Two prominent legal experts on Monday expressed grave concern about the “general air of hostility” and “bigotry” against the Iglesia Ni Cristo, the leaders of which are facing court cases filed by disgruntled former members who have accused the church of harassment.
The lawyers, in separate statements, also acknowledged the unique character of the Iglesia as a Filipino church.
In a Facebook post, San Juan Rep. and House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said that “the persistent persecution of the INC exposes the intention of the government to destroy all other institutions that can challenge its parlous grip on truth and morality.”
Calling himself a practicing Catholic, the Minority Leader hinted that the religious fervor of INC members, while different from the country’s Catholic majority, should be respected, with the government making a firm stand on tolerance instead of persecution of the INC faithful.
“What the Catholic Church was able to pull off—just once at Edsa and never again—which is to say, a communion of action in accord with Christ’s teachings—the INC does every day in the lives of its adherents and in the role of the INC in politics,” said Zamora.
“More than other Christians since the Puritans, the kapatid of the INC live Christian lives strictly by the book,” Zamora said.
“So much so, that when we speak of freedom of religion as it pertains to the INC, it extends from their weekly service to every action they take individually or undertake in communion and community,” Zamora stressed.
“And yet time and again,” the congressman warned, “as if determined to force the INC to order its faithful to vote its way rather than another, this government has persecuted the INC, on the basis of mere allegations of crimes attempted or committed. Last I heard, accusation is not proof; and persistence in malicious prosecution is not sincerity but itself a legal cause of action against the government.”
Lawyer Harry Roque, meanwhile, branded the public hostility against the INC “unfortunate,” expressing concern that the sentiments of non-Iglesia members “should not degenerate into outright bigotry and bias against what’s essentially a proud, homegrown and worldwide Filipino church.”
“We fear, or at least we are very apprehensive about, what we do not understand. The INC may have its own way of exercising its religious beliefs and organizing its flock. We just need to accord it the needed tolerance and understanding, as with any other minority religious group in the country,” Roque emphasized.
Roque also made a call for upholding the Constitutional right to freedom of religion.
Both Zamora and Roque are graduates of the University of the Philippines College of Law. Zamora topped the 1969 bar examinations and was class valedictorian during his time. Roque is a former UP Law faculty member and an acknowledged international law and criminal law expert.
The INC leadership has been accused by ex-ministers Isaias Samson and Lowell Menorca of harassment and illegal detention. Separate cases against members of INC’s Sanggunian are pending before the Department of Justice and the Court of Appeals.