As his church celebrates its 35th anniversary this month, here is a rare look inside the kingdom of the charismatic, enigmatic leader of a seven-million-strong religious group
By Regina Arevalo
In the first quarter of 2020, the name Pastor Apollo Quiboloy became synonymous with the word. As if a prophecy spoken in answer to the challenge of Vice Ganda, Pastor ACQ’s words would come to pass months after he was challenged by the celebrity host to “close down ABS CBN.”
Probinsyano, the show, would stop airing. The perennial traffic in EDSA would be gone for a few months, no thanks to the lockdown. And the most controversial challenge issued to the Pastor—the closure of giant network ABS-CBN.
If Pastor Quiboloy was not a household name by then, he would be infamous by the time the network shut down. His name would be a meme, a pop culture reference, a warning.
The man behind the memes
Stuff like these amuse us—insiders of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Along with our beloved Pastor’s popularity is the reality of facing a constant barrage of nasty and malicious comments, criticisms, false allegations, and fake news, which we have become accustomed to. To be sure, not everything is hurtful and negative. Some are positive, amusing, and hilarious.
Pastor ACQ takes all of these in stride.
Apollo C. Quiboloy, beyond the memes and controversial breaking news, is the founding leader of the Davao-based Kingdom of Jesus Christ with seven million followers worldwide. An oft-misunderstood man, he is more than the stereotype he is portrayed in the news and on social media.
To his deeply devoted followers, he is a highly revered, deeply respected spiritual leader and guide. He is, to seven million members all over the world, the Appointed Son of God.
His staggering influence and popularity may be a puzzle to many. Who really is Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, and where did he come from?
In the Philippines, televangelists used to be a sundry lot in the ’90s, but the Pastor is one of the very few who remain visible and prominent, perhaps due to his being a magnet of controversies.
When I was seven, growing up in the suburbs of Manila, I got a glimpse of him on television praying over people.
Later on, I would get to meet him personally every Sunday in Cubao, Quezon City. Larger than life—to me, he was suffused with an aura of holiness. From then on, I was led to a life that would be so identified with being a “follower of Quiboloy.”
As a child, I was traumatized to be called a member of a cult. Pastor is dubbed a cult leader and his teachings run contrary to popular religious tenets and dogmas that have lorded it over in the Philippines for hundreds of years. He unapologetically preaches, “The Church Age is over.” He tells the people that worshipping graven images is adultery in the sight of God. These bombastic proclamations did not sit well with the ecclesiastical hierarchy and religious world. Thus, the branding “cult.”
Through the years, the “cult” branding has lost its sting. Pastor Apollo’s Kingdom of Jesus Christ would become the fastest growing congregation in the Philippines in the past three decades.
Apollo Carreon-Quiboloy is the ninth and youngest child of José Turla-Quiboloy and Maria Sambat-Carreon of Sta. Catalina, Lubao, Pampanga.
Barely three years after the war in 1948, the Quiboloys landed in Malagapas, Cotabato, ending up in an unknown rural settlement at the foothills of Mt. Apo in the southernmost part of Davao City. The place is called Tamayong, and this is where their youngest child was born on a cold night on April 25, 1950.
José, a voracious reader and fan of Greek mythology named his son Apollo, both in honor of the sun god, and the famed Mt. Apo, which would be the daily backdrop of the young Apollo’s childhood and formative years with the Bagobos. Apollo grew up in a life of poverty. He would recall that his mother used to knock from house to house, borrowing rice in dry season when there was no harvest in the farm. One incident would shape his life.
The eight-year-old Dodong, as the young Apollo was called, stood frozen in front of the Chinese store where he was sent for an errand to borrow gantangs of rice and some goods. The Chinese children from the store poked fun at him, “Nandito na ang palautang (Here comes the borrower)!”
He remembers staring down at his wooden clogs for a couple of hours with tears streaming down his cheeks, until the son-in-law of the Chinese storeowner came. Saved from shame by the kindness of the man who gave him a brown paper bag with gantangs of rice, sardines, coffee and odong (rice noodles), the young Dodong would promise to himself: “When I grow up, I will do the same kindness this man has done to me.”
Separated from his parents at the age of 10, Apollo would grow up and learn hard work, diligence, and grit at such a tender age. He’d bake pan de sal from 12 midnight up to early morning before he went to school at 6 a.m.
