Your Rights and My Rights

In the Inquirer editorial for February 1, 2013, the author of the article put forward the proposal that article 133 of the Revised Penal Code be “excise[d] out of the RPC.” This article of the penal code reads as follows: “Offending the religious feelings. — 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.”

If one reads such a proposal, any reasonable person would want to find out what are the reasons the author might have for it and he would expect that they be serious ones.

If we read the article carefully, we are told about Carlos Celdran’s case who was convicted by Judge Juan O. Bermejo, Jr. for precisely committing the crime described by article 133. Then in the next five paragraphs we are presented the arguments contesting the conviction of Celdran. One is given the impression that the author of the editorial is a better judge that the judge himself. I will not enter into those arguments. Perhaps the Supreme Court can decide who the better judge is.

But the reasons why that article should be removed from the Penal Code are scarce. There are hints given by the questions that were posed in the first paragraph: that it inhibits the freedom of speech, that it is not democratic, and that “religious feelings” is an ambiguous category.

Let me comment first on the last reason. Feelings in general are typically tagged as ambiguous because they are quite difficult to define in black and white terms. How do you feel? The answer to that question is hard to describe sometimes. But that does not make feelings unreal. They are as real as your own existence. In postmodern thinking, feelings are given even greater category that reason itself. And any person knows when his feelings are offended, even religious ones.

That it is not democratic? What did the author mean by “democratic”. Since he did not define what he meant by democratic, his claim becomes vague, not even ambiguous. Moreover, we can ask why article 133 is not democratic, if ever he meant democracy to be rule by the people or equal rights in the face of the law. What is so counter-democratic to tell people not to offend the religious feelings of the others? I find that very civilized and respectful of persons.

That it inhibits the freedom of speech? I think there are many ways of expressing your ideas and you are free to do so. But if you hurt another person’s life, reputation, security and rights when you exercise your freedom of speech I think you will have to be responsible for your actions. The others also have their rights. There are reasonable limits to freedom of speech just like any freedom. That’s democracy. If freedom of speech tramples upon other people’s rights then we have tyranny of speech.

And so it seems to be that the law as it stands appears to be more reasonable than the reasons that were given to remove it from the code. It teaches the citizens of this country to respect persons.

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