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Carlos Celdran by Ma. Isabel Ongpin
« on: October 14, 2019, 06:39:42 AM »
By Ma. Isabel Ongpin of The Manila Times

IT is untimely to pass away at 47 as Carlos Celdran did in Madrid last October 8.

It is hard to imagine the hyper personality that he was — talking, moving, yelling, gesticulating — now gone. And we have lost a part of ourselves as he goes beyond the horizon of our experience in art, history, patriotism, passion.

Carlos Celdran was first and foremost an artist. He had the artistic sensibility, and it showed early on. At 14, he was drawing cartoons for national broadsheets. He went on to the Rhode Island School of Design, experienced the New York art scene and came home to fit into Philippine society as a pre-eminent cultural worker. He was a performance artist. He could do stand-up comedy in the form of satire or irony or irreverence about historical and contemporary figures and national moments. He was a tour guide who used props while acting out the history he was referring to and the places he was bringing back to life in his tours. He had a devastating sense of humor that brought on laughter and pricks of guilt from those targeted.

As a tour guide, he brought Intramuros and Binondo, historic areas of old Manila, back to center and demonstrated their importance in
He was a student of Rizal and of course, an admirer. The Rizalist eye for critical analysis of Philippine society was cultivated in him. It brought out the rebel against authority that was part and parcel of his personality. Injustice and inequality prompted him to assail their perpetrators.

Naturally, it brought him to contemporary politics and the political figures that populate the Philippine political firmament — good and bad, colorful and inane, Macchiavellian and complicated, self-serving and ridiculous. He left the public servants who did their jobs and the servant leaders who strived to give their best at great sacrifice to be themselves without a word of criticism. Their deeds defined them; he did not need to elaborate on their service and behavior. But those who engaged in transactional politics, human rights violations, dictatorial instincts and the great enterprise of enriching themselves, he skewered in language and art.

A personality like Carlos’ invites strong feelings, either of like or dislike. He was much too forthright and too blunt to not have hurt some sensibilities, get peoples’ backs up, or become the object of snide criticism when he zeroed in on their flaws. But he was what he was, flaws and passions, with no apologies, no need to kowtow. He had high expectations for those in public life to show good governance, good behavior and love of country, exemplary public behavior that its citizens would reciprocate.

His love for history and his references to it in his performances would be perhaps DIY (Do It Yourself for more traditional academic historians). But it struck a chord with the young, making them think about their past and understand more their present in context. For others like tourists and foreigners, it was a window to the understanding of Filipino character and history, social mores and contemporary outlooks.

So, we look back at his Binondo and Intramuros tours, his concept of our history and his bringing to life versions of its recent controversial characters, and we regret to say goodbye. They were that good, that entertaining, that true. Nay, we are downcast and sad to have lost a character that was ubiquitous in our national journey and caused us to think seriously about our country and our patriotic duty.

One of Carlos’ passions was his promotion and defense of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RH) Act of 2012, which the country’s Catholic establishment attacked with hammer and tongs and not a few lies and apocalyptic threats. He believed that overpopulation was a cause of social problems. Therefore, he was seriously and passionately promoting the RH bill. His passion caused him to interrupt an ecumenical conference at the Manila Cathedral dressed as Rizal, in a bowler hat and black coat, to denounce friar misapplication of authority. He carried a placard on which was written the name “Damaso,” a friar of uncertain morals and dictatorial ways in Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere, the epitome of colonialism’s sins. It was performance art.

But it did not amuse the target. Forgetting its Christian template of forgiveness, the Philippine institutional Church, in particular the Archdiocese of Manila, reacted swiftly and forcefully by filing a suit invoking an article of law against disturbing or insulting religious feeling. Then began Carlos Celdran’s Calvary — he was arrested, he was tried, he was convicted. He sued for pardon and apologized. This time he needed to be humble and ask for forgiveness. He knew it and did it. The Archdiocese claimed it had forgiven, but the suit went on all the way to the Supreme Court which affirmed his jail sentence. He went into exile, worked as a tour guide in Madrid, and died suddenly after only a few months of being away. Exile took its toll on someone who belonged to the Philippine political and social equation.

It was the ultimate hypocrisy that upon his death, the Archdiocese felt compelled to issue a statement that it had nothing to do with the case filed in court. It claimed it was not them but Catholic lawyers who pursued the case because of the infraction against religious sensibilities. It brought back to mind the vindictive colonial equivalent of refusing burial in church grounds of the brother-in-law of Jose Rizal, Mariano Herbosa. That was vengeance against Rizal who told the truth of the sins of colonial frailocracy that echoes in the Celdran case today.

Hardly anyone believes the Archdiocese’s self-serving statement. All it had to do was desist from pursuing the case and/or persuade the so-called “Catholic lawyers” to drop it when Carlos Celdran apologized and asked for pardon.

We are all sinners here and forgiveness is the mark of our Christianity, our faith and love, the virtues of Christ. In every Mass there is a prayer of confession that asks forgiveness for the sins one has done as well as for what one has left undone that should have been done. It could not be clearer to anyone who intones it at a Catholic Mass.

On this last, the Archdiocese of Manila failed big-time and publicly and we see it in what happened to Carlos Celdran, well-meaning, if impetuous, human and vulnerable, condemned by unforgiving religious institutional arrogance.

Goodbye Carlos, you go to Divine Benevolence which was denied to you here.

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