Socorro ‘cult’ victims tell stories of ‘authorized’ rape, 6-year-old soldiers, laws to ‘enter heaven’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 28) — Child victims and former members of the Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc (SBSI) shed tears as they recount horrors experienced when they were forced by their “God” to participate in the alleged cult’s activities and obey its laws.

During the joint Senate committee inquiry on SBSI’s alleged rape, sexual violence, child abuse, and forced marriage cases, Sen. Risa Hontiveros called victims and members who escaped from the cult.

With her voice breaking, 15-year-old “Jane” narrated how she was forced to enter into marriage at 14 with an 18-year-old husband that she had never met. She said she could not say no as it was part of a “law” to be obeyed to “enter heaven.”

Unang steps ay ipapatawag ‘yung mga secretaries ‘tas ipapatawag kung sino ‘yung mga single na lalaki at single na babae,” her counselor translated her narration using her native language.

[Translation: First steps will be to summon the secretaries and summon who are the single men and single women.]

She added that single girls listed started at age 12 while men started at age 18.

Hontiveros, chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, earlier exposed the “cult” where Jey Rence Quilario, or “Senior Agila,” was declared as a “savior” who led the group's alleged “cult-like” activities.

Ang kulto ang paraan nila para magawa ang panga-abuso sa mga bata at ang paglabag ng batas ng Pilipinas na hindi ma-matiyagan o mahuhuli,” the senator said.

[Translation: The cult is their way of committing child abuse and violations of Philippine law without being caught.]

Hontiveros said the “government” of the SBSI also produced their own birth, death, and marriage certificates for its members.

Jane said her parents also only followed Senyor Agila’s rules as they were “laws.” She said her mother was also paired off to marry another man while still married to her father.

Jane added that she also endured sexual advances from Senyor Agila despite being married. She added they were told that they would go to hell if they did not consent.

The group also had a "roulette" of punishments which would dictate what a member would do if they disobeyed the laws.

Some of the laws include the “authorization of rape” right after marriage and the need to be immediately paired to a member of the opposite sex as they cannot board “Noah’s Ark” without a pair.

Mark Gelsano, an ex-military member of SBSI, confirmed Jane’s testimonies, recounting the forced marriage his 12-year-old sister had to enter.

“Meron ako nasaksihan na may babaeng tumakbo (I saw a girl running away once,) so we ran after her and dragged her,” Gelsano’s translator added.

Jeng Plaza, Quilario’s cook and a former member of their army, also added that children as young as six and seven years old were grouped together and trained to join the soldiers in the barracks.

Plaza said they called the young soldiers the “Fetus group.”

“Lovely,” also a former member of the cult, said some of the children who disobeyed the group’s laws, such as deciding not to engage in sexual intercourse with their husbands, were left outside the community gate at night, even during harsh weather.

Lovely said she saw Quilario telling the children that they would only be forgiven if they crawl from the gate to his house and if they promised that they would let their husbands touch them.

She said her sister, 12-years-old, got pregnant twice and almost died when she went through a miscarriage while her father, who died in May, was buried without their knowledge.

She said her family was prevented from seeing their father’s body because she testified against Quilario.

“Renz” and “Coco,” both 12 years-old, burst into tears as they were being questioned by Hontiveros.

The boys both told stories of being sent to “foxholes” after disobeying a senior officer from the Agila army.

Renz said he strived to escape the cult because he still did not know how to write and they were not allowed to study.

Socorro Mayor Riza Timcang said children were not allowed outside the community and added that there was a “massive drop” in learners from the area in 2019.

Hontiveros claimed that it was in 2019 when Senyor Agila first sought to recruit members to the cult up in the mountains of Surigao del Norte.

Quilario with SBSI Vice President Mamerto Galanida and leaders Janeth Ajoc and Karren Sanico Jr. earlier denied accusations of abuse and defended child marriages. 

All four leaders are now detained and facing charges after senators in a joint committee hearing were dissatisfied with their defenses.