An Alternative Narrative Presented by Rev. Everett Mendoza, a Former FOC member
“And you shall know the truth,
and the truth shall make you FREE.”
– Jesus Christ “The TRUTH is the whole;
the WHOLE is the truth”-Friedrich Hegel, German Philosopher
The Challenge of Property Development
Reconfiguring the Constitution & By-Laws for Corporate Development.
Property development is a constitutional mandate: Article VII, Section 24. Commission on Stewardship and Resource Development. “There shall be a Commission on Stewardship and Resource Development.”
“Its duties and functions consist of formulating and proposing for the approval of the General Assembly or National Council policies, programs and projects for:
a. Christian Stewardship
b. Human Resource Development
c. Investment and Property Development.”
Article 5, Section 21 of the By-Laws states: “The Commission shall establish comprehensive and nationwide property and resource development programs to generate income for the support of the Church.”
Article VII, Section 22. The UCCP Resource Development Foundation. (By-Laws)
a. “The Church shall organize and establish a non-stock, non-profit foundation, which shall be wholly-owned and controlled by the UCCP. The foundation shall serve as the holding company of the Church and shall manage its investment ventures.”
Serving as Implementing Rules and Regulation, the GA passed a Policy Guideline for the development of real estate properties of the Church.
[Show Policy Statement]
Why has the Church failed to develop her properties aside from the successful initiatives of Conferences (example: South Bicol Conference, UCCP Dumaguete)?
Official Narrative: Lack of finance capital and expertise.
Then came super typhoon Yolanda.
The Bethany Hospital Case: Located in Tacloban City, it occupies a 4-hectare lot donated by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission to serve the church’s healing ministry in Eastern Visayas. It would have been 100 years old this year but for its closure and demolition in 2015. It was on a prime real estate right in the heart of the city.
Why was Bethany Hospital closed and demolished? It was established as a mission hospital which has served the people of Eastern Visayas for 95 years.
This is the official narrative:
The Official Narrative: the reason for its closure is overdetermined by several factors: (1) it was facing financial bankruptcy at the time of the Yolanda disaster; (2) the damage was so severe that it was beyond rehabilitation; (3) there was a labor problem when the hospital had no means to recover.
Alternative narrative based on the actual investigation by Pagmata. [Show chronology of events.]
Less than a year after the closure, the CSRD learned about an offer by Gaisano to lease half of the property (2 has.) for the construction of a mall. The negotiation had been completed by the National Treasurer, approved by NEC and the contract due to be signed. Surprised, he wrote the other members of the Commission about it. [Show letter of CSRD chair.]
Despite CSDR’s objections and suggestions, NEC ordered the signing of the lease contract. Subsequently, Gaisano gave UCCP 12.5 million pesos for the total demolition of Bethany Hospital. All employees, except one (finance officer), were terminated at the cost of close to 30 million pesos taken from the advance rental.
In addition, the new administration formed the United Shalom Medical Center, Inc. with a paid-up capital of 12.5 million pesos, also taken from the advance rental. The supposed medical center is but a small laboratory and diagnostic center with equipment salvaged from the demolished hospital.
Theological reflection: There are two points of view regarding the use of church properties. One sees church property as corporate CAPITAL to generate profit. The other sees it as a challenge to do mission following the UCCP’s three-fold ministry: founding local churches, building hospitals and establishing schools; a fourth – livelihood programs to enhance people’s capacity for self-reliance as well as to support the church.
The Malate lot that the missionaries left the Church for theological and Christian education will suffer the same fate – the triumph of the greed of capital over the evangelical mandate of the church. Vistaland is touted to solve all of UCCP’s financial woes. But any business venture is subject to the vagaries of the economy. But one thing is sure, a 42-storey condominium may earn UCCP a hefty sum but it won’t ever be used for the mission of the Church. From now on, when we look at a church property, think CAPITAL.
