Censored in the temple of the Lord: Who is Carlos Celdran, really?

And why is he saying those terrible things about priests?



Two years ago, on a late afternoon, tour operator and performance artist Carlos Celdran was arrested for reportedly interrupting Mass in Manila Cathedral to stage a protest against priests and bishops interfering with the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill.

Dressed as National Hero José Rizal and standing before the altar, Celdran raised a placard that read “Damaso.” He was taken away by the police, but not until after he had shouted to the clergy present: “Stop getting involved in politics!”

That evening, Msgr. Nestor Cerbo, rector of Manila Cathedral (Basilica of the Immaculate Conception), filed charges against Celdran for violation of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, which penalizes acts that are “offensive to religious feelings.”

The following day, he was released from the custody of the Manila Police District after posting a bail of P6,000.

People who heard the news gasped, simmered or giggled. Even some of the faithful who sympathized with Celdran had reservations about his protest action. Freedom of expression can only go so far—do it if you dare, but not during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! Try doing that during service at a mosque and see if we won’t witness a beheading.

“First of all, it was not during Mass, it was not a liturgical service,” Celdran clarifies. “It was an ecumenical meeting of Catholics and non-Catholics where they were selling Bible. There were priests as well as laymen, each giving points of reflection. I waited for the person to finish, I genuflected before the altar, before I raised my placard.”

If he really wanted to hit at the sanctimony of the clergy, why Padre Damaso, who turns somewhat sympathetic toward the final chapters of Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere”? Why not Padre Salvi, the real snake in the grass?

“Because Damaso represents abuse of power,” Celdran says. “Remember when he has the remains of Ibarra’s father exhumed? And his threat of excommunication I link to the bishops’ threat of excommunicating President Aquino [for supporting the RH Bill, which he subsequently signed into law late last year].”

Conflicted youth

Celdran says he’s not anti-Catholic. He was a schoolboy educated by priests, in fact, and had a rigid Catholic upbringing.

Born John Charles Edward Pamintuan Celdran, he grew up in Dasmariñas Village in Makati and attended Colegio San Agustin.

“A super-super-super-sosyal school,” he says. “Many of its products have become show-biz, all sosyal, all super-sheltered. Life revolved around the village and the school—and I hated it.”

While still in high school, he found a job as a cartoonist for a business paper with an office in Manila.

“I was paid P50 per comic strip of four frames,” he says. “I commuted all the way from Makati to Port Area weekly to see [the late cartoonist] Nonoy Marcelo. That was how I knew all about Manila. Imagine being transported from Makati to Manila—it was like a time machine. The real journey began when leaving Makati, taking the bus to Taft, the LRT, then walking to Port Area, to deliver my strip. I was discovering Intramuros.”

Marcelo recommended him to the Samahang Kartunista ng Pilipinas, and he became its youngest member. Then he did T-shirt illustrations for a clothing store he founded with his sister and friends.

He enrolled at the University of the Philippines’ Department of Visual Communications.

“At UP, that was where I saw things,” he relates. “I saw my first marijuana, I saw my first lesbian, I saw my first farmer’s daughter. I was making lakwatsa in college. I explored Malate. I went to where the bohemians gathered, at Penguin, at Blue Café. I could not go back [to sheltered life].”

He transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design to major in Painting. Finding he was allergic to paint, he shifted and got a degree in Performance Art, graduating with honors.

CARLOS Celdran’s paper collage of his wife Tesa. PHOTO BY ANDREW TADALAN

In the mid-’90s, he lived and worked in New York, juggling jobs, from cheese-counter boy to fish-station boy, from production assistant of a performance group, to technical director of a dance company.

It was in New York where he witnessed the devastation of AIDS. That was what turned him into an activist for HIV/AIDS awareness, reproductive health, family planning.

Cultural activism

On returning to Manila in the late ’90s, he worked as a set designer and director for Ballet Philippines and Actor’s Actors, Inc. He also volunteered for the Heritage Conservation Society, where he discovered his “talent for handling historical tours.”

In 2002, he founded his company Walk This Way, providing half-day walking tours of the heritage districts of Manila, from Quiapo to Intramuros to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, even overnight tours of Corregidor.

At around this time, he was working as consultant for arts and culture for Manila City Hall. He helped Mayor Lito Atienza create Baywalk and push for the pedestrianization of Avenida Rizal—which all came to naught with the change of administration.

His walking tours became popular only after five years. He says his influences and inspiration in his cultural activism are National Artist Nick Joaquin and writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando.

