Is there a Right to Offend?

The recent issue of tour guide and activist Carlos Celdran’s imprisonment raised discussions on “offense.” Some say the Catholic Church was onion-skinned and should not have taken offense at his action. Thus, Celdran’s supporters would say that the church was oppressive by using its power to imprison an opponent.

I-Am-OffendedSome also hit Article 133 of the Penal Code under which Celdran was cited, saying it is outdated and needless, and should be scrapped. Some have cried foul over it, calling it a tool for protecting the Church against any sort of criticism. But is it? My own pondering on the issue found otherwise.

Another question is, are Celdran, and other parties who are angry at the Church for its anti-RH stance, entitled to a purported “right to offend?”

Firstly, why would people so vehemently defend their “right” to offend? Because they enjoy another’s squirming when receiving an offense? Schadenfreude? That would be immature and uncivilized.

I believe there is no right to offend. Because “offend” in the law’s sense is having malice for or intention to harm someone. That is also why they call a violation of a law an “offense.” And ethics and wisdom dictate that if you have malice, or wish evil for someone, then you are one of the dregs of society. You are not “helping the Philippines,” which some critics of GRP accuse us of failing to do.

Some people say that offending someone or something is the only way to draw attention to a topic, or is the best thing you could to do to try and at least discomfit an “oppressor.”

But does it really help?

It likely does not. The Spinbusters article puts it nicely:

It doesn’t even matter that what Celdran disrupted was not a Mass. The same law applies in case Celdran summons the courage to invade the Quiapo Golden Mosque and call the ululating imams terrorists; or sneak inside the INC central spaceship, er, temple, and call the late Felix Manalo a rapist and a charlatan. There’s a reason Celdran’s offense is still in the statute books along with sundry crimes like slander and estafa.

What Celdran did was a publicity stunt, not an exercise of freedom of speech. He can’t badmouth the bishops in their own cathedral any more than we can show up unannounced at his dinner table and call him a retard and a hopeless reprobate. In the same vein, we can’t disrupt the editors of PDI in the middle of their story conference just to exercise our free speech and call them out for being jaundiced journalists.

The article also points out that the “People of the Republic of the Philippines” is the prosecuting party. The government is the one charging Celdran. Not the Church.

Loudly and intrusively offending and insulting people is a juvenile, primitive, usually unthinking and unnecessarily noisy action. It is not even freedom of expression, but rather an abuse of it, in my view. That is what Article 133 of the Penal Code may seek to impress on people. If you seek to actively offend people, you’re not helping. You’re only KSP (Kulang Sa Pansin).

But let’s look at the other side. Say, if someone is “offended” by, let’s say, your being dark-skinned, by you’re being a Goth, your being a lover of metal music or by any faculty of yours that is natural or is harmless to others? Sometimes there are people offended by you being yourself. Then it means the other party chose to be offended and is making a mountain out of a molehill. Let’s say, a person practices religion, but an atheist is offended by it. The atheist is the one who chose to see someone else’s practice as offensive and is actually offending themselves. The religious person never offended them (and the one who feels “insulted” is actually KSP). I agree that there are such situations.

But another rule actually operates in the case at hand: what you do defines what you are. If you offend others loudly, with the intention to destroy or humiliate based only on little or no evidence, what does that reflect about you? It may mean that you have no respect for the rights of others.

Article 133 and the part on libel exist in the Penal Code to remind people of their responsibilities on what they say and do to others. If you say something that may harm a person, even emotionally or mentally, then you should be held responsible for it. You can’t just get away with anything you say or do. You can’t go scot-free. Everything we do has consequences.

What if the defaming statement leads to a person losing their job or causing their family to leave them? And this happens even if the charge is proven false? Then the defamer has wrongly ruined a person’s life! That’s what anti-defamation laws are trying to prevent (With the DOJ now working on a new Criminal Code, I wonder how it will word the new anti-defamation provision, if there still will be any). Your “right to offend” ends when someone else’s security in life is compromised.

The problem with some “free speech” advocates is that they want to be able to insult or offend others without reaping the consequences. In other words, they want impunity (one of the parts of the great Filipino Cultural Trinity of dysfunctions). They want to escape responsibility, and want no punishment even if their words create unreasonable damage. If they say the person they defamed deserves the misfortune encountered through the defamation, then they prove to be no better than society’s “dregs.” This certainly adds to, rather than helps solve, the dysfunctions of our country.

