Director-General Ricardo Marquez, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), has ordered the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) to reopen an investigation of claims of former Iglesia ni Cristo (INC or Church of Christ) minister Lowell Menorca that church leaders were behind his alleged abduction.
Menorca has recanted his earlier statement denying that he and his wife and daughter were being held against their will by INC officials. He claimed three policemen from the Quezon City Police District were involved in his alleged abduction.
The alleged involvement of policemen in the abduction did not come up when the CIDG and the Anti-Kidnapping Group investigated the case.
Police in Cavite arrested Menorca, a dismissed minister of the INC, and then detained for a week last July for illegal possession of explosives. He was released after the charges were dropped by complainants.
Menorca, however, said he was forcibly taken from Sorsogon last July prior to his detention at the Dasmariñas Police Station in Cavite.
After his release from jail, he surfaced with his wife and daughter and denied that he was
abducted and being illegally detained at the INC compound in Quezon City.
Last week, Menorca resurfaced and released a video where he said he was indeed abducted and detained.
Case raffled off
The 7th Division of the Court of Appeals will handle the case against leaders of the INC.
Its members are Associate Justices Magdangal de Leon, Elihu Ybañez and Victoria Isabel Paredes.
Last week, the Supreme Court ordered the INC leaders to respond to the writs of habeas corpus and amparo filed by relatives of Menorca.
Menorca’s brother, Anthony, and sister-in-law Jungko, asked the High Court’s help to bring their missing relatives before the court.
Named respondents in the petition were INC Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo and members of the church’s Sanggunian (Leaders’ Council), namely, Radel Cortez, Bienvenido Santiago and Rolando Esguerra.
The High Court ordered the Court of Appeals to conduct a hearing on November 3 at 3 p.m. and resolve the case within 10 days upon its submission for resolution.
Binay backs INC
Vice President Jejomar Binay also on Monday defended the INC amid accusations that its leadership placed the life of a former minister and his family in danger.
Interviewed at the sidelines of the 41st Philippine Business Conference and Expo at the Manila Marriott Hotel in Pasay City (Metro Manila), Binay said the revelations of Menorca must be first proven in court before anyone jumps into conclusion.
“Eh, tumatalon na tayo ha! Parang tumitiwala na kayo na may conviction. Wala pa naman. Allegations pa lang [We are already jumping into conclusion. You are already assuming that there is a conviction. There’s nothing else yet. These are still allegations],” he pointed out.
On Sunday, an emotional Menorca and his wife faced the media, relating his three-month ordeal when he was “illegally detained” by the INC leadership on suspicion that he was exposing alleged corruption and anomalies in the church.
Binay argued that the INC has its own explanation on the matter. He wished that the case be handled “through rule of law, not rule by law.”
He likened the INC’s crisis to his own predicaments as he has been subject of a Senate inquiry, and Ombudsman and money-laundering investigations into claims he earned kickbacks from overpriced infrastructure projects as Makati City mayor.
“Iyon na nga sinasabi ko. Eh kasi ako rin nga biktima niyang mga bintang-bintang, at demolition by perception. So huwag naman tayo mag-jump agad. Husgado lang magsasabi kung may kasalanan o wala [That’s what I am saying. I am also a victim of accusations and demolition by perception. So let’s not jump into conclusions. Only a court will say if the INC is guilty or not],” Binay said.
He added that the INC was only “protecting their faith” and their rights as protesters must be respected.
The INC legal counsel, Patricia-Ann Prodigalidad, also on Monday said church officials were more concerned with praying for the “enlightenment” of their former colleague, Menorca.
“The officials of the INC are servants of their Church, and their primary concern is the welfare of their members, and this extends even to those who were once part of their flock. That is why even in the face of these allegations, they continue to pray for Mr. Menorca and his family,” Prodigalidad added.
The lawyer reiterated that the INC leadership would address the allegations in the proper venue and would cooperate with authorities as they are confident that they could prove their innocence if they are treated fairly.
She said she and the INC trust that the “courts will act judiciously, decide consistent with jurisprudence and obey the rule of law.”
According to Prodigalidad, the INC officials were concerned with the timing of the accusations.
“With the elections just six months away, they cannot help but worry that there may be personalities that may politicize this issue given the media coverage it has attracted,” she said.
“All they ask for is a fair shake, that this case be treated just like any other case,” Prodigalidad added. “They also pray that they will be extended the same rights as those enjoyed by us all, especially the ‘presumption of innocence,’” she said.
“The allegations are false, and we will prove them to be false,” Prodigalidad added.
She, however, said these issues are now sub judice.
WITH MICHAEL JOE DELIZO, BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON AND NELSON S. BADILLA