Quiboloy’s sect is a cult

The Filipino entered the bar with a red shopping trolley in tow. A Filipina owned the bar in a Spanish Mediterranean city. That Saturday night, many Filipinos filled the tables. There was a din of Tagalog chatter.

A group of four drinking Filipino men on the other table immediately recognized the Filipino with the red shopping trolley. One of them started jeering at him, saying, “Your master Quiboloy now has ten arrest warrants.” The man was unfazed and started to roll with the punches. “Even if they send him 100 arrest warrants, we don’t care,” he shot back.

He approached the bar counter where the owner got out a tray stacked with Euro coins. So he was indeed a member of Apollo Quiboloy’s Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Inside his trolley were various foodstuffs his group produces each day and which they would sell on the streets. He had apparently consigned some of it to the bar owner. She was counting how much she owed him for the day.

The men on the other table continued to jeer at him, calling Quiboloy names. The Quiboloy unpopularity is unprecedented, something that finds no need for survey firms to measure. The man continued to defend his appointed son of god. He approached our table and showed us what he was selling. I saw kakanin and siopao. He said these were his last items for the day and he needed to sell them. We understood what he meant – he needed to reach his daily quota. We declined supporting Quiboloy and risk being unpatriotic.

He said he was from Buhangin, Davao city. I wondered no more. Quiboloy’s center of operations was the controversial city of the killer Duterte dynasty. I asked him why he continues to stay in Quiboloy’s sect now that he has been accused of very serious criminal acts. And he said, “We have the freedom to follow him.” “Even if he has been accused of crimes?” I asked back. “All those accusations are false,” he maintained.

The men at the other table did not stop booing. They continued to taunt him with the arrest warrants. This time he was more adamant: “They will never get pastor. Many are protecting him, including the MILF, MNLF and the NPAs. And we will also protect him with our lives.” As for the MILF, MNLF and the NPAs protecting Quiboloy, oh boy what a good topic for fake news that was. It was just the perfect material for a propaganda pseudo media like Quiboloy’s SMNI to report as news, Lorraine Tablang Badoy Partosa and the bogus NPA cadre Jeffrey Celiz notwithstanding.

The folks on my table all agreed – this man was a damaged man, a Filipino dumbed down by the promise of a better life. Quiboloy had facilitated their migration to Europe, bankrolling all the expenses for their trip. Once in foreign land, they have to produce to pay back the “goodness” of Quiboloy. Their savior Quiboloy needs money to support their “church.” The important thing for Quiboloy is he has set a diasporic spread of his followers around the globe. They are in a state of servitude because of debt to Quiboloy. Ironically, this was their effective way out of poverty in the Philippines. It was a logical equation.

As it also was a logical equation of how a cult controls vulnerable people.

Cult followers never waver in their beliefs on their messianic leaders no matter the severity of criminal allegations. That is the danger of cults – followers contradict the rule of law, disavowing its consequences when it is the leader himself who breaks it. Followers have the potential to become lawbreakers themselves.

When Alona Bacolod was strangled to death on January 5, 2002 in Cebu city, the main suspect was her husband, Ruben Ecleo Jr. Her body was found stuffed inside a black garbage bag at the bottom of a ravine in Dalaguete, Cebu. Ecleo had inherited the leadership of the Dinagat Island cult known as the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association from his late father Ruben Ecleo Sr. PBMA followers called him the Divine Master who was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

Five months later, Alona’s brother Ben, a key witness to the case, and their parents Elpidio and Rosalia and sister Evelyn were also murdered at their Mandaue city house. The police suspected PBMA members were behind the murder. Ecleo was arrested in 2004 but released on a bail of P1 million. Five people were murdered but the court considered his claim that he had a heart disease. He was then confined at the Makati Medical Center. Cult leaders have the wherewithal for top-notch facilities, not to mention judicial favor.

