DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 August) – The leader of a religious sect has vowed to support efforts for an independent investigation on the recent burning of houses in a village here that has been blamed on him and his group.
Human rights group Karapatan alleged in a press conference last Thursday that armed men under Pastor Apollo Quiboloy burned 13 houses owned by Lumads in Sitio Papag, Manuel Guianga, Tugbok District on August 15.
The Pasaka Confederation of Lumad Organizations in Southern Mindanao, Kahugpongan sa mga Lumad sa Manuel Guinga and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Southern Mindanao also accused Quiboloy of complicity in the burning of houses.
But Quiboloy, founder of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, the Name Above Every Name, denied the accusation in a press statement Monday, and said he will support an independent investigation on the incident “as I leave the matter to my lawyers to handle.”
“I am saddened that I am again an object of an accusatory campaign by some sectors. I am at peace with the thought that I have wronged no one. Nor will I condone any act that inflicts sufferings to my fellowmen. I will continue to pray so that my accusers will be enlightened and will eventually see the truth,” he said, adding he did not about the incident.
Asked for his reaction during the visit of the Foreign Armed Forces Attaché (FAFA) Corps and the Manila Association of Military Attachés’ Spouses in the Garden of Eden Restored in Tamayong, Calinan, last August 23, Quiboloy said he already instructed his lawyers to review the tribesmen’s statements.
He said the public should know that if there is any accusation against him or his people, he will ask for evidences.
“Naa gani magbinuang sa akong mga sakop, o ako, naa moy ebidensiya tirahi ko ninyo kay ako sakop ko sa balaud sa Pilipinas. Ako pay mokamang sa prisuhan og naa koy sala. Pero og wala, ang akong pagpailob natapos na to (If my members or I do something bad, and if you have evidence, hit me because I am bound by the law of the Philippines. I myself would crawl towards the jail if I have done wrong. But, if none, my patience had ended.)
“Manalipod na pud ko gamay sa akong kaugalingon ron. Legal battle na ni. So, akong tigumon ilang statements (I will defend myself now. It is legal battle this time. So I will gather all their statements.) kung (if) libelous, slanderous, we will defend ourselves,” he said.
In a statement to media Monday, Quiboloy’s lawyers said their client “is poised to file criminal libel and damage suits against those behind the story which positively accused and identified him as masterminding the alleged burning of houses in Tugbok district recently.”
Lawyer Charlemagne Aldevera said the false accusations consisted of a malicious imputation of a crime “casting dishonor and contempt” upon Quiboloy.
Aldevera said the “malicious timing” of the attack on Quiboloy “coincided with the holding of the congregation’s 27th anniversary and the international kingdom leaders convention in Davao City during the week.”
“The detractors never filed any case in court to substantiate their accusations. Instead, they resort to trial by publicity, using the media as their tool to besmirch Pastor Quiboloy’s reputation and to embarrass the pastor and the ministry before the public,” the lawyer added.
Asked for comment on Aldevera’s statement, Pedro Arnado, chairperson of KMP, told MindaNews that the tribesmen who were affected by the burning incident relied on the media to express their fears.
“Our intention was not to have a trial by publicity but to protect the community as they are facing threats to their lives and properties. It is only the media who can help them inform the public about their fears,” he said.
Arnado quoted the tribesmen as having said that before the burning incident there were cases of harassment perpetrated by armed men alleged to be private security guards of a pine tree plantation in Sitio Kahusayan, Manuel Guianga, owned by Quiboloy.
Pastor Jurie Jaime, spokesperson of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao, in a press release on Monday said that long before Quiboloy called for an independent investigation, Karapatan had already called for it.
“The truth must come out. The cases of harassments are mounting even before the killing of Datu Doming Diarog and the burning of lumad houses but until now justice is elusive,” he said.
He said the accounts of the victims pointed to the military unit in the area and private guards protecting the so-called prayer mountain as the alleged perpetrators but the authorities have not done anything.
“It is very absurd for the victims to tell a lie,” he added.
“The lumad children are now homeless right after the burning incident, what more if they will be displaced from the land of their ancestors. Their ancestral land is supposed to be protected under [the] Indigenous People’s Rights Act, but the government has not given any guarantee for their land rights. Even the ‘status quo’ order on the expansion of the prayer mountain in the ancestral domain of Bagobo-K’lata has not been respected.
“Human rights defenders take side with the victims of human rights violations. We believe that human rights work is very important in building peace by exposing and opposing displacement, land-grabbing, and poverty which are happening in the area. That is our mandate,” Jaime said.
The Exodus for Justice and Peace led a fact-finding mission in Sitio Papag last August 26, which was participated in by 52 individuals from Karapatan Southern Mindanao, Hustisya, KMP, Gabriela, Assumption College of Davao, Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, and Kabiba Alliance of Children’s Concern.
The mission is yet to release its findings. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)