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Philippines: Duterte’s Spiritual Adviser Charged With Sex-Trafficking In US

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By Camille Elemia

A U.S. grand jury has charged Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spiritual adviser on suspicion of orchestrating a sex-trafficking operation that coerced girls as young as 12 to have sex with the church leader or risk “eternal damnation,” federal prosecutors said.

In a 42-count indictment released on Thursday (Friday in Manila), a federal grand jury charged Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, the 71-year-old founder of a Philippines-based church known as the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name (KOJC), and eight other church officials with various alleged offenses, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said.

“The superseding indictment charges Quiboloy [and two others] with participating in a conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, as well as the sex trafficking of children,” the attorney’s office said in a statement on Thursday.

A statement posted on the pastor’s Facebook page on Friday vehemently denied the allegations against him. In Los Angeles, the Philippine Consulate General said it was aware of the indictments and the ongoing investigation. And in Manila, a presidential spokesman said that Duterte had yet to issue a statement on the matter.

The church’s website claims that KOJC, which was founded in 1985, has 6 million members in 200 countries and 2,000 cities.

The statement from the U.S. prosecutors did not mention Quiboloy’s close ties to the Philippine president. It listed the pastor’s primary residence as the KOJC compound in Davao City, Duterte’s hometown and political stronghold in the southern Philippines.

Prosecutors said that a federal grand jury had returned the indictment on Nov. 10.

The indictment expands the scope of the early 2020 indictment against three U.S.-based church administrators by adding six new defendants, including Quiboloy, who “participated in a conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion, as well as the sex trafficking of children,” prosecutors said. 

Three of the newly indicted defendants were arrested by U.S. federal authorities on Thursday, but Quiboloy and two of the other newly charged suspects are believed to be in the Philippines, prosecutors said.

They said that Quiboloy, the self-proclaimed Appointed Son of God, allegedly recruited girls and young women, ranging from 12 to 25 years old, to work as personal assistants or “pastorals” at his church.  

The girls reportedly prepared Quiboloy’s meals, cleaned his residences, gave him massages, and were required to perform “night duty” – that is, sex with Quiboloy – under the alleged threat of physical and verbal abuse by the pastor and other church administrators, prosecutors said.

“Defendant Quiboloy and other KOJC administrators told pastorals that performing ‘night duty’ was ‘God’s will’ and a privilege, as well as a necessary demonstration of the pastoral’s commitment to give her body to defendant Quiboloy as ‘The Appointed Son of God,’” the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged. 

“As part of the alleged scheme, the three defendants told female victims who expressed hesitation at night duty ‘that they had the devil in them and risked eternal damnation,’” it said.

According to the indictment, the sex trafficking scheme lasted for at least 16 years until 2018, with obedient victims rewarded with “good food, luxurious hotels, trips to tourist spots, and yearly cash payments that were based on performance.

The church leader and the eight others were also charged with participating in a labor trafficking scheme. Under it, they brought church members to the United States by using fraudulently obtained visas and forced them to solicit donations for “a bogus charity,” the U.S.-based Children’s Joy Foundation – which Quiboloy had also founded – the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The donations “were used to finance church operations and the lavish lifestyles of its leaders,” the statement said.

“Members who proved successful at soliciting for the KOJC allegedly were forced to enter into sham marriages or obtain fraudulent student visas to continue soliciting in the United States year-round.”

‘Maliciously accused’

On Friday, Quiboloy’s church shot back at the news about its founder being indicted in the United States.

The legal proceeding was “another vicious attempt to bring down Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy and some of the Kingdom leaders,” said a statement on the church’s website.

“Our heart goes to Pastor Quiboloy and to all the Kingdom leaders who were maliciously accused in this present controversy,” said the statement signed by the church’s legal counsel.

“We are confident and ready to face whatever is hurled against Pastor Quiboloy and the Kingdom leaders.”

Meanwhile, the consulate in Los Angeles said in a statement that the Philippines, a long-time ally of the U.S. in Southeast Asia, “fully respects” America and “will seek avenues to extend consular assistance to both the accused and victims as appropriate.”

In Manila, the foreign office said it was unaware whether the U.S. government had filed an extradition request for Quiboloy and his alleged accomplices.

In 2018, Quiboloy was briefly detained in Hawaii after authorities found U.S. $350,000 in undeclared cash and rifle parts aboard a private plane. It was not clear why he was let go.

Under the charges brought against him in the U.S., the Filipino pastor faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted of sex-trafficking, and five to 20 years if convicted of fraud and money laundering.

Quiboloy, whose church is headquartered in Davao City, is the president’s longtime friend and spiritual adviser. Quiboloy has staunchly defended Duterte, lent him private planes, and helped finance his presidential campaign in 2016.

Asked if Quiboloy would stay on as an adviser, Karlos Nograles, a spokesman for Duterte, said it was up to the president to decide.

“We’ll wait for the President’s statement regarding that. This is just a new development. Let us wait for the president to talk about it,” Nograles told a press briefing on Friday.

But, he also said, “the government has been constant in its efforts against trafficking in general, especially sex trafficking.”

Duterte, the former mayor of Davao, has known Quiboloy for the past three decades and once admitted to having received gifts from the pastor before becoming president in 2016. He had said that at one time, Quiboloy also bought three houses as a gift for him and his children, although Duterte claimed that he never accepted it.

Rumors about Quiboloy’s alleged sexual proclivity have been circulating in Davao City for years but have never surfaced outside the country until now.

The case against Quiboloy is the latest scandal to rock the Duterte family ahead of next year’s Philippine national elections. Earlier this month, the president’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, fired a close aide after the aide admitted to having attended a party that police raided for illegal drugs.

Duterte, who is leaving office as president next year, is running for election to a seat in the Senate while his daughter is contesting the vice presidency in the May 2022 general election.

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