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DOJ steps in, orders NBI to probe ‘abduction’ of Iglesia ni Cristo ministers


(Updated 6:03 p.m.) Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the allegations that several ministers of the Iglesia ni Cristo religious group have been abducted.

"I have already directed the NBI to verify those allegations," De Lima said, two days after Cristina "Tenny" Manalo and Felix Nathaniel "Angel" Manalo, mother and brother of Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo, respectively, bared the alleged threats to their lives.

The Manalos' appeal for help due to the alleged threats to them was made through a video posted on video-sharing site YouTube on Wednesday night.

De Lima clarified that the NBI's probe would only be "initial" as it would later have to decide whether to switch to a formal investigation.

"Kasi nga ang naging basehan is iyong YouTube video at nagpadala ng email sa amin," she said, adding the email, which she received Thursday morning, contained a link to the YouTube video.

The email was sent by a certain "kapatid saiglesia" past 9 a.m. with the subject "Fwd: help po."

The email read: "Tulungan niyo po kami nanganganib po ang buhay ng pamilya ni ka erdy. May 10 mismo na dinukot hanggang ngayun di pa nakikita, mga tagasanggunian ng iglesia nasa likod nito sa pangunguna ni glicerio santos jr at radel cortez. tulungan po ninyo kami. parang awa nyo na."

Agents from the National Bureau of Investigation went to the Manalo residential compound in Quezon City on Friday afternoon as they began their “exploratory” investigation on the alleged abduction of Iglesia Ni Cristo ministers.
 
In an interview with reporters at the scene, Job Gayas of the NBI’s Anti-Organized and Transnational Crimes Division said they were ordered to check on the site and hopefully talk to Angel Manalo, estranged brother of Eduardo, the current executive minister of Iglesia Ni Cristo.
 
The agents knocked on the smaller gate and rang the doorbell several times asking anyone inside to talk to them, but to no avail.
 
The plot thickened when the blog site "Iglesia Ni Cristo - Silent No More," run by a certain Antonio Ramirez Ebangelista, claimed that nine of the organization's ministers in different provinces were abducted and expelled from the group. Three of them were identified as Boyet Menorca of Sorsogon, Joven Sepillo of Tacloban, and Nolan Olarte of Cebu.

On Thursday, people inside the Manalo house in Tandang Sora in Quezon City flashed messages that read: "Where are the missing ministers?"

Iglesia ni Cristo General Evangelist Bienvenido Santiago had already said in a press briefing earlier Thursday that the accusations against them were not true.

No abduction

Meanwhile, police in Dasmariñas, Cavite, said they have arrested Menorca, one of the ministers allegedly abducted, for supposedly threatening two construction workers with a grenade.

Quezon City policemen on Thursday night trooped to an Iglesia ni Cristo compound in Tandang Sora to check reports of abduction or illegal detention. They were, however, barred from entering the house, although they later on declared that there was no abduction in the compound.

De Lima said as a general rule, a person can be charged with illegal trespass if he or she enters a private property without permission.

"Pero may exception iyan under criminal law, under jurisprudence. Kapag may probable cause or may possibility that a crime has just been committed, is being committed or is about to be committed or [what is called] the plainview doctrine, kahit private property iyan ay puwedeng pasukin," she said.

As to allegations of corruption within the church, De Lima said the government would take a hands off policy unless a private complainant decides to press charges.

"Sa usapin ng alleged corruption, alleged misuse of funds, iba na iyan. At this point, hindi pa natin puwede pakialaman iyan... kasi private funds are involved," she said.

"Pero hindi naman namin sinasabi na totally wala na tayo, na hindi na puwede makialam ang gobyerno... [kasi puwede] na may mag-file ng tamang complaint," said De Lima, adding that complaints that could be filed may range from swindling and estafa to theft and falsification.

"There is a whole gamut of possible criminal offenses," she added.

Angel told the news media early Friday morning that the funds of the group are being drained and spent on projects like the Philippine Arena.

Isaias Samson Jr, former editor of INC's official publication "Pasugo," has bared the alleged corruption being committed by their officials.

Samson, who claimed he was illegally detained by the Iglesia ni Cristo's Sanggunian, said there are anomalies involving their organization's socio-civic program "Lingap sa Mamamayan."

"Tungkol sa pinamamahagi sa Lingap, halimbawa bigas, kahit na makukuha lang ang isang sakong bigas ng P1,700 o P1,750, eh magugulat ka ang ibinayad pala ay P1,900 o P1,950," he said.

GMA News also spoke with Ruel Rosal, who claimed he was an Iglesia member who was expelled from the group recently. He said that corruption brought discord among the members of Iglesia's founding family, the Manalo clan. With this, he is calling on the church's executive minister Eduardo Manalo to come out and fix the issue.

‘Internal organizational dispute’
 
Meanwhile, sought for comment on events involving top officials of the Iglesia ni Cristo, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. cited earlier reports that these events “indicate an apparent internal organizational dispute.”
 
Coloma nevertheless assured that the Philippine National Police is on top of the situation.
 
“The PNP’s Quezon City police district office and Anti-Kidnapping Group have been deployed to assess the situation to ensure the safety of all concerned and that peace and order is maintained,” the Palace official said.
 
The Iglesia ni Cristo, the largest homegrown Christian church in the Philippines, endorsed President Benigno Aquino III’s candidacy in 2010. The religious group is known for delivering “block votes” during elections. — with Andreo Calonzo/KBK/RSJ, GMA News
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