MANILA - Several Iglesia ni Cristo ministers who were allegedly abducted by the church surfaced Wednesday and belied claims that they were kidnapped and tortured by members of the religious group.
In an exclusive interview on INC-run Net 25, INC ministers Jojo Nemis, Arnel Tumanan, Nolan Olarte, and Lowell Menorca II surfaced to deny allegations that they have been kidnapped and held against their will by INC members.
The Department of Justice earlier said it will investigate the alleged abductions.
In his interview, Menorca said he is aware of reports that he was allegedly held hostage and tortured by the Iglesia ni Cristo while his wife and child were also abducted.
"Wala pong katotohanan yun. (Hindi ka hinostage?) Hindi po. (Hindi ka dinukot?) Hindi rin po. (Tino-torture?) Lalong hindi po," he said in an interview with INC spokesman Edwil Zabala.
At one point during the interview, Menorca became emotional as he thanked INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo for helping his family.
“Nagpapasalamat po kami dahil sa kabila ng mga pagkukulang, mga kapintasan ko ay patuloy pa rin po kaming kinakalinga, patuloy pa rin po kaming nililingap kasama ang aming buong sambahayan. Napakabait po ng Tagapamahalang Pangkalahatan kaya po hindi po matatapos ang aming taos-pusong pagpapasalamat sa lahat po ng pag-ibig, pagmamalasakit, hindi lamang po para sa aming kapakanan, kundi para sa kapakanan ng Iglesia, para sa kapakanan ng aming kaligtasan. Maraming salamat po, sir," he said.
Asked for his message to those spreading rumors that he had been kidnapped, he said: "Nais ko lang pong sabihin sa kanila na itigil na nila lalo na po yung paggamit sa pangalan ko, sa naging sitwasyon ko para isulong yung nais nila na gawin pa at yun po ay wala namang katotohanan."
"Nandito po ako. Pinatutunayan ko po na ako ay ligtas. Kapiling ko po ang pamilya ko. Buo po ang aming sambahayan at kami po ay nasa ilalim ng pagkupkop, pangangalaga at pag-iingat ng pamamahalang pangkalahatan," he added.
The interview was conducted at the INC headquarters in Quezon City on Wednesday. Accompanying Menorca during the interview was lawyer Allen Blair Boy from New Era Legal Aid Clinic.
FROM SORSOGON TO CAVITE
Menorca was earlier identified by Joy Yuson, a former administrative coordinator of the TV arm of the INC and a former member of the INC for over 20 years, as one of several INC ministers allegedly abducted by the church for speaking out against INC leadership.
He told radio DZMM Menorca was "abducted" right in the middle of an INC service in Sorsogon.
He also said Menorca's wife and child were also abducted.
Menorca was jailed in Dasmarinas, Cavite last July 17 after allegedly threatening two men with a hand grenade. The Dasmariñas police formally filed a case against him on July 20.
Last July 23, lawyer Allen Blair Boy visited Menorca at the jail and said his client denied that he had been abducted.
He also produced a handwritten affidavit from Menorca that said he went to Cavite "to seek support."
Menorca was freed by police last Sunday, July 26, after the complainant withdrew the charges.
MENORCA: I SOUGHT INC HELP
In his interview, Menorca thanked fellow INC members and relatives who expressed concern about his well-being.
He said he and his family are safe and that he asked the INC leadership for help.
"Panatag po kami, payapa po kami at ligtas po kami. Ang totoo po kami po ang humingi ng tulong sa pamamahala upang sa ganun ay iligtas kami para maalagaan po ang aming sambahayan," he said.
He thanked INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo for supporting and protecting his family.
"Kapatid na Eduardo Manalo, ang aming pinakamamahal na Tagapamahalang Pangkalahatan, ako po kasama ang aking buong sambahayan ay lubos na nagpapasalamat sa napakalabay na pag-ibig at pagmamahal po ninyo hindi lamang para po sa aming kapakanan, kundi para sa kapakanan ng buong Iglesia. Nalalaman po namin ang kasalukuyang kinakaharap ng Iglesia na suliranin, at kami po kasama ang aking buong sambahayan at lahat ng aming mga mahal sa buhay, kami po ay matibay na nakapanig sa Tagapamahalang Pangkalahatan, sa Pamamahala sa Iglesia sapagkat alam po namin na dito ang kaligtasan po namin," he said.
