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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Musings on Carlos Celdran

Trying to write about the Celdran conviction over his September 30, 2010, protest inside the Manila Cathedral, I realize that the issue has been muddled by Celdran's stance on the reproductive health (RH) bill. Already, pro-RH supporters have gone to social media to express their support for Celdran, and human rights advocates have decried the conviction as an assault on free speech. However, one has to look at the facts of the case, sans the RH bill issue, and judge it on the facts.

What Carlos Celdran did on September 30, 2010, was to enter the Manila Cathedral dressed as Jose Rizal and carrying a sign with the word "DAMASO" written on it; this was a reference to the corrupt priest in Rizal's novels "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo". He performed this stunt during an ecumenical service, and even shouted at the priest to "stop getting involved in politics". He was then subsequently arrested and charged with "offending religious feelings". On January 28, 2013, he was found guilty by a Manila court and sentenced to at least two months to a year and a month.

The reaction was almost immediate, as people lined up to support Celdran, while others acknowledged that Celdran was wrong to do what he did, but believed that he should not be jailed for his actions. Celdran, for his part, appeared to be enjoying his notoriety, and has continued to insist that his actions are protected under free speech, and, while he has verbally apologized, he continued to insist that the Church stay out of politics.

Now that I have time to think about it, I find his statements ironic, considering that, if the Church had not involved itself in politics, the 1986 EDSA Revolution might not have occurred the way it did. If it wasn't for the support of Cardinal Sin and other religious figures rallying Filipinos to rise up against the dictator, Fidel Ramos and Juan Ponce Enrile's puny forces would have been crushed by the Marcos military. So, the Church should only involve itself in ministering its flock, and involve itself in issues concerning it?

The Church, and its leaders, have a right to weigh in on issues which have a moral dimension, which the RH Bill discussion clearly has. In a way, in fact, by ordering the Church to stay out of politics (although, by "politics", Celdran really means the RH Bill issue), Celdran is infringing on the Church's right to express its views on issues.

Of the various articles I have read about the issue, the sanest appears to be that of Atty. Mel Sta. Maria, a professor at the Ateneo College of Law, and TV5's resident law expert. He parses the issue into its components, and then invites readers to weigh in on the matter. I found a number of the responses to be enlightening, to say the least. 

Some of the more insightful:
" I wonder if Carlos Celdran would have done the same thing for another issue in another place of worship, say Iglesia ni Cristo. He obviously took advantage of the fact that Catholic religion is not so strict in its observance of religious activities that is why he got inside the church very easily, bringing with him a placard. I understand his friends in the entertainment industry are on his side but as a Catholic, I feel that my place of worship has not been given respect by this some celebrity who obviously has abused his right to everything. In my opinion, he deserves to be in jail because of his offensive act."  (Kulet Ko)
"Freedom is everyone's right. If there is freedom of speech, there also exists the freedom to worship. Anyone who prevents his fellowman from attaining full access to his/her particular rights is guilty of an offense.

"I would like to emphasize that Carlos Celdran had a valid argument to protest, it is a national issue. I wouldn't argue against that. But how he executed it is the matter of the story. His invocation of free expression is not justifiable in a private space and - most importantly - in the middle of the Mass.

"I have three points to highlight:

"1. The mass is the 'culmen et fons' (source and summit) of our Catholic faith. It is not the mere repetition of an ancient custom - it is an actualization (pagsasa-ngayon) of a practice that Jesus himself handed down to generations of Christians. In any version of the bible, you will find him telling us to "do THIS in memory of me."

"As a Christian, I am offended because another professed Christian raised a placard to interrupt the Lord's meal. It is not something that can be forgiven so easily. My philosophy of Christian love is superseded by my love for God.

"2. He (Celdran) confessed and asked forgiveness from a priest? Any priest will tell you to accept the consequences of your actions wholeheartedly as penance. Even a murderer who is absolved of his sins will be told by his confessor to submit to authorities and face the sentence for his error.

"3. The church building is not a public space. It may have been built by donations of the faithful, but a donation does not function in a way that tax does. When you give it, it is up to the institution to dispose of it unless the donors specify a particular purpose of how they would like the institution to spend it. Unlike tax, a donation is not imposed, it is given out of charity that's why it is imprudent to chase after it if you've given it already.

"Rest this matter now. The RH bill has been passed and the bishops had their own share of humiliation. It is time that Carlos Celdran face his own share of the consequence of his actions for he brought it upon himself.
" (Michael King)
One recurring comment I've come across speculates on what would have happened if Celdran had done his actions in a mosque, although those following Islam haven't spoken against the RH Bill, so it's doubtful that Celdran would've done something to that effect. The bottom line is that he intruded on a religious ceremony, and it should be noted that Celdran did not interrupt a Mass, but, rather, an ecumenical service, which is not any less solemn. By doing so, he disturbed churchgoers with his actions.

Since it is likely that Celdran will appeal his conviction, we have not seen the end of this issue, and we will likely have further updates to the issue as the days go by.  

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