Only in the Philippines: Filipino sentenced to prison for offending religious feelings

For about a month now, I have been planning to write a post entitled "Only in the Philippines".  It was supposed to be a semi-satirical post, gently mocking some of the crazy stuff that you see in the Philippines.  For example....

Only in the Philippines do travelers pack their belongings in gigantic cardboard boxes instead of suitcases (a 20x20x20 box can fit the most bulky items and still stay within the linear-inch luggage requirement of most international flights).

Only in the Philippines do you see supermarket shelves completely cleared out on Christmas Eve (it's the busiest grocery shopping day of the year).

Only in the Philippines are half the beauty products marketed to lighten skin tone (our colonial past implanted the "whiter is better" deeply into the Filipino consciousness).

Only in the Philippines are copyright laws so blatantly -- and poorly -- copied (seriously, does that even look like Thomas??)

Only in the Philippines do you see hotdogs dyed blood-red (I know.  It's kind of disgusting.  It's kind of crazy.  I have no explanation for it).

Of course, I have no idea whether these things really happen only in the Philippines or whether other countries also tolerate such ridiculousness.  Even if they don't, I'm sure they have some other amusing but (with the exception of copyright violations) harmless traditions.  They don't make me love the Philippines any less.  It was supposed to be lighthearted and fun.

But this morning I heard that Philippine artist and reproductive health advocate Carlos Celdran has been found guilty of "offending religious feelings"  -- and faces a prison term -- because he disrupted an ecumenical service at Manila Cathedral dressed up as the evil priest Fr. Damaso from Filipino National Hero Jose Rizal's novel Noli Me Tangere.  He was protesting the Catholic Church's opposition to family planning legislation.

All of a sudden, the phrase "Only in the Philippines" has taken a very ugly turn, and I couldn't write a funny post any more.

As I said with the red hotdogs:  I know. It's kind of disgusting.  It's kind of crazy.

But unlike the hotdogs, I do have an explanation for it. And unlike the hotdogs, this does make me love the Philippines a lot less.  A whole lot less.

Only in the Philippines does the Catholic Church have this kind of influence.  Only in the Philippines does "separation of church and state" (guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution) have so little meaning.  At least countries like Iraq and Saudi Arabia have the decency and honesty to admit that Islam is the only officially recognized religion.  Only in the Philippines does "freedom of speech" (again, guaranteed by the Philippine constitution) have so little meaning.  Do we really want to go back to those days?  Or is freedom of the press great, as long as it doesn't offend religious feelings?

I don't think I can say everything I want to say about this situation and about the Philippine Catholic Church without offending even more religious feelings, which, apparently, is a crime in the Philippines.   But there's really nothing left to say that others haven't said, so I'll let others speak out.  And boy, are people speaking out.

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