DENR suspends deal with Surigao ‘cult’
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) suspended an agreement allowing the controversial Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) to use over 3 square kilometers (300 hectares) of protected land in Surigao del Norte.
Environment Secretary Maria Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga issued a letter of suspension to the SBSI on Friday pending an investigation of the “gross violations of the terms and conditions of the Protected Area Community-Based Resource Management Agreement.”
The protected area management agreement was originally designed to enlist and empower indigenous peoples and groups to help the government manage protected areas for a period of 25 years.
The agreement with Socorro Bayanihan was signed on June 15, 2004, and covered a 353-hectare protected area in the fourth-class town of Socorro in Bucas Grande island.
The DENR explained that Socorro Bayanihan, described by Surigao folk as a doomsday group, originated from the “Tinabangay” group of Socorro town, which was organized in 1974 by a certain Albino Taruc.
Together with the DENR, the group developed their Community-Based Resource Management Plan in 2013.
Little known outside of Surigao del Norte, Taruc was apparently well-loved by Bucas Grande folk and there is now a barangay in the island named after him in 2019.
But former Surigao del Norte Rep. Francisco Matugas, father of incumbent Rep. Jose Francis Matugas, complained about the group in 2019, describing them as “fanatics” and claiming that the group was undertaking military training.
In a statement, the DENR said it started its investigation of the group in 2019 after complaints that Bayanihan was restricting entry into the area, established checkpoints, conducted military-like training and put up structures prohibited by the agreement.
In the same year, upon intervention by government agencies, the SBSI revised its management plan, but it was disapproved for supposed failure to comply with the original agreement.Since then, the group has failed to resubmit an updated resource management plan.
In 2021 and 2022, the DENR said it called the attention of Socorro Bayanihan about the recurring violations, but the group did not reply in both instances, prompting the agency to suspend the agreement.
The suspension was imposed a day after SBSI members, including its figurehead Jey Rence “Senior Aguila” Quilario, were cited in contempt by the Senate, for evading questions about crimes allegedly committed by the group.
The crimes included child sex trafficking, sexual abuse and forced marriages of children, as well as preventing members from access to education and health care, and forcibly taking social welfare benefits from them.Socorro Bayanihan, also known as “Kapihan,” supposedly has 3,650 members, including 1,587 minors residing in Sitio Kapihan of the neighboring Barangay of Sering. INQ