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Editorial

Blessed company

/ 05:00 AM September 20, 2019

The company President Duterte keeps has once again been shined a light on, with a former member of the church called The Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KJC) claiming in a Hawaii court that its founder and another official had ordered church members to smuggle hundreds of thousands of dollars from the United States to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014.

According to court documents, the witness, Kristina Angeles, named KJC founder Apollo Quiboloy, a friend of Mr. Duterte’s since their youthful days in Davao City and a big contributor to his campaign for the presidency, and Felina Salinas, the business manager of the church’s branch in Hawaii, in her testimony.

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Angeles’ accusation that Quiboloy and Salinas had engaged in dollar smuggling early on appears connected to the discovery by US federal agents of $350,000 in Quiboloy’s private plane in Honolulu in February 2018, during which Salinas was also present. The discovery of the undeclared cash, along with, intriguingly, rifle parts, led to Quiboloy’s brief detention in Honolulu before he was allowed to fly back to the Philippines in a commercial flight. As for Salinas, she was indicted for cash smuggling and made to wear an ankle bracelet for constant monitoring.

Imagine the “appointed son of God,” as Quiboloy unblushingly calls himself, wallowing in scads of greenbacks. Well, he would be if he was in a position to keep Candidate Duterte in a private plane or chopper during the election campaign in 2015-2016, and to ply him with such valuable gifts as SUVs and even real estate. In the course of their three-decade friendship, Quiboloy has grown a business empire that includes among others a media outfit (Sonshine Media Network International), a school (Jose Maria College) and a mountain resort (Garden of Eden Restored, we kid you not).

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Both men have not been reluctant to discuss the gifts. In an interview with Quiboloy in 2016, Mr. Duterte cited an expensive vehicle, an Expedition, that he said he was loath to accept on account of the fuel costs—except that, he said, his daughter objected to its return because she wanted it: “Tapos itong si Inday nagwala kasi gusto niya.” (Earlier this year, however, Inday Sara Duterte, now mayor of Davao City, issued a statement denying her father’s narrative. She said the report on the gift was a “journalistic mishap” that was “unfair and injurious” to her and should have been verified before publication. It was unclear why it took her three years to contest the report.)

But surely the fresh allegations of cash smuggling against Quiboloy constitute a sore point? Surely a man in such a close relationship with the President would take great pains to keep his nose clean so as not to embarrass the latter, who has declared a deep aversion to even a “whiff of corruption”?

And to think that Mr. Duterte has put so much trust in his old friend that, as he himself announced last July as a guest on the TV show “Give Us This Day” hosted by Quiboloy, he would readily agree to an interview with the latter but not with “other facilities, private or not.”

The remarks of the President, who is on record as heckling the Divine and swearing at the Pope, are astounding: “I like it here because God is so near and I tend to control my mouth and out of respect to you and the public. It seems that there is such an aura of holiness in this hall, and I count numbers before I make some epithets, curses and all.”

He added that he tended to observe good conduct in the Sonshine Media studio: “Mas behaved ako dito.”

Surely this respect would dissolve into the ridiculous in the face of Angeles’ accusations against the President’s dear friend? Apart from cash smuggling, she said that Quiboloy sexually abused her when she was 16, and that he was also abusing other young female church members. Court records show as well that KJC members in Hawaii were forced to sell manapua (barbecue-pork buns) and doughnuts in the streets to beef up the church’s earnings.

Quiboloy’s record in Davao City is hardly chaste. Land-grabbing accusations have dogged him since 2008, when he was tagged as masterminding the killing of a leader of the Bagobo tribe in the district of Tugbok. He has denied involvement, but the case, along with another in 2014 also involving Bagobo ancestral land in Tugbok, are seen to be connected to the expansion of his holdings.

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“A private individual” was how then Malacañang mouthpiece Harry Roque described Quiboloy in the course of distancing his boss from the fallout of the church leader’s alleged cash smuggling attempt in February 2018. Sure, but he’s a big part of the company the President keeps. And in this case, what company.

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TAGS: Apollo Quiboloy, President Duterte, The Kingdom of Jesus Christ
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