Dec 9, 2021, Herbie Gomez, Inday Espina-Varona, Rappler.com
Former workers and members of the Davao-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ organization are out to make the preacher account for the years of abuse and exploitation they experienced
Embattled Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) leader Pastor Apollo Quiboloy allegedly exploited minors and women, manipulating them into believing that salvation would be theirs only if they dedicated to him their lives or, in the case of some, their bodies.
In an exclusive interview with Rappler, three women disclosed what they saw and experienced during the years they were part of his “kingdom.” Their accounts corroborated certain details in a 74-page indictment document in the United States against the 71-year-old Quiboloy, a close friend and supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Their accounts corroborate details in an indictment document from the United States, where Quiboloy and several other officials of his Davao City-based KOJC are facing charges of sex trafficking.
The three women – Minnesota-based Arlene Caminong Stone, Kentucky-based Faith Killion, and Singapore-based Reynita Fernandez – revealed the inner workings of the KOJC, including the physical and sexual abuses allegedly committed by Quiboloy against church members and “pastorals.”
Pastorals refer to privileged and attractive women who perform special tasks and do numerous errands for Quiboloy as supposed forms of service to God.
The women who spoke to Rappler joined the KOJC at varying ages and for different reasons. One grew up in the organization since her mother was already a member. Another was recruited when she was a teenager and stayed as a full-time worker for about eight years before struggling to leave. The third had an off-and-on relationship with the KOJC since 1986 – running away after 12 years in 1998 because she could no longer meet the group’s steep solicitation quotas, but continued believing in the preacher until 2019.
Quiboloy, known for his lavish lifestyle, was detained briefly in Hawaii in 2018 after authorities found US$350,000 in undeclared cash and rifle parts in his aircraft. This prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to start looking into allegations of human trafficking against his group.
In November 2021, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, California, indicted Quiboloy and several other KOJC officials of sex trafficking. They allegedly forced victims as young as 12 to have sex with him under the threat of being doomed to “eternal damnation.”
Rappler tried to reach Quiboloy and his lawyers to get his side. We sent private messages via their Facebook accounts, made repeated calls on three mobile phone numbers that did not get through since December 6, and also called his lawyer’s office in Hawaii on December 7 and December 9.
Over The Filipino Channel on November 20, Quiboloy’s Hawaii-based lawyer, Michael Green, blamed the indictment of the preacher and his associates on a faction of former KOJC members out to discredit him. Some of Quiboloy’s accusers, he said, had been accused of embezzlement. We will update this story once we hear directly from Quiboloy’s lawyers.
Earlier statements posted on Quiboloy’s Facebook wall said the accusations against him were malicious and “another vicious attempt” to bring him down.
‘Night duties’ and spiritual wives
The three women were subjected to indoctrination, tricked into believing that they had the devil in them whenever they entertained doubts about the religious leader they idolized and failed to deliver what was expected of them as followers.
They were made to believe they were special, but that status hinged on their obedience to him. Like the other women still in Quiboloy’s church, they financially supported and defended the pastor for years, even after they had left the church. And it came with great cost to their lives.
Quiboloy – who proclaims himself the “Appointed Son of God” – surrounded himself with “spiritual wives” and the “pastorals.” He justified this by quoting biblical passages and asserting that it was in line with his so-called “Solomonic ministry” – a reference to King Solomon in the Old Testament who had 700 wives and 300 mistresses.
Very much like a king, Quiboloy had everything – including his socks and underwear – cleaned and arranged for him. “Even after he had taken a bath, someone would come to wipe him dry,” recalled Stone, who belonged to the KOJC’s pastoral care department.
The department is composed of the creme de la creme of full-time female church workers or pastorals who take care of the needs of both Quiboloy and his spiritual wives.
Stone, now a quality engineer in the US, said she joined KOJC in Davao City in the 1990s when she was just 15, and became a full-time church worker about a year later. She served in the pastoral care department for about eight years. She did his laundry – like a domestic helper would – and, like the other pastorals, made sure the water he used to bathe had the right temperature.
The pastoral care department, said Stone, has an “inner circle” and an “inner of the inner circle.” Those in the inner circle, according to her, did not have sexual relations with Quiboloy and “just did nanny duties.” Pastorals in the innermost circle were turned into the pastor’s spiritual wives, some of whom were also entrusted to do administrative duties.
Stone said she served the spiritual wives first and even gave them massages before she started doing things for Quiboloy himself. Part of her duty was to massage the pastor’s feet.
