DSWD probes Socorro group’s alleged collection of gov’t cash grants

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 21) — The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said Thursday it is investigating reports that an alleged religious cult in Socorro, Surigao del Norte is collecting the cash grants of its members who are beneficiaries of the agency’s programs.

Secretary Rex Gatchalian ordered the probe after Senator Risa Hontiveros earlier revealed accounts that the group “Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc.” is reportedly collecting around half of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) cash grant and senior citizen pension which its members receive from the government.

“We’ve already spoken about getting our city links and our municipal links to pry into the well-being of these 4Ps beneficiaries in that area,” Gatchalian said, committing to update the Senate, which will hold a Sept. 28 hearing on the group’s alleged illegal activities.

Gatchalian noted that in one barangay in the municipality of Socorro alone, there are already 503 poor households which are 4Ps beneficiaries. It was not clear how many in this area are members of the Socorro Bayanihan Services.

The DSWD chief also said they will look into beneficiaries of the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS) program, with focus on localities within the area of influence of the suspected cult.

According to Hontiveros, the group likewise supposedly collected up to 60% of the government aid received by its members after the onslaught of Typhoon Odette.

The lawmaker also earlier cited testimonies that the cult – which is said to have around 5,000 members, including minors — is perpetrating sexual violence against children.

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

She said that for one, its reported leader Jey Rence Quilario or “Senior Agila” would order children to sleep with him and facilitate marriages of minors as young as 12 years old with adults.

Hontiveros added that they received information that the group is involved in the illegal drug trade.

A leader of the Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. has denied the allegations.