INC Erred In Its Show Of Force; De Lima’s Action Within DOJ’s Mandate

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (JGL) – The show of force foisted by the followers of Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) charging Justice Secretary Leila de Lima with violation of the “separation of church and state” was based on the wrong appreciation of the constitutional principle and state policy and the bill of rights.

When Secretary De Lima accepted the torture and kidnapping cases filed by expelled INC member Isaias Samson, Jr. against INC leaders, the INC followers should have demanded that the Secretary should have remanded the cases down to the Quezon City Fiscal’s office because it has has original jurisdiction over the cases. By taking over the cases, De Lima left the parties in the cases without an entity where to file a motion for review or reconsideration of a resolution.

That is why I agree with the call of Sen. Francis Escudero, seeking clarification from the Department of Justice as to when a Fiscal or the DOJ assumes original investigation of a criminal case.

I remember when I was charged with a criminal libel case by former PC Metrocom West Sector Commander Gen. Tomas Dumpit’s wife before the Manila Fiscal’s office during martial law, then Manila City Fiscal Flaminiano was having a hard time resolving the case because he was torn between the military and the media.

I had been friends with Fiscal Flaminiano while he was Pasay City Fiscal, which was his stepping stone to take over the plum Manila City Fiscal’s office. But Fiscal Flaminiano was also friends with the military and President Marcos.

Although it would have been straight forward for Fiscal Flaminiano to dismiss the case because the libel case filed against me was based on a pending estafa case filed against Dumpit’s wife before the Rizal Provincial Fiscal’s office in what is now Pasig City, Fiscal Flaminiano filed the criminal information for libel against me just the same, which made General Dumpit very happy.

But on appeal, the DOJ dismissed outright the libel case because my news story that appeared in the Manila Bulletin was a faithful reproduction of the Fiscal’s record.

I don’t really blame the INC followers for taking it personally against Secretary De Lima because she did not observe the usual procedure of handling the alleged kidnapping and torture cases when she took over the cases. De Lima’s action was against the decentralization of filing criminal cases, which also left parties in the cases one less level option to appeal or file a motion for reconsideration.

INC FOLLOWERS’ BEEF

But as to the INC’s followers’ beef that there was a violation of the separation of church and state, I don’t see any. For the  “Establishment” clause in “Section 5. No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” to be violated, the following Lemon v. Kurtzman test must be observed: 1) the government was not neutral, or 2) had tried to advance or had inhibited itself on a particular religion, or 3) exhibited “excessive entanglement” with any religion, which was not apparent in the kidnapping-torture cases. As to the “Free Exercise” clause, this is out of the question, as the government did not prohibit the INC followers to exercise their freedom of worship.

The closest instance of violation of the separation of church and state that I observed happened many years ago when the conjugal provincial government in Sorsogon under either Gov. Raul R. Lee or Sally Lee (also both were former mayors of Sorsogon) put up a Blessed Virgin Mary grotto on the southeastern corner of the provincial capitol, which is a public property.

I also remember a case I covered some years ago involving convicted Filipino priest Rodney Lee Rodis, who filed an appeal of his 200-year sentence before the Court of Appeals of Virginia in Richmond. Rodis alleged that the trial court which convicted him had violated his First Amendment right on the separation of church and state when the court ignored his plea that it had no jurisdiction over his case because under Canon Law, he was supposed to be under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Church.

The 59-year-old priest from Cagayan de Oro City in the Philippines was accused of diverting funds amounting to about $1-Million that were contributed to the two churches at St. Jude Church in Mineral, Virginia; and at the Immaculate Conception Church at Bumpass, Virginia for several years until he retired in mid-2006 and returned to the Philippines.

WATSON v. JONES

Rodis invoked an 1871 ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Watson v. Jones, which held that “it is impermissible for secular courts, such as those of the Commonwealth of Virginia, to get involved in disputes that involve the interpretation of church law relating to internal governance, doctrine, etc.”

When the diversion of funds was discovered shortly after Rodis’ retirement, the state government stepped into the case when the Virginia State Police conducted an investigation.

I surmised if the Catholic Church tried Rodis under the Canon Law, the Pope should have sent his Swiss Guards to go after Rodis in the Philippines, instead of the Virginia State Police to investigate.

Rodis’ case was not different from series of sex abuse cases, allegations, investigations, trials, and convictions of child sexual abuse crimes committed by Catholic priests, nuns, and members of Roman Catholic orders against boys and girls, some as young as 3 years old, with the majority between the ages of 11 and 14, who were charged with child abuses that forced the Catholic Church to pay millions of dollars of restitution to many victims and put the accused behind bars.

According to Wikipedia, from 2001 to 2010 the Holy See, the central governing body of the Catholic Church, considered sex abuse allegations concerning about 3,000 priests dating back up to fifty years. Cases worldwide reflect patterns of long-term abuse, and the covering up of reports. Diocesan officials and academics knowledgeable about the Roman Catholic Church say that sexual abuse by clergy is generally not discussed, and thus is difficult to measure. In the Philippines, where as of 2002 at least 85 percent of the population is Catholic, revelations of child sexual abuse by priests followed the United States’ reporting in 2002.

In 2002, BBC News reported “The Philippines Catholic Church has apologized for sexual abuse by hundreds of its priests over the last 20 years. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said on Monday (July 8, 2002) that it was now drafting guidelines on how to deal with such offences by its clergy.”  I wonder if these guidelines are now in place.

“When sexual scandals involving Catholic priests in the US came to light earlier this year, the Philippines media began reporting on abuses by local priests.”

Perhaps, if the INC had its own “Canon Law” or Sharia or sharia law in the Islamic legal system, and it has its own self-policing mechanism to resolve criminal, civil and other secular cases and it has so effective a system that no member will go outside the INC confines to complain, then the Secretary of Justice would have no business intruding into INC’s private affairs.

Otherwise, it is perfectly all right for the Secretary of Justice to investigate any criminal complaint because it is its mandate to investigate secular cases like kidnapping and torture cases. The DOJ’s only mistake is for taking over the cases instead of referring the cases to the Quezon City Fiscal’s office.

But before the INC followers disrupt traffic again for five days, they should first peacefully file their complaints. If the DOJ will not listen to their concerns, that’s the time to mobilize their forces and hold a peaceful assembly, which is their right guaranteed by the constitution. (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

 

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