Early campaigning in prayer rallies for Duterte, Quiboloy followers

When supporters of former president Rodrigo Duterte and embattled religious leader Apollo Quiboloy assemble in what they dub prayer rallies, we don’t hear the usual words of worship and prayers but expletives and hatred toward the Marcos Jr. administration.

The speakers in their prayer rallies are not religious leaders but likely candidates for the Senate in the 2025 midterm election. Most of them were losing candidates in past elections.

The initial prayer rallies in Davao City on Jan. 28 and in Cebu City on Feb. 25 were intended as anti-people’s initiative gatherings that turned out to be a protest activity against the Marcos administration in general and the moves in Congress, specifically at the House of Representatives, to amend the 1987 Constitution.

In the Cebu City rally, lawyer Vic Rodriguez, who was Marcos’ campaign spokesman and first executive secretary, said the “candlelight prayer rally” dubbed Hakbang ng Maisug (move of the brave) was meant to oppose the “fake people’s initiative,” the bastardization of the Constitution, and the mindless spending of public money. With a clenched fist, Rodriguez led in the singing of “Bayan Muna,” which we used to hear in protest rallies by activist and militant groups.

Tuloy-tuloy po ang Hakbang ng Maisug. Iikot po tayo at gigisingin ang mga natutulog na diwa ng ating mga kapwa Filipino upang dalhin sa kanila ang labang ito at samahan tayong tutulan ang pekeng people’s initiative na ang tanging layunin lamang ay mapanatili ang iilan, ang iilang tao, ang iilang pamilya sa kapangyarihan,” said Rodriguez, who quit his post in September 2022 after less than three months in Malacañang amid controversies involving the importation of sugar and appointees of certain individuals to government posts.

With the people’s initiative becoming a non-issue following the adoption of a new tact to amend the Constitution, another version of prayer rally was held at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila for seven days, from March 7 to 12, reportedly organized by supporters of Quiboloy but presenting the same political personalities, denouncing the administration and Congress not only about Cha-cha but also the investigations into the questionable activities of Quiboloy’s Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KOJC) and the alleged franchise violations of his Sonshine Media Network International.

The prayer rallies were obviously intended to draw support for Duterte and Quiboloy, who are both embroiled in legal issues: Duterte with the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court over allegations of his involvement in drug war-related killings during his presidency, and Quiboloy with the Senate and House investigating allegations of sex abuse and labor trafficking.

Aside from Rodriguez, the personalities speaking at these prayer rallies include Harry Roque Jr., Salvador Panelo, Sandra Cam, Jeffrey Celiz, Glenn Chong, Ferdinand Topacio and Willie Revillame. In the March 12 gathering at Liwasang Bonifacio, incumbent Sens. Ronald ” Bato” Dela Rosa and Lawrence Christopher “Bong” Go appeared with Duterte and affirmed their support for and friendship with Quiboloy.

In that same rally, Panelo even floated the Duterte-Duterte tandem of Vice President Sara Duterte, who was in the crowd, and her father, the former president, for the 2028 national elections.

The speakers at the Manila rallies demanded “justice” for Quiboloy, who said he had gone into hiding because his life was in danger, accusing Marcos of conspiring with the United States to have him either arrested or kidnapped and eliminated.

Quiboloy has been on the “most wanted” list of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for his alleged participation in a labor trafficking scheme that brought members of his sect to the United States via fraudulently obtained visas and forced the members to solicit donations for a bogus charity, donations that actually were used to finance the operations of KOJC and the lavish lifestyles of its leaders.

Former members of KOJC testified at the Senate hearings about the abuses they suffered under Quiboloy, but speakers at the prayer rallies dismissed those allegations as mere harassment and intimidation against the self-styled “appointed son of God” and “owner of the universe.”

During this season of Lent, these so-called prayer rallies by supporters of Duterte and Quiboloy serve as a timely reminder about Jesus’ warning in the Sermon on the Mount about false prophets “who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Calling their gatherings prayer rallies is a form of disrespect for religion, and their leaders’ refusal to face their legal accountability smacks of disrespect for the law.

Their public statements can be classified as “alternative facts,” a term popularized under the presidency of Donald Trump in the United States to refer to falsehoods, untruths and delusions.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.