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Thursday, November 30, 2023

‘Kids recruited into private army’

Kids as young as 12 years old and at least seven women were allegedly recruited into the private army of an organization accused of being a cult in Socorro, Surigao del Norte, a former member said.

In a video message released by Senator Risa Hontiveros, 28-year-old “Karl” said there were about 107 members of the “Agila Squad” – the alleged private army of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. or SBSI.

“There were minors, about 12 years old. There were also seven women,” Karl said in his video testimony.

“We would practice escrima and we know how to use a knife. We could carry and use weapons. We know how to use, disarm, disassemble, and assemble pistols, armalites, M4, and 45. We have used all that.

Karl said the organization’s leader, Jey Rence Quilario, also known as Senior Agila, told them that sacrificing their lives or killing others for the cause was allowed as they were “Soldiers of God.”

“If we sacrifice our lives, whether we die or not, as long as we are serving God, that is alright. He told us that we can kill people as long as the order came from him,” Karl said.

Another survivor, a 13-year-old girl with the alias “Maymay,” said she escaped the group with her parents because she wanted to go to school.

Hontiveros on Monday first revealed the existence of the alleged cult in a privilege speech, noting that minors as young as 15 years old were reportedly being raped and forced to marry the cult leader.

The revelation prompted the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct separate probes even as SBSI vice president Mamerto Galanida denied the report.

Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian also ordered an investigation into reports that the alleged cult is getting half of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) financial aid of its members.

“Whenever we get allegations of AICS (Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations ) misuse, we take it seriously, and even here in the Central Office, in any of our Field Office,” he said, adding that the

DSWD Caraga is already looking into the AICS track distribution in the area.

“We can do backtracking and our standard investigation tracks also… We will immediately copy-furnish the office of the (Senate) committee on the findings of the 4Ps as well as the AICS clusters,” Gatchalian added.

For his part, Save the Children Philippines CEO Albert Muyot unequivocally condemned the reported cases of alleged child abuse, rape, and forced marriages committed against minors in Socorro.

“Every child deserves the right to live in a safe, healthy, and nurturing environment – free from all forms of violence, abuse, and exploitation. Protecting children’s well-being is non-negotiable and should always be an absolute priority of parents, schools, communities, authorities, and the government in all settings, at all times,” Muyot said.

“We urgently call upon the government, specifically our law enforcement agencies, to conduct immediate and thorough investigations into these incidents, secure the protection of the affected children, and bring the perpetrators to justice,” he added.



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