The first time I heard of Carlos Celdran was around 2004, I think. He was the guest of Jessica Zafra’s old radio talk show before at (the late great) NU107. I did not catch the beginning of the program but I was awed listening to him spewing some interesting tidbits about Manila that I did not know before. It made me very interested to join the Intramuros walking tour he was promoting, which was starting to grow in popularity. As soon as I had the money that is.
As luck, or perhaps serendipity, would have it, I got that chance to join his Intramuros walking tour and for free, thanks to some sort of deal arranged by my friend who was planning to launch this magazine in exchange for a feature on that magazine that I will write.
Suffice to say, joining that tour was a “life-changing” moment for me. The experience broadened my horizons and changed my perspectives on the city I grew up in through his lively performance and engaging way of relating history that even common folk would appreciate. While that magazine and that feature I was supposed to write did not come into fruition, that first walking tour experience I had with Carlos Celdran was a moment of enlightenment and inspiration for me to rediscover the city and be able to share what it has to offer, especially the ones overlooked and underappreciated.
After some false starts, I was able to breathe life into that idea 5 years later with the birth of this little venture of mine called The Urban Roamer, which I admit was inspired in part from the “Walk This Way” brand name of his tours, albeit not a competitor. I know, it’s a story I’ve told here before. And no, I won’t get tired of telling that again.
As I continued to do my urban roaming, I found myself joining a few more of his tours, not only his regular Intramuros tours but also his Livin’ La Vida Imelda tour of the CCP complex, a special Halloween tour he did of La Loma, Chinese, and Manila North cemeteries, and his Viva Manila tour which I wrote about here. Partly, my participation was for the content and for the inspiration of what I would write next. But more so, it was just fun to be with his lively presence.
I am also proud to say that my interactions were Carlos Celdran were not just limited to his tours. He was a fellow constitutional reform advocate who was selfless in sharing his Syquia Apartments flat to spread the word on constitutional reform for getting rid of the 60/40, setting up a parliamentary system, and establishing gradual federalism for the country. I did what I could as well in supporting some of his advocacies like the solidarity walk in Rizal Park to protest against Torre de Manila, walking for Escolta and El Hogar, and remembering the tragedy of the Battle of Manila through his Transitio events.
In return, he was gracious to share some of my photos and posts from my site which helped me grew my audience. I can say that he knows me quite well as a “brother in arms”, so to speak. When he gets to see me (when I don’t deliberately make myself invisible among the crowd in his tours), he never fails to wave hello at me which I appreciate.
However, we drifted apart during the 2016 elections, when he began to express highly-charged and divisive political opinions, made worse when his provocations angered those from the other side of the political fence. While I respected his choice in the elections, the increasingly political content and the vitriol it spewed, whether from himself or from those commenting on his posts (regardless of their politics) was something I could not take anymore. So after he made a controversial post, I made a decision to unfollow him. After years of following of him on social media, it was a difficult but necessary decision I had to make if only to keep my sanity.
Eventually, I found myself visiting Celdran’s social media less and less. Around that same time, I was becoming busier with the cultural tech organization I’m part of, in which I got to be acquainted with the heritage scene in different parts of the country, and the people with diverse views on the matter, some actually contradictory to Celdran’s but made sense still.
Then in late 2018, I learned that he was leaving the country, effectively ending the tours and other performances he was doing since the 2000s to “start anew” in Madrid, Spain. It was sad for him and the circumstances that led him to that decision but it was understandable. Sadly, I did not get to go to his final Intramuros tour. I think I was busy with other things at that time but there was also a sense of disconnect with him brought about by years of non-engagement with him. It was as if…I’ve outgrown that feeling of following him as much as I used to as I’ve been doing my own thing for a while now.
Despite the fallout of recent years, there was no denying that Carlos left such a profound impact on my life, inspiring me to finally get up and embark on a journey of rediscovering the city, a journey only a few cared to venture at the time. He encouraged me and many others to give some love to a city that has not been given the love it deserves for a long time. And he did so with conviction and passion, not just for show.
And while we are following him in our own way, there was only one Carlos Celdran who managed to do the things he did. Whether it was pissing off the Catholic hierarchy with his “Damaso” sign or enthusiastically promote constitutional reform at almost every opportunity, he was a rare guy who was proud to show his deep passion for the things he loved to do. He walked the talk the way he did and for that, you have to give him props.
With my bowler hat off, let me bow my head in mourning your passing Carlos. I also hope that somehow, you found peace in the great beyond.
Thank you for changing the way we look at Manila.