The Iglesia’s long arm?
The warrant of arrest used to entrap Iglesia ni Cristo ex-minister Lowell Menorca II on Wednesday morning is proof that something highly irregular is happening—and that Menorca’s life, and those of his family, may be in real danger. The influential religious group has denied any hand in the matter, but the circumstances suggest that the Iglesia’s long arm was at work.
The warrant is for a libel case of which Menorca or his lawyers are unaware. It was issued for the wrong person—Lowell Menorca III—by the Regional Trial Court in Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte, not a place that Menorca frequents or is even familiar with. It was issued on Dec. 21 last year, with an unusual “NOTE” affixed at the bottom: “To be served by THE CHIEF OF POLICE, PNP STATION, Quezon City.” (Quezon City is where the headquarters of the Iglesia ni Cristo is based.) A copy of it was handed by a member of the Iglesia to Manila Police District Station 10 commander Supt. Edilberto Leonardo on Tuesday night (Leonardo said as much to GMA News), and the arrest was effected the following morning.
The arrest was effected by men in plain clothes, who tried to grab Menorca as he was getting down from one vehicle to transfer to another as a security precaution. Menorca initially resisted arrest; a car chase and then a standoff ensued, before the arrest was finally made. When his lawyer visited him in his detention cell, she said she was not shown any warrant.
Menorca told anyone who cared to listen that the same organization he accused of causing his arrest last year in Sorsogon and his unusual detention in Cavite was behind the latest incident. “This is proof that they don’t want me to speak up because they are stopping me. They told me that if I don’t stop, they will put me in jail. This is it,” Menorca said in Filipino.
The Iglesia ni Cristo issued an official denial, which was curiously phrased. “We did not serve the warrant [of arrest],” Iglesia spokesman Edwil Zabala told reporters. “It was the Philippine National Police who served it.” Of course the Iglesia didn’t serve the warrant. Why would anyone expect it to?
But the use of law enforcement agencies and the court of law to subvert the ends of justice, rather than to serve them, is a depressing commonplace. The filing of libel cases in different parts of the country, for instance, is an ancient art. On the assumption that an allegedly libelous statement is carried in a newspaper of national circulation or on a television newscast with viewers from across the country or on a website with nationwide reach, a person or organization (or religion) of means can file a libel case anywhere in the archipelago. This loophole in the law has been exploited many times, to harass an enemy, or wear down his defenses, or drain his finances.
Journalists are all too familiar with this legal tactic, and it does not bode well at all for Menorca. Those who resort to it are not interested in vindicating their reputation, but in spreading intimidation. A libel case in Lanao del Norte against someone who lives in Quezon City is not legal redress, but pure retaliation.
And, like clockwork, a second libel case surfaced the day after Menorca’s arrest—this time from the Regional Trial Court of Lanao del Sur. The accused is correctly named this time around (“Lowell Menorca II”), but the address is different. The “alias warrant of arrest” is dated Jan. 18, 2016.
The ex-minister’s response was both expected and chilling: “I’m expecting more.”
Do we need any more proof that an orchestrated campaign is being waged against Menorca? We can simply consider the evidence already at hand. A mysterious disappearance, after an internal INC crisis erupted in public. One libel suit after another, filed by Iglesia members. The handing over of one arrest warrant from one INC member to another, a ranking police officer. Followed by the next-day arrest of a man who was supposed to be hiding his tracks well. Circumstantial, yes, but convincing.
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