Lawmakers puzzled over VP Sara’s presence at Quiboloy ‘prayer rally’

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Lawmakers puzzled over VP Sara�s presence at Quiboloy �prayer rally�
Apollo Quiboloy prays over then-vice presidential aspirant Sara Duterte during a rally in 2022.
Facebook / Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats

MANILA, Philippines — Some lawmakers have questioned Vice President Sara Duterte’s motives for gracing the “prayer rally” organized for controversial preacher Apollo Quiboloy on Tuesday night, with one senator saying that Duterte’s defense of the wanted sex trafficker stands in contrast with her duties as education secretary.

In two separate press conferences, Sen. Risa Hontiveros criticized Duterte for openly supporting Quiboloy even as he faces allegations of sexual abuse of minors, while a member of the House said they “do not know” Duterte’s purpose for joining the rally. 

Quiboloy’s supporters organized a rally called the “Laban Kasama ang Bayan” at Liwasang Bonifacio on Tuesday night to express support for the embattled self-appointed “Son of God” after he was recently cited for contempt by committees at the House and the Senate.

The Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) founder, who is currently in hiding, has repeatedly snubbed lawmakers’ summons to legislative inquiries about his alleged sex crimes and his supposed complicity in the alleged franchise violations of SMNI, the media partner of KOJC.

Through his legal representatives, Quiboloy argued that compelling him to show up to committee investigations steps on his right to due process and that he would only face the courts.

Duterte has also come to Quiboloy’s defense, saying in a statement on Monday night that the congressional probes against the KOJC founder are a form of “unfair” and “violent” targeting, and that lawmakers are subjecting him to a “trial by publicity.”

Among the gravest allegations against Quiboloy and his church are their alleged rape and abuse of minors. Victims testifying during a Senate hearing say they were pressured by KOJC leaders into doing sexually exploitative acts in the guise of “surrendering” their personhood to God. 

Hontiveros said that Duterte, as the "second highest official" in the country, should have "paid attention to the statements and hearings" about Quiboloy before criticizing the legislative inquiries as a political exercise.

“No fewer than three (laws) have emerged as possible areas for corrective legislation,” Hontiveros said. 

“This includes our laws on consent, especially for secretive religious organization; our labor code, especially for voluntary work… and our laws on human trafficking,” the senator added.

Hontiveros added that “no politics” is involved in the Senate’s inquiry into Quiboloy’s alleged sex crimes.

“(This involves) the simple human rights and dignity of the people and citizens that should be defended by the second highest official of the country, not the person who has abused them,” Hontiveros said.

Sara as DepEd chief

Hontiveros also urged Duterte — who serves as secretary of the Department of Education — to shift her attention to the allegations that KOJC leaders have deprived students of their right to education by forcing them to become "street beggars" or withholding their documents.

"The children who were forced to beg had to stop from studying because that's what they mostly did full time," the senator said.

Some students part of KOJC were also promised scholarships at Jose Maria College to become full-time members and workers in the Kingdom, the senator said.

"Either they were not really given scholarships or they were given scholarships, but when they wanted to leave the Kingdom, until now, they refuse to provide the transcript of records," Hontiveros said. 

"They can no longer study again. They can't apply for decent jobs," the senator added.

Hontiveros also dismissed Duterte's criticism of the credibility of Senate witnesses, saying that some of them have already revealed their identities to the public in the most recent hearing on Tuesday.

"But some of them need to keep their mask, need to use an alias, because they are being harassed. Their lives have been threatened," Hontiveros said.

"One of those who testified (in the Senate) recently saw men in motorcycles going around his area. Sounds familiar?" the senator added.

Meanwhile, House lawmakers Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo (Lanao del Sur, 1st District) and Rep. Francisco Paolo P. Ortega (La Union) said that Duterte’s presence in the rally does not necessarily indicate that she is breaking away from the president.

“From what I heard and saw, VP Sara was among the crowd talking to the people. We don't really know what her purpose is there,” Dimaporo said.

Dimaporo added that he “wants to believe” that Duterte participated in the rally to “neutralize” the public’s dissatisfaction with the president, including those who have been calling for his resignation. 

Ortega said that those behind the prayer rallies should focus instead on the “big problems” of the country instead of “political problems and political accusations.”

“We don’t need those on a stage because of course, it will only agitate the public,” he added.

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