To honor Celdran, Lagman files bill repealing ‘archaic’ crime of blasphemy

Mara Cepeda

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To honor Celdran, Lagman files bill repealing ‘archaic’ crime of blasphemy
Albay Representative Edcel Lagman says the crime of offending religious feelings, of which the late Carlos Celdran was found guilty, is an 'odious remnant of the Dark Ages'

MANILA, Philippines – Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman filed a bill seeking to repeal the crime of offending religious feelings, of which the late artist and activist Carlos Celdran was found guilty. 

Lagman, who championed for the passage of the Reproductive Health (RH) law like Celdran, filed House Bill (HB) No. 5170, which would repeal Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code on offending religious feelings.

If passed into law, HB 5170 would have a retroactive effect. This means all pending criminal cases and related civil cases for violation of Article 133 would be dismissed should HB 5170 become a law.  

Celdran had been found guilty of blasphemy after staging an impromptu protest in September 2010 at the Manila Cathedral, where members of the Catholic clergy and Protestant bishops were present.

The prominent tour guide was protesting the Church’s interference in the efforts to pass the RH bill at the time. (READ: Carlos Celdran: Activist, performance artist

Dressed up as national hero Jose Rizal, Celdran raised a sign containing the word “Damaso” inside the cathedral, a reference to the villain Padre Damaso in Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tángere. The character of Damaso stood for the ills of the Catholic Church in the Philippines while under Spanish rule.  

The RH bill was later signed into law in predominantly Catholic Philippines in late 2012. But Celdran did not garner the same victory, as a Manila court found him guilty of blasphemy in September 2013.

Five years later in August 2018, the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the Court of Appeals’ guilty verdict on Celdran and ordered him to go to jail. 

Celdran then left the country and moved in self-exile to Madrid, Spain, where he died of natural causes on October 8, 2019. He was 46.

In his explanatory note for the HB 5170, Lagman said Celdran “died as a freeman” because the SC failed to resolve with finality the latter’s motion for reconsideration that sought the reversal of the High Court’s ruling.

“It is now for the Congress of the Philippines to render justice and redress to Celdran by repealing the aforequoted archaic provision, which is an odious remnant of the Dark Ages,” said Lagman. 

“Article 133 is anathema to freedom of speech and expression, which is guaranteed under the Bill of Rights in the 1935, 1972, and the present 1987 Constitution,” the opposition congressman added.

Read a full copy of HB 5170 below:


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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.