressed as Jose Rizal and raised a placard with the name “Damaso” in front of the altar. The event made it to the headlines of newspapers and dominated the news reports on television and radio. The nation was divided. Some condemn the act as an insult and disrespect to the church while others praise Celdran for his bravery to stand against the 400-year-old religious institution. A criminal case was filed against Celdran before the Metropolitan Trial Court in Manila and after hearing the judge found him guilty. The case was elevated to the Regional Trial Court but the conviction was affirmed and it was then elevated to the Court of Appeals which dismissed the same including the motion for reconsideration. Not satisfied, Celdran brought the matter to the Supreme Court.
The Court no longer considered the issue of whether the act of Celdran offended the feelings of those present since the SC is not a trier of facts. The Court said: The question of whether petitioner offended the religious feelings of those present during the celebration of the MTBC is a question of fact which will not be entertained in the present petition” (G.R. 220127, 21 March 2018). In many cases, the SC declared that the findings of trial courts regarding facts will not be disturbed “absent any clear showing of abuse, arbitrariness or capriciousness committed by the lower court”. The Court by the way, agreed with the finding of the CA “that the acts of the petitioner were meant to mock, insult, and ridicule those clergy whose beliefs and principles were diametrically opposed to his own”. Many disagreed with the conviction of Celdran and some legislators even proposed for the repeal of Article 133 of the RPC. According to them, this provision of the law is a remnant of the time when the church and state were inseparable. An affront to our freedom of expression. But on the other hand, should the freedom of the church to express its opinion be equally protected against any act to degrade or insult it regarding its issuances or statements?
A political exile in Madrid, he died in 2019 while the movement for the repeal of 133 stirred by his conviction has not succeeded. The repeal has not yet been approved.