The influential Iglesia ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ) has asked the Court of Appeals (CA) to dismiss a case filed against its leaders in connection with the alleged abduction of the church’s defrocked minister Lowell Menorca 2nd and his family.
The 7th Division of the appellate court on Tuesday started hearing a petition for a writ of amparo and writ of habeas corpus filed by Menorca’s family against the INC leaders led by its executive minister Eduardo Manalo.
The Supreme Court (SC) had designated the division to hear the petition filed by Anthony Menorca and Lowell’s sister-in-law, Jungko Otsuka.
Aside from Manalo, others named as respondents to the case were: Radel Cortez, Bienvenido Santiago and Rolando Esguerra.
The INC leaders were represented by New Era College of Law Dean Serafin Cuevas Jr. and lawyers from the ACCRA Law Office.
Defense lawyers asked the CA to dismiss the petition for lack of merit since the case is already considered moot and academic as Menorca is no longer in the custody of the INC.
“Pursuant to settled jurisprudence, the events that transpired subsequent to the filing of the petition have rendered the writs of amparo and habeas corpus moot and academic,” the petition read.
“Given the admissions of Mr. Menorca and petitioner’s counsel that Menorca et al are no longer in the custody of the INC, the petition as well as the writs of habeas corpus and amparo are now moot and academic,” it pointed out.
As such, the INC argued that “there is no basis to claim that there is an imminent or continuing restriction on the Menorca et al’s life, liberty and security.”
Separation of church and state
INC spokesman Edwil Zabala said separation of church and state must be observed and considered sacred.
“The Iglesia ni Cristo holds the separation of church and state sacrosanct. While we firmly believe that [disciplining]of members belongs entirely within the domain of religion, we understand the need to thresh out the baseless allegations of disgruntled and expelled members within the framework of a non-sectarian judicial system–if only to vindicate the name of the [INC] in the eyes of the members and non-members alike,” Zabala stated.
The religious group manifested before the CA that the “petition does not make any specific allegations as to the precise nature, manner and extent of involvement of each of the named respondents in the acts complained of.”
The INC alleged that the instant petition is improper since “there was no illegal and involuntary restraint of liberty to justify the issuance of the writs.”
“Respondents are not government officials and they were not acting in support or acquiescence of the government or a political [group]and respondents are not government officials and they were not acting [as an]organization. Hence, petitioners’ resort to a petition for a writ of amparo is improper,” it pointed out.
In addition, the INC said the petitioners have violated the fundamental doctrine of hierarchy of courts after they lodged the case with the SC immediately.
“Petitioners have no personality to institute the petition for a writ of amparo on behalf of Abbegail Yanson [Menorca’s helper] since the latter is not their relative,” it added.
The INC has assailed the petition for being fatally defective.
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 a responsible person to “bring the body” to court.
Libel case vs Menorca
The Society of Communicators and Networkers (SCAN) International filed on Monday a libel complaint against Lowell Menorca 2nd with the Legazpi City Prosecutors Office in Albay.
Ariel Guab Higuit, SCAN president-Albay Chapter, and several members of the group trooped to the City Prosecutors Office at about 12:20 p.m. to file the complaint against Menorca.
Higuit said their complaint was received by lawyer Cristine Bernarte of the City Prosecutors Office and was docketed under V-02-INV-15K-00371.
He added that the libel complaint stemmed from Menorca’s interview on October 28 in a national television network, where the former INC minister said the SCAN network is being used by the INC as a “hit squad” against those who resist top officials of the INC.
Higuit said Menorca’s malicious statement outrightly discredited SCAN’s members and put the organization in a bad light.
Menorca was a former INC minister in Sorsogon province in Bicol who reported to authorities that he was kidnapped and detained after exposing irregularities inside the INC organization.
Higuit said the libel complaint will still be processed and by next week the case will be raffled to choose the local trial court to hear the complaint.
SCAN is a national and international communications network with various chapters across the country.
The SCAN official said in Bicol, their group has seven chapters, all of which will file separate libel complaints against Minorca.
SCAN has been operating for about 25 years as a first-aid and rescue network with thousands of volunteer-members who are also INC members.