Why is the FOC involved in the issue of property development? Because it’s a duty and function according to the CBL. Sec. 22 of Art. VII says, “The Faith and Order Commission shall (a) establish norms and standards of doctrine, order, and discipline in the church; and (b) conduct studies and reflections with local churches and other sectors of the Church, taking into account their sentiments and views on important issues of church and public life.”
Acting on its constitutional mandate, the FOC wrote a position paper, “The End Does Not Justify the Means” and sought a dialogue with the Council of Bishops. The FOC also submitted a paper, “ A Non-Corporate Approach to Property Development” consistent with the faith-mission of UCCP and the CBL. The FOC didn’t get a response to the proposal.
It’s a standard corporate practice that a percentage of gross income is allocated to administrative expenses, say 10%. This goes to bonuses and allowances of directors and top officials and refurbishing of offices. Try visiting the luxurious offices of the UCCP General Secretary and National Treasurer now. The money used came from the WMS, the same source for lavish food and venue of meetings and high-end vehicles of Bishops.
There are several examples of successful non-corporate development by local churches, Conferences, and institutions. It’s not true that the Church can’t engage in enterprises while remaining a non-stock, non-profit corporation. Incomes are plowed back for programs that support her institutional life since no dividends are distributed to shareholders. Churches are protected under the Corporation Code of the Philippines.
Stock corporations are not organized for the purpose of supporting programs. That’s what foundations and non-stock corporations are, like the UCCP. Thus, the CBL says, “… to generate income for the support of the Church.” A business corporation is organized for profit essentially for further investments. Dividends for the stockholders come last.
The Truth Will Set You Free-Corporate Model of a Church
In October 2017 Vistaland representatives met with the NEC, One Management Board, and CSRD with a proposal to construct a 42-storey condominium on a Malate mission lot. CSRD chair suggested to open the project to other parties within the month of November.
The deadline passed without any other offer. No public announcements were made, no formal letters of invitation sent to anyone, just verbal reports that no qualified bidders came forward. In a special meeting on Dec. 4, 2017, the National Council approved the Vistaland joint venture with the vote of 63-3-6. The three who voted no was the chair of the FOC, the delegate from Cebu Conference and another from Masbate Conference.
At the NC meeting, no Vistaland representative appeared nor was there any formal offer presented nor a draft contract. All that the NC saw was a powerpoint presentation by the National Treasurer on Vistaland logo. There was no debate since the opposition by the FOC chair and the CSRD chair was abruptly stopped. Legally, what was approved was binding to UCCP but not to Vistaland.
Thereafter, FOC Chair Dr. Capulong and member Rev. Mendoza filed a complaint at the NCDCR questioning the Vistaland deal for gross violation of the CBL and failure to do due diligence and without any project studies, such as feasibility study, market analysis, risk analysis, business plan, etc. Currently, the case is under mediation.
However, converting church properties into capital is not smooth sailing because this was not the intention of the Church’s founders and the early pioneers of the Protestant faith in the country. UCCP’s constitutional and legal framework is not environment-friendly to capitalist economics: Capital1 capital2
Therefore, the CBL must be modified to be compliant to corporate management!
The major step was to empower the national officers to have unrestrained control of church properties. First, was an amendment to make the national treasurer, Corporate Treasurer. He then proposed, in addition to being treasurer, to make himself czar in the Church’s finance and investments, property development and human resource, approved by NEC.
The second step was an amendment making the NEC the Church’s Board of Trustees with the authority and powers corresponding to the Board of Directors in the Corporation Code of the Philippines. This was how they corrected the infirmities in the Gaisano deal to pave the way to the joint venture agreement with Vistaland.
The third step to amend the CBL completes the “palace coup” – turn the collegial relationship between Bishops and Conference Ministers and between CMs and church workers into a hierarchical order. Bishops now exercise a heavy hand on Conference Ministers and CMs over church workers. The ministry becomes a means of control by the central authority.
Administrative oversight in a hierarchical order affects the assignment of pastors to local churches, ordination and licensing and election of Bishops and Conference Ministers. Pastors depend on loyalty to the CM rather than faithful service to the congregation to get the more juicy church assignments. CMs vie for the Bishop’s favor and Bishops compete among themselves to be crowned the next GS.
