Shining a Light on the “Appointed Son of God”

Aside from Islamist terrorist groups or communist revolutionary armies, the Philippine government faces challenges from powerful religious cults which control millions of fanatical adherents.

Some of these sects wield significant political influence, such as the Jesus is Lord Movement (JIL) and the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC; translated “Church of Christ”). While some are militant and command a sizable private army which can be used to go against the local government at times, such as the Heavenly World group (H-World) which rose to power in the 90’s.

The Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KJC) Church, led by a man who proclaims himself to be the “appointed son of God”, is a dangerous combination of both political and militant prowess. Despite that, the church never found itself involved in major political scandals – until recently.

The KJC’s founder and leader, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, landed in hot water after firearms and large amounts of cash were found inside his private jet in Hawaii. United States federal agents confiscated $350,000 in cash inside the jet along with rifles and rifle parts, which he claimed all to belong to his business manager and church follower named Felina Salinas.

Regardless who the true owner of the contraband is, the fact remains that a religious preacher who claims to have direct access to the Abrahamic God and regularly declares that “there is no way to the Father except through [him],” was in possession of very suspicious parcels. If the purpose of the funds were legal, a simple bank transaction would have sufficed; in addition, what could a preacher who claims to be a disciple of Christ need for sophisticated weaponry?

Quiboloy becomes more suspicious once one becomes aware of his chequered history, he is known to maintain a private army and has held extensive ties with notorious politicians in the past. Most recently, he was a staunch supporter of Rodrigo Duterte’s bid for the presidency in the 2016 elections and also endorsed Duterte’s running-mate Alan Peter Cayetano, who was unsuccessful.

His access to President Duterte is so extensive that just shortly after being announced President-elect, the former Davao City mayor paid a visit to Quiboloy and had lunch with him. However, Quiboloy declared echoed his “disappointment” with Duterte as he was not given a say in his Cabinet appointments.

The mere fact that a church pastor would have the audacity to attempt to meddle in hugely important executive affairs as the selection of Cabinet members tells us the level of closeness he enjoys with the President.

Prior to the incumbent Chief Executive, Quiboloy was also an ally of former President Gloria Arroyo. In the 2010 presidential elections, the Pastor “anointed” Arroyo’s former Defense Minister Gilbert Teodoro to be the next president who ultimately lost to the eventual winner Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III – Duterte’s predecessor and main political rival.

News of Teodoro’s defeat did not set well with Quiboloy, who berated his own followers and asked: “where did our votes for ‘Gibo’ [Teodoro] go?” He proceeded to question his church members’ loyalty to him, hugely baffled by his “anointed” candidate’s loss.

The Pastor also claims to have “achieved a certain level of sin-free existence”, yet is somehow above the theft of the private property of destitute Filipinos. The Lumads, an indigenous group predominantly based in Mindanao and whose members live in abject poverty, claimed to have been harassed by Quiboloy’s private army and were forcefully driven from their ancestral lands.

In 2008, Pastor Quiboloy was accused of assassinating a Lumad tribal leader – Dominador Diarog – and his three children because of a quarrel over land. In 2016, Diarog’s son Danny was also assassinated by armed men – whom the Lumads allege were also Quiboloy’s men.

It is logical to suspect that the rifle parts and firearms obtained from Quiboloy’s private jet by U.S. authorities were intended for his private army, who are thought to be more powerful today given the Pastor’s closeness with the incumbent President Duterte. It also won’t be a surprise if the self-appointed “Son of God” behaves in an unprecedented level of impunity, given the political favours he is undoubtedly entitled to.

The KJC’s spokesperson – Israelito Torreon – explained that his church leader was not arrested nor violated any U.S. laws, but somehow could not explain why he was in the vicinity of such illegal contraband nor why those contraband were inside his personal jet. The said jet remained under the custody of U.S. law enforcers, while charges of money laundering and smuggling have been placed against business manager and church adherent Salinas.

The precise details of Quiboloy’s case or of the incident he was involved in remains vague, what is clear however is that the Pastor’s sphere of influence extends beyond the four million followers he claims to have in the Philippines and the additional 2 million adherents he boasts worldwide. This multi-millionaire, mega-church leader holds significant political and militaristic clout which could pose as a threat to the rule of law and the peace and order in the already troubled Mindanao archipelago.