US federal prosecutors said the pastorals were typically between the ages of 12 and 25 who prepared Quiboloy’s meals, cleaned his residences, gave him massages using lotion, accompanied him in his foreign travels, and engaged in sex with the pastor in what was referred to as “night duty.”
“For some pastorals, ‘night duty’ began before the pastoral reached the age of eighteen,” the indictment document reads. The prosecutors said a “night duty” with Quiboloy was made under the threat of physical and verbal abuse and “eternal damnation.”
Stone said most church members were clueless about the “night duties” and the “spiritual wives” – well-guarded secrets in the pastoral care department during her time. The pastorals, she added, were abused physically, emotionally, and, some, even sexually.
US prosecutors said the young women were told that performing “night duty” was “a necessary demonstration of the pastoral’s commitment to give her body to defendant Quiboloy.”
Stone recalled there were at least 10 of them in the pastoral department, half of whom served as spiritual wives. She said she didn’t have intimate relations with Quiboloy, but that there was a time when his spiritual wives asked her if she was still a virgin. She was only 17.
Now, Stone is among those in a group of former church workers and members out to make Quiboloy account for what she called years of abuse and exploitation they experienced in the KOJC.
Sex trafficking of children
Quiboloy and several of his church associates have been indicted in the US for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion, and sex trafficking of children.
They were also charged with marriage fraud, fraud and misuse of visas, bulk cash smuggling, promotional money laundering, concealment money laundering, and international promotional money laundering.
The indictment document lists 16 overt acts in connection with the sex trafficking charges. US federal prosecutors documented at least five victims who included three minors – aged 14, 15, and 17 – who were allegedly made to have sex with Quiboloy on separate occasions from 2002 to 2011.
One was even sent out to buy erectile dysfunction medication for the preacher in 2014, according to the prosecutors. They said another was given lingerie and lotion as part of her “night duty” in 2007, and was told by Quiboloy to keep it a secret.
The indictment says there was another victim who initially resisted in 2009, but was made to write a “commitment letter” by one of Quiboloy’s associates to state she was devoting her life, and her body, to the preacher. She was also told by the associate that if she was afraid to go near Quiboloy, then she “had the devil in her.”
Quiboloy allegedly made her write a similar letter again until she acquiesced. While having sex, Quiboloy assured her it was the “Father’s will and that the Father was happy over what the Son was doing,” the US prosecutors said.
Stone said Quiboloy justified the alleged sexual acts by quoting a Paulitian admonition about the offering of the body as a “living sacrifice to God through the appointed son.” Quiboloy gave the verse a “sexual meaning,” she said.
Rewards and privileges
Prosecutors said satisfying Quiboloy meant getting rewards and privileges – trips to tourist destinations like Disneyland, flights in private jets, use of cell phones, fat allowances and yearly payments based on performance, good food, expensive restaurants, signature clothes, and luxurious hotel rooms. Typically it was the pastorals, the spiritual wives, and those who had been in the kingdom the longest who enjoyed these perks. All these, the prosecutors said, were provided using money raised through solicitations by KOJC workers.
Unlike the privileged women, the newer and younger ones, according to US-based Killion, “barely have enough to eat – their clothes are tattered and torn and the only money they are given is just enough to buy for basic needs.”
While they may eventually move up the ladder, “they have to continually prove themselves trustworthy and loyal,” said Killion, who spent 25 years as a member and later part-time worker of Quiboloy’s church.
Being a pastoral in the church was seen as an honor because that meant being near the “appointed son of God.” The more privileged spiritual wives just took turns sleeping in Quiboloy’s bedroom, Stone said.
Getting back at those who leave
Yet, those who displeased the religious leader, made him feel jealous, or, worse, left the church, had a price to pay.
In 2014, Quiboloy allegedly hit and slapped one of the victims and sent her out to solicit money in Los Angeles – just for speaking with another man. He delivered a sermon four years later in which he publicly accused the same woman of engaging in cybersex and stealing church equipment, US prosecutors said.
Other victims who left the KOJC were subjected to public humiliation. Another was yelled at and called a “whore” for allegedly not performing sexually to Quiboloy’s satisfaction in Calabasas, California, in 2013. An underaged KOJC member, according to the prosecutors, was made to fabricate allegations of sexual assault against one of those who left the church in 2015.
In the indictment document, US federal prosecutors said Quiboloy physically abused victims for merely communicating with other men or engaging in other behavior that upset him. He considered such behavior “adultery and a sin.”