Finally, the CBL was amended to require the approval of the General Secretary in the development of local church/Conference properties. By this amendment, all church properties are now considered corporate property. To further enhance centralized control of the local churches, their programs are required to conform with the national program and have the approval of the General Secretary.
Compliant officials and ex-officials receive awards in kinds, such as laptops and wristwatches and seats in the boards of the various church institutions. This is normal corporate practice – the giving of material incentives to high-performing employees; hence, nothing wrong with it in the mind of the national leadership.
Theological reflection: Centralization of the church’s material resources and a hierarchical mode of governance go together. The founders and pioneers of UCCP installed a built-in mechanism to counter this kind of development: a combined Presbyterian and congregational form of government that places the locus of the ministry and mission of the church in the local congregation.
This ecclesiological principle is enshrined the CBL as LOCAL CHURCH AUTONOMY which is inviolable. By the exercise of local church autonomy and consistent with the CBL, local churches alone can check the excesses and abuse of power by church authorities. The UCCP church order itself is her defense. This is why the national leadership has devised all means and trickery to manipulate changing the CBL.
The right of members through their local churches to check and correct an authoritarian, erring and irresponsible leadership is guaranteed by the UCCP Constitution and By-Laws sans the perversions of the 2015 amendments to the By-Laws.
The Constitutional provision on local church autonomy is derived from the Reformation ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) which states, thus: “Where the Word is rightly preached and the Sacraments administered rightly, there indeed is the church.” It opposes the Catholic ecclesiology which states that “where the bishop is, there is the church.”
The preaching of the Word and the administration of Sacraments and, to add the common life of the church, are realized in the Local Church. The Conference is but the ecumenical expression of the unity of local churches, while the General Assembly is the national expression of this unity. Apart from the local churches, the Conference and the General Assembly have no ecclesial reality.
In the biblical times, the ascendancy of kings in Israel was the root cause of its corruption and downfall. It was only during the Exile in Babylon when the Lord took away their kings, their land and their treasures that the people realized God’s call from the very beginning: “but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites” (Exo. 19:6).
The church is heir to this call: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). The same is the UCCP’s inheritance. The national leadership’s pursuit of profit and the corruption of the CBL will be her downfall.
To borrow the language of business, the Church should invest in people to become servants of the gospel – to develop committed and competent church workers, to equip the lay to do the work of the church, to engage in service institutions and enterprises that help the poor within the church and in the community, which is the foundation of peace, justice and prosperity in society.
UCCP needs redemption. To ordinary church members – the non-bishops, non-CMs, non-ordained – may find the task too heavy a burden to carry. But the church is not a kingdom or a business empire. It consists of local churches. The CBL declares that the locus of the ministry and mission of the church is the local church. Let’s just do our work, serve the Lord with gladness in fellowship with one another.
ANALYSIS AND RESPONSE TO THE CRISIS
UCCP is in a virtual state of siege. A silent creeping “palace coup” has installed an administration that combines a corporatist system of management and a militarist command structure. NEC officials, past and present, are complicit to it.
The traditional church government prescribed in the UCCP Constitution & By-Laws has been effectively sidelined. Formal constitutional and legal processes, including national elections, are disregarded or maintained but only in form.
This is the reality behind the approval of the Gaisano lease and the Vistaland joint venture and the recently concluded national elections at the General Assembly.
The cases filed at the NCDCR (Capulong & Mendoza vs. Marigza, Millan, et. al on the cancellation of the Vistaland deal and the UCCP Davao City vs. NEC on the nullification of the amendments to the CBL) and the election protest are but manifestations of an ongoing resistance to the coup. The Administration forces are on full alert to suppress all opposition movements and actions.
But not only our heritage of faith is at stake but also the mission properties that the Church has inherited from the Protestant missions. Bethany Hospital was wiped out of the map and soon forgotten. The mission lot in Malate dedicated to theological and Christian education will be lost to a high-rise condominium.
