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'Hate campaign against Gawad Kalinga will not succeed'
by Jose Montelibano
published in the ABS-CBN News website, April 26, 2008

I am not an official spokesman of CFC or GK, but I am an involved member and a GK advocate. Allow me to share my knowledge and perspective.

In the center of controversy are 1) fundamentalism that is triggered by sudden growth and, 2) hypocrisy which is a constant presence in the halls of hierarchy and bureaucracy.

Real story

The real story is somewhat hidden from the article. (Ed. See Related Article) It is about the breakaway of a small splinter group from mainstream CFC—and it was led by the leader of CFC for almost 26 years. Seen by many CFC leaders as a reaction to the sudden success of GK in both numbers and popularity which in turn propelled another CFC leader into the limelight of both CFC and non-CFC audiences, the traditional conjugal leadership of CFC began to make moves that made it difficult for GK to grow. Imposing policies that would limit the participation of CFC members into a work that was sweeping the nation, the traditional conjugal leadership of CFC at the same time mandated other work like "pro-life and special ministries" where they actively encouraged members to join.

The P50M DOH contract

Taking on the pro-life work seemed like a move towards religious adherence because the Church is quite active in it. But many saw the pro-life work also as a way to get access to government funds—specifically, the P50 million contract from DOH to promote natural family planning. While the contract was on-going, the funds gave the traditional conjugal leadership the capacity to spend without fiscal prudence and making their favored few enjoy perks usually not available to workers of Christian renewal communities like CFC. What is noteworthy is the absence of the same pro-life work before the contract and its disappearance after the contract was terminated ahead of schedule upon the insistence of other members of the CFC Council. Today, many await the detailed post-audit of the way the funds of the contract were spent because it is suspected that there had been grave abuse and misuse of government funds towards personal interests at the expense of the effective promotion of a natural family planning program.

CFC's former 'conjugal leadership'

The history of CFC includes the formal leadership through a 7-man Council which, in fact, was one man who could overrule the others—if they at all attempted to get in his way. Behind the formal leadership of one was the informal leadership of the spouse. It is not a strange situation in renewal communities and many painful transitions have occurred in communities when traditional leaderships begin to experience growing resistance to the absolute rule of one from the other members. Breaking away after being spurned by a community they had long ruled absolutely is part of a pattern, not an exception. History is full of failed leaders, and they are so many that we do not know of them anymore. History is kind only to the victors, or remembers the ones who went berserk and inflicted massive damage to others.

Poaching by CFC breakaway group

Because the breakaway of the splinter group is relatively new, actually less than one year, there is a lot of aggressive poaching on the ground so that their small numbers will grow the fastest way. Usually, renewal communities grow as a result of evangelistic work, where people renewed by the influence of the community would often ask to join, or be invited to join. But that takes a lot of work, and a lot of time. CFC had peaked to a reported 1.4 million circa 1996-1997, but I discovered when I had joined that there was a steady decline in membership from the late 90's till the breakaway last year. To my friends, I had shared my personal view that the declining numbers signified a waning spirit and commitment to the community because of a leadership that did not know how to take the community to the next level. Again, this is not a strange occurrence but a pattern for most organizations like CFC. The history of charismatic/renewal communities in the Philippines will bear me out—beginning with the Cursillo to all who have followed. Any charismatic/renewal group that went "massive" in membership ultimately diminished, and sometimes by infighting and breakaways.

The aggressive poaching does not limit itself to just trying to win old friends and asking them to join the breakaway group. It can also involve trying to put down CFC and especially GK which is now the fresh spirit that perks up the community and much of the Philippines. Many moves have been engineered to "contain" GK, or to remove it from CFC formally. These moves were not spiritual in context—they were political. It was a matter of control. So what else is new?

But with the traditional conjugal leadership rejected by the same community that had for a long time looked at them with great reverence and submission, what else could they have done to recover what they lost? What else could they have done to hide their abject failure? And how do they get back at forces they believe caused their downfall? For others like them in history, what had they done?

The familiar pattern has found an interesting nuance, however, because a failed leader who used to be unafraid to lead the community to new territories with new ways turns around, 180 degrees, and goes against his very words, or what he had written about in books which were treated like the Bible by CFC members. One of the most distinct features of CFC was its independence from the parishes; in fact, it was proud to describe itself as "trans-parochial" and I believe the Vatican officially gave this recognition and its blessing. But this "trans-parochial" status irked many bishops and parish priests who were long used to controlling religious lay communities. However, the leadership of CFC was able to withstand the reluctance or outright objection of many parish priests and bishops and still managed to grow CFC in many of these unfriendly areas. In one book entitled "Friend Or Foe," the oftentimes uneasy relationship between CFC and the bishops is clearly seen, and the actuation of the CFC leader quite obvious.

