Cops rescue 11 children from religious cult

Sun.Star, Philippines/Mar. 26, 2008

Police and municipal social workers rescued 11 minors who were reportedly being held inside a hut since Thursday.

This was after a father accused his wife and some members of a religious group called Pagtulun-an sa Dios Amahan of keeping his children inside a house and not allowing anyone to leave.

Edilberto Sayson complained to the Carmen Police Station Monday night that his children, aged 17, 14, and 1 year old, were being kept inside a cramped hut in Sitio Bito, Barangay Baring, Carmen since Thursday and have not been allowed out since then.

Sayson said he did not mind if the adults continued with their ritual as long as his children were not dragged into it.

Police went to the house Monday night but they were met by hostile relatives and group members. Even his two teenage sons refused to go with him.

Police went with Edilberto Monday night to try and convince his wife Jessica to let them out, but to no avail.

Insp. Carlos Reyes, Carmen Police Chief, said that since no one was being held against his will, they did not force the members to open the house and leave.

Jessica also told them to return in the morning because she did not want to open the doors at night because it was "not safe".

The house's windows were all closed while the door was locked.

Only two people were reportedly allowed to go out to buy supplies.

The house was hot and had only one small ceiling fan keeping them cool.

All day yesterday, police and the municipal's social and health workers returned and tried to convince them to let all the children out of the house as it was not healthy for young children to be holed up inside a house with poor ventilation.

But the adults refused.

"Kamo nakakita nga ang mga bata diri lagsik, nagkatawa ug wa masakit," they told authorities and local media standing outside. Edilberto had not yet arrived because he was in the city to explain his situation to his employers and to school officials.

At first, Jessica and the other adult members explained about their beliefs.

Jessica also went into a tirade about her neighbors. She accused them of taking part in evil deeds such as karaoke sessions, drinking and gambling while they did nothing wrong but pray.

She also said her 14-year-old son Yancy did not need to go to school anymore because his teacher already told him he had failed.

As for her other son, college freshman Harris, classes were over.

They presented the children to the police and media to prove that they were not harmed.

Since Edilberto had not yet returned, police had no choice but to let them continue.

However, Reyes got a call from Cebu Provincial Police Office Director Carmelo Valmoria in the afternoon, who told them to get all the minors out of the house and leave the adults to do what they wanted.

Valmoria was apprehensive that the "message" the group members were waiting for were orders to commit suicide or offer a child as a sacrifice, as what happened with some cults in Mindanao.

Valmoria also told Reyes to coordinate with the DSWD to let them assess if the children needed to be retrieved.

When Edilberto arrived at past 2 p.m. yesterday, he met with local officials and told them he still wanted his children out of there, especially one-year-old Adrian.

He later refuted Jessica's statements, telling reporters that said Yancy still had some days to go before classes ended and that Harris missed enrollment day last Monday because he was still in the house.

Edilberto, who works for a printing press, said he felt obligated to his employer, who paid for Harris' tuition.

Jessica's parents, Pablo and Milagros Pasaje, were also worried about their grandchildren, saying the children's schooling would be affected if they missed their classes and remained inside the house.

The Pasajes are members of the group but somehow, they were not allowed inside because they reportedly failed to pass a test.

Asked what this test was, Milagros said it was about the prayers that Jessica taught.

Curious neighbors also wondered about how the children ate and breathed inside.

When group members allowed municipal workers and the media inside, pails of waste water were all over the house while a stench circulated inside.

Reyes and Municipal Social Welfare Officer Marichu Maningo pleaded with Jessica and the other adults in the house but they refused.

This led Edilberto to tear off a wall of the house, making outsiders see what was going on inside.

Tension ensued as Jessica, her sister Leonora and other adults got so angry at him for destroying the wall.

Edilberto tried to enter the house to get his one-year-old son, but they splashed water and urine at him.

The urine was also spilled on Reyes, who was waiting outside.

Edilberto's sons also got angry with him and told him to leave because they were going to stay with their mother.

Reyes explained that Valmoria ordered him to exercise maximum tolerance, which was why he gave them 20 minutes more to continue negotiating.

When they continued to refuse, Reyes ordered about 10 other policemen to surround the house.

At 5 p.m., he and his men entered and dragged all minors out of the house.

They also arrested Jessica and the other adults in the house.

All 21 who occupied the house were taken to the Carmen Social Welfare Office.

Aside from Jessica, those who were taken into custody were her sons Harris, Yancy and Adrian, her sister and house owner Leonora Robusto, Robusto's children Marvin, 7, and John Rey, 3, her brother Angelo Pasaje, 34, his wife Marites, 33, their children Julius, 11, Krislyn, 7 and Sergio, 3, Marnel Velez, 29, Jose Dioscoro Velez, 38, Maria Lourdes Golez, 27, Marilene Golez, 26, Maria Fe Golez, 24, Marcha Golez, 14, Hazel Golez, 10, Nathaniel Golez, 9, Nestor Golez, 49, and Andres Golez, 20.

Reyes said all the adults will be charged with serious illegal detention.

He explained that even if the children said they were not forced to stay, it was clear that they were being held because they did exactly what the adults told them to do.

All minors were brought to the DSWD central office on Gen. Maxilom Ave. for counseling.

The adult women will also be made to undergo counseling. Maningo explained that it appeared some of them needed psychological evaluation.

Edilberto assured that he would proceed with the complaint even if it meant including his wife because he did not want them to continue with their activities.

Asked if she will file a case against her husband and the police officers, Jessica said she will leave it all to Dios Amahan.

But to Reyes, she said, "Dili gyud ko makalimot ana imong dagway."

To which, police chief Reyes replied, "Ako sad."

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