MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Human Rights Chairperson (CHR) Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon said the CHR has yet to start a formal investigation into the alleged abductions within the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), as these remain "primarily a police matter" for now.
In a text message sent to Rappler on Friday, July 24, Gascon said CHR is curently conducting a “motu proprio (or on-their-own initiative) monitoring” of INC to ensure that "all persons' rights are protected."
He said that investigators from their National Capital Region office went to the INC compound in Tandang Sora, Quezon City, where minister Felix Nathaniel “Angel” Manalo, his mother Tenny, and other INC members are allegedly being illegally detained. (READ: Sign outside INC building: 'Tulong, hostage kami’)
This does not count as an official CHR investigation yet, however, as Gascon said a formal probe should be preceded by a formal complaint filed by any citizen with the commission. Aside from this, "investigations are triggered by facts that prima facie (or evident on first appearance) indicate a violation of human rights."
According to previous reports, INC ministers had gone missing or were placed under house arrest, allegedly on orders of the church's Sanggunian (Council).
On Thursday, July 23, Iglesia minister Isaias Samson Jr told reporters that church officials put him, along with his wife and son, under a week-long house arrest for allegedly criticizing the INC in a blog. (READ: INC expels minister who alleged house arrest)
Minister Lowell Menorca II, who is currently detained in Dasmariñas, Cavite, was reportedly picked up as well. This was denied by the INC, however. (READ: Was Iglesia ni Cristo minister abducted? Lawyer denies)
Referring to the alleged abductions, Gascon said "the fact of absence of the person in question and testimony from persons with knowledge of facts of the circumstances of the absence – are prima facie evidence that an abduction has possibly occurred. This would trigger a motu proprio investigation," Gascon said.
Because the CHR does not want to make any premature conclusions regarding the reports, Gascon clarified they will wait for their monitors' report before deciding what to do next.
“However, if the report from the investigators find that human rights violations may have or could occur, then CHR may take cognizance."
No prosecutorial powers
On July 24, the Department of Justice (DOJ) ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate the alleged abduction of INC members.
According to Gascon, CHR investigations run separately from any investigations by the DOJ or the police.
Because the CHR does not have prosecutorial powers, its probe findings often include recommendations for the DOJ to file an information in courts for prosecution.
"What CHR does at that point is either assist or monitor the progress of cases," said Gascon. – Rappler.com