Monthly Archives: September 2007

Assuming this were true …

What does it mean to report something? I raise the question, more or less, in this post over at Inquirer Current. (And kindred spirit Nick Nichols, already, has an apposite answer. Thanks, Nick!)


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High fidelity

One of the best things about my job as a newspaper editor and opinion writer is the opportunity, several times a year, to talk shop with journalism or communication arts students or with professionals interested in the theory and practice of journalism.

I usually come prepared with a simple PowerPoint presentation or with notes written in my trusty (Korean-made) reporter’s notebook or on my Office-capable cellphone. When professor Bruce Banaag of De La Salle Lipa invited me to speak on “Ethics and News Reporting” at his school’s Annual Media Forum, however, it occured to me that reducing my thoughts to writing may be worth a try. (I have also been reading colleague Conrad de Quiros’s latest book, Tongues on Fire, a compilation of the speeches he had given over the years.)

At any rate, I went out and wrote something down. I’m glad I did, because the audience in Lipa (the three-hour forum took place yesterday) was rousing and most receptive. With the exception of the introduction (the portion in italics, which I largely skipped), what follows is the speech as I read it. What followed after the reading was gratifying: a steady stream of pertinent, probing questions. We had to cut if off after over an hour, and only because it was time to vacate the hall.

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Between Deadlines: MJ in designer clothes

The September 29, 2007 column features Alcuin Papa on the race for the next PNP chief, even before the new one assumes office on Monday; Dona Pazzibugan on senators at each other’s throats (she relates three “encounters” from last Wednesday’s slam-bang hearing on the NBN project); Leila Salaverria on Mark Jimenez’s new duds (do clothes really make the man?); and Tarra Quismundo on Migz Zubiri, hitchhiker.

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Between Deadlines: Lean Alejandro’s ‘preciousss’ secret

The September 22, 2007 column features Fe Zamora on a certain official’s cameragenic sexual exploits; Dona Pazzibugan on a nearly empty Senate session hall, as seen through the eyes of visiting schoolchildren; Leila Salaverria on a government lawyer’s puzzling legal maneuver in the Jonas Burgos case; and Jocelyn Uy on slain activist Lean Alejandro’s discovery of the Fellowship of the Ring.

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Desperately seeking simple questions

I had an entire section on the need to ask the right questions in Senate inquiries written for today’s Newsstand column, at least in draft form, but as it has been the case every single time, column-writing for me is as much a question of deciding which parts to leave out as which parts to keep.

Good thing there is the Net. The parts I left out yesterday (in truth those that consumed the most time in research) are in today’s Inquirer Current, albeit in rewritten form.

If you agree with the following sentiment:

I realize that many of our senators do not know how to ask simple questions, because they are not so much interested in ferreting out information as in imposing an interpretation.

then this post may be worth a read.

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Column: Favila and the influence of the moderate

Published September 25, 2007

Humor, like the elaborate courtesies our “honorable” lawmakers extend to one other in their “august” chambers, oils the legislative mill. (Whether their rococo language is an inadvertent joke is altogether another matter.) Even the usually strident Miriam Defensor-Santiago, for example, can be relied on to sprinkle her locutions with frabjous comment.

At the Senate joint committee hearings on the National Broadband Network last Thursday, the former judge played the Speaker Jose de Venecia card, eliciting from Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza his recollection that “the son [whistleblower Joey de Venecia] was introduced to me by the father.”

How did the Speaker introduce his son, Santiago persisted. “Did he say, ‘This is my son, with whom I am well-pleased?”

Unfortunately, the Gospel reference was entirely lost on an untransfigured Mendoza.

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At the Senate: Some thoughts

My apologies for those, ah, crappy photos I took from my seat in the Senate gallery during last Thursday’s hearing. My phone’s Internet connection was far from robust, and I ended up posting the few pictures I took (more in the nature of a visual aide memoire) rather than the partial live-blogging commentary I had in mind.

But the senators’ questioning, taken as a whole, was similarly insipid. As I texted a few friends immediately after the hearing: Just spent seven hours in the Senate. Lousy connection, lousier questions. I can’t help thinking the Senate dropped the ball on this one.

