To forgive, or not to forgive Carlos Celdran? That is the question

CARLOS Celdran: brave, bold and bodacious! (

CARLOS Celdran: brave, bold and bodacious! (

IF you’ve had the chance to join historian and tour guide Carlos Celdran in one of his regular walking tours of Manila, including Intramuros and the Manila Cathedral, the supposed scene of his “crime” more than two years ago, I’m pretty sure you were drawn to the man, and how articulate, spontaneous and funny he could be.



More than a historian with a firm grasp of Manila’s past, Celdran is first and foremost an engaging showman, who, like fellow historian, academic and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Ambeth Ocampo, is gifted with a rare and enviable ability to connect past events with present-day realities in a relevant and amusing package.

Dressed in period costumes, Celdran, who also dabbles into painting and acting, never fails to command the attention of passersby and regale tourists, both local and foreign, with his flawless English, perfect timing and off-the-cuff asides.

If you don’t know him well, you’d readily dismiss him as KSP (kulang sa pansin or lacking [and wanting] in attention).  I’ve had the chance to interview him and join a number of his tours, but I don’t have his cellphone number nor are we friends on Facebook. Nevertheless, I like the guy.

CARLOS Celdran's critics were no less vicious. Due to his mestizo looks and round build, he can easily pass for a Padre Damaso himself.

CELDRAN’S critics were no less vicious. Due to his mestizo looks and round build, they say he can easily pass off for a Padre Damaso himself.

Good copy

To his friends and admirers, Celdran was (and is) simply being himself: fun, outspoken and occasionally irreverent. As a journalist, I admire him for his intelligence, guts and ability to constantly provide us with good copy.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised at all when he pulled off the unthinkable sometime in 2010 by dressing up like Jose Rizal before barging into the Manila Cathedral waving a huge placard and shouting the word “Damaso,” which was written on it. He did this at the foot of the cathedral’s main altar, and in full view of several bishops and parishioners.

CELDRAN on the job as a tour guide (

CELDRAN on the job as a tour guide (

YOU'VE got to give it to him. Celdran is a natural and engaging showman who knows his history (

YOU’VE got to give it to him. Celdran is a natural and engaging showman who knows his history (

Not a few papers say it happened during mass. But Celdran’s friends and sympathizers insist that he pulled off the stunt during a so-called ecumenical service. But to devout Catholics whose religious sensibilities were deeply offended by his actions, it doesn’t really make any difference.

It was the height of the RH Bill debate between the Philippine government, including a good number of women’s and pro-choice groups, and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. Like many liberal-minded Filipinos, Celdran wasn’t only pro-RH. Like me, he was clearly fed up with certain bishops’ meddlesome, obstructionist and sometimes underhanded methods not to get the law passed.

Enemies’ lair

While I dare not venture beyond Facebook, Twitter and this blog to make my sentiments known, Celdran took matters into his own hands the best way he knew how by making a statement in the flesh, and inside the heart of the supposed enemies’ lair. If you ask me, it was a pretty brave move bordering on the foolhardy.

Of course, every Filipino who went through high school in this country know who Padre Damaso is, as Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere,” a novel depicting church and government abuses in the Philippines during Spanish colonial times, was required reading.

CELDRAN, the activist, knows how to walk to walk (

CELDRAN, the activist, knows how to walk the walk (

In Celdran’s mind, likening the greedy and abusive Damaso to certain members of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines was apropos.

For his pains, he spent several nights in jail soon after the incident before being freed, I assume, on bail. Well, the verdict has been handed down recently, and a Manila Trial Court judge has found Celdran guilty of “offending religious feelings.”

A certain Judge Juan Bermejo Jr. sentenced Celdran to a minimum of two months and maximum of one year for violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code.

In a PDI report, Bermejo cited a law, which penalizes “anyone who, in a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony, shall perform acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful.”

Celdran, who was in court with his wife to hear the verdict, said his legal team was preparing to appeal the decision.

PNoy’s appeal

In a more recent development, even President Aquino, a vocal supporter of the RH Bill, which, after 14 long years, was passed recently (no thanks to the bishops), appealed to church leaders to forgive Celdran for his supposed transgression.

PLANKING on heaven's door (

PLANK, plank, planking on heaven’s door (

For his part, Celdran, according to the PDI report, had already apologized to the Archdiocese of Manila soon after the incident: “The Church leaders had forgiven me in the name of the Lord, but not on the earthly realm.”

