Filipino activist faces jail for offending church after calling for birth control
AFPMANILA -- A social activist in the Catholic Philippines said Monday he faced up to 13 months in jail after being found guilty of “offending religious beliefs” for speaking out in favor of birth control.
January 29, 2013, 12:38 am TWN
Carlos Celdran, who is also one of the country's most popular tour guides, was arrested in 2010 after entering the historic Manila Cathedral during a mass and shouting out his support for efforts to introduce a birth control law.
He released a copy of a Manila court's verdict, delivered last month but only made public on Monday, in which he was sentenced to between two and 13 months for offending religious beliefs.
Celdran said he would appeal against the court's decision, describing the authorities' use of the little-known and rarely used law as a threat to freedom of speech.
“I am calm but I am going to fight this till the end,” Celdran said in a statement posted on social media alongside a copy of the court's decision. Celdran remains free on bail, pending his appeal.
International rights monitor Human Rights Watch said it was alarmed by the use of an “archaic” law to prosecute Celdran.
“This is a setback for free speech in the Philippines, which prides itself on being a democracy,” Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Carlos Conde said in a statement.
The proposed law that Celdran spoke out in favor of during his protest was eventually approved by parliament last year and came into effect on Jan. 17.
The law requires government health centers to hand out free condoms and birth control pills, benefiting tens of millions of the country's poor who would not otherwise be able to afford or have access to them.
It also mandates that sex education be taught in schools.
Catholic Church groups have filed petitions with the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn the law.
About 80 percent of the Philippines' 100 million people are Catholic, a legacy of Spanish colonial rule that ended in the late 1800s, and the church remains one of the nation's most powerful institutions.
Officials at the court that handed down the verdict were not immediately available to comment.