Philippine Senate summons Duterte spiritual adviser accused of sexual abuse, trafficking

BenarNews staff
2024.01.22
Manila
Philippine Senate summons Duterte spiritual adviser accused of sexual abuse, trafficking Pastor Apollo Quiboloy (second from right) prays with then-presidential hopeful Rodrigo Duterte (to Quiboloy’s right) at a birthday celebration during a thanksgiving worship service in Lingayen, a town in Pangasinan province, northern Philippines, March 27, 2016.
Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

The Philippine Senate has summoned former President Rodrigo Duterte’s spiritual adviser, a televangelist preacher wanted in the United States on suspicion of sexual trafficking and fraud, to testify in response to allegations of sexual abuse, according to a senatorial aide.

Apollo Quiboloy, who founded the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, a Philippines-based megachurch with branches in the U.S., was asked to appear on Tuesday before a Senate committee chaired by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, one of Duterte’s staunchest critics,  the aide said.

The summoning of Pastor Quiboloy, who refers to himself as the “appointed son of God,” is considered politically significant in the Philippines, where the former president is under pressure from human rights groups over the killings of thousands of suspects during a crackdown on illegal drugs launched under his administration (2016 to 2022).

“Quiboloy was invited. If he snubs the hearing tomorrow, the chair will make a ruling based on the statement he [makes] to the committee,” the aide, who was not authorized to speak to journalists, told BenarNews.

According to the aide, if Quiboloy does not appear on Tuesday, other people and witnesses have been asked to testify before the Senate Committee Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality chaired by Hontiveros.

In filing a senate resolution that called for an investigation into Quiboloy, whose church is headquartered in Duterte’s southern hometown of Davao City, Hontiveros said she had heard “hair-raising allegations” from testimonies last month by Quiboloy’s alleged victims.

“Front and center of these narratives are the systematic sexual abuse of women and children in the hands of this man they call pastor,” Hontiveros said. 

“And no, these are not crimes of the past for which we are holding Apollo Quiboloy to account. This is an ongoing offense. The abuse of women and children is taking place as we speak, under the auspices of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.”

Efforts by BenarNews to reach Quiboloy or his lawyer for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.

Presidential friend

Quiboloy founded the Kingdom of Jesus Church in 1985 in the southern Philippines after he claimed to have secluded himself in a mountainous area and found salvation. He has told the story about a revelation in which God came to his mother as a cloud to declare her son as his own.

The church grew in numbers – about 4 million in the Philippines and 2 million abroad, including in the United States – and with it Quiboloy’s political clout increased as well. The sect, and his name, grew in national prominence when his friend, Duterte, was elected president in 2016.

PH-pastor-2.jpg
Apollo Quiboloy, leader of the Philippines-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ church, appears on his talk show in Davao City, southern Philippines, May 23, 2016. [Aaron Favila/AP]

When the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced it had launched an investigation on Quiboloy two years ago, Duterte defended him. 

“Well, we are friends. I’d like to stress that to everyone, to all and sundry,” Duterte said in March 2022.

They met at a small chapel in Agdao, a district in Davao city where communist rebel hit squads were carrying out rampant urban attacks.

“When I ran for mayor, he asked me to speak – and I was the only politician in Davao that went to his church to speak. It was just a small church. There was no building, it was bare in 1988,” Duterte once said. “So the friendship grew. And I value that friendship.”

Hontiveros said she had spoken to several alleged victims of Quiboloy, including one who told her that she was only 15 when she was recruited into the church along with her family. She and others in the church were made to beg on the streets and were subjected to beatings if they failed to collect enough money, the senator said.

Another former church member recalled how she was beaten, her head banged on a wall repeatedly because she had dared to date outside of the sect. 

“I am in possession of testimonies to that effect,” Hontiveros said.

“My office is in possession of an affidavit detailing the sexual abuse inflicted by Quiboloy himself on a minor,” she said. “My office is in direct contact with a woman who, while not a minor when the sexual abuse happened, lives with the trauma it has brought and continues to fear for her safety.”

Quiboloy once accused the U.S. government of meddling and taunted the FBI, saying that he was “bulletproof” against the allegations against him.

The allegations against him surfaced publicly in November 2021 when a federal grand jury in the U.S., as part of a 42-count indictment, charged Quiboloy on suspicion of orchestrating a sex-trafficking operation that coerced girls as young as 12 to have sex with him or risk “eternal damnation.”

In December 2022, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against Quiboloy, accusing him of raping women and children. However, Washington has stopped short of asking Manila to extradite the pastor.

In July 2023, YouTube and Google took out Quiboloy’s media channels maintained by Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), a television station that gained prominence during the Duterte administration. 

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales in Manila contributed to this report.

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