Nuffnang ad

Monday, January 28, 2013

Did Jose Rizal Die In Vain?

Having been offline most of the day, I was besieged with countless status updates once I logged onto my Facebook account about a singular news item: Carlos Celdran has been sentenced to serve time for "offending religious feelings".

Offensive or inspired?
(Courtesy of

The phrase itself is problematic, and seems to me nothing more than senseless alliteration: why should someone be incarcerated on account of hurt feelings? I am certain that I have hurt many people's feelings with what I have been accused of possessing, a tart tongue that will not sugarcoat things just to soften the blow. Corollary to that, many people have returned the favor to me, sometimes quite pointedly and in equal measure, but in other times, done unwittingly and with no real intent of doing so.

I am led to question about the intent of this phrase's inclusion into our penal code.

It seems to be designed to stifle any form of criticism aimed against religions, and since most of this country identifies itself as Catholic, then it would be understandable if anyone would think that this specific provision, while couched in general language, is meant to shore up Catholicism.

If you think this is conjecture on my part, one only needs to go back to last month, when the debates on the now newly-minted Reproductive Health law were still raging because it was then just a bill to be voted upon: when lawmakers against the measure stood up to defend their positions, you would hear variations of the same point - this is a Catholic country, we should include the inputs of the Catholic church when making our laws, and, while I was watching the live voting on television, one lawmaker even recited a Catholic prayer in lieu of a defense that could be contested on legal or secular merits.

Clearly, Catholicism is not on the same footing with other religions in this country, which is really an affront to any democratic society, where no religion is to be treated in any way superior, and is to be excluded in the discussion of secular matters. Our own lawmakers seem to find it difficult to separate state from church, so in truth it may actually be unsurprising why "offending religious feelings" is inscribed into our laws, at least for now.

Celdran's misstep - one that can be argued as inspired for the same reason - was that he raised his Damaso placard during a Mass. I often argue about how religions should stay out of secular spaces such as both Houses of Congress, so it is but proper that churches and religions be free to say and do whatever it is their faiths permit them to in their own spaces.

But what he was protesting was essentially a response to the never ending ingratiating of the Catholic church into the affairs of the state: I remember that he was protesting their constant opposition to the RH Bill (then), and dressed up as our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, he raised his voice - his placard - to demonstrate his feelings about the constant intrusion the institution makes.

WWJD - What would Jesus Do? - is a common online response to fundamentalist Christians in the United States, who seem intent on using the Bible on every turn to justify their misogynistic, racist and homophobic stances, appropriating for themselves some derivative of "holiness" because they have found a Bible verse to prop up their biases. It turns their claim on its head because, for example, not once was there a record of Jesus himself ever saying anything about homosexuality in the book they profess to believe in.

It would be interesting, then, to answer this question: what would Jose Rizal do?

What would he have done?
(Courtesy of

How would Rizal have reacted to the constant interference of the Catholic church in the debates about the (then) RH Bill? Or to how they have flexed their political muscle in practically all secular affairs when they are supposed to be excluded from it as an institution?

A clue to his response would be the fact that he wrote two of the novels we now study in school: Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which depicts the Catholic hierarchy in the most unflattering of lights. Isn't it interesting that when the Rizal Law - the reason it is a requirement to teach these books in school - was being debated in Congress, the same hierarchy also opposed it strongly, on pretty much the same grounds that they did with the RH Bill (now Law)?

As a non-Catholic, they have constantly offended my feelings: where else but in this country can you see a grotto and a 3 o'clock Catholic prayer being uttered over the PA system in a government office, thereby stopping work, and forcing me and other non Catholics to be hearing the prayer in what is supposed to be a secular government's office?

What recourse does any citizen have over the brazen way this institution has in ensuring that what they think and believe is supposed to be followed, even by adherents of other faiths, or by those who claim none, when we have a provision in our laws that protects their "feelings"? Anyone who does not subscribe to their faith can easily be seen as "offensive", choosing to profess any other faith, or none at all. Should Protestants also lodge complaints against Catholics, since statues of saints are seen as "graven images" and is therefore an affront to the Protestant faith? Where does it end?

It may be time to reread the Noli and Fili, once again. Until we learn from our own history, we are doomed to perpetuate the same cycle over and over again, where one religion wields considerable influence in how the state is run - and it leaves one question open:

Was Rizal's death in vain?

1 comment: