Carlos Celdran

We the People

The constitutional law professor and former Obama White House “regulatory czar” Cass Sunstein makes an important point in a recent article about the relationship between our constitutional rights and social mores. In it he writes

(w)e often think that our rights are established by the Constitution and by the Supreme Court, interpreting that document. True, the Constitution is fundamental, but some of our most important rights, as we understand and live them, are a product of changing social values, which affect private institutions, public officials and sometimes even constitutional law.

He cites the recent decision of the US Defence Department to allow women to fight on the battlefield and the Boy Scouts’ reconsidering of its long-time national ban on gay members as examples of how shifts in cultural attitudes towards some issues relax restrictions and grant rights to some members of society who were previously excluded.

It was back in 1981 on a vote of 6-3 that the US Supreme Court decided to uphold the government’s right to refuse to sign up women for the draft. Similarly, as early as 2000, the high court in a split 5-4 decision sided with the Boy Scouts whose moral views prevented them from admitting gays into their organisation. These two cases involving sexual discrimination on the one hand and freedom of association on the other were some of the most significant decisions in the court’s history. And yet they have recently been overturned not by judicial review but by the organisations themselves. As Sunstein pointed out

(i)n 1981 many people would have been astonished to hear that in a little more than three decades, and without the slightest pressure from the Supreme Court, the Defense Department would allow women to serve in combat. Yet on Jan. 24 of this year, the Pentagon announced, with the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the military is lifting its longstanding prohibition on women in combat.

As recently as 2000, many people would have found it unimaginable that in a little more than a decade, the Boy Scouts would seriously consider eliminating its ban against the admission of openly gay members.

…Powerful though they are, the Defense Department and the Boy Scouts of America have no authority to overrule the Supreme Court. But it is an enduring feature of our constitutional system that as they learn over time, public and private institutions are free to endorse understandings of rights that go beyond anything announced by the highest court in the land.

In the Philippines, the recent passage of the RH bill serves to illustrate the very same point that Sunstein makes. The RH bill had been languishing in congress for over a decade. Its passage late last year was credited to the administration’s willingness to stand up to religious clerics. But the administration had actually dragged its feet before endorsing the bill to congress, just as it is doing with the freedom of information bill.

It was due to the pressure from reproductive rights advocates and recent polling that indicated a large majority of Catholics supported it which gave Malacañang the courage to finally stick its neck out in favour of the bill. It was society that led, and the leaders that followed. With regard to the case of Carlos Celdran, an RH bill advocate, who was recently found guilty by a municipal court for upsetting the “religious feelings” of the clergy, the law on which the decision was based seems absurd to most viewers today. It is a vestige of the Spanish inquisition which took place many centuries ago and remains codified in the statutes of its former colony.

With respect to the cyber crime law that threatened to curtail the rights of many online bloggers to freely express themselves, until the Supreme Court issued an injunction, the divide that separates legislators who crafted the bill and the president who signed it on the one hand, and the younger generation for whom tweeting and liking on social media are as natural as breathing on the other, is really quite evident.

Back to the US, and the recently concluded election over there where Rep Paul Ryan in his initial remarks after being named the GOP vice presidential nominee electrified the party’s base by saying that, “our rights come from nature and God, not from government”. He was echoing the pronouncement made by Thomas Jefferson in America’s declaration of independence, in which he wrote that such freedoms were “self-evident”. But it wasn’t god or nature that gave them those rights, according to Sunstein. It was “we the people”.

Carlos Celdran formally apologizes to Archdiocese of Manila for Damaso

Actor-activist and Tour guide Carlos Celdran published his letter of apology to the Archdiocese of Manila on his blog, “Walk this way.” Celdran’s apology, addressed to the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, was for the incident that occurred at the Manila Cathedral on 30 September 2010, when the actor cried out during an ecumenical service, “Damaso!” Father Damaso was a priest in Jose Rizal’s novel, “Noli Me Tangere,” that many allude to the Catholic Church in the Philippines.   The incident occurred when Celdran protested against the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) stand on reproductive health.  The actor was charged with violation of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, which is on “offending religious feelings.”

