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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Socorro members could lose homes

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THE suspension of an agreement that allowed the suspected cult Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) to use 353 hectares of land in Surigao del Norte as a protected area, could leave thousands of its members homeless because they had sold their houses to join the group.

A spokesperson of the task force formed by the mayor of Socorro town to investigate SBSI, Edelito Sangco, warned of a “humanitarian crisis” if the decision by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to rescind its Protected Area Community-Based Resource Management Agreement with the group.

“They will have no home to go back to because almost all of Sitio Kapihan sold their houses because their leader, Senior Agila, told them to sell all their belongings because the world was ending,” Sangco said in Filipino in an interview on TeleRadyo Serbisyo.

He said SBSI has 3,560 members or more than 1,000 families.

After selling their homes, SBSI members gave away 40 percent of their earnings to SBSI leaders, Sangco added.

He sought government and non-government help to reintegrate SBSI members into society.

Sangco acknowledged that the local government did not have the funds to provide housing, but said it could not dodge the responsibility to do something about the “man-made calamity.”

The Senate is investigating SBSI for cult-like practices such as child marriage and rape.

The leader of the group, 22-year-old Senior Agila or Jey Rence Quilario in real life, denied that he promised heaven to his followers and hell to those who defied his orders.

During the Senate hearing led by Senators Ronald dela Rosa and Risa Hontiveros, Quilario denied these promises, including his claims of being Jesus Christ, the messiah or a reincarnation of Sto. Nino.

Witnesses said Quilario also told his followers that a girl or woman should not remain single as she will not be able to board “Noah’s Ark.”

Because of this, upon reaching the age of 12, a girl will be forced into marriage.

Witnesses told the Senate that Quilario has been officiating weddings, conducting circumcision, and imposing punishment on those who did not follow his orders.

He disallowed children from going to school, saying “I’m God and I don’t study, what more you?”

Quilario denied all the allegations against him.

“They are not true,” he told the Senate panel.

He said it was the group’s late president, Rosalina Taruc, who had chosen him to be the leader.

He said he was still young and didn’t finish school, reaching only second-year high school, so he didn’t know why Taruc had chosen him to lead some 5,000 members.

He also said his “only talent” was composing music, as he denied the claim of one former member, Regin Raiza Guma, that he had superpowers, including the ability to change his voice, speaking as a lady, an old woman, and old man, and even a bird.

Guma told the Senate panel that she was a die-hard follower and that she had quit her job as a teacher to join the “cult in the mountains.”

She said she left the group in June 2022 because her own child was also not allowed to go to school.

Guma said Quilario now wants to put up a school in Socorro to cover up his disallowing children in the SBSI to go to school.

Dela Rosa said the second hearing on the alleged cult will be held in Socorro.

Hontiveros said she expects more witnesses, including four parents of children in the cult.

So far, three minors have come out in the open and testified against Quilario.

A 15-year-old girl said she was forced to marry a 19-year-old last year.

After the marriage was officiated by Quilario, she said, her husband now has the authority to rape her.

Another minor said he was married to a lesbian and was forced to take Viagra so he could have sex with her.

Both were ordered to walk on their knees going to Quilario’s house where they sought his forgiveness.

A 12-old Renz who was being trained to become a “soldier of God,” escaped the cult. At his age, he still doesn’t know how to write his own name.

Hontiveros said she hoped Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary Rex Gatchalian would take care of and protect the minors who are witnesses in the case.

Children who are allegedly victims of SBSI will remain in government custody, Dela Rosa said Sunday.


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