Hontiveros raises plight of children victimized by cult in Surigao del Norte
MANILA, Philippine — A harrowing tale of a “cult” preying on minors in the municipality of Socorro, Surigao del Norte has reached the Senate.
In privilege speech on Monday, Senator Risa Hontiveros, chairperson of the chamber’s committee on women, children, family relations and gender equality, raised the plight of children in Socorro, Surigao del Norte who were allegedly raped and subjected into forced marriages after they were influenced by a “cult.”
“According to the people of Socorro, including the Mayor of the municipality himself, the cult started when there was a seventeen-year-old child who was groomed to be the next so-called savior. The leader of this organization convinced Jey Rence Quilario to be the leader of Socorro Bayanihan Services because he is the next Messias. He is said to be the new Jesus. He is the one who will save them,” Hontiveros disclosed in Filipino.
Hontiveros detailed that Quilario was given a script and was taught how to stand up and speak eloquently by a certain Mamerto Galandia.
Quilario was eventually recognized in the community as the “reincarnation of Senior Santo Niño” — later on the term, Senior Agila was born.
The community allegedly allowed the “cult” to continue its activities without scrutiny. Subsequently, reports of child abuse came in.
In her privilege speech, Hontiveros introduced the stories of Jane, 15 – who was reportedly raped by Quilario himself, and Chole, 15, who was forced by Quilaro into marriage with a 21-year-old when she was only 13.
Meanwhile, a 12-year-old minor going by an alias Renz testified that members of the “cult” are armed with guns.
Hontiveros likewise revealed that the “cult” is making money by collecting at least 50 percent of the 4Ps and senior citizen pension of its members. Reports also point out that most of the organization’s funding comes from illegal drugs.
“In July of this year, there were eight children who escaped from the cult and were sheltered by the local government unit and [the] Department of Social Welfare and Development. The Municipal Mayor of Socorro, Mayor Riza Timcang, formed a task force to take action against this cult,” said Hontiveros.
“But the cult is powerful and this is the urgency of the issue I am talking about. Using their money and influence, they used the parents who are still members and filed habeas corpus cases to bring the children back to the cult,” the lawmaker said.
Hontiveros stressed that the supposed cult is not hiding in the province of Surigal del Norte. In fact, it already is establishing its influence in Manila.
This horrifying truth then prompted Hontiveros to reiterate that it is the lawmakers’ duty to save all those children.
“It is our duty not just as senators, but also as parents, as human beings, to save children in most need of our help. We managed to raise the age of sexual consent, we passed the law penalizing child marriage, we strengthened protections against child trafficking. We cannot, we must not, look away,” she added.
Hontiveros’ privilege speech was later referred to the Senate committees on public order and dangerous drugs as well as women, children, family relations and gender equality for legislative probe.
Despite several statements from eye witnesses and in the face of all criticisms, the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. insisted that they are not subjecting their members into unwanted marriage, sexual activities, and forced labor.
“That’s unfair. There was no due process [and] only one side was heard. It’s all fabricated,” said Mamerto Galanida, spokesperson of the suspected cult, in a text message to INQUIRER.net.