Manila Cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Manila, and the complainant in the Celdran case was Msgr. Nestor Cerbo, Manila Cathedral rector.  CBCP news quoted Msgr. Cerbo who said,  “It would be up to Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales to decide if it will be accepted. The final decision is not mine,”

“Normally, the Church is always open to (an) apology,” Msgr. Cerbo added.  He did note it took Celdran six months to apologize.

ABS-CBN News wrote that “Celdran made it clear, however, that he has apologized “a couple of hours after the incident”, but the CBCP “rejected it and let me stay in jail for a whole day.” He walked free after posting a P6,000 bail.”

The one about Damaso!

Carlos Celdran performing

CDQ on Celdran and Damaso!

Specifically my reservation has to do with someone who may or may not be an artist, who may or may not be a believer, who may or may not have a more enlightened cause, doing a similar thing in a mosque. This country does not lack for fanatics of the anti-Islamic kind, fueled by the Islamophobia of movies and the self-serving US version of anti-terrorism, and the very benightedness Celdran meant to oppose by his act might end up the very thing it encourages. I’d caution very, very earnestly against defiling, or despoiling, places of worship.

Apart from that, I think Celdran’s stunt was brilliant.

First off, he has done this country the not inconsiderable service of giving it a history lesson, and in style. And while at that, he has proven himself a most competent guide to this country’s historical riches, showing he knows whereof he speaks. It will be a sublime irony in a country that is no stranger to sublime ironies if he should lose his job because of this, as the irate clergy of Manila demands. Though if that happens, I doubt he will remain unemployed for very long. Jose Rizal got shot to death for his pains, his reincarnation has shot him to fame.

With his act, Celdran hasn’t just guided people through the Walled City, he has guided this nation through the walls of its forgetfulness back to the time of Rizal and the fight against religious obscurantism. Indeed, in this case, he hasn’t just reminded this nation of its past, he has reminded it of its present, showing that the past is never really past, history is never really history, it flows into the present, it reappears in the present, it lives in the present. Still indeed he hasn’t just shown the past and present, he has breathed life into them by impersonating or conjuring or manifesting Rizal in all his desperate fury, shouting a name that like “Judas” carries with it a world of vituperation: “Damaso!”

Brilliantly put.

We may have jumped the shark on the protection of religious grounds, my question is this— is that too high a price to crush truthiness?

Redrawing the circle

Manila Cathedral

To entrench oneself in a position diametrically opposite to that occupied by a ideological adversary may well be a significant demonstration of whatever convictions one holds dear. That said, the problem with such a move, however ferociously or passionately undertaken, should be obvious enough: it merely reinforces the area and the circumference of the already existing discursive circle. Moreover, antipodal antagonism confirms, if not intensifies, in the foe the power that one is trying to deny it.

Thus, no matter how many individual skirmishes or battles one claims as triumphs, the war itself cannot be won—the terms of the conflict only ensure the maintenance of the status quo, which is to say endless and unproductive enmity, rather than victory, which is to say any hoped-for change: the expansion or contraction of the circle, or its transformation into a different, more feasible shape.

Within such a scheme of struggle, the question of strategic value is often elided or ignored, because the effect and defect of committing to diametrical distance, to absolute opposition, is the reduction of one’s vision—if vision it can indeed be called—to a narrow set of premises, which in turn lead to action that is limited in scope and efficacy. It should be unsurprising that agitators of this stripe tend toward maneuvers that are predicated less on dignity, respect, or logic than on puerility, sanctimoniousness, or auto-eroticism.

One such agitator is Carlos Celdran, a tour guide and an advocate for the immediate passage of the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill—a bill that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is strongly against.

Let us call a spade a spade: Celdran’s recent disruption of an ongoing mass at the Manila Cathedral by holding up a placard emblazoned with “Damaso”, yelling at the assembled bishops, and—according to a report from The Philippine Star—later goading police officers on the scene to arrest him is an act not of subversion in the vein of José Rizal, regardless of Celdran’s attire—or utterly destitute notions of Rizal and heroism—but of perversion.

If with his gimmick Celdran had intended to catch the spotlight of national attention, he has certainly succeeded brilliantly. But now that he has drawn our collective notice, I have to ask: So what? Or, perhaps more crucially: Now what?

