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Senate probe into alleged sexual abuse of minors by Surigao del Norte ‘cult’ pushed

Senator Risa Hontiveros has called on the Senate to conduct a thorough investigation into the case of children being allegedly sexually abused and forced into marriages by a religious cult in Surigao del Norte.

In a privilege speech on Monday, September 18, Hontiveros alleged that the cult has victimized over 1,000 children and is hidden in the mountainous portion of the municipality in 2019.

The religious cult, she said, reportedly has links to the illegal drug trade, and is armed and dangerous.

According to the senator, the Socorro Bayanihan Services, led by a certain Jey Rence or “Senior Agila” originally started as a civic organization and eventually evolved into a cult where children, as young as 15 years old are being raped and forced to marry the cult leader.

Rence, then 17- year old, was allegedly groomed by three-term Socorro Mayor and former board member Mamerto Galanida to be the next “Messiah” and the “new Jesus.”

Hontiveros said the community of children in Socorro, Surigao del Norte is now crying for help.

“This cult is armed and dangerous. Ayon sa isa pang menor de edad na itatago natin sa pangalang Renz, nakita niya mismo ang mga armas ng kultong ito. At nakita din niya ang sinasakong armas noong eleksyon (According to a minor whom we will call Renz, he saw the firearms owned by this cult. He saw these numerous firearms during the elections),” Hontiveros said in her speech.

Based on their office’s research and sources of information, the senator said they learned that the cult was founded by Karren Sanico and her former business partner, a former Municipal Circuit Court Judge, who was included in the government’s narco-list.

The now deceased court judge, she said, was killed in 2019 for alleged links to drugs. Galanida was also allegedly among the masterminds of the group.

According to the senator, eight (8) children escaped from the cult and had sought the help of the municipal government last July.

Their mayor, Mayor Riza Timcang,  has formed a task force to look into the cult’s operation but is helpless, as the children’s parents have filed a habeas corpus writ to take back custody of the minors. One of the minors, had been returned to the group.

“We need to save those children. It is our duty not just as senators, but also as parents, as human beings, to save children in most need of our help,” said Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women and Children.

“We managed to raise the age of sexual consent, we passed the law penalizing child marriage, we strengthened protections against child trafficking. Now, real children are in danger. And time is of the essence. We cannot, we must not, look away,” she stressed.

Hontiveros’ speech was then referred to the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs chaired by Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, who vowed to look into the issue.

In a separate resolution, Dela Rosa made a similar call having received a letter from the Socorro mayor requesting a Senate probe into the alleged shabu laboratory in their island town.

The Socorro mayor, Dela Rosa said, also confirmed the presence of heavily-armed private army dubbed as “Agila” supported by extremist groups in Southern Mindanao all happening in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering, Socorro, Surigao del Norte.

The senator said eye-witnesses of the Socorro Task Force Kapihan, formed by the local government of Socorro, urged the Senate to particulary look into the presence of a shabu laboratory at the underground bunker within the vicinity of the “white house” where two of the group’s leaders Sanico and Rence are residing.

Dela Rosa also said the Socoorro community has asked the Senate’s assistance in resolving the murder of a certain Mrs. Rosalina Taruc who was an esteemed and virtuous president of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) in 2021 and of her daughter former mayor Denia Florano, an incoming SBSI leader who mysteriously died eight days after the death of her mother.

He also said there were a massive forced marriage at the age of 12 of children-members with the alleged “supreme leader” who allegedly ordered selected girl brides to sleep with him first for one night before being turned over to the young groom.

Moreover, witnesses claimed the children, starting from birth up to their marriage, are not allowed to go out of the gated community.

According to Dela Rosa, the task force also claimed of alleged abuses of the four identified leaders of the group who were collecting 50 percent of the wages of their carpenter/mason members; 50 percent of the fish catch of fishermen members; 30 percent share of the proceeds on the sale of the members’ real properties, and 50 percent of subsidies for 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) and senior citizens.

“There is a need, not only to investigate cult groups that affects the livelihood of innocent communities, but also to look into possible legislative remedies to deter the possible injustice and danger that this may cause for the citizens of Socorro, Surigao del Norte,” Dela Rosa said in his Senate Resolution No. 796.

“The Senate must take seriously even the smallest allegation of the existence of private armies as well as that of a shabu laboratory as these threaten the very foundations of public order on which our communities stand,” he emphasized. — Hannah Torregoza

Credit belongs to: www.mb.com.ph

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