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INC church members accused of kidnapping, murder in Philippines – The Fifth Estate


♪ ♪
Bob: It is before dawn
on a Saturday at a church
in suburban Toronto called
Iglesia Ni Cristo,
known as INC, and the
faithful are already lining up.
Preparations underway
for a visit from their
spiritual leader,
Eduardo Manalo.
Today more than a
thousand people will
attend the service here.
But not us.
We are having a worship
service, that’s why we don’t
want you here.
Bob: The church security
detail is out in force.
Man: Hey, you are not supposed
to take video of the brethren.
Bob: And they don’t take
long to assert themselves
against the CBC crew.
Those spot lights they’re
carrying aren’t to help out,
but to blind our cameras.
And the banners aren’t only to
welcome INC’s leader but also
to keep us from getting
a picture of him.
You can’t touch me, eh?
Don’t touch him.
Don’t be physical.
Bob: We assume Eduardo
Manalo is in the white SUV
that arrives and then pulls
into the back of the church.
What’s your leader hiding from?
There’s nothing to hide.
Bob: But as we’ll show you,
there are questions both inside
INC and out about how the church
uses its members’ money
and whether it
encourages violence.
Bob: Iglesia Ni Cristo
means “church of Christ”
and its followers claim it
is the one true church.
There seems little
tolerance for anyone
who thinks otherwise.
Ho!
♪ ♪
Bob: Headquartered at
this gothic compound in the
Philippines, INC has almost
seven thousand congregations
worldwide and
millions of members.
Here in Canada, there are
more than 80 INC congregations.
From Surrey to Scarborough,
Burnaby, Regina, Winnipeg.
Active in their communities
with events like food drives,
or walks against poverty.
[Chanting]
What district are we from?
Bob: But back
in the Philippines,
where it all began,
there’s controversy.
For over a century, INC
has been run by one family.
Its leader today is
the founder’s grandson,
Eduardo Manalo.
And his is the final word.
♪ ♪
Bob: But increasingly
the church is facing unusual
allegations for a major
religious organization.
Its members accused
of financial irregularities,
kidnapping, even murder.
And the city of Vancouver
now finds itself at ground zero
in that, because of this man,
Lowell Menorca.
This is my every day.
Bob: Menorca spends his days
collecting food for refugees,
and delivering it to food
banks and homeless shelters.
Hi.
Hello.
I’m just going to leave this.
Bob: But thoughts
of his home,
the Philippines and INC,
are never far away.
INC is the church in
which you spent your life.
Yes.
I was born into this church.
My father was a Catholic
who converted.
Bob: As an INC minister, he
says he led a happy life until
church financial secrets
appeared online and INC members
blamed him for leaking them.
[ Screaming ]
Bob: Menorca says
police officers out to protect
the church tried to
kidnap him more than once,
here in broad daylight
on the streets of Manila.
Reporter: Iglesia Ni Cristo…
Lowell Menorca.
Bob: When it made
the local news,
INC denied any involvement.
And Menorca says another
abduction almost cost him
his life.
I saw 10 police officers
with their guns pointed at me,
and then they ran
and shouted, “Dapap!”
meaning,
“Get on the ground.”
Bob: He says he was sure he
would be killed when he was put
into a vehicle handcuffed and
someone threw something inside.
I immediately know
that it’s a grenade.
The only thing I could do
was bow my head and pray
for my wife and child.
That’s it.
Bob: But incredibly,
the grenade didn’t explode.
After that, he was held
captive on church property
for three months before
escaping to tell his story.
I was really afraid.
Afraid for my family.
The more we stayed there,
the more we will be in danger.
Bob: And the Menorca family
remained in fear of INC.
When they found this
picture on their windshield,
their little girl’s face
crossed out in red ink,
they fled the Philippines.
His wife and daughter
to hiding in Asia,
Lowell Menorca to
seek refuge in Canada.
He found himself at
Vancouver airport,
hoping he’d made
the right choice.
If you had stayed
in the Philippines,
would we be talking today?
I wouldn’t be alive anymore.
They really needed
to silence me.
