Police recover weaponry inside INC compound, but who's liable?

MANILA, Philippines – The Quezon City Police District (QCPD) and the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) presented to the media on Thursday, March 9, recovered weapons from the contested Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) compound in Quezon City.

The police said they found 73 firearms, 89 grenades, and more than 17,000 live ammunitions inside the contested 36 Tandang Sora in Quezon City on Wednesday, March 8.

The police stopped short of saying which direction the investigation will head – in the direction of dismissed INC member Felix Nathaniel "Angel" Manalo who was arrested March 2, or the INC as an institution which has an ownership claim on the compound. Angel is the younger brother of Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo.

NCRPO Director Oscar Albayalde, however, said he does not believe the weaponry belong to the INC.

"INC claims they own the place but they are not staying there so how could they amass these firearms? Hindi nila (INC) alam kung ano ang pinasok do'n over the years, kaya nila tayo binigyan ng explicit permission, para malinis na rin 'yung property of anything illegal otherwise macha-charge sila, otherwise hindi naman nila 'yan ipapa-clear kung alam nila na may ganyan karami," Albayalde said on Thursday.

(INC claims they own the place but they are not staying there so how could they amass these firearms? The INC does not know what have been brought inside the compound over the years, that's why they gave us explicit permission to clean the property of anything illegal otherwise they would be charged. They would not have allowed us to clear it if they knew there were that many weapons inside.)

Charges against Manalo

One thing is clear at this point: Angel Manalo will face non-bailable charges of illegal possession of firearms based on the recommendation of the Quezon City Prosecutor's Office. (READ: WATCH: Angel Manalo speaks to supporters after arrest)

Manalo will be charged for the 6 firearms recovered on March 2 in his house inside the compound. The no-bail recommendation, according to the police, was based on Manalo's admission during the preliminary investigation that he owns the house.

His nephew Victor Eraño Manalo-Hemedez will be similary charged but with bail, while another occupant of the house, Jonathan Ledesma, will be charged for direct assault with frustrated murder for allegedly shooting two cops during the March 2 raid.

The question is: why were the cops unable to recover the entire weaponry on March 2 when they already had the search warrant? Albayalde explained that it was not covered by the warrant.

"There were several buildings there, at ang una nating sinearch 'yung kay Ka Angel lang kung saan siya nag-o-occupy, these ones were in the other building so you cannot search the whole compound without search warrant, because specific 'yung search warrant," Albayalde said.

(There were several buildings there, we searched the house that Ka Angel was occupying, these [weapons] were in the other buildings so you cannot search the whole compound without a search warrant, because the search warrant was specific.)

The warrant was issued on March 1 by Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 106. The warrant, signed by RTC 1st Vice Executive Judge Angelene Mary Quimpo-Sale, said there was probable cause to believe that a violation of the firearms law had been committed inside 36 Tandang Sora.

We asked the police: is 36 Tandang Sora Manalo's house only, or is it the entire compound?

"For us, for law enforcement purposes, when we applied for [a] search warrant, [it covered] the number 36 fronting Tandang Sora, as to the exact boundaries of property therein and within the periphery and vicinity, that is for the court to decide," QCPD District Director Police Superintendent Joselito Esquivel Jr said.

Ownership dispute

The QCPD recovered the massive weaponry in an abandoned building near Manalo's house inside the compound on March 8. The clearing was based on "explicit permission" from the INC leadership to reenter the compound and rid it of any illegal objects and activities.

"Parang lumalabas na voluntary surrender kasi they did not know about this. Ang sinabi sa akin ay they are giving the explicit permission for the elements of the QCPD to search the other building, so whatever we get there puwedeng kunin do'n," Albayalde said.

(This is taken as a voluntary surrender because they did not know about this. What I was told is that they gave explicit permission for the elements of the QCPD to search the other building, so whatever we get there, we could get.)

The compound is the subject of an ownership dispute between Manalo and the INC. (READ: Angel Manalo seeks help vs demolition of home in INC compound)

The Manila Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 12 earlier ordered Manalo to vacate the property. In August 2016, however, QC RTC Branch 43 turned down the petition for writ of execution filed by the INC and effectively allowed Manalo to stay inside the compound.

This is the latest in the scandals that have rocked the INC that all began when Manalo posted a YouTube video saying there have been threats to their lives for exposing widespread corruption inside their church.

Since then, Manalo has decried harassment from INC, including the ownership claim, their electricity being cut off due to an unpaid P1-million bill, and not receiving food and water rations. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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