Manalo sister defers testimony as INC withdraws TRO petition

MANILA, Philippines – Lottie Manalo-Hemedez once again failed to testify on Tuesday, February 9, after the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) withdrew its prayer for a temporary restraining order (TRO) in relation to the petition for injunction it filed before a Quezon City court last September 2015. 

INC counsel Willy Santos told the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 222 that there was no need for Hemedez to testify as a respondent in the petition because the church was already withdrawing its prayer for a TRO since "the objective of the petitioner is considered to be lapsed."

Last year, the 101-year-old church asked the court to ban visitors to 36 Tandang Sora – the compound where the estranged siblings of INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo currently reside even after being expelled from the INC last July. 

But Hemedez' lawyer, Trixie Cruz-Angeles, argued that Hemedez should still be allowed to testify on the alleged acts of harassment against the Manalo siblings.

Angeles added that they are now asking the court to "restore us to status quo ante," or the situation that existed before the INC filed its petition.

"It behooves us to be heard...It appears that they (INC) got everything they wanted without the issuance of a TRO," she said.

Judge Edgar Damacio Santos said the situation was "absurd", as the petitioner was now moving to withdraw its prayer for a TRO yet the respondent is insisting on presenting a witness to continue proceedings for the case.

Santos said the court was in no position to deny the INC's motion to withdraw its prayer for a TRO. He eventually decided to postpone Hemedez' testimony until all other motions for reconsideration, incidents, and other issues previously filed by both parties have been resolved. 

Hemedez' testimony has been reset to March 15.

Testimony to prove ownership claim

In her argument before the court, Angeles said that Hemedez' testimony would serve to prove that the petitioners have no clear right to the two-hectare Tandang Sora property. (READ: Who owns 36 Tandang Sora? Manalo sister questions INC claims)

The lawyer earlier said that the INC had no right to put up fences, a guardhouse and portalet that block the driveway, or to demand a list of the compound's occupants because the title to the property was under Hemedez' name – a claim that the INC is also contesting.

The church claims the two-hectare lot has been theirs since the 1970s, but Hemedez is asserting her claim over the property through the land title she owns and the precedent set by her father.

She has also filed a complaint for falsification of public documents against her own brother, after claiming that the INC had falsified a deed of sale supposedly transferring the property to the church.

Hemedez' camp also accused the INC of disregarding court process when it allegedly allowed workers to construct fences inside the contested property, and continuing to do so despite a court order issued in December ordering a temporary halt to all construction at the compound.

Angeles said that the Manalo siblings continue to face "inhuman" living conditions, with both electricity and water supply now cut off. INC guards were also preventing the Manalos' househelp from freely entering and leaving the compound, she added.

"We're asking the court, in the interest of humanity and compassion, that the status quo ante be preserved," Angeles said.

'Humanitarian grounds'

Despite the postponement of Hemedez' testimony, the court decided to grant the request of the Manalo camp to allow doctors to enter the disputed compound on "humanitarian grounds."

Doctors and dentists bearing identification cards will now be allowed to enter 36 Tandang Sora during clinic hours to examine and treat members of the Manalo family. The court directed Angeles to provide the INC with the names of the doctors at least 24 hours before a scheduled visit.

The Manalo camp also asked to be allowed to bring inside cans to collect water and to allow househelp to come in and out of the compound.

The INC, however, rejected these requests. Santos said the cans may be used to bring flammable materials inside the compound. He also said the Manalos' househelp have been "arrogant and intimidating," and that they were not authorized to be inside the compound in the first place. –