The US filed sex trafficking charges against President Rodrigo Duterte’s spiritual adviser, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy.
Quiboloy is founder and leader of Davao-based church The Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name (KOJC), which has a claimed membership of five million, who vote as a bloc.
He is accused of coercing minors to have sex with him or face “eternal damnation” if they refuse.
The US Department of Justice announced the filing of charges against Quiboloy and a number of the church’s leaders in the US, some of whom have gone into hiding.
Among Quiboloy’s co-accused are KOJC international administrator Teresita Tolibas Dandan and former top administrator Helen Panilag.
Quiboloy, Dandan, and Panilag are believed to be in Davao City.
The Duterte administration has adopted a hands-off approach to the case, with Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra saying that they will cooperate with the US when an extradition request is forwarded to the government.
Acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said President Duterte had yet to decide if he would keep Quiboloy as his spiritual adviser.
Nograles added that as a private individual, the church leader will have to provide for his own legal defense.
US officials arrested Felina Salinas, Maria de Leon, and Bettina Padilla Roces who were expected to appear before the US District Courts of Los Angeles and Honolulu, where the KOJC has the largest number of followers outside the Philippines.
Aside from the sex trafficking cases, church leaders also face raps for immigration fraud through fake marriages between members legally residing in the US being wed to non-documented Filipinos seeking to legalize their stay.
Under the sex trafficking cases, defendants Quiboloy, Dandan, and Salinas are alleged to have recruited females between the ages of 12 to 25 to work as “pastorals” to Quiboloy. According to the case, the leaders actually engaged in trafficking via coercion, force, and fraud.
According to the 74-page indictment, three of five female victims were minors when the sex trafficking began. The US DOJ statement said the victims prepared Quiboloy’s meals, cleaned his living quarters, gave him massages, and were forced to have sex with him as part of their “night duty.” The victims were assigned schedules when they had to sleep with Quiboloy.
The victims who escaped from the clutches of Quiboloy and the KOJC were verbally threatened with legal action for allegedly absconding with funds and were also shamed on its radio-TV network for allegedly engaging in immoral acts.
The US rap sheet said the sex trafficking scheme started as far back as 2002 and continued at least until 2018.
In a press statement, members of the church blasted the US Justice department for yet another “vicious attempt to bring down” the KOJC.
In the statement issued by their legal counsel, the church members said they “remain steadfast and committed to faithfully respond to its mission, its ministry, and its divine calling despite all the detraction efforts made against them.”
The latest charges are not the only ones the church’s US operations have been facing.
The US operations still face attempted gun smuggling charges, as well as money laundering after guns and a large amount of cash was discovered in one of the church’s private planes before attempting to take off from Honolulu.
In Davao, Quiboloy also faced a rape charge but the case was eventually dropped by the accuser following an out-of-court settlement.
Quiboloy — who calls himself “The Appointed Son of God” — is known to have two private jets and regularly flies to and from the US.
He is a longtime friend of President Duterte and lent the then candidate one of his planes for use during the Davao mayor’s campaign for the presidency in 2016.