Ex-INC minister Menorca arrested on way to court

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 20 2016 10:15 AM | Updated as of Jan 20 2016 04:15 PM

INC not involved in Lowell Menorca's arrest, says spokesman

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - A former Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) minister who accused the religious sect of kidnapping him and detaining his family was arrested Wednesday by cops in plainclothes led by a police superintendent who is a member of the INC.

Speaking to dzMM, Lowell Menorca said he was about to go to the Court of Appeals (CA) to attend a hearing on his petition for writs of amparo and habeas corpus when plainclothes men suddenly accosted him and his companions along Roxas Boulevard.

Menorca, who was expelled by the INC after he accused the leaders of the powerful sect of ordering his abduction in Sorsogon last year, said the men claimed to be police officers serving a warrant of arrest.

"Galing po ako ng safehouse. Papunta ako sa Court of Appeals. Magpapalit po kami ng sasakyan bago pumunta ng Court of Appeals. Pagbabang-pagbaba ko, dinambahan na ako ng naka civilian na nakamotor lang at niyakap na ako at nakipagbuno sa akin at sinabi may warrant daw ako. Pulis daw po siya," he said in a radio dzMM interview.

Menorca said one of the cops tried to present an arrest warrant but refused to show it to him.

He said what was presented to him was an alias warrant, which was issued by the court when no plea was entered on the case filed.

"Hindi ako naka-attend ng hearing tapos biglang may warrant? Wala akong kamalay malay," he said.

''Walang ni isang nai-serve sa akin na notice. Walang notice of hearing, bigla akong nagkaroon ng warrant. Paano nangyari iyon?"

At least 20 cops in uniform later showed up in the area to arrest him, Menorca said.

ARRESTING COP A MEMBER OF INC

Pandacan Police Station head Supt. Ed Leonardo later confirmed that the arrest warrant was based on a libel case, and that the two men who arrested Menorca were cops.

''Mayroon kaming warrant galing ng Marawi City. Libel po ang kaso niya at bailable naman. Pero nung sine-serve, nagkaroon ng commotion,'' Leonardo said.

He also defended the operation, saying he allowed policemen in plainclothes to accost Menorca so that he would not elude arrest.

''Ang pag-monitor sa kanya eh naka-civilian ang police natin. Kasi may warrant siya eh baka mag evade siya ng arrest,'' Leonardo said. ''Nung inaresto na siya, puro naka-uniporme ang nag-aresto."

Leonardo said a woman even slapped one of the plainclothes men during the standoff. Menorca said this woman was his wife, Seiko.

Menorca said Seiko tried to get the copy of the arrest warrant from one of the cops. The arrest warrant was later grabbed back by the arresting policeman.

Seiko, who was told by her husband to proceed to the CA to tell the court of the developments, denied that she slapped one of the officers.

"Hindi po ako nanampal. Pinalo ko po ang kanyang braso. Hinatak niya po ang asawa ko. In fact, nasira yung damit ng asawa ko. Pinipilit ko pong tanggalin ang kamay niya dahil wala siyang karapatan na hulihin kami ng asawa ko dahil ni hindi nga po niya napakita na siya ay lehitimong pulis," she explained.

She said she refused to give her husband to the arresting officers, who could not even provide badges or identification cards to prove that they are police officers.

"Kami na nga po ang inagrabiyado kami pa ang pilit na pinapalabas na sinungaling ngayon? Pinilit ko po na wag makuha dahil wala silang patunay na mga legit na mga pulis," she said.

Menorca slammed Leonardo for leading his arrest after the latter admitted he is a member of the INC.

''This is proof na talagang hinaharass nila ako. Tine-threaten nila kami para di na ako magsalita,'' he said.

''Ganyan sila kaimpluwensya, kahit anong pulis kaya nilang pakilusin."

LISTEN: Cop who arrested Menorca is Iglesia member

Menorca insisted that Manila Police District (MPD) director Chief Supt. Rolando Nana should have led his arrest because Leonardo's involvement is a clear case of conflict of interest.

Nana eventually arrived at the scene to break the standoff. As of writing, Menorca was already at the Ermita Police Station, undergoing booking procedures.

The arrest warrant, issued by a court in Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte, recommended a bail of P10,000 for Menorca.

