Carlos Celdran shares his thoughts on ‘Damaso’ and Philippine arts and culture

carlos celaran
via – In September 2010, Carlos Celdran made headlines with his “Damaso” protest, where he entered the Manila Cathedral carrying a placard with the infamous Noli Me Tangere reference to protest the then Reproductive Health bill. He has since been known as an activist, but in his interview with GMA News TV program “Powerhouse,” the “Pied Piper of Manila” shows that he has more to say about Filipino culture and the arts.

Carlos Celdran was very sheltered growing up. He went to a private school, was raised Catholic, and his family lived a very comfortable life. However, he says he and his siblings were never spoiled. “My dad never believed in giving us more than what we deserved,” he says.

Carlos carries this belief with him to this day. He says, “Nobody deserves a Mercedes Benz. You work for a Mercedes Benz. I really believe that people should work for what they have.”

Looking back, Carlos says he even wishes he had the privilege of having to go through life without the comforts he grew up with. “There are many lessons to be learned that I did not learn through (the hard) way,” he says.

Arts & Culture

It was Carlos Celdran’s aunt Patis Tesoro, the “Grand Dame” of Philippine fashion, who introduced him to the world of arts and culture. Aside from that influence, he showed talent in the arts from a young age by drawing caricatures and writing wise sayings.

He eventually enrolled into the University of the Philippines Diliman. After a year, he transferred to Rhode Island School of Design to take up Painting, only to find out that he was allergic to paint. He then decided to shift to a course in Performance Art, which he believes is a “combination of theater and visual arts. You use the philosophy (of) arts and painting in the realm of theater.”

Upon coming back to the Philippines, Carlos became a freelance set designer and director for organizations like Ballet Philippines and Actors Actors Inc. He also started giving walking tours around Manila, which he likens to a work of art or a performance. “Intramuros is my stage, telling the story of the Philippines is my paint, and I am the paintbrush. I try to use the philosophies of art and art history.”

Seeing the locals’ morning offerings during a visit to Bali inspired Carlos to come up with what he calls the “Random Act of Beauty,” which is a philosophy that he lives by everyday. “Everyday you should do one act that is considered as beautiful,” he says. He adds that he find beauty in the things around him and turns them into a work of art. During the “Powerhouse” visit to his home, he showed host Mel Tiangco how half-dead flowers he picked up from Roxas Boulevard can be beautiful when arranged. He says all it takes is a little creativity and for you to “exercise your power of finding beauty in anything.”

“Cultural Activism”

When asked where he got the ideals and advocacies that he has now, Carlos says, “I think it was the combination of being sheltered and going to UP Diliman… The polarization of comfort and activism probably gave me my interest and (put me in a) position to do something.”

Carlos says his “Damaso” protest is a good example of using arts and culture in activism. Using the history of the Philippines, literary figures created by the national hero, a little bit of cosplay, and using Manila Cathedral as a stage, he created what he calls “a transformation.”

He adds that the protest was his way of addressing the poverty that surrounded him every time he would conduct his tours around Manila. “I’m a tour guide, I tour everybody around Manila,” he says. “May magandang Manila Cathedral, may (magagandang) bahay, may magandang park, may magandang mall, and then ang daming street children.” He feels that this is a result of the poor mothers in the Philippines not having free access to reproductive health options. “It has a lot more to do with human rights, and women’s rights,” he adds. “We tried everything with the economy, constitution, liberalization of this and that, but we forgot about the empowerment of the Filipino family.”

Because of this protest, Carlos has been called a “cultural activist.” On that matter, he says: “I really believe (that) arts and culture is the best way to change society.” He believes that using creativity, history, and culture will make more of a lasting change than forcing people to change (because) “to really change the Philippines, you have to make the Filipino want to change.”

Carlos was found guilty of “offending religious feelings” under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. Despite forgiveness from the Catholic Church, he says he still has to go to jail for two months and one day. However, according to him, it was all worth it. “There’s no regrets,” he says.

“Do crazy things”

Twenty years from now, Carlos Celdran still sees himself living happily in Manila. He says there’s no sense in moving abroad because his work is about being Filipino. “‘Yung tour ko pang-Pilipino, ‘yung trabaho ko (pang-Pilipino). (The) whole pursuit ng art life ko was about being Filipino,” he says.

Carlos says that he would like to be an example for other Filipino artists. “I would like to prove to Filipinos out there that even if you are an artist and you have a ridiculous dream of doing cosplay everyday in Intramuros, if you are as pasaway to walk into Manila Cathedral and tell the bishops what you really think, this is the country to do it. Because really, the Philippines is more free than we think we are,” he says.

He points out that compared to many other countries, we are lucky to be able to express ourselves freely, without fear from our government or any particular religion. “Our repression comes from inside,” he says, adding that right now is a very good moment for Filipinos to “come out and do crazy things.”

“It proves that Filipinos can do it,” Carlos says.

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