LOWELL MENORCA II’S PETITION FOR WRIT OF AMPARO IS A TEST OF THE PHILIPPINE JUSTICE SYSTEM
It appears, that INC lawyers’ first and last motions on Ka Lowell Menorca II’s petition for writ of habeas corpus and amparo, are to ask the Court of Appeals to junk it, or in legal terms, to consider the petition “moot and academic”.
The first time, it was because, by the time of the first hearing, INC has already moved Ka Lowell and his family out of its compound where the powerful organisation had them illegally detained for 3 months, into a private residence in Fairview. [This move, by the way, occurred in the dead of night, as if INC couldn’t wait until morning to get rid of Ka Lowell and his family, after having been tipped that his relatives had filed a petition for habeas corpus against INC officials.]
The CA, rightfully and justifiably, denied this motion.
More recently, INC lawyers have once again petitioned the CA to dismiss the case. This time, it was because INC, after subjecting Ka Lowell and family to indescribably horrendous harassments, had sunk to their lowest low, forcing the family to flee for their lives, to a place where the INC holds no power and influence. Or so Ka Lowell thought, at least, initially.
What will the CA do now?
Let us examine the INC lawyers’ claims and arguments and Ka Lowell’s responses and counter-arguments (indicated as “LM”), as well as those of his lawyers, Atty. Trixie Angeles and Atty. Ahmed Paglinawan:
- Prodigalidad claims that in the absence of the beneficiaries from the jurisdiction of the court, the issuance of a writ may be moot. To which, Ka Lowell's lawyer, Atty. Trixie Angeles, argued that “the rules provide for an archiving of the case for two years, and a final dismissal at the end of that, taking into consideration that an amparo is filed out of the fear for the security and life of a beneficiary, which is the case here.”
LM: "When I was there, INC did everything to stop my testimony from being heard. Ministers and fanatic INC members relentlessly attacked me on social media with all kinds of lies, vulgarity, mean words and images, all meant to discourage and intimidate me from pursuing my case.
After CA denied INC lawyers’ first motion to dismiss what the lawyers know is an “undismissable” case under the rules of court, INC lawyers requested that my testimony be expunged. When the court once again said “No”, INC lawyers filed a motion to strike over 100 sections of my testimony. Again, the court, with a fair and firm hand, retained most of my testimony, especially the important sections that comprise the substance of my case. But INC still did not want the public to hear even this “stricken down” version of my testimony. Hence, my arrest by police officers, both INC members, who were operating outside their jurisdiction, on the day I was supposed to testify while on my way to CA.
While all these motions and arrest were causing delay after delay of a case that should have been handled with urgency because our lives were in danger, INC, using its internal and external assets rained down upon me with tons of libel cases and unabashedly used their influence to fast track the issuance of arrest warrants. The excessive bail amount of the last warrant. I saw -- P120,000! -- was supposed to serve as precedence for future warrants, obviously to exhaust my limited financial resources. These are all overt actions (INC is not one for subtlety) intended to make me realise I was no match to INC’s superior wealth, power, and connections.
Now that I am out of the country trying to secure my family’s safety, they saw another opportunity to silence the truth.
My question, then and now, is: What is INC so fearful of that it has chosen to resort to these low-ball tactics? Is it perhaps that I actually have proof of whatever allegation I make? Because, the fact of the matter is, I do! Is that what they don’t want the public to see? Why is archiving the case for 2 years so objectionable to INC? Is it because our sudden departure was the very proof of how dangerous it was for us to stay in the Philippines, and was in fact, the reason we have sought the court’s protection, the very essence of our amparo case?"
- Prodigalidad argued that to grant Atty Trixie’s request would be to "reward" Menorca's behavior when there was no actual, imminent threat against him.
LM: "With all due respect, Atty. Prodigalidad, how do you know there was no actual, imminent threat against me and my family? Because that is what your client has told you? Would you mind taking off your “INC attorney” hat for a minute and just look at how things really are? Even the general public knows what your client is capable of, just from reading and/or listening to the news and social media. They can connect, and have connected, the dots. I realise that you are just doing your job, which is to defend your client. It must be difficult for a lawyer in your position to look at himself in the mirror at the end of the day, especially when he knows in his hearts of hearts that he’s defending a crook!
As for your claim that “there was no actual, imminent threat” against me and my family, as a lawyer, you know that that statement is without any factual basis. I have kept copies of all threats that have been sent to me, including the last one on my daughter. I will reveal them as part of a series of exposes I plan to do in the very near future. The first one has already been sent to the media."
- Menorca's lawyers countered that there is also no evidence to support the INC's claim that there is no threat against the former church worker. Lawyer Ahmed Paglinawan also said that Menorca's hurried flight could be interpreted as a sign that threats against the family remain. He added that even if Menorca is outside the Philippines, it does not mean that the threat against him has ceased.
LM: "My lawyer, Atty. Paglinawan is absolutely correct. Here’s proof that wherever I am, there are INC lookouts following us and reporting our every move to INC Sanggunian."
- Prodigalidad pointed out that Menorca could have allowed his wife and daughter to leave, and stay behind to face his legal cases.
LM: "For your information, Atty. Prodigalidad, I did try to do that but my wife refused to leave without me. She and I even argued at the airport but my wife said if she allowed me to stay behind, then she would not see me alive again. She broke down while we were talking to BI officials. In as far as she’s concerned, we either all stay in the Philippines together and die together there, or we all leave and take our chances elsewhere, together. When BI officials said we could go, we took that as a sign from God that He wanted all of us to leave. God has made the decision for us.
Atty. Prodigalidad, if you are married and you love your husband as much as my wife loves me, this should not be difficult for you to understand. And if you have a child, all the more you should understand to what extent a parent will go to save his child ."
