Scandal in INC
That was a quick one. Last Monday, the National Bureau of Investigation declared as “case closed” the alleged abduction by the Iglesia ni Cristo of a number of its recalcitrant ministers. News of the reported abduction—as well as hints of discord and scandal in the powerful religious group arising from the YouTube video of no less than INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo’s mother and brother claiming their lives are in danger and pleading for help and protection—has caused a media sensation and opened a crack into the church’s secretive world.
The implications of the case called for, at the very least, an inquiry into whether pertinent laws had been violated. It is, after all, against the law to harass, intimidate, or hold anyone against his or her will. The crime becomes considerable when whole families are said to be subjected to fear and threats, or restrained from going anywhere, to make them toe the line. The cry for help of Angel Manalo and his mother Cristina “Ka Tenny” Manalo, as well as the ensuing allegations of kidnapping and torture of certain ministers expelled by the INC, would ordinarily trigger an investigation by law enforcement authorities. Leads would be pursued, witnesses questioned, the incidence of alleged crime verified, and the alleged victims located and taken into protective custody to allow them to talk freely.
But apparently, none of that took place. In reports, Manuel Eduarte, chief of the NBI’s Anti-Organized Transnational Crime Division, said the INC case was being closed because “per report of my men … they were not able to prove the allegations of abduction.” According to Eduarte’s narrative, last Friday NBI agents went to the INC compound in Quezon City in the wake of reports that Angel Manalo, who is one of the three Manalo siblings expelled by the INC from the church along with their mother, was holed up there, apparently in fear. The agents were not able to enter the compound or to independently check if the occupants were under duress. “They tried knocking at the gate which is locked. They were not given entry, so no information was gathered and they were told that there is no such thing as abduction committed inside the premises of INC,” Eduarte was quoted as saying.
Thus foiled, the NBI team proceeded to the INC Central Office to talk to members of the staff of the church’s legal office, who denied the allegations of abduction. “So, for us, [the case] is considered closed already although we are still in the process of awaiting further information from the grounds,” concluded Eduarte with a straight face.
The usual bureaucratic incompetence in action? Perhaps. But because this case involves the INC, whose connections to influential people in the government are both well-known and said to be cultivated by the church itself, it’s not unreasonable to think that some forces are trying to close the lid on any inquiry to prevent further damaging revelations. Last Tuesday, four INC ministers came forward to deny they had been abducted.
Internal dissension, or even possible corruption in the INC hierarchy, is, of course, outside the purview of law enforcement or government scrutiny. But the sordid disclosures emerging from a growing number of disaffected former church members, some of them previously highly placed and privy to the INC’s most confidential operations, have touched on something else that has immense significance to public policy and governance: the alleged extortion of money from politicians and government officials in exchange for the coveted bloc vote of INC members.
Roel Rosal, an expelled minister, has come out to say that a town mayor in Bulacan and a barangay captain in Parañaque had asked him to deliver a letter to the INC executive minister complaining that church “tagapangasiwa” overseeing the concerned province and city had demanded money in return for the INC bloc vote during the 2013 elections.
This is a grave charge, and it deserves serious investigation by the government—certainly not the kind of slapdash procedure done by the NBI. How widespread is this practice, and does the INC tolerate it? Names have been named. The church must be made to cooperate with any inquiry into this matter, and its officials given the Nixon test: What do they know, and when did they know it?
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