MANILA (UPDATE) — The Philippines' justice department will handle according to law the extradition of pastor Apollo Quiboloy, if requested by the United States, despite his close ties with President Rodrigo Duterte, an official said Sunday.
Quiboloy, leader of the Davao City-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) church, has been placed on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) "most wanted" list over sex trafficking and bulk cash smuggling charges.
The local Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to receive an extradition request, but chief state counsel George Ortha II vowed that the agency will properly handle it despite Quiboloy's connection to Duterte.
"'Pag natanggap namin 'yong request, gagawin namin 'yong trabaho nang naaayon sa batas at sa proseso na ginagawa namin sa departamento, regardless kung sino 'yong personalidad na involved," Ortha told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(If we receive the request, we will do our job within the bounds of the law and processes in our department, regardless of the personality involved.)
He said it was understandable to have doubts over the possible case, but he appealed to the public to trust the DOJ.
Ortha admitted though that the executive departments of both governments somehow also "has a say" on extradition cases, even as, according to him, they should only be a purely legal process.
"I would say that those are siguro (probably) extreme cases," Ortha said, citing what has been relayed to him. But he said the executive department needs to justify why it refuses to extradite an individual.
"Basta susundin lang natin kung ano iyong nasa batas at susundin iyong proseso," he said, when asked if their handling of the possible extradition case will be affected in case Duterte speaks out to defend Quiboloy.
(We will just follow what's in the law and the process.)
In an online press conference on Sunday, KOJC legal counsel Ferdie Topacio said Quiboloy's camp would not ask for "special favors" from Duterte.
"There is no need to. We have laws here and as long as those laws are faithfully complied with in the matter of a petition for extradition, should there be one, 'yon na ang aming tutuparin (that's what we will fulfill)," Topacio said.
The lawyer, who questioned the timing of the release of the FBI poster, added that if a court orders Quiboloy's extradition, "then we will follow what the law says."
When a rape complaint was filed against Quiboloy in December 2019, which he promptly denied, then presidential spokesman and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said Malacañang was not going to intrude into the case.
"The rule of law in this country always prevails regardless of who is involved," Panelo said at the time.
Ortha said it is also possible for the US to ask for a provisional arrest of Quiboloy ahead of an extradition request.
"Hindi na dadaan 'yan sa formal processes. Puwede na ideretso 'yon ng US DOJ [sa Philippine DOJ]," he explained.
(A request for provisional arrest will no longer go through formal processes. The US DOJ can submit it directly to the Philippine DOJ.)
But the US needs to submit its extradition request within 60 days following the provisional arrest, Ortha said.
Ortha could not say how long the possible extradition process against Quiboloy would take, noting that the usual process takes about a decade.
In a statement, Laura Eimiller, spokesperson of the FBI's Los Angeles field office, refused to comment whether the agency has initiated extradition proceedings.
"We cannot comment on extradition proceedings, including whether they have been initiated. There are outstanding arrest warrants for the fugitives and our investigation is continuing," she said.
Quiboloy, a self-proclaimed "Owner of the Universe" and "Appointed Son of God," is a longtime friend and spiritual adviser of Duterte, whose presidency is set to end this year.
He was indicted in the US last year, along with other members of his church for alleged sex trafficking.
The 74-page indictment said victims involved in Quiboloy's alleged sex trafficking operation threatened victims as young as 12 with "eternal damnation" and physical abuse.
The church's General Counsel worldwide had denied the allegations.
In November, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said a possible extradition case against Quiboloy as may be requested by the US may have to wait since the church leader is facing a local complaint.
The DOJ is currently reviewing the 2020 dismissal of rape, child abuse and human trafficking charges against Quiboloy. The complaints were filed by a woman who accused the pastor of raping her when she was a minor in 2014.
- with reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News, and Reuters