DOJ chief handpicks women-led panel to prosecute alleged Socorro cult

enablePagination: false
maxItemsPerPage: 10
maxPaginationLinks: 10

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 28) — Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla handpicked three women prosecutors to lead the investigation into the alleged "cult activities" of Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc (SBSI) in Surigao Del Norte, the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) said Thursday.

IACAT Undersecretary Nicholas Felix Ty said the case was transferred from the Bayugan City Prosecutor's Office to the National Prosecution Service of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

“The head office noted the significance of this case and we had the case now finally transferred to the head office in the DOJ,” Ty said during the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs’ inquiry into the SBSI.

“The secretary himself appointed, designated a panel of three women prosecutors who will independently preside over the preliminary investigation of the case,” he added.

Ty also said the panel already set the initial hearing in Manila on Oct. 9 and the subpoena will be served to the leaders of SBSI and their counsel within the day.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality chair, earlier exposed the “cult” where rape, sexual violence, child abuse, and forced marriage allegedly take place.

She said SBSI saw their president Jey Rence “Senior Agila” Quilario as their “savior” and that he led the group's “cult-like” activities.

READ: Alleged Socorro cult denies sexual abuse among minors, defends child marriages

The Senate on Thursday ordered the detention of Quilario, SBSI Vice President Mamerto Galanida, and ranking members Janeth Ajoc and Karren Sanico Jr. as lawmakers were dissatisfied with their answers.

During the senate hearing, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Caraga Regional Director Angelito Magno said they have already served multiple subpoenas to the SBSI group leaders prior to endorsing the case to the provincial prosecutor.

According to Magno, Socorro Mayor Riza Timcang filed the complaint addressed to the NBI director at the bureau's main office in May this year.

Magno said NBI agents were sent to investigate the cult in Socorro on May 4.

“When we completed the investigation, we issued a subpoena to the leaders of SBSI to appear before our office on May 17,” the director said.

Magno said NBI had to issue another subpoena as members from SBSI requested the agency to set a different date since they were set to fly to South Korea.

“On May 17, nobody appeared. So, on May 18, the next day, we issued, again, another subpoena for them to appear at our office on May 30. Still, they did not appear for reasons only known to them,” he added.

Magno said they also issued a subpoena to ask if the SBSI group could give assurance agents will not be harmed after learning from key witnesses that the “cult” members were armed.

The NBI said it recommended charges against Quilario and other leaders of SBSI for the crimes of qualified trafficking, kidnaping and serious illegal detention, violation of anti-child law and violation of anti-child abuse law.

Philippine National Police officers in Caraga also reported that Quilario and the other leaders led the SBSI "motorcade" to invite more members to the cult on Jan. 1, 2021, despite measures in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.