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CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, the architect of the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs, spoke about the need to uphold human rights as he addressed members of an alleged cult accused of child abuse and exploitation in Surigao del Norte on Saturday, October 14.
Dela Rosa appealed to members of the Socorro Bayanihan Services Incorporated (SBSI) to ensure the respect and protection of human rights, especially those of children.
“Kung magpadayon mo diri, isa ra gyud ang akong hangyo ninyo, nga kanang mga karapatan… mga katungod… mga katawhang katungod, human rights sa mga kabataan, dapat nato nang bantayan,” he said.
(If you continue to stay here, I have only one request from you: Ensure that the rights, especially the human rights of the youth, are safeguarded.)
He said these include the right to education, the right to freely move in and out of the SBSI community in Socorro town, and the right to lead normal lives.
Incidentally, Dela Rosa is facing an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged human rights abuses and other crimes related to the controversial drug war of the Duterte administration.
He served as former president Rodrigo Duterte’s first Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and issued Command Memorandum Circular (CMC) No. 16-2016, which started the controversial campaign against illegal drugs, resulting in thousands of deaths, including minors.
Government data showed that Duterte’s anti-drug campaign led to at least 6,252 deaths at the hands of law enforcers as of May 31, 2022. Human rights organizations, however, estimated the number to reach as many as 30,000.
The ICC is also investigating allegations of killings attributed to the Davao Death Squad from 2011 to 2016, during which Dela Rosa served as Davao’s police chief while Duterte was the city’s mayor.
In July, the ICC appeals chamber dismissed the government’s appeal to halt the investigation led by Prosecutor Karim Khan.
Land loss prospect
The SBSI faces the prospect of losing a 353-hectare property in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering on Bucas Grande island, entrusted to it by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The property is covered by a 25-year Protected Area Community-Based Resource Management Agreement (PACBRMA) between the DENR and SBSI.
Allegations of manipulation of members and other cult practices, including child marriage, prompted the DENR to suspend the agreement.
Dela Rosa promised aid for the Sitio Kapihan community if the DENR allowed them to stay and assured them that he had no ill will towards them.
“Kung kalaban ko ninyo, di nako moanhi diri…. Bisag gamay lang, kahit konting galit sa inyo wala ako,” Dela Rosa told the cheering crowd.
(If I were your enemy, I wouldn’t come here…. Even a little anger towards you, I have none.)
The Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, chaired by Dela Rosa, earlier cited SBSI President Jay Rence Quilario for contempt and ordered him and his associates detained in a Senate facility.
Quilario and his group have repeatedtly denied the allegations of abuse and cult practices, asserting that they are not a cult.
Dela Rosa said his visit to the SBSI community in Kapihan aimed to uncover the truth about the allegations against the group.
In a statement after he interacted with SBSI members, Dela Rosa noted, “It’s like they’re hiding something, covering up something because their answers are uniform. You haven’t asked yet, they already have a ready answer. You can see that they are prepared.”
Surigao del Norte Governor Robert Lyndon Barbers, meanwhile, said the provincial government would build a school in Sitio Kapihan if the DENR does not void its agreement with the SBSI.
The nearest school from the community is approximately four kilometers away.
Local officials and former SBSI members have reported that children in the community were deprived of formal education and subjected to hard labor, including military training.
Barbers also assured the SBSI members that the provincial government would provide aid if the DENR cancels its PACBRMA with the group. – Rappler.com