His first calling came at 14, when Apollo dreamed of Parang’s Esso oil depots exploding. The next night he saw the same vision, and the bloody red sky bearing the words: “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.”
Not a bible reader, he didn’t recognize the words as Bible verse.
His second calling came soon enough. As a celebrated young evangelist who learned from American missionaries, he would be called “The Preaching Machine,” traveling from one town to another, seven days a week. In 1973, in a gathering of three million delegates from all over the world, he heard a voice saying, “Gamiton ta ka (I will use you).”
After a few years, the pastor would find himself isolated in two mountains. In the mountains of Kitbog, Malalag Cogon, South Cotabato (now Malungon, Sarangani Province), the young preacher surrendered his will: “Father, from now on, not my will, but Your Will be done.” The first mountain gave him freedom. The second mountain in Tamayong, where the preacher had intense spiritual training, gave him cleansing.
The Birth of The Kingdom of Jesus Christ
On Sept. 1, 1985, Apollo Quiboloy would leave his denomination. Fifteen people joined him in this exodus.
Preaching using not religiosity but spirituality, the charismatic, passionate leader would magnetize thousands all over the Philippines. In 1991, he would start a gospel program on TV over IBC 13. The pastor would speak eloquently in Tagalog, Cebuano, Kapampangan, Hiligaynon, and English—and in no time, he was able to gather followers from across various religious and cultural backgrounds.
From Davao City, the KOJC has spread in major cities in the Philippines. And in 1995, he went global. Pastor Apollo would preach in large venues with thousands in attendance all over Asia, North America, Europe, Middle East, and even as far as Africa.
The Pastor knew how to magnify his message: One of the powerful tools is the KOJC’s acquisition of its own television network that has been broadcasting globally since 2003. Even before livestreaming has become a staple for the digital world, the pastor has been reaching the farthest cities of the world through Sonshine Media Network Intl. It would also have PINAS Global newspaper targeting OFWs in the US and Canada, London, Hong Kong, and the Middle East. In the center spread of the weekly newspaper is published, the message of Pastor Apollo.
When people see the influence, power, and opulence of the Kingdom, they think that it has always been wealthy, but it is, in reality, founded on sacrifice, sweat, blood, and tears.
One of the top gun leaders I first met in Davao City was Sister Ingrid Canada. She is the KOJC’s chief administrator—in essence the right hand of Pastor Apollo. At the age of 20, right after graduating from the Ateneo University, Sister Ingrid followed the Pastor.
Like a mother to most of the followers, Sister Ingrid has made it easier for the members to navigate through the uncharted waters of spiritual growth. She was one of the first 15 members who had to go through tremendous sacrifices in establishing the ministry.
Pastor Apollo and the pioneers of the KOJC had no support from anybody during the founding years of the congregation. Every day, every meal was a challenge.
They would forage and scavenge reject fish and vegetables late in the afternoon in Agdao Public Market in order to buy cheap food to tide them over from day to day.
In the ‘80s, the pastor was skin and bones that Sister Ingrid and her assistants had to put newspaper on his stomach just so his pants and his suit would fit. Sister Eleanor Cardona, a metallurgical engineering graduate from Mapua University, is also one of the KOJC’s pioneering workers. She was 22 when she followed Pastor Apollo.
“We had no cars, no comfortable rooms to stay in. We left our life of comfort as young professionals and chose to follow in his footsteps,” she shares. “In those times of intense persecutions, hunger, and sacrifices, if you are not committed to your calling, you’d really choose to leave the ministry. As we slept on the bleachers of the Amoranto Stadium, Pastor Apollo would speak of great things, how one day, we would have our grand cathedral. How one day, he would bring all of us to different countries all over the world.”
Sister Ingrid adds, “He’d fellowship with us until the wee hours of the morning, until our chairs would be submerged in floodwaters. But Pastor Apollo would not stop preaching.”
Inside the walls of the cloistered Kingdom
The urban legends and rumors about Pastor Apollo Quiboloy and the congregation are outrageous, if not ridiculous.
Truthfully, our life inside the KOJC is normal. Fulltime workers are different than ordinary members because we are on call 24 hours a day, living in the KOJC headquarters in Davao City or in other cities in the country or abroad. Male and female live in separate buildings, and there is a dress code we must follow.