'INC WANTS TO BLOCK MY TESTIMONY'

Menorca's lawyer, Trixie Cruz-Angeles, also slammed the timing of the arrest, saying Menorca was supposed to take the witness stand today for his petition for writs of amparo and habeas corpus at the CA.

''Ngayon siya inaresto at a time he is supposed to be sitting as a witness. Marami kaming questions. Wala siyang notice of any hearings on probable cause,'' Cruz-Angeles said.

Menorca earlier claimed that he was abducted by policemen in Sorsogon on orders from the INC leadership. He said he was among the INC ministers and members accused of running the controversial anti-Iglesia Ni Cristo blog of a certain Antonio Ebangelista.

Menorca said his arrest today is the handiwork of the powerful sect which, he said, is bent on blocking his testimony at the CA.

''Sana dumaan sila sa proseso. Huwag naman nila ipamukha sa buong mundo kung gano makapangyarihan ang INC na maglabas ng warrant ng walang proceeding. Nasaan ang due process na sinasabi nila?" he said.

''Sa pamunuan ng INC, sa Ka Eduardo, ito po ba ang sinasabi niyong makataong paraan? Iyung due process? Ano ba talaga ang gagawin niyo para mapatahimik lang ako? Kung wala kayong tinatago, bakit takot kayong magsalita ako sa CA?"

Menorca said he had no problem acceding to the arrest warrant, but his traumatic experience when he was abducted in Sorsogon, jailed in Cavite on an allegedly trumped up charge of grenade possession, and then kept inside the INC central compound for three months, has made him more conscious when dealing even with policemen in uniform.

''Sasabihin nila libel lang daw at pwede akong magpyansa. Hindi iyon ang point. Ang point dito, talaga bang above the law sila? Para ang mga taong katulad ko huwag na silang magsalita, matatakot na lang. Paano ang mangyayari sa ibang ministro na gustong magsalita?" he said.

''Baka nakakalimutan nila ang mismong pulis na naka-uniporme ang kumidnap sa akin sa Sorsogon, kaya hindi nila maaalis na 'di ko pagkatiwalaan ang mga taong ito."

READ: INC blocks Menorca's testimony at CA

READ: CA's 7th division to handle Menorca's case vs INC

Seiko, meanwhile, suspects that the INC camp seemed to be aware of the plan to arrest her husband.

''Wala po ang mga abugado nila dito ngayon. Wala pong katao-tao. Hindi po ba mukhang planadong planado?''Seiko said, speaking to dzMM from her location at the Court of Appeals.

INC, HANDS OFF

Responding to Menorca couple's allegation that the INC was behind his arrest, INC spokesperson Edwil Zabala said the expelled INC minister should just face the charges against him.

''Iyan ay opinyon niya. Hindi ko po alam kung ano ang kinalaman niya sa pagka-aresto sa kanya,'' Zabala told dzMM.

''Personally hindi ko po alam na mayroong paghuling nangyari sa kanila. Ang tanong lang siguro eh ang mga humuhuli ba ay may karapatang humuli?"

In view of today's incident, the CA set another hearing for Menorca's cross examination.

The appellate court's Seventh Division granted the plea of Menorca's lawyer for the issuance of an order directing the Manila Police District's Station 5 to present Menorca on January 26, at 10 a.m., and February 15.

Menorca's cross examination was originally scheduled today (Wednesday) but this did not push through after he was arrested at past 7 am in Manila by police operatives by virtue of an arrest warrant issued by the Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte trial court for a pending libel case.

The MPD had initially agreed to the request of Menorca's camp to bring him to the CA hearing. However, MPD Legal Officer P/Supt. Atty. Thomas Valmonte later personally informed magistrates of the CA Seventh Division that the MPD instead decided to await an order from the appellate court to have Menorca presented to the habeas corpus and amparo hearing.

The lawyers representing INC Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo and the other respondents did not pose any objection, and agreed to the resetting of the hearing.

The crisis at the century-old sect began when the INC expelled the mother and siblings of executive minister Eduardo Manalo. The expelled Manalos claimed that the INC leadership ordered the abduction of several INC ministers, an allegation the ''Sanggunian'' vehemently denied.

WATCH: Why INC expelled Eduardo Manalo's mother, brother  - with reports from Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News; Dexter Ganibe and Johnson Manabat, dzMM