SC to Iglesia: Produce ‘kidnapped’ minister Detention denied, then confirmed

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court yesterday issued writs of habeas corpus and amparo to compel the leadership of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) to present a former minister it had allegedly held in custody.

The SC order was in response to a petition filed by Anthony Menorca and Jungko Otsuka – through their lawyer – that Anthony’s brother Lowell and wife Jingky be allowed to leave the INC central compound in Quezon City.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno issued the order, contained in a two-page resolution.

The SC, in its order, also remanded the petition to the Court of Appeals for hearing and resolution before getting it back for approval.

But the SC writ of habeas corpus is now moot and academic as Lowell and his family were  released on Wednesday, the petitioners’ lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles said.

Lowell had appeared in a video on the INC-owned NET 25, denying he was being illegally detained and saying he was under the protective custody of the religious group.

In a video sent to media outlets last night, however, Lowell confirmed that he and his family had indeed been held against their will and that he had been forced to issue a “scripted” statement earlier.

He said they were detained at the INC main compound in Quezon City from July 25 to Oct. 21, contrary to his earlier statement read on INC TV that he had sought protective custody from the group.

Cruz-Angeles said they would pursue the amparo petition through which they hope to secure a court protection order.

A writ of amparo is a remedy available to any individual whose right to life, liberty and security has been violated or threatened. A writ of habeas corpus, on the other hand, is a legal action sought on behalf of a person who has been unlawfully detained.   

The SC also directed the respondents from the INC leadership – including the religious group’s executive minister Eduardo Manalo – to answer the petition within five days from receipt of notice, produce Lowell and his wife and appear in hearings.

Also covered by the order are three other members of INC’s council of leaders or Sanggunian – Radel Cortez, Bienvenido Santiago and Rolando Esguerra.

The high court has set the hearing on Nov. 3 and directed the Court of Appeals (CA) to decide on the case within 10 days after submission for decision.

In their petition last Tuesday, Anthony and Jungko also asked the SC to enjoin the sect’s leaders “from doing further harm and even from approaching or transacting” with their family.

Petitioners alleged Lowell was snatched last July 16 after leading a church service in Bulan, Sorsogon.

Angeles is also the lawyer of expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr., who filed criminal charges of harassment, illegal detention, threats and coercion against members of the Sanggunian before the Department of Justice.

‘Protective custody’

The high court’s resolution came a day after Lowell and his wife issued a joint affidavit to belie allegations in the petition for writs of habeas corpus and amparo filed by his brother and Jingky’s twin sister Jungko.

“We hereby declare and state that even as of this date, we are under the protective custody of the Church administration and we also are the ones who have requested the Church administration about this matter in behalf of ourselves and of our family,” read the affidavit the couple subscribed before notary public Wilfredo Santos.

“We were never, at any instance, forced, threatened, coerced, influenced nor tricked or promised any material reward or consideration to issue this and the aforementioned statements, as we have executed them voluntarily and willingly,” they stressed.

The couple said they “requested the INC administration that our family be placed under their care and protection, and voluntarily submitted ourselves to the protective custody of the Church” due to fear for their safety.

“Because of this, INC allowed us to stay inside the INC central compound together with our child. They even let our ailing mother stay closer with us from the residence provided to widowed minister’s wife, and allowed our relatives and friends to visit us,” they said.

“It is our own personal choice that we remain under INC’s care and protection, until threats against us and our family disappear,” the couple further stressed.


Former Camarines Sur congressman Arnulfo Fuentebella attested to the veracity of Lowell’s story.

In a statement sent to SC reporters yesterday, Fuentebella said he was witness to how Menorca and his family had sought protection from the INC before voluntarily leaving the INC central compound earlier this week.

“I believe this is just a misunderstanding because it’s the other way around. Lowell Menorca sought permission to stay at the INC compound together with his wife and daughter because of threats to his person,” Fuentebella said, admitting he was a friend of Menorca’s father.

The former lawmaker said he found the filing of the petition with the SC puzzling, since it was Lowell who had requested for protective custody from INC officials.

“Boyet (Lowell Menorca) told me that he voluntarily asked to leave the INC compound and that he was doing it on his own volition. He told me he was never threatened while in their custody,” he said.

But Cruz-Angeles said the “rescued” minister was under duress when he signed the affidavit belying his abduction.

“Our client insists that any writing or issuance that he allegedly made while in custody is made under duress,” Cruz-Angeles said. – Janvic Mateo








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