Safety concerns mount as senators grill Surigao del Norte ‘cult’ leaders 29, 2023

By Froilan Gallardo

Cagayan de Oro, Philippines – A pro-child advocacy group said Socorro Bayanihan Services Incorporated (SBSI) leader Jey Rence Quilario should be imprisoned and his alleged cult be disbanded for the safety of those who testified against him at the Senate inquiry on Thursday, September 28.

Lawyer Fionah Bojos of the Cebu for Human Rights, the group that helped in documenting the alleged abuses of Quilario, said Quilario’s followers in Socorro town were agitated because of the Senate inquiry and might get back at the families of the minors who testified.

Three minors, who used the aliases “Jane,” “Coco,” and “Renz,” told senators that Quilario, who has allegedly turned the SBSI into a doomsday cult along with a core group of backers, forced them to marry other members who are older than them.

“Cults in backward agriculture communities are always dangerous,” Bojos said.

Bojos called on the senators to draft a piece of legislation that would outlaw cults in the country.

Socorro Mayor Riza Timcang also called for police reinforcement amid threats that the remaining cult members will stage a protest action in Socorro town.

“There is a real threat and imminent danger of violence escalation from agitated members,” Timcang said.

The SBSI has at least 3,500 members, including children. They live in a small island village on an island which, until recently, has been heavily guarded by its members called “Soldiers of God.”

“Renz,” one of the children who testified, said he was given military training as early as 12 years old. He said there were other children like him in the SBSI community who received similar training.

“Our leaders forbid us, children, to go to school and punish us by putting us in foxholes for our infractions,” he said.

Renz said he left the group and escaped because he realized that even at 12, he still did not know how to write.

Timcang said more than 847 children have dropped out of school in her town since 2019, which she attributed to the SBSI.

A 15-year-old girl named “Jane” told senators that Quilaro, also known as “Senior Agila,” forced her to marry an 18-year-old man when she was 13 years old.

“We were later brought to a room where our leader told my husband to rape me,” Jane testified.

Quilario and the other leaders repeatedly denied the accusations made by the minors and other former members of the SBSI.

“Hindi po, hindi po nangyayari ‘yan (No, that did not happen),” Quilario said.

Quilario said he did not disallow the children from leaving their village in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering in Socorro town.

Former Socorro mayor Mamerto Galanida, SBSI vice president, said he was unaware of forced marriages, rapes, and forced recruitments in their village.

On Senator Risa Hontiveros’ motion, Quilario, Galanida, and two other SBSI leaders, Janeth Ajoc and Karen Sanico, were cited in contempt.Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, the chair of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, ordered the detention of the four SBSI leaders in the Senate.

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