- "Keeping this case alive is unfair for the respondents because he's free to go around making statements," Prodigalidad said.
LM: "Unfair? I’m the victim here! Not them! Please… Atty. Prodigalidad, do you not read social media? Do you not see how INC ministers and INC fanatics, with the encouragement and support of INC, continuously come up with all sorts of lies to discredit me? I honestly cannot believe how you can say that while none of your clients and witnesses ever attended any of the proceedings, not once, and where are they now, travelling al over the world without any respect to the Justices or the justice system, and you say it's unfair for them?
Also, do you not watch news on TV where INC, through its spokesperson, has denied kidnapping me and my family? You, Atty. Prodigalidad, know better than the general public because you yourself submitted judicial affidavits from INC which admit to my kidnapping. I challenge you now to deny that."
- Prodigalidad added that Menorca seems to prefer to make unfounded allegations outside the court, where he is not under oath.
LM: "And you and your team of lawyers seem to have no qualms about making unfounded allegations in court, the above statements being good examples."
- “What we are saying is that this is apparently a grand plan in order to have something to use to ask the court for the archival of the petition… This is not supposed to be a credible legal ground,” Atty. Moises Tolentino added.
LM: "And on what legal ground do you base this so-called “grand plan”, Atty. Tolentino? I never heard of it until I read this made-up document in an FB post in an account which is obviously supported or owned by INC. Was that your “credible” legal basis, Atty. Tolentino?
Now, Atty. Prodigalidad, who is it again who prefers to make unfounded allegations?
And while you two try to think of a good comeback, please ask your client who came up with this “grand plan” idea and who from their team created this document below. If I were you, I wouldn’t be too quick to swallow what they feed you.
- Menorca and his lawyers, according to Tolentino, are engaged in a “grand plan” considering that he has not presented substantial evidence to back up his claim and the so-called threats he keeps claiming are just in his mind, with no overt indications that indeed he is at risk. He further pointed out that the safe house was some place that only Menorca knew otherwise it would not be a safe house as his basis for doubting the validity of Menorca's statement that a death threat note was found on the windshield of their vehicle.
“What the petitioners are saying is that the threat is in the mind of Menorca. He admitted that…”
LM: "This is a clever twisting of what I said in court. It is true that I said there were no overt or direct threats from INC, but indirectly YES, PLENTY. Come on… What did you expect, a death threat signed by INC???
Atty. Tolentino, since you are an INC member, I assume you regularly attend worship services. Then you should be able to attest to how the ministers and workers instill hatred in the hearts and minds of the brethren against those who expose various irregularities in the Church and how they pray fervently over and over during worship services for God to strike down those whom they labeled as “enemies of INC”?
Atty. Tolentino, your argument about how our “safe house” was supposed to be at a location known only to me is either a display of ignorance or a sneaky way of taking a poor argument and making it sound credible to the Justices. Just think. How difficult would it be for INC's network of minions and law enforcement officers to follow us on our way back from the CA? Our vehicles and license plates are known to them. They take pictures of them whenever we attend a hearing. They knew where we lived. Our security has been compromised. They timed the threat on my daughter which they left on the windshield of our car while it was parked at the “safe” house to let us know that they knew where we lived and that they have the ability to execute on the threat!”
- The INC camp used Menorca's own statement that he had no hope for justice in the Philippine courts as an additional reason why the case should be rendered moot.
"Menorca publicly declared that the reason he left was because he distrusts the entire justice system, the government," Prodigalidad said.
LM: "Bravo, Atty. Prodigalidad! Once more, you’ve twisted my words to suit your purposes. I have nothing but praises for the Justices who were assigned to my petition for writ of amparo. From the beginning, they demonstrated fairness in handling my case. However, the case has taken too long, thanks to your team's superb maneuverings and delaying tactics which gave your unscrupulous client time to intimidate and harass me and my family.
Where I’ve lost trust in the justice system is in the way the INC has exploited and manipulated the judicial and law enforcement to further harass me by filing multiple cases of libel and even trumped up an adultery charge to boot. Let us not forget the “grenade” frame-up in Dasmarinas, Cavite that landed me in jail for a week. If prosecutors and judges from all over the country are so beholden to INC, or are INC members themselves, if government officials can be cowed to do INC’s bidding, and police officers agree to serve as INC’s private army to do illegal acts against people deemed as enemies of INC, I ask you: How can a simple person like me expect justice?”
- The church said Menorca left to escape the slew of libel complaints against the former church worker.
LM: "Whoever said this is not privy to the well thought out strategy of excellent lawyers helping me from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG). A lot of hours, brain cycles, and resources were spent developing a great strategy. If it hadn’t been for the threat on my daughter’s life, I would have stayed because nothing would have pleased me more than to face these charges in court and enjoy the look on the faces of my torturers when they lose each case.
As for my cross examination on the amparo case, it would have finished the last day I was in court. However, the team of lawyers representing INC must have sensed that Atty. Vinluan, who handled my cross couldn’t make a dent with me. So in another masterful display of delaying tactic, INC lawyers requested that the hearing be cut short that day and for another lawyer who’s an INC member resume the cross the following week. The request was, unfortunately, granted. But it was regrettably delayed further due to a death in the family of one of the justices. We didn’t get put back on the court’s calendar automatically though. My lawyer had to request a new hearing schedule after a decent time of mourning has passed.”
As I end this interview with Ka Lowell, I know that no matter how much INC pays their team of lawyers, they will never succeed in killing the truth. It will eventually be revealed, at a time when they least expect it. The Philippine Justice System will be judged based on the decision they will make...
~ Antonio Ebangelista
“they tried to bury us… they didn’t know we were seeds.”
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