In my Newsstand column today, I took issue with three much better men. I do not have Walden Bello’s number, but I do have Conrad de Quiros’ and Billy Esposo’s — so I sent them a message yesterday, warning them of my temerity.
Published on May 13, 2008
Spare a thought for Israel, which marked its 60th anniversary as an independent state last week. Much of the coverage I’ve seen made it a point to mention the parallel narrative of the Palestinians, who refer to the founding of Israel as the nakba, the catastrophe. That is only right; that tragedy is Israel’s original sin.
I only wish as much attention was paid to Israel’s robust democracy, which has weathered repeated attempts by hostile nations to destroy it.
I remember reading Walden Bello’s vivid dispatches (some of them published in the Inquirer) from Lebanon in August 2006, during the Israel-Hezbollah War. There was no mistaking where the good professor’s sympathies lay, but his keen eye for detail often made up for his bias. It is difficult to argue with facts “on the ground,” as both military strategists like to say.
He did write something, in “A Bittersweet Day,” which dismayed me. “There is no doubt about who the loser is in this war. Everyone we talk to [on] this day of national pride agrees with the editorial in the Daily Star, Lebanon’s liberal English language paper, that states that ‘The Israeli government has been discredited and serious wrinkles in the US-Israeli relationship have been exposed. The Israelis now have to contend with a political arena that is in disarray.’” So far, so unexceptional. Israel, in failing to subdue Hezbollah or even recover the two Israeli soldiers who were the ostensible reason for the invasion of Lebanon, was in fact a clear “loser.”
And then: “With even members of the government of Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert saying Israel has lost the war, the Jewish state is indeed plunged into its worst political crisis in years. Perhaps the prevailing mood in the Israeli establishment is reflected in Haaretz commentator Zeev Schiff’s call for a ‘reconsideration of the military and strategic management after the facts have proved that the army is no longer capable of adapting to the kind of warfare imposed by Hezbollah.’
The tumult Bello refers to, which he casually contrasted with the outpouring of adoration already falling on Hezbollah’s collective head? That’s the noise of democracy. In fact, from the very start, Ohlmert’s decision to go to war was criticized, loudly, on the home front. That the Israelis “have to contend with a political arena that is in disarray” is not the wages of sin; it is the source of grace. In other words, Israel was busy calling its leaders to account; of how many countries in the Middle East can that be said?
A Haaretz columnist interviewed on BBC on the day of the anniversary of independence described his country’s history as one of “tragic success.” I think he got it exactly right—but the obvious must be belabored too. That Israel is a genuine democracy also means that Israelis can—and do—judge themselves by democracy’s own exacting standards.
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The BBC is marking Israel’s independence with a wonderful 30-minute documentary about life in Jaffa, an ancient port city where Arabs and Jews live in peaceful coexistence. The schedule is available, somewhere, on BBC’s messy website.
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I hold colleagues Conrad de Quiros and Billy Esposo (who used to write for Inquirer.net but now writes for the Star) in high esteem. It is therefore doubly difficult to take issue with them on the vexing crisis roiling the Couples for Christ movement.
I have written once on the split (to use the dangerous shorthand of factions) between the Frank Padilla and Tony Meloto groups in CFC; in “Between Jerusalem and Antioch,” I tried to place the conflict in Biblical perspective.
But Conrad’s column yesterday set me thinking. Especially this part: “When I wrote my column defending Meloto from his persecutors, I knew about the split in Couples for Christ but did not know it was the rival group, FFL [Foundation for Family and Life], led by one Frank Padilla, that had instigated the persecution and was gleefully prosecuting it. For crying out loud, who is this undistinguished, unknown and anonymous nonentity that deigns to posture like the avenging angel in the famous gin better known as Marca Demonyo?”
Since the crux of the crisis is identity—what is the true charism of Couples for Christ?—the assumption that underlies Conrad’s unfortunate question is that popularity, celebrity, is a measure of truth. “Undistinguished, unknown and anonymous nonentity”—these are four soundings on the theme of obscurity. Who the hell does Padilla think he is? (Pardon my French.)
Conrad may not know Padilla personally (neither do I), but that doesn’t mean that the million members of the movement (considered as one) don’t know him at all. Indeed, he is known to them as a founder of CFC. (Suffice it to say that when Meloto received the Magsaysay Award for his work in Gawad Kalinga, he made sure Padilla was beside him.) The fact that people like Conrad and me don’t know him is of no moment, to the members of the movement, or to the current crisis.
Those who criticize the seeming bias of the Catholic bishops in the Philippines or the Curia in the Vatican for the more spiritually oriented of the two factions (again, I use the shorthand with great distaste; as the French say, to summarize is to betray)—Do these critics accept the terms of the relationship between the Church and CFC in the first place? Even Meloto’s group wants to be measured by the Church’s own guidelines (see, for example, the latest letter of the International Council accepting, with regret, the resignation of Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes as CFC spiritual director).
My point: We must allow CFC to be judged by its own exacting standards. Popularity is not one of them.