Masked men threaten media covering Iglesia conflict

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Random masked men and police drove away a Rappler researcher and production specialist at 36 Tandang Sora, the subject of conflicting ownership claims within the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC).

At 8 am Thursday, March 2, police entered the contested Tandang Sora compound supposedly armed with a search warrant. Later in the day, Angel Manalo, younger brother of Iglesia ni Cristo Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo, told Rappler the policemen could not show them a search warrant.

Barangay Councilor Jerry Gonzales said the police alerted them about an "operation" but he did not know the purpose of that operation. More than 20 policemen stood waiting outside the gate of the property Thursday morning.

“Pagdating namin meron nang nakapasok na tropa natin sa loob…Dito lang naman kami sa perimeters…Kasi yung team nila nandoon, hindi naman kami kasama sa team nila sa loob,” he told Rappler.

(When we arrived, they were already inside… We're just here around the perimeter [of 36 Tandang Sora]...Because their team is inside, we are not part of the team.)

At past 9:30 am, Rappler researcher Rambo Talabong was interrogated by barangay officials and was asked to leave. His phone was taken away from him and returned only on condition he rode a tricycle. He was also asked to delete photos from his phone.

"Hinablot po ang phone ko habang papalayo ako. Humingi po ako ng tulong sa police na naka-standby. Wala pong reaction," Talabong said. (They grabbed my phone while I was walking away. I asked help from the police on standby but there was no reaction.)

Talabong rode a tricycle and was escorted by a barangay official to the Templo Central police station.

TEMPLO CENTRAL STATION. Where a Quezon City barangay official takes Rappler contributor Rambo Talabong.

TEMPLO CENTRAL STATION. Where a Quezon City barangay official takes Rappler contributor Rambo Talabong.

At the station, he was asked about his authorization, what his position was, and who informed him about the police operation on Tandang Sora. The barangay officials eventually left.

Later Rappler production specialist Adrian Portugal who rushed to the scene to support Talabong for coverage was also accosted. He was threatened by a masked man and told to "leave immediately kung ayaw ko ng gulo (if you don't want trouble)." 

He was escorted away from 36 Tandang Sora by random masked men.

The property has been the subject of conflict in the Manalo family.

Manila Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 12 had previously ordered the Manalos to "immediately vacate" the property, but Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 43 turned down the petition for writ of execution filed by the INC in June 2016 for lack of merit.

In a statement sent to the media, Angel Manalo, brother of Iglesia Executive Minister Eduardo V. Manalo, decried the demolition of his home inside the compound. (READ: Angel Manalo seeks help vs demolition of home in INC compound)

"Aside from the absence of an ejection case against my house, there is no other case and no court order for what they have done. They destroyed two of our bedrooms and punctured one of the walls," he said in the statement. – with reports from Rambo Talabong and Adrian Portugal/Rappler.com