Carlos Celdran urges SC to reverse 'Damaso' ruling

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 15 2018 06:00 PM

MANILA - Performance artist Carlos Celdran on Wednesday urged the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse its ruling that upheld his conviction for "offending religious feelings" over his September 2010 "Damaso" stunt that hit the Catholic Church.

Apart from asking for his acquittal in his motion for reconsideration (MR), Celdran reiterated his plea to have Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), that penalizes said offense, declared unconstitutional.

On September 20, 2010, Celdran, wearing a black suit, bore a placard that read ‘Damaso’ inside the Manila Cathedral during an ecumenical service attended by Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, the Papal Nuncio, former Philippine Ambassador to Rome Henrietta De Villa, and leaders of different Christian denominations. 

His stunt was directed against the position taken by the Catholic Church against the then Reproductive Health Bill, now passed into law.

Damaso is one of the villains in national hero Dr. Jose Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), originally written in Spanish, which speaks of the iniquities of Roman Catholic Church priests and the leadership during Spain’s colonization of the Philippines. 

In his motion, Celdran cited a May 2016 manifestation by then-Solicitor General Florin Hilbay that supported his plea. Hilbay argued that Article 133 is an “overbreadth, vague, and related to the regulation of protected free speech,” and, thus, unconstitutional.

Celdran explained that the word "Damaso" is “political speech protected by freedom of expression."

He further argued that Article 133 violates the due process and equal protection clauses in the Constitution. 

“[B]oth the petition for review and the [Office of the Solicitor General] manifestation in lieu of comment argue that Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code is unconstitutional. It is surprising that the 21 March 2018 [SC] resolution did not make any mention of the constitutional issues raised in the petition and in the Solicitor General’s manifestation in lieu of comment,” his motion read. 

On Tuesday, the OSG filed a pleading asking the high court to reverse its earlier ruling affirming Celdran's conviction. 

In its decision, the high court’s First Division had said: “We agree with the CA in finding that the acts of petitioner were meant to mock, insult, and ridicule those clergy whose beliefs and principles were diametrically opposed to his own.” 

The SC explained Celdran failed “to sufficiently show any reversible error in the uniform findings" of the Metropolitan Trial Court Manila (MeTC), the Regional Trial Court (RTC), and the Court of Appeals (CA) which had found him liable for his act. 

“With due respect to the [SC], the petition does not raise questions of facts. The petition does not ask the court to review the factual findings of the Court of Appeals. Indeed, the facts are very clear and undisputed. What the petition has raised before the [SC] are fundamental constitutional issues,” the motion argued.

The SC said in its ruling that in a petition for review on certiorari, questions of fact are no longer revisited, and the “findings of fact made by the trial courts are accorded the highest degree of respect by this Court (SC), especially when the MeTC, the RTC and the CA have similar findings.” 

Celdran’s conviction carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment of one year, one month, and 11 days.