Surigao del Norte ‘cult’ leader, 12 others arrested
MANILA, Philippines — Alleged “cult” leader Jey Rence Quilario, known to his followers in Socorro town, Surigao del Norte, as “Senior Aguila,” was arrested on Tuesday along with 12 others after they were released from Senate custody.
The arrest was based on a warrant issued on Tuesday by acting Presiding Judge Ambrosio Moleta of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 31 in Dapa town, for eight counts of qualified trafficking in persons under Republic Act No. 9208.
Moleta did not recommend bail.
The 13 suspects, who are officers and members of Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI), were attending the hearing of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs chaired by Sen. Ronald dela Rosa during which Justice Undersecretary Nicholas Ty disclosed that the Dapa RTC had issued a warrant for those indicted on Monday for trafficking in persons, facilitation of child marriage, solemnization of child marriage and child abuse.
Before the hearing was adjourned, Sen. Risa Hontiveros moved to lift the Senate detention of Quilario and SBSI officers Mamerto Galanida, Karren Sanico, and Janeth Ajoc who were cited in contempt by the committee during the hearing in September for showing uncooperative behavior.
But before Dela Rosa ruled on the motion, he announced that the committee received a copy of the arrest warrant for the 13 suspects, ordering the Senate sergeant-at-arms to turn them over to the proper authorities.
As the Senate hearing ended, Quilario, Galanida, Sanico, and Ajoc were turned over to agents of the National Bureau of Investigation following their release from five-week detention for contempt of the Senate.
Other SBSI members who were ordered arrested include Wenefredo Buntad, Giovanni Lasala, Ibrahim Adlao, Jovelito Atchecoso, Sergio Cubillan, Daryl Buntad, Jonry Ilandag, Yure Gary Portillo and Florencio Quiban.
Before being released from Senate detention, Quilario, Galanida, Sanico, and Ajoc were subjected to medical examination, upon orders of Dela Rosa.
Only the beginning
The charges stemmed from findings of the Senate hearings that were triggered by the Sept. 18 privilege speech of Hontiveros over allegations of SBSI’s “cult-like” activities, which include forcing marriages among its minor members, maintaining a private army, as well as mulcting its members’ cash aid from the government.
During the course of the investigation, which included an inspection of the SBSI community, the committee also confirmed earlier information citing unreported and indiscriminate burying of their dead children, as well as barring them from entering school.
Ty told the committee that the filing of charges against the SBSI leadership and members could just be the beginning, as the Department of Justice continues to work on other alleged violations committed by the group based on its latest findings.
He said they would look into a possible case in relation to children who died during childbirth.
During the hearing, Randolf Balbarino, who fled from SBSI’s community at Sitio Kapihan in Barangay Sering, narrated how pregnant women were prevented from seeking prenatal care from health centers which led to fatal consequences during childbirth.
At Tuesday’s hearing, former SBSI members divulged how Quilario had supposedly imposed a 50-50 sharing of the net sale of SBSI’s fisherfolk.
Members were likewise purportedly required to yield a share of up to half of whatever they received from the government, including emergency shelter assistance following the devastation of Typhoon “Odette” (international name: Rai) in 2021, as well as proceeds from their Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) payout.
In an interview after the hearing, Dela Rosa expressed confidence that the Senate inquiry would eventually lead to the finding of justice for the supposed victims of SBSI, as well as to the ferreting out of the truth in the controversy surrounding the group.
He said his committee report would likely adopt the recommendation of the local government of Socorro town for the revocation of the agreement granted in favor of SBSI for the comanagement of the 353-hectare protected area on Bucas Grande Island in Surigao del Norte.
“[The first recommendation] would be for the (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) to do their job by deciding whether or not they should revoke the Pacbarma (Protected Area Community-Based Resource Management Agreement). As we have seen, there are really a number of violations,” Dela Rosa said.
He said revocation of SBSI’s Pacbarma would force its members to leave Sitio Kapihan and return to their places of residence before Feb. 8, 2019.
He said the Department of Social Welfare and Development should also conduct “psychological intervention” with SBSI members, mainly on parents who purportedly subscribe to the doctrine that entering school is unlawful as it would deprive children of the opportunity to worship their god.
Dela Rosa said the government might need to be “one step ahead” of the situation in the event that SBSI members would resist their looming eviction from Sitio Kapihan.
“The agencies of government already have plans crafted on the reintegration of SBSI members. If there is resistance, the police will have to come in,” he said.