Three quick reasons:

1. The senators failed to force the issue. The closest they came was when Sen. Nene Pimentel moved to have more Cabinet secretaries testify under oath. But that move (an “ambush,” Sen. Enrile said) fizzled out. Confronted with violently opposed testimonies, say about Sec. Mendoza’s meeting with Joey de Venecia’s father in Dasmarinas Village, and enjoying the opportunity to press the witnesses on the very point, the senators did exactly nothing.

2. The senators — and I think of Sen. Roxas in particular — treated the Cabinet members with an undeserved, an elaborate, courtesy. The contrast between the way they manhandled Assistant Sec. Formoso and tiptoed around Mendoza (Roxas, more or less: “And now I turn to Secretary Mendoza, whom I always greet with a smile, because we were together in the Cabinet …”) spoke eloquently about the privileges of power, and how they can hide, under the veneer of collegiality, abuses committed under that same power.

3. The senators failed to reach a consensus on the immoral, almost certainly illegal, conduct of Comelec chairman Abalos, who acted like a politician-broker instead of a constitutional officer with regards to the ZTE deal. Instead of laying the predicate, before an avid public, that would have allowed them to weigh Abalos’ forthcoming testimony with greater precision, they let opportunity after opportunity slide.

Yes, there were some senators who started important lines of questioning, but by and large it seemed to me that the hearing last Thursday was a promise unfulfilled.

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At the Senate 4

Chiz Escudero quizzes fellow Spice Boy Nonoy Andaya, the budget secretary (his back to the camera), on the ODA status of the NBN-tied loan. Andaya, to my mind, answered all questions with both fiscal savvy and political aplomb.

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At the Senate 3

At 7.24, four and a half hours after the hearing started, Executive Secretary Ed Ermita slouches in a monobloc chair in the VIP Gallery, looking for all the world like a man about to fall asleep.

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At the Senate 2

Senator Jinggoy Estrada directs his first questions at Assistant Secretary Formoso (hidden by the lectern). At one point, he asks: So why was Comelec chairman Abalos involved in the National Broadband Network? Formoso replied: “I don’t have an opinion on that, sir.”

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At the Senate 1

Secretary Larry Mendoza said he was finally testifying, in part because he was seeking an escape from the “unbridled and ruthless arena of media reporting.”

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Column: Saguisag’s projectile dysfunction

As I explained in the preceding post, there are two versions of this column, published September 18, 2007; a key conclusion is phrased one way in the printed newspaper and another in The main reason for the attempt to rephrase the conclusion: I remembered Opinion Editor Jorge Aruta’s observation about the limits of satire or outright sarcasm in journalism, Philippine-style. I did not want to be misunderstood, so I tried to make the change.

China’s donation of some $2 million in “non-lethal” military equipment to the Philippines last week does not only build confidence, in the words of Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, between the two countries. It also raises eyebrows.

The donation, if I read the reports correctly, brings the total amount of Chinese military aid to about $4.5 million since 2004, the year the countries signed their first agreement specifying “China’s Provision of Military Aid Gratis to the Philippines.” (A second one was signed in October 2006.) Aside from showing an increase in the number of personnel exchanges, the bilateral relationship may now be ready to move to the next stage in defense cooperation: The Philippines is seriously considering buying eight “utility helicopters” from China.

Does the country have much of a China card? Andrew Yang of Taiwan’s Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies, a recognized expert on China’s People’s Liberation Army, doesn’t think so. “There’s not much evidence in that regard,” Yang said on a visit to Manila late last month. “I think it’s too early to say that the Philippine government is using China to balance US influence.”

It may be, however, that he bases his admittedly off-the-cuff answers on a key assumption more important to Taiwan than to the Philippines. “US commitment to maintaining its security umbrella [in the region] is still there,” he said.

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An obsessive-compulsive’s dilemma

I have a problem, but of interest only to an obsessive-compulsive editor like me. My Newsstand column today has two versions; both are essentially the same, except for one line, the concluding sentence in the final section on the irrepressible Rene Saguisag. The different conclusions mean much the same thing, but they are different, expressly so, and the difference was deliberate.

As the three indefatigably cheerful editorial assistants in the Opinion section can attest, I am a troublesome, persnickety columnist. (Not to be confused, of course, with a good one.)  I impose on their good nature by inserting (if I’m in the newsroom) or calling in (if I’m not) last-minute corrections or last-stand improvements; yesterday was no exception.