Ecleo Jr. was convicted in absentia for parricide in 2012, sentenced to reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment but was never detained when he became a fugitive from the law. Like the appointed son of god Quiboloy, Ecleo Jr. the reincarnated Jesus Christ also resorted to flight. He was finally apprehended only recently, in July 2020, in Pampanga where he lived a life in disguise, assuming the alias of Manuel Riberal. Found inside his Toyota Grandia van were fake IDs and wads of cash.

His previous arrest in Dinagat Island in 2004 was a bloody one. PBMA members protected their Divine Master in an armed clash. They had believed that they had amulets – actually booklets they called libretas with Latin prayers, and rings made of nickel given to them by Ecleo, ensuring that bullets will not kill them. At the end of that fateful day, 16 of them lay dead after a shootout with the police and the military.

That night in the Mediterranean bar, the Quiboloy follower defending his appointed son of god reminded me of an uncanny resemblance to how the PBMA followers defended Ecleo Jr.  Like Quiboloy’s followers who encamped at Manila’s Liwasang Bonifacio for a 7-day rally, the Ecleo followers formed a human barricade in Dinagat Island to prevent police from arresting their Divine Master. They also vowed, like that Quiboloy foodstuffs seller, that they will protect him with their lives. In the end, no amulets made them invincible to bullets.

Ecleo’s followers denied that they were a cult. A follower in Iloilo denounced the media reports. “It is very hurting on our part. We are here to help those people who are in need of our help without asking for anything in return.” It was the same as the Quiboloy group that sought out its following from the most vulnerable because of poverty.

Even as the court pronounced its conviction of and sentence for Ecleo Jr. in 2012, PBMA members continued to stand by him. Family members went on social media imploring followers to support their “beleaguered Master.” Members had also posted that the conviction of Divine Master was “unjust” and deplored the Philippine justice system as not credible.

His sister Jade Ecleo, vice governor then of Dinagat Island, urged members to “pray for Master” because “he does not deserve to be punished this way.” Court proceedings would establish that Alona was constantly urging her husband to stop his addiction to shabu. The reincarnation of Jesus Christ was actually addicted to methamphetamine.

Ecleo Jr. would hastily depart Cebu city after the killings and sought refuge in San Jose town, Dinagat Island. A PBMA member testified in court that Ecleo Jr. did not hide following the killings. Rene Catana, a former PBMA chapter president, said Ecleo openly visited their group in barangay Libertad, Bogo, northern Cebu two days after Alona’s murder. The court would later find inconsistencies in his testimony that did not coincide with Ecleo’s.

The judge who convicted Ecleo said in his decision that Ecleo “did not make any effort to look for his wife, nor did he report her missing when she failed to come home.” It was Alona’s family who went to the police’s homicide section to report her as missing. The judge noted that Ecleo, instead, went to Lapu Lapu city and Bogo to have a karaoke session with friends. The reincarnated Jesus loved karaoke.

This is what cults do: their masters break the law and the followers support the lawbreaker. Cults also enjoy the support of those in political power, amplifying the damaged political culture we have. For Quiboloy, he has the Dutertes, Robin Padilla, Cynthia Villar, Imee Marcos. For the Ecleos, practically all the members of the family were in political power in Dinagat Island and in Congress. The PBMA was also registered in the Securities and Exchange Commission. At the time of Alona Bacolod’s murder by Ecleo Jr, eight policemen in Cebu province were members of the PBMA.

This is what cults also do: they support the government’s fight against insurgents.  PBMA members were active in paramilitary groups involved in government counterinsurgency. For example, in the year 2000 it fought for dominance with the vigilante Pulahans (Redshirts) when 200 PBMA fighters hacked eleven Pulahans to death. Counterinsurgency is an effective way for them to court national government protection.

Robin Padilla’s line, that Quiboloy is a hero because he fought the NPA and thus is a victim, echoes that damaged perspective. By that he issues a blanket acquittal of Quiboloy and denies justice to the victims. Robin Padilla dumbs down our already reeling political system.

Cults should be outlawed when they break the law.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.