DAVAO CITY (UPDATE) — The legal counsel of Apollo Quiboloy questioned Sunday the timing of the release by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation of a "most wanted" poster of him, suggesting the global superpower may be trying to interfere in the country's upcoming elections.
Quiboloy, leader of the Davao City-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) church, was placed on the FBI's "most wanted" list on Saturday over charges of sex trafficking and bulk cash smuggling.
"Ang timing nitong paglabas ng poster na ito ay very suspect. The federal jury indictment was made on November 10, 2021... There was also a warrant issued on that day," lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said in an online press conference.
(The timing of this poster's release is very suspect. The federal jury indictment was made on November 10, 2021... There was also a warrant issued on that day.)
"Immediately, if you have a warrant, you put up a wanted poster. Bakit hinintay ngayon kung kailangan mag-uumpisa ang kampanyahan?" he said.
(Immediately if you have a warrant, you put up a wanted poster. Why did they wait until the start of the election campaign season?)
The Philippines will hold its elections on May 9. The official campaign period for national position candidates opens this Tuesday, Feb. 8.
Quiboloy, who calls himself the "appointed son of God", is a longtime friend and spiritual adviser of President Rodrigo Duterte.
He was recently seen in a public event, endorsing the candidacy of former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio for the presidency and vice presidency, respectively.
Topacio believes the move against Quiboloy is being used to "indirectly" tarnish the reputation of Duterte.
"We all have to be in a state of abject denial to say that the United States has not been interfering with our elections since as far as we can remember," he said.
Asked what would the US gain from destroying Duterte whose term will end in a few months, Topacio said, "Indirectly, it is undermining the candidacy of Sara Duterte. Indirectly, it may be undermining the candidacy of Bongbong Marcos, or whichever candidate the United States does not want to win in this country."
Duterte has not endorsed any presidential candidate, and has called Marcos Jr. a weak leader.
Topacio said he thinks the release of the FBI poster is "designed to humiliate, to embarrass the Pastor and the members of the kingdom."
According to him, "there is no need to ask the public for information regarding the whereabouts of Pastor Quiboloy."
"That is only done when a person is actively a fugitive from justice, in hiding," he added. "He (Quiboloy) does not deserve this treatment."
Topacio said Quiboloy's camp will not ask for any "special favors" from Duterte should the US ask for the pastor's extradition.
"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)," he said.
If a court orders the extradition, "then we will follow what the law says," he continued.
The Philippines' Department of Justice (DOJ) said earlier in the day that the US has yet to request for Quiboloy's extradition.
QUIBOLOY ACCUSERS ARE LIARS
Michael Jay Green, KOJC's general counsel, called Quiboloy's accusers "liars" who enjoyed the benefits of serving the church but were later caught embezzling money.
"They were part of this Kingdom for over a decade [and] not one bad word about the pastor, until they were found to be corrupt. So they tell the grand jury their story. The pastor has no right to be present. His lawyers don’t get to cross examine… and they get an indictment," Green said in the same briefing.
Lawyer Dinah Tolentino-Fuentes said she is confident that Quiboloy would be acquitted from his case in the US, given that he has no current case in the Philippines.
She said members of Quiboloy's church are also planning to file cases against people and media outlets who are releasing supposedly malicious articles about the pastor.
"Let us remind everyone that our Supreme Court in the Philippines has already stated in no uncertain terms that accusation is not synonymous with guilt. That is why kami dito sa Maynila at pati na sa Davao ay nagbababala po kami, hindi dahil sa nananakot kami, ngunit dapat nating pangalagaan at proteksyunan ang karapatan ni Pastor Quiboloy," said Topacio.
(That is why we here in Manila and in Davao are issuing a warning - not a threat - that we should take care of and protect the rights of Pastor Quiboloy.)
"We are serving warning to everyone that any libelous statements in all platforms - print, broadcast, social media, will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law," he added.
In 2020, charges of rape, child abuse and human trafficking filed in 2014 by a woman against Quiboloy and five other church members were dismissed by the Davao City Prosecutor's Office. The dismissal is now undergoing review by the DOJ.
Aside from Quiboloy, other church officials were also accused of running a sex-trafficking operation that threatened victims as young as 12 with "eternal damnation" and physical abuse, based on the 74-page indictment charges in the US.
— Report from Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News; and Chrislen Bulosan