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Death by bigotry

"Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code must be repealed."

 

It was a Thursday and I was about to leave to watch a play when my phone rang. It was Ria apologizing for disturbing me, but Carlos (Celdran) had her call because he was being arrested. I could hear Carlos in the background saying, “I’m being arrested!” repeatedly.

They were at the Manila Cathedral and Carlos was accosted by security guards and being brought outside, and eventually, to the police precinct on UN Avenue. Ria apprised me of what was happening.

The night before, we (Carlos, myself, and other advocates of the then RH bill) were having a meeting for the mobilization we were planning in front of the offices of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for Friday of that week.

The following morning, I saw a tweet of Carlos’ saying that he heard that an anti-RH event was happening at the Manila Cathedral and that he would go and see what it was. I remember calling him because he was supposed to be doing something for the mobilization the next day but there he was going to make “usyoso” somewhere else. He said he only wanted to take pictures for posting on Facebook.

And then Ria called. I immediately told Rep. Edcel Lagman what happened and before we knew it, we were all at the police station for Carlos. I learned then than indeed, Carlos wanted to have pictures of him taken with the Damaso sign. He even promised Ria halo-halo so she would take the pictures. In the course of looking for a good shot, it started to rain so he went in and he found himself in front of the people gathered for the event. He has been quietly holding the white board (he used this for his tours) with Damaso written on it for a few minutes before someone noticed him and the guards were called. It was when he was accosted and being brought outside that he shouted, “Stop meddling in politics!” Thus, the Damaso protest was a spur of the moment decision for Carlos. It was unplanned.

That was 2010, a little over nine years ago. Carlos was charged with the crime “offending the religious feelings” under Art. 133 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC). A law from the Spanish-era making it archaic and obsolete but nonetheless remains in our RPC. For comparison, Spain no longer has this as it was repealed a long time ago.

Carlos’ Damaso protest and the arrest that ensued drew national attention to the RH bill. A lot of people became aware of the bill and the manner by which dissent was dealt with by the Catholic church. Support for the RH bill’s passage became even stronger after the incident. The bill was eventually passed into law in December 2012.

Carlos’ ordeal though was far from over. Through the years he worked with the system. I was witness to virtually everything since my group supported him all throughout. He was convicted by the lower court and such was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court.

Intermittently and after each defeat at the Courts, Carlos would mull just serving the jail term meted to him. None of us agreed that he should. Navigating through the case was not easy for me and those who supported him. We could only imagine how it was for Carlos.

The case did not paralyze Carlos. He continued to be very productive. He went on with his tours, shows, art, and even gave the city he loved the most, Manila, its first Biennale.

Despite the fact that Carlos was loud and had an opinion on everything, he was not one to burden people with his personal problems. But those who knew him would time and again feel how he was being affected by the case.

Towards the end of 2018, I received word that the SC has reaffirmed the decision convicting Carlos of the crime of “offending the religious feelings.” Carlos and his family did not know it yet. This was it. Carlos could still appeal but the chance that the SC would change its decision was next to impossible.

We went to see Carlos but he was doing a tour and would finish late. We spoke with his wife Tesa and informed her of the unfortunate development. The following day, I was informed that Carlos was already out of the country. He eventually proceeded to Madrid.

The following times I spoke with him, it was already online. He never stopped helping others though he was away. He would ask me for advice on behalf of a friend who was abused by a partner, and the like.

He was away but his social media presence remained. Carlos liked being with people and being alone in Madrid was difficult. He was open about feeling lonely there especially in the beginning. He had to make a lot of adjustments in his lifestyle.

Eventually, things started to look up. He was getting invitations to travel and do lectures, he was developing his Camino Rizal tour in Madrid, and had in fact conducted a few, and, he was preparing to go to Venice this month for the Biennale.

Thus, getting the news that he passed was surreal. I said that it must be a sick joke. I could not believe it, I did not want to believe it even as Tesa confirmed it to me.

Carlos left because he was going to be punished for a “crime” under an Spanish-era law that is completely biased towards religion. He went on voluntary exile. Carlos loved his country. He loved Manila. He pursued social justice, human rights, and women’s rights. He was uprooted because of the “offending the religious feelings” law that allows and reinforces bigotry. Such was used against him.

Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code must be repealed. We owe it to Carlos Celdran.

He had health problems and he was open about those. But as far as I am concerned, Carlos Celdran’s case is death by bigotry.

@bethangsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: Manila Cathedral , Carlos Celdran , Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines , Court of Appeals , Supreme Court
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