As soon as I finished the piece, at around 5 pm, I left for my next appointment. On the road, however, the  pensiveness that steals on commuters and drivers alike came over me, and suggested new endings to a problematic last paragraph. I pulled over, sent a text message, even called the office. Ten minutes later, I called again, with what to my harried mind seemed like a refinement. Finally, five minutes or so before reaching my destination, I pulled over again, composed a new message, pestered the editorial assistants again.

They took all my last-minute changes in stride, updating the column each time. And we even made the deadline.

Unfortunately, the second-to-the-last version was the one that made it to print. To make matters even more confusing (at least to me, very early this morning), the final version was the one that made it online.

The question for a philosopher manque like me: Which is the “real” version?

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Another Typepad Mobile test post

Sunset in Bora. I got lucky.

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Good sports

I was able to watch most of the UAAP cheering competition while writing. UP did a fine job, but I thought UST should have won. The defending champions were performing on a different level altogether; perhaps it was the one mistake at the start of their routine that spelled the (0.5 percent) difference.

What impressed me, however, was the way the UST squad, the popular and prohibitive favorites, reacted to the results. They responded to their second-place finish with undiminished joy. It really IS the way you play the game.

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Between Deadlines: ‘Resigned’ Teves learns his lesson

The September 15 column features Michael Lim Ubac on Finance Secretary Gary Teves’s bad joke, which upset even the President; Juliet Javellana on Energy Secretary Angie Reyes’s startling new look, first unveiled at the APEC summit in Sydney; Dona Pazzibugan on Senate President Manny Villar’s depression-fueled sarcasm; Abigail Ho on Sen. Migz Zubiri’s growing disenchantment with the biofuels policy of the DOE; and Tarra Quismundo on the difference between NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and other visiting VIPs.

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I feel the earth move

At about 1:20 or so this afternoon, I felt the floor sway under me, ever so slightly. Did you feel that? I asked. Feel what? That, ah, earthquake? Um, (a wary second, then) no! (Dismissively).

Oh, well. I could have sworn there was an earthquake.

Four and a half hours later, the news: A small earthquake, post-Indonesia, had just struck in Mindanao. I hope no one got hurt.

But I could have sworn …

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Damage and prejudice

The Belle Corporation scheme was the least known of the four counts of plunder filed against Joseph Estrada. The section discussing the scheme in the Sandiganbayan special division’s 262-page decision, however, provides probably the most damning evidence against the ex-president.

The scheme involved the purchase by the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System,  upon Estrada’s express and increasingly agitated instructions, of almost P2 billion in Belle Corporation shares, in order for the country’s Chief Executive to earn a commission of P200 million. (Actually, P189.7 million, after transaction and other fees were deducted.) The court eventually traced the exact amount to the infamous Jose Velarde account.

The section on the scheme is dozens of pages long; its last two paragraphs, however, sum up the case against Estrada thumpingly:


As stated earlier, SSS and GSIS used the funds belonging to its millions of members to buy Belle Shares upon instruction of FPres. Estrada who benefited for his personal gain from the P189,700,000.00 commission paid in consideration of the purchase of the Belle shares by SSS and GSIS . The money paid by GSIS and SSS for the Belle Shares are public funds which belong to the millions of GSIS and SSS members.  The amount of P189,700,000.00 deposited to the Jose Velarde account of FPres. Estrada are public funds which came from the proceeds of the sale received by SSI Management through Eastern Securities from GSIS and SSS.  The Billions of Pesos that could have otherwise been used to pay benefits to SSS and GSIS members were diverted to buying Belle Shares to comply with FPres. Estrada’s instructions in order that FPres. Estrada could receive his P187,900,000.00 commission to the damage and prejudice of the millions of GSIS and SSS members who were deprived of the use of such funds and worse, who now stand to suffer the loss amounting to millions of pesos since the Belle shares are presently priced less than their acquisition cost. [From an average price of P3.14 per share to P0.69 per share as of December 29, 2000 (Exh. 250-J-2) and between P0.40 to P 0.50 per share as of February 11, 2002]