Early in the morning, we gather in devotional prayer, which lasts up to 40 minutes. Then we proceed to our work assignments like sweeping dried fallen leaves, watering the crops in the urban farm, or cleaning the offices. We exercise or work out at our own phase. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in a large dining area we call the mess hall. We belong to different departments like Construction and Engineering, Education, Arts, Health and Medical, Multimedia (TV, radio, print, web), Architecture, and Music. I have been asked why the choir members seen on TV are especially attractive: Members of the choir don’t necessarily have to be good looking. Talent comes first.
One of the misconceptions of people from outside is that Pastor Apollo is anti-LGBTQ. We have a dynamic community of reformed LGBTQ members. We tap their skills and talents for interior designing, furniture designing, and hair and makeup. And yes, the pretty members of the choir are being taken care of by that department.
Some say we’re the Mennonites of the Philippines, but we’re not far removed from the reality of everyday life in the outside world. We mingle with people from the secular world just as you see the Pastor make friends with people from outside.
Ours is a conservative life lived in an ultra-modern setting. “We’re as modern as the Internet but as conservative as the Old Testament,” Pastor Apollo would always remind us.
And the rumors: Some of the allegations—mostly spread by previous members who left for a reason—include human trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse. First, all of us who decide to enter into the Kingdom as full-time workers, make this decision on our own volition. We sign a vow of lifetime commitment. Should we choose to leave, we just have to request for a release paper. It’s as simple as that.
Second, slavery is when you are being held against your will. The Kingdom estate in Davao City has wide gates with workers freely going in and out of it any time of the day. Everyone is free to leave anytime they wish to.
Third are the purported sexual abuses. We know these individuals who make up these allegations. We lived with them, we know who they are.
The Pastor is too trusting and generous to a fault—he accepts anybody who comes to the Kingdom and asks for help, for free education, accommodation, without background checking people. (The Children’s Joy Foundation, established in 1998, has been recognized as the Best NGO in the Philippines in Jan. 2020. The Pastor has expanded the CJFI not only in the Philippines but all over Asia, South and Central America, Europe, North America and Africa.) Sadly, the downside of Pastor Apollo’s kindness and generosity is that he will be abused.
There’s no shame in selling puto
Another ridiculous accusation is that members beg money and sell puto (rice cakes) all over the world. The KOJC rose to prosperity with sweat, blood, tears, and sacrifices as its foundation. By selling kakanin, puto, muffins and others, members learn to value every centavo the organization is blessed with. Members do not beg for money—every penny that is contributed to the coffers of the Kingdom has been worked hard for. Selling puto is a rite of passage that no member is ashamed of.
One of the church’s faithful full-time workers in Indonesia is Oxford-educated. The wife of ex-President Sukarno’s grandson, this woman grew up with the trappings of a privileged life—but she’s not ashamed at all to sell muffins house to house in Jakarta. She holds an Hermés bag on her right hand, and a plastic bag of muffins on the left—and that is how Pastor Apollo has trained the members of the church.
So who is next in line after Pastor Quiboloy?
The Pastor has always been a hands-on leader. Every corner of every Kingdom property is well maintained. He is so precise he supervises how the cutlery is being cleaned and polished. He is very particular when it comes to cleanliness. Even our gardens are well manicured. He does surprise visits in offices and living quarters. He opens office drawers and you have to make sure they are clean all the time. He inspects parked vehicles if they are squeaky clean and kept in pristine condition.
At the age of 70, he still plays four quarters of basketball (he’s a three-point shooter), does hiking, plays golf, and other strenuous sports. His regular general checkup returns normal. He’s at his top form even at his age.
He keeps a tight schedule: He has live broadcasts five days a week. In the afternoon, he’d swing by the urban farm he tends to, and then inspect the ongoing construction of the 75,000-seating indoor grand cathedral called the King Dome right beside the Davao International Airport.
Early in the evening, Pastor Apollo would shoot the breeze and speak with the administrators who brief him on the current developments and goings on in the KOJC all over the world. After dinner, he’d walk around the Kingdom estate, and polish his golf driving skills before retiring at night.
Pastor is single, and has no biological children. He’s never been married, although he openly talks about his beautiful American girlfriend he was set to marry at the age of 23. When God came calling, the Pastor left everything behind, including his beautiful sweetheart.
Someday, the sons and daughters of the Kingdom who have reached the highest level of spiritual growth and maturity will take the reins of leadership next to the pioneers who have been produced. But Pastor will serve for as long as he can.
In our service to God, there is no such word as retirement.
Regina Arevalo is a high-ranking senior member of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.