MANILA, Philippines – Months since the controversy in the influential Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) erupted, Lolita "Lottie" Manalo-Hemedez appeared in public for the first time on Monday, November 23, to testify before a Quezon City court.
But the estranged sister of INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo was unable to present her testimony as a respondent in the petition filed by the influential church, which seeks to prohibit Lottie and her brother Angel from meeting visitors or accepting deliveries at the INC compound in Tandang Sora because of security concerns.
The INC, represented by lawyer Serafin Cuevas Jr, asked to defer the proceedings pending a decision on their motion to expunge the respondents' answer.
Cuevas argued that the Manalos' answer to the INC petition should not be admitted into records of the case because it was filed 8 days from the due date.
"Respondents at best is deemed to be in default. Whatever they have presented as evidence should now be ordered expunged or stricken off the record along with their answer," the motion read.
With the court's decision on the motion and the submission of Manalo-Hemedez's judicial affidavit still pending, she is set to testify on the next hearing date on December 16.
Lottie and her brother, Felix Nathaniel "Angel" Manalo, have been residing at the INC compound in Quezon City even after being expelled from the powerful church last July.
Their elder brother and the INC's leader, Eduardo, expelled his siblings and his mother after they claimed that their lives were in danger.
Angel Manalo later spoke out against corruption within the church. (INFOGRAPHIC: The Manalos of the Iglesia ni Cristo)
In September, the INC asked the court to ban visitors from the compound.
The Manalos' camp, however, hit the move as part of a "series of oppressive acts" against the siblings.
In an interview after the proceedings, expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr said top church officials may have been worried about the weight of Hemedez's testimony, which he described as "explosive."
"Siguro medyo iniiwasan nila si Ka Lottie sa witness stand at marahil ay mayroon siyang isang eksplosibong sasabihin, kaya they're trying to prevent her from doing so," he said.
(They're probably trying to stop Lottie from taking the witness stand because she may have something "explosive" to reveal, so they're trying to prevent her from doing so.)
Samson also said that the siblings continue to be harassed by top church officials. The Manalo camp earlier hit the installation of additional security cameras, a guardhouse, and a portable toilet that blocked the driveway of the compound.
The former INC minister also claimed another move allegedly made by the INC camp: a deed of sale allegedly faked to bear the signatures of Lottie and her late husband, Edward Hemedez.
The supposed deed of sale, dated April 2015, transferred the 36 Tandang Sora residence to the church. Edward Hemedez, however, died in April 2013.
Speaking to reporters after the proceedings, Cuevas denied that he filed the motion to delay Hemedez's testimony.
To avoid his objections from being considered waived or moot, Cuevas said that he asked the court to defer proceedings.
The INC counsel also reiterated that the church only wanted to know the occupants of the compound for security reasons.
"Ang iniiwasan lang naman namin ay kung may makapasok na hindi namin nalalaman, na hindi namin kilala. Kung may nangyari sa kanila sa loob, ang sisisihin ang Iglesia...Pagmamalasakit din sa magkabilang panig doon," Cuevas said.
(What we're trying to prevent is someone we don't know being able to enter the compound. If something happens to the Manalos there, it's the Iglesia leadership that will be blamed...This is also for the benefit of both parties.) – Rappler.com