In the tour called If These Walls Could Talk, garbed in the Spanish-colonial attire of an ilustrado, he guides people around the Walled City while telling stories, singing, dancing, crying, doing magic acts.

In “Living la Vida Imelda!” he wears bell-bottoms and leads a tour of CCP while telling facts and fancies about former First Lady Imelda Marcos.

“It’s hard to do these tours,” he says. “I consider it as my yoga. I don’t party as much as I did. I do it 100-percent, like when people do golf, or when you go to church. My day is incomplete without these tours.”

Tour and performance have often blurred. From the temple of culture was only a step into the temple of God, and it was inevitable the scandal in the cathedral had to occur.

Today Celdran averages 40 people per tour of 2-3 hours, Wednesday-Saturday, now mostly confined to Intramuros. Understandably, Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church have become forbidden grounds.


“I just stay outside San Agustin and tell the tourists to go inside if they want to,” he says. “As for Manila Cathedral, structurally damaged ’yun—but that’s not my fault.”


Art and censorship

Last year, he was commissioned by Art Dubai Projects to perform his CCP tour as a one-man act in Dubai’s annual art fair. In the middle of his third performance, he was “interrupted by robed authorities [after doing] an imagined conversation between Imelda Marcos and late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.”

He says the morality police of Dubai must have misconstrued the conversation as an incitement à la Arab Spring.

They took him to the parking lot and reproved him, then into an office where he was questioned by security officials. Traumatized, he canceled the performance, but not until after covering his mouth with packing tape at his hotel’s lobby to protest the censorship.

(The uncensored version of “Living la Vida Imelda!” he will perform at Silverlens Gallery on Feb. 15-March 16, 7 p.m.)

An overlooked talent of Celdran is his accomplished art-making, which he does in his spare time. The artworks are done with paper cutouts shaped into mosaics and brushed over with paint. One collage evokes the look and color tonality of Julian Schnabel’s mosaic of porcelain shards.

Celdran says he is an advocate of random acts of beauty, such as doing flower arrangement or instant installation in the salon of his Malate apartment. “I believe one must do one beautiful act to complete a day.”

He is a bike enthusiast. He pushes for brown rice not only to support good health but also to help small farmers. “I don’t eat pork. Everything in moderation is fine.”

He has a farm in Nasugbu, Batangas, where he grows organic vegetables like lettuce and arugula. He has built a nipa hut there, where wife Leny is planning to put up a yoga studio. Monday-Wednesday is usually spent in the farm, away from the frenzy and madness of the metropolis.


Dangerous law

Two weeks ago, the verdict on Celdran’s case was given. He was found guilty and sentenced to one year, one month and 11 days in prison.

He had apologized to the Archdiocese of Manila, and the bishops said they had “forgiven him in the name of the Lord but not in the earthly realm.” Which made him quip: “As far as they are concerned, I can go to heaven but I have to go to jail first.”

He and his legal team are going to make an appeal at the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court (Branch 4) Monday afternoon, to reverse the decision and “hopefully to repeal the law—because it’s dangerous.”

He is aware it may take years before the case is over. “I may just go down as a footnote in history. Okay lang ’yun… and then I can go to my nipa hut.”

In a low, weary voice, he confides it has become harder for him day by day to believe that our connection to a Higher Being is only through the priests. There’s been a lot of confusion about the issue as many of the faithful, in fact, can’t even differentiate Church from clergy, not to say distinguish Church from church. “Anticlerical,” of course, doesn’t mean “anti-Church.”

Still, Celdran insists on the innocence of his protest action inside the cathedral.

“I wouldn’t have done it during Mass. I also know these things. Come on. I’m Catholic. If my plane is crashing I’ll pray ‘Hail Mary.’”

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  • HuwagKalimutan

    Celdran is nothing but a confused man who still does not know what he wants. A born loser! How can he accuse the present priesthood to the transgressions of Rizal’s Damasao?

    Should we blame today’s generation of Germans to Hitler and his Holocaust or the present day Japanese to the Pearl Harbor attack and the feared Imperial Army? The Muslims for 9-11?

    This confused man is a born loser. He has a twisted logic yet the media gives attention to his crazy antics. He loves the attention he has generated but I hope he reads my comment calling him a “confused born loser!”

  • HaroldT

    MITSUBISHOPS!!!CBCP are the Modern Pharisees and Sadducees!!!

  • L S

    Another flawed writing from the PDI. Did you just seriously equate going into a mosque and pulling a similar stunt as leading into a “beheading”? I’m surprised Christians don’t burn at the stake these  so-called “heretics” given your premise. 

