Suspended Iglesia ni Cristo minister details detention
A LOYAL servant of the church all his life, 65-year-old Isaias Samson Jr., a second-generation minister of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), found himself and his family captives in their own home last Thursday (July 16).
His wife, who just had heart surgery, nearly passed out because of the tension as the couple and their only son were placed “under house arrest” at their townhouse in Tierre Bella, a Quezon City subdivision where INC housed its ministers, located just behind its headquarters.
The family was under the constant watch of armed guards, some carrying high-powered firearms. (He did not disclose the names of his wife and son for security reasons).
“It was torture actually. We didn’t know what was going on outside, what they planned to do,” said Samson.
“INC people have been trained to obey and follow the words of God, and if ever a member of the INC has committed any error or mistake, the immediate thing to do is to repent, change his way of life. But that’s not what’s happening now, in what I’ve seen to be the work of the Sanggunian (governing council),” he said in Filipino.
Samson surfaced in a hastily called press conference in Manila early Thursday evening (July 23) and detailed his weeklong ordeal under the hands of certain members of the church’s Sanggunian (governing council).
He confirmed the reported abduction of at least 10 INC ministers in a quickly escalating infighting within the church’s ranks, tagging military and police officials in their detention.
Samson, suspended last week and removed as editor-in-chief of the church’s official publication Pasugo (God’s Message), also confirmed unrest within what had been long been known as a tight-knit congregation, with many harboring “resentment” towards leaders for questionable practices in terms of finances.
His revelations came just after Tenny Manalo, wife of the late INC minister Eraño Manalo, and son Angel released a video pleading for help.
“They took our cellphones, the computer in my office, they took our passports and laptop,” said Samson.
His detention began after the Sanggunian accused him of writing damning articles against the church under the name Antonio Ebangelista, whose blog posts about alleged wrongdoings at the INC have been making the rounds of social media.
Samson denied any knowledge of such articles.
He believed he was among those “taken” as he had several times expressed his opposition to the management of INC’s General Auditor, Glicerio Santos Jr.
The decrees of Santos and other church officials, particularly in INC activities involving members’ funds, had drawn protests from several ministers, he said.
“They saw the wrongs that were happening, that’s why some ministers had resentment [against certain officials],” Samson said.
In the church’s outreach programs for instance, including activities held for the benefit of victims of the 2013 Supertyphoon Yolanda, Samson said ministers and other manggagawa (rank below minister) complained of being charged extra: for shirts in one activity, and for sacks of rice in another.
Asked for his ballpark figure on the total of the padded amounts, Samson said “it could” be in the millions of pesos.
He said rumors have long surrounded the Santos family, including alleged corrupt practices in the disbursement of funds for major infrastructure projects, such as the INC-funded Philippine Arena.
“But it could be called hearsay, because I just heard about that,” Samson said.
On Saturday, the second day of his detention, Samson said certain officials also forced him “to do an interview” and deny allegations that the just expelled Manalos had made public.
“They wanted me to say that the statements (of Angel and Tenny Manalo) made we’re not true and that the abductions of ministers were also not true,” he told reporters Thursday.
It was not clear if doing so was a ticket to his freedom. Still, he refused, saying he could not bear to speak lies.
The family started plotting ways to escape, but the chances were narrow.
“But it was hard because I saw ministers and officials around our house until 2:30 a.m.,” he said.
With nothing else to cling to, he counted on his faith. He gathered his family in prayer, and that’s when the answer came.
“As a minister of the Iglesia, I have my faith in God. So we told our guards we wanted to go to church,” said Samson, who was born into the church and followed the footsteps of his father, Isaias Sr., as a minister.
His son drove the family out of their townhouse at 5:30 a.m. By some miracle, he said, they noticed that the guards were no longer following them. They decided to drive straight to a safe, undisclosed place.
“If they did that to us, why can’t they do that to others? I know what they did was illegal detention,” said Samson.
He said he could not bear serving under officials who peddled lies.
“[They committed] kidnapping, grave threat. Those are the reasons why I could not bear the thought that our brethren in the Iglesia could do that. I don’t know why they are doing that,” said Samson.
“I love my role as a minister but I cannot serve if those above me (officials) were implementing things that were dishonest,” he said in Filipino.
Samson said he knew of at least 10 other ministers being held at different locations: several at the Rosalia Compound in Tandang Sora, and one minister, Lowell Menorca II, at the city jail in Dasmariñas, Cavite.
“Perhaps that’s one of the questionable things — how these people have this kind of power, that’s very dangerous,” he said.
He could not believe that Tenny and Angel Manalo had been expelled: “Never in my life did I ever think that that would happen.”
Asked whether there was indeed an organized reformist movement within the church, Samson said he could not say there was.
“I am a reformist but I am not a member of any group,” he said.
He said he has been taking care of his family’s security, but wary of going to authorities for protection.
“You know, in this country, sometimes you want to trust someone, but you can’t be sure you can trust him. So we’re doing our own ways [to protect ourselves],” Samson said.
Amid the turmoil in his church, Samson said his faith in the INC has remained unchanged.
“The INC is not bad. It’s just that there are some people who are doing these things,” he said.
“I believe there is an end to everything, even evil. There’s justice from the Lord. He never sleeps,” he added.
Originally posted: 09:36 PM July 23rd, 2015
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