Holding Criminally Liable a Person Interrupting a Pabasa
Christian Andrew Labitoria Gallardo
Let’s admit it. With the four-day long weekend, the holy week is seen not only as a time for religious meditation and inner reflection, but a time as well for rest and relaxation. And what better way to relax than to go on an out-of-town trip to experience new cultures, or for some, go home to the province to ease off and unwind.
But why not combine both? Why not go on a cultural adventure while observing religious traditions? Hence, the socio-cultural affairs of the Philippine society. During holy week, commonly referred to as Semana Santa, there are various activities which, though religious in nature, can be interesting to experience as well. We have the “Pabasa ng Pasyon” or the recital of a 16th century poem narrating the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have the Visita Iglesia or the visitation of seven Churches, usually accompanied with the reflection on the Stations of the Cross. There is also a “Salubong” or a procession of the statue of Christ and the sorrowful Mary in a black mourning dress. For those in more traditional provinces, there is still the “Senakulo” or the staging of a play depicting the final moments of Christ.
Seems fun to experience right? For those not into it, of course one is not obliged to join such socio-religious affairs. Let this be a fair warning though that interrupting such religious affairs can make one criminally liable.
Take the case of the Clemente family of Tarlac. Hailing from the small barrio of Macalong in La Paz, Tarlc, the Clementes made an informal donation to their diocese, in which an old chapel was built. When the old chapel was destroyed, a new chapel was then constructed, but the heirs of Clemente claim that this new chapel is already impinging on their land.
To annoy therefore the new chapel-goers, between 11 to 12 in the evening during the Pabasa, 7 of the heirs of Clementes went in front of the chapel carrying bolos and crowbars, and started to build a fence on it. This was the exact time of the Pabasa being held on their barrio. The chairman of the committee in charge of the Pabasa then tried to request them to leave as it was Holy Week and a Pabasa is being conducted inside the chapel. This did not go well however, as the Clementes resisted, leading to a verbal altercation.
Many of the Pabasa attendees though, including those eating in the yard (yes, apparently there’s food for the attendees) were startled. They left hurriedly thinking that a violent commotion will erupt. Benches were toppled over and plates were broken. This eventually lead to a court case. The Court held the Clementes liable for a crime which is now considered as unjust vexation.
Under the Revised Penal Code, there are three crimes pertinent to the instance of insulting or mocking religious affairs. First, there is the crime of “Interruption of Religious Worship” holding liable public officers who shall disturb the ceremonies of any religion. If the offender is not a public officer however, the act of mocking a religious affair may fall under “Offending Religious Feelings” if a person would conduct himself in a manner seriously offensive to the “feelings of the faithful” in a place devoted to religious worship or during a religious ceremony. An example of this is when a tour guide and an activist Carlos Celdran dressed as Rizal stood in front of the main altar of the Manila Cathedral during a mass to raise a placard with the word “Damaso” on it, in order to protest against the opposition of the Catholic Church to the then-pending Reproductive Health Bill. The Regional Trial Court held him liable for the crime of “Offering Religious Feelings”. If the act however does not intend to mock any religion, but merely intends to annoy people in general, it may fall under “Unjust Vexation” which is a crime broad enough to include any human conduct which could unreasonably annoy any person although no physical harm is inflicted.
Let this Article be a reminder therefore for us to, at the very least, observe respect to the rites and practices of all religions with no discrimination. While not all of the readers may be Catholics, or even religious for that matter, I guess we can all agree that respect to other people’s beliefs, especially when such belief does not cause harm to anyone, is a virtue basic in human decency.
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Christian Andrew Labitoria Gallardo is a recent graduate of the Ateneo School of Law with a Juris Doctor degree, and is currently an associate of the Sangalan and Gaerlan, Business Lawyers, a law firm specializing in labor, corporate and business law. You may reach him through a phone call or message (09157042132) or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).  People v Reyes, G.R. No. 40577 (1934).  Article 132, Revised Penal Code.  Article 133, Revised Penal Code.  Article 287