Perversion, admittedly, has a long and honorable tradition of being deployed in the name of critical commentary. For example, Diogenes of Sinope, perhaps the most famous of the Cynics, deliberately behaved like a dog in order to foreground the falsehoods of civilization and uphold the virtues of asceticism. To my mind, though, Celdran’s publicity stunt partakes of the same kind of perversion that motivates a child to sneak cookies before dinner, draw on the walls with crayons, or grab the shiny new toys of another: for the primitive pleasure of being able to do something that is conventionally forbidden.

Insofar as Celdran can be described as a cynic, it is in the modern sense of word, because if the manner in which he chose to make his protest is any indication, he seems to believe the only way to forward his cause is to sensationalize it, to appeal to the lowest common denominator, to frame a complex matter in the crudest and most simplistic of ways: by stoking the fires of generic underdog rage. Perhaps the bishops did need “to hear what the Filipinos are saying“, but Celdran’s objective did not appear to be so much clarity as it was blasphemy.

Whatever Celdran thought he was doing—in his own words, he wanted to give the bishops “a dose of their own [medicine]“—I have serious doubts that his stunt has helped matters any, chiefly because he and like-minded ilk missed a very important point: engaging the CBCP on the RH bill is an exercise in futility, because, as an institution of the Roman Catholic Church, it cannot and should not be expected to take a stand that runs counter to official Church teachings or defies the Holy See. For better or for worse, the Church accepts as axiomatic that artificial contraception is evil, and the actions of the CBCP with reference to the RH bill proceed from that same premise. Given this, it must be understood that there is no room for negotiation at all.

Nevertheless, it is exceedingly evident that what the CBCP thinks, says, or does as a body clearly does not have much of an impact on the general populace, considering that several surveys have already shown that a majority of Filipinos—including Catholics—favor the passage of the RH bill. Furthermore, as I have pointed out elsewhere, Catholic doctrine allows for the possibility of dissent if that is what one’s conscience dictates. Going head-to-head with the bishops, therefore, is myopic and wasteful, even gratuitous: one might as well bash one’s head repeatedly against a wall for all the good that arguing with the CBCP will do, even if cracking one’s skull open is “gutsy” and “bad-ass”—oh, and, of course, thoroughly mediagenic.

In the realm of public opinion, church and state are already separate, so why bother to fight the CBCP and accord it more power, more influence, and more exposure than it ought to have, entitled though it may be to a voice in the peanut gallery of our rowdy democracy? Enshrined in the Constitution is the freedom of expression, which necessarily includes the freedom to ignore. The battle for the passage of the RH bill, at this particular juncture at least, is not with the bishops, but with the nominally honorable members of Congress. As blogger iwriteasiwrite has suggested, dialogue with the Catholic Church can—and should—resume after the bill has been passed into law.

[This also appears in my blog, Random Salt.]

Photo credit: Manila Cathedral, by Micropawn217, some rights reserved.

Your Say: On Excommunication and Carlos Celdran

Carlos Celdran performing

Today was a busy news day so we gathered some of the opinions you posted on your Plurk and Twitter accounts.

On the issue of Bishop Odchimar’s threat of excommunicating President Noynoy Aquiono

Seriously? Awareness is what we need. Oh, and a broad-minded church! – @Katzies on Twitter

Wow. Backward-thinking church much? – @psybuster on Twitter

I think that’s overkill. Separation of Church and State. – @mikelgarc1a on Twitter

WTF? Let PNoy do what he needs to do for this country – @pollytinio on Twitter

On Carlos Celdran’s disruption of a Mass as protest to Church’s stand on RH

I’m against it. It’s like stooping down to Bishop Cruz’s level. – @CRISis73 on Twitter

He didn’t overturn tables. Better question: were officials Christ-like in filing charge? – @voltaire on Twitter

Celdran violated a provision of the Penal Code. There are other better ways he can make his voice heard. – @ESPJoven on Twitter

i admire his courage, but he could’ve showed courage without disrespect… – @mypzi on Plurk

my sense of propriety is against but another part of me says it was totally badass! – @Jego on Plurk

image from wikicommons