MANILA, Philippines – Lolita "Lottie" Manalo-Hemedez, the estranged sister of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) leader Eduardo Manalo, is questioning the church's ownership claims over 36 Tandang Sora in Quezon City – the basis of the INC's petition for injunction filed before a Quezon City court.
In September, the influential church filed a petition seeking to prohibit Lottie and her brother Angel from meeting visitors or accepting deliveries at the compound because of security concerns.
Hemedez, however, is challenging the church's right to make such demands based on its assertions of ownership. Her camp claims that Lottie Manalo and her late husband, Eduard Hemedez, own the land title to the 36 Tandang Sora residence – not the INC.
But a deed of sale was supposedly drawn up in April this year transferring the property from the Hemedez couple to the church. The alleged transfer of property came even before the Manalo siblings were expelled from the church.
In July, their elder brother and the INC's executive minister, Eduardo, expelled his own siblings and mother after they appeared in a YouTube video to ask for help, claiming that their lives were in danger. (INFOGRAPHIC: The Manalos of the Iglesia ni Cristo)
That triggered the series of events that led to the worst crisis that the 101-year-old church has faced in years, with former ministers exposing controversies and corruption allegations against top church officials.
The Manalo siblings have been residing at the Quezon City compound even after their expulsion. But their lawyer and supporters said they continue to face harassment from the church.
Photo obtained by Rappler
Dead person signed document?
The deed of sale that transferred the Tandang Sora property to the church was dated April 21, 2015, and bore the supposed signatures of Lottie and her husband.
But expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr said this could not have been signed by Lottie's husband, who died in April 2013.
"Can you imagine, two years after his death, he had apparently signed something? It's not a deed of sale, maybe you should call it 'dead of sale,'" Samson told reporters after last month's hearing.
Hemedez was supposed to testify before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 222 last November 23, but her testimony was rescheduled after the INC camp moved to defer proceedings.
"These people have the temerity to file the case. I think they're afraid that it will come out eventually," Samson said, adding that church officials may have been worried about the weight of Hemedez' testimony.
In an earlier interview with Rappler, Hemedez' lawyer, Trixie Cruz-Angeles, said the church has yet to provide conclusive proof that the Tandang Sora lot is its property.
During court proceedings, the INC presented 9 different land titles and the testimony of a surveyor. But the Manalo camp is contesting claims that the titles cover the Manalo residence.
Angeles also said that only the testimony of a public officer from the registry of deeds, not the surveyor presented by the INC, should be deemed credible.
Photo obtained by Rappler
In last month's hearing, INC lawyer Serafin Cuevas Jr asserted that the Tandang Sora compound is the church's property, and that the Manalo siblings were allowed to stay there only as a "privilege" because they are family members of former executive minister Eraño Manalo.
Cuevas also said that the Manalo camp has only raised questions about ownership "of late," and argued that it was irrelevant in the present case.
However, the church will answer the allegations at the proper time if needed, Cuevas added.
In the meantime, the gate of the property remains blocked with a portable toilet. – Rappler.com