Ex-members of Surigao del Norte ‘cult’ under custody of anti-trafficking council

Rappler.com, Philippines/October 2, 2023

By John Sitchon

Cebu, Philippines – Lawyer Richard Dano, legal consultant of Task Force Kapihan, confirmed in a phone interview on Monday, October 2, that former members of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) were now under the custody of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).

Dano said that among the former members were child witnesses who ran away from their families multiple times to escape SBSI’s hilltop settlement in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering, Socorro, Surigao del Norte.

At least eight of the minors had already given their statements for their affidavits on Monday, according to the legal consultant.

Three of the minors were present during a Thursday, September 28 hearing of the Senate public order committee, where they shared their experiences of being forced into marriage and undergoing military training for SBSI.

Last Thursday, IACAT Chairperson and Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla endorsed the protective custody of nine minors and four adults – all former members of SBSI – to Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian.

“There is very strong evidence that these children and adults are victims of human trafficking, forced labor, forced marriage, and other forms of child abuse committed by key officials of SBSI,” Remulla’s letter to Gatchalian read.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, in a statement on Monday, entrusted Gatchalian with giving the victims “the standard of care required for their protection and eventual reintegration,” hoping that this would also lead to the rescue of members who were still with SBSI.

Dano told Rappler that prior to the investigation into the alleged abuses, there were SBSI members who filed a writ of habeas corpus to retrieve children who escaped from the group.

In his recollection, at least two children previously under their custody were taken back by their parents, who are members of SBSI.

Remulla wrote in his letter to Gatchalian that three children would be presented as witnesses by leaders of SBSI.

As of this writing, leaders of SBSI – including Jey Rence Quilario, the president of the group – have been detained at the Senate after being cited in contempt over their repeated denial that minors were being forced into marriage in their community.

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