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Socorro denies being a cult, hits ‘fabricated’ case

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The organization accused of abusing minors in Socorro, Surigao del Norte on Wednesday denied a senator’s allegations that it was a cult, saying the eight children involved were taught to “fabricate” their accusations.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) immediately refuted the statement of Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc., with a regional director saying they had the minors’ handwritten sworn statements on the alleged abuse.

Earlier, Surigao del Norte Gov. Robert Lyndon Barbers said the Socorro members started living in the province’s mountains after an earthquake in 2019.

The Department of Justice is also planning to take over the filing of charges against the group so it can start hearings on it, spokesman Mico Clavano said.

Lawyer Lito Magno, assistant director of the NBI’s Regional Operations Service, said the minors had their handwritten statements before giving their sworn testimony with their affidavits.

The NBI investigation also showed that the minors were grouped into clusters and were forced to work or to act as security for the Socorro compound, Magno told ABS-CBN in a television interview.

The bureau charged 13 officials of the group with human trafficking, child abuse, serious illegal detention, and violation of the Child Marriage Law last August, but the case has stalled with the motions filed by Socorro’s lawyers before the local and regional state prosecutors’ offices in Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur.

Some former members of Socorro also admitted to the NBI that they had weapons, and that former policemen taught them how to use the arms.

“Upon verification with the PNP (Philippine National Police), it was certified that there were former police officers (who trained them), but as of the moment they are separated from the service,” Magno said.

But Mamerto Galanida, vice president of Socorro, said the local police chief had visited their enclave twice and they had not received any charges related to illegal arms.

Galanida, who was a three-term mayor of Socorro, said they would await personnel from the Department of the Interior and Local Government to come and investigate the claim.

Barbers said Socorro started as a legitimate people’s organization that exercises “bayanihan,” which refers to the communal effort to help each other.

“In 2017, the area was hit by I guess a 7 point something magnitude earthquake. Another 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit the Siargao area in February 2019. That’s when the members started living in the mountain,”

According to Barbers, his office first received a complaint against the group from an employee of the provincial government earlier this year. The employee said she left the group and looked for work.

After some weeks, she returned to the mountain to pick up her husband, but he was already married to another person.

Due to this and more reports of abuse, Barbers said he called for an investigation, which led to the filing swof cases by the NBI against some involved individuals.


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