The Court finds that FPres. Estrada took advantage of his official position, authority, relationship, connection and influence to unjustly enrich himself at the expense and to the damage and prejudice of the Filipino people and the Republic of the Philippines: a)  by instructing, directing and ordering, for his personal gain and benefit, by way of receiving commission, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) through its President Mr. Federico Pascual and the Social Security System (SSS) through its President, Mr. Carlos Arellano, to purchase shares of stock Belle Corporation, as a consequence of which, during the period October 13 to 21, 1999 GSIS bought 351,878,000 shares of Belle Corporation and paid One Billion One Hundred Two Million Nine Hundred Sixty Five Thousand Six Hundred Seven Pesos And Fifty Centavos (P1,102,965,607.50) while SSS, on October 21, 1999, bought 249,679,000 shares at the value of P784,551,150.00 at an average price of P3.14/share [TSN, February 14, 2005, p.78] or a combined total of at least One Billion Eight Hundred Eight Seven Million Five Hundred Sixteen Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty Seven Pesos And Fifty Centavos (P1,887,516,757.50); b) by accepting and receiving, a commission in the amount of One Hundred Eighty Nine Million Seven Hundred Thousand Pesos [P189,700,000.00] as consideration for the purchase by GSIS and SSS of the shares of stock of Belle Corporation pursuant to his instructions which amount was deposited in the Equitable-PCI Bank S/A 0160-62501-5 under the account name “Jose Velarde” of which FPres. Estrada is the real and beneficial owner; c) by depriving the millions of members of GSIS and SSS of the use of public funds in the amount of at least One Billion Eight Hundred Eight Seven Million Five Hundred Sixteen Thousand Seven Hundred Fifty Seven Pesos And Fifty Centavos (P1,887,516,757.50) for payment of their benefits in order that he can receive his commission of One Hundred Eighty Nine Million Seven Hundred Thousand Pesos (P189,700,000.00) which likewise constitute public funds for his personal benefit and enrichment  thus causing damage and prejudice to the Filipino people and the Government. 


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Test post

Let’s take out the (relatively) new Typepad Mobile for a spin, shall we?

I was struck, reading the Sandiganbayan decision on the plunder case, by the amount of quality evidence presented by some of Joseph Estrada’s closest friends and accepted by the court. It can truly be said that, in Erap’s case, it was his ex-friends who did him in.

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Judgment day

I wrote three quick paragraphs on the Estrada guilty verdict — more precisely on the ex-president’s lawyers’ motion to dispense with a full reading of both decisions — for Inquirer Current this morning, and was rewarded with a flurry of comments. (The first came in 10:36 am; the 30th, the most recent of the publishable comments as of the time of writing, clocked in at 8:20 pm.)

I am happy to hear from many new voices, as well as from our old reliables; they line up on either side of the divide, and even beyond.

The concern I raised, about the possibly political cast of the defense counsel’s motion, is shared by some commenters and scorned by others; colleague Manolo’s column in the Inquirer tomorrow (that is, Thursday) raises a variant of the same concern, albeit only in passing.

By jumping to the dispositive portions, or so it seems to me, we missed a great opportunity to educate ourselves and others; for the first couple of hours after the promulgation, news commentaries were limited mostly to speculation.

(I winced when I saw the otherwise capable Karen Davila ask a teary-eyed Jinggoy Estrada the following leading and falsely premised question: "The public doesn’t understand why you and Attorney Serapio were acquitted while President Erap was convicted," she said, more or less, in Filipino. "Aren’t your cases related?" Well, YES, but … )

The biggest question, once the news that Estrada was convicted on only two of the four counts of plunder began to circulate, involved the status of the Velarde account. Wasn’t the charge related to the Velarde account thrown out by the Sandiganbayan? That would have made the soft-spoken heroism of Clarissa Ocampo irrelevant. As it turns out, Ocampo’s testimony (and Estrada’s admission that he had indeed signed as Jose Velarde) proved crucial to his conviction indeed. (Tomorrow’s Inquirer editorial is titled: "He was Velarde.")

So what was that bit about the fourth charge being insufficiently proven? The court ruled that while the Velarde account contained a massive amount of money, there was no proof that the money was ill-gotten — except, that is, for some P189 million traced back to the Belle commissions.

The plunder decision can be downloaded from the links here. An excellent timeline of the historic Estrada trial, prepared by Kate Pedroso of Inquirer Research, is available here. (The full-length version, currently still not available online, is about 100,000 characters long. Erap plunder trial book, anyone?)

