A Chronology of Events on the Crisis that has Gripped the UCCP
This document is a raw material from Dr. Noriel Capulong as the author of the article. I am posting this for everyone to think about, and assess whatever truths and fallacies within it.
Anybody can come and bring in your opinion, your assessment of the events and processes mentioned here in the light of our Constitution and By-Laws and of course our Bible as our guide.
Leave your comments in the comment box just below the end of this article.
Nov. 8, 2013– Super Typhoon Yolanda hit the city of Tacloban along with other areas in Eastern Visayas. Forced the closure of establishments in the city including UCCP Bethany Hospital, a tertiary, hospital of choice servicing the whole of region 8 (Leyte, Samar, Biliran). 2013 was then its 95th year of operation and preparing already for its centennial celebration in 2018.
Local volunteers and workers immediately began cleaning up the debris left in the premises of the hospital. First floor was flooded, windows and roof were damaged but no structural damage detected.
Doctors without Borders (Medicins sans Frontiers or MSF) set up its own tent hospital in the premises of Bethany and offered to fix and replace the damaged roofing and offered help also, even some valuable equipment to get the hospital reopened. It attended to numerous patients who were victims of Typhoon Yolanda from various parts of the region.
Then DOH Undersecretary Paulina Ubial visited the hospital premises and urged the hospital officials to reopen as soon as possible due to the serious health and humanitarian situation in the area as a result of the devastating typhoon. She offered hospital equipment for whatever was damaged or destroyed in the typhoon. She offered to reassign medical personnel including doctors and nurses if Bethany’s own could no longer report for work. If ever immediate finance is needed, she urged the hospital officials to charge the bills of all patients they treat to PhilHealth and DOH will help facilitate. Dr. Ubial received no response.
May 2014 – UCCP General Assembly in Legaspi City. In response to the strong resolution of the delegation from Leyte, an action was unanimously approved by the GA, “To task the National Executive Council (NEC) to expedite the rehabilitation and reopening of Bethany Hospital as soon as possible.”
Oct. 4, 2014 – NEC decided to declare total closure of Bethany Hospital. The reason advanced was the claimed serious financial losses of the hospital which prevents it from paying off its payables to its employees and other obligations.
NEC also made another action recommending to the National Council, To engage the services of an auditing firm for a financial audit of Bethany Hospital, Tacloban to determine the financial losses of Bethany, as a result of Typhoon Yolanda.
This means the NEC declared total closure of Bethany Hospital without any clear and external audit based determination of the financial condition of the hospital.
(As of Jan. 21, 2018, the court of tax appeals has thrown out or dismissed the BIR’s tax assessment and demand letter on UCCP Bethany Hospital in Tacloban to the amount of P7M due to BIR’s failure to prove that UCCP Bethany Hospital was trying to evade paying taxes.)
October 27-29, 2014– National Council Meeting in Maasin, Leyte.
- The NC voted to affirm the above recommendations of the NEC.
- The NEC also recommended to the National Council for approval the expansion of the duties of the National Treasurer to be the one in charge of overseeing the major program undertakings of the church: Human Resource Development, Finance, and Property Development. This is part of his proposed 20-year Stewardship program. So as not to appear taking over the constitutional role of the Commission on Stewardship and Resource Development, it also stated that these functions will be carried out in coordination with the CSRD.
- The National Council also approved this recommendation of the NEC along with many others.
Not long after, the main edifices of Bethany Hospital were demolished without any prior authorization from the National Council. The NC action only gave the approval for the closure but not to the demolition of the building.
August 20-22, 2015
- National Council in Tagum City, Davao Del Norte, approved the recommendation of the NEC to create a UCCP Realty Co. and a UCCP Holding Company.
- The Reality Company will be in charge of investing or leasing the properties of the church.
- The Holding Company will be in charge of taking control and ownership of prime properties of the church as a stock, for-profit corporation.
- UCCP entered into a 40 year lease contract with Gaisano Metro Retail Corp. for a Mall to be built in the area of the Bethany Hospital. (CSRD policy for leasing properties is 20 years only).
- The contract was sealed with the first payment of advance rental of P7, 350,000 in spite of the strong letter of concern from the CSRD members and another letter from the chair of the CSRD.
- Total payment of advance rental amounted to P 75.9M. Details of payments and releases will be presented later.
October 21, 2016
Faith and Order Commission met to respond to the issues raised concerning the creation of the Realty and Holding Companies.
