CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – November 28, 2021, was no ordinary Sunday for members of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) who gathered and closed ranks behind the man they had long revered as their messiah, the “appointed son of God.”
The embattled preacher, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, stood on his pulpit in Davao City, preaching his heart out and warning of an impending global plague of biblical proportions: “World, if you want the pandemic to stop, stop persecuting, prosecuting, and maligning the appointed son of God. Otherwise, this will not end and will become worse. World, listen to my voice!”
The “punishment” for that, Quiboloy said, was the spread of flesh-eating bacteria that would turn people around the world like the walking dead. And the detection of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in November was supposedly just a glimpse of what was to come.
Ten days earlier, on November 18, federal prosecutors in the United States released a 74-page indictment document, enumerating 95 overt acts of Quiboloy and eight of his female associates: Helen Panilag, Guia Cabactulan, Marissa Duenas, Amanda Estopare, Felina Salinas, Teresita Dandan, Bettina Roces, and Maria de Leon.
The string of charges filed against them by prosecutors in Los Angeles, California, include conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion, sex trafficking of children, marriage fraud, fraud and misuse of visas, bulk cash smuggling, promotional money laundering, concealment money laundering, and international promotional money laundering.
During a Sunday service on December 5, Quiboloy referred to November 18 as the day of his “crucifixion,” pretty much like the Calvary narrative in the canonical Gospels – only this time, there was no bloodshed and no one got nailed to a cross.
While Quiboloy was on the defensive and warning the world and those who turned their backs on him of divine retribution, three of his former followers – Arlene Caminong Stone in Minnesota, Faith Killion in Kentucky, and Reynita Fernandez in Singapore – came forward and spoke to Rappler about the inner workings of the KOJC.
Stone, who served Quiboloy like a maid for eight years, spoke about how the preacher required services like a king, with a battery of “spiritual wives” in his pastoral care department who allegedly took turns sleeping in his bedroom.
US prosecutors have accused Quiboloy of having sex with some of his “pastorals,” including minors, under the threat of physical harm and “eternal damnation,” a practice referred to as “night duty.”
Pastorals were Quiboloy’s female personal assistants, including alleged spiritual wives and victims of sexual abuse, who enjoyed perks and the preacher’s generosity using funds raised by church workers, according to prosecutors.
The indictment document was so detailed that it even cited an instance in 2014 when Dandan, one of the defendants, allegedly sent one of the victims to buy erectile dysfunction medication for Quiboloy.
The same victim was allegedly sexually abused as early as 2009 after being instructed to write separate letters by Salinas and then by Quiboloy, stating that she was dedicating her life – and her body – to the “appointed son of God.”
Salinas allegedly told the reluctant victim earlier that she had the devil in her if she didn’t want to get near Quiboloy.
Salinas is the same Quiboloy associate who was involved in the now-dismissed case for an attempt to smuggle US$350,000 in a suitcase found in the preacher’s private jet in Hawaii in 2018. She was fined US$500 and sent to 30-day detention for lying about owning the suitcase.
While the victim was being violated in 2009, US prosecutors said, Quiboloy assured the victim that it was “the Father’s will and that the Father was happy over what the Son was doing.”
Prosecutors said the same woman was hit and slapped by Quiboloy, and sent out to solicit money in Los Angeles for merely speaking with another man in 2014.
Displeasing Quiboloy and other infractions, including failure to meet financial obligations imposed on workers, often resulted in physical, emotional, and psychological tortures, ex-members alleged.
Stone, Killion, Fernandez, and a fourth ex-member from Hongkong who requested anonymity, spoke to Rappler about numerous steep fund-raising quotas on top of church tithes that were imposed on them and other members all year round in the name of service to God through Quiboloy, the self-proclaimed “appointed son of God.”
They said they were even made to raise money every year just so that the flamboyant preacher could be gifted by his church with expensive things such as houses and cars in time for his April 25th birthday.
The street-level solicitations and other fund-raising activities were ramped up in the last quarter of each year in time for December, the so-called “Month of Blessings” or “Month of Sacrifice,” the ex-members said.
The quotas, according to them, forced many members to sacrifice their education and jobs, sell food, and beg for donations in the streets in the Philippines and overseas for long hours, and in worse cases, take out loans and give everything they earned to the church because they thought these sacrifices pleased their god.
The huge collections abroad, according to the women and US prosecutors, were discreetly remitted to Quiboloy’s group in the Philippines in relatively small increments to avoid detection.
Prosecutors said the remittances were what made Quiboloy’s lavish lifestyle possible.
‘Just go home’
Quiboloy’s chief legal counsel, Hawaii-based Michael Jay Green, dismissed the accusations as “all a bunch of nonsense,” and part of a conspiracy to bring Quiboloy and his church down by 14 former KOJC members he called “dissidents.”
Green said the indictment of Quiboloy and his church associates in the US and the women who spoke to Rappler were part of a supposed international conspiracy allegedly orchestrated by Nepalese Shishir Bhandari and his family – disgruntled former KOJC members.
Bhandari once worked as operations manager of Quiboloy’s airline company, Apollo Air. His lawyer-wife Lady Jade Canada is a scion of one of the oldest families in the KOJC and earliest converts of the preacher in Davao City.
“When he (Bhandari) found out that they were gonna do an audit, they ran like thieves in the night,” Green told Rappler in an interview over the phone on Friday, December 10.
Green said Bhandari fled to the US, made a deal with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and lied to them about Quiboloy’s group in exchange for extended visas and a home, plus relocation of his family to California.
He also accused Bhandari and Canada of reaching out to former KOJC members around the world to get women to say they were sexually abused by Quiboloy.
Bhandari and his wife could not be reached for comment as of posting. We will update this report as soon as we hear from them or any of their representatives.
The women who spoke with Rappler said leaving the KOJC was not as easy as Green made it sound because members were “trapped in a cage.”
In their case, quitting was difficult because they were brainwashed and convinced that they would be cursed and go to hell for turning their backs on Quiboloy.
They said they were threatened, harassed, called names and treated like outcasts, and pressured by family members and friends who remained loyal and obedient to the pastor.
Killion said her group’s message to people being recruited to join the “kingdom” is: “Do not go inside the kingdom of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy – just don’t even try it, if you don’t want your life to be miserable and destroyed.” – Rappler.com