I’m not a friend of Carlos Celdran: I know him, but I doubt he knows who I am. I’m not a fan of the “Damaso” stunt, either. That said, I’m not writing this entry to defend Mr. Celdran or condemn him. I’m writing this entry for the sake of the argument that Mr. Celdran was convicted for the venue of his stunt. The logic that – for all intents and purposes of the word – he should have raised his voice, and for that matter his “Damaso” sign, in the (drumroll…) proper forum.
I think that whenever we blurt out phrases like “the rule of Law” (yes, with a capital “L”) and “the proper forum,” we detract – and perhaps even deduct – from the argument. The reality is that the “proper forum” that we often defend to high heavens (pun intended) is not accessible to us. Everything we do, and every place we go to do the things we do, is a relationship with power: negotiating with it, managing it, and often, taking control of it.
He should have, just like all of us, genuflected, prayed, and reflected. Just like all of us, he should have just been the quiet spectator in the meeting, and waited until Mass was celebrated.
Just like all of us… the problem is, he isn’t.
I’m not coming into the defense of Carlos Celdran here, but to suggest that Celdran was “not using the proper forum” to air out his opinions about the Philippine Roman Catholic Church is stating the obvious. The “proper forum” is great and all, but not all of us have the access nor the preference to use it. Any forum is only proper when the powerful say it is so.
Some things – often, principles – demand a certain degree of boldness. And there are certain consequences to boldness: often, consequences that we are not prepared for. Of course he wasn’t using the proper forum, just like we do when we protest, when we demonstrate, when we boycott, and challenge conventions to get our messages across.
Protesters, demonstrators, and participants in a boycott know all too well that prison is a very real threat, but to suggest that Celdran should have been prepared for it is quite sketchy, too. While we’re all too eager to face the idea of a prison sentence head on (like, say, the Cybercrime Law), it’s very different when it becomes very real: no one, not even the most hardened criminal, is prepared for it no matter how hard they think it through.
What Celdran did, whether we like him or not, was to give a face to the contentious and often tempestuous relationship we have with ourselves and the Philippine Roman Catholic Church. Celdran stood up to the Church in a way none of us do or perhaps considered doing: none of us bear our “Damaso” signs or give priests a piece of our mind when they deliver the homily, but he did. Not that we should find virtue in his act of boldness and call it “courage.” What we should be reminded of, again, is that some situations and some principles demand an act of boldness.
Boldness: that which comes with Jesus turning the tables over in the temple when the people sold indulgences, and sooner or later gets crucified for it. The boldness that comes with Gandhi taking his people to the salt flats in opposition of their British colonizers, and sooner or later gets assassinated for it. The boldness that comes with Aung San Suu Kyi leading her people to peaceful demonstrations for democracy, and sooner or later gets imprisoned for it. Not that Carlos Celdran should find himself standing tall amongst the greatest examples of defiance in history, but he defied. He resisted. The act was not without consequence. But those who benefited from Celdran’s actions the most are the people who believed in his cause.
If not for a “Damaso” stunt, we would not have
stirred the ambiguity between the had the kind of challenge we have now to our notions of the secular and the religious (edit on 1/31/13, 12:49 PM). If not for his bold recourses, we would not have the kind of animus that helps us rethink the relationship between Church and State. If not for that act of boldness – and yes, the oversights that came with it, we would not have had, in part, an RH Law.
The debates on whether or not Celdran should go to prison are things that are perhaps best left to lawyers and constitutionalists. But if there’s anything we can take away from all of this, it’s that doing the right thing requires some degree of boldness.
Yes, boldness: not the “S-T” sort, but the realization and recognition that the “proper forum” is, more often than not, just a forum of power. Bold defiance, all too often, is all that it takes to shake things up enough for things to change. It takes a bit – just a bit – of boldness to disregard these notions of the “proper forum” and speak up – and speak out – for your convictions. It’s a motherhood statement, but yes, it’s about doing the right thing.
Like I said, I’m not a fan of Carlos Celdran. I am not his friend; I’ve yet to take a walking tour of Manila. But this controversy reminds me of the wisdom one can take from Marvel Comics; the strongest and most powerful words that one of the strongest and most powerful superheroes ever imparted to the world:
And this is why I’m planting myself like a tree beside the river of truth, and telling the world – the courts, and the CBCP in particular – to free Carlos Celdran. To free him, in the same breath as political dissidents and political prisoners. If not for innocence, then for the boldness that comes with convictions.
* – 1:04 PM on the boldface: yes, some things do require some degree of boldness, if you know what I mean.