Carlos Celdran

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Carlos Celdran
A head shot of Carlos Celdran wearing a top hat, headset microphone, and blue barong, looking skywards as he speaks.
Carlos Celdran in Spanish colonial costume as he performs while leading a tour
Born John Charles Edward Pamintuan Celdran
(1972-11-10) November 10, 1972 (age 44)
Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines
Residence Malate, Manila, Philippines
Nationality Filipino
Alma mater Rhode Island School of Design
Occupation Activist, comedian, performance artist, tour guide
Known for Performing arts, social activism
Relatives Claire Celdran (sister)
Comedy career
Genres Observational comedy, political satire
Subject(s) Philippine culture, Philippine history, Philippine politics,

John Charles Edward "Carlos" Pamintuan Celdran (born November 10, 1972) is a Filipino tour guide, cultural activist, and performing artist.

Growing up in Makati, Philippines, he began his art career at age 14 as a cartoonist for a local Manila newspaper. He enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1991, where he studied and practiced performance art. After university, he moved to New York City, where he lived an openly bisexual lifestyle. It was there that he first witnessed the effect of HIV on the queer community, which eventually led to his reproductive health activism in the Philippines. He continued his career in the performing arts, interning as a production assistant with the Blue Man Group and later working for other performing arts groups as a set designer and/or director. By 2000, Celdran was working as an assistant directors of the Heritage Conservation Society, a non-profit organization working towards preserving historical architecture. There he gained experience in directing historical tours, which set the stage for the launch of his own tour company "Walk This Way" in 2002. In 2005 he became the owner/director of an art exhibition space called "The Living Room".

Carlos Celdran is an activist for HIV/AIDS awareness and reproductive health, organizing and appearing at events to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and reproductive health in the Philippines. On September 30, 2010, Carlos Celdran staged a protest action against Church opposition to the reproductive health bill. Dressed as José Rizal, Celdran entered Manila Cathedral during a mass, carrying a sign and shouting "Stop getting involved in politics!" before he was taken away by the police. Once outside the cathedral, Celdran told reporters that Church officials "need to hear what the Filipinos are saying: that 90 percent of the people want the RH [Reproductive Health Bill]." He was charged by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines with "offending religious feelings."

Carlos Celdran, in his role as a cultural activist, is commonly asked to comment in the local and international media on topics regarding Philippine society and culture.

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Carlos Celdran was born at Makati Medical Center on 10 November 1972[1] to Mike Celdran, a pediatrician, and his wife. His maternal aunt was the fashion designer Beatriz "Patis" Tesoro (née Pamintuan). He has a sister named Claire, the main broadcast journalist. He was christened John Charles Edward in preparation to the family's plans to migrate to the US as his father wanted to avoid an ethnic-sounding name.[1] His father Mike had studied medicine in the United States and was familiar how ethnic-sounding names were perceived differently in the US. Carlos grew up in Dasmariñas Village,[1] Makati, Manila, Philippines.[2] His first foray into professional art began with a comic strip "Bar Sins" that he drew for Business Day newspaper at the age of 14.[3][4] In 1987, Nonoy Marcelo recommended him to the Samahang Kartunista ng Pilipinas, of which he became the youngest member.[4] After comics, he worked as a T-shirt illustrator at a clothing store he co-founded with his sister and others.[4][5]

Higher education and early career[edit]

In 1990 Carlos Celdran enrolled in the Visual Communications Department at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. After a year he transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design. Initially seeking a degree in illustration, he experimented with textiles and weaving before deciding to major in painting. However, upon discovering that he was allergic to paint, he decided to complete his degree in performance art.[2] While attending university, Celdran co-founded the Walang Pamagat Performance Art Company, a dance theatre group, working as artistic director. The group performed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Rhode Island School of Design, AS220, the Bronx Museum of Art, and in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In 1996, he won the Yvonne Force art award and graduated with honors from the Rhode Island School of Design.[6]

After university, he moved to New York City, where he lived an openly bi-sexual lifestyle. He reported witnessing the effect of HIV on the queer community: "I was living and working in New York in the '90s. Back then, when you meet someone at a bar, the line of questioning was always, 'What’s your name? What do you do? Where do you live? And are you HIV positive?'" [7] His experiences in New York City were formative for his later reproductive health advocacy.

