The kingdom of Joel Apolinario
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - February 17, 2020 - 12:00am

He is God’s gift to the poor and the miserable, the messiah who promised to get Filipinos out of poverty. 

Joel Apolinario is God in a striped orange and white Lacoste shirt and a dark pair of Levi’s. A native of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, the well-loved pastor knew how it was to be poor. He once eked out a living as a fisherman and a construction laborer.

He is Jesus on earth and, as he quotes Jesus himself, Joel likes to say: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Joel, indeed, is the key to every poor man’s success. He is the path to that much-desired great Filipino dream to get rich.

Except that in real life, he is not.

In reality, Joel is a man with a silver tongue. He has the gift of gab. When he speaks, everyone listens.

He is the founder of KAPA-Community Ministry International, said to be a religious organization with five million members.

But the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the corporate regulator, calls it the biggest Ponzi scam the country has seen in recent years.

KAPA stands for Kabus Padatoon, which in Bisaya means “make the poor rich.”

“Our mission is to help the poor. As Jesus said, it is not just feeding the spiritual matter, but also the physical matter,” Joel once said.

The modus operandi

But as the SEC said, KAPA is an investment scam and its victims attest to it. Five million people may have been duped by this supposedly religious organization and an estimated P50 billion may have flowed into KAPA, the SEC said. 

As early as 2017, the SEC warned the public against KAPA after receiving tips and complaints regarding the organization’s investment-taking activities. It would later revoke KAPA’s incorporation.

KAPA’s scheme is simple. It seeks “donations” and “blessings” in the name of God. An investment of at least P10,000 would get a 30 percent monthly return for life. That’s just too good to be true. 

At some point, KAPA targeted public school teachers, converting them supposedly into laid-back investors from the perennial borrower stereotype, according to one tip cited in the Cease and Desist Order the SEC later issued.

Estafa cases started piling up.

More than 100 investors have filed complaints against KAPA before the Bislig City Prosecutor’s Office in Surigao del Sur. No less than President Duterte ordered law enforcement agencies to go after the organization.

The complaints reached the courts with at least 12 arrest warrants issued against Joel and other KAPA officers. But KAPA settled the cases using money most likely collected from new, unknowing victims.

The same thing happened with the estafa cases filed by the NBI against KAPA officials last year. Complainants eventually withdrew the complaints. Joel managed to win back and keep some supporters under his spell.

But last week, the SEC scored a major victory against KAPA after the Regional Trial Court of Bislig City ordered the arrest of Joel, his wife Reyna and other KAPA officers.

The court issued the warrants of arrest on February 11, acting upon the investment fraud case the Department of Justice (DOJ) has built upon the complaint lodged by the SEC.

The DOJ said KAPA employed a Ponzi scheme, an investment program that offers impossibly high returns and pays existing investors using the money contributed by new investors.

SEC chairperson Emilio Aquino, a Mindanaoan, said it’s about time the people behind KAPA answer the criminal charges filed against them.

From poor fisherman to chopper-riding pastor

Joel Apolinario has come a long way from his humble beginnings as a fisherman. He now goes around in a sleek maroon chopper. Last June, when he arrived in a mammoth gathering of supporters in General Santos City, he was cheered like a rockstar.  More than 100,000 men and women gathered to show their support and to convince Duterte to allow KAPA to continue its operations. 

It’s not surprising. For many of them, Joel Apolinario is their salvation from poverty.

But in reality, he is not.

KAPA was unable to keep its promises to its investors. No entity can fulfill such an investment promise – a 30 percent monthly return for life.

Poor financial inclusion

And yet despite the crackdown on KAPA, Joel Apolinario’s kingdom continues to grow. 

This is really a symptom of poor financial inclusion in the Philippines. Some of the country’s poorest of the poor don’t have access to credit or investment opportunities, making them easy prey to scams. The result is an endless cycle of scammers running away with other people’s hard earned money. The government needs to end this for good and improve financial inclusion in the country. 

With the warrants against KAPA’s officers out, I hope they will finally be brought to justice. More importantly, I hope KAPA believers get their hard-earned money back.

In the kingdom of Joel Apolinario, he is the messiah who will save the downtrodden and the desperate; he is Ploutos, God of wealth, born to the Goddess Demeter; he is Merlin, the alchemist and wise man of Arthurian legend; he is Jesus, the savior and salvation of this country of 100 million.

Except that in real life, he is not. 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com 

JOEL APOLINARIO
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