If downloading is a problem, and you want a copy of the Sandiganbayan decision by email, please let me know at

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Maybe I made it up?

I must say I am disappointed. In comments he left in this blog, reflecting the views he posted in his own blog, John Marzan asks, rhetorically, how I could compare—-on October 21, 2001—-Sen. Tito Guingona’s famous "I accuse" speech of October 5, 2000 with a privilege speech of Sen. Ping Lacson delivered in August 2003.

The Lacson speech/expose wasn’t six years ago. Lacson’s speech was made during August of 2003.

So how were you able to compare the two speeches (guingona’s and lacson’s) on oct. 21, 2001?

How indeed? Maybe I made it up? Or maybe I was extraordinarily prescient?

John M does himself a disservice by lazily assuming that the "Department of the Underground" speech I was referring to in my Newsstand column today is the same as the "Incredible Hulk" speech he found online. My column specifies the section I wrote for ("Talk of the Town"), the date I wrote my analysis ("Oct. 21, 2001"), even the time the speeches I was comparing were delivered on the Senate floor ("Lacson’s privilege speech came almost exactly a year after Teofisto Guingona’s ‘I accuse’ speech"). Most telling, the excerpt from my analysis carried in today’s column quotes directly from Lacson’s 2001 speech ("off camera, it is to bring him the juicy slices of the bureaucracy").

Against all that, he found or remembered a privilege speech of Lacson’s from August 2003—-and assumed I got things wrong. Did he think Lacson delivered only one privilege speech against Mike Arroyo, and immediately assumed that I was wrong? Did he remember only that one privilege speech, delivered in August 2003, and immediately assumed that I must have gotten the dates wrong?

But if I got all that wrong, then John M must think I made things up, to the extent of attributing an imaginary privilege speech to an all-too-real senator, and then quoting confidently from imagination. If he paid attention to the column, instead of reactively reaching for his (figurative) gun, then he  cannot weasel out by pointing to the possibility that, perhaps, I only made an honest mistake—not with all those specifics (dates, quotes, circumstances of publication).

The Lacson speech/expose wasn’t six years ago.

Really now? Then I invite you to read the following pieces which appeared on Page A8 of the October 21, 2001 issue of the Inquirer (retrieved from the newspaper’s internal archive), as "proof" of this writer’s uncanny powers of anticipation.

We will follow this sequence: first, a short introduction (which I wrote, in my capacity as page editor); then Guingona’s "I accuse" speech, in full; then extensive excerpts from Lacson’s October 3, 2001 speech, accusing Mike Arroyo of running a Department of the Underground; Chavit Singson’s affidavit; excerpts from Robert Rivero’s; then finally my "Talking Points" analysis.

It should be fun!

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Feeling the texture

Some references in "Lacson and the texture of our experience," today’s Newsstand column:

As yet, I do not have a copy of Bishop Soc’s statement before the Senate, coursed through Sen. Noynoy Aquino. Here is a link to the official website of the Diocese of Balanga, which he heads.

The crisis in CICM, which led to the formation of a new religious order, the Missionaries of Jesus, came to a head in 2002. Here is a news report from that time. And here are some pictures of the "renegades" at work.

The section on Lacson requires its own post.

The reference to Roger Silverstone led me to discover a pioneering genius  in media studies; I am grateful to Anjo Lorenzana of the Ateneo de Manila’s Department of Communication for pointing me in the right direction.

The forum on career options in media featured the ubiquitous Sev Sarmenta, a veritable one-man show; the coolly cerebral Kristine Fonacier, must-read magazine editor; the irrepressible Guia Gonzales, who is producing an independent movie featuring Judy Ann Santos; and me.

I was impressed with the evocative closing remarks of Margot Orendain, and with Lorenzana’s engaging introduction.

I reprint his last three paragraphs:

As we are all aware, media is a powerful institution in society. It is a source and shaper of ideas, knowledge, opinion and behavior. Television, print, radio and new media like the internet provide information, stories, images and sound that influence our realities, tastes and lifestyles. In the words of a well-respected scholar, Roger Silverstone, “media provide the texture of our experience.”

