INC minister Lowell Menorca: The story of my kidnapping

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INC minister Lowell Menorca: The story of my kidnapping

Lito Boras

Abducted and rescued, former Iglesia ni Cristo minister Lowell Menorca recounts the ordeal he survived. This is his story in his own words.

(Editor’s Note: This is based on Lowell Menorca’s narration made during his October 25 press conference at the Bayview Hotel in Manila. He has been expelled from the Iglesia ni Cristo since his kidnapping made it to the news.)

I was kidnapped in Sorsogon. It was ironically this same suit I’m wearing that I wore when I officiated the worship service. It was right after the worship service that I realized the district minister Ernesto Mabasa, the KSKP minister Renato Sacdalan, and the technical minister Bien Sebastian were accomplices in the kidnapping.

They were with me when we officiated the worship service, after which I changed into a barong and I was surprised for the first time since I was assigned in that locale, there were no brethren inside, after the worship service. That’s very unusual because a lot of people there – especially it’s a remote province – they would hang around the vicinity for a while.

I went outside. I saw the police officers. If I’m not mistaken, there were around 3 uniformed officers wearing the badge of QCPD [Quezon City Police District] and 3 officers in civilian clothes. One of them I recognized, and if I’m not mistaken, his surname is Suba. I’m just not sure if he’s a police officer but he’s a brethren and I’ve known him because he was one of the security inside Central before.

They approached me with long rifles, they pounded at me, and they kept on shouting, “Dapa! Dapa! Dapa kung ayaw mong masaktan (Get down! Get down! Get down, if you don’t want to get hurt).”

I was thinking to myself, I wouldn’t drop down because I was wearing a barong, I had no intention of running. I’m no Superman, I couldn’t fly, so I just bowed my head and prayed. They approached me and put the handcuffs behind me, frisked me and then put a jacket on my head, covered me up and dragged me all the way outside. I was able to get a glimpse of the whole chapel compound, surrounded by police officers, and there were a lot of non-members there too.

I was dragged into a high-end ambulance, and then swiftly, they convoyed outside, put me in another vehicle, which is a coaster, a high-end coaster. Inside, the first person I easily recognized was a minister, Benefrido Santiago. He was the team leader of the operation, and then there were also armed, heavily-armed and uniformed people inside, and the one driving the vehicle was another minister, Roldan Gavino.

Police in uniform

I was still handcuffed, we traveled all the way to Dasmariñas. We arrived there probably around 2 am. I was interrogated in between, I remained in handcuffs, my hands were bleeding, I don’t know if there are still scars on my wrists, and this would prove that the handcuffs were really tight…

Around 2 am we stopped over at the safehouse there in Dasmariñas. When I saw the signage Dasmariñas that’s when I got confirmation my best friend and our groomsman Attorney Vimar Barcellano was indeed behind this too.

We stopped at a safehouse there in Dasmariñas. A lot of people were inside the coaster and the other vehicles that escorted us inside the Prado, a white Prado, and a black Fortuner and another vehicle. They went inside and I remained inside the coaster. After waiting for another 30 minutes, another officer went inside.

There was a high-ranking officer inside the coaster. I knew that he was a high-ranking officer because he had a high-ranking officer uniform and the other policeman would salute him. If I’m not mistaken, if I were to see a picture, I would probably [be able to] confirm [his identity]…

I asked them, “Where are you taking me?” They told me everything will be fine now, dadalhin ka na namin para makita mo na pamilya mo (we will take you so you can see your family).

So the coaster followed a small red, dilapidated Kia, if I’m not mistaken. The other vehicles remained in the compound, in the safehouse, and it was just the coaster and the red vehicle.

Grenade by the cemetery

It stopped along a highway. I think if I’m not mistaken, it was a cemetery. It parked, then the driver exited and I alighted from the coaster and they immediately had me sit down on the driver seat. As you can see I’m a big guy, that was a small vehicle, so the steering wheel was already [close to] my chest, and they locked the door and immediately, they left the scene. The person who drove the red car went to the back side – if I were on the driver’s side, he would be on the right side, he went there and threw a round thing inside the car at the back seat. I knew that it was a grenade, even though it was dark, I saw that it was round.

And then from that moment on, I just bowed down my head and prayed, I prayed for my wife and my child, so if anything were to happen to me, God would protect them so that they won’t be involved in this situation that I’m in. But after my prayer, realizing that [the grenade] didn’t go off, I did everything I can to transfer to the passenger side, and unlocked the door. I was able to run for another few meters.

