DAVAO CITY – A network of child rights organizations urged government to clamp down on a Surigao del Norte cult and save the children.
“Save our children, bring them back to school,” the Child Rights Network (CRN) said on Wednesday, appealing to government “to sustain its actions and give its highest attention to the alleged crimes committed against children by the group Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) in Surigao del Norte.”
“We are appalled by the revelations exposed by Senator Risa Hontiveros, detailing how the group allegedly subjected children to various unspeakable child rights violations,” said Romeo Dongeto, CRN Convenor and Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development’s (PLCPD) executive director.
It said it was supporting the Senate probe launched by Senators Hontiveros and Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, “effectively providing this case with the national platform it rightfully deserves.”
It said the Socorro group has indications of being a religious cult, which “is implicated in a range of criminal activities, including child rape, child marriage, child labor, and child sex trafficking.”
The group also facing allegations of preventing its members’ access to education and healthcare, as well as forcing them to surrender half of their social welfare benefits to their leader, Jay Rence Quilario, also known as “Senior Agila.” The CRN said the group’s leader is even accused of engaging in sexual acts with minors.
“Each day that passes means children may continue to suffer rape, loss of freedom and education, and even forced marriages. Children deserve to enjoy their childhood. They belong in schools, not in the clutches of an alleged cult,” Dongeto said.
The CRN said it culled reports about the group that “exploited a 2019 earthquake to lure followers into relocating to a remote mountain area, leading to a mass exodus affecting local education, as over a hundred teachers left the Socorro East and West Districts.”
The secluded location enabled the group to continue its activities, including alleged child abuse, without oversight, the CRN alleged.
“The Department of Justice is moving, and so is the Senate. We need a multi-agency coordinated effort together with our Social Welfare and Education departments to uncover the truth behind the horrifying allegations,” Dongeto said.
“We do not want a situation where national attention will dwindle, and people forget that we are dealing with potential grave violations committed against children. This is a time to use the full range of legislation available because we have enough laws to cover all the alleged crimes committed by this group,” Dongeto added.
“Time is not a luxury we have. Our senators have made it abundantly clear: this group may be exploiting its members in the most heinous ways imaginable. We need immediate and decisive multi-agency action. One child is one too many. These children can’t wait, and neither should we,” said Dongeto.