MANILA, Philippines?Much sought-after tourist guide Carlos Celdran was arrested by police Thursday afternoon for protesting the Catholic Church?s opposition to the reproductive health (RH) bill during an ecumenical service at Manila Cathedral.
Standing in front of the main altar, Celdran shouted that the Church should ?stop getting involved? in politics during a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the May They Be One Bible campaign, a joint effort by Catholics and Protestant leaders to distribute Bibles to five million poor Filipino families.
Wearing a dark suit and a top hat, he held up a placard with the word ?Damaso,? referring to the hated Spanish friar in national hero Jose Rizal?s novel ?Noli Me Tangere.?
Interviewed by phone Thursday night at Station 5 of the Manila Police District, Celdran said he was detained in ?the juvenile jail cell together with some prostitutes and some other guy from Munti (Muntinlupa) who has become my friend.?
?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,? Celdran fumed.
Senior Police Officer 4 Benjie Madriaga said Celdran was to remain in detention overnight depending on the city prosecutor?s evaluation of his case.
?Listen to the people?
Madriaga said Celdran was taken in for violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code, for ?offending religious feelings.?
Celdran told reporters after his arrest that he conducted his protest action because the bishops needed to ?hear what the Filipinos are saying.?
?Ninety percent of the people want the RH bill,? he said.
Among those at the ceremony were Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Edward Adams, and other Catholic bishops.
Protestant Bishops Fred Magbanua of the Philippine Council for Evangelical Churches and Nathaniel Lazaro, chair of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines and Rev. Richard Pridmore of the Union Church of Manila were also present.
?[Celdran] should not have done that,? said Amy Herrera, who attended the ceremony. ?This is a private and solemn occasion. It reminded me of the [Aug. 23] hostage-taking.?
Herrera said Celdran entered the cathedral with a woman but did not immediately display his placard.
She said Celdran came out through the door on the right side of the cathedral and returned later and walked to the front of the main altar, with the placard in hand.
?At first I thought it was some sort of play that was part of the ceremony but he kept shouting, especially when someone took his placard. I was alarmed,? Herrera said.
Another witness said Celdran walked toward the front pew, where Rosales and the bishops were sitting.
?He was angry. I thought he was going to bash the cardinal with the placard,? the witness said.
?I had enough?
Security men later approached Celdran and led him away. He did not resist.
On the phone with the Inquirer, Celdran recalled the afternoon?s event:
?I finally had enough, so I brought a placard [to the Mass]. It took them a while to realize what I was doing, and when they did they could not look me in the eye.
?I started screaming, ?Stop getting involved in politics!? I kept screaming until I could not scream anymore, then they took me away. Why keep President Aquino hostage when reproductive health is the fundamental right of Filipinos??
Celdran said the Church apparently needed to be reminded ?to respect the constitutional provision on separation of Church and State.?
?Threatening civil disobedience [because of the RH bill] was a low blow, so I just gave them a dose of their own,? he said. ?They can?t take what they threatened to dish out.?
Celdran said that as he started shouting, ?I felt strangely calm.?
?People were smiling. A little boy, whom I recognized as one of the urchins running around Intramuros, started clapping, and that gave me the strength to go on. That kid knows where I?m going,? he said.
Celdran, who identified himself as a member of the Filipino Freethinkers and Rational Hero.com, said the groups were not aware of his protest plan.
?Please don?t tell me other people don?t want to do [what I did]. Hopefully the President would do the next step,? he said without elaborating.