To at least give
the impression that,
you know, this is what
happens to anyone
who would go against
the church.
Bob: Church members deny
Menorca’s story and claim he’s
defaming them to enhance his
residence status in Canada.
And they point to a series of
criminal libel lawsuits launched
by church members in
the Philippines as proof
he can’t be trusted.
Bob: The church
has even made videos,
like this one, from a
chapel dedication in Regina,
urging Canadian
members to ignore critics
like Lowell Menorca.
Bob: But it seems
the Canadian Immigration
and Refugee Board takes
a different view.
In November 2017, they granted
Lowell Menorca refugee
protection in Canada,
finding him a “credible witness”
who gave “trustworthy evidence”.
They described INC as having
“the means and the motivation
to seriously harm or kill”
Menorca if he were to return
to the Philippines.
I was hoping that, you know,
this is really what God
wanted and, you know,
that I can give hope
to others who are looking
for protection too,
because a lot of them
are still in danger
to this very moment.
Bob: These days, Lowell
Menorca is in communication
24/7…
[ Speaking Alternate Language ]
Bob: ..with INC members
around the world who’ve
made him a touchstone in
their battle against the church.
It’s how he came into
contact with this woman.
Liz Deocampo was among
the first in North America
to organize protests against
the church in California,
home to the largest INC
population outside
the Philippines.
We arrange to talk at the
arena in downtown Sacramento,
but no such luck.
If you guys want to talk,
just walk down…
I think the church told
security to not let the CBC…
Bob: INC has an
event here to celebrate
the 50th anniversary of their
first U.S. church service.
Apparently we’re not on
that guest list either.
Is it the church that is
objecting to our being here?
I don’t know.
So, welcome to the world
of the Iglesia Ni Cristo.
Shall we find another
place to do this?
Man: I guess so.
Bob: Finally we find a place
to speak to Liz Deocampo about
the recurring complaints
against church leadership,
allegations they’re
enriching themselves
with their members’ money.
They have luxurious cars,
they have bigger houses,
they have lavish lifestyles,
they’re able to travel.
Bob: Reportedly, part of
that travel is in the comfort
of an Airbus A330 jet,
valued at over $200 million.
And Eduardo Manalo is
always surrounded by security.
In 2016, in California,
protesters were met
with violence.
[ Yelling ]
Liz: They attacked us
physically.
They broke our signs.
They shoved people
on the fences.
Pushed me, pushed
one of the ministers.
[ Chanting ]
Bob: Liz Deocampo was
expelled by INC and sued by
the church and she got this,
a not-so-veiled threat from
an INC member that
she would be killed.
Still she says,
it all was worth it.
A lot more people are
waking up to the truth.
There are a lot more people
noticing the differences between
what’s going on now
and how it was before.
Bob: It’s a rift that has
dogged Eduardo Manalo
since he took over INC
about a decade ago.
And it raises a question.
What do Canadians who attend or
support the church really know
about it, and what might
happen should they speak out?
♪ ♪
Bob: We’re off to northern
California to meet a man
who found out the answer
to that the hard way.
My beloved brothers
and sisters in the faith,
we are truly happy and filled
with joy because all of us who
are supposed to be
here are safe and sound.
Bob: He was a
prominent minister in
Anaheim, California
when he broke with INC.
Today, Rolando Dizon preaches
to others who’ve left both
the church and the rule
of Eduardo Manalo.
People stopped fearing the Lord.
They feared a man
here on earth instead.
I’m not going to
mention the name.
Bob: When Manalo
became leader,
Dizon says he had a front row
seat for the system that church
members used for
handling collection money.
When they would collect,
they would segregate some
of the cash, a good amount of
the cash and they would bundle
that together and there are
collectors who show up on
a particular day to pick
up the bag of money,
the bag of cash and they
transfer that all the way
to the US main office
in Burlingame.
Exactly what they
do with the cash,
we have no idea.
We cannot ask about that.
Just to be clear, in your
capacity as a minister of INC,
you saw this, what you
call funnelling of the money?
Oh yes, I’ve seen
it with my own eyes.
Bob: INC’s lawyers
say handling cash like that
is not unusual.
