EXPLAINER: The real deal on Surigao del Norte's infamous ‘Socorro Cult’
EXPLAINER: The real deal on Surigao del Norte's infamous ‘Socorro Cult’
EXPLAINER: The real deal on Surigao del Norte's infamous ‘Socorro Cult’
by Ada Pelonia30 September 2023
Screengrab from Senate of the Philipines

Sen. Risa Hontiveros sounded the alarm on alleged sexual abuse and forced marriages of over 1,000 underaged children believed to be members of a cult group named Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) with its leader, Jey Rence Quilario, also called Senior Aguila, as the alleged perpetrator.

Hontiveros invited Quilario to a Senate hearing after her team found that Quilario allegedly convinced the cult members that he was the reincarnation of Santo Niño (Child Jesus) and compelled them to relocate to Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering, Socorro town in Surigao del Norte, where the “harrowing tales of abuse” occurred.

What do the victims say?

In an interview with DZRH, a former SBSI member confirmed the alleged sexual abuse and forced marriages in the community. Among the minors involved was her 13-year-old sister.

Here’s what transpired over the interview according to Lovely Sandoval:

  • Minor girls, including her 13-year-old sister, were forced to marry and have sexual intercourse with men within the cult. These girls were also forced to live in the cult leader's house where they experienced sexual abuse.

  • Sandoval said every SBSI member, be it children to adults, has undergone "military training" and was compelled to have a "blood compact" as an initiation.

  • She recalled being made to believe that the “end of the world” would soon take place; hence they resigned from their respective jobs and moved to Sitio Kapihan.

  • Sandoval also said they were not allowed to leave and disclose any information or risk the possibility of persecution.

During the joint hearing on Thursday, Sept. 28, regarding SBSI’s alleged sexual abuse and forced marriages, the child victims and former members recalled what happened inside the cult.

  • 15-year-old “Jane” recounted how she was made to marry an 18-year-old man whom she had never met at the age of 14.

  • “Jane’s” counselor translated that the first step was that single girls (aged 12 and above) and boys (aged 18 and above) were summoned, married off, and paired

  • Under the cult’s “law” a wife should give herself to the husband within three days or else they will be called “adios” a term that signifies having sinned because they failed to have sexual intercourse with their partner. “Jane” added that Quilario made sexual advances to her and if they did not follow the rules, a “roulette” of punishments would prescribe what would happen to them.

  • 12-year-old “Renz” reported seeing firearms inside the island community. He added that he had yet to learn how to write because they were not allowed to study but instead lived in barracks to train in Kapihan.

  • “Coco” also claimed having undergone military training with the group.

Meanwhile, Socorro Mayor Riza Timcang cited that according to the reports of the Department of Education (DepEd), there was a “massive dropout” of learners from elementary and high school in 2019. According to Hontiveros, it was in 2019 when Quilario recruited members to Sitio Kapihan.

Ongoing probe

Hontiveros, chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 797 directing the Senate committee to conduct an investigation into the alarming reports of alleged rape, sexual abuse, forced labor, and forced marriage.

According to the Hontiveros, adult SBSI members were also forced to work and surrender 40-60 percent of the money they received from government financial assistance programs, such as Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) and Assistance to Individuals In Crisis Situations (AICS).

During a Senate hearing on September 28, Senators Risa Hontiveros and Bato dela Rosa cited in contempt SBSI’s leader Quilario and three of its members after refusing to acknowledge the allegations presented by four witnesses.

This happened after Hontiveros presented an official document titled “Family Planning Form” which allegedly served as proof that SBSI married off a 15-year-old child.

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