Looking back: One year after the INC protests

KD Suarez
Looking back: One year after the INC protests
A year ago, members of the Iglesia took to the streets in a show of force after controversies and internal conflict rocked the influential church

MANILA, Philippines – On August 27, 2015, members of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) started massing up outside the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila.

It was the directive of the church leadership, a show of force to protest what the influential Philippine church considers the meddling of the state: the DOJ had received an illegal detention complaint filed by an expelled INC minister, and the church considered the DOJ’s intervention as a violation of the separation of church and state. 

The INC had been rocked by controversy during those weeks, after some of its members accused church officials of corruption, mishandling funds, and illegally detaining ministers. No less than the family of INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo appealed for help in a public video, claiming that their lives were in danger. 

By nightfall, hundreds were holding a vigil outside Padre Faura, with thousands more exhorted to come from nearby provinces.

This began the 5-day rally that would eventually paralyze streets and cause traffic gridlock when the protesters transferred to the major thoroughfare EDSA.

A year since the protest, Rappler takes a look back at the events that triggered the rally, and what has happened to key INC personalities and cases since then.

The protests: August 27-31, 2015

August 25, 2015: Expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr filed an illegal detention complaint before the DOJ, accusing members of the church’s highest body, the Sanggunian, of placing him and his family under house arrest. Samson claimed that INC leaders suspected him of running a blog that was critical of the church. 

August 27, 2015: Two days after the complaint was filed, INC members received a directive to mass up in front of the DOJ compound in Manila to fight for their faith and doctrine. They slammed then-DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima for allegedly showing bias by entertaining the complaint. (READ: Why De Lima is target of Iglesia ni Cristo’s anger)

But at the time, the DOJ’s preliminary investigation had not yet begun, and it had not even been assigned to a prosecutor.

Led by INC spokesman Edwil Zabala, at least 2,000 protesters cried persecution, and called for the state to stop interfering in what they said was an internal church matter. 

August 28, 2015: The crowd massing outside DOJ received orders to move to EDSA, prompting Malacañang to call a meeting with Cabinet officials and secretaries. 

By Friday afternoon, the protesters gathered around the historic EDSA shrine, snarling traffic and shutting down roads along the area. 

August 29, 2015: Metro Manila motorists were left stranded as thousands of protesters – about 5,000 according to the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority – occupied EDSA. 

The group moved to its main protest site at the intersection of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard, after the Mandaluyong city government granted the group’s request for permission to assemble

RALLY. INC members from different parts of the Philippines flock to EDSA-Shaw for their 4th day of protest on August 30, 2015. Photo by Pat Nabong/Rappler

August 30, 2015: On the fourth day of its protest, the church issued a directive to members in key cities in the Visayas and Mindanao to mobilize. The crowd in Manila had swelled to 13,000, according to police estimates; this number peaked to an estimated 20,000 people on August 31. The group’s rally permit lapsed on this day, but the Mandaluyong city government allowed INC members to stay the night for “humanitarian” reasons. 

August 31, 2015: The INC ended its 5-day protest, saying it had reached an “understanding” with the Aquino administration. The government insisted there was no deal or concessions given to the church. Palace insiders said the INC had wanted then-president Benigno Aquino III to sack De Lima, and for the DOJ to drop the illegal detention complaint filed against church leaders. 

The aftermath

Months after the church’s show of force on the streets of Manila, the fight within the INC’s ranks entered the courts. INC officials filed libel complaints against two former church workers, Samson and Lowell Menorca II. 

Lottie Manalo-Hemedez, the estranged sister of the INC executive minister, became locked in a dispute over the ownership of 36 Tandang Sora, where she and her brother Angel continued to reside even after their expulsion from the church in July 2015.

FACING RAPS. Expelled INC minister Isaias Samson Jr. accompanies Lolita Manalo-Hernandez at a court hearing on the petition for injunction filed by the INC in Quezon City on November 23, 2015. Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

September 2015: Samson appeared before a Quezon City court for the beginning of the preliminary investigation on the libel case filed against him on July 24, 2015. According to the complaint filed by church leaders, Samson had “uttered libelous comments” by accusing church leaders of illegally detaining him and his family. 

In his counter-affidavit, the ex-minister maintained that he did not make any “discreditable statement against the INC.” 

During this month, the INC also asked a Quezon City court to ban visitors to 36 Tandang Sora, where the estranged siblings of Eduardo Manalo reside, citing “security reasons.” 

October 2015: The relatives of Menorca filed petitions for writs of habeas corpus and amparo. They sought to compel the INC to produce Menorca and his family, who had gone missing and were allegedly abducted. 

Menorca was rescued the same day the Supreme Court directed Iglesia respondents to produce him and 3 others before the Court of Appeals (CA). 

November 3, 2015: The CA began hearings on Menorca’s case, which would last until early 2016. In these hearings, Menorca and his family presented testimonies to prove that they had been abducted, while the lawyers of the INC questioned their claims and the testimonies of witnesses

November 6, 2015: The preliminary hearing on Samson’s illegal detention complaint was held, but the INC leaders did not show up to file their response. 

November 17, 2015: Nearly 3 months after Samson filed the complaint that triggered the 5-day rally, the DOJ dismissed it, saying Samson failed to offer proof on his allegations against church officials. 

LEGAL CASES. Lottie Manalo-Hernadez (right) appears before a Quezon City court hearing a petition for injunction filed by the INC. Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

January 4, 2016: Lottie Manalo filed a complaint for falsification of public documents against her brother Eduardo. 

January 20, 2016: Menorca was arrested on his way to his CA hearing, on the basis of a libel case filed against him in Lanao del Norte. This would be the first of several libel cases against Menorca. His camp claimed that they never received notice regarding these cases, and branded them as attempts to derail his witness testimony at the CA.

ARRESTED. Ex-INC Minister Lowell Menorca is secured by police officers lead by Manila Police Director Rolando Nana (left) after he was presented a warrant of arrest for libel on Wednesday, January 20. Photo by Lito Boras/Rappler

January 22, 2016: Menorca was released after posting bail for his two libel cases, both filed in Mindanao. Hours before his release, he also received a subpoena for a 3rd libel case, this time filed in Cavite. His camp branded these complaints as forms of harassment against him.

January 26, 2016: Menorca took the witness stand at the CA for the first time, recounting how he had been allegedly abducted and detained supposedly on orders of the INC leadership. The INC camp, meanwhile, slammed his statements as “speculative” and “fanciful.” 

February 23, 2016: The Quezon City prosecutor’s office dismissed the libel complaints filed by the INC against Samson and other former ministers. 

March 7, 2016: Menorca failed to appear before his scheduled hearing at the CA, with his lawyers saying he had gone missing. Menorca was later spotted in Vietnam, where he and his family had fled, citing threats against their daughter. The INC branded him a fugitive, saying he fled to escape the pending libel cases against him. 

April 26, 2016: The CA junked Menorca’s petition for a writ of amparo for being “moot and academic,” as Menorca had already left the country.  

June 18, 2016: A Manila metropolitan trial court ordered the Manalo siblings to leave 36 Tandang Sora, acting on the ejectment case filed by the INC against them. 

August 7, 2016: A Quezon City court denied the request to issue a writ of execution to expel the Manalo siblings out of their Tandang Sora residence for lack of merit. – Rappler.com

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