If we criticize the government and others, we do so in our own space and without any need to invade anyone else’s privacy, or without destroying someone’s life or an institution’s reputation. Basically, the lesson here is, you may have the right intention, but the way you do it matters. The end does not justify the means.

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About ChinoF

I stick with this blog because I believe, as my cohorts do, that many things Filipino embrace as part of their culture keep their society backward. And blogging freely to show that in a truly decent society, with true freedom of speech, even nobodies have a voice.

Post Author: ChinoF

I stick with this blog because I believe, as my cohorts do, that many things Filipino embrace as part of their culture keep their society backward. And blogging freely to show that in a truly decent society, with true freedom of speech, even nobodies have a voice.

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50 Comments on "Is there a Right to Offend?"

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Gogs
Member

For those who claim GRP has gone to the well too much on this topic, one way to prevent this is to make sure everybody out there doesn’t miss the point. Sadly many do.

Johnny Saint
Guest

“The same law applies in case Celdran summons the courage to invade the Quiapo Golden Mosque and call the ululating imams terrorists”

Curiously, there are NO activists who have ever protested against the very real problems we have with Muslim extremism. Or the fact that there is a resurgence of fundamentalist, ultraconservative Wahhabi preaching in Southeast Asia. All promoted by Saudi sponsored madrasas.

Meanwhile, Celdran and his ilk are fixated on dressing up in ridiculous outfits and parading around like idiots. If the Salafists had their way, his tongue would have been cut out.

Andrew
Guest
Oh, all right, I’ll bite. I’m not missing the point; I hold, rather firmly, that the point you are making is wrong, and serves, in practice, to repress the majority of the people in the vested interest of the elite. You are, in fact, being reactionary. You have the right to be reactionary, but in doing so you may find that others find the system that you seek to uphold to be less than admirable. Celdran was obviously making a gesture; his gesture was an act of political activism, the argument being, I take it, that if the Church of… Read more »
Andrew
Guest
By way of a footnote… One of the forms of estafa is, hilarously, Article 315 (2)(c): “By pretending to have bribed any Government employee, without prejudice to the action for calumny which the offended party* may deem proper to bring against the offender. In this case, the offender shall be punished by the maximum period of the penalty.” It would be a defence to a prosecution under this section to show that one had, indeed, bribed a Goverment employee! Notice that the Government employee has a separate right to bring an action for calumny. That being so, what is the… Read more »
Robert Haighton
Guest

I couldnt agree more with you, Andrew!!!!

nieves godinez
Guest

Great rebuttal here. . .