Stone said church workers were subjected to restrictions and regulations. They were barred from watching TV, using the internet, which he associated with “666,” and prohibited from watching movies. “It’s all about Quiboloy’s teachings, all day,” Stone said.
The rules Quiboloy imposed on his workers did not apply to him. Stone recalled that she and several other workers decided to take a break once by watching movies while they were in Manila. They broke the rule after word leaked that the preacher went to see a movie in the US with those who accompanied him there. For that infraction, Stone said, they were whipped repeatedly.
Some were also discouraged from pursuing studies because, supposedly, it was a “waste of time given the Second Coming.” Quiboloy teaches that the “Second Coming of Christ” has already taken place, specifically in Davao City, through him, the “appointed son of God.”
Stone said she earned a college degree in the US a bit late, something which she could have done when she was younger had it not been for her years of involvement in Quiboloy’s church. “My youth was stolen from me,” she said, adding that there were others like her who were still struggling to repair, or were unable to repair, the damage Quiboloy caused.
Stone cited the case of a half-Filipino, half-European toddler who was adopted years ago, raised by Quiboloy’s group, and grew up to become the preacher’s favorite pastoral. Quiboloy spoke of the girl as his “angel,” something he claimed was “revealed” to him.
“She wasn’t to be exposed too much to the outside world, and she wasn’t supposed to have a boyfriend,” Stone said.
Quiboloy’s photos in bedrooms, toilets
When a friend confided about how she was allegedly violated, Stone scolded her even while the woman was crying because she thought it was all fabricated. Stone’s refusal to believe her friend stemmed from her blind faith in the man who brainwashed them.
That friend left the KOJC and was smeared by Quiboloy’s group for leaving.
Quiboloy was treated like he was Christ, according to Singapore-based Fernandez. He was omnipresent in their homes via his venerated photos. “I once had his photograph displayed in my room. We had photos of him in our homes and, for some, even inside their toilets,” Fernandez said.
Besides convincing his followers that he was the “owner of the universe,” Quiboloy, according to Killion, also ascribed these titles to himself: “The Third Adam,” “The Messiah to the Gentiles,” “The Fulfillment of the New Testament,” and “The King of the New Creation and the Second Coming.”
She added that Quiboloy was supposedly writing “The Book of Fulfillment,” a continuation of the New Testament, to chronicle his “life, calling, teachings, ministry, revelations, dreams, and wonders.”
Members behaved and looked at the world differently. Killion said: “There is an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality. Anybody who is not a kingdom citizen (member) is automatically a child of the devil and doomed to hell.”
Members of the church were competitive, smug, and self-righteous. They were made to believe that their sacrifice, according to Killion, would “seal their salvation,” the reason they felt only pity for those who were not members of the kingdom and were not chosen like them.
Trapped in a ‘cult’
Sociologist and Ateneo de Manila religion professor Jayeel Cornelio told Rappler these psychological and social traps were an offshoot of the iron discipline Quiboloy imposed.
Cornelio said the sacrifices were part of “subjecting [their] will to the ‘appointed son of God.’” This is why “they could be harassed, they could be raped, they could be manhandled. Because he is the embodiment of God.”
Quiboloy, he said, represented “a very consistent, coherent theology” that focused solely on himself.
This is why members are supposedly discouraged, if not prohibited, from attending activities in other churches. They are also discouraged from questioning Quiboloy’s teachings and the church’s practices, and those who do or show signs of doubt are immediately shut down by guilt-riding, persecution, criticism, ridicule, and condemnation, said the three former church members.
“Fatima,” another ex-member working in Hongkong, said they were conditioned not to ask questions on dogma and practices like they had no right to think, and neither were they supposed to breach the circle formed around Quiboloy.
Whenever she had questions and doubts, Fatima said she felt irrational fear and guilt. “It’s a cult,” she told Rappler on Thursday, December 2.
Full-time church workers were instructed not to communicate with family and old friends regardless of whether or not they were critical, said Stone. She and Killion said that, because they were “highly discouraged” from making phone calls and exchanging emails, church workers lost all support networks outside KOJC, making it difficult to ever leave or seek outside help.
“Religion is not only a psychological thing. Religion is also a social thing,” said Cornelio. Those with family still in the church don’t just wrestle with abandoning the “appointed son of God.” To many of them, the hardest struggle is being told they have abandoned their families. The whole mix of the salvation promise, the cycle of reward and abuse, creates multi-layered guilt. – Rappler.com
(To be continued: Part 2 | ‘Root of all evil’: Quiboloy church’s demand for money mires followers in debt)