Lowell Menorca cares for his mother, Fredisminda Menorca, partially paralyzed by a stroke shortly after she applied for refugee status in Canada.(Facebook)
Mother and son are now both refugees in Canada
By Ted Alcuitas
An expelled Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) church member is elated that his mother has been granted refugee status in Canada.
Fredisminda Menorca is the mother of Lowell Menorca, 41, a former unordained minister-turned opponent of the INC’s leadership who fled the Philippines to Canada in 2016 for fear of his life. He applied and was granted refugee status last year.
“The church administration has the mentality that they are above the law and untouchable. I hope that this decision will send a message that their influence and clout does not work in Canada,”, Lowell Menorca told philippinecanadiannews.com (PCN.com) following the decision of the Immigration Refugee Board (IRB) yesterday. (July 17).
The IRB panel found Fredisminda Robosa Menorca, 74, faces “a risk to her life or … [a risk] of cruel and unusual treatment and punishment” from the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) or Church of Christ.
The Board ruled she is a “person in need of protection” from her former church.
“The claimant is afraid that if she returns to the Philippines she will be persecuted and mistreated by the church administration and their members, especially fanatical religious followers,” noted the board decision.
The panel found the church has “the motivation and the capacity to harm her as a way of controlling or punishing her son.”
Lowell Menorca has alleged members of the church abducted him, attempted to kill him and threatened the life of his young daughter when he lived in the Philippines.
Stroke victim ‘a very easy target’: IRB
Mrs.Menorca suffered a stroke soon after arriving in Canada living he partially paralyzed and bedridden.
She couldn’t attend her own refugee hearing, instead providing her testimony through a designated representative appointed by the IRB,reported.
Given her condition, the IRB notes Fredisminda Menorca would be especially vulnerable if sent back to the Philippines.
“As someone who is immobile and completely and utterly dependent on others for her daily life, the claimant is, simply put, a very easy target,” wrote the panel.
Fredisminda Menorca alleges the “INC is a cult-like church”— something the Iglesia Ni Cristo has denied.
The INC is the third largest religious group in the Philippines after Catholicism and Islam, although it does not release membership numbers.
Eduardo V. Manalo. (Philippine government photo)
Its Executive Minister, Eduardo V.Manalo was recently appointed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in February this year as his Special Envoy for Overseas Filipinos Concerns.
The church has spread worldwide— listing 39 “places of worship” in Canada on its website, including 11 in Alberta and 10 each in Ontario and British Columbia.
‘We don’t care’: INC minister
The INC did not respond to repeated requests for official reaction to the decision but Paquito Ibañez, a Vancouver-based minister with the church, told CBC News, “We don’t know why they decided and we don’t care.”
PCN.com also sent a request to a Mr. Nestor Florendo listed as the contact person of the Burnaby church but did not received a response at press time.
In its report, the IRB notes that troubles began for her family in 2009, after a change in church leadership sparked internal dissent.
Lowell Menorca, whose late father was once responsible for the political affairs of the church, began to question the direction of the INC, according to the IRB findings.
Evidence presented at his immigration hearing last year indicated the church suspected he was an anonymous blogger who was accusing INC leaders, known as “the Church Administration,” of overspending and corruption — and alleging a cult of personality had developed around the new leader, Eduardo V. Manalo.
Menorca says in 2015 he was kidnapped by church officials, held in an INC compound for three months along with his young family and mother, then saddled with over 40 lawsuits for criminal libel.
When a photo was found on the windshield of his vehicle with a red “X” through the face of his daughter, he put his family into hiding in Asia — and flew to Canada to apply for refugee status.
‘Police…are controlled by the church’: Fredisminda Menorca
In granting protection, first to Menorca and now his mother, the IRB notes the church dissidents would find little or no protection, if returned to the Philippines.
“(Fredisminda Menorca) alleges that police authorities, including high-ranking officers, are controlled by the church,” the immigration panel wrote.
In Lowell Menorca’s case, the IRB similarly found “[the INC’s] power and influence extends to an ability to utilize [police] to target the claimant,” in a country where “convictions for extra-judicial killings … are rare.”
Extra-judicial killings or EJKs are rampant in the Philippines where more than 20,000 have been reported under Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, according to human rights organizations.
This Iglesia Ni Cristo church in Burnaby, B.C., is one of hundreds around the world. (CBC)