But according to Dizon,
congregations in Canada
and the US are INC’s cash cows.
He says it’s why Manalo spends
so much time in North America.
In fact, sources tell us that
they’ve submitted a list to
U.S. law enforcement of church
executives they suspect of
trying to smuggle cash from
Canada and the U.S. and indeed
we’ve received
information that in 2015,
one of Eduardo Manalo’s
top executives,
a man named Matt Parejo,
was detained at Seattle airport
allegedly trying to
take undisclosed cash
out of the country.
In other words, exactly what
Rolando Dizon described for us.
If you kind of connect
the dots, you know,
when you consider the fact
that there are congregations
preparing cash
during his arrival.
Bob: Through his lawyers,
Eduardo Manalo denies misusing
church money in any way.
But Dizon doesn’t buy that and
fears he still may pay a price
for speaking his mind.
Bob: Do you believe
you are in danger?
I believe so.
Very much so.
Bob: In fact, just
before he left the church,
he says he was recalled
to INC headquarters.
Then a contact in Manila
told him to stay away.
The informant told
me, “Don’t do it.”
Bob: Why?
“Because your life will
be in danger if you do that.”
Bob: So you were being lured
back so they could kill you?
I believe so, I believe so.
Bob: He’s safe for now,
but, as you’ll see,
that was not the case for
a Canadian in the Philippines.
When he crossed
paths with INC members,
Barry Gammon’s life
was about to end.
This guy just quickly
came in and just,
just shoot him.
Just keep on shooting
and shooting.
So we think we’ve found the door
that Eduardo Manalo will use
to exit after his service.
Bob: And our search
for answers continues.
He’s got security guards around.
Fingers crossed.
♪ ♪
Bob: The spires of Iglesia
Ni Cristo reflect the lofty
place INC holds
in Philippine society.
One of the largest religious
organizations after Catholicism
and Islam, it has a
disproportionate influence
in the halls of power here.
INC gets much of its clout
by voting as a bloc
in Philippine elections.
Now church leader
Eduardo Manalo
is a confidante of strongman
president Rodrigo Duterte.
Former minister Rolando Dizon
saw the church’s position
of privilege from the inside.
Bob: You say they can get away
with anything they want
to get away with
in the Philippines.
Yes.
Bob: Specifically
why is that?
Because of their influence.
They have a lot of
influence over politicians.
Not only that, the brethren
there in the Philippines,
they will do anything.
They’re like blind followers.
Man: You’re an asshole.
You’re an asshole, too.
Bob: Canadian Barry Gammon
came into conflict with INC
members in the Philippines
when they began building
a church nearby.
It started when he complained
about all the noise.
But a police report would
indicate the dispute went
far beyond that.
Gammon recorded this
confrontation with an
INC member on his cellphone.
[ Yelling ]
Bob: Originally from
Montreal, after Barry Gammon
met his wife Luzie, they had a
son and built their dream home
in the Philippine countryside.
Luzie: We really worked
so hard together.
Together we build it
and we’re proud that
we built it ourselves.
Bob: According to Luzie,
it was an idyllic life,
until the INC chapel
went up next door.
Luzie: When they’re doing
their construction,
the in and out of the motor
bikes and they’re working
like until midnight.
That started the
encounters between us.
Bob: Those encounters
dragged on for two years
at all hours of
the day and night.
Luzie: Three o’clock, we’re
awake, our son is awake.
How are you going to
have peace in that?
Barry: You’re on my
fucking property…
Bob: It all came to a head
when Gammon argued with this
INC member who’d
parked in his driveway,
blocking his gate.
He’s also a local lawyer.
INC Member: We’re not done.
I will see you
in court, asshole.
Bob: But there would be
one final encounter
with other INC members.
They were really, really mad
that time and said,
“We’re not done.”
Did it ever cross your mind that
this would turn to violence?
Nothing, never.
Bob: One evening
this past June,
Barry and his
7-year old son, JJ,
were on their front porch,
when suddenly there was
a stranger with a gun.
This guy came in
and just shoot him.
Just keep on
shooting and shooting.
And then my husband dropped.
