Surigao del Norte

Hontiveros: Surigao del Norte cult abuses kids, collects DSWD aid from members

Herbie Gomez

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Hontiveros: Surigao del Norte cult abuses kids, collects DSWD aid from members

SAVE THE CHILDREN. Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros delivers a privilege speech on a cult in Surigao del Norte that abuses its members, on September 18, 2023.

Bibo Nueva Espana/Senate PRIB

'As chairperson of the Senate committee on women and children, and as a mother, I ask us not to allow this monstrosity to continue,' says the senator, who is pushing for a Senate probe into Socorro Bayanihan Services Incorporated

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros has sounded the alarm about a religious cult that allegedly manipulates its members and commits child abuse.

Hontiveros, the chairperson of the Senate committee on women and children, delivered a privilege speech on Monday, September 18, exposing disturbing cases of alleged child rape, sexual abuse, forced labor, and child marriages by the group in Socorro town, Surigao del Norte.

Hontiveros said the group managed to secure public funds by compelling its members to surrender part of their social welfare benefits to their leader who claims to be the new messiah.

She said the group, Socorro Bayanihan Services Incorporated (SBSI) or Omega de Salonera, believes in a self-proclaimed messiah named Jey Rence Quilario, also known as Señor Agila.

Hontiveros: Surigao del Norte cult abuses kids, collects DSWD aid from members

The organization, consisting of about 3,650 members – including 1,587 children – is based in an enclosed and heavily guarded area in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering on a mountain in Socorro. According to the senator, the cult is armed and dangerous.

Hontiveros raised concerns about the group’s financing methods, saying that the group was also alleged to have links to the illegal drug trade.

Hontiveros filed Proposed Senate Resolution No. 797 on Monday, September 18, seeking to investigate allegations against the cult.

“Nakakakilabot ang nabuong kulto sa Surigao. Pero mas nakakakilabot at nakakagalit ang mga kaso ng panggagahasa, pananakit, at pilit na pagkakasal na ginawa sa mga menor de edad (This cult in Surigao is horrifying. But the cases of rape, abuse, and forced child marriages are even more horrific and and infuriating),” she said.

“We must put an end to this. As chairperson of the Senate committee on women and children, and as a mother, I ask us not to allow this monstrosity to continue,” Hontiveros added.

Stop the ‘scammer’

She alleged that the cult has been subjecting its members to forced labor under the threat of physical punishment. The members, she said, were also forced to surrender 40% to 60% of their social welfare benefits from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to Quilario. 

These funds include the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), senior citizen pensions, Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD), and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS).

“This sorcery should be stopped. Pati pera ng taumbayan napupunta sa kulto. Isang malaking scammer itong si Senior Agila. Huwag nating hayaang ipagkait niya sa libo-libong mga bata ang kanilang mga pangarap at kinabukasan. We need to save those children now,” Hontiveros said.

(This sorcery should be stopped. Even taxpayers’ money is going to a cult. Senior Agila is a big scammer. We cannot let him deny these thousands of children their dreams and futures. We need to save those children now.)

Hontiveros accused Quilario of ordering children to sleep with him, arranging marriages between adults and children as young as 12, and confining adolescents to rooms for sexual activities.

She said eight children managed to escape the cult in July, but they remained in danger because the cult, wielding influence, is attempting to reclaim them by making their parents, who are cult members, file habeas corpus petitions against local officials.


According to Hontiveros, the group started as a people’s organization until it transformed into a cult in 2017 when Quilario claimed to be the new messiah.

She said the cult manipulated its members, reportedly including government employees and teachers, into relocating to a mountain by convincing them that it was heaven, and those who did not follow would suffer in hell.

Hontiveros said because of this, there was a mass resignation of public school teachers and local government employees, as well as a significant drop in student enrollments in the town.

The senator said the cult began with the grooming of Quilario as the next messiah. She said Quilario was provided with a script and coached to stand and speak like Mamerto Galanida, a three-term mayor of Socorro town allegedly among those behind the group.

In February 2019, when a powerful earthquake shook Surigao del Norte, Quilario and his handlers urged people to join them in Sitio Kapihan or get punished in hell.

Surigao-based broadcaster DXSP reported that Galanida, the vice president of Socorro Bayanihan Services, has dismissed as fabrications the allegations that the group is engaged in cult activities, child abuse, and underage marriages.

Edelito Sangco, the spokesman of the Task Force Kapihan in Socorro, told Rappler that complaints for qualified trafficking, kidnapping and serious illegal detention, and child abuse were filed against the group. 

Sangco said six of the eight children referred to by Hontiveros were under government protection. –

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Herbie Gomez

Herbie Salvosa Gomez is coordinator of Rappler’s bureau in Mindanao, where he has practiced journalism for over three decades. He writes a column called “Pastilan,” after a familiar expression in Cagayan de Oro, tackling issues in the Southern Philippines.