Manila, Philippines - Spouses Enrique and Victoria Sumbillo, who sued the pastor of a Christian cult for swindling them of P24.5 million, are now the subjects of an online campaign refuting the lawsuit and accusing them of harassment.
The online manifesto was posted by followers of the accused, Jose Luis Gonzalez-Gonzalez, in the name of Lifeline Foundation Inc. A warrant of arrest was issued against Gonzalez in October. He reportedly left the country in May.
Gonzalez, 33, and his wife Candace Schmidt, a Canadian national, lead a group called "Church" and operate several businesses in Alabang, Muntinlupa. The Sumbillos told the Inquirer in a phone interview that Church functions within Lifeline. "Luis and Candace are hiding behind the foundation," Victoria said.
The Sumbillos left Church shortly before the case was filed in 2008. They said they raised the P24.5 million, with trusting client-investors, because Gonzalez promised their hair and beauty business, South Salon, lead lessee-status in an upscale lifestyle and leisure complex, with his own establishments.
The complex, Serenity Place, in Westgate Alabang, opened in early 2008 and now has four stores-Bohemian Nation (antiques, furniture); BoNa Coffee, Sujiivana Day Surgery Spa and Sujiivana Salon- operated by Gonzalez and Schmidt.
The Sumbillos said Gonzalez did not have funds, and used the P24.5 million to construct the buildings, with the least preference for South Salon.
Lifeline's manifesto argued that Serenity Place funds the foundation's programs. It's not clear whether it is affiliated with other Lifeline foundations listed abroad.
Victoria told Inquirer that Lifeline was the latest incarnation of the cult, which started in BF Homes Parañaque in 1990 as "Church With No Name." She said it later became "A Glorious Part of a Glorious Church," "A Glorious Church," "Church With Exclamation Mark," then simply, "Church." The Sumbillos were members for 17 years.
The manifesto was first posted after the warrant of arrest was issued. Latest reposting was on Dec. 7, just before the expiration of a 60-day watch list order issued by the Department of Justice against Gonzalez.
Other ex-members are now complaining of similar "abuse" suffered as cult "disciples," including businesswomen Amadea Carrillo-Nagtalon and Erlinda Cross and celebrity hair stylist Pin Antonio-Magundayao.
In statements sent to the Sumbillos' lawyer, Frank Chavez, they told different stories with a common refrain: "lies, manipulation" and methodical extortion. Chavez said the women were all willing to testify in court.
In her account, Magundayao, owner and creative director of the Salon de Manila chain, said core members had "provided" a house for Schmidt and her husband at the time, cult cofounder Rachid Faraj, a US citizen of Lebanese descent.
"Jose Luis was their 'spiritual son,'" said Magundayao, who left Church in 1995.
Erlinda Cross said she and a few others "ended up selling our own homes.
"I just want Gonzalez to face me in court," Victoria said, "and not argue his case online."