According to Celdran, "My first job in New York was a cheese counter boy at Dean and Deluca. I was then transferred to the fish station after being caught eating the stock. I then started bringing my own soy sauce to work so that I could eat the fish raw as well. (Never hire an Asian to work at a fish store, what the hell were they thinking?)".[5] That same year, Celdran got his initial exposure to world-class performance art when he interned as a production assistant with the Blue Man Group. He continued his career in the performing arts, working in 1997 as a technical director for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, but was unable to secure a visa extension and therefore had to return to the Philippines.[2]

Upon his return, he freelanced as a set designer/director for Ballet Philippines and Actor's Actors, Inc.[6] Celdran also volunteered for the Heritage Conservation Society, a non-profit organization working towards preserving historical architecture, and was involved with protests working against the destruction of historical buildings, such as the former Jai-Alai Building along Taft Avenue.[8] By 2000, Celdran was working as one of the organization’s directors,[6] where he discovered his talent for handling historical tours. This experience set the stage for the launch of his own tour company three years later.

Walk this Way[edit]

In 2002, Carlos Celdran founded Walk this Way, a company providing walking tours of Manila, a city which has been called "notoriously inhospitable to pedestrians".[9] Celdran is the producer, director, and actor in a one-man, multi-venue costumed performance, leading patrons through the city as he alternately acts and narrates along the way. These performances contain theatrical elements, as well as comedy, costumes, and music to explain Philippine history. "My background is the arts; fine arts and performance art," he explained to BusinessWeek. "So I just decided 'why don’t I make it interesting for myself?' That’s why I added music, theater and comedy, fine-tuned the script into a performance and so it became interesting for me".[8] The tours put special emphasis on issues surrounding Philippine arts, culture, and international geopolitics in order to place Philippine history within a global context.[9][10]

His tour offerings have included "If these Walls Could Talk," a half-day walking tour of Intramuros, wearing the Spanish-colonial garb of an illustrado and the "Living la Vida Imelda!" tour, where he dons bell bottoms for a tour of the 1970s-built Cultural Center of the Philippines[10] and relates both facts and myths about former First Lady Imelda Marcos.[11] Past offerings have included half-day tours of Quiapo and overnight tours of Corregidor Island. According to Time magazine, "Celdran offers up rich narratives that are by turns gossipy (his account of Imelda Marcos' rise and fall is hilarious) and compelling (the description of a bombed-out Manila, at the end of World War II, is unforgettable)."[10]

Art Dubai 2012 Incident[edit]

On March 23, 2012, Celdran was commissioned by Art Dubai Projects to perform his "Living La Vida Imelda" tour as a one-man act in Dubai, for Art Dubai 2012, an annual art fair organized to support artists and the growth of the arts community in the United Arab Emirates.[12] On his third day of performances, Celdran was interrupted by robed authorities in the middle of his performance, after Celdran performed an imagined conversation between Imelda Marcos and late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi,[12] where she tells him “Islam is all about peace, and if you are funding a war in my country that is pitting Filipino against Filipino, you are also pitting Muslim against Muslim. How are you following Mohammed?”[12][13]

Celdran was taken into the parking lot and admonished to limit his performance to subjects about the Philippines and not other nations. He was then allowed to finish his show, but away from the public stage and near the entrance to a parking lot.[14] After the show, he was taken into an office and questioned by five security officials, who required him to recount/perform the Gaddafi part of his tour. He was advised to "tone down" or remove parts of his tour.[14] He chose instead to cancel his remaining performance, stating: "I cancelled, simply because to alter or tone down my content would not make the work true to itself. And if the security of the area would misconstrue my words and intentions, who else might? I just did not feel right nor safe to perform in Art Dubai anymore. It was a little traumatizing."[12]

Celdran reported that he was never advised that he might be questioned about the content of his performance, nor briefed about sensitive cultural and religious laws that should be considered. A representative from Art Dubai told Asian Journal that Art Dubai does not require artists to submit materials for review in advance of their performance.[12]

The Living Room[edit]

Since 2005, Carlos Celdran has been the director and owner of an art exhibition venue. Described as a "living-room-cum-art-space",[15] and called The Living Room, it hosted its first exhibition on December 10, 2005. It hosts fine art exhibitions, art performances, and film screenings.[16] In addition, it has facilities for up to two artists-in-residence.

Civic involvement[edit]

Carlos Celdran being interviewed on-camera at a pro-Reproductive Health Bill rally at the Philippine Congress in November, 2009

Carlos Celdran serves on the advisory committee of Roots of Health (Tagalog: Ugat ng Kalusugan), a nonprofit organization focused on improving the health of women, girls, and their communities, in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.[17]

Sexual and reproductive health advocacy[edit]

Carlos Celdran is an HIV/AIDS awareness activist, appearing in an interview on a popular Manila entertainment magazine for World AIDS Day 2009.[18] He also advocates for family planning, and since 2003 has routinely distributed condoms and birth control pills to residents of squatter communities when leading tour groups past them.[19] He was a strong supporter of the Reproductive Health Bill, using the popular internet-based social networking site Facebook to campaign for the bill and debate its opponents in 2008.[20] Carlos Celdran spearheaded a petition requesting president-apparent Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino to retain Department of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral in his cabinet. The petition stated that "We believe that continuity is necessary, especially when it comes to her progressive stance towards HIV/AIDS Prevention/Awareness and Reproductive Health." As of May 21, more than 200 netizens had signed it, applauding Cabral's "diligence," "honesty" and "balls to do what needs to be done."[21] The request was not granted, as Enrique Ona was appointed the new Department of Health Secretary, taking office on June 30, 2010.

