Photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – "'Yung search warrant, walang naipakita. Pinasok kami lahat dito, nakabaril lahat sila." (They couldn't show any search warrant. They just barged in here, all of them armed.)
Jenny Manalo, sister-in-law of Iglesia ni Cristo Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo, was trembling. On the phone, she recounted to Rappler the raid on their house at 36 Tandang Sora, the Iglesia ni Cristo compound in Quezon City.
Police broke into Angel Manalo's two-floor house before noon on Thursday, March 2. They went up to the second floor, where Manalo, his wife Jenny, and more than 20 other persons stayed, and started pointing guns at them.
When Angel and his companions asked for a search warrant, they only got orders to go out.
"Tinutukan kami ng baril. Kaya 'di na kami kumibo. 'Tinaas na lang namin ang aming mga kamay. Ayaw naming maging violent, magkaroon ng casualty," Angel said. (They pointed guns at us, so we did not move. We just raised our hands. We did not want to be violent, didn't want casualties.)
Past noon, Angel, his family, and companions were shoved inside a bus. They were not told where they were going.
Photo by Darren Langit
"Bakit kami aalis sa sarili naming bahay? Bahay namin 'to. Wala kaming matutuluyan dahil matagal na kaming naririto," Angel said on the phone. (Why will we leave our own house? This is our house! We do not have other places to stay in.)
The property is the subject of a dispute between the widow and children of the INC's late executive minister Eraño Manalo on one side, and Eraño's eldest son and the organization's leadership on the other. The Quezon City court has allowed the Manalo siblings to stay in the property.
Residents of the compound have been deprived of their basic needs, Angel said. The houses of their parents had been demolished. Angel's own house was backhoed last Monday, February 27. Rappler acquired a video of the incident as well. (READ: Angel Manalo seeks help vs demolition of home in INC compound)
He wondered why the siblings and their mother are not allowed to speak to their eldest brother Eduardo, and why the INC leadership is treating them this way.
"Nagtataka lang ako bakit 'di namin siya makausap eh mahal namin kapatid ko eh, maganda ang pinagsamahan namin eh. Bakit naman siya gagawa ng masama sa amin?" he said. (I am wondering why we can't talk to him. We love him. We had a good relationship. Why would he harm us?)
The operation began at 8 am. About a dozen policemen entered 36 Tandang Sora Avenue where Angel Manalo's house stands. It is one of several structures inside the huge compound.
Police backup and barangay officials who stood by outside the compound said the operation was coordinated with them, but the purpose for the raid was not disclosed.
Barangay Councilor Jerry Gonzales said the police alerted them about the operation, but he added he did not know its purpose.
"When we arrived, they were already inside…. We are just here around the perimeters. We are not included in the team," said Chief Police Inspector Pipoy Cuden.
Journalists were blocked near the property as the operation was conducted. (READ: Masked men threaten media covering Iglesia conflict)
In an audio recording of the incident acquired by Rappler, people who entered the compound were heard shouting, "Dapa, dapa, dapa!" (Get down, get down, get down!)
After the break-in, the 29 residents of the house were led to the garage. The police asked for their names; the youngest was 8, the oldest was 63. They did not know what was happening inside their home.
"Nandito kami sa garage area. Hindi namin alam kung ano hinihintay namin. Hindi namin alam ano gagawin sa amin," Angel said. (We are in the garage area. We do not know what we are waiting for. We do not know what they will do to us.) This was before he was brought to Camp Karingal in Quezon City.
As this was happening, the lawyer of Angel Manalo's family – former Senator Rene Saguisag – was barred from entering the compound.
Saguisag said the INC is violating his clients' right to counsel as enshrined by the Philippine Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"I have been a lawyer since 1964, this is the only time I can't visit my client," he told Rappler.
In the months that he has handled the case, Saguisag has not spoken to his clients face to face. "The most was telephone or cellphone conversation with me at the gate," he said.
"Nothing like this happened in all the years that we were fighting Marcos," said Saguisag, who was a human rights lawyer during Martial Law.
In his restricted correspondence with the family, Saguisag got updates that they had been deprived of basic needs. Angel Manalo told Rappler that they would drink only boiled rainwater and ate rice and noodle stock.
"That should be allowed, freedom of religion, but not at the expense of basic human and constitutional rights – the right to counsel, the right to medical treatment," said Saguisag.
Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.