Probably, the people who got me realized there was no explosion, they went back, they looked for me and found me at the side of the road. They picked me up again and told me, why did I leave? Then the guy who was manhandling me called a person on the phone and told him, “Bakit anong nangyari? Bakit hindi natuloy? Sabi niya sige, tawagan mo na lang yung tao mo para pumunta na doon (Why, what happened? Why didn’t it push through? He said, go ahead and just call your guy so he could go there).”

I didn’t know what that was all about, I just know their initial plan of killing me via grenade didn’t work.

They went back and the guy was still on the phone. “Iyan na ba yung tao mo (Is he your man)? [he asked], because there was a policeman already standing in front of the car.

…Then I was brought down again. This time I was seated at the back seat. I was being hysterical because the grenade was still there. With my hands at my back, I tried to reach for the grenade and found it, and I was able to hold it. And just thinking if it didn’t explode, probably by holding the trigger I [could] still be able to make sure it [didn’t] explode.

I [told] the policeman, “There’s a grenade in here.” He was trying to play dumb. “What grenade, there’s no grenade there,” [he said.]

“There is a grenade here,” [I said], and I showed it to him, I gave it to him. He got it and gave it to another guy where the driver of the Kia before used, which was a red Vios. I think they put a tape on it.

The policeman who was about to apprehend me talked to whoever [it] was on the phone. I gave him the phone and they talked, they talked for a while, and then he ran back to the car and this time he was the one who drove it.

We drove for a couple of minutes and it was an isolated area and this time I realized [that] their plan was really to kill me. And when we were already in a very isolated area, he was already looking for a gun.

I asked him, “What are you looking for?” Sabi niya, wala bang iniwang baril? (He said, wasn’t there a gun left behind?) Sabi ko (I said),None that I know of.

And even if I knew, why would I tell him? But I said, I didn’t know, I didn’t see anything. And that’s when I begged him.

Begging for life

I told him, “Please don’t kill me.” Sabi ko, maawa ka na sa akin. Sir, sabi ko, hindi po ako masamang tao. Ang katunayan po, ministro po ako ng Iglesia ni Cristo. Maawa na po kayo sa akin, meron po akong asawa, meron pa akong isang anak. Bata pa po ang anak ko, isa’t kalahating taon pa lang, ngayon pa lang natututong magsalita. I was already crying to him. I am not a bad person.

(I said, please have pity on me. Sir, I said, I’m not a bad person. The truth is, I am a minister of the Iglesia ni Cristo. Please have pity on me, I have a wife, I have one child. My child is still young, just a year-and-a-half, and only learning how to talk.)

Sabi ko sa kanya, huwag ‘nyo po naman sanang hayaan na lumaki ‘yung anak kong walang ama. (I told him, please don’t allow my child to grow up without a father.)

He [asked] me, “Bakit ka ba kasi nandito? (Why are you here in the first place?)”

I asked him if he was a brethren, kung kapatid siya. Sabi niya, “No, kayang-kaya kong gawin kahit anong pinagagawa sa akin (He said, “No, that’s why I can do whatever they ask me to do).”

Sabi ko, “Please don’t kill me, because I know that was the plan already. ‘Wag ho naman ninyo ako patayin, gagawin ko ho kahit anong gustong ipagawa sa akin basta buhayin niyo lang po ako sapat para mabuhay pa at makasama ko pa yung pamilya ko balang araw (Please don’t kill me, I will do whatever you want me to do, so long as you let me live long enough for me to be with my family some day).”

Sabi niya, “Alam mo kasi eh may ginawa kang masama.” (He said, “You know it’s because you did something bad.”)

In his head, he’s thinking, I was one of those rich untouchable criminals that they just had to execute. That’s why I repeatedly told him that I was a minister, that I’m not a bad person.

And then upon realizing that, he said, “Eh bakit ka ba kasi nandito? (But why are you here?)”

He got his phone and called, and that’s the first confirmation [I got] because that’s the time when I heard the name Vimar. He was saying to the person he was talking to, “Hindi, ipagpaalam mo na lang kay Sir, eh dadalhin ko na lang sa presinto ito.” Eh sabi tulog na. “Hindi, gisingin mo si Sir Vimar,” [he said.]

(No, inform Sir that I’m just taking him to the precinct. He was told he was asleep already. “No, wake up Sir Vimar.)

That’s how I confirmed it, and then we, he, made a U-turn.

Powerful people

Instead of killing me there, he said, “Sige, ganitong gagawin natin ha, naawa ako sa iyo eh. Sinasabi mo hindi ka naman masamang tao, eh hindi ko kayang pumatay ng walang kasalanan.” Sabi niya, “Pero tandaan mo, kung kinakailangan gagawin ko, hindi mo naman ako kapatid sa Iglesia.

(“Okay, this is what we will do. I pity you. You’re saying you’re not a bad person and I can’t bring myself to kill someone who is innocent.” He said, “But remember, if I need to do it, I will, because I am not Iglesia brethren.”)