October 25, 2016
Faith and Order Commission sent an urgent letter of Concern to the Council of Bishops expressing alarm over the creeping corporatization of the UCCP Properties and the church losing control over their own properties. They also recommended an alternative means of development of church properties involving a more constitutionally based tripartite participation of the local church, conference and national office in the planning and implementation of every property development project. The point is, we can develop our church properties without having to violate the constitution and by-laws of our church.
It took time for the Council of Bishops to call for a dialogue meeting with the FOC.
February 28, 2017 – The NEC registered for incorporation at the Securities and Exchange Commission the new entity, United Shalom Medical Center in Tacloban City without any approval from the National Council nor the General Assembly. This is supposed to take the place and functions of the demolished Bethany Hospital.
June 12, 2017 –Finally, the FOC had a dialogue with the Council of Bishops on the issue of church property development. No resolution was arrived at after the whole morning and afternoon meeting. The bishops strongly justified the ongoing corporatization of church properties but promised to respond to the alternative proposal of the FOC in the development of church properties. They never came out with a response.
October 25, 2017–Chairman of the Commission on Stewardship and Resource Development, Atty. Levi Ugsad sent an open letter to Gen. Sec. Reuel Marigza questioning the Gaisano lease contract and the impending joint venture agreement with Vistaland over the Malate lot near Shalom Center both of which had been cited for violation of the church policy on property development.
November 18, 2017-The Faith and Order Commission had a special meeting held at Silliman University Church and discussed the current issues emanating from the actions of the national leaders regarding property development and the question of constitutionality as well as theological viability of their plans and directions of their policies and the ethical implications on the life and organization of the church. In light of the dominant atmosphere of secularization and corporatization seemingly gripping the majority of church workers and officers of the church, the commission felt that there is a need for more theological coherence and biblical re-awakening in approaching the issues that were arrived at.
November 21, 2017
The Faith and Order Commission issued its official statement unanimously approved by the members, “The End Does Not Justify the Means.” (available on the Pagmata file). It attempted to view the issue of property development as essentially a theological and ethical issue that requires the serious attention of every church member. It cited the growing contradiction between what a church as UCCP ought to be and what appears to be happening recently which tend to distort the very image of the church as the body of the servant Christ. It presented a more biblical understanding of land and property and how it is supposed to be taken cared of and used by those entrusted with it as a Trust Asset being missionary-religious properties. It also presented a number of recommendations most of which restate the original recommendations made in the earlier letter of concern sent to the Council of Bishops a year earlier.
The official FOC statement was blocked from the UCCP website and prevented from being seen by most of the UCCP constituents. It was then that the website group Pagmata UCCP (Wake Up UCCP!) was born, initiated by members of the Chapel of the Evangel Fellowship in Dumaguete City. Aside from providing a venue for the posting of the FOC statement and other articles, it exposed the questionable issues surrounding the matters of the Bethany closure and demolition and the contract with Gaisano for the building of a mall as well as the impending contract with Vistaland for the construction of a 42 story twin tower condominium on the Malate lot near Shalom Center. Both contracts and their terms remain undisclosed to the church members as of this time.
December 4-5, 2017
Special National Council Meeting was convened by the General Secretary at the UCCP Shalom Center for the purpose of approving the proposed joint venture contract with Vistaland for the building of a twin tower condominium at the Malate lot near Shalom Center. Both the chairs of the Faith and Order Commission and that of the Commission on Stewardship and Resource Development questioned the proposed contract, the actual provisions were not even shared to the delegates. The CSRD chair questioned the proposal on grounds that it did not follow the required procedures as provided in the Church Policies and Guidelines on Property Development- no prior project or Feasibility Study, no public bidding, no environmental impact study, no risk analysis. Original land title could not even be presented to determine in whose name is the title registered.
The Special National Council voted to approve the proposed contract with Vistaland even though the contract was never seen nor scrutinized by the delegates, its risks and liabilities were never discussed, only the proposed benefits were highlighted. Meanwhile, the Pagmata UCCP group held a candlelight prayer vigil at their chapel grounds to pray for the meeting.
January 9, 2018
Two members of the Faith and Order Commission, chair Noriel Capulong and member Everett Mendoza filed a complaint with the National Commission on Discipline and Conflict Resolution. Among others, it calls for the nullification of the contract entered into with Metro Gaisano for the building of a mall in the area that was once Bethany Hospital Compound, the dissolution of the board of the newly created United Shalom Medical Center which is claimed to be the restored Bethany Hospital. It also prayed for the nullification of the action of the National Council giving the National Treasurer the power to oversee the Finance, property development and the human resource programs of the church for being unconstitutional. It also prayed for the issuance of an injunction to prevent the officers from proceeding to sign the contract with Vistaland for the construction of a twin tower condominium in the Malate lot area.
