Senate panel cites leader of Soccoro ‘cult', three members in contempt

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Senate panel cites leader of Soccoro �cult', three members in contempt
This photo shows Jey Rence Quilario attending a Senate hearing on the activities of Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc., which has recently been accused of commiting the abuse of and sexual exploitation of children, September 28, 2023.
Facebook / Sen. Risa Hontiveros

MANILA, Philippines — A Senate panel has cited in contempt the figurehead of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI) and three of its members for refusing to own up to allegations from four witnesses that they ordered child marriages in their island community at Sitio Kapihan in Socorro town.

Four witnesses, including a 15-year-old girl who said she was married off and raped last year, all told senators during a joint hearing that SBSI leaders require girls 12 and older to wed adult men under the threat of "going to hell."

This allegation was repeatedly denied by SBSI leader Jey Rence Quilario and members Mamerto Galanida, Janeth Ajoc and Karren Sanico during the hearing. 

Galanida, who was a three-term Socorro Mayor, said that there is “pre-marital engagement” among children in the group but dodged questions on whether there are child marriages happening on their turf.

Quilario, meanwhile, repeatedly issued curt answers, saying there were no child marriages. Ajoc and Sanico similarly denied the allegations.

This was after Sen. Risa Hontiveros flashed on screen an official document entitled “Family Planning Certificate” which allegedly shows proof that the group made a 15-year-old girl wed an adult man and facilitated her taking of birth control implants. 

“One of the key questions raised by the committee is whether there is child marriage occurring, even providing family planning methods by implanting contraceptives. So, are you still denying that child marriage exists? Is child marriage indeed happening?” Hontiveros said in Filipino.

After hearing the denials of the four key figures of the alleged Socorro cult, Hontiveros moved to cite them in contempt, which was seconded by Sen. Bato Dela Rosa. This means that the four SBSI members would be detained at the Senate until further notice.

Both Hontiveros, serving as the chair of the Senate committee on women and children, and Dela Rosa, presiding over the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, separately filed resolutions calling for an investigation into SBSI. These committees jointly conducted the inquiry into the group.

At the start of the seven-hour hearing, Hontiveros and Dela Rosa repeatedly warned the invited speakers that lying under oath would force the panel to cite them in contempt and detain them at the Senate.

Child rape ‘authorized’ by ‘messiahnic’ Quilario

Children as young as 12 were married off to adults, repeatedly raped, kept from school, forced to train as soldiers and physically punished in a remote location by adults following orders from Quilario, who is the group’s self-styled messianic figure called “Senior Agila.” 

Fifteen-year-old “Jane” (not her real name) said that Quilario “authorized” the rape of children in the organization, which need to be done three days after their marriage “or else we will go to hell.” 

Male witnesses, “Coco” and “Mark,” shared similar accounts of witnessing or themselves being pressured into sleeping with the wives chosen for them by the group’s leaders.

It is Quilario who selects the "partners" upon the recommendation of Sanico, Ajoc and another member, Mark said.

“I witnessed a situation where a girl tried to escape, and we, as part of the Agila Squad, chased after her and forcefully brought her back,” Mark said in Bisaya, translated by a lawyer representing the group. 

Members of a task force created by Socorro Mayor Riza Rafonselle Timcang to investigate the group’s activities said that they were able to confirm several allegations during a five-day investigation this year.

The task force said SBSI violated the children’s right to education and right to freedom of movement by restricting their movements and forbidding them from enrolling in school. The investigation also showed that there were child marriages, a representative of the task force said.

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