INC against free press?
Untitled Document

By Jojo Robles

THEY might be still be killing journalists in the provinces, but the hottest freedom of expression issue doesn’t involve crusading local newspapermen and hard-hitting radio commentators anymore. This time, it’s all about a long-running religious “war” and a supposedly explosive book not yet off the press.

Perhaps we should be thankful that the Iglesia ni Cristo has decided to hale its adversaries to court and to the appropriate government regulating agencies in both cases. Of course, it would be so out of character for a religious congregation to start employing hired guns to physically silence its critics, even if the group does claim that Jesus Christ is not God.

All the way from Baguio City comes a complaint from author Ross Tipon that the politically powerful INC is guilty of prior restraint by asking a Quezon City court to stop the publication of Tipon’s book on the congregation. For those who haven’t heard of the phrase, prior restraint means preventing the publication or broadcast of news or opinion even before it is published or broadcast — an act contrary to the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression.

Tipon’s book, The Power and the Glory: The Cult of Manalo, hasn’t yet hit the bookshelves, the author claims, and yet a temporary restraining order was immediately slapped on Tipon and his publisher. The book is supposedly a tell-all account of the origins of the congregation and its founder, Felix Manalo.

According to Tipon, he received a notice from the court last May 18 that a civil suit has been filed against him for allegedly defaming Manalo and his church in the soon-to-be-published book. A 72-hour TRO preventing the book’s publication was subsequently issued by not one but four Quezon City judges, the author claims.

In an e-mail, Tipon said the church (now run by Manalo’s son Eraño) took offense at his allegations that the INC founder did not actually attend the prestigious Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California; that INC members are prohibited from joining labor unions and persuaded to vote according to church dictates; that the church has not made headway in recruiting members in the Bicol, Visayas and Mindanao regions; and that other “evangelical” congregations have been eroding the core INC membership base.

Tipon has vowed to contest the constitutionality of the suit and the TRO before the sala of Judge Ofelia Marquez, who is hearing the case.

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Meanwhile, an old adversary of the INC, the “Ang Dating Daan” congregation, has decided to take out full-page newspaper ads to protest the Manalo-led group to banish its block-time television and radio programs from the airwaves. In particular, the congregation led by Eliseo “Brother Ely” Soriano slammed the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board for allowing “the selective curtailment of our supposedly inviolable... freedoms of religion, speech and the press.”

In two directives issued to Soriano and his group this month, MTRCB prohibited Ang Dating Daan “from uttering libelous and defamatory statements” referring or alluding to INC, or “Iglesia ni Manalo,” as they call it in their various radio and television programs, and banning them indefinitely from going on air.

Ang Dating Daan, through its UNTV outfit, purchases airtime on commercial broadcast outfits for its “Itanong Mo Kay Soriano,” “Ex Man,” “Ang Biblia” and Ang Dating Daan programs. MTRCB Chairman Consoliza Laguardia and Paulino Cases Jr., head of the agency’s adjudication committee, signed the orders.

In its advertisements, Soriano and his group said they can live with the court cases filed against them by INC, “as long as equal protection of the law is observed and law enforcement is applied to all without fear or favor.” However, the group said that MTRCB, “the very agency supposedly tasked to protect our guaranteed constitutional rights,” is now being used to issue illegal orders against Ang Dating Daan.

“As if to add insult to injury, our tormentors and their cohorts in government, backed up by groups of police escorts in an excessive show of force, trooped to our Ortigas Center studio (in an) act clearly intended to harass us despite our earlier compliance (with) the latest MTRCB ruling,” Soriano’s group said.

Ang Dating Daan said it was forced to take out advertisements because of “the persecution and harassment being committed against us by our religious detractors (who are) known for their vaunted political influence in government.”

“We can only pray for our detractors’ enlightenment and wish that they repent,” Soriano and his group said.

We wonder if the press freedom advocates, who are quick and unrelenting in their condemnation of any curtailment of the freedom of the press (and the killing of journalists) will have anything to say about these two cases involving INC. Before they, too, degenerate into actual shooting wars.

(E-mail: jojorobles@yahoo.com)

May 25, 2005
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