JUSTICE Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said on Monday a panel of prosecutors is now being formed to handle pending and future complaints in relation to the alleged illegal activities of the so-called Socorro cult (Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. or SBS) in Sitio Socorro, Surigao del Norte.
At a press briefing, Remulla also turned down the request of SBS members and officers for authorities to conduct the preliminary investigation of the complaint lodged against 13 of them before the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Surigao del Norte for their alleged involvement in sexual exploitation of children in the province.
The 13 SBS members and officers including its alleged leader Jey Rence Quilario, alias Senior Agila, have been charged with 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), violation of R.A. 11596 also known as an Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties, thereof, violation of R.A. 7610 also known as Special Protection of Children Against Abuse Exploitation and Discrimination.
Remulla earlier directed the transfer of the case to the DOJ in Manila to prevent the cult from influencing the outcome of the preliminary investigation.
“The process is that we conduct the preliminary investigation here. We call everybody here. If they don’t want to come, it’s their problem, not our problem,” Remulla said.
Remulla also belittled the claim of the cult officers and members named in the complaint that they don’t have funds to go to Manila and participate in the proceedings before the DOJ. “It’s their problem, not our problem. What we can shoulder are the expenses of the victims,” Remulla said.
In a separate interview with CNN Philippines, Remulla said the DOJ is just waiting for the official transmittal of the records of the case from the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Surigao del Norte before it forms a new panel of prosecutors that would handle the complaint.
He, however, assured the respondents that they would be accorded due process once the preliminary investigation starts.
He explained that “we are stepping in and resuming the preliminary investigation in Manila [because] the people there are unable to function properly due to threats and intimidation. There is fear on the part of a lot of people.”
Last week, DOJ spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Jose Dominic Clavano disclosed that the preliminary investigation of the cases against the respondents led by Quilaro have encountered obstacles due to multiple motions for the inhibition of local prosecutors, prompting the DOJ to take jurisdiction over the cases.
Clavano also disclosed that a task force composed of representatives from the DOJ and Department of Social Welfare Department (DSWD) is being formed to assist the minor victims of the cult and to ensure their welfare while the investigation is ongoing.
The National Bureau of Investi-
gation-Caraga Regional Office in Butuan City recommended the filing of charges against Quilario and 12 others based on the complaint filed by 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.