September 2010 protest action, subsequent arrest and conviction[edit]

On September 30, 2010, Carlos Celdran staged a protest action against Church opposition to the reproductive health bill. Dressed as José Rizal, Celdran entered Manila Cathedral during an ecumenical service between Catholics and Protestants [22] with Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Edward Adams, and other bishops present, standing before the altar with a sign bearing the word "DAMASO" – a reference to the character from Rizal's novel Noli Me Tángere,[23] which touches on the abuses of the Spanish friars during the 19th century.[24] He shouted "Stop getting involved in politics!" before he was taken away by the police at around 4:30 p.m.[25] Once outside, Celdran said the Church officials "need to hear what the Filipinos are saying: that 90 percent of the people want the RH [Reproductive Health Bill]."[26]

It was reported that at around 8:15 p.m. the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines filed charges against Celdran for violation of Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, which prohibits "offending religious feelings."[25] Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes, who previously headed the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate (CBCP-ECBA), said, "What is approved by people does not mean it is approved by God."[26] Later it was reported in the media that the complaint was filed by Monsignor Nestor Cerbo, rector of Manila Cathedral.[27]

Celdran reported in a media interview following his arrest that "I kinda showed the [priests] what [civil disobedience] was like. The Millennium Development Goals of the Philippines hinge on controlling the population and maternal health, but they have done nothing but lie and blackmail...the Presidents and deprive the poorest of the poor of reproductive health services."[23]

Within hours of his arrest, a "Free Carlos Celdran" fan page appeared on Facebook, with over 25,000 fans joining in the first 48 hours. He was released from the custody of the Manila Police District on October 1 at 4 P.M. after posting bail of P6,000 (six thousand pesos or approximately US$140).[28]

On January 28, 2013, the Manila Metropolitan Trial Court (Branch 4) found Celdran guilty of offending religious feelings under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code. The ruling was issued by Judge Juan Bermejo Jr. Celdran was given an indeterminate sentence of 2 months and 21 days of imprisonment to a maximum of one year, 1 month and 11 days of imprisonment.[27] That same day, the regional office of Human Rights Watch expressed alarm over the conviction. “We are alarmed by the court’s decision today finding reproductive health advocate Carlos Celdran guilty of ‘offending religious feelings’ and sentencing him to a maximum of one year in prison,” said Human Rights Watch’s Asia Researcher Carlos Conde in a statement. “This is a setback for free speech in the Philippines, which prides itself on being a democracy. This verdict should be reversed. Nobody should be jailed for voicing out an opinion or position, especially on a subject that concerns the lives of millions of Filipino women and mothers.”[29]

In the media[edit]

Carlos Celdran, in his role as a cultural activist, is commonly asked to comment in the local and international media on topics regarding Philippine society and culture.

He has been quoted on Philippine social issues in such media outlets as Time magazine (commenting on the people's reaction to flooding caused by Typhoon Ketsana),[30] The Huffington Post (commenting on the 2010 Philippine presidential election),[31] and Forbes (commenting on the Philippine Reproductive Health Bill).[20]

Celdran has also been featured in the British culinary show Planet Food, in an episode featuring the cuisine of Manila.

On September 1, 2010, he appeared on a special edition of ABS-CBN News Channel's Strictly Politics: Vox Populi, with other notable Philippine citizens in a round table discussion of the August 23 Manila hostage crisis. During the discussion, he proposed burning a koran together with a bible for their contribution to mediocrity, during the interview, he blasted the imams of quiapo for teaching extremism "[32]

In December 2010, Carlos Celdran was listed as one of the "Names You Need to Know in 2011" by Forbes Magazine.[33]

Celdran became part of AksyonTV's commentary program "Tayuan Mo at Panindigan" as a segment host.

