MANILA: The Philippine government said on Friday it will cooperate with US prosecutors if the founder of a Philippines-based church, who is an ally to President Rodrigo Duterte, needs to be extradited to face sex trafficking charges.
US prosecutors on Thursday indicted the Kingdom of Jesus Christ founder, Apollo Quiboloy, 71, and two of his top administrators on charges ranging from conspiracy and sex trafficking of children to fraud and coercion.
The church backed Duterte’s candidacy in 2016 and its leader has been known as the president’s spiritual adviser.
“The Philippines always cooperates when it comes to extradition or processes of extradition. We will cooperate if there is an extradition request. Whoever that concerns, the Philippines will cooperate,” Duterte’s acting spokesperson, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, said in a press briefing.
Asked whether or not Quiboloy would remain Duterte’s spiritual aide, Nograles said: “Let us just wait for the president to speak about that.”
Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters Quiboloy would not receive any special treatment as the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking will “perform its mandate under the law regardless of the persons involved.”
He said the Philippine government has not received any request from US authorities for Quiboloy’s extradition so far, and that the church leader is not facing any similar charges in the Philippines.
“A complaint for rape, however, was filed against him last year in Davao City, but the same was dismissed. That dismissal is now on appeal,” Guevarra said.
The US Department of Justice said in a statement that an indictment unsealed on Thursday charged Quiboloy and his top administrators with “coercing girls and young women to have sex with the church’s leader under threats of ‘eternal damnation.’”
The indictment also mentions forced labor, labor trafficking, document servitude, marriage fraud and money laundering.
Under Quiboloy’s direction, the church administrators allegedly brought workers from the Philippines to the US and confiscated all forms of identification before forcing them to spend long hours illegally soliciting money for the organization.
US authorities said the accused are believed to currently be in the Philippines.
The Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles said it is closely monitoring the case and “will seek avenues to extend consular assistance to both the accused and the victims,” and the FBI has encouraged potential victims, or anyone with information about the church’s activities, to come forward.
The church claims to have 4 million followers in the Philippines and a further 2 million outside the country.