GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- Calling it a "massive fraud," President Rodrigo R. Duterte again ordered the stoppage of the "Ponzi-like" operations of the controversial religious group Kapa Community Ministry International, Inc.

Duterte stood pat on his earlier directive to shut the operations of Kapa and other illegal investment schemes amid appeals from the ministry's leaders and members who staged a prayer rally at the city sports complex in Barangay Calumpang on Thursday.

Police said about 100,000 Kapa members joined the prayer rally, coinciding with the President's visit here to distribute land titles to agrarian reform beneficiaries in Region 12 (Soccsksargen).

"I’m sorry. The operation will be stopped or shall stop immediately," Duterte said in a speech at the city gymnasium in Barangay Lagao.

Although Kapa obtained a court injunction prohibiting the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) from enforcing its cease and desist order, the President said Kapa's "donation" scheme is a continuing crime that the government must stop to protect the public.

Kapa's legal counsels argued that the pending court injunction must be respected, and that the group is willing to disband should the courts say so.
Last week, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and other law enforcement agencies launched a series of raids against Kapa offices and other investment entities in Mindanao.

NBI agents also raided the house of Kapa founder Pastor Joel Apolinario in Barangay City Heights here, seizing documents and other potential evidence of the group's operations.

Kapa, which started in 2015, is a registered religious group that solicits "donations" at a monthly interest rate of 30 percent. None of its members has come forward to file legal action so far, although Apolinario faced more than 20 charges of estafa that have since been settled in court.

Early this year, the SEC revoked Kapa's registration and issued a permanent cease and desist order over its investment operations.

Apolinario made an appearance at the prayer rally at about 5 p.m. on Thursday and announced to his members that Duterte has already "softened his stance on Kapa and allowed it to continue."

He claimed that he was summoned by the President hours before in Davao City to relay "the good news."

However, this was in contrast to what the President said on the same day.

"All of you from Kapa (members), if your name is there on the list as benefactor or sponsor, you better watch out because once you are arrested, it’s non-bailable," he warned.

The President cited that the closure of Kapa and other illegal investment operations is based on existing laws that he is bound to implement.

Ponzi schemes, he noted, have existed for a long time and he was among the first to investigate some cases when was still a public prosecutor in Davao City.

Duterte said these were operated as a pyramid scheme, starting small and gradually expanded, promising huge investment returns.

He recalled that the individuals involved in the Ponzi scheme in Davao City some time ago had fled to Canada, leaving their investors with huge debts.

"You borrowed money from someone and you have to pay it. Look, do not be offended. To all of you here who understand English, if it is too good to be true, then it is really wrong," he said.

"Believe me because I am a lawyer and I am your President. Trust me. This is for your own good," Duterte added. (PNA)