Celdran conviction consequence of his actions, say observers

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MANILA, Jan. 30, 2013—The Metropolitan Trial Court has found tour guide Carlos Celdran guilty of violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code and sentenced him to a minimum of two months and maximum of one year in prison.

But based on remarks made by netizens complaining about the verdict and criticizing the impending incarceration,  it seems emotion clouded the judgment of Celdran’s supporters and failed to see the issue for what it is: accepting the consequences of breaking the law. Even suggestions of “forgiveness” have turned up in news reports, implying the need for the Church to extend more mercy to Celdran.

Ordinary citizens weighed in on the issue:

“When we have committed a mistake, we are forgiven but we still have to atone for the damage [it caused]. For example, we bump a car. The car owner may forgive us but we will pay for the damage,” said technical support coach Voltaire Dela Santa. “And if Celdran does not go to jail for that action, people will repeat it.”

Homemaker and entrepreneur Rowena Vizmonte said the pursuit of the case “is to send a message that you don’t disrespect a very solemn mass and then get away with it with merely an apology. I am sure [Celdran] was forgiven by the Church but his action must be served justice.”

If the case is withdrawn, this will send the message that “it’s okay naman palang magwala habang nag-mi-misa,” Vizmonte continued, adding that others with an axe to grind with the Church are bound to follow suit should the incident have been merely brushed off.

Writer Nicole Bautista was more straightforward about being pleased with the verdict handed down Monday, saying she is “glad Celdran got convicted. I don’t care what his defenders say. If he didn’t get convicted, it means an atheist can just walk in on our recollection or our retreat and call us all stupid for believing in [what in his opinion] is some non-existent thing – because it’s his ‘freedom of speech.’  Of course they’ll say no one will do that, but Celdran did just that – on a higher scale pa.”

“What if someone –a stranger – came uninvited to your house, then held a poster saying you are a hypocrite, and he is standing in front of your kids? Would you let that person to stay there because he is practicing his freedom of speech?” asked graphic artist Daxx Bondoc. “Or would you get the authorities to get him out and ask for a restraining order?”

State pursued the case

Since the verdict on the case was announced Monday, those sympathetic to the tour guide had been pointing fingers at the Church hierarchy for the outcome of the incident – apparently a misguided take since it is the State, not the Church, who was responsible for the case being pursued.

The Archdiocese of Manila through its Office of Communications released a statement Wednesday clarifying that “the Criminal Case against Mr. Celdran was pursued by the State represented by the Public Prosecutor and a lay private prosecutor. Based on the Decision of the Court the prosecution presented four witnesses, none of whom were from the Archdiocese of Manila.”

Though “deeply disturbed” by the incident which took place in 2010, then Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales gave instructions for the Archdiocese to no longer pursue the case, the statement also said.

“How the case on appeal proceeds from hereon is not up to the Archdiocese of Manila or the Church but to the Courts,” it concluded.

Disrupted ecumenical religious service

Celdran was arrested on September 30, 2010 after he staged a protest inside the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, or Manila Cathedral, while an ecumenical religious service was in progress. Dressed as national hero Jose Rizal, he walked to the front of the church near the altar holding up a large sign with “Damaso” scrawled on it, and yelled “Stop getting involved in politics!” at the bishops gathered in the venue. Police later arrived to whisk him away.

Among those at the ceremony meant to mark the second anniversary of the May They Be One Bible campaign – a joint project of Catholics and Protestant leaders – were Rosales, Papal Nuncio Archbishop Edward Adams, and other Catholic bishops. Protestant Bishops Fred Magbanua of the Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches and Nathaniel Lazaro, chair of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, and Rev. Richard Pridmore of the Union Church of Manila were also present.

In a TV interview after he posted bail a couple of days later, the tour guide said, “I apologize for being rude. But it was necessary for me to be rude” and “I am sorry for the method I used, but I am not sorry for the message I made.”

Celdran was arrested and convicted for violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, which states: “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.”

‘Can’t have it both ways’

Celdran seemed defiant after the verdict was handed down and vowed to appeal the case, which netizens such as Rowena Mendoza de Guzman regarded as a lack of remorse for the crime he committed.

“From the comments from him now, it seems to me he still feels he didn’t do anything wrong and [thinks] the law used against him was unjust. He can’t have it both ways. Either he’s sorry and admits his mistakes, or he stands by his conviction that the law is unjust and faces the consequences of his actions and goes to jail. That is simple integrity – something that he also seems to be lacking.” (CBCP for Life)

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