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

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 19) — Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday exposed a "cult" nestling in the mountains of Socorro, Surigao del Norte, where rape, sexual violence, child abuse, and forced marriage allegedly take place.

"What we have learned is dire and despicable… a community of children in Socorro, Surigao del Norte is crying for help," Hontiveros said in a privilege speech.

"Ang pinag-uusapan nating mga bata ay higit sa isang libong kabataan na nasa kamay ng isang mapanlinlang, malupit, at mapang-abusong kulto," she added.

[Translation: We are talking about over a thousand young people in the hands of a deceitful, cruel, and abusive cult.]

Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women and Children, said the alleged cult behind the name “Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc." started in 2017 after then 17-year-old Jey Rence Quilario was groomed to be the next "Messiah."

Declared as the reincarnation of the Santo Niño, Quilario was later named "Senior Agila" by former Socorro Mayor Mamerto Galanida, who served for three terms.

The senator said that in 2019, Quilario saw the massive earthquake that hit the province as an opportunity to lure followers to go to the mountains to be "saved."

"There was a mass exodus to the mountain by the thousands of members of the organization, now having all the indicators of a religious cult," she added.

The lawmaker said this resulted in a mass resignation of Department of Education teachers and government employees – including more than one hundred elementary and secondary teachers from Socorro East and West Districts.

Enrollments at Socorro East and West Districts also logged an alarming drop of 847 learners, she said.

"The mountain allowed the cult to continue its activities without scrutiny," Hontiveros said. "And this is where the harrowing tales of child abuse come in."

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.”

Cult funding

According to Hontiveros, funding of the cult largely comes from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation program (AICS) of its members.

She also alleged that cult leaders are involved in the illegal drug trade.

As of July this year, eight children have escaped the group, but cult leaders are using their influence to bring back the children to the mountains, Hontiveros said.

“These children are in grave and present danger. Makapangyarihan at may impluwensya ang kulto. Ginagawa nila ngayon ang lahat para makuha mula sa LGU (local government unit) at DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) ang mga bata [The cult is powerful and influential. They’re now doing everything to get the children from the LGU and the DSWD) ,” the senator added.

Hontiveros has filed a resolution seeking a Senate probe into the cult's alleged criminal acts.