Authorities clueless how to handle Iglesia case
The real reasons behind the feud that reportedly placed the country’s third largest religious denomination in a crisis situation remain a mystery two days after a video showing the mother and brother of the sect’s leader asking for help was uploaded online.
Authorities–from the police to city hall and the human rights commission–on Friday were barred entry into the compound in Tandang Sora, Quezon City, where expelled members of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ) were reportedly being held against their will, as they tried to ascertain claims that these members were either “hostaged” or were under threat.
Only a motorcycle delivery crew of a fast-food chain managed to get inside the mansion, reportedly the official residence of the family of the INC founder.
Outside, journalists on a stakeout since Thursday were joined by a few members of the sect who the call of Felix Anthony “Angel” Manalo and his mother, Cristina or “Ka Tenny,” to come to their aid and help protect them.
Cristina is the mother of INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo who succeeded his father, Eraño or “Ka Erdy,” to lead the religious group, which was founded by his grandfather, Felix Manalo, in 1914.
Cristina and her children, Marco Eraño, Lolita and Angel were ordered expelled from the sect on Thursday, the day after the video was uploaded on YouTube.
An INC official also on Friday denied that the sect has become divided.
“Hindi po porke’t may tumiwalag eh nangangahulugan nang divided ang Iglesia ni Cristo. Iilang tao lamang po ito na mga itiniwalag. Ang Iglesia ni Cristo ay malaking organisasyon po hindi lamang sa Pilipinas [Not because there were people who were expelled that the church is now divided. The INC is a big organization not only in the Philippines],” INC spokesman Edwil Zabala told Radyo Inquirer.
Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) who were sent over on orders from Justice Secretary Leila de Lima were also barred entry into the compound on 36 Tandang Sora Street, which is reportedly linked to the imposing INC central church, the equivalent of the Vatican in the Roman Catholic Church.
The agents were ordered to look into allegations that several INC ministers have been abducted and were being held there.
“I have already directed the NBI to verify those allegations,” de Lima said.
“Allegations of abduction mean lives are in danger and the State can come in through proper investigative bodies. At the very least, the State wanted to know what’s happening,” she added.
The allegations were initially made through the YouTube video.
De Lima said the initial NBI probe could possibly be upgraded into a formal investigation. The Justice chief added that a link to the video was sent to the DOJ via electronic mail.
The e-mail message to de Lima titled “help po” named Glicerio Santos Jr. and Radel Cortez as behind the alleged abductions.
Cortez was the signatory tof the church circular expelling the Manalo family.
“Tulungan nyo po kami nanganganib po ang buhay ng pamilya ni Ka Erdy. May 10 ministro na dinukot hanggayon ngayon di pa nakikita, mga taga Sanggunian ng Iglesia nasa likod nito sa pangungunana ni Glicerio Santos Jr. at Radel Cortez. Tulungan po ninyo kami, parang awa nyo na. Salamat po,” read the message sent from an account named “kapatid sa iglesia.”
The situation got complicated on Thursday when an unidentified person inside the Tandang Sora mansion held signs asking for help, claiming they were being held hostage and asking for the whereabouts of the sect’s ministers who were reportedly abducted by armed men. The allegations were detailed in a web log site called “Iglesia Ni Cristo – Silent No More” that claimed that nine ministers were abducted and expelled from the group.
Showing up from the mansion’s steel pedestrian gate on Friday, Angel, however, belied claims that they were held hostage but reiterated that their lives are in danger. But he claimed that the church’s doctrine was ruined and accused unnamed sect officials of irregularities (See sidebar).
INC official Bienvenido Santiago also on Thursday denied the accusations.
Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista also on Thursday night went to the Tandang Sora mansion but was also barred entry. The city’s police chief, Joel Pagdilao, who arrived ahead of Bautista, ruled out the abduction report and said the police do not meddle in “internal conflicts.” He added that he has spoken to Angel, who allegedly told him that they were safe.
De Lima affirmed Mayor Bautista’s statement that authorities could not force their way into the mansion lest they be charged with illegal trespass.
The DOJ chief, however, said the law has exceptions.
“There are exceptions under criminal law, under jurisprudence. If there’s probable cause or possibility that a crime has just been committed, is being committed or is about to be committed or under the plain view doctrine, even if that is private property, authorities may get inside,” she explained.
Authorities, however, could not touch on corruption allegations because private funds are involved–unless a complaint is filed.
Ruel Rosal, who was among the former sect members holding vigil outside the mansion, told reporters misuse of funds and corruption caused the Manalo family feud.
Malacañang also on Friday expressed concern over the ongoing “internal” conflict in the INC.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the police are on top of the situation
and are assessing the situation.
“Reports about events that have transpired involving INC officials indicate an apparent internal organizational dispute,” he added.
“The PNP’s Quezon City police district office and Anti-Kidnapping Group have been deployed to assess the situation to ensure the safety of all concerned and that peace and order is maintained,” he added.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) director, Benjamin Magalong, also on Friday said they are preparing contingency measures in case the situation at the INC worsens.
“We are carefully monitoring the situation [at INC]and we are preparing our contingency measures in case it’s necessary,” Magalong added without giving details.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said it is too early to tell if the feud will have an effect on the political endorsement power of the INC in 2016.
Casiple noted that at this point it is not clear yet how big the extent of harm the incident last Thursday has done to the INC or if indeed it has really caused damage.
“It depends on how much INC is affected,” he said.
The endorsement of the INC is often sought by politicians as the sect is known to solidly vote as a bloc.
Reactions from regions
INC members in some provinces expressed sadness over the dispute within their church.
An INC member in Iloilo City, “Ka Marnie,” voiced hope that the parties involved in the controversy would soon reach a resolution.
Local churches in Iloilo boast of more than 100,000 members with three big churches located on Rizal Street and in Barrio Obrero and San Juan Molo. The INC is considered as highly influential in local politics and business.
In the province of Cavite, where there are 45 district congregations, according to official data, members were also silent about the issue.
According to one “Ka Noel,” they are not allowed to speak on reports about the ongoing controversy. He said once they speak against their church and the Manalo family, they might be expelled from the sect.
A female deacon from Lucena City (Quezon) said they only talk about the issues involving the Manalo family in a hushed manner while some members are close to tears.
“We talked about the issue among ourselves when we went to church on Thursday,” she said. “Napanood mo sa TV? Naiiyak na nga lang kami [Have you seen the news on TV? We felt like crying],” she added.
The deacon said their local church has no authority to issue an official statement about the issue, “because we are centralized.”
She just added that in their Thursday worship, a minister read a circular about the expulsion of Ka Angel and Ka Tenny, about their violations in accordance with their Biblical teachings and how they initiated divisiveness among their members.
“They could always come back to being a member of our church. It will just depend on the person,” the deacon said.
JOMAR CANLAS, IZA IGLESIAS, NELSON S. BADILLA, JOEL M. SY EGCO, ANTHONY VARGAS, JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA, ROGELIO LIMPIN, BELLY M. OTORDOZ AND LYDIA C. PENDON