INC leaders face US raps
LOS ANGELES—A former Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) minister has reported the sect, its executive minister Eduardo Manalo and auditor Glicerio Santos Jr. to the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax fraud.
American Vincent Florida, a 65-year-old former minister in the INC Northern Virginia congregation, told the Inquirer he filed his report, in IRS form 3949A, for failure to pay taxes in August this year. As of press time, the IRS has not yet opened an investigation.
IRS form 3949A is used for reporting suspected tax fraud, including false exemptions or deductions, kickbacks, false or altered document, failure to pay tax, unreported income and organized crime.
Florida left INC on July 30 following allegations of corruption in the sect and abduction of ministers critical of the INC leadership.
Florida claimed that only checks received as offerings from members during biweekly worship services were deposited in the bank.
He said the congregations were asked to convert cash collection into $100 bills and turn over the money to district auditors.
Remitted 4 times a year
The district auditors remitted the cash to Santos during pastoral visits, he added.
“Cash was being skimmed off without record keeping,” Florida said. “They’re forcing good people to do bad things.”
He said the Mid-Atlantic district alone, which included his former congregation, turned over about $150,000 in cash to Santos four times a year for the past six years.
“The cash just disappeared,” Florida said. “Mid-Atlantic is the smallest in INC’s eight districts. Can you just imagine? We’re talking millions of dollars from the congregations, with no paper trail. They’re circumventing the tax laws of the United States.”
In Manila, INC spokesperson Edwil Zabala on Saturday said the INC leadership would respond to Florida’s allegations “in due time and in the proper forum.”
“As of this moment, we have not received a copy of the supposed complaint. We do not wish to speculate either on its content or the motive behind it,” Zabala said.
“United in our faith in the Almighty and in the fairness of the justice system, we assure the public that we will cooperate with the proper authorities. We are one with you in the desire for truth,” he said.
“We call on our brethren to continue praying for the enlightenment of nonmembers who wish to create division within the church. We likewise appeal to the public for restraint and circumspection,” he said.
“Lastly, we urge everyone to resist the temptation for speculation, as it will serve no higher purpose than fuel hatred and division,” he said.
Florida alleged that Manalo, Santos and other INC leaders managed to stay under the radar for years because they carried the cash on a private plane that they used for their regular pastoral visits to the United States.
“They didn’t have to go through the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) and customs,” he said.
Florida said he also received information that the plane, an Airbus, had taken the INC leaders to the Cayman Islands and Switzerland.
“I cannot attest to that, but that’s what I heard,” he said. “If the authorities want to investigate, there’s a way to check the (airplane’s) destinations.”
Florida, a former Catholic, was recruited into the sect by a coworker in New York. He was baptized in 1978. He went to the Philippines to study INC doctrines from 1982 to 1987.
“I joined INC because of the purity of the doctrines,” he said. “That’s why I feel so violated.”
Offerings down 50%
Florida claimed that many INC members feel the same way, which, according to him, explains the large decrease in offerings.
He said that just before he left his congregation on July 30, the offerings had gone down by 50 percent.
Members have also been joining protest rallies, he said.
On Nov. 22, scores of former and current INC members, many of them masked, held coordinated rallies in front of the INC church in Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles and in front of the INC main office in Burlingame in Northern California.
The protest actions were held during the INC Sunday morning services. With a report from Tina G. Santos