Thursday, February 13, 2014

Celdran against all odds

Photo by Joanna Conde
Walking towards the altar wearing a Jose Rizal costume while there is an on-going mass is one story but holding a placard with “Damaso” written in bold letters and raising it is another.

It takes courage for one to voice out negative sentiments in front of high officials but Carlos Celdran have the guts to do it.

Everyone present at the Manila Cathedral last September 30 was surprised to see him shout “Stop getting involved in to politics” as he referred to the church officials and compared them to Noli Me Tangere’s villain Padre Damaso. Some officials present were Archbishop of Manila Gaudencio Rosales, Papal Nuncio Edward Adams and the City of Manila’s Mayor Alfredo Lim.

For this 37-year old famed tour guide, exasperation brought him to face these officials and say his piece.
“I had enough, I just had enough. They (Church) held this country of hostage since the time of Noy-Noy’s mother,” says Celdran on an exclusive interview with Metro Bullet.

Celdran and RH BILL versus the Church

Five years ago, Celdran started giving out condoms and birth controls in Intramuros showing that his advocacy for birth control has begun even before the controversial Reproductive Health Bill (RH Bill) came out.

“I really think that our population growth is the very basis why we’re not going anywhere. Right now, the world is running out of resources, the Philippines is running out of resources.” says Celdran when asked why he is in favor of the RH Bill.

Celdran also shared that he is not really against population growth because he believes that every population has to grow, what he opposes is the fast growing rate. People’s health is also one of his concerns as he said that most of the pregnancies nowadays are unwanted, the child therefore is also unwanted and will just be an addition to society.

The RH Bill was drafted by House Representative Edcel Lagman in 2008 under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration and it has long been controversial because some conservative citizens were strongly against it.  Religion is an added factor for other citizens to oppose the bill, since it connotes a negative impression especially because it contains Sex Education for Elementary students and it allots funds for birth control.  There were even revisions made to compensate to the Catholic community but still it was not enough.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is strongly against the bill. Meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino III already showed his support in passing the RH Bill that is why the issue became controversial again, pushing Celdran to protest during an ecumenical service.

“The thing that’s great about the RH bill is that it ties everything in there, from day care, to maternal care to prevention of HIV and AIDS because of sex education. There are so many good things going on in that bill and the ‘friars’ keep on pointing out things that are not in there. There’s no abortion in there or whatsoever,” says Celdran.

He added that a lot of people are upset about the ‘If you don’t give Reproductive Health Services, you’ll go to jail’. Celdran said that it is just a misconception since the‘jailing issue’ part is not a scope of the RH Bill instead, it is part of the PhilHealth Bill.

According to him, Reproductive Health is a service, surgery and emergency are also part of that service and if one denies helping any person who needs the service then he/she can be jailed.

The 30th of September

It’s a good thing Celdran was lucky for his bishop costume got stuck in traffic somewhere in Cubao because if not he would have offended the Church all the more for he’ll come as Damaso himself.

“Damaso is the image on Jose Rizal’s novel of the abusive friar who used his powers to get he wants. And I feel like the bishops in the Philippines are exactly like Damaso because they are abusive friars who uses their powers to get what they want,” he said when asked why he chose the image of Damaso in his placard.

Despite his good intentions, the Church officials still sued him and he was put to jail for he violated the Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, which prohibits “offending religious feelings.”

He became an instant celebrity and gained a lot of compliments over the internet. Some even consider him a hero for his message was truly an eye-opener for the society; however, some also criticize his act for these people think that he was immoral to do such act inside a sacred place. Celdran emphasized that he never wanted to hold the title “hero” for he thinks what he have done isn’t heroic at all.

“Everything was fortuitous. It’s like jumping into a swimming pool you just have to get yourself the strength and just do it. And when you’re standing in front of there, it’s amazing how calm you are, even when you’ve done the did you’re already there, you just ride it,” he said as he explained his experience in Manila Cathedral.

For Celdran, his jailing experience was an eye-opener, because it helped him see what the police in the Philppines are dealing with. He said people can’t really complain about the way the police perform since their office is like a dump.

On his experience as an inmate, he realized why police are corrupt because he himself can’t even stand staying overnight on their precinct all the more on the part of the Philippine police. “It gave me an opportunity to walk in their shoes for one day,” added Celdran.

He said that he never thought of this consequence for if he did, he never would have done it. “I can’t explain why I did it. I was possessed, I have no idea,” Celdran shared.  He also advised everyone to never follow him and just do whatever they want instead. “It’s either I stay there and pretend   that it doesn’t exist or I work in a way that I feel works for me to alleviate that in my own manner. Whatever little thing you can do, you just do it,” he advises.

Today, Celdran can’t go to Jollibee anonymously anymore he tried it on Starbucks once but it didn’t work out. His privacy has already been invaded and he said he’s not sure if he likes the fame brought about by the incident.

As for the priest he said he already apologize for the method but not for the message. “Peace bro!” says Celdran.

His advocacy for RH Bill will continue but he has no plans for another protest he said he already did his piece and it’s up for the people to decide on which action to take.

After all the controversy, Celdran still managed to take a vacation in Honolulu, Hawaii to wind things up. On his return, he will continue his regular job but he will forever remember the 30th of September.

 Originally written for  Metro Bullet
 2010, for News Paper and Practice Management Finals Manila beat

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