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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Prosecutors set to conduct probe on alleged cult

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) has created a panel of prosecutors to conduct the preliminary investigation on the complaints against 13 alleged leaders and members of the Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. (Bayanihan), reportedly a cult in Surigao del Norte.

“We have a panel of prosecutors who will weigh the statements in the conduct of the criminal investigation,” DOJ Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said, during a press briefing on Friday.

Remulla assured that witnesses will be placed under the government’s Witness Protection Program when the DOJ conducts its preliminary investigation.

Remulla had ordered the transfer to the DOJ from the Prosecutor’s Office in Surigao del Norte the formal probe on the complaints filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) last June.

“The prosecutors there decided to desist in handling the preliminary investigation because of threats,” he said.

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Remulla noted that the NBI initially filed the complaints before the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in Surigao del Norte, but the provincial prosecutors there inhibited from handling the case. Then, the complaints were filed before the Prosecutor’s Office in Surigao City which also desisted from handling the preliminary investigation.

The respondents in the complaints included the alleged cult’s leader Jey Rence B. Quilario who is also known as “Senior Agila.”

The 13 respondents were accused of violations of Section 4 in relation to Section 6 of Republic Act No. 9208, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003; and kidnapping and serious illegal detention as defined and penalized under Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC); violation of RA 11596, an Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties in Violation Thereof; and violation RA 7610, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse Exploitation and Discrimination.

The other respondents are Mamerto Galanida; Karren J. Sanico Jr.; Janeth T. Ajoc; Wenefredo S. Buntad; Giovanni Leogin C. Lasala; Ibrahim L. Adlao; Jovelito L. Atchecoso; Sergio A. Cubillan; Daryl R. Buntad; Jonry C. Elandag; Yure Gary Q. Portilio; and Florencio C. Quiban.

In a statement, the DOJ said NBI-CARAGA started investigating the alleged cult last April “after the Municipal Mayor of Socorro raised an alarm to the NBI about the suspected activities of Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. (Bayanihan).”

“One of the key revelations was Bayanihan’s migration to the mountains of Sitio Kapihan following an earthquake. Here, their leader, Senior Agila, not only declared himself a divine entity but also forecasted a catastrophic event. This move was soon followed by a regimented restructuring where members were categorized based on age and abilities. They were also involved in constructing infrastructures and underwent stringent training regimes. Worryingly, even minors were not exempted from these duties,” the DOJ said.

It said the misconduct reportedly taking place included mandatory labor, restrained freedom of movement, involuntary child marriages,
and stringent penalties for those who defied, which included physical harm.

“Several minors have come forward with their traumatic experiences.

Their narratives include being subjected to forced military exercises, labor-intensive tasks, witnessing involuntary child marriages, and
facing significant challenges when attempting to leave Sitio Kapihan.

Officials from the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office of Socorro, validated the transition of six such minors into protective
custody. Meanwhile, two others are currently under maternal supervision,” it said.

“Furthermore, NBI-CARAGA accumulated additional testimonies that shed light on life in Sitio Kapihan, their obligatory military drills, oppressive living conditions, and stringent consequences for any dissenting views. Disturbingly, some trainers, previously affiliated with the PNP (Philippine National Police), were identified as dismissed officers. The Securities and Exchange Commission has verified Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc.’s authenticity and provided data about its operations and leadership. Despite multiple summons, Senior Agila and three associates abstained from making any appearance before NBI-CARAGA,” it added.

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