The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered Iglesia ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ) executive minister Eduardo Manalo to appear before the Court of Appeals, and to bring with him the members of his congregation who were allegedly being held by the church against their will.
“Considering the allegations contained, the issues raised and the arguments adduced in the petition, it is necessary and proper to issue the writs of amparo and habeas corpus prayed for,” the SC order read.
“Respondents… are hereby required to… appear and produce the persons of Lowell II Menorca, Jinky Otsuka-Menorca, Yurie Keiko Otsuka and Abegail Yamson before the Court of Appeals on November 3, 2015 at 10 a.m.,” the order said.
The two-page order, which was released on Friday, ordered the CA to hear and decide on the petition filed by Anthony Menorca and Jungko Otsuka.
Anthony and Jungko asked the SC to issue the writs against Manalo, Radel Cortez, Bienvenido Santiago and Rolando Esguerra.
Manalo and the other respondents were also ordered to comment on the petition through a “verified return” of the writs to be filed with the CA within five days.
The order also means the appellate court will have to conduct a hearing and decide within 10 days whether to grant the petitioners the privilege that comes with the writs of amparo and habeas corpus.
A writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security has been violated or threatened while a writ of habeas corpus is a remedy to a person who is wrongfully detained and orders the responsible person to “bring the body” to court.
But Trixie Angeles, lawyer for the Menorca camp, said she received information that Menorca was already “rescued” and is now in a safe house, which renders the case moot and academic.
Former Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella also issued a statement confirming Menorca’s release from INC custody.
Angeles is the lawyer of Isaias Samson Jr., an expelled church minister who earlier filed criminal charges of harassment, illegal detention, threats and coercion against members of the INC Sanggunian (Council) before the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The High Court, which is on recess, acted on the petition and issued a ruling reportedly upon e orders of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.
The petitioner, Anthony Menorca, is the brother of Lowell Menorca, who was allegedly being held at the INC central offices on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, along with his wife, Jinky Otsuka-Menorca; their daughter and their househelp, Abbegail Yanson.
Anthony, who is now under the Justice department’s witness protection program, earlier claimed his brother and his family were being held against their will by the INC.
Earlier, he alleged that he could not get in touch with Lowell who was allegedly arrested in Cavite on July 17 for supposedly threatening bus passengers with a grenade.
Lowell was released after the complainants signed affidavits of desistance. He later went public and denied allegations that he was abducted.
The petition claimed that Lowell was abducted by armed men on July 16 after a church service at the INC chapel in Bulan, Sorsogon.
His wife, Jinky, then “surrendered” to the INC leaders’ Council after Council member Rolando Esguerra told her over the phone that she would never see her husband again if she failed to show up at the INC central offices in Quezon City.
Jungko claimed she was recently allowed to visit her sister Jinky “after months of incarceration” inside the INC central compound, where she allegedly witnessed the “horribly stressful conditions in which Lowell, Jinky and their company were in.”
The petition claimed that three months of incarceration had already taken its toll on the Menorca family, with the members gradually developing emotional and psychological stress.
Former Speaker Fuentebella said Menorca and his family have been released by the INC leaders.
He added that the Menorcas were safe.
Fuentebella said it was Lowell who had requested the INC officials to allow them to stay at the INC central compound because of threats to their life.
“As a result of these unfair and baseless allegations, INC officials have now requested Lowell Menorca and his family to leave the INC compound to avoid any more confusion regarding their status,” he added in a statement.
“It’s unfortunate that the leadership of the INC was being accused of holding Menorca against his will. I believe this is just a misunderstanding because it’s the other way around.
Lowell Menorca sought permission to stay at the INC compound together with his wife and daughter because of threats to his person,” Fuentebella said.
The former lawmaker added that out of concern for Lowell’s safety, INC officials granted the request.
“The Menorcas are now residing in Fairview, Quezon City. That should put an end to the speculation and unjustified suspicions raised by the petition,” Fuentebella said.
“The concern of Lowell’s family, while understandable, was unwarranted. He is safe and sound, and that is what matters to everyone involved, including the leadership of the INC,” he added.