I saw him bleeding, he
dropped on the floor bleeding,
then only I realize my son,
my son is just on the…
So he’s been there
for all of this.
Yeah.
Bob: She hustled
JJ into the house,
trying to hide
him under the bed.
But he wouldn’t go.
It’s just really, like,
heart-breaking,
like he told me,
“We need to help daddy.”
I said, “Stay here first!”
“No, Mommy.
I’m going to come with
you, we die all together.”
Bob: His family survived,
but Barry Gammon would die
from his gunshot
wounds that night.
It was just over a
month later, August 2018,
when Luzie and JJ
reached Vancouver.
VR 116, Manila.
Bob: Met at the airport
by Lowell Menorca.
Hello!
How are you?
[ Speaking Alternate Language ]
You okay?
[ Speaking Alternate Language ]
You are safe now.
Is this your son?
Hello.
Hi, Jesse.
How are you?
Okay?
My God.
You’re safe now.
Okay?
You are with Mommy and you’re
with some friends and family.
So, you have nothing
to worry about, okay?
You are here in Canada.
I know it’s a lot to take in.
Bob: In Canada, there
has been no reported violence
connected to the church.
But since he arrived,
Menorca has reason
to believe he’s been followed.
Surveillance photos of his
daily routine in Vancouver,
posted online.
In one of its decisions,
the Canadian Immigration
and Refugee Board says
it’s clear that police
in the Philippines are willing
to protect INC even going so far
as to suggest a number of
scenarios in which a critic
of the church might be killed.
“From staged police encounters,
to death in custody, to contract
murder in a country where hit
men are plentiful and cheap.”
Bob: Meanwhile, Luzie Gammon
and her 7-year old son are at
a safe house in
British Columbia,
fearful of reprisals after
her husband’s killing.
He just wants to be in peace.
Bob: This is her first and
only interview since the murder.
Is there any doubt in your mind
that what happened that night
had to do with your
fight with the church?
Are you okay?
Okay.
[ Inaudible ]
I think he’s as worried about
you as you are about him.
Oh yeah he’s very,
he’s very, really strong.
Is there any doubt to
you that what happened,
the death of your husband,
was because of your dispute,
your fight with
Iglesia Ni Cristo?
Yeah.
It’s definitely
it’s about them.
Bob: And back
in the Philippines,
authorities agree the fatal
attack on Barry Gammon could
have been triggered by his
dispute with INC members.
According to this police
report obtained by the CBC,
“there is a long-standing
spat between the couple
and several
church-goers.
There is a very good likelihood
any of those whom the victim may
have displeased greatly”
had him “shot to death.”
And Gammon isn’t alone.
A number of former INC members
have also been murdered or gone
missing in the Philippines.
A well-known church critic
ambushed and shot to death
in 2017.
Another expelled member missing
and believed murdered in 2017.
A third shot through
the eyes in 2018.
And we’ve documented four
examples of former INC members
kidnapped or illegally detained.
While we found no evidence INC
leadership ordered or knew about
any violence,
time and time again,
those who cross INC or its
members seem to become
targets themselves.
Back in California, INC leader
Eduardo Manalo is about to hold
another anniversary service.
Close to 20,000
followers are expected
at the Sacramento arena.
And on our way to the event we
appear to have picked up some
followers of our own.
Bob: Two cars and several
men have been tailing us
all morning.
Driver: They are right
behind us right now.
You can see them
through the door.
Yeah, that’s them,
that’s the car.
Let’s gear up.
I’ll put a mic on.
Bob: Hi!
Okay, why are you following us?
Well, I was just going
to make sure…
that you are all right.
Bob: He introduces
himself as Don Orozco,
a Philippine journalist
from the U.S.
I am not employed with INC.
I am here representing
Philippine news.
Really, is that what journalists
do in the Philippines?
They try to stop fellow
journalists elsewhere from
doing their jobs on behalf
of a church like INC?
Is that what you do?
As I stated earlier,
I am here to guide you,
not to stop you.
Okay?
Bob: Eventually he admits
he is also an INC member.
