Manila, Philippines — Members of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) have admitted to diverting government aid meant for indigent senior citizens and beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) to fund the group.
They made the admissions during a validation process investigating the alleged surrender of cash aid and social welfare benefits, including senior citizens’ pension, to the SBSI, a group in Socorro town accused of abusive and cult-like activities.
In a press conference, Jessie Catherine Aranas, chief of the Protective Services Division of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the Caraga region, reported that at least three senior citizens confirmed giving donations ranging from P20 to P1,000 to the Socorro cult.
Aranas emphasized that these donations, termed “voluntary” by SBSI members, were inappropriate as the funds were specifically allocated by the government for the subsistence and medical needs of indigent senior citizens, as defined by Republic Act No. 11916.
Meanwhile, Almira Rebucar, social welfare officer of 4Ps in the region, also revealed that 14 former SBSI members who were beneficiaries of the program had also contributed their aid to SBSI leaders. Ongoing validation activities are underway to ascertain the extent of the misappropriation of the DSWD grants by the beneficiaries.
Concerns about the welfare of families and children associated with the SBSI have also come to the forefront. Aranas disclosed that eight minors from the SBSI were placed under the custody of the municipality of Socorro and the DSWD prior to the Senate investigation of allegations of child abuse and exploitation.
Of these, three female minors have been ordered to be placed under the DSWD’s care, while the remaining children would be supervised by social workers from the Socorro municipality.
In a Facebook post by DSWD Caraga, it was revealed that Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian met with top officials of Surigao del Norte and the town of Socorro, as well as other government line agencies due to the developments with the SBSI.
Gatchalian stressed the urgency of finding immediate solutions to safeguard the well-being of families and individuals, especially children, exploring possible options for further intervention and provision of DSWD programs and services.