THE PRESIDENTIAL palace on Monday said President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s spiritual adviser should defend himself in court after a United States paralegal said she had helped smuggle members of his religious group into the United States.
“We reiterate that Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is a private individual,” the president’s spokesman Jose Martin M. Andanar said in a statement. “He can defend himself in court.”
Six of the nine defendants have been arrested, including Maria de Leon, who confessed that she had participated in a scheme with members of the church for eight years, providing residency and citizenship to its members through fraudulent marriages.
The three other members were believed to be in the Philippines, including Mr. Quiboloy, Mr. Duterte’s long-time friend and spiritual adviser.
A 74-page indictment in November cited a labor trafficking scheme where church members were allegedly brought to the US using fraudulently obtained visas and forced to solicit donations to a bogus children’s charity.
Prosecutors said the donations were used to pay for the “lavish lifestyles” of church leaders.
Mr. Quiboloy and two other defendants recruited females aged 12 to 25 as personal assistants who were required to prepare Mr. Quiboloy’s meals, clean his residences and have sex with him as part of their so-called “night duty,” according to the US Justice department indictment.
Ferdinand S. Topacio, Mr. Quiboloy’s lawyer, has denied all charges and called the victims “polluted witnesses who are disgruntled members with axe to grind against the pastor.”
He also warned the public that “any libelous statements” against Mr. Quiboloy would be “dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.”
The US and the Philippines have an extradition treaty that was signed in Nov. 1994. In March, the Philippine Justice department said it had yet to receive an endorsement from the Foreign Affairs department on the possible extradition of the religious leader to the US. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan