Speak up, INC folk told
“For the sake of our church, be brave and tell the truth about our wayward brethren.”
That was the message posted on Facebook on Saturday by Isaias Samson Jr., an expelled minister of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), whose leaders began conducting a loyalty check on members after internal squabbles over finances and control of the 101-year-old indigenous Christian group became public on Thursday.
An INC spokesperson also said on Saturday the church was considering filing charges against renegades who were spreading false accusations against its leaders.
In a series of messages posted on Facebook, Samson, in hiding and claiming his family had been threatened, appealed to members of INC to disclose what they knew about alleged corruption and questionable practices by the church’s leaders.
Samson warned that the continued silence of other INC ministers and members was imperiling the entire church when only a few were at fault.
Samson has emerged as the most vocal critic of the INC leadership amid the public unraveling of the troubles within the politically influential church, run by the Manalo family since its founding in 1914.
The troubles became public on Wednesday night when Cristina “Tenny” Villanueva Manalo, widow of INC executive minister Eraño Manalo, and her son Felix Nathaniel “Angel” Villanueva Manalo posted a video on YouTube appealing for help and claiming their lives were in danger. They also claimed that some INC ministers had been kidnapped.
INC expelled them on Thursday for trying to sow disunity and gain control of the church.
“You have always said how sad and angry you are because of the corrupt practices that some members of the Sanggunian (advisory council), and their actions not just in terms of money but about rules and activities in the Iglesia,” Samson said in a four-minute video, one of three posted since Friday night on a Facebook account under the name “Sher Lock.”
A source from Samson’s group said the page’s administrator was “a person who has the courage to reveal the truth.”
“You know the grievances of our brethren, like those in the Central Office who have been complaining about the burdensome tasks they were being asked to do. But why are you still ignoring it?” Samson said in a video apparently taken using a phone camera just before he escaped Manila on Friday because of alleged threats to his life.
“God has been giving us opportunities. You might say we should just wait for God to do something. But don’t you think what you’ve been feeling about the situation is God’s way of moving you to do something?” said Samson, currently in an undisclosed location outside Metro Manila.
The former minister, also removed as editor in chief of INC’s official publication Pasugo (God’s Message), was the first to come out publicly and speak about the weeklong “torture” he and his family went through while “under house arrest” allegedly ordered by church leaders.
The family was held on July 16, after Samson was accused of writing subversive articles about INC in a blog under the name Antonio Ramirez Ebangelista. While admitting he was a reformist, Samson denied he was Ebangelista.
The family escaped on Thursday, in what Samson described as God’s work.
Samson faced the media on Thursday, hours after his escape, confirming the detention of at least 10 other ministers and detailing corrupt practices of certain members of the INC advisory council.
In his video appeal, Samson called out other INC members for doing nothing.
“We say we love the church, that we want the church to go back to the straight path, to holiness. But why are you not taking action? Why don’t you listen? Prove to God that you are ministers and [workers] of the Iglesia,” Samson said.
He called on other INC members to unite against people responsible for wrongdoings in the church, lest “the entire church will continue to tread the path toward evil, and even we won’t be saved.”
“My only wish is for you to prove, to show, to reveal the corruption that you’ve seen. Only when we’re united could this be done,” he said.
Samson also appealed to INC spokespersons Edwil Zabala and Bienvenido Santiago to stop speaking falsehoods, saying they also knew about the mismanagement that was plaguing the church.
“We are friends. We were together for a long time. I know you know what’s happening. I just don’t understand why people like you who are ministers would not say what’s truly inside you, what you really see,” Samson said in another video.
“I hope that if you will continue to speak, you will serve as spokespersons of God, not of the people you are defending. Remember, corruption can never be denied. It will be revealed … God will reveal it,” he said.
But Zabala said the INC leadership was considering filing charges against the church’s critics.
“At this point, we are not discounting any of the options we’re looking into. We intend to explore all legal and moral remedies available to us to clear the name and reputation of the INC,” Zabala said in a telephone interview.
He also said the INC would face the allegations against it in a proper forum, where it could present “the truth.”
“[T]he INC can answer whatever accusations, whatever proof its accusers supposedly have against it,” Zabala said, challenging INC critics to produce evidence against the church.
He did not say, however, whom the INC was planning to sue.
An INC member said on Saturday that the church leadership appeared to be conducting a loyalty check, with ministers directing followers by text message to report to their local secretariats.
The source showed the Inquirer a text message from his local minister but asked that the contents of the message not be published.
He said the local minister was also directing followers to submit their latest ID pictures.
“The church is obviously doing a loyalty check. This is not just a way to update our membership since we have mechanisms to do that. And we go to our local churches every week,” the source said.
Other INC members put up a show of unity on Saturday ahead of the church’s 101st anniversary on Monday.
Thousands of INC followers gathered at the Philippine Sports Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan province, for “unity games” despite the turmoil in their church.
Police deployed 500 officers to the INC’s Ciudad de Victoria, where the stadium and the 55,000-seat Philippine Arena are located.
Chief Supt. Roland Santos, Central Luzon Police director, said the police were expecting protests at the site during the INC anniversary.
But a police officer who is an INC member said the church did not expect problems during the anniversary celebration.
“INC members are forbidden to hold rallies and protests. No one will take part in protests here,” the policeman said.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) urged Catholics to offer prayers for the INC to overcome its troubles.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP president, said Angel Manalo had asked for prayers “and whoever asks for prayers, we should pray for them regardless of their condition, regardless of their nationality, regardless of their belief.”
Villegas said he hoped INC followers “would be able to surpass this predicament that they are in and that they would be able to find peace.”–With reports from Tina G. Santos and Marlon Ramos in Manila and from Carmela Reyes-Estrope, Inquirer Central Luzon
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