Having said this, to be in the media industry is to be part of knowledge and cultural production. To be able to produce and reproduce culture and knowledge is of course political. It is in this context that I would like to remind our students that to be part of this industry means to be part of a powerful institution in society.

As we talk about what one does in this industry and how one can be successful in it, let us also be conscious of the responsibilities we have as producers and regulators of knowledge and culture. Are we in media to support the profit seeking motives of the industry? Are we in media to help bridge social, economic and cultural divides? Are we in media to advance our personal interests? With these questions I hope this discussion becomes more meaningful.

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Column: Lacson and the texture of our experience

Published on September 11, 2007

I will post links to some of the references I made maybe later today.

As the late Jaime Cardinal Sin’s assistant in 1986 and as rector of the EDSA Shrine in 2001, Balanga Bishop Socrates Villegas played a key role in both People Power epiphanies. I regard him as a keeper of the EDSA flame — the conviction, shared by the millions who camped out on the streets, that the democratic restoration is nourished in part by Christian faith.

So what was he doing at the San Carlos Seminary in June 2005, negotiating with serial testifier Vidal Doble? It could be that Villegas had lost his way, forgetting that People Power as we invented it worked precisely because the Catholic Church gave sanctuary to renegade truth-tellers.

But it is also possible that it was Villegas who did the right, the EDSA thing, and those who criticize him now because of his role in reuniting Doble with his real wife in Camp Aguinaldo who have proved inconstant. The bishop’s two-page statement to the three Senate committees hearing the Doble case may not be enough. Perhaps, to educate those of us who think we already know why he did what he did, he should take the stand.

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Between Deadlines: Mikey’s alleged degree

The September 8 column features correspondent Ephraim Aguilar on an Army commander’s complaint about a clueless mayor, Alcuin Papa on the unusually civil race for PNP chief, Dona Pazzibugan on Migz Zubiri’s failure to attend last month’s National Security Council meeting, and me, on emails raising doubts about Mikey Arroyo’s business degree from UC at Berkeley.

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Column: Between Jerusalem and Antioch

The split in the Couples for Christ movement is of consuming interest to me; I spent the entire day yesterday (quite literally) writing the following column. I cannot regard it with frank satisfaction, but Resty Odon and Manolo Quezon were kind enough to note it.

Published on September 4, 2007

The crisis in the Couples for Christ movement touches us all — either because we are Filipino or because we are Catholic. In the last quarter-century, this family-oriented Catholic charismatic renewal movement founded in the Philippines has become a global phenomenon: over a million members, reaching millions more, with a presence in 160 countries.

In the last half-decade, it has also become known for an innovative social ministry. Or maybe not. Identifying the famous and successful Gawad Kalinga housing initiative as the work of CFC lies, in fact, at the epicenter of the upheaval.

“It appears that certain CFC principles and way of life [sic] are giving way to Gawad Kalinga,” three bishops with some responsibility for CFC wrote to the Elders’ Assembly on June 7. “The spiritual and pastoral culture of CFC must not be sacrificed for the sake of GK. Nor should GK be imposed on all since there are other pillars of concern.” (The three were: Bishop Gabriel Reyes of Antipolo, CFC spiritual director and chair of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Lay Apostolate; Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro, CBCP president; and Bishop Socrates Villegas of Balanga, the first bishop to discuss the crisis with CFC leaders.)

After a controversial election in June, the crisis came to a head in late July. On Aug. 1, the newly elected CFC International Council sounded the alarm: “The recent pronouncements and e-mails of Bro. Frank Padilla point to an inevitable split in the CFC community.” It quoted Padilla, CFC’s long-time leader, as saying, in an e-mail dated July 25: “This split will give a clear choice for our brethren — to stay with the present CFC and its emerging total focus on GK, or to go with the new CFC, which is the original and true CFC.”

One cannot read the documents available online or read the forwarded emails that float in the electronic ether or listen to friends caught in the middle without feeling a great anguish. (At least I can’t.) Many good people are involved, a lot of good work is at stake. At the same time, the issue, as joined, is a genuine dilemma for the committed Catholic: How much of our salvation rests on faith, how much on good works?

Or, to use religious language familiar since the late 20th century and apply it to the Gawad Kalinga experience: How do we strike a balance between the social and the spiritual?

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