Duterte backs Filipino pastor at center of FBI investigation

Dennis Jay Santos
Davao, Philippines
Duterte backs Filipino pastor at center of FBI investigation Apollo Quiboloy, head of “the Kingdom of Jesus Christ” and a spiritual adviser to then-President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, speaks during a press conference in Davao City, southern Philippines, May 23, 2016.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is defending his spiritual adviser who the FBI is investigating over alleged labor trafficking and sex crimes, saying in his first public comments after U.S. prosecutors indicted Pastor Apollo Quiboloy that he remains a “friend.”

Duterte visited the pastor at his broadcast station here in southern Davao city at the weekend, and affirmed his more than three-decade relationship with the jet-setting founder of the Philippine-based church known as the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name above Every Name (KJOC).

“Well, we are friends. I’d like to stress that to everyone, to all and sundry,” Duterte told Quiboloy, according to transcripts of the meeting released by the presidential palace late on Monday.

Neither the president nor Quiboloy mentioned the criminal allegations the pastor is facing in southern California, where KJOC has a branch and where he is wanted by the FBI in connection with a federal indictment brought against Quiboloy last year. Duterte also did not say whether his administration would hand over Quiboloy for extradition to the U.S.

In November, a U.S. grand jury 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.”

The Filipino justice department has said it is willing to extradite the pastor known for his fiery sermons, if U.S. authorities send a request. So far, the department says it has not received one.

Earlier on, Quiboloy’s spokesman had dismissed the U.S. indictment as a “grand conspiracy of lies” meant to humiliate the pastor “through trumped-up charges.”

During his meeting with the pastor, Duterte said Quiboloy had supported him since the days when he worked as a prosecutor in Davao, Duterte’s southern hometown where he served as the longtime mayor before being elected president in 2016.

Duterte said he first met Quiboloy at a small chapel in Agdao, a Davao district where communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas had fielded their urban hit squads. From a small chapel, Quiboloy’s flock has grown to have four million followers nationwide, and two million abroad –mainly drawn from Filipino expatriate communities.

“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 said.

“So the friendship grew. And I value that friendship,” he said.

Pastor Apollo Quiboloy (second from right) prays with then-presidential hopeful Rodrigo Duterte at a birthday celebration during a thanksgiving worship service in Lingayen, northern Philippines, March 27, 2016. [Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews]

The two men also reminisced about a time when they both visited the United States, and how there they were nobodies who had to drive their own cars.

Quiboloy said his congregation supported Duterte because “we know your sincerity, your advocacy, everything.”

“We will miss your template of leadership in the presidency when you’re gone out of office,” Quiboloy said, adding that the president’s successor would surely be weighed down by comparisons to Duterte.

The 76-year-old Philippine leader will be leaving office after the May 9 general election because of a constitutional provision that limits the president to one, six-year term.

“There is nothing that has been done in the Philippines that compares to the leadership you have,” Quiboly said.

Christianity plays a major role in Philippine society and Quiboloy’s megachurch, which also now controls a television station that broadcasts pro-Duterte programs, is considered a political force that can deliver votes. The president has said that Quiboloy serves as his “spiritual adviser” and that he has also lent him luxury vehicles and homes.

‘Our opportunity to do right’

The FBI’s wanted notice for Quiboloy said he was wanted for “alleged participation in a labor trafficking scheme that brought church members to the United States, via fraudulently obtained visas, and forced the members to solicit donations for a bogus charity, donations that actually were used to finance church operations and the lavish lifestyles of its leaders.”

Females were recruited to work as the pastor’s personal assistants – a job that allegedly required them to clean his residences, cook his meals and have sex with him, U.S. officials said.

But even before the U.S. indictment, Quiboloy had already faced sexual assault allegations from a young member of his congregation back home in the Philippines. The case, however, did not gain traction because it was filed in Davao City, which was controlled by the Duterte family, according to people with knowledge of the case.

Mae Fe Templa, a former social work undersecretary who once served as a consultant for the Davao government and who had helped the plaintiff in that case said she felt “frustrated” and helpless in pursuing it.

“If that case of the then-15 year-old girl had only prospered in court, the accused pastor would not have continued his act[s] in the U.S.,” Templa told BenarNews recently.

“I was so disgusted and professionally wanted to pursue [the case], but circumstances at the time just didn’t allow [it],” she said.

The mother of the girl sued the church and attempted to rescue her own child, who was then living at the church compound. But state forces came to harass her, Templa alleged.

Other case workers who have followed the case believe that the Philippine government should also investigate Quiboloy, said Maria Maglana, a known peace and development advocate in Davao.

“The people of Davao city will take a strong interest in ensuring that justice is served to the women and minor[s] who were reported[ly] coerced into having sexual acts with Quiboloy,” she told BenarNews on Monday.

“The sex trafficking indictment against Quiboloy is our opportunity to do right by our women and girls, and uphold the rule of law,” Maglana said.

Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, southern Philippines.


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