THE Department of justice (DOJ) is set to form a task force to handle the investigation into the illegal activities of the so-called “Socorro cult” in order to protect the welfare of its minor victims.
In an interview, DOJ spokesman Jose Dominic Clavano IV said the task force’s technical working group will be composed of representatives from the DOJ and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
“We don’t want the children to relive the trauma over and over so we’re forming a task force, TWG [technical working group], composed of DOJ and DSWD in order to provide a conducive environment where children can freely testify and offer evidence,” Clavano said.
The cult leader, identified as Jey Rence Quilario, alias “Senior Agila,” according to Clavano, had managed to lure children in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering, Socorro, Surigao del Norte to gather at a nearby farm by introducing himself as their divine leader and scaring them that a catastrophe is about to happen that would end the world.
“Senior Agila is the divine leader of the cult. He’s the one preaching to the children of idealisms and different ideologies that he expects the children to believe to make them vulnerable to abuses,” Clavano explained.
He said sexual exploitation of children, who are also being trained to become the cult’s military agents, happened in the said farm.
“The way they act, they are like a syndicate and we can surmise that this issue is really a symptom of a deeper problem, over and beyond legal remedies we are about to embark on, or the case we have to file,” Clavano said.
“What is needed is a whole-of-government approach. It’s the lack of education and the poverty they have been experiencing in the area. Although this will not stop us from filing the cases, we just hope that the root cause will be addressed,” Clavano added.
Clavano admitted that the training of children to become the cult’s army is very alarming as there is a possibility that they might be used to commit other violent crimes, including terrorism.
“It is a big red flag for us and this is precisely what we have to stop in order to maintain the peace and order in Surigao del Norte,” Clavano stressed.
The DOJ on Tuesday disclosed that 13 members of “Socorro cult,” including Quilario, have been charged before the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Surigao del Norte for their alleged involvement in the sexual exploitation of children in the province.
Among the complainants were Municipal Mayor of Socorro, Surigao del Norte Riza Rafonselle Timcang, Municipal Social Welfare and Development Officer Chien Cen Dizon, and the NBI-Caraga regional Office represented by agent Ace Ramoso.
They are accused of qualified trafficking under Section 4, in relation to Section 6 of Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, kidnapping and serious illegal detention under Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC), violating of RA 11596 also known as an Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties Thereof, violating of RA 7610 also known as Special Protection of Children Against Abuse Exploitation and Discrimination.
The complaint was filed last June 1 and has not prospered during a series of motions to inhibit the prosecutors handling the complaint.
Clavano said they are now mulling over the transfer of the cases to the DOJ for disposition.