Hontiveros files resolution to probe ‘cult’ in Surigao del Norte town, says over 1,000 children need to be rescued

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 19) — Sen. Risa Hontiveros has filed a resolution seeking to investigate the alleged systematic rape and forced labor by a "cult" in Socorro, Surigao del Norte, involving more than 1,000 children who need to be rescued.

Senate Resolution 797, dated Sept. 18, seeks to direct the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality to immediately conduct a probe into allegations of systematic rape, sexual abuse, trafficking, forced labor, and forced marriage of children in the context of cult-like activities among members of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI).

READ: 'Dire and despicable': Hontiveros says over 1,000 children victims of sexual abuse by Surigao del Norte 'cult'

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ The Source on Tuesday, Hontiveros said eight children have escaped the alleged cult, also known as Omega de Salonera, with three of them giving testimonies and urging other minors to also get out.

“They are really begging us, the public, to rescue them,” Hontiveros said. “Kung isa lang ang magagawa natin, 'yan 'yon iligtas ang mga bata [If we can only do one thing, that is to rescue the children].”

The senator said 3,560 members of the SBSI, including 1,587 children, are under the influence of a certain Jey Rence Quilario, who has styled himself as a “Messiah” with an alias “Senior Aguila,” in an enclosed and heavily guarded area in a mountain called Sitio Kapihan.

Citing direct and first-hand testimonies, a statement from the senator’s office on Tuesday said Quilario would allegedly "engage in acts of sexual abuse and violence against minors, including ordering children to sleep with him, facilitating marriages of children as young as 12 years old with adults, and locking adolescents in rooms in order for them to engage in sexual activities, among others.”

The children were also not allowed to study, Hontiveros said.

Parents of the eight children who escaped are still in the SBSI and have filed petitions to invoke the writ of habeas corpus in a bid to take back custody of their children. Seven of the petitions are pending, while one of the minors was “already recovered” by the group, Hontiveros said.

According to the senator, Socorro town Mayor Riza Timcang reached out to her office, informing the senator that the local government has already formed a task force to rescue the children.

Minor and adult members of the alleged cult were made to perform acts of forced labor under pain of physical punishment, and were also forced to surrender 40-60% of their social welfare benefits to Quilario.

Among the benefits were the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation program (AICS), Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) and senior citizen pensions.

She said such crimes are in violation of the country’s Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, Prohibition of Child Marriage Law, and Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act.