Former Iglesia minister appears in court over libel complaint

MANILA, Philippines – Former Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) minister Isaias Samson Jr appeared before a Quezon City court on Wednesday, September 16, for the start of the preliminary investigation on the libel case filed against him by senior church officials. 

Samson, accompanied by his lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles, received a copy of the complaint-affidavit signed by INC's legal counsel, Glicerio Santos IV.

The INC filed a libel complaint against Samson on July 24, after the former church minister made several media statements alleging corruption within the powerful church and accusing senior leaders of placing him and his family under house arrest.

Samson, who was also editor-in-chief of the INC's official publication Pasugo, has since been expelled for "disobedience" and "refusal to submit." (READ: Expelled INC minister: Don't cover up wrongdoing)

Samson declined to comment on the accusations against him, saying he has yet to read the complaint-affidavit. His lawyer said they are set to file a counter-affidavit next Wednesday, September 23.

According to the complaint, Samson "uttered libelous statements" during televised interviews in which he accused church leaders of illegally detaining him and his family at their Quezon City townhouse from July 16 until July 23. He also said that INC leaders also confiscated his computer, cellphone, bag, and passport. 

The INC said that by making these allegations, Samson "blackened the reputation of the INC and committed libel."

"In effect, Samson cast the INC as a church that condoned and permitted its members to commit felonies when it supposedly illegally detained Samson, as he claimed," the complaint read.

The complaint also pointed out that Samson showed malice – one of the elements necessary to accuse a person of libel – because his remarks "cast INC in a bad light and scurried its reputation."

Double standards

A month after the INC filed a libel complaint against him, Samson countered with a complaint of his own. He filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) harassment, illegal detention, coercion, and grave threat charges against senior church officials.

Named respondents in the complaint are Glicerio Santos Jr, Radel Cortez, Bienvenido Santiago Sr, Mathusalem Pareja, Rolando Esguerra, Eraño Codera, Rodelio Cabrera and Maximo Bularan Jr, members of the INC's highest administrative body, the Sanggunian.

It was this complaint, filed on August 25, that prompted the powerful church to mobilize its flock, triggering a 5-day street protest outside the DOJ and later on the major thoroughfare EDSA that disrupted traffic and earned backlash from some quarters.

The thousands of INC members who gathered for that 5-day street vigil accused the government of violating the constitutional provision on the separation of church and state. 

But Samson hit the double standards used by INC leaders for their convenience.

"They filed [the libel complaint] against me several weeks before, long before I filed my complaint against them for illegal detention. Sila ang nauna. Kaya mabuti na lang at hindi nila isinangkalan ang separation of church and state noong sila ay mag-file. Sinangkalan na lang nila 'yun noong ako na ang nag-file," he said.

(They filed a complaint against me first. It's a good thing they didn't bring up the 'separation of church and state' provision when they filed that. They only brought it up when it was my turn to file a complaint against them.)

Not against Eduardo Manalo

Samson also denied he was attacking INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo and that he wanted to establish a separate church.

"Hindi po totoo. Mahal ko ang kapatid na Eduardo Manalo at hindi ko magagawa na mag-file ng demanda laban sa kanya. At hindi ko rin kakalabanin ang Iglesia sapagka't mahal ko ang Iglesia," he said.

(That is not true. I love Brother Eduardo Manalo and I cannot file a case against him. I am not going against the Church, because I love the Church.)

Samson also said that by filing his complaint against senior church officials, he hopes more allegations of corruption will be revealed – necessary, he said, for the "restoration" of the church.

"What I want in the church is not simply reformation, but restoration. That's why I was forced to hide and to really think about filing the illegal detention complaint, hoping that at the end of the day, more corruption will be revealed through this," he said.

"Sana maintindihan ng mga kapatid na hindi po ang kapatid na Eduardo Manalo and not the church na kinakalaban ko, kundi ang nakikita kong mali na ginagawa ng mga kasamahan ko," he added.

(I hope my fellow brethren will understand that it is not Brother Eduardo Manalo and the Church that I am against, but the wrongdoings committed by some of my fellow brothers.) 

The INC is facing its worst crisis in years, with leadership controversies and corruption allegations threatening to divide followers within the powerful institution. 

The church's leadership, however, has denied Samson's allegations and insists that followers remain loyal despite the controversies. Rappler.com