January 12, 2018 – NEC, by virtue of the approval given by the NC authorized the General Secretary to sign the contract with Vistaland for a joint venture agreement to build a twin tower condominium in the area adjoining Shalom Hotel in the corner of Luis Guerrero and Malvar Sts. In the same meeting of the NEC, they claimed to have met also as National Council which then proceeded to proclaim a series of new amendments to the Constitution and By-Laws of the UCCP which were never presented on the floor of the General Assembly and were never presented to the conferences for ratification. One highly questionable provision inserted in the new amendments refers to the matter of dissolution: “Par. 11 of the 2018 Amended Articles of Incorporation of the UCCP states: “That in the event of dissolution, the assets of the organization shall be distributed to another accredited NGO/Foundation organized for similar purpose/s, or to the State for purpose/s or would be distributed by a competent court of justice to another NGO/Foundation to be used in such manner as in the judgment of said court.” (As amended by NC action, UCCP West Triangle Cathedral, Quezon City, January 12, 2018)
The officers went on to register these series of amendments before the SEC where it was approved. These actions were never reported on the floor of the last UCCP General Assembly, last May 2018. It was not included in the minutes of NEC or NC meetings submitted to the GA last May. This illegal action of the NEC is now the subject of a resolution filed at the RTC of Davao City praying among other things for the nullification of such amendments.
January 19-20, 2018
The newly born Pagmata UCCP group held its first Summit in Dumaguete City. It was attended by more than 100 participants from various churches in the Visayas and Mindanao and a few from Luzon. It heard inputs on the issues regarding the Bethany Hospital closure and subsequent demolition and leasing of property to Metro Gaisano Malls, the Vistaland condominium project at the Malate property. The participants also heard an initial analysis of the state of finances of the UCCP based on the earlier financial reports of the National Treasurer. The participants then went into small group discussion for further planning and organizing of regional movements for the education of more UCCP members and pastors.
Other regional Pagmata Summits led by Dr. Everett Mendoza were held in different cities in the Visayas and Mindanao Areas (Davao, Tacloban, Cabadbaran, Cagayan, Dipolog, Ipil, Masbate. Shorter Fora were held in Dumaguete City church, Mabinay, churches in North Negros, Lapulapu City, and finally only last Nov. 29, 2018 at the Ellinwood Malate Church. Meantime, the followers of Pagmata has climbed to almost seven thousand viewers and members. More fora are being scheduled in different places even in Luzon. In most of these regional fora and summits there were always attempts by representatives of the national officers to discourage, intimidate, coerce if not outrightly prevent the local hosts from proceeding with the event. There were threats of disciplinary action on pastors who would join the growing movement. Incoming ministerial students were pressured not to enroll at the Divinity School. Those who still proceeded were threatened with cancellation of their scholarship support.
March 3, 2018-First hearing of the complaint filed by Noriel Capulong and Everett Mendoza was held at the Shalom Hotel in Malate. The respondents, led by the General Secretary, Bp. Reuel Marigza thru their counsel, Atty. Edre Olalia immediately moved for the dismissal of the complaint on grounds of technicality. The motion, however, was not entertained. After a day-long hearing, focusing yet on preliminaries the next session was set for April 14, 2018, also at the Shalom Hotel.
April 14, 2018-The second hearing of the complaint was held at the Shalom Hotel. The NCDCR suggested some form of amicable settlement which the complainants rejected. The NCDCR then suggested another form of resolving the case, through a mediation process. Both parties agreed to a three-member team of mediators who are respected and are in good standing in the church. They are to be facilitated by a trained professional mediator. The complainants suggested the name of national scientist Dr. Angel Alcala. The respondents suggested the name of Dr. Jurgenne H. Primavera. The NCDCR suggested the name of Dr. William Padolina. The three are all well known and respected scientists and members in good standing. The professional mediator contacted and who agreed was Ms. Marides Virola Gardiola. The complainants requested that the first mediation session be held in Dumaguete since they have been doing all the traveling and spending for the past two sessions. The NCDCR agreed and the first mediation session was set on May 15, 2018 in Dumaguete City.