What do I think of all of these? By doing what he did, Celdran only managed to convert the converted (pro RH hardliners). I’m pretty sure a good number of people, particularly Catholics, who somewhat shared his views before he did the Damaso act, were aghast, even alienated by his actions.

My recent Facebook status (it generated all sorts of reactions both for and against what Celdran did), which came with a link of a PDI online report containing the President’s appeal to church leaders to forgive him, sums it up:

My take

“Should the Church forgive Celdran, or should he spend time in jail for supposedly offending religious sensibilities?

“In my own way, I’m quite against how the Church often oversteps and encroaches on areas it has no business encroaching on. Nakakapikon talaga! (It can really get to your nerves!)

“But I draw the line at what Celdran, who barged inside the Manila Cathedral during mass [which turned out to be an ecumenical service] dressed as Jose Rizal and holding a ‘Damaso’ placard, did.

TOURISTS love him. (

TOURISTS love him. (

“His actions drew more attention to himself than to what he was fighting for. He’s lucky (we live in a supposed democracy). Had a similar thing like this happened in a Muslim country, especially in a closed society like Saudi Arabia, he would have probably never seen the light of a new day.

CARLOS and wife Tesa Celdran (

CARLOS and wife Tesa Celdran (

“We don’t have to go far. Russia, a supposedly Christian country, with no small help from Vladimir Putin, jailed members of the Pussy Riot, sentencing some, I think, to hard labor in Siberia, after their lightning protest concert at a Moscow cathedral.

“My point: we can protest and make our voices heard all we want, but we have to learn when to draw the line. The Church, in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and the Gospel, should forgive him. But civil law [read: laws of the earthly realm, as Celdran himself puts it] is not that forgiving.”

2 thoughts on “To forgive, or not to forgive Carlos Celdran? That is the question

  1. Alex, there is a big misunderstanding on the Church’s involvement in the RH debate. I myself do not agree that they should keep out of it. The dangers posed by what is known as the contraceptive mentality on the family institution have been proven in Western countries. While many people say we Filipinos are archaic, our family values will always be superior to the rest of the world. The Church warned about it when contraceptives were introduced in the 60s, and history has proved them right. Just look at America.

    It is unfortunate that the RH issue has become a rallying point for anticlericalism. Nobody has taken Celdran’s freedom to express himself and he has done so long before this incident in many occasions, in many venues. He violated the law, plain and simple.

    That many people do not even realize the gravity of his act of — binastos ang simbahan… at least to us believers it is the sacramental dwelling place of the Lord — is indeed a very sad state. The two ABS-CBN radio commentators were correct yesterday: Celdran committed an offense against the law and he’s liable to the state. How does it become again an occasion for Church-bashing?

    • Thank you, Chet, for your feedback. I agree with you that Carlos Celdran deserves to answer for his actions. Whatever the consequences, he should face up to it. Nowhere in this entry did I say otherwise. Although we may share certain points regarding the need to give couples a choice as well as the need to manage the country’s huge population, I draw the line at disturbing the peace and making a spectacle of myself in public. Di ko style ‘yun. I was merely speculating what might have pushed him to do such a thing. It could have been anything, actually, but a few things were clear: he obviously disagreed and was frustrated with the bishops on the issue of family planning and contraception, and wanted to reach out to a national audience. It took a lot of “courage” to do that, but it still doesn’t make it right. Like I said, he’s lucky we live in a free and forgiving society. Had he done such a thing in Saudi Arabia or even in Catholic Europe in the Middle Ages, I doubt it if he would still be around today appealing the verdict.

      As for the need for artificial methods of birth control, I have made my position clear about it in an earlier entry. It hasn’t changed since, but I’m not saying with finality that it won’t. Even the Church, through the centuries, have had to change its position on quite a number of “truths” like the earth being the center of the universe (poor Galileo!), the existence of limbo, and its refusal to give people who committed suicide a Christian burial. Di ba, as recent as when we were in elementary school, cremation was frowned upon by the Church because it supposedly desecrated the earthly body, which would one day rise intact during the Resurrection. But look at our society now. Not a few people, including Catholics, before they die, are opting to be cremated. Sabi nga nila, nothing on earth is written in stone. In the final analysis, we will all be judged not by what we did per se, but why we did it. I remain hopeful.

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