Catholics For Choice laments the loss of 46-year-old performance artist and cultural activist Carlos Celdran, who passed away on October 8. Celdran lived a vivacious life at the nexus of history, art, culture and politics. He was creatively inclined from a young age, but it wasn’t until he directed his creativity towards activism that he gained national fame in the Philippines, and later, international fame.
Celdran drew attention to HIV & AIDs and reproductive health issues. When he lived in New York, he saw the impacts of the HIV & AIDS epidemic and began thinking about the importance of access to contraception. In the Philippines, he became more public in his support for the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, which guaranteed universal access to contraception, fertility control, sex education and maternal care. At the time, the Catholic leadership in the Philippines opposed the Reproductive Health Bill, abortion and contraception.
The Catholic church has great influence in the Philippines, and Catholics and non-Catholics alike who supported the bill called for a stronger separation of church and state. Carlos Celdran was among those who disagreed with the Catholic leadership’s position, and he took it upon himself to speak up. In 2010, Celdran became a one-man protest, interrupting Mass at the Manila Cathedral dressed as José Rizal (an author and national hero in the Philippines for leading a peaceful revolt against the Spanish colonial government). With him, Celdran was seen bearing a large sign that read “DAMASO,” a character reference from a Rizal novel that embodied corruption in the church. After just a few minutes of protest, Celdran was arrested (pictured above), and a year later, the country’s supreme court upheld a lower court’s decision that found Celdran guilty of offending religious feelings because his theatrics were meant to ridicule and insult the beliefs of the bishops present. With this decision upheld, Celdran was also concerned for his safety and made the difficult decision to flee his beloved country for Spain. There, Celdran remained until his death, continuing historical tours, volunteering at Chefugee and empathizing with war refugees, as he was a sort of religious refugee himself.
Whether it be his activism, his historical walking tours in Manila and Madrid, his volunteerism or deep devotion to community, Celdran carried with him an infectious energy and a heart with so much love and passion for his country, art and people. Carlos Celdran will be sorely missed, and his legacy will likely continue. Since Celdran’s death, Rep. Edcel Lagman introduced HB5170 (informally known as the Carlos Celdran Bill), which would retroactively repeal crimes of offending religious feelings (Article 133). This would mean all pending criminal cases related to Article 133 would be dismissed if HB5170 is passed.