Court Acquits ADD “Eternal Life” Discussants from Libel Charge

By Jane Abao

Manila, Philippines (3/16//2015) – This court acquittal marks another victory for MCGI on the lot of libel cases filed by the Iglesia ni Cristo against the former’s ministers. A topic on “Eternal Life” led two panelists of the Ang Dating Daan TV program discussing news items mentioning Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) members as killers. Eternal life would not accommodate such people, they concluded.

Joselito Mallari and Wilfredo Santiago were commenting on three news items published in three local newspapers in their TV program. As a result the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) represented by Bienvenido C. Santiago filed charges against them on March 31, 2004 for the crime of libel. The court, however, acquitted these Ang Dating Daan TV panelists recently.

In a 13-page decision penned by Presiding Judge Manuel B. Sta. Cruz, Jr. of the Regional Trial Court, NCJR, Branch 226 for Criminal Case No. QO4-126059, Joselito “Josel” Mallari and Wilfredo “Willy” Santiago are acquitted of the crime of Libel for failure of the prosecution to prove all the elements of the crime charged, thus failing to establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 21.48.57

To be able to successfully prosecute the crime of Libel, the court said the complainant must prove the existence of the following elements:

  • The allegation of a discreditable act or condition concerning another;
  • Publication of the charge;
  • Identity of the person defamed; and
  • Existence of malice.

In part, the court said –

The alleged libelous remarks were made by the accused as panelists in the TV program “Ang Dating Daan.” This court notes the remarks were made in the context of explaining the teachings of their religion on the popular topic of “eternal life.” Although it may be argued that some of the members of the Iglesia ni Cristo were offended by the remarks, especially when the news clippings of the murders allegedly committed by individual members of the INC members were shown on the screen, this court rules that this alone does not make the remarks of the accused actionable by itself.

The court further said –

As with all other members of the various religious faith, an individual member of the INC has a reputation that is personal, separate and distinct in the community and it is highly unlikely that one’s personal reputation will be affected by what is seen and heard or published about the other INC members. It is also improbable that the INC community’s reputation, as a whole, will be blemished by these isolated acts imputed to some of its members…

The judgment quoted the Supreme Court stressing in MVRS Publications, Inc. vs. Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines that “words which are merely insulting are not actionable as libel or slander per se, and mere words of general abuse, however opprobrious, ill-natured, or vexatious, whether written or spoken, do not constitute a basis for an action for defamation in the absence of an allegation for special damages.”

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Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path) is the longest running religious program in the country hosted by Bro. Eli Soriano, the Presiding Minister to the Members Church of God, International (MCGI). It has won several local and international awards. At the time of the filing of the case, ADD and the Iglesia ni Cristo were having a running debate centered on their teachings wherein each side tries to defend their teachings. The remarks being contested in this case were allegedly made by the accused on or about April 22, 2003 during the program of Ang Dating Daan at SBN21.

The court said the news items the panelists discussed were: a) People’s Journal, “INC minister shoots farmer dead,” dated July 24, 1996; b) People’s Tonight, “3 Iglesia-Vigilantes nabbed for beheading, roasting 2 men,” and c) Abante, “Ministro Namaril.”

The remarks include, as translated in English, “Do you know of churches that kill? Do they have eternal life?”

“Aha, you see that? He already killed him yet roasted him! Ministro Namaril (Minister Killed Someone). Whatever church that is, those inflicted with that kind of malady, cannot be granted with eternal life. As long as you are a murderer …. my countrymen, do not believe that a murderer is of God and has eternal life.”

The complaint accused these panelists of “intending to convey malicious and offensive insinuations and imputations that are destructive and tends to destroy the name and reputation of the Iglesia ni Cristo with no good justifiable motive but solely for the purposes of maligning, besmirching the name, honor, character and reputation of said offended party and to expose them as in fact they were exposed to public hatred and ridicule to their damage and prejudice.”

MCGI Minister Mallari, one of the accused, is now based outside the country. Defense witness Emilio T. Magdaraog then issued a judicial affidavit. He said the purpose of airing Ang Dating Daan and its related programs like Itanong mo kay Soriano (Ask Soriano, the Bible will Answer) is to spread the word of God according to what is written in the Bible and to have people lead a new life. As translated, he added, “This includes exposing and castigating religions that do evil but introduce themselves as they alone are of God and it is they alone that will be saved.”

Magdaraog is also a Minister for MCGI. Speaking for Mallari, he said in his judicial affidavit that Mallari was speaking in general terms. He was referring to “any religion that agrees and gives consent to killing their members but declares to the public that they alone are the ones who are of God and they alone are the only ones to be saved.” Speaking still in the vernacular, Magdaraog said, “It is clear that the Bible teaches that there is no salvation for killers or murderers. As ministers we are taught to speak the truth, no matter if some will be happy or angry at us.”

This is not the first time libel cases were filed by Bienvenido Santiago as private complainant or representative of the Iglesia ni Cristo against panelists of Ang Dating Daan TV. Fortunately, the courts have acquitted the accused in several libel cases in the years ahead for lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, Wilfredo Santiago, who was Bro. Eli’s Bible Reader, was separated from MCGI in 2009 (five years after the filing of this case) after a frustrated ambition to become minister. Willy had put up his own church group trying to mimic doctrines he learned while at MCGI and infusing them with his own understanding. Failing to muster even a hundred members, he still called his group “worldwide” in an effort to mimic MCGI and be another “Bro. Eli.” Unfortunately for him, those he had taken away have been sending feelers for wanting to return to MCGI.