OTHER 'MISSING' MINISTERS SURFACE
Meanwhile, other alleged missing INC ministers also surfaced to deny reports of the abductions.
Juliusas "Jojo" Nemis, one of the supposedly "missing ministers" mentioned by Yuson, said no kidnapping took place and that he is currently staying at the INC headquarters.
"Hindi po ako dinukot. Kaya ako nagpunta dito para linawin na hindi ako dinukot at hindi ako nawawala," he said in the interview taped last July 24.
Nemis had previously said the same thing in a radio DZMM interview last July 25.
The INC member urged those spreading rumors against the INC leadership to stop. He also told INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo that he will continue to serve the INC.
Another alleged "missing" minister, Bro. Arnel Tumanan, also told Net 25 that he had not been kidnapped. The interview was conducted last July 25, before the INC’s Unity Games.
"Nakapagtataka at nakakamangha na kumakalat ang ganyang mga kasinungalingan," he said.
For his part, Bro. Nolan Olarte of Cebu was amused by the reports that he had been kidnapped and tortured.
"(Hindi ka pinagbuhatan ng kamay?) Hindi kailanman. (Hindi ka ikinulong?) Hindi po. (Baka kinidnap?) Hindi rin po," he said in an interview with Zabala.
He said he came to INC Headquarters of his own free will. He said he was irked after his name was dragged into the controversy over alleged ministers who were being silenced for speaking out against corruption in the INC.
Meanwhile, Bro. Joel San Pedro, another INC minister, belied reports that he had been expelled from the church. He said he was able to attend the INC's 101st anniversary celebration last Sunday.
"I am still a member of the church and I am still a minister of the Iglesia ni Cristo," he said.
He also denied that the Iglesia ni Cristo is a family corporation.
CRACKS IN THE INC
A blog site, “Iglesia Ni Cristo - Silent No More,” run by a certain Antonio Ramirez Ebangelista earlier claimed that nine INC ministers were kidnapped in different provinces and expelled from the church.
One of the alleged INC ministers, Isaias Samson Jr., surfaced last Thursday and said he and his family were detained in their own home in Tierre Bella subdivision after he was accused of running the Iglesia ni Cristo - Silent No More blog.
He said their cellphones and passports were taken from them by armed guards. He confirmed the abductions of other INC ministers and workers and said funds of the church were being mismanaged.
Last week, INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo expelled his own mother and brother from the religious organization after they made a public appeal for help, claiming harassment and kidnapping of some ministers.
INC general evangelist Bienvenido Santiago said the leadership decided to expel Manalo’s brother, Felix Nathaniel “Angel” Manalo, and their mother Christina “Tenny” Manalo “for creating divisions in the church.”
The expulsion of Angel and Tenny means they can no longer attend worship services of the church.
According to Santiago, there is no truth to the claims of Tenny and Angel.
Santiago alleged the two are just trying to gain sympathy from their members so they can interfere in the administration of INC affairs. He said the two violated the INC's teachings and regulations.
Founded in 1914, the Iglesia ni Cristo accounts for 2.45% of the country's population, around 2.5 million of today's 100-million population. Its membership lags way behind the majority Roman Catholic Church (more than 80%) and Islam (nearly 6% ).
The INC gets its power not from sheer numbers but from the legendary unity of its flock. The faithful gather for religious services twice a week and pay regular tithes across 101 Philippine ecclesiastical districts, each with 15 to 70 locales, and 27 more districts across the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.
That unity translates to bloc votes every election, sending politicians across party lines trekking to the INC Central Office in Quezon City, which has an estimated current value of P1 billion.
The INC celebrated its centennial last year with a world record for a charity walk, which raised funds for a 1,000-shelter village in Yolanda stricken communities, and the inauguration of the world’s largest dome.
A century of loyalty and tight central management that have begotten political power have also created a mighty economic empire for the INC.