Freedom of Speech, Carlos Celdran Style

Around Manila
October 1, 2010

Those who visit me here in Manila know that I insist on them attending famed tour guide Carlos Celdran‘s Intramuros: If These Walls Could Talk Tour.  While a bit envelope-pushing at times in his delivery (see photo above where he’s discussing the US’ occupation of the Philippines in the early 1900’s), he manages to deliver historical information in a fresh and creative way that I have come to enjoy.

I had to smile when I opened the paper this morning and saw, in true Carlos form, that he had staged a protest DURING MASS at the Manila Cathedral WHILE DRESSED as Jose Rizal, the National Hero of the Philippines.  Carlos was protesting the churches’ opposition to the Reproductive Health Bill, a bill that promotes information on and access to both natural and modern family planning methods that are medically safe and legally permissible.

Celdran, who gives tours 3-4 times a week that include this very Cathedral he is protesting in, stood at the altar during mass holding a sign saying “Damaso” a reference to the villainous friar in Jose Rizal’s epic work Noli Me Tangere.  He screamed “Stop getting involved in Politics” until he was arrested for “offending religious feelings.”  Who knew one could get arrested for such?! :)

My favorite part of the article was when Carlos said that the police agreed with him (and therefore were kind to him in jail).  I also found it amusing to see that the Catholic Church was threatening to excommunicate President Aquino if he passes this bill. Sometimes I forget we’re in the 21st century when I read stuff like that!

I admire Carlos’ creative take on getting his message heard and do agree with the fact that people need to be educated on family planning, whether that’s natural or modern.  There is room for both, but the bottom line is that ignorance regarding reproduction cannot continue to be encouraged and enabled here in the Philippines.

  • To read more about the bill: click HERE.
  • To read more about Carlos’ arrest (and see a great video of him defending his position – fast forward to minute 1): Click HERE.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see a Manila where destitute children are not running around on the streets half-clothed and begging for food…. maybe this bill will be one small step to move us in that direction.  Thoughts?


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  1. sarahlynn60 says:

    Nick here. The views above do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US Government. I mention this because we always come up when this topic is addressed. However, on the USAID (America’s foreign assistance agency) website on health programs in the Philippines, it states “USAID-supported programs focus on promoting access to maternal and child health care including voluntary family planning, micro-nutrient supplementation and food fortification, prevention and treatment for TB, surveillance and prevention of HIV/AIDS and emerging diseases like avian influenza.”

    Anyway, it’s interesting to note that the church itself has threatened civil disobedience to protest the reproductive health bill, so Carlos went and did a little civil disobeying himself.

    For context, the Catholic church in the Philippines has historically been a very powerful force. They are arguably the primary reason President Marcos was successfully ousted in favor of Cory Aquino in 1986 when they led the cry for civil disobedience, protest and protection of the military mutineers (Sarah did a previous post on this). Some 25 years later, they’re facing off with the son of the woman they helped put in power.

    -Nick (husband)

  2. miguel says:

    i may not agree with carlos’ chosen tactic. i do admire his zeal on this issue. president noynoy aquino has a great opportunity to do the right thing on this issue, something her mother, for all her remarkable achievements, never had the belief or the courage to do, that is to stand up to the church opposition to this issue. a significant part of why the philippines has fallen behind its neighbors, has been its failure to control its runaway population growth. we can have multiple consecutive years of over 7% growth but we could never make a dent because of the high birth rate ( which is highest among the lower economic classes–who can ill afford birth control devices and are the least informed) –this is why it is imperative for government to play a prominent role. i deeply admire and love cory aquino but she miserably failed on this. now her son has a great opportunity to atone for this.

  3. sarahlynn60 says:

    Thanks for your input Miguel. Very well said. It will be interesting to watch how it plays out…

  4. Sara says:

    Wonderfully put Sarah and I agree wholeheartedly with you on this issue. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the children in this country were wanted and cared for. And, maybe more importantly, all the women in this country could regulate when they wanted to become Mothers.

  5. Selina says:

    What ‘miguel’ said! :-)

    Sarah, excellent blog entry – loved this one.



  6. Diplowife says:

    A lot of my country’s everyday dilemmas are directly or indirectly rooted to the fact that we are over populated. Everything is not enough. And I agree with your hope for the kids back home, and not just for their basic needs but for the things that ought to equip them further in life. Our public schools has to handle 50-80 kids in a classroom, w/c makes teaching and learning not easy for both the kids, especially for the teachers. Kids back home aren’t just starving for food but for knowledge as well. Do you know that there are kids who get as far as high school but has the reading comprehension of a 4th or 5th grader? Or those who just completely give up on school because they don’t really get anywhere with it. That for me is a bigger tragedy brought by our being over populated.
    And as much as being religious is a big part of us Filipinos, I am glad that there are now people like Carlos who believe that we have to draw a very fine line on how much our spirituality should affect our lives, even if it only takes a bit of information that will help us make better decisions with regards to building a family, and our health, especially for would-be moms like me. Which I believe that this something the RH bill hopes to achieve. And lastly, really love the whole Jose Rizal get-up did you know that Rizal was mostly disliked by priests in his time? I thought it was hilarious in one article I read that it took some time before the priests were able to get what Carlos was trying to say.

  7. sarahlynn60 says:

    Thank you – I always love your insights. They add another great layer of richness to what I already know.

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