Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Walking the talk

A breakup is never a happy occasion even when the contending parties are already going at each other with fangs, claws, machetes, and nuclear bombs.

It is sad to witness couples part ways because we know that the disintegration represents, among others, failed efforts at keeping promises or sustaining commitments. Sadder still when the couple makes public their animosity and begins exchanging all kinds of lurid accusations. But we know these things happen, so we have learned to take these in stride as dynamics of human behavior that cannot be avoided.

Besides, there are organizations that have made it their mission to strengthen marriages and families. Once such organization is Couples for Christ. CfC was created out of the belief that “the family is a creation of God and no one has any right to change it, its structure and its purpose.” CfC’s philosophy includes the belief that “marriage is an indissoluble institution.”

In the interest of disclosure, I am not a member nor a supporter of CfC. My staunch advocacy of sexual and reproductive health rights puts me in direct collision course with the rather puritan attitude of the CfC movement toward these issues. But my disagreement with some—okay, many—of the advocacy points of the CfC does not preclude harboring respect for what it does. The organization has been successful in transforming many lives and communities; for this, it deserves praise and recognition.

Too bad CfC cannot walk the talk, or practice what it preaches.

The group officially made public last week certain information that has been spreading around in certain circles for quite sometime already but has not been openly discussed in media out of respect for the group. I personally have been aware of the issues since April as I have close friends who are active members of CfC. But just like in the case of ordinary couples, I guess many people, including myself, gave CfC the latitude to thresh out their problems internally. Just like many others, I hoped that CfC would be able to resolve its problems and avert a breakup.

But it is now confirmed: CfC is headed toward splitsville. The organization that has been renowned for its resolute commitment to keep marriages intact will soon join the ranks of the separated and divorced. It seems its leaders could not work out the marriage within the ranks; no amount of mediation and counseling have been successful in bringing the warring camps together to resolve their issues. Even the valiant efforts of the bishops have been in vain.

There are now two groups that are identified with personalities: the Tony Meloto group and the Frank Padilla group. I know this sounds silly, but the two groups are contesting ownership of the name “Couples for Christ.” The Meloto group claims that they are the real CfC since they have the corporate personality and the duly elected leaders of the group are in their camp. The Padilla group claims that their group is the one that remains faithful to the real mission and mandate of the CfC.

There are conflicting versions of what exactly it was that caused the conflict although the scuttlebutt points to two things: disagreement over how Gawad Kalinga has subsumed the main work of CfC, and money matters. But accounts are so far unanimous in saying that the conflict came to a head in February of this year.

Both Meloto and Padilla are founders of CfC and until February of this year sat in the group’s seven-man Council of Elders. The two resigned, along with a third member (Lachie Agana) from the council, apparently as part of a gentleman’s agreement designed to keep CfC from disintegrating. The resignation was supposed to have been an act of humility with both Meloto and Padilla owning up accountability for the problems within CfC and admitting a failure in leadership.

The gentleman’s agreement was supposed to resolve the internal strife and pave the way for a major transformation within CfC, beginning with a total purge of leadership at the top. The elders of the CfC who have been running the show for quite sometime already and presumably responsible—or at least accountable—for the mess, were supposed to give way to new leaders that would start the internal renewal.

The four remaining members were supposed to stay on only until the general elections scheduled June 22 of this year, but for some unknown reasons, the four broke the gentleman’s agreement and stood for re-election.

The issues have became convoluted and hopelessly tangled since then with each side offering their own versions of the truth. Both camps have been calling meetings of CfC members in an effort to explain their side and to win hearts over. The war has also been taken to the Internet, with a number of blogs sprouting up purportedly to shed light on the “real issues.” It has gotten more interesting. And unfortunately, ugly. Very ugly.

Sources say that the real issue is largely theological and to a certain extent, ideological. CfC is a 26-year old organization and debates over its identity and core mandates should be expected.

What is unexpected, and unacceptable, is that the organization is utterly unprepared for the challenge.

It is embarrassing that instead of taking the issues into a more strategic level of discussion, the leaders are engrossed in exchanging accusations.

And so a quick rundown of the issues being peddled out there include accusations of malversation of funds to the tune of hundreds of millions of pesos. There are charges of nepotism and profligacy. Certain people have been accused of spending organizational funds for personal affairs. There are innuendoes of illicit affairs, immoral conduct, egotistical behaviors, messianic complexes, etc. Personal e-mails exchanged between Padilla and Meloto’s son-in-law are out there, as well as other supposedly confidential documents. A psychiatrist has even made an analysis of the issues ascribing psychological motivations and personality analysis of Meloto and Padilla. All these supposedly in the interest of ferreting the truth.

Truly, the things we do for the sake of the truth. No wonder a number of CfC members have been pleading for a halt to the mudslinging. It really is getting more embarrassing by the day as more and more people weigh in with their own opinions and speculations, which, expectedly are being passed off as versions of the truth as well.

There is wisdom in getting into the essence of the problems as a means of achieving internal renewal. It does appear that majority of the CfC members are unaware of the real state of the organization.

But there is also wisdom in forsaking personal needs and agenda in favor of nobler and larger goals. I expected CfC to be bigger than any individual leader or member. I guess I was wrong. But it’s not too late for CfC to prove otherwise.

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