13 members of ‘Socorro cult’ facing raps over abuse of minors, DOJ reveals

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 19) — Members of an alleged religious cult in Surigao del Norte are facing complaints for reported abuse of over a thousand children, the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed Tuesday.

“June 1 pa lang, meron na palang mahigit sampung tao na recommended for prosecution dito sa Socorro cult na kasama sa ibinunyag ni Sen. Risa Hontiveros,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said in a press briefing.

[Translation: As of June 1, there were already more than ten people recommended for prosecution here in the Socorro cult who are included in what was revealed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros.]

Hontiveros on Monday exposed in her privilege speech a "cult" nestling in the mountains of Socorro, Surigao del Norte, where rape, sexual violence, child abuse, and forced marriage allegedly take place.

The crimes were allegedly committed at Sitio Kapihan in Barangay Seling, Socorro from February 2019 until the present, said DOJ spokesperson Mico Clavano.

The respondents include Jey Rence Quilario, also known as “Senior Agila,” former Socorro Mayor Mamerto Galanida, Karren Sanico Jr., Janeth Ajoc, Wenefredo Buntad, Giovanni Leogin Lasala, Ibrahin Adlao, Jovelito Atchecoso, Sergio Cubillan, Daryl Buntad, Jonry Elandag, Yure Gary Portilio, and Florencio Quiban.

Clavano said they are facing complaints for violations of qualified trafficking, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, practice of child marriage, and special protection of children against abuse, exploitation, and discrimination.

The National Bureau of Investigation-Caraga Regional Office filed the complaints before the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Surigao del Norte.

Calavano said a number of motions to inhibit were filed against the prosecution since the complaint was submitted in June.

“Per our information, wala pa pong preliminary investigation na nangyayari because pinapainhibit yung mga prosecutors natin,” he said. “Ngayon tinitignan ho natin kung ano ang rason kung bakit sila pinapainhibit at bakit nag iinhibit ang mga prosecutors.”

[Translation: Per our information, there is no preliminary investigation yet because our prosecutors are being inhibited. Now we are looking at what is the reason why they are inhibited and why the prosecutors are inhibiting.]

In the meantime, the DOJ said it would urge the Supreme Court to move the matter to its main office because Hontiveros' privilege speech exposed it and elevated it to a level of national importance.

“Now that it has reached the level of national importance, it is right to be transferred already. So we're looking at the possibility na itransfer itong mga kaso na ito dito sa DOJ [this could be transferred to DOJ main office],” Clavano said.

Remulla said he will order the NBI to investigate the matter as it is “about time” to raise awareness on such crimes against children.

“'Wag natin hayaan na mangyari yan. Mag reklamo kayo sa kinaukulan para matigil ang karumal dumal na gawain," the justice chief said. "Papaimbestigahan natin sa NBI at idedemanda natin lahat ng dapat idemanda at malagot sa batas."

[Translation: Let's not let this happen. File a complaint with the appropriate authorities to stop this heinous act. We will have the NBI investigate and we will sue everyone who should be sued and should answer the law.]

With reports from CNN Philippines' digital producer Syrah Vivien Inocencio and correspondent Anjo Alimario.