Unity and justice

By: Kay Rivera - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | February 07,2022 - 08:00 AM

Last week, televangelist and pastor Apollo Quiboloy made news for his endorsement of the Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte tandem, and later for making it to the FBI’s most wanted. It’s baffling, and yet completely on brand, that no one from those candidates’ camp seems to see anything wrong with these two facts in conjunction.

Quiboloy, self-pronounced “Appointed son of God,” founder of the church “Kingdom of Jesus Christ” and spiritual adviser to President Duterte, has been under a cloud of suspicion for years. Allegations were already floating about in 2018 about Quiboloy’s associations with a “child sex ring.” In the Philippines, there have already existed charges for rape, child abuse, and human trafficking, but these were junked by Davao City’s Office of the Prosecutor in 2020.

Finally, in November 2021, US prosecutors indicted Quiboloy and some associates on charges of sex trafficking. The charges also include fraud and misuse of visas, promotional money laundering, bulk cash smuggling, and so on. Quiboloy responded only by acting like a persecuted hero, warning the world to stop the harsh treatment of the “appointed son” of God lest we receive judgment by worse disasters than the coronavirus.

This week, Quiboloy made news again as the FBI put up a “Wanted” poster for the pastor. The poster says that he is wanted for alleged participation in a labor trafficking scheme, by which followers came to the United States via fraudulently obtained visas and were forced to solicit donations abroad. Such donations were then co-opted to finance church operations and to support the “lavish lifestyles” of the leaders. The supposed testimonies from female former members are harrowing: some members, some as young as 12 years old, were reportedly recruited as personal assistants to Quiboloy and required to have sex with him.

As of this week, the Department of Justice reportedly has yet to receive a request to extradite Quiboloy, but chief state counsel George Ortha II has been quoted as saying that the process will be handled properly despite Quiboloy’s close relationship with the President. Given the history of impunity among some of our nation’s most prominent personalities, it would take some optimism to believe that the process will be duly timely or easy. Quiboloy is just one of the colorful cast of characters and close allies surrounding Mr. Duterte, painted in shades of shamelessness, hypocrisy, impunity, cronyism, or all of the above. Now he purports to endorse Inday Sara and Marcos Jr., and frankly, I don’t think anyone is surprised.

This is a president-VP team that has made unity its catchphrase. Another Philippine presidential candidate recently said that there can be no unity without justice. This is not something new or revolutionary, rather a lesson that history has taught us several times over. Steps toward unity and reconciliation can only happen when parties agree on what harms have been done and wrongdoers have been held accountable. Anything less would mean overlooking the rights and protection of victims, and the undermining of institutions.

Any leaders preaching unity must be prepared to confront the past and the law, regardless of discomfort to themselves or their long-time allies, and regardless of the voting blocs at stake. In this case, Marcos Jr.’s own checkered past aside, it would mean some sort of recognition that due process is needed before Quiboloy can be cleared to have the moral ascendancy and credibility to endorse (and possibly advise) the country’s high officials. Even a statement recognizing the issue, condemning the charges, or welcoming further investigation would be suitable.

When the camp in question makes no statement about such a controversial endorsement by a reported criminal, even seeming to welcome it, the discerning Filipino voter must wonder what that means for a future administration’s sense of justice. Quiboloy’s people claim that the FBI poster publication was strategically timed to undermine Duterte’s and Marcos Jr.’s candidacies closer to the 2022 elections. I would venture to say that the controversy is actually an opportunity for the two candidates to show if, when it comes to unity and its prerequisite of justice, they can actually walk the talk.

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