The unamended Constitution is a document derived from the Basis of Union and to the founding Constitution of 1949. Thereafter, it suffered from amendments that (1) created the National Executive Council and later made the Board of Trustees consistent with the corporate powers of a business corporation; (2) effectively abolished local church autonomy while strengthening the hands of Bishops over Conference Ministers and the latter over Church Workers.
The main task before us is to spread the truth among members in the local churches, motivate, organize and guide them towards concrete actions to achieve our goals. This is the mission of the 4-R’s movement and its organizational expression, the Fellowship (Balaang Bobong sa Dios?).
Our Identity as a Church
Who are we and what do we aim to achieve? We are UCCP members engaged in a huge undertaking to reform UCCP to restore its authenticity and relevance following the 4 R’s Principles: Reclaim – Restore – Rebuild – Revive.
RECLAIMING, RESTORING, REBUILDING, REVIVING UCCP MOVEMENT: An Inter-Conferential Fellowship of UCCP Local Churches.
RECLAIM – The past years, even before the 2018 GA, UCCP has shown signs of drifting away from the principles that brought together 5 Protestant Churches into an organic union. This trend was formally declared in the recent NCDCR opinion that the Basis of Union has been effectively abrogated upon the approval and adoption of the UCCP Constitution.
RESTORE – Local church autonomy is the foundational principle of the life, ministry and mission of the Church. However, a creeping hierarchical church order is gradually eroding the rights and prerogatives of local churches and has been institutionalized by the amendments to the CBL and approved at the 2018 GA. Restoration aims at re-empowering of local churches to realize its constitutionally mandated functions and duties.
REBUILD – UCCP’s original church order has suffered violence and disfigurement by administration particularly over the last two quadrennia. Rebuilding the structures and processes of the Church based on its historic template would provide the institutional environment required to pursue its theological and spiritual goals.
REVIVE –Given the right institutional environment a concerted, organized and orderly push at the local church level would lead the UCCP on the way to a more revitalized life, ministry and mission.
- “Paglab-as sa Pakigsaad” – Theological, Liturgical, Spiritual Renewal: lay leaders’ theological education, church leadership and creative liturgy based on UCCP’s traditional teachings, practices and mission programs. (Joshua 24: the Shechem convocation.)
- “Bahin ni Levi” – Program for the material support of church workers of the Fellowship through a church tithe (not individual) to be administered by a committee of lay deacons. For example, the WMS 9% share of the National Office as basic source (Hebrew law of tithing in the Deuteronomic law.)
- “Parasan sa Dios” – Local church property development and enterprise to enhance economic capacity of member families and community. In the rural economy, majority are poor but they make a few very rich – traders, loan sharks, STL operators, drug lords. Starting sources: corporate social funds and church funding agencies. (Miracle of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000.)
A Fellowship Concept
Balaang Bobong Sa Dios, “Sacred Household of God”: A Fellowship of local churches committed to the goals of the 4-R’s Movement.
The Fellowship is not an alternative UCCP Conference nor an autonomous segment of it but an inter-conferential sharing fellowship of local churches and congregations. Their programs and activities are expressions of the principle of local church autonomy in conformity to the UCCP CBL.
1. “Paglab-as sa Pakigsaad” – Theological, Liturgical, Spiritual Renewal: lay leaders’ theological education, church leadership and creative liturgy based on UCCP’s traditional teachings, practices and mission programs. (Chap. 24: Joshua’s Shechem convocation.)
2. “Bahin ni Levi” – Program for the material support in the form of monthly subsidy of church workers in the Fellowship through a church tithe (not individual) to be administered by a committee of lay deacons. (Hebrew law of tithing.)
3. “Parasan sa Dios” – Local church property development, esp. livelihood projects and enterprise. The aim is to raise the members’ standard of living and support for the Church and community. Start-up support may come from state or private agency funding (Jesus feeding of the 5,000.)