By Vince Alvic Alexis F. Nonato, Reporter

CA resets Menorca cross-examination following arrest

Posted on January 21, 2016

ALLEGEDLY abducted Iglesia ni Cristo church worker Lowell Menorca II was arrested by Manila police on Wednesday, leading the Court of Appeals to cancel the scheduled cross-examination of his testimony.

Mr. Menorca was served the arrest warrant for libel while he and his family were on the way to attend the CA Seventh Division’s 10:00 a.m. hearing on Wednesday.

This led to a brief standoff with plainclothes policemen near the intersection of Roxas Boulevard and Quirino Avenue. Mr. Menorca told radio station DZMM that he did not initially yield because he wanted to attend the hearing and testify against the INC higher-ups.

“This is proof ‘they’ did not want me to speak out because I was supposed to have a hearing at CA and I would tell [the court] how I was kidnapped in Sorsogon last year,” Mr. Menorca said in a phone patch interview with the radio station, right at the height of the standoff.

Although counsel Rose Beatrix “Trixie” Cruz-Angeles assured the CA Seventh Division that Mr. Menorca will still be able to take the witness stand that afternoon despite his arrest, he was not able to do so.

Instead, Manila Police District Legal Officer Police Supt. Thomas M. Valmonte told the CA justices that a court order is needed before they can bring Mr. Menorca to the hearing.

As the court can only prepare the order by Friday, it was prompted to reschedule the hearing to Jan. 26 instead.

At the sidelines of the hearing, Mr. Valmonte explained to reporters that “our hands are tied, because under the law, we cannot just bring him here.“

He said the police may still bring Mr. Menorca to the court on Tuesday following the court order if he remains detained then. An option for Mr. Menorca would be to post the P10,000 bail for his temporary freedom.

But Ms. Angeles said a decision has not been made whether to post bail, if they question the jurisdiction of the warrant issued by Judge Alberto F. Quinto of Branch 21 of the Regional Trial Court of Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte.

“He has to weigh whether he should file for bail or question the notices. But this is something that he can decide. We will leave it up to him,” Ms. Angeles told reporters at the sidelines of the hearing.

At the same time, she said they were not even made aware that a libel case, a criminal charge in this country, is currently being heard in Lanao del Norte. She added that they were not even invited to any preliminary investigation at the prosecutor’s level.

Ms. Angeles stressed the importance of Mr. Menorca being able to submit to cross-examination. “This affidavit will be nothing if he’s not cross-examined. So the cross-examination is essential for it to be submitted as evidence,” she said. “Of course we are worried every time there is a delay in cross-examining Mr. Menorca.“

Noting that, she said “there is certainly a certain amount of success with regard to delaying the cross-examination of Mr. Menorca.” The lawyer added that Mr. Menorca’s latest incident makes them “certainly very worried, and therefore our interest in pushing for amparo [court-mandated protection] becomes an imperative.“

For the INC’s part, its spokesperson Edwil S. Zabala denied speculation the homegrown Christian sect had a hand in Mr. Menorca’s arrest.

“The Iglesia ni Cristo is conducting its own inquiry concerning the events which led to the serving of an arrest warrant against Mr. Menorca this morning,” Mr. Zabala said in a televised briefing. “We were dumbfounded upon learning that our name is again being besmirched by Mr. Menorca.“

The INC spokesperson added that even if the libel complainants were INC members, the issuance of the arrest warrant is “beyond the control of the complainants since that was dependent on the police finding the opportunity to serve it.“

Mr. Zabala also denied that INC leaders did not want the cross-examination to push through, saying the legal team “came prepared” to the CA.

The hearings were an offshoot of the petition filed by brother Anthony Menorca and sister-in-law Jungko Otsuka. On Oct. 23, the Supreme Court issued a writ of habeas corpus and amparo ordering the CA to hear whether the family is entitled to full protection of the court.

The Menorca family claimed they were abducted on July 16 from Sorsogon at the orders of the Sanggunian, as the minister is accused of being behind the activities of critical blogger Antonio Ebanghelista. They were supposedly released from the sect’s custody on Oct. 22.