Offending religious feelings-A A +A
By Kelvin Lee
Question of Law
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
I READ in the news that a famous tour guide in Manila was recently convicted for the crime of Offending Religious Feelings.
This stemmed from an incident where the tour guide went into a famous church in Manila and brandished a sign which said "Damaso," in order to advocate for the Reproductive Health Bill (RH Bill) and to protest the Catholic Church's involvement in government affairs.
You will recall from your history lessons that Damaso is the name of a Spanish Friar who was an antagonist in Jose Rizal's novel, Noli Me Tangere.
As a result, the tour guide's actions upset a number of religious and faithful people. A case was soon filed before the Office of the Prosecutor for Offending Religious Feelings under the Revised Penal Code.
Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code provides:
Art. 133. Offending the religious feelings. - The penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its minimum period shall be imposed upon 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.
In short, the Revised Penal Code makes it a crime to "perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful" while "in a place devoted to religious worship."
This was explained further by the Supreme Court, quoting Justice Albert, in this wise: "an act is said to be notoriously offensive to the religious feelings of the faithful when a person ridicules or makes light of anything constituting a religious dogma; works or scoffs at anything devoted to religious ceremonies; plays with or damages or destroys any object of veneration by the faithful." (People v. Baes, G.R. No. 46000. May 25, 1939).
Based on news reports, a judge then found sufficient basis to convict the tour guide for this crime, and so sentenced him to an indeterminate sentence of 2 months and 21 days of imprisonment to a maximum of one year, 1 month and 11 days of imprisonment.
To quote the Court which convicted the tour guide: "Wherefore, premises considered, accused ....is found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the crime of Offending the Religious Feelings under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code and applying the Indeterminate Sentence Law, there being no mitigating and aggravating circumstance, he is hereby sentenced to suffer imprisonment of two months and 21 days as minimum to one year, one month and 11 days..."
It is worth mentioning however that this particular provision of the Revised Penal Code is quite archaic and rarely used, with many sectors saying that it is out-dated. This is a good point, considering that the Revised Penal Code was enacted on December 8, 1930, or more than 80 years ago.
Some experts claim that this provision may even violate the freedom of expression enshrined in our 1987 Constitution.
The tour guide has announced that he will appeal his conviction. Presuming that this issue will go all the way to the Supreme Court, we may have a categorical ruling on the validity/invalidity of this particular provision of the Revised Penal Code.
For now though, it seems we must be careful when it comes to this law.
The opinions expressed herein are Atty. Kelvin's own. You can reach Kelvin through his office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 05, 2013.