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Monday, December 4, 2023

DOJ nixes Socorro plea on summons

The Department of Justice has junked the plea by the leaders and members of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI), an alleged religious cult in Surigao del Norte, to conduct in their province the preliminary investigation of the criminal charges filed against them.

“Whatever they say is not my problem. It’s their problem,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said in an interview with reporters.

He said he expects the arrival of the complainants and witnesses in Manila this Wednesday, September 27, to attend the scheduled Senate hearing on Thursday concerning the allegations against the group.

PROTECTING THEIR LEADER. In these TV report screen grabs, Jey Rence Quilario or “Señor Agila” of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) is seen in tears as members of the group shout their disapproval at summons of the Department of Justice and the Senate for their leaders to attend hearings in Manila instead of at their enclave in Surigao del Norte.

“We will have them also, after the Senate hearing, Friday if we are able to give them notices,” he said.

According to Remulla, he already has given a directive to transfer the conduct of the preliminary investigation into the group to the DOJ main office in Manila from Surigao del Norte.

The National Bureau of Investigation initially filed the complaints in that province in June against 13 leaders and members of the Socorro Bayanihan Services led by Jey Rence Quilario or “Señor Agila,” the purported “messiah” of the cult.

SBSI has been accused of rape, sexual abuse, forced labor, and child marriage charges, Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed last week in a privileged speech.

Members of SBSI were deprived of proper health care aside from the cash aid coming from the government, Hontiveros said Monday.

The senator said there are more testimonies from survivors corroborating claims that the leaders of the cult, particularly Quilario, have taken advantage of the vulnerabilities of their community members.

However, TV reports last night showed hundreds of SBSI members chanting in defense of Quilario, who was shown on video apparently despondent and in tears, as they asked authorities to come to their mountain enclave instead to hold their investigation.

But Remulla said: “There is a need for the DOJ proper to interfere so that the preliminary investigation would be conducted properly.”

He reiterated that there have been threats against prosecutors in Surigao del Norte where the alleged cult is based.

With the transfer of the venue, Remulla said the preliminary investigation will have to be done at the DOJ despite complaints from SBSI that Manila is too far and that it has no funds for the fares of its officials summoned to both the DOJ and the Senate.

“The process is we will conduct the investigation here, we call on everybody here. If they don’t want to come, it’s their problem,” he added.

“For purposes of preliminary investigation they have to be in Manila to answer the questions and to be able to subscribe to the complaint affidavits that they were filing or they have filed before that they have to subscribe here since the preliminary investigation will be conducted here,” he stressed.

Apart from Quilario, 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.

They 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.

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