A man who, garbed as national hero, Jose Rizal, stood up near the altar of a Catholic church during a prayer service, shouting that the church should stop interfering in government affairs and holding a sign that read “Damaso” (referring to Fr. Damaso, the antagonist in Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere”), was arrested for “Offending the Religious Feelings.”
The public’s fascination was not just with the theatricality with which the man made his plea for the Catholic Church to steer clear of the Reproductive Health Bill. That the man was charged with the novel-sounding crime of “Offending religious feelings” also sparked the public’s interest.
The crime is not as common as estafa, theft or murder, but it has been in the statute books for a long time. Under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, the crime of “Offending the Religious Feelings” is committed when anyone, while in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony, performs acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful. The penalty for this crime is arresto mayor in its maximum period (from 4 months and 1 day to 6 months) to prision correccional in its minimum period (from 6 months and 1 day to 2 years and 4 months).
The law, indeed, is old, but it is still in force and is clearly experiencing a rebirth.