Role of Bishop Gabriel Reyes

When they had lost control, however, the traditional conjugal leadership sought the active help of key bishops including Bishop Gabriel Reyes, the head of LAIKO in the Philippines. Of course, one does not complain and make it appear that one is jealous, that one is vengeful, and that one wants control. With that as one's motivations, even if it were true, which I believe to be so, the public stance must be something that the Church can openly support. Anything and everything that could be thrown at GK in order to weaken the present CFC leadership and erode the public trust and support of GK has been dished out. The present issue is one of these that had been offered as "proof" that Tony Meloto has "veered away" from spiritual to social work, and the partnerships with pharmaceutical companies who may have anti-life products as defined by the Church as further proof to the same. It did not matter that the complainant stood as witness to the very partnership used later as evidence of wanton disregard for Church values. After all, one only says "I am sorry" and he can be forgiven, according to Church practice.

GK's work with pharmaceutical companies

The insistence of Cardinal Rylko of the Vatican for CFC to terminate the partnership of GK with a supportive pharmaceutical company and to publicly apologize for the "scandal" it caused is supposed to be a trade-off for the Vatican's formal instructions to the breakaway group to stop using the CFC name as the Vatican recognizes only the authentic CFC which is identified with the GK work. Perhaps, in their fear of losing a recognition that is valuable to a Catholic community, the present leaders of CFC gave in, caved in, or whatever they will call it in the privacy of their consciences.

The letters that were written about this transaction, because it could not be anything but a transaction, were then leaked to the media. By whom is open to speculation, but maybe the party benefited is more suspect than the party aggrieved. Well, anything is fair in love and war, and it is Christian on our side to simply shrug off the malice and spite of people who anyway have no longevity and legacy to sustain their lifetime's work. This is called Christian forgiveness, or more popularly known as "consuelo de bobo."

Now, what? In the latest article in the front page today of the Inquirer, Bishop Gabriel Reyes is trying to temper what has been sensationalized, perhaps because he himself was party to it and wants like Pontius Pilate to appear uninvolved. Of course, the Church should temper it. The spirituality and love for fellow man is oozing in Gawad Kalinga The hundreds of thousands who have been personally involved in building up the work to what it is now and to what it will be tomorrow will resent the implication that their motive is less than admirable, or less spiritual when it faithfully complies with the primordial Christian obligation to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to shelter and clothe the naked, to free the oppressed.

Pope Benedict doing it the GK way

What we speak of here in the current brouhaha with the actions of the concerned Church personalities is a matter of Church protocol or even hypocrisy, not Church dogma. As Cardinal Rylko and Bishop Gabriel Reyes smear, deliberately or consequently, the most noble work that has emerged from Christian hearts on a collective mode, Pope Benedict XVI eagerly prepared for his visit to the United States, the most anti-life nation in the world by Church definition of anti-life, host to legal abortion, massive divorce, manufacturer and promoter of anti-life products and services, as defined by the Church, same sex unions, and others that I miss because I have not been a rabid follower of the anti-life list of definitions of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI also happily accepted the formal welcome of President George W. Bush, the most anti-life president of the world, not only because he is president of an anti-life nation as defined by the Church, but because he personally pushed for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan which the Church condemns and defines as anti-life.

Pope Benedict XVI is doing it the Gawad Kalinga way, engaging rather than condemning, evangelizing by witnessing rather than spreading hate by being judgmental and fundamentalist. Pope Benedict XVI said that his visit will result in much good, and Gawad Kalinga shares that conviction with its own work.

Just as Pope Benedict XVI justifies his visit to the US, for the objectives of the Church, GK justifies its partnerships, for the objectives of nation building by returning human dignity to the poor, the weak, the neglected who have lived sub-human lives as a matter of social inheritance. The Church calls that social justice. Cardinal Rylko and Bishop Reyes call it an "overemphasis" on the social instead of the spiritual. That is not only a spiritual distortion, it is contrary to Church teachings. But in the case of Cardinal Rylko, I will call it only ignorance of the truth, or the human weakness of believing a source without sound basis. Cardinal Rylko can come to the Philippines and see the love and sacrifice of tens of thousands of Christians and be amazed that he has insulted the nobility of Filipinos who have done more than most of Christendom in collectively manifesting the virtues of their faith. He can then say, "Shame on those who misled me!"

I truly appreciate the courage of Pope Benedict XVI. He went to the lions' den because he wanted to validate a fundamental fact - that Christ was here to save and not to condemn, and that those who are to be saved are the lost, not the found. Being head of the Catholic Church is an august position and responsibility. He is trying his best to share the love and the good news even as underlings sometimes do their best to be High Priests and Pharisees out to kill the Jesus who exposes them for their hypocrisy. Thank goodness for Pope Benedict XVI, and thank goodness for the late Pope John Paul II. To these two, evangelization is witnessing the love of Christ to all, not to convert or control them, but to liberate them from poverty, from corruption, from oppression, from fundamentalism and hypocrisy, from the clutches of the evil that lurks of those who claim to be spiritual and moral leaders.

Gawad Kalinga will move on, stronger because the hate campaign against it by those who share no love for the poor as their primordial obligation cannot succeed, not in the Philippines where the poor are the majority and are seen as the weak stones of a weak nation. Gawad Kalinga will move on to build a strong nation because its love for the poor, the weak, the sick, and the oppressed will transform the rejected stones to become the cornerstones of a new Philippines that we and our children can be proud of. The social work is an inner work, the formation of character grounded on faith and patriotism. What better spiritual work is there in the Philippines?

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