MANILA, Philippines - Senator Pia Cayetano on Tuesday filed a bill seeking to repeal a Spanish-era provision in the Revised Penal Code that punishes acts seen to "offend religious feelings."
Cayetano, in a press statement, said Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code that punishes "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" can be used to curtail freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution.
The law came under public scrutiny after a Manila court sentenced to prison activist and tourist guide Carlos Celdran for disrupting an ecumenical service at the Manila Cathedral in September 2010.
"Given the fact that the Revised Penal Code was enacted in January 1, 1932, more than 50 years before the 1987 Constitution, there is a need to revisit antiquated criminal laws such as Article 133," Cayetano said.
"Freedom of speech and expression is essential to a sovereign state. In fact, the curtailment thereof has been one of the main reasons for revolts in the country throughout Philippine history," she added. "A person living in a democracy surely cannot expect that his beliefs will be free from all criticism."
She said while Article 3, Section 4 of the Constitution states that no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech and expression, Article 133 has the effect of a law that restrains these guarantees.
Cayetano, however, said repealing Article 133 will not mean wanton disregard of freedom of religion.
"A person can still be held liable for civil damages under Article 32 of the Civil Code which provides for redress in case there is a violation of the different Constitutional rights enumerated therein, including the freedom of religion, and of speech," she explained.