THE PHILIPPINE Department of Justice (DoJ) on Sunday said it is still “premature” for them to speak on the case of a Filipino celebrity evangelist whose assets in the United States have been frozen after an American court indicted him last year for sex-trafficking and other charges.
The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) recently blocked the transactions of Apollo C. Quiboloy, his sect named Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and other properties within the US territory.
The decision came after he was indicted by the US Department of Justice in 2021 for allegedly coercing girls as young as 12 years old to work as his personal assistants and have sex with him under threats of “eternal damnation.”
In early February, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation released a “most wanted” poster on Mr. Quiboloy, a known ally of former President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
In a statement on Sunday, the Philippine Department of Justice (DoJ) said it “has yet to discuss the ins and outs of the sanctions on Mr. Quiboloy” since “it is simply too premature for us to speak on the issue.”
“Allow us to gather verified information and seek US legal experts’ advice,” it said. “Then we can act accordingly.”
Mr. Quiboloy was among the 40 personalities and entities in nine countries recently sanctioned by the US treasury for their involvement in corruption cases and human rights abuses. The decision was announced as it marked International Anti-Corruption Day on Dec. 9 and International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.
Manila’s DoJ said it “acknowledges that the US Treasury Department issued these sanctions on their Human Rights Day and International Corruption day.”
“We would like to express our unity in their cause in the protection of Human Rights and in the eradication of corrupt practices.”
CALLS FOR ACTIONFilipino lawyers and political observers urged the Marcos administration to cooperate with the American government on Mr. Quiboloy’s case.
“The government should declare that they will respect the legal process of the US for as long as there is no conflict with ours,” Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a Filipino lawyer and policy analyst, said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “We expect the same parity from them.”
He said the Philippine government “must not get involved” in any way with the personalities linked to the case. “It must take all possible measures to distance itself from the people involved in this matter whoever they may be.”
Mr. Quiboloy, a popular televangelist with his own broadcast network called SMNI, endorsed the candidacies of now President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio.
Maria Ela L. Atienza, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said the Quiboloy case would be a test to the Philippine justice system under the Marcos administration given that history of support.
“The government must condemn the acts, while being careful not to prejudge the guilt of the accused,” Mr. Yusingco said.
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers President Ephraim B. Cortez, meanwhile, said the pastor’s “indictment in the US, including the freezing of assets and other actions taken by the US Government should be enough to investigate him in the Philippines and look into his criminal liabilities for these acts.”
Mr. Cortez said authorities should also conduct an investigation “to see if his wealth, alleged by the Treasury Department of the US to be ill-gotten, were used to capitalize and operate his radio and television stations.”
Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches politics at the Ateneo De Manila University, said the Philippine government “should not allow itself to appear like it is afraid of a personality or group engaged in patronage politics through religion.”
“We have here a religious figure who is enjoying so much political influence due to his relationship with former President Duterte and owns a media network, SMNI, known for its gov’t friendly media coverage these past years,” he said in a Messenger chat.
Ms. Atienza noted that the US government has to formally request the Philippine government to allow Mr. Quiboloy and other co-accused to be extradited.
“If this happens, this will be a test of one aspect of Philippine-US relations,” she said in a Viber message.
Party-lists advocating for women and children’s rights, on the other hand, said the Philippine government does not need to wait for the extradition request.
“Local agencies must conduct actions to suppress Quiboloy’s possible continuation of sex trafficking and abuse on women and children. We cannot just wait-and-see,” Assistant Minority Leader and Gabriela Rep. Arlene D. Brosas said in a statement on Sunday.
‘OUTRAGEOUS’Mr. Quiboloy’s American legal counsel, Michael Jay Green, said the sanctions on his client are “not what we believe is the presumption of innocence”.
“If you’ve read this press release (from the US Treasury), he’s been convicted already. He’s never been heard!” Mr. Green said in a streamed press briefing on Saturday.
Manny Medrano, another US-based lawyer defending Mr. Quiboloy, called the press release “outrageous, it’s simple grandstanding, it’s utter politics by the United States government.”
“The US is known worldwide for its commitment for the protection of people’s rights, for its commitment for due process for individuals, and all this document does, in all candor, is to further malign the good name of Pastor Quiboloy.” Mr. Medrano said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Beatriz Marie D. Cruz