Louie Reyes
Guest

Crispy

BlueStreak
Guest
This one(on the estafa point) is something I cannot disagree. Good spotting that one. BUT to relate it to the offense of FEELINGS in GENERAL, be it to the RELIGIOUS OR NOT is not the same as the very good point you said on estafa. So please do exemplify your point on the relativity of the two. Besides you did say the separation of Church and State. I suppose the specific provision you point on estafa is a state issue (talking about a government employee)but offense of religious feelings is not a state issue. Even the right to offend the… Read more »
Andrew
Guest
@ Blue Streak – for the record, I’m not an atheist – I’m an Episcopalian, and my partner is an occasionally-vaguely-Catholic, whose feelings certainly were offended, pace Father Bernas, by the priest taking “Go forth and multiply” as his text during the simbang gabi! You are quite right – my serious point, already voiced by Chino F, is that the criminal law needs revision, both as regards section 133 and other matters, notably estafa and defamation. As regards s.133, it is not well drafted – what does “notoriously offensive” actually mean? – and like laws relating to blasphemy it needs… Read more »
benign0
Admin
Same thing with the Philippines’ bank secrecy laws. They are an affront to transparency and do nothing to serve the average Pinoy, most of whom are not even aware that there is such a thing as a “dollar accounts”. The Philippines remains one of the few countries who maintain an archaic banking regime such as this. And yet our legislators have not moved an inch towards changing this. Perhaps the reason nobody is breathing down Congressmen’s necks or stomping their feet around in pseudo-indignation over the “archaic” bank secrecy laws of is because Carlos Celdran was not convicted of offenses… Read more »
Andrew
Guest
I agree entirely about the bank secrecy laws – and I expect that we will further agree that whilst, up to now, these laws have been used to shield corruption, they have now become a real and present danger to the nation itself. The Philippines is one of the last nations to retain bank secrecy laws – even Switzerland has given them over – and as such the Philippines has suddenly become very attractive to international organised crime and to terrorism. These laws are now not just a means for corrupt members of the elite to conceal their ill gotten… Read more »
Hector Gamboa
Member
Andrew, I think a few months ago there was a heated issue regarding a proposal to ban religious practices and displaying religious icons in government buildings. The atheist community in the Philippines was vocal in supporting Rep. Palatino who tried to push for the bill. I also had a few discussions with atheist friends of mine belonging to the Filipino Freethinkers. There certainly are atheists who are offended with religious practices, especially if they feel that such practices are performed in places where the separation of Church and State ought to be implemented. Are the atheists justified on feeling offended?… Read more »
Andrew
Guest
Hector – thank you for that. Like you, I have friends who are active in Filipino Freethinkers. I think you will agree with me that what the atheist community is offended by, in these cases – and I certainly agree with you that, in the States, the business of “being offended” has been taken much too far and has turned into a three ring circus – is not the practice of religion itself, but the intrusion of religious observances into Governmental functions in nations where the Constitution formally separates Church and State? In the States, but not, I think, in… Read more »
BlueStreak
Guest
I beg to disagree on the statement of atheist NOT being offended. Goodness me, I have seen cases filed by atheists for silly reasons because they were “OFFENDED”. By that I mean they want to mute religious exercise which is against freedom of religious practice(by any means). So I have to say, reality goes up against your statement. Second, the main intent of Art.133 is to to allow the exercise of religious practice and belief without UNDUE AND UNREASONABLE DISRUPTION, BE IT BY UNCIVILIZED “RANTS” OR BY DOING ACTUAL HARM, which ChinoF explains rather well, by any person or group… Read more »
Trosp
Guest
@Andrew According to you – “Your example of an atheist being offended by someone practicing religion is rather a silly one – atheists are not offended by people practicing religion – they may be amused or saddened by it but they are hardly going to be offended – unless, of course, the religion involves human sacrifice, the burning or widows or child molestation, in which case most people, not just atheists, will be offended.” But how about this one – “Well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens, for example, says that religion “should be treated with ridicule, hatred, and contempt.” Hitchens is quick… Read more »
Andrew
Guest

I’m not actually any sort of atheist, but I don’t think the late Christopher Hitchens was being offended by the practice of religion; what offended him was religion itself – to quote Wikipedia (probably not a wise thing to do!) Hitchens contended that organised religion is “the main source of hatred in the world”, “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children”, and that accordingly it “ought to have a great deal on its conscience”.

Trosp
Guest
@Andrew So when this Hitchens says – “it’s Christianity he hates.” he is not offended by Christianity. He just hates it. He continues – “It is entirely appropriate to ridicule absurd ideas rather than to treat them as serious and give them respect. Only serious ideas based on reason and evidence are worthy of intellectual respect. The ideas that we critique and ridicule have historically led to or facilitated war, genocide, and ethnic cleansing. They have enslaved millions, impeded medical and scientific research and are now draining vast sums of taxpayer dollars to propagate more of these ridiculous ideas. These… Read more »
jcc
Guest
Trosp
Guest

@jcc

“a cacophoy of discordant voices.”

Cacophony definition is –

“The use of harsh or discordant sounds in literary composition, as for poetic effect.”

Disjunctive or disconjunctive?

You really want to impress us with your acrobatics with English words/phrases heh…

To the point of overdoing it…

LA702
Guest
So,GRP is not about to give up on this Celdran circus? Clearly to me, Celdran is a victim of an ancient law which in this day and age should not even be considered applicable. If I were Celdran, I would not even hear this stupid church instituted law. Offense against religious practice goes back to the ancient Sumerian civilization. It was instituted by the Sumerians as a way of conflict resolution and the law is at its heart “revenge”. This was the basic cultural mechanism for dealing with “unacceptable” behavior, to exact retribution. In this day and age, what Celdran… Read more »
Andrew
Guest

Thanks for the Sumerian history – this issue goes back further than I thought!

I agree that what Celdran did was about on the level of arguing over tuition fees.

BlueStreak
Guest

So you equate that this piece of Sumerian history is in parallel with what is happening now. I can only say that is a weak charge to ALL RELIGIOUS BELIEFS but I think I do get what you are saying on this one.

