MANILA, Philippines – Retired Archbishop Oscar V. Cruz on Tuesday suggested that Carlos Celdran personally apologize to the Catholic hierarchy to avoid being jailed, but the controversial tour guide's lawyer believes such a move would be "too late."
Cruz noted that the letter that Celdran had sent to then Manila Archbishop Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales and published online may not have been enough to appease the priests and Catholic faithfuls, who were offended when the popular tour guide pulled off a stunt during an ecumenical service inside the Manila Cathedral in 2010.
He said Celdran should try to reach out to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Archdiocese of Manila for a fresh dialogue.
"Pero sa pagkakataon na ito, imbes na sulat, eh bakit hindi bumisita o magkape?" Cruz told ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda."
Cruz gave this suggestion a day after the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court disclosed a decision, which found Celdran guilty beyond reasonable doubt of "offending religious feelings".
In a decision dated December 14, 2012 and penned by Pairing Judge Juan O. Bermejo Jr., the court said Celdran is guilty for violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. The provision dictates the imposition of a penalty 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."
Bermejo Jr. ordered Celdran's imprisonment for two months and 21 days up to one year, one month and 11 days.
But for Atty. Marlon Manuel, legal counsel of Celdran, any form of apology at this point would have no effect since a full-blown trial had already taken place.
"Pero ito kasi eh nag-full blown trial na eh. Mukhang hindi possible na biglang mawala at mabalewala ang kaso - too late at this point," he told ABS-CBNnews.com
Manuel explained that the apology letter Cruz was referring to was the product of a pre-trial mediation initiated by the first judge who handled the case.
He said no agreement was reached by the parties even after his client sent and published the letter of apology.
"Nag-usap kami after. Ang sabi sa amin ni Atty. [Ronaldo] Reyes (lawyer of private complainant Msgr. Nestor Cerbo): 'Sige tignan natin.' Ang usapan ay magda-draft kami ng letter, sinend namin sa kanila," he said.
"Ang naging problema, ang private complainant, si Msgr. Nestor Cerbo - siya ang representative ng Manila Cathedral, he never appeared so wala kaming kausap na official representative."
Manuel said Celdran had always shown willingness to apologize. "Nag-confess pa nga siya eh, kasi iyun nga ang iniisip niya eh. Pero even with that wala namang nangyari."
No probation option
With the recent developments, Manuel said the only option left for his client is to appeal the decision to a higher court.
The legal option could be in the form of an appeal before the regional trial court or a direct petition before the Supreme Court.
Manuel said his client is standing by his freedom to speak his mind, and that availing the "probation" option is out of the question.
Probation would mean Celdran's crime record will be erased and he will only report once in a while before the court. He can also work as was usual, except he could not disrupt religious rites.
Manuel noted that his client did not offend any "religious feeling," since the stunt was pulled off during an ecumenical service, and not a Eucharistic celebration. He said Celdran was already outside the cathedral when the Holy Mass started.
In 2010, Celdran used a placard with the word "Damaso" and held it up inside Manila Cathedral, surprising the priests and Catholic faithfuls.
Damaso, a character in Jose Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere," is described as a powerful friar who wields his influence to get what he wants.
The incident occurred at the height of heated debates on the reproductive health bill, which has since been enacted into a law.
Celdran is on temporary provisional liberty. He posted a P6,000 bail when he was charged in 2010.