…Nagpasalamat ako sa kanya. Sabi ko, “Kahit ano pong pagawa niyo sa akin, gagawin ko.” And then he told me, “Sige, dadalhin kita sa presinto, pakakasuhan na lang kita. Kung anong ipapakaso ko sa iyo, umoo ka na lang.”

(I thanked him. I said, “Whatever you ask me to do I will do.” And then he told me, “Okay, I will bring you to the precinct and have you charged there. Whatever you are charged with, just accept it.”)

…Pagdating namin doon, again he briefed me, gave me an overview…[and said], “Baka mamaya magsusumbong ka doon sa mga kasama mo, baka pag may dumating na media diyan eh ako naman ipahamak mo.”

(When we arrived there, he again briefed me and gave me an overview, and said, “You might complain to your brethren, and if the media arrive, you might put me in trouble.”)

Sabi ko, “Hindi po, hindi po ako magsasalita. Kung ano pong sinabi niyo sa akin ‘yun pong sasabihin.”

(I said, “No, no, I won’t talk. Whatever you told me, that’s what I will say.”)

I entered the precinct. They were all asking me what my charge was. I didn’t have anything to answer. I didn’t know what they were charging me [with], only to realize in the end that I was being charged with possessing a grenade.

And when they were asking me for the details…,I couldn’t give them any details because I didn’t know exactly what they drafted for the case. And I asked the policeman, sabi ko, “Sir, yun pong chinarge niyo sa akin, sa pagkakaalam ko po, non-bailable ‘yun eh. Paano naman ho ako makakaalis pa nito para makita kong pamilya ko?”

(I said, “Sir, from what I know, what you charged me with is non-bailable. How will I be able to leave and see my family?”)

Sabi niya sa akin, “Alam mo, kung sino man ang gumawa sa iyo nito, eh napaka-obvious naman makapangyarihan. Tandaan mo, napag-utusan lang ako ng mas mataas sa akin at siya, napag-utusan ng mas mataas sa kanya kaya sumusunod lang kami sa nag-uutos. Eh hindi namin kaya ito, makapangyarihan ang gumawa nito, kaya, natitiyak ko, kapag kinulong ka, kung sinuman ang gumawa nito sa iyo, sila rin ang maaaring mag-alis nito.”

(He told me, “You know, whoever did this to you is obviously powerful. Remember, I am just taking orders from a superior who, in turn, is taking orders from his superior, so we are just following orders. But we can’t handle this. Someone powerful did this that’s why I’m certain that if you’re imprisoned, whoever it is who did this to you is the only one who can undo it.”)

So he gave me that assurance that even though it was a criminal offense – it was a non-bailable criminal charge – that whoever was responsible, had the power and influence to…just erase it like that.

So I believed them and actually I didn’t have any choice, and then that’s the reason why I was charged with illegal possession…

Brought to fiscal’s house

The funny thing is, they took me to the fiscal who signed [the papers]. I think it was a holiday, they took me there, they covered my eyes so I wouldn’t see because we went to the residence of the fiscal and I didn’t know that the two people who were there inside the police vehicle with us…were just ordinary-looking people.

I didn’t know that they were the ones…they got to file the charge against me. And once we got there, he introduced the fiscal. “Eto na po yung…(This is the guy).” And then they gave the paper. The fiscal asked me, “O, alam mo ba itong ano, bakit ka ba may dalang granada? (Do you know this? Why do you have a grenade with you?)”

Of course I couldn’t answer, and then the policeman just told me, “Don’t answer anything.”

[The fiscal said], “So basta, alam mo itong pinapasok mo (As long as you know what you are getting into).”

Then pinirmahan niya, tapos tinanong niya yung dalawa…(Then he signed then questioned the two)…Eventually I learned that they were construction workers.

Tinanong niya, “Ano bang nangyari?” Nagkatinginan yung dalawang construction workers, hindi rin nila alam. Hanggang sa sinabi na lang nila eh, “Kasi po nakita kong may dala siyang granada.” Tapos eh hindi ko alam kung papaano nila napaniwala yung piskal. Yung dalawang construction workers, they were small and they’re thin, payat sila, and they said na they were able to overpower me with the hand grenade.

(He asked, “What happened?” The two construction workers looked at each other because they also didn’t know. Until they just said, “It’s because we saw him with a grenade.” Then I don’t know how they made the fiscal believe them. These two construction workers, they were small and they’re thin and they said they were able to overpower me with the hand grenade.)

So if this is not fiction, I don’t know what is. But again, by some miracle, they were able to overpower me and were able to retrieve the hand grenade, according to them, from my hand. And that’s when they reported me to the authorities.