People have told us, people
who say they were victims,
have told us, that the church
has been associated with
kidnappings, murders,
systemic corruption,
the skimming from collections.
Smuggling money in
and out of the U.S.
That is not true.
No?
That’s never happened?
I completely deny that.
You have been seeing
us in the bad light.
Why haven’t you seen the
better light of the church?
Because we’ve been speaking to
people whose lives have been
threatened by the church, or
whose husbands have been killed.
That’s again,
a big accusation.
It is.
That’s again a big accusation
that you’re giving me…
Mrs Barry Gammon will
make it to your face.
And she has told us in
great detail what happened.
Well, again, it’s her word
against our word.
And what does it say?
So– so I cannot further
comment on that.
Bob: At this point we’ve
already sent several emails
asking to speak to the INC
leader and when we get to
the arena, church security
obviously knows we’re coming.
This is private property.
We need you down on the street.
Bob: We head into the
underground garage looking for
where Eduardo Manolo might
make his exit after the service,
hoping to ask him questions
raised by our investigation.
You are not welcome down here.
Bob: Again, they’re
expecting us.
Inside, the INC leader
and 17,000 faithful,
literally kissing his ring.
In the garage, the CBC crew
kept away by a line of Manalo’s
security guards.
It’s as close as
we’re going to get.
You can go or we’ll contact PD.
That’s perfectly fine.
Because you guys do not
have the right to film here.
Yeah.
We are doing a piece on INC
that will look at allegations
of financial corruption,
kidnapping and murder.
You’re not doing it here.
If we have to leave,
we will leave.
Okay, you need to leave.
Bob: But when we get
back to our rented SUV,
someone’s left us a message.
From the beginning of
the day, they followed us,
they harassed us, they did
everything they could to keep us
from doing our jobs.
Fair enough.
It’s all in a day’s work.
But then we got back to
our vehicle afterwards.
All of our tires were slashed.
You can see where
the knife went in here.
Look at this one.
This one’s is totally deflated
because it’s been slashed.
[ Chuckling ]
Do we know for a
fact who did this?
Did we see who did this?
No.
Do we have a pretty good idea?
We do.
Bob: Our INC
minder isn’t far away.
We ask him.
I have no idea.
Coincidence?
I have no idea.
I’m a journalist, I don’t
believe in coincidences.
Well, it happens.
It does happen.
I would imagine it happens
occasionally with those
who cross INC.
I am sad that’s what happened.
Bob: Weeks later, we get a
letter from the lawyers for INC,
calling the allegations
from our investigation,
“Scandalous, outrageous
and untrue.”
Lowell: Morning!
Hi, Mama.
How are you?
Bob: Back in Vancouver,
Lowell Menorca still considers
INC a serious threat.
I want a hug, I want a hug.
Bob: His mother,
recovering from a stroke,
also fled here from
the Philippines,
fearing she’s in danger from
INC because of her son’s efforts
to expose them.
The church denies that.
Let’s pray first?
Okay.
[ Praying in
Alternate Language ]
Bob: Today, the Immigration
and Refugee Board will
decide whether she,
too, can stay in Canada.
I fear that she won’t survive
if ever she will be sent back
to the Philippines.
Bob: At day’s end,
the hearing is over
and Lowell Menorca is smiling.
The Refugee Board has given
protection to his mom, as well.
It went great, it went great.
Prayers answered.
I’m just so happy and relieved
that my mom will finally be
safe here in Canada.
I can’t explain how happy I am.
Bob: His mother is safe,
but his wife and kids are still
in hiding in Asia.
Hi.
Good morning.
Hi, Ichi.
Wow, that’s a hat.
Wow.
Bob: Lowell is in touch by
Skype but he hasn’t physically
been with them in almost
three years and he’s never even
held his now two-year-old son.
Whoa.
Whoa!
I miss you, Ichi.
Looking back three years ago,
leaving my family was
the hardest thing for me to do.
But I know, back then, it’s the
only way I can keep them alive,
if I stay away from them.
Bob: Once he couldn’t
imagine being without
Iglesia Ni Cristo,
his lifelong church.
Now he says he’s learned
that INC and God
are two very different things.
♪ ♪

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