Iglesia lawyers to court: Menorca's amparo case moot
MANILA, Philippines – Lawyers of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) have asked the Court of Appeals (CA) to declare moot and academic the petition for a writ of amparo filed by relatives of expelled INC church worker Lowell Menorca II, citing Menorca's sudden flight out of the country earlier this month.
A writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security has been violated or threatened.
During the proceedings at the 7th division of the appellate court on Monday, March 28, INC lawyer Patricia Ann Prodigalidad said that Menorca is now out of the court's jurisdiction since he and his family fled last March 6, citing threats to his daughter's life.
She pointed out that Menorca could have allowed his wife and daughter to leave, and stay behind to face his legal cases.
But Menorca's lawyers said a "more appropriate" court of action was to archive the case, essentially keeping the case alive.
"Their claim is that in the absence of the beneficiaries from the jurisdiction of the court, the issuance of a writ may be moot. Our argument is that the rules provide for an archiving of the case for two years, and a final dismissal at the end of that, taking into consideration that an amparo is filed out of the fear for the security and life of a beneficiary, which is the case here," Menorca's lawyer, Trixie Cruz-Angeles, told reporters.
Prodigalidad, however, opposed this, saying that to do so would "reward" Menorca's behavior when there was no actual, imminent threat against him.
"Keeping this case alive is unfair for the respondents because he's free to go around making statements," Prodigalidad said.
CA 7th Division presiding judge Magdangal de Leon has deemed the case submitted for resolution, after hearing the arguments of both sides on how the case was to proceed.
The petition filed in October last year stems from Menorca's claims that he was abducted and detained for 3 months, allegedly on the orders of top INC officials to force him to expose members critical of the church.
Menorca has not appeared at the two hearings since he fled the country, cutting short the cross examination of his testimony by INC lawyers.
He later said that he decided to leave after receiving a death threat against his daughter.
But the INC slammed Menorca for his hurried flight, branding him a fugitive from justice. The church said Menorca left to escape the slew of libel complaints against the former church worker.
Menorca earlier called the libel complaints a form of harassment against him, pointing out what he called a "clear pattern" of complaints being filed against him that result in arrest warrants without any formal notice being sent to him or his lawyers.
In an exclusive interview with Rappler, Menorca also said that he no longer has any hope of obtaining justice from in the Philippines.
He said he now plans to elevate his case to a higher court or to international agencies, away from the influence of the 101-year-old church.
'Mockery of the proceedings'
The INC camp used Menorca's own statement that he had no hope for justice in the Philippine courts as an additional reason why the case should be rendered moot.
"Menorca publicly declared that the reason he left was because he distrusts the entire justice system, the government," Prodigalidad said.
"He's making a mockery of the proceedings by making these statements and allowing his counsel to continue with the proceedings," she added.
Prodigalidad added that Menorca seems to prefer to make unfounded allegations outside the court, where he is not under oath.
She reiterated that there was no sufficient basis of a real threat against Menorca that would justify the issuance of a writ of amparo.
But Menorca's lawyers countered that there is also no evidence to support the INC's claim that there is no threat against the former church worker.
Lawyer Ahmed Paglinawan also said that Menorca's hurried flight could be interpreted as a sign that threats against the family remain.
He added that even if Menorca is outside the Philippines, it does not mean that the threat against him has ceased. – Rappler.com