Manila, Philippines - The government is authorized to investigate reports of the alleged abduction of Iglesia ni Cristo ministers, or those who were excommunicated for allegedly spreading misinformation about corruption in the religious sect, Malacañang said yesterday.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said it is part of the mandate of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate reports of violation of the country’s laws, particularly kidnapping.
“If the investigation shows there is enough evidence to pursue the case, definitely the DOJ should file the case in court. That is the mandate of the DOJ,” he said.
Coloma issued the statement upholding the power of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to allow the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the allegations even after private lawyer Harry Roque advised the DOJ chief to leave the INC alone with its internal problems.
Roque earlier called on De Lima to respect the freedom of religion of Iglesia ni Cristo.
“Secretary De Lima should cease and desist from her witch-hunt of Iglesia ni Cristo. In the absence of a complainant, she should not investigate the alleged intramurals within the Iglesia ni Cristo,” Roque said.
“To persist in investigating the local church would be to violate the constitutional right of freedom of religion which includes both a guarantee of freedom to believe and non-intervention with church affairs,” he added.
The religious sect is embroiled in a leadership crisis after the mother and siblings of INC executive minister Eduardo Manalo accused the 12-man council of corruption amounting to billions of pesos in church funds or collections.
Roque also cited related jurisprudence where the judiciary has respected the Iglesia ni Cristo’s religious tenets including its right not to allow members to join organized labor unions.
The Supreme Court even upheld the stinging attacks of the Iglesia against the Catholic church in a television program, where the high court held that “the bedrock of freedom of religion is freedom of expression. The antidote to bad theology is more theology.”
Roque also expressed dismay that De Lima’s witch-hunt will lead to a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of belief.