‘Je suis Ebangelista’
At a press conference last Sunday, reporters asked former Iglesia ni Cristo minister and newly released alleged abductee Lowell Menorca if he was Antonio Ebangelista, the tell-all blogger who exposes corrupt activities inside the 101-year-old homegrown church. Menorca did not answer yes or no. He suggested that he could be one of many Ebangelistas trying to bring out the truth and protesting corruption inside the INC.
It was like saying “Je suis Charlie,” the cry of multitudes all over the world that rose after the brutal murder by Islamist extremists of the French cartoonists behind the publication Charlie Hebdo. Enraged, people suddenly owned up to the “crime” of cartooning, so to speak, or took it personally and cried victimhood. It was like telling the murderers: You killed a handful but there are so many more of us you cannot kill or silence. (A good friend gifted me with “I am Charlie: Editorial Cartoonists Honor Free Speech,” published by the Committee to Protect Journalists.)
Je suis. I am.
“Je suis Ebangelista,” or “I am Ebangelista,” or “Ako si Ebangelista” might well be the cry of many INC followers who cannot come out openly for fear of sanctions, like becoming the expelled (“tiwalag,” a dreaded word and fate) or abducted, as alleged by former ministers Isaias Samson Jr. and Menorca.
The two men have come forward to tell their story. Menorca first came out months ago to deny his abduction and the attempt on his life, telling the media that it was all a lie, only to again come out last Sunday in a press conference with his wife and lawyer present, to say that the abduction was real, that his previous statement was made under duress.
Only after his family filed petitions for writs of habeas corpus and of amparo before the Supreme Court was Menorca released from months of alleged detention at the INC headquarters then at a safehouse in Quezon City. Now able to speak freely, Menorca disclosed details of his alleged abduction last July—led by police officers, no less, whom he promised to identify.
Menorca has filed cases of abduction and attempted murder against several INC leaders, among them INC head or executive minister Eduardo Manalo who heads the powerful Sanggunian or council. Before this, Manalo had been untouchable; only the Sanggunian members were the focus of complaints and exposés.
I did ask a source in the INC why Manalo seemed out of the fray, living in an ivory tower or immune from complaints when he had command responsibility. Surely he knew what was going on, I insisted. Where was he? How was he? Was he himself being held hostage, if not physically, perhaps psychologically, by a bunch of men who ruled the INC?
The answer I got was this: The INC teaches that its leaders—that is, the successors of its revered founder Felix Manalo (son Eraño, and now grandson Eduardo)—are technically beyond reproach because of their so-called inherited God-ordained positions, and that whatever human transgressions they might commit would be for God alone to judge. Much like how God punished King David, the source said. As you know, David committed murder and adultery.
Divine right of kings? Well, that might be how it is within the INC for the Manalo successors who live privileged lives. But crimes are crimes and there are laws of the land that must be followed. No one is exempt. Suspects and alleged wrongdoing have to be investigated. We are no longer living on the pages of the Old Testament of the Bible.
And so when thousands of INC followers trooped to Edsa and occupied the main transport artery for four days in August after the Department of Justice promised to investigate complaints received, what unfolded was plain mob tyranny. Crying separation of church and state, these INC followers were made to believe that their church was under siege and that it was no one’s business, much less the law enforcers’ or the justice department’s, to look into the complaints.
A crime was allegedly committed, there was a complainant, but the government may not investigate? Some politicians reveled in the thought that publicly airing their sympathies for the misguided mob would translate to INC votes, only to discover the sad fallout of their sympathies the next morning. Politicians playing to the INC gallery, you will be rewarded accordingly, irate commuters promised.
There are indeed serious allegations against the INC Sanggunian. The media are in possession of a PowerPoint presentation detailing excesses and wanton display of power and pelf. The problem is, the compilers of these allegations hide behind anonymity. Such is their fear of being expelled that, it seems to me, they would rather have the media do the spade work for them.
The fear of expulsion comes from their belief that there is no salvation or heaven outside the INC. When judgment day comes, only those in the INC fold will be ushered to eternal life. But haven’t they heard of the so-called economy of salvation, or of ecumenism and religious freedom that level the field for all upright, righteous men and women of all faiths, sinners or saints? Has anyone among the INC deceased come back from the afterlife to announce that the rooms in the Father’s house are reserved for the INC only?
We shouldn’t be arguing about doctrines and belief systems. But I noticed that in INC TV stations there is always room to bash Catholics, especially on beliefs and practices not consonant to theirs. This INC practice of badmouthing other faiths to promote their own is bad manners and etiquette. I’m sure they wouldn’t dare speak against Islam.
But if they must speak, it should be against corruption in their midst, against the culture of fear, silence and unquestioning obedience that erodes.
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