Quiboloy and political allies: Connections and cut-offs

FOR WEEKS, Apollo Quiboloy has been in the news, but not for his preaching or pastoral activities. As a special adviser to then President Rodrigo Duterte, Quiboloy’s worldly activities seemed above attack or threat. His power to endorse and command the vote of his flock made it easy for him to create a political network as well.

But circumstances have changed. Duterte is out of power and as Team Unity has begun to break down the solidarity that catapulted the Marcos and Duterte families to power, the same connections have become fragile. Key members of the Uniteam alliance include former President Rodrigo Duterte, his daughter Vice President Sara Duterte, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and his cousin House Speaker Martin Romualdez. The circle no longer holds. 

While Quiboloy and Duterte have remained loyal to each other, current circumstances test the strength of other loyalties which the former gained in the past. 

Hounded with charges 

Quiboloy is charged in a Pasig City court with a non-bailable case of human trafficking. The Davao Regional Trial Court has also charged him for violating the Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act. 

Further, he and some of his associates were indicted by a federal grand jury in California for sex trafficking women and minors; marriage and visa fraud; money laundering’ and bulk cash smuggling. Philstar.com and Rappler listed the ongoing legal cases against Quiboloy. 

Meanwhile, the two chambers of Congress have both summoned him for further questioning about his crimes and misdemeanors, including the alleged violations of franchise assigned to Quiboloy’s Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI). He has snubbed both, and after several scheduled hearings, both chambers issued subpoenas for his attendance.  

Quiboloy’s conduct displayed a level of confidence that he can continue to evade and escape the legal forces that hold him to account. In the Philippines, such success involves political connections as well as the abundant wealth and means to corrupt the process of the criminal justice system every step of the way. 

He has also pulled his weight to support his patron and friend, Rodrigo Duterte, as the former president engaged in a word war with the sitting president. Quiboloy went as far as calling for the resignation of Marcos Jr. In February, he accused Marcos Jr., First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos, and Romualdez of conniving with the US government to get him arrested and killed. In April, he demanded a written assurance from the Marcos administration that the United States won’t meddle in the criminal cases he is facing here in the Philippines. Marcos, meanwhile, said the founder of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) should use the inquiries of the House of Representatives and the Senate to “say his side of the story.”

His battle with the president’s cousin and Speaker of the House started in November 2023, when the lower chamber investigated the legal franchise of Quiboloy’s SMNI after its commentators criticized Romualdez for allegedly spending over PHP1.8 billion in his international travels. Romualdez’ office provided documents to show the falsehood of the claim. Supporters retaliated by accusing the network of spreading “fake news.” The House of Representatives went as far as issuing an arrest order for his repeated refusal to attend House inquiries. 

The House also approved a bill revoking the legislative franchise granted to SMNI, casting a vote to pass this into law — but there were exceptions. Four members of the House of Representatives objected to SMNI’s closure: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Pampanga’s second district, Paolo Duterte of Davao City’s first district, Ron Salo of Kabayan party-list and Drixie Cardema of Duterte Youth party-list; four others abstained. The House-approved bill will go to the Senate for approval.

Senators who support Quiboloy 

The Senate on March 19 ordered the arrest of Quiboloy for “unduly refusing to appear” and answer questions about his crimes and other issues. Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros persisted in calling for his presence. News accounts were quick to report the rush to support and defend Quiboloy. 

The Senate discussed whether Quiboloy should be charged with “contempt” because while refusing to face the Senate, the KOJC leader had continued to talk at length on SMNI. 

Senators Robin Padilla, Imee Marcos, Cynthia Villar, Christopher “Bong” Go, and lastly, Mark Villar all signed a written objection against the issuance of a contempt order against Quiboloy. 

JV Ejercito who had earlier signed the objection withdrew his support after “careful review of facts.” Inquirer in its editorial said that “nothing screams political patronage louder than this shameful move by known allies of Duterte.” 

Further, Senators Bong Go, Bato dela Rosa, and Padilla attended the prayer rally for Quiboloy. Dela Rosa called Quiboloy a “highly respected person,” and even offered himself to be Quiboloy’s “security if he comes here (Senate)”. Padilla said he’s a “comrade” against communism and that SMNI aired his films. While to Imee and the Villars, the reason for their objection falls under highly personal: he is “kind” because he is a “mutual friend.”

Past endorsements

Beyond personal friendship, Quiboloy’s endorsement of political candidates also figures in the support of some senators, but it has not held the support of everyone he endorsed. Villar and Padilla received Quiboloy’s endorsement and proved their support for him. But others similarly endorsed did not automatically favor the embattled preacher.

Tita Valderama in a Vera Files and Manila Times commentary recalled that Quiboloy endorsed in 2013 incumbent senators Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri, Francis Escudero, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, Sonny Angara, JV Ejercito, Nancy Binay, and Loren Legarda. 

In 2022, Quiboloy endorsed the Uniteam alliance and the bid of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for the presidency and of Sara Duterte for vice-presidency including the following senators: Jingoy Estrada, Sherwin Gatchalian, Loren Legarda, Robin Padilla, and Miguel Zubiri. 

Despite his endorsement, the above senators in black and white photos have either already voted against Quiboloy or have yet to comment  and  yet to comment on the issue. 

In ANC’s Dateline Philippines, Dr. Aries Arugay, pointed out that in comparison to Padilla, the Villars, dela Rosa, Go, and Marcos who acted to support Quiboloy, other senators are playing it safe, keeping quiet, considering the upcoming elections. 

A triumvirate of leaders formed Team Unity. The three may play a bigger role in how Quiboloy’s network holds up. 

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

Typically laid back, the president who was endorsed by Quiboloy in 2022 showed a certain eagerness for the preacher to “face the music.” Quiboloy publicly called on him to resign, accusing the president of conniving with the US government to get him arrested and killed. 

Marcos Jr. laughed off Quiboloy’s remarks. “Perhaps he is afraid because of what is happening. But the best way to defuse the situation for him is to testify before the committees in the House and in the Senate,” he added.

Rodrigo Duterte and Sara Duterte

Rodrigo Duterte and the pastor continue to be close friends and allies. On March 8, Quiboloy appointed Duterte as administrator of the properties belonging to his group KOJC. Duterte admitted that he himself volunteered to do so as the pastor is “distracted” due to “present rumblings.” “Why me? Because I am his friend,” Duterte added. 

Vice President Sara Duterte predictably came to Quiboloy’s defense, attending the “prayer rally” in his support and saying that he has been “unfairly targeted” and “seems to have been given a guilty verdict.” 

Friendship as protection?

Hontiveros asked her fellow senators to set aside friendship and let Quiboloy face the allegations. But for journalists, the context of friendship and political loyalties persists as useful reference. These may not be permanent but the outcomes, including Quiboloy’s fate, will show the durability of political connections, past and present. Quiboloy’s case will serve to test Rodrigo Duterte’s network which as president he worked to reinforce not just in Congress but also among police and military.