Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday announced that she does not plan to stop an ongoing probe by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) of alleged illegal detention by Iglesia ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ) leaders against members of the religious sect.
De Lima’s announcement was made in reaction to a warning issued by Vice President Jejomar Binay that she should not meddle in the INC’s internal affairs.
The Binay camp cited lawyer Manuel Eduarte declaring the reported abduction as a closed case after coordinating with the INC’s Legal Office and visiting the house of Felix Nathaniel “Angel” Manalo.
Eduarte is the chief of the Anti-Organized Transnational Crime Division of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
The NBI is under the jurisdiction of Department of Justice.
“We are not meddling here. It is our mandate to investigate all violations of criminal law,”
de Lima told reporters in a chance interview after the Justice department sought congressional approval of its proposed P12.6-billion budget for 2016.
“We are just fulfilling our mandate,” she said.
In a statement, Binay told de Lima to refrain from giving “unwarranted statements” on the alleged abduction of the INC ministers.
It was Angel Manalo, brother of INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo, and their mother Cristina “Tenny” Villanueva Manalo, who first accused the INC leadership of committing the abduction.
In a video, Angela and Tenny claimed that their lives and those of their church mates were in danger.
“By your actuations, you are promoting the image of disunity, discord and even corruption in the INC to its clear prejudice and detriment. As public officials, it is our duty to respect the internal affairs and concerns of the INC and allow them, without the unwarranted interference from government, to conduct their own business in accordance with their religious belief,” Binay said of de Lima.
The INC has a strong political clout because of the religious sect’s practice of bloc voting, meaning all of its at least two million followers will vote according to the INC leaders’ choice of candidates.
Binay is running for President in 2016.