May 15, 2018– First Mediation session in Dumaguete City. But none of the respondents came. They asked instead to talk to the Mediators via a skype connection, saying that they are too busy to leave their offices. The mediators talked separately to both the complainants and the respondents, the latter, through skype connection. Among the recommendation arrived at by the mediators after this meeting was for the General Assembly which will be held soon, the following week, be directed by the NCDCR to not discuss or take action for approval or confirmation all matters or issues related to property development. This is so that any GA decision will not render moot and academic any possible resolution that may be arrived at by the mediation session. The NCDCR accepted such recommendation of the Mediators and issued a directive to the officers of the GA to refrain from discussing or taking any action on any matter related to property development which includes the case of the Bethany-Gaisano contract and the case of the Vistaland condominium project. The NCDCR also directed all parties to refrain from engaging in rallies, demonstrations and public forum in the vicinity of the GA. At the same time, it also issued a status quo order to the respondents to prevent any activity related to the Vistaland and Gaisano construction contract.
May 23-27-11th General Assembly of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. The GA observed the order of the NCDCR not to act on any matter pertaining to property development. Thus the contracts with Vistaland and Gaisano were not confirmed. There was however an attempt in the opening session, during the report of the Review Committee, tasked with reviewing the actions of the previous GA in 2014 in Legaspi, to invalidate the motion that was unanimously approved then, that of tasking the NEC to rehabilitate and reopen the Bethany Hospital as soon as possible. The attempt was based on an argument that such motion passed during the last GA was invalid because the movant, the chair of the FOC) was not a voting member of the assembly. It was a brazen attempt to erase any trace of a serious historic blunder committed at Bethany. There was a long impassioned debate on the issue. Finally, the assembly approved the report of the review committee without their suggested corrections.
June 14, 2018-The next mediation session was held at the Shalom Hotel in Malate. This time, only Bp. Reuel Marigza (the former Gen Sec) attended. The two other respondents, Larry Milan, and Pio Baconga did not show up even though they just attended a meeting of all the commissions the day before in the same venue. Earlier, the NCDCR, adopting the recommendation of the Mediation team had issued a directive, ordering the National Treasurer to submit a status report on the Finances received from Gaisano and Vistaland together with the list of their releases. The national treasurer however submitted only the financial status regarding the advance rentals paid by Gaisano amounting to P75.9M with the list also of releases from such an amount.
The following are the list of receipts and releases of the Gaisano rental fund. After receiving an initial amount of P 7, 350,000 other subsequent payments came as follows:
May 27, 2016 ………..5,150,000.00
June 20, 2016 ………10,000,000.00
August 25, 2016 …..53,400,000.00
A total amount of advance rental paid by Gaisano was P 75, 900, 000.
The following releases were then made:
UIHM – Demolition/clearing expenses 12,500,000.00
Investment – UCCP Shalom (Haran), 6% interest, 5 years 7,000,000.00
Investment – UCCP Shalom (Cebu), 5% interest, 5 years 10,000,000.00
Investment – VCMC, 6% interest, 5 years 6,000,000.00
Investment – ECLOF, 6.5% interest, 3 years 10,000,000.00
Loan payment to DBP (VCMC loan) 10,276,111.11
General Assembly 2018 2,000,000.00
Return of interfund borrowing 16,899,992.00
Union Christian College (Lot purchase) 2,500,000.00
The balance after releases actually produced a more than 1M deficit with the biggest release used to pay up the advances or borrowings taken from the Restricted Fund made up of the Endowment Funds for Church Workers benefit, Retirement and Scholarships, etc.
These matters were not fully discussed during the Mediation because of the absence of the national treasurer. The complainants expressed their deep frustration at the attitude and seemingly cavalier and uncaring response of the respondents. Discussion of issues again focused on both the Bethany and Vistaland cases as well as the matters of the stewardship program of the church now under the direct supervision of the national treasurer. After a whole morning and whole afternoon discussion that often times became heated it was clear the former Gen Sec was banking on their own interpretation of the CBL which he believes has granted equal powers and authority to the National Council, making it a co-equal decision-making body of the General Assembly. That is why for him, the action of the NC is enough for the contract with Vistaland to be executed to its full completion without requiring any confirmation from the GA. This, even if there is a status quo order from the NCDCR. Near the end of the discussion, he gave a little concession when he said that he will try to make the NEC reconsider its decision giving overseer powers to the NT over the matters of finance, property development, and human resource development.
August 1-The next Mediation Session again took place at Shalom Hotel. This time, the new Gen Sec. Bp. Melzar Labuntog was present along with two of the respondents, NT Larry Milan and former Chair of the GA Pio Baconga. Later, the new chair of the General Assembly, Mr. Keith Quebral came and joined the process. The mediators reviewed the progress made by the process so far along with some consensus made in the previous sessions.