Trosp
Guest

@LA

So when was the Sumerian time?

And when was the law that Celdran violated passed?

Your analogy sucks.

Read them again.

Louie Reyes
Guest
“If we criticize the government and others, we do so in our own space and without any need to invade anyone else’s privacy, or without destroying someone’s life or an institution’s reputation. Basically, the lesson here is, you may have the right intention, but the way you do it matters. The end does not justify the means.” Or let’s put it this way: If we’re going to celebrate our religious beliefs, feast, rituals, dogmas etc. “we do so in our own space and without any need to invade anyone else’s privacy, or without destroying someone’s life or an institution’s reputation”… Read more »
benign0
Admin

This one i agree with 100%!!

Andrew
Guest

Agree entirely.

Trosp
Guest
@Louie, “If we’re going to celebrate our religious beliefs, feast, rituals, dogmas etc. “we do so in our own space and without any need to invade anyone else’s privacy, or without destroying someone’s life or an institution’s reputation”” The problem is that we are in a democratic form of government. Majority rules. Majority of Filipinos are Catholics. It’s not the question of whether this majority is right or wrong in showing their devotion. Why is it that in our townhomes we don’t have feast to celebrate? We don’t have this procession or whatever religious rites that will involve the use… Read more »
Hep
Guest

We don’t have the right to offend. We also don’t have the right not to be offended.

Lord Chimera
Guest

While there is much to criticize about the Roman Catholic Celdarn’s action where too much. While one is able to criticize someone, one must respect the targets dignity. As a result Celdran was the one looking like a villain.

But I wonder about one thing why do people who criticize Christianity and Christians in general don’t have the guts to criticize religions that blatant flaws (Islam for example)? Maybe these people do like to pick on faiths that do not vindictive and painful retribution on those that offend it.

R3D
Guest

There is no end to this. On one hand it is the protest against the secular culture which has infested the Philippine psyche and on the other, it’s breaking the law to prevent a riot over ‘religious feelings’.

Because of that Damaso stunt, some moron will probably emulate Celdran in a Mosque because that same idiot believes that Islam’s interferes/influence the State’s penal laws/Separation of Church and state. Way to go Celdran, your boorishness says a lot more about you than your RH beliefs.

Hector Gamboa
Guest

Yeah… actually come to think of it… the government allows Shariah Law in Mindanao. Doesn’t that show favor to a specific religion? (In that case, Islam.) I wonder what will happen to Celdran had he pulled that stunt in a Mosque?

Johnny Saint
Guest

I said this at the start:

“The same law applies in case Celdran summons the courage to invade the Quiapo Golden Mosque and call the ululating imams terrorists”

Curiously, there are NO activists who have ever protested against the very real problems we have with Muslim extremism. Or the fact that there is a resurgence of fundamentalist, ultraconservative Wahhabi preaching in Southeast Asia. All promoted by Saudi sponsored madrasas.

Meanwhile, Celdran and his ilk are fixated on dressing up in ridiculous outfits and parading around like idiots. If the Salafists had their way, his tongue would have been cut out.

dan
Guest
just my 2 cents: may mga nagtatanong dito kung notoriously offensive ba yung ginawa ni celdran and what does “notoriously offensive” actually mean? tapos may magsasabi na “calling a priest a “Damaso” is not blasphemous – the accusation goes to the human character of the priest, not his religious character, and the Almighty may very well agree with the accusation, where it is justified. Is it “notoriously offensive” to call a priest a “Damaso”? Most people would say that it depends on the known character of the priest against whom the insult is hurled, surely?” notoriously offensive ba yung ginawa?… Read more »
nigy
Guest
“Ang taong hindi marunong gumalang sa nakakatanda ay higit pa sa malansang isda.” Strip away the biases and labels. What Damaso-guy did was wrong. Why? What monstrous evil did these elderly men do to deserve such public insult? For all we know, they have all good intentions to better our country and our people. They may be wrong; it might not be for our good. But their intentions are certainly not to harm us. … Tapos here come the lawyers who go all the way (even to argue until whatever Constitution, Article, Archaic blah-blah) to defend a guy who does… Read more »
Hyden Toro
Guest

This is a diversion attempt of Aquino….

Hyden Toro
Guest

Diversion tactic of Aquino. To get our attentions away from our dire economic issues…

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