The only thing I could say is yes, and the fiscal asked me if anybody knew where I was, if anybody could contact my relatives, and I said no, and then he signed the papers and I was again blind-folded and taken away. And then they were telling me stories.… It was a long way from the precinct and they were telling me…that they were amazed that it happened to me.

They did not know the reason why, all they knew is that they were instructed by their superiors and their superiors were instructed by their superiors.

And they were telling me, “Alam mo, kung sino man may gumawa sa iyo nito, napakamakapangyarihan. Kaya ikaw lang ang makakapag-paalis din nito.” (You know, whoever did this to you is extremely powerful. That’s why you’re the only one who can make all this go away.)

…Sabi niya, “Ilang araw mula ngayon, tiyak dadalawin ka ng kung sinumang taong may kinalaman dito para kausapin ka. Ang maipapayo ko lang sa iyo, kung ano man ang gusto nila, kung anuman ang kailangan nila, hingin nila sa iyo, ibigay mo na kasi sila lang ang puwedeng magtanggal nito.”

(He said, “Several days from now, whoever is behind this will surely visit you to talk to you. My only advice to you is, whatever it is they want, whatever it is they need or ask from you, give it to them because they are the only ones who can undo this.)

Picked up construction workers

…They were the ones who told me those two guys were just construction workers. “…Eto ngang dalawang ito, kinuha lang namin diyan eh, dinampot lang namin eh (These two, we just picked them up).”

[Addressing the two and scolding them, he said], “Kayo naman…hindi kayo marunong magdrama, dapat medyo may konting ano naman, eh nagbigay naman kayo ng mga detalye, hindi yung sasabihin niyo na na-overpower niyo, eh ang laki-laki nito. Sana sinabi niyo na lang na ganito, sabi ng isang pulis. Dalawa kasi yun eh. Dalawang pulis sa may likod tapos dalawang pulis sa may harap. Ito naman itong bata mo, sabi niya, “Hindi naman marunong umakting.” Sabi, “Sige di bale, sulit naman yung dalawang daan sa inyo.” They gave them P200 each.

(You guys, you didn’t know how to act, you should have tried a little and given a few details instead of just saying you overpowered him when he’s so much bigger than you. You could have said this, said one police officer. Because there were two of them. There were two police officers at the back and two in front. One said, “Your man doesn’t know how to act” then added, “Never mind, the P200 is more than enough for you.”)

So sabi sa akin, o huwag kang mag-alala, kasi sila din naman ang magiging daan para matanggal yung kaso mo, dahil pagka hindi na sila nagpakita sa hearing, pagka binaba na nila yung ano, yung desistance nila, o di mapapalaya ka na…

(So they told me, don’t worry because they will also be the means for the dissolution of your case because once they don’t show up in the hearing, when they put down their desistance you will be set free.)

Tapos tinanong nila ako, ano bang nangyari sa akin? Tutal atin-atin lang naman. Sinabi ko sa kanila what happened to me in Sorsogon and then they were the ones who said, “Hindi pala malinis trumabaho ang Iglesia, ano?” Sabi ko, “Bakit naman ho?”

Eh kasi naman, biruin mo, pupunta sila doon sa Sorsogon tapos naka-uniporme pa sila, QCPD. Wala na sa jurisdiction ninyo, dapat doon na lang sa Sorsogon di ba? Doon na lang trinabaho yan. Tapos galing kang Sorsogon, tapos dito ka dadalhin sa amin? Kami tuloy ang mapuputukan kapag pumutok yang ano na yan, yang issue na yan.

(Imagine, they went to Sorsogon wearing QCPD uniforms. It’s beyond their jurisdiction so they should have left it to Sorsogon, right? It should have been taken care of there. Then from Sorsogon, you’re brought here to us? When this issue explodes, we’ll bear the brunt of it.)

Tapos, ang sabi niya, bakit sila mag-o-operate ng ganyan na may pagkakakilanlan sa kanila, wala silang warrant of arrest na pinakita, wala silang ginawang procedure. Tapos ang masama pa diyan, ginawa nila yan, ang daming witnesses.

(Then, he said, why would they operate that way with possible identification by others, without a warrant of arrest shown, without a procedure. Then worse, they did it with a lot of witnesses.)

Barangay piyesta pala doon sa inyo, ginawa nila ’yan. Kaya sila mismo nagsabi, “Parang hindi masyadong marunong sa ganyang operation ang Iglesia ano?”

(They did it during the barangay fiesta. That’s why they themselves said, “It appears the Iglesia does not know how to do these types of operations, right?”)

Of course I didn’t say anything any more. So that’s actually the wonderful story of how it happened. –

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