4 members of Surigao ‘cult’ to testify vs leader
Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Sunday said four members of Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) have agreed to testify against the leader of the group who allegedly forced their underage children to marry older men as part of its “deviant” and “cultic” rituals.
Hontiveros said the parents had agreed to speak up against SBSI president Jey Rence Quilario after the Department of Justice recommended that they be placed under the government’s protective custody.
The parents, she said, had previously defended Quilario and even prevented the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) from helping the children after they allegedly ran away from the SBSI’s enclave in Socorro town, Surigao del Norte province.
The senator said more SBSI members had also expressed their willingness to testify against Quilario after the Senate conducted a grueling eight-hour investigation of the group’s activities last week.
“These four adults were actually brought by the leaders of the cult [from Socorro] as witnesses against the municipal social welfare officers,” Hontiveros said in a radio interview.
“Hopefully in our next hearing, they will testify in support of their children and against the leaders of the cult,” she said.
Aside from the parents, she said Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla had also requested the DSWD to place under its care three children who were also brought by the SBSI leaders to supposedly defend Quilario at the Senate inquiry.
Hontiveros had rejected the attempt to present the minors as witnesses since they did not undergo “social preparation” by social welfare officers as mandated by law.
In a letter dated Sept. 28, a copy of which was provided by Hontiveros’ office, Remulla asked Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian to provide protective custody for nine minors and four adult members of the SBSI as recommended by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking.
“There is very strong evidence that these children and adults are victims of human trafficking, forced labor, forced marriage and other forms of child abuse committed by key officials of SBSI,” Remulla told Gatchalian.
Hontiveros, the chair of the Senate committee on women, family relations and gender equality, had initiated the inquiry after her office was informed about the nightmarish experience of the children whose parents were allegedly brainwashed by the SBSI.
One of the victim-survivors, who was identified only as “Jane,” told the senators that she was just 14 last year when Quilario forced her to marry an 18-year-old man whom she never met before.
She said it was Quilario, known to his followers as “Senior Agila,” who had paired him with her husband despite her objection. Another witness, a 12-year-old boy, said they were physically assaulted by the leaders of the SBSI and that they were made to undergo military training as child soldiers. INQ