MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Jejomar Binay said allegations that top officials of the religious group Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) abducted and attempted to kill a former minister must be proven in court.
The opposition standard-bearer warned against “jumping into conclusions” that members of the INC leadership put the life of ousted minister Lowell Menorca and his family in danger as the influential, secretive church faces its worst crisis.
A lawyer, Binay said the statements Menorca made in an emotional press briefing on Sunday, October 25, have yet to be verified.
“Eh tumatalon na tayo. Tumitingala na kayo na may conviction. Wala pa naman. Allegations pa lang. These must be proven. You must listen to the explanation,” Binay told reporters in Pasay on Monday, October 26.
(We are already jumping into conclusions. You are already assuming there is a conviction. There is still no judgment. These are still allegations.)
A tearful Menorca faced the media along with his wife to recount his ordeal in the past 3 months when he was supposedly detained. Menorca accused members of the INC advisory council of having him kidnapped and detained on the suspicion that he was the blogger exposing alleged corruption and anomalies in the church.
Menorca said other suspected dissenters were detained, warning against another INC rally at the main EDSA highway to protest a court order for executive minister Eduardo Manalo to appear before the Court of Appeals on November 3.
The INC leadership said it will address Menorca's allegations at the proper venue.
Binay and other presidential contenders have weighed in on the INC crisis since reports of a rift and the abduction of dissident ministers first surfaced in July.
The INC is a politically powerful group because of its solid bloc voting, with an estimated 1.37 million registered voters in 2013. Political analysts have said that the INC bargains with politicians to gain concessions in exchange for endorsements, a charge the group denied. (READ: INC: From rag-tag sect to influential wheeler-dealer?)
In the 2010 polls, the INC endorsed the candidacy of Binay's rival, former interior secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, along with President Benigno Aquino III.
In past months, Binay criticized the Aquino administration for pursuing the investigation into the alleged abductions as an attempt to “control” the INC. The Vice President cited “religious freedom” in questioning the justice department's probe into the accusations.
'I am also a victim of false claims'
Now, Binay compared Menorca's statements to the corruption allegations he faces. The Vice President is the subject of a yearlong Senate inquiry, and Ombudsman and money-laundering investigations into claims he earned kickbacks from overpriced projects as Makati mayor.
“Iyon na nga sinasabi namin eh kasi ako nga biktima niyan, Mga bintang-bintang, demolition by perception so huwag naman tayo mag-jump agad. Husgado lang magsasabi kung may kasalanan o wala,” Binay said.
(That's what we are saying because even I am a victim of that, these claims, demolition by perception. So let's not jump into conclusions. Only a court will say if the INC is guilty or not.)
The politician repeatedly decrying political persecution said the rule of law must prevail in the INC case.
He encouraged the public to suspend judgement until the INC gives its side in the issue.
“Aba ay may paliwanag din naman ang INC so i-handle ang lahat, rule of law, hindi rule by law,” Binay said. (The INC also has an explanation so let's handle this through rule of law, not rule by law.)
The INC crisis is seen as a test for candidates in the 2016 polls in a country where politicians traditionally court the support of the group.
Politicians were divided over the INC's August protest that stopped traffic in Metro Manila, and inconvenienced motorists stuck on the road for hours.
INC members occupied the EDSA thoroughfare for 3 days to protest the government's investigation into the illegal detention case filed by Isaias Samson Jr, expelled minister and former editor-in-chief of INC's official publication Pasugo.
Back then, Binay said the INC members were merely “protecting their faith.” Independent Senator Grace Poe had a similar opinion, saying the rights of the protesters must be respected. Some etizens criticized the two for their statements.
Administration standard-bearer Roxas took a different stand. He then said that while the INC's right to peaceful assembly must be respected, “the exercise of these rights cannot impinge on the rights of others or cause inconvenience to anyone.” – Rappler.com