In this Libel case, filed in 2004 and finally judged this February 15, 2015, Willy was represented by a Public Affairs Office (PAO) lawyer. His co-accused, Mallari, had another counsel representing him.

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For Falsifying Documents Former Bible Reader of Bro. Eli Soriano Gets Arrested

By Jane Abao

Manila, Philippines (2/14/2015) – A former Bible Reader of Bro. Eli Soriano was arrested Friday (2/13/2015) on the charge of falsification of documents. A report from the Bulacan Police Provincial Office signed by Police Superintendent Helson Bragil Walin confirmed the arrest through a memorandum announcing the arrest of wanted persons.

Wilfredo “Willy” Santiago, 41, married, and a resident of Malolos, Bulacan, was ordered taken into custody by authority of law together with two others by Presiding Judge Mario Pocholo M. Telan of the Municipal Court of Baliwag, Bulacan. Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 23.25.52

Criminal Case No. 15-006 filed by his erstwhile wife, Mary Jane Angeles – Santiago accused Willy, Leslie G. Kurata, Edwin R. Benales and a certain John/Jane Do of disposing off two lots of the conjugal partnership without her consent, making it appear that she had signed when in fact she was out of the country. A bail of P12, 000 was set for each of the respondents by the court.

The falsified document shows that the two lots were sold for P450, 000.00 to Leslie G. Kurata of Baliuag, Bulacan with Wilfredo Santiago and Mary Jane A. Santiago as vendors, in the presence of Edwin R. Benales, and another witness.

The Warrant of Arrest for Santiago and the others was signed January 6, 2015 but their whereabouts could not be ascertained until lately.

Willy Santiago is more popularly known as Bro. Eli’s former Bible Reader. He had for 12 years been assisting the evangelist in his programs of Ang Dating Daan in radio and television. Bro. Eli is the Presiding Minister to the Members Church of God International (MCGI) where this Bible Reader used to be a member. Whenever Bro. Eli needed verses to support his preaching or discussion, Santiago would flip the pages to locate the verses fast and read them to the audience. That was his work.

Never having been promoted to minister, Santiago had through the years been aching for leadership too. This became obvious when in October 2009 he was excommunicated from the Church named Members Church of God International (MCGI), he subsequently put up his own church, giving doctrinal issues as his reason for establishing his own. It was a poor excuse to those who knew Santiago well. He, himself, is not disciplined by example. His wife, who left him eventually in 2009 at the exposure of Santiago’s shenanigans, complained of wife beating and abuse in handling financial resources.

Although Santiago had no substantial members to speak of, he called his church “worldwide” to imitate “International.” His Members Church of God in Jesus Christ Worldwide or MCGCJW barely has 30 members. In Spanish he called it Miembros dela Iglesia de Dios en Jesu Cristo en Todo El Mundo Inc. As much as possible, he was imitating the Church he was excommunicated from. However, lacking understanding, the doctrines he preaches are in shambles. Much as he would like to portray “another Bro. Eli,” he cannot come up to the expectations of the audience. The group holds office in Malolos Bulacan but beset with problems after some rift with Santiago’s supposed financial supporters.

Santiago brought along with him church workers who had been excommunicated from the MCGI like him as well as suspended members. After awhile though, some of his people went back to the MCGI fold and some still were sending feelers if they could be welcomed again.

Santiago made sure he was always linked with the name of Bro. Eli for search engine (SEO) purposes. His accounts in social networking sites constantly maligned Bro. Eli and SEO afforded him much traffic. Just before he was arrested, he had uploaded a hundred hate videos against the MCGI leadership and also videos extolling himself. He had lieutenants taking care of his hate posts.

Santiago would hurl challenges for debate again and again as though itching to pitch some new knowledge that the preacher does not know. This was all at the expense of the evangelist since Santiago’s life is not entirely clean. He has taken to wife another woman while he was yet married to Mary Jane. With his new lifestyle, he could be hardly called straight.

Santiago has for years been coveting the position of Daniel Razon, the next in rank to Bro. Eli. For his propensity to look for Bible verses, he had expected to be the second in command. For those in the know, however, Santiago did not have the understanding in explaining verses as well as he could find and read them loud and clear to the audience. That explains why he remained only a Bible reader – but he became ambitious.

Santiago was excommunicated from MCGI towards the end of 2009 by Bro. Eli who still found it viable to let the former hang on. But as early as 2008, Santiago had been secretly playing priest like administering matrimonial services for some. Facebook shows photos of people whose weddings he had performed that are time-stamped 2008. Behind Bro. Eli’s back therefore, he was already making inroads for another organization of his own.

In the case at bar, Santiago admitted that he sold two lots that belonged to the conjugal partnership because he could not find his wife. Secondly, he said he did not ask the authority of the court because the documents show he is the owner and could sell the properties, being that they read, “Wilfredo Santiago, married to…” The court, however, found, probable cause to have him arrested.

In part, the resolution of a motion for reconsideration signed by Rita M. Gammad, Senior Deputy Provincial Prosecutor and approved by Renato C. Samonte, Jr, Provincial Prosecutor, on May 5, 2014 against Wilfredo Santiago et al for Falsification of Documents said –

Considering that all the respondents appeared privy in the execution of the subject deed of sale, let them be charged and tried in the court for the act of falsifying a public document, under the principle of conspiracy.