  • marcelo

    Para sa Catholic Church….hurt kayo…hahaha…..ang kapal ng mukha NG Mga priests daw na Ito…eh puro naman sexual harassment ang kaso ninyong Mga Paris…magsisi kayo…Mga pedophile

  • marcelo

    Ang dapat gawin NG simbahang katoliko ay ibenta nila lahat NG real estate nila at ipagpagawa nila NG tirahan ang Mga informal settlers…..the manila cathedral land area will fetch billions……

    • Che Court

      simulan momuna.hahaha

    • Hein S

      Exactly what JESUS would do.

      Sell the P24,000,000,000.00 in BPI and SanMig shares to help the Poor.

      Open up the vast land holdings for the Squatters.

  • marcelo

    Negosyo Lang ang Catholic Church pag may perang pambayad ang Ganda NG misa pero pag patay walang pambayad kawawa naman….bakit kikilos ba ang Mga padre damaso sa Catholic Church Kung walang bayad …corrupt din ang Mga yan parang government officials na pag walang pera walang galaw.Itanong sa Mga senator at congressman


    Kung tama ng gianawa ni Celdran. Marami na sanang gumaya at nauso ang magdala ng plakard sa simbahan. Kung walang gumaya, ibig sabihin ay hindi tama ang ginawa ni Celdran. Meron bang supporter ni Celdran na naga Blog dito ang nag “plakard” sa simbahan ? Kung wala ay puro lang kayo dada wala namang binatbat. Kung wala ng ibang sumunod na nag “Plakard” sa simbahan yan ang hatol ng taong bayan. Hayaan si Celdran, huwag makialam ang simbahan sa pag kulong sa kanya. Ang malayang taong bayan ang hahatol.

  • Baruk1

    hahaha…. sabadista…not here kulto…not here..
    Does it come to your mind – – Why do you need to rest on Sun day following the Catholic Church and not on the Sabbath following the commandment of the Real God of the Bible?? 

    In the beginning of creation, God rested on the Sabbath. Noah rested on the Sabbath. For 40 yrs in the wilderness the man of God together with Moses observed the Sabbath. They could not get manna from heaven on the seventh day. God gave the ten commandments including remembering the Sabbath Law. Jesus Christ observed the Sabbath Law. All the Apostles observed Sabbath Law. More than hundred year after Jesus Christ died, the last book of the Bible was completed and all Biblical Christians observed Sabbath law as recorded in the Bible.  

    THEY ARE NOT SABADISTA. You cannot see any verses in the Bible that the man of God including all biblical Christians observed Sun day. 

    The Catholic observed Sun day under the influence of the Pagan emperor Constantine,  Centuries AD. Satan the devil, the God of this evil world love to deceived many. The sword and the cross became powerful and bring the pagan practice of Sun day world wide. The protestant and the other so called Christians protested against the curve image but retain some of the pagan practices including Christmas, Easter, Sun day, etc. Many of them
    trying to find justification of the Sun day but could not find a good reason. 

    In the First Resurrection, those who will be qualified to be with Christ will surely observe the Sabbath law. Let us make it a goal to be there and start practicing the Commandments now.  

    “”But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”” (Rev 20:5-6)

  • Andrew

    What is wrong with Mr Celdran is that although there is a voice of activism and an aim that is truly upright and not against to the welfare and the justice of the majority of the people, he never really managed to outstretch his self-image and thus, because of his so-called “misdemeanor” (protesting inside the church while an ecumenical service is going on) he has fallen into the same, old, narrow-confirmation seeking activists that can be categorized into one sweeping generalization because of their predictable code,deliberate actions, statement and principles that has been totally overwrought, has been too exhausted so many times, has been constantly  discussed and  tackled and trampled by so many intellectual freaks and has been often times maligned because of the stereotypical assumptions that had been thrown for the sake of an argument. He is nothing but a painful, second-rated struggling artist con activist ( as what other pattern of so many artists nowadays) with a voice that is desperate to be heard but too shallow to be considered as worthwhile.

    Though his way of propelling his ideas is somewhat mediocre and very polemicist-like; I admire his confidence and his way of brazing all the scrutiny and criticisms that are coming hither and tither from so many people and amateur intellectuals alike. He stands his own credo of ideas, he makes his point clear by doing an action that is not guided on a group of people, and although I know a lot of people would not agree on what I am going to say; though no matter how second-rated his actions were, he is a true form of INDIVIDUALISM. He tried it on his own way, had fought to be heard but with a flap outcome but he struggled to create an image of his own, independently.

  • Lolo_Basyong

    it’s obvious, the guy is scared. he underestimated the priests.  now, he must pay.  pity.

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