Lowell Menorca with wife in a Facebook profile image.

Vancouver, B.C.

Iglesia ni Cristo  fugitive wins case

By Ted Alcuitas

The Canadian Immigration and  Refugee Board has granted INC minister Lowell Menorca refugee status citing the current climate of impunity and extrajudicial killings among the reasons in approving the claim.
“When the panel considers the links between the INC and the law enforcement authorities in the Philippines, the general climate of impunity that pervades Philippines law enforcement particularly with respect to the issue of extrajudicial killing, and the level of corruption that exists in the Philippines government and law enforcement apparatus, the panel is satisfied [Menorca] would be unable to avail himself of state protection, from the risks that he fears in that country,” writes the IRB.

“[The INC’s] power and influence extends to an ability to utilize [police] to target the claimant.”

A CBC report says  Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board has found that the church “is motivated by a vendetta” against a dissident who sought refugee status in B.C., and has “both the means and the motivation to seriously harm or kill” him, should he return to the Philippines.

 The Board ruled that Lowell Menorca is ‘in need of protection’

Lowell Menorca holds a photo he says was left on his car in the Philippines showing his family with a red ‘X’ through the face of his then-two-year-old daughter and the warning, ‘Say Goodbye.’ He fled the country and sought refugee status in Canada. (Gavin Fisher/CBC)

In accepting Lowell Menorca’s claim for refugee status, an IRB panel has ruled he’s “a person in need of protection from a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment and a risk to his life.”

The ruling ends 20 months of uncertainty for the church dissident, who fled to Canada in April 2016.

“I was ecstatic. I was overcome with joy,” says Menorca of the IRB’s findings.

“I cried and I cried, and thanked God that finally this was the vindication I was praying for,”  he told the CBC.

This Iglesia Ni Cristo church in Burnaby, B.C., is one of close to 40 across Canada. (CBC)

Menorca, 40, is a former unordained minister with the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), or Church of Christ.

He generated headlines in the Philippines after he broke with the church leadership and became a dissident.

Menorca had claimed that members of the INC abducted him, attempted to kill him and threatened the life of his young daughter.

He made the same allegations before the IRB, and the panel found he was “a credible witness and therefore believes what he has alleged in support of his claim” after hearing his testimony and reviewing “a significant amount of corroborative evidence provided by the claimant.”

The Iglesia Ni Cristo is now the third largest religious organization in the Philippines after Catholicism and Islam.

It supported the candidacy of President Rodrigo Duterte and Bongbong Marcos for vice-President in the 2016 elections.

Unlike the Catholic Church which is in a collission course with President Duterte, the INC has not condemn the ‘war on drugs’.

 

It has 39 churches across Canada, including 11 in Alberta and 10 each in Ontario and B.C..

Lowell Menorca says his wife and two children, ages one and four, are currently in hiding in Asia. He hopes to bring them to Canada. (Lowell Menorca, CBC)

The church has retained Vancouver lawyer Roger McConchie, who has demanded a complete copy of the Immigration and Refugee Board’s decision.

In numerous emails to the CBC, McConchie wrote the church will not comment for now, pending its own investigation of the IRB decision.

INC members sought Menorca’s death: IRB

In its analysis of Menorca’s evidence, the Immigration panel found “members of the INC have previously detained the claimant unlawfully and did attempt to have [Menorca] killed” in the Philippines, the CBC report says.

To back up his claim, the IRB also noted Menorca had provided Philippine news articles “establishing a number of former INC members who had spoken out against the INC have been murdered.”

While noting there is no direct evidence of church involvement, the panel found “this evidence persuasive with respect to the motivation and capability of the INC to violently silence individuals who speak out against the organization.”

Among the allegations the IRB considered was Menorca’s claim that in July 2015, he “was kidnapped … by armed men led by an INC minister. The armed men were police officers acting outside their jurisdiction. These individuals … then threw a grenade into the back seat of the vehicle in a possible attempt to kill the claimant. The grenade didn’t go off.”

Despite noting the panel initially had concerns regarding the plausibility of Menorca’s description of the kidnapping event, it found “despite its strange appearance, given the strong corroborative evidence provided … on the balance of probabilities, the alleged kidnapping took place in the manner described.”

 Menorca hopes to bring family to Canada

Now that Menorca has refugee status, he’s hoping to be quickly granted permanent residency by the Canadian government so he can bring his young family to B.C.— including his 14-month-old son born overseas in his absence.

“I still haven’t held him in my hands, in my arms,” says Menorca, fighting back emotion, told the CBC.

“I hope there is a way that I can get them here as soon as possible, now that I have been granted protected-person status here in Canada. And I will still continue to find ways so I can get them here as soon as possible.”

“They will never be safe, fully safe, unless we’re all together.”

A local paper has reported that Menorca’s mother and sister is living in Vancouver.

Former Iglesia ni Cristo minister ‘fears for his life’