News Type: Event — Sun Nov 4, 2007 11:26 PM EST

Jane Abao

Manila, Philippines – A church group suspected to be behind the troubles of a justice who failed to get appointed as Supreme Court justice surfaced lately.

According to Victor C. Agustin, columnist of Manila Standard Today, the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ) finally surfaced as the group that was behind Gregory S. Ong’s failure to get appointed as Supreme Court (SC) justice. In his column titled, Cocktales, Agustin described this church group as powerful that they would not stop there.

Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong failed to make the appointment because of an unresolved citizenship issue. Agustin said that the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) even wanted Ong removed from Sandiganbayan, an anti-graft court where he sits now.

Agustin wrote, “The powerful Iglesia Ni Cristo has come out in the open not only to prevent Sandiganbayan Justice Gregory Ong from being appointed to the Supreme Court but also to have him unseated from the anti-graft court.” Accordingly, the petition was filed by the lawyer of this group who belongs to the Iglesia Ni Cristo.

The petition to disqualify Ong from the Sandiganbayan, is now pending in the Pasig Regional Trial Court. It was filed by lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, counsel of the Iglesia.

Agustin intimated that Justice Ong had convicted a brother-in-law of the Iglesia’s Executive Minister by the name of Victor Danao, a military colonel.

As described by Agustin, Ong allegedly “caught the ire of the Iglesia hierarchy after the Sandiganbayan justice convicted military colonel Victor Danao, husband of Pilar Manalo, who happens to be a sister of Iglesia Executive Minister Eraño Manalo.” Pilar, said to be the daughter of Felix Manalo, first executive minister of the church group, is known to have composed the songs for the Iglesia.

Meanwhile, the INC’s clout in government is found in their much-touted practice of block voting. Not only does the incumbent Philippine president have the backings of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, but those before her including senators and congressmen who curry their favor come national elections.

Agustin said Lawyer Topacio is being helped in his legal research by a number of Iglesia lawyers in his oral arguments scheduled before Judge Leoncio Janolo Jr.

Being a Sandiganbayan justice, Ong was among the contenders for the position to a vacant slot in the Supreme Court like Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Ruben Reyes, Court of Tax Appeals Presiding Justice Ernesto Acosta, Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, CA Justice Edgardo Cruz and Sandiganbayan Justice Francisco Villaruz Jr. In July, this year, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Ruben Reyes as Associate Justice to the vacant slot.

Earlier it was reported by Aries Rufo of NewsBreak (02/08/2007) that appointed SC justice Ruben Reyes had the backing of the Iglesia ni Cristo and another church group. Reyes turned 68 last January 3, has only one year and two months to serve in the Tribunal before the compulsory retirement of 70.

The non-appointment of Gregory Ong to the high court is more than just the issue of his citizenship, an evangelist has charged recently. More so, the threat of his being removed from the antigraft court.

According to Eliseo Soriano, the un-warranted influence of the Iglesia Ni Cristo in the affairs of the government is to instill fear among the justices so that they will not meddle with the affairs of the INC.

Saying he admires Justice Gregory Ong for his impartiality in judging cases and his courage in carrying out his task, Soriano said Ong has the backing of his congregation, the Church of God, International, more popularly known as Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path). “Tell Justice Ong to carry on. We are all behind him.” Soriano said through live telecast from the United States before thousands of his followers.

Soriano is a Filipino evangelist now preaching overseas and leads a world-wide congregation of about 4 million. His congregation is all the more growing geometrically with weekly baptisms in thousands in the country and abroad as far as Africa, despite persecutions. Soriano was forced to leave the country for open threat on his life.

Ang Dating Daan as a program had been suspended many times by the Movie and Television Review Classification Board (MTRCB) under the Office of the President of the land for reasons related to the INC. Soriano had been attacking INC beliefs, particularly calling Christ a man, tithing regulations, and falsified history. At one time, one reason for the suspension of the program was Soriano’s calling the church-group, “Iglesia Ni Manalo” (church of Manalo) which the group resented.

UPDATE: Manila Times Jomar Canlas reported today that the judge handling this case, Judge Leoncio Janolo Jr., has been penalized by the Supreme Court because of the “delays in resolving cases.” He was fined P11, 000 ($250).

First published in Newsvine