Candidates Court Philippine Pastor


Boasting Seven Million Followers, Quiboloy Will Soon ‘Reveal’ Whom God Has Chosen as Country’s Next President

By JAMES HOOKWAY
DAVAO CITY, the Philippines—The Philippines’ tele-evangelists exert a larger-than-life influence each time elections come around. This year, Filipino presidential candidates are hoping to bag the support of one in particular: a man who calls himself the “Appointed Son of God.”

Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy has emerged as a potentially powerful kingmaker in the Philippine presidential election. Candidates are hoping to win his endorsement.

Apollo C. Quiboloy, 59 years old, a successful pastor in his hometown of Davao City, became a sensation five years ago after announcing a revelation. He says he was summoned by God on April 13, 2005, to complete the work of Jesus Christ and restore humanity to its original state of grace before the biblical Adam bit into the apple. His message received broad acceptance in the Philippines, a country of nearly 100 million people with a long history of tailoring various beliefs to local practices.

Political analysts and election candidates now say his millions of followers—and those of several other local religious leaders—could help tip the balance in the country’s May 10 presidential election. Dozens of presidential, senatorial and local election candidates are counting the days to Mr. Quiboloy’s birthday on Sunday, when he will announce which candidate God has revealed to him as the next president of the Philippines.

Some main contenders in the vote have paid repeated visits to Mr. Quiboloy’s mountainside retreat here near Davao City in the southern Philippines in the hope of winning his endorsement. Leading contender Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III speaks in hushed tones whenever Mr. Quiboloy’s name is mentioned, apparently mindful of the tongue-lashing he received from the pastor when a sinus infection prevented him from attending a televised debate earlier this year hosted at Mr. Quiboloy’s cathedral. Sen. Aquino later flew to Davao City for a private meeting.

Loren Legarda, a candidate for vice president, says she considers Mr. Quiboloy’s Kingdom of Jesus Christ as one of the most important constituencies in the country. “Pastor Quiboloy’s group is a very solid voting bloc,” Sen. Legarda says, although she adds that she considers Mr. Quiboloy a friend and isn’t courting his support.

It is unclear how many members of Mr. Quiboloy’s flock, or any other congregation, will vote en masse at the request of their pastor. But officials from a variety of denominations privately estimate that among the most close-knit groups, 70% or more of their members cast their ballots together. Analysts here say rival candidates’ policies are often similar in the Philippines, so electoral contests tend to focus on personalities rather than on taxes and deficits.

The country’s religious leaders can offer endorsements as an easy alternative to the boisterous electioneering and confusing back-and-forth accusations that are persistent features of political campaigns here. There are plenty of potential kingmakers from which to choose.

Manuel Villar, Sen. Aquino’s close rival for the presidency, says he considers the homegrown Iglesia ni Christo church to be one of the most powerful power brokers in the country, while many candidates have courted Mariano “Brother Mike” Velarde, the lay leader of the Catholic charismatic El Shaddai group. A Protestant preacher Eduardo “Brother Eddie” Villanueva is cutting out the middleman and running for president himself.

Mr. Quiboloy, though, is the latest—and arguably the most influential—player in a crowded market. He is a dynamic preacher, with a knack for captivating tens of thousands of listeners. He started his mission from the bottom up. He split from his local Pentecostal congregation in the 1980s and spent five years on a small plot of family-owned land high up the slopes of Mount Apo, the Philippines’ tallest mountain. There, Mr. Quiboloy says he received a series of visions and audible instructions from God to begin a new mission, while he subsisted mostly on reject bananas from a nearby plantation.

Then, when he was ready, Mr. Quiboloy began preaching, first in his local community, then in Davao City, then across the whole country.

His theology is relatively simple. Mr. Quiboloy says Jesus Christ died to give humanity a chance of salvation. But to complete the process, he says, God appointed him his son to teach people to submit themselves entirely to God’s will. “This is the Sonship, and everybody can inherit it through me,” Mr. Quiboloy explains in an interview at his retreat, the Garden of Eden Restored.

Mr. Quiboloy has combined his message with some sharp marketing. While other evangelist and non-Catholic groups sputtered, Mr. Quiboloy expanded his Sonshine Media Network to broadcast across the globe, targeting the millions of Filipinos who work—and can vote—in Hong Kong, the Middle East, Europe and the U.S., and who find in his ministry a taste of the home they left behind.

In Dubai, for instance, Mr. Quiboloy says his Kingdom of Jesus Christ offers Filipinos a place to play sports and music, as well as worship. “We’re like a magnet to them. When they’re bored and have nothing to do, we provide a place for them to go,” Mr. Quiboloy says. Many of his overseas followers spread the word among their family and friends when they return home.

As a result, Mr. Quiboloy now counts about seven million people in his congregation. Devoted tithing enables him to jet about in a Gulfstream aircraft and a helicopter—”It’s God’s will to give,” he says. Recent scandals in the Roman Catholic Church also have bolstered his flock, he adds.

He also has non-Filipino followers from around the world. Shishir Bhandari from Nepal stumbled across Mr. Quiboloy’s Kingdom while studying in Singapore, and has been with the group for eight years. “When I heard Pastor Quiboloy speak, something inside me changed,” he says.

The Philippines, though, is where Mr. Quiboloy exercises the most clout. In 2004, he accurately forecast Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would be elected president. But this time, “even I don’t know who it is yet,” he says.

Mr. Quiboloy says his deceased mother appeared to him in a dream and said he should pray for Sen. Villar, while Corazon Aquino, the late president and democracy icon, appeared in another vision and asked Mr. Quiboloy to support her son, Sen. Aquino.

Mr. Quiboloy is hedging his bets for now, though, perhaps until a few more opinion polls come in. “I’m awaiting the final revelation from my Father,” he says.

Find more like this: Features, Politics, Religion

Comments

  1. Roger Balmonte says:

    Religious leaders are more becoming rich now a days like this false preacher Mr. Quiboloy alyas “abuloy”…hehehehe

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