A Senate committee on Thursday cited Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) leader Jey Rence Quilario, also known as Senior Agila, and three others in contempt.
Senator Risa Hontiveros made the motion during the hearing of the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, after Quilario and the others repeatedly denied that child marriages took place in the Surigao del Norte-based group despite testimonies by victims.
Hontiveros moved to have Quilario, Mamerto Galanida, Janeth Ajoc, and Karren Sanico cited in contempt. No member of the committee objected to Hontiveros’ motion, prompting Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, the panel’s chairperson, to order their detention of the four at the Senate premises.
Before that, Hontiveros stressed that four witnesses present in the hearing, including an actual party to a child marriage, testified there were such unions at Sitio Kapihan.
“Hindi po, hindi po nangyayari (no, that did not happen),” Quilario said.
For his part, Galanida said he was “not aware” of such happenings.
“I do not know anything about such things in Kapihan… there are no child marriages because if there are, the parents themselves should have complained about it,” he said in Filipino.
Ajoc also denied there were child marriages, even though a witness in the hearing earlier said that Ajoc’s own child was among those who were married.
Meanwhile, Justice Undersecretary Nicholas Ty, who was present in the hearing, requested that the four SBSI members be allowed to attend the preliminary probe of the Department of Justice (DOJ). Dela Rosa said they would be allowed to do so.
The Senate inquiry stemmed from allegations against SBSI that it abused more than 1,000 minors in Socorro town in Surigao del Norte.
At the initial hearing of the Senate committee, a certain “Jane” said she was forced to marry an 18-year-old last year, when she was only 14. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
While crying, Jane said she heeded the order of Senior Agila, who claimed he is “God” and a reincarnation of the Santo Nino (Holy Child).
Jane said defying the orders of Senior Agila would mean they cannot board Noah’s Ark and they will go to hell.
“Dapat daw po pares pares (we should be in pairs, so the child marriages),” said Jane.
After the marriage, Jane recalled that Senior Agila said couples are required to sleep together and the husbands are authorized to “rape” their wives because they are already married.
She told the Senate panel that after sex with her new husband, Jane said Senior Agila asked consent to have sex with her. Quilario later denied this.
The panel chaired by dela Rosa also discovered that the SBSI also restricts children from going to school or even going out of the “gated” premises of Sitio Kapihan where it is located.
Siargao Schools Division Superintendent Karen Galanida shared with the panel how the Department of Education has been reaching out to SBSI since 2019 to encourage them to bring their children to school through the DepEd’s Alternative Learning System (ALS).
“In 2019, 800-plus learners have dropped out of schools due to their massive exodus in Sitio Kapihan, and as per records, we have 103 DepEd personnel who also resigned or retired,” Galanida said.
“Despite our extensive interventions, they have actually decided to leave the school, as well as our teachers. In School Year 2020-2021, 150 ALS learners, whose families are 4Ps beneficiaries, have expressed their intention to enroll. Our ALS teachers went to the Kapihan to deliver our learning modules during the pandemic time. Sadly, out of the 150 ALS learners, only eight have participated and finished school.”
She said it was only last July 25 when DepEd-Siargao received a letter from the SBSI management expressing the group’s intention to avail of a formal school system, wherein more than 800 learners were identified.
Dela Rosa raised to SBSI vice president Mamerto Galanida, who is also a former school superintendent and former mayor of Socorro, why DepEd needs to reach out to them.
“That should be your main concern because you are a former DepEd superintendent and you don’t know anything. I’ll ask you point blank, why does DepEd need to bring the ALS program there in Kapihan?” he asked.
Mamerto explained that the nearest school from Kapihan is 3 kilometers away, which makes it difficult for the children to study. Dela Rosa, however, found this illogical.
“If no one prevents them, children will surely go to school. No need for the school to come to the children. They will go to school,” he pointed out.
“This forced marriage among children and preventing them from getting an education – that I cannot forgive. Whoever does that, for me, it’s unforgivable,” the senator said.
Among the witnesses presented to the panel were children who escaped from Kapihan. They said they do not want to grow up without going to school.
The inquiry was conducted in response to the measures filed by dela Rosa and Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality and delivered a privileged speech on SBSI’s activities.
The Philippine National Police already filed 12 cases against ranking officials of the SBSI while working with the National Bureau of Investigation for the case buildup.
The SBSI is a Surigao del Norte-based people’s organization with 3,650 members, 1,587 of whom are believed to be minors.