Again the complainants brought up the main issues of the Bethany and Vistaland contracts and reiterated the need for the documents to be presented, the signed contracts, the land titles and the original deed of donation of the Malate property. At first, the respondents, Larry Millan, Pio Baconga together with Bp. Labuntog joined their voices and with hands raised insisted that there was yet no contract signed with Vistaland. Confronted however with the record of the minutes of January 12, 2018, NEC meeting they admitted that what was signed was a contract for a Joint Venture Agreement with Vistaland. It was made clear that the invitation to submit proposals to develop the area was confined only to few “reliable” developers and did not go through a public process of bidding as required by church policy and guidelines. The respondents were also confronted with reports of actual activity in the Malate lot in question pointing out to them the fact that a perimeter fence with the promotional ads and logo of Vistaland is now put up in the whole area and that agents of Vistaland are now soliciting potential unit buyers for the condominium. Respondent Millan explained that Vistaland is only in the stage of promotion but not yet in the stage of preselling.
They were reminded of the prevailing status quo order from the NCDCR to which they did not anymore answer. It was also made clear that there was no consultation made with the local stakeholders (LCSMC and Ellinwood Church) in the area in the decision made for the development of the Malate lot area. The session ended with little consensus such as the need to really revise the processes of decision making which have become confusing for the church and the need for more transparency and feedback system in policy making as well as in the matter of transforming the use of the property from religious-educational to commercial purposes. But the main concerns of the complainants as to the questionable, illegal status of the Gaisano and Vistaland deals were not actually resolved. The lead mediator said that it will now be up to the NCDCR if the mediation process will still be continued. The Mediation team came up with some recommendations to the NCDCR which the NCDCR approved and it then issued a directive.
August 21, 2018-NCDCR issued an order directing both parties to extend the Mediation process subject to the agreement of both parties as recommended by the Mediation Team and to provide the commission copies of the documents pertaining to the contract with the Vistaland Joint Venture Agreement and for the respondents to observe the Status Quo with regard to the Vistaland project.
August 31-Sept. 1, 2018 -Pagmata UCCP National Convention, in Dumaguete, with 100 plus, more national in scope with participants coming from Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, with more new members added. Seven participants came from NESTCON. With reports on the latest developments, analysis of events. Planning for a regional organization. 4R Movement launched under the Banal na Bubong ng Dios.
November 5, 2018-The petitioners Capulong and Mendoza received copies of an Omnibus Motion filed by the respondents thru their lawyer Atty. Edre Olalia petitioning the NCDCR to
- Lift the status quo order on the Vistaland project
- Withdraw the NCDCR order for the Vistaland contract to be submitted to the NCDCR.
- To declare the termination of the Mediation process
- To cite the petitioners Capulong and Mendoza in contempt and for disciplinary measures to be imposed on them.
Both Rev. Capulong and Rev. Mendoza issued separate replies to the NCDCR on their own without resorting to the help of their lawyers in observance of the fact that since the Mediation period is not yet officially terminated, lawyers should remain out of the picture and should not intervene.
November 2018-Some local churches began receiving notices from their respective conference ministers of an impending plan to visit all the churches for an evaluation of their programs, registration, and finances as well as an inventory of their properties.
November 2018-Bp. Melzar Labuntog sent a letter to the president of Philippine Christian University informing the latter of the plan to develop the property occupied by the Union Elementary School and the need for the property to be vacated by December 31, 2018, and the school to be relocated to the main campus in Taft Ave.
November 24, 2018 –Ellinwood Malate church held a meeting of concerned members regarding the issue of the impending demolition of the UES. They later issued a statement of concern calling on the church officials to reconsider their plans regarding the UES property.
November 29, 2018-Rev. Noriel Capulong filed a complaint before the prosecutor at the Quezon City Hall of Justice, a criminal complaint against Bp. Melzar Labuntog, Mr. Larry Millan for violation of the Corporation Code Sec. 74, for their failure to provide access and the right to examine the requested documents of the church. The complaint contains the demand for 17 documents which the respondents have refused to provide copies to the complainant.
Later on the same day of Nov. 29, the team of Rev. Noriel Capulong, Dr. Everett Mendoza, and Ms. Jean Espino went to Ellinwood Malate Church and led in a forum hosted by the church regarding church property development with special attention to the ongoing controversy regarding the impending demolition of the Union Elementary School.
December 4, 2018 –A group of alumni, faculty and students and friends of the Union Elementary School held a picket rally in front of the school demanding that the school be not demolished and that its educational mission be made to continue to in the same location.
More activities, forums and educational gatherings are being planned for the sake of the informing and equipping more of the UCCP constituents regarding the issues surrounding the property development schemes of the national leadership.
Prepared by Rev. Noriel C. Capulong
Dec. 14, 2018