In October 2012, his Living la Vida Imelda tour was featured in a special report by the New York Times.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Jarque, Edu (23 September 2012). "Carlos Celdran walks - and travels - his way". Phil Star. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Nicky Daez (Director) (July 26, 2010). Why You Do What You Do: Carlos Celdran (Video Clip). Manila, Philippines: WYD Productions. Archived from the original on 2010-08-30. 
  3. ^ "Profiling Carlos Celdran: 10 Reasons He Rocks...the Boat". October 4, 2010. Archived from the original on November 25, 2010. Retrieved January 20, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Ravanes, Carla Bianca V. (November 14, 2010). "The Artist and Hero". Manila Times. Retrieved January 20, 2011. [permanent dead link]
  5. ^ a b Celdran, Carlos (September 23, 2007). "BETTER LATE THAN NEVER...". Walk this Way. Carlos Celdran. Retrieved September 18, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c Celdran, Carlos. "Resume of Carlos Celdran" (PDF). Retrieved September 18, 2010. [permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Santos, Ana (December 12, 2009). "Coming out". Retrieved October 1, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b "Pushing history". BusinessWorld Publishing Corporation. February 25, 2010. Retrieved September 21, 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Whaley, Floyd. "Walking in Imelda's Shoes". Travel and Leisure Southeast Asia. American Express Publishing (January 2008): 54–55. 
  10. ^ a b c Fitzpatrick, Liam (March 7, 2005). "Walk the Talk". Time, Inc. Retrieved September 16, 2010. 
  11. ^ a b Whaley (October 12, 2012). "In Manila, 'Livin' La Vida Imelda!'". New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2012.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  12. ^ a b c d e De Leon-Huld, Nickee (March 29, 2012). "Carlos Celdran cancels 'Imelda' tour in Dubai". Asian Journal. Archived from the original on May 2, 2012. Retrieved May 13, 2012. 
  13. ^ Rodriguez. Ces (March 26, 2012). "Carlos Celdran 'interrogated' in Dubai". Yahoo News Philippines. Retrieved May 13, 2012. 
  14. ^ a b Severino, Howie (March 24, 2012). "Censored in Dubai, Carlos Celdran cancels Imelda show". GMA News. Retrieved May 13, 2012. 
  15. ^ "50 More Things to Do in Manila: Part 5". Summit Media. July 20, 2010. Archived from the original on October 8, 2011. Retrieved September 21, 2010. 
  16. ^ "The Living Room". Carlos Celdran. Retrieved September 21, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Roots of Health Advisory Committee". Retrieved September 16, 2010. [permanent dead link]
  18. ^ Santos, Ana (November 29, 2009). "For World AIDS Day, awareness advocates wear nothing but red ribbons". Summit Media. Archived from the original on December 5, 2010. Retrieved September 13, 2010. 
  19. ^ Harper-Alonso, Ross (July 27, 2008). "Touring the Past, Shaping the Future". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on October 7, 2010. Retrieved September 13, 2010. 
  20. ^ a b Mogato, Manny (November 13, 2008). "Philippine contraception bill stirs battle with church"., LLC. Retrieved September 13, 2010. 
  21. ^ "Netizens to Noynoy: Retain DOH Sec. Esperanza Cabral, she has "balls" to get job done". Summit Media. May 21, 2010. Retrieved September 13, 2010. 
  22. ^ Alimario, Anjo. "Carlos Celdran appeals his 'Damaso' case before SC". CNN. Retrieved October 23, 2015. 
  23. ^ a b Tubeza, Philip; Yamsuan, Cathy C. (September 30, 2010). "Touchy 'Fili' tour guide arrested for 'Noli' poster". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved September 30, 2010. 
  24. ^ "Tour guide Carlos Celdran nabbed for interrupting mass". ABS-CBN News. September 30, 2010. Retrieved September 30, 2010. 
  25. ^ a b Faustino, Pia (September 30, 2010). "In RH war of words, activist confronts bishops in church". GMA Network. Retrieved September 30, 2010. 
  26. ^ a b Macairan, Evelyn (October 1, 2010). "Tour guide disrupts Mass, protests Church's opposition to RH bill". Philippine Star. Retrieved September 30, 2010. 
  27. ^ a b Torres, Tetch (January 28, 2013). "RH advocate Carlos Celdran guilty of offending Church". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved January 28, 2013. 
  28. ^ "Celdran released; ‘Damaso’ draws raves in cyberspace" "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-10-06. Retrieved 2010-10-20.  Last accessed October 18, 2010.
  29. ^ "Human Rights Watch 'alarmed' by Celdran conviction for 'Damaso' stunt". January 28, 2013. Retrieved January 28, 2013. 
  30. ^ Tharoor, Ishaan (September 29, 2009). "The Manila Floods: Why Wasn't the City Prepared?". Time, Inc. Retrieved September 13, 2010. 
  31. ^ Moncrieff, Virginia (May 3, 2010). "The Philippines Spamdex — How An Election Could Be Decided By Tinned Meat". Retrieved September 13, 2010. 
  32. ^ "Whose head should roll? Citizens chime in on hostage crisis". ABS-CBN Interactive. September 1, 2010. Retrieved September 13, 2010. 
  33. ^ "Ones to Watch: Names You Need to Know in 2011". Forbes. December 2, 2010. Retrieved January 28, 2011. 

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