Senate of the Philippines

Senate panel cites ‘cult’ leaders in contempt over child marriage denials

Michelle Abad

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Senate panel cites ‘cult’ leaders in contempt over child marriage denials

GRILLING. Jey Rence Quilario aka Senior Aguila, at the Senate public hearing on the activities of Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc., on September 28, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) A child and the older sister of a victim of child marriage testify how they were forced to marry and engage in sexual relations with their arranged partners during a joint hearing of two Senate committees

MANILA, Philippines – Key figures of an alleged cult were cited in contempt by two Senate committees after they repeatedly denied the practice of child marriage in their island community at Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering, Socorro town, Surigao del Norte.

All members of the organization Socorro Bayanihan Services Incorporated (SBSI), including alleged cult leader Jay Rence Quilario, SBSI vice president and former Socorro mayor Mamerto Galanida, and other group leaders Karen Sanico Jr. and Janeth Ajoc, denied that minors were forced into marriage in their community during a hearing of the Senate public order committee on Thursday, September 28.

The denial followed testimonies from at least three children who described being forced into marriage, engaging in sexual relations with their arranged partners, being denied education, and undergoing military training for SBSI’s alleged armed wing, the Agila Squad.

Senator Risa Hontiveros moved to cite the four SBSI leaders for contempt.

“I respectfully move to cite in contempt Jay Rence Quilario, Mamerto Galanida, Janeth Ajoc, and Karen Sanico. I so move, Mr. Chair,” said Hontiveros.

“Is there any objection? Hearing none, the four aforecited personalities are hereby cited in contempt. So ordered,” said Senate public order committee chair Ronald dela Rosa.

Following the move, the four will be detained in the Senate. Justice Undersecretary Nicholas Ty asked Dela Rosa if the four would be allowed to attend court hearings on the case scheduled in two weeks, to which Dela Rosa responded positively.

Forced marriage, sexual relations

Fifteen-year-old “Jane” said she was married off to a stranger when she was 14. She described the process of how child marriages were arranged – secretaries would list who were the single girls and boys who were 12 and 18 or older, respectively.

Quilario, 22, who is known as “Senior Agila” to the community, decided the pairings. Jane said he was known as the lord and savior of the community

“Hindi daw sila puwedeng humindi, dahil Diyos naman daw ang nagsasabi na ‘yon ‘yung pares nila,” said Ruth Restauro, interpreting Jane who spoke in Surigaonon. (They could not refuse, because they were told those pairings were made by God.)

Jane said her parents consented to her marrying an 18-year-old stranger because it was the “law” to be able to go to heaven.

After the wedding, Quilario allegedly “authorized” husbands to rape their wives, according to Jane. The young girls were made to believe that they would go to hell if they refused sex with their husbands.

She also said that she was pressured to have sexual relations with Quilario himself but refused to give in.

Another witness, Lovely Savandal, tearfully recounted how she witnessed her 12-year-old sister get forced to marry a boy she did not know. She and other minors refused to have sex with their husbands, which led to constant scolding by Quilario. Her sister would often cry at home because she was forced to do something she did not want to do.

“Tapos nangyari ‘yung lahat ng ikinasal ni Senior Agila na minors po, pinalabas sa gate… Tapos kakalampagin po nila ‘yung gate [at sinasabi,] ‘Papasukin ‘nyo po kami kasi gabi at umuulan,’” said Savandal.

(One time, all the minors that Senior Agila married off were sent out the gate… And they would shake the bars of the gates saying, “Please let us in, because it’s nighttime and it’s raining.”)

Savandal quoted Quilario as saying he would forgive the children if they kneeled, walked on their knees toward his house, and promised to allow their husbands to have sex with them.

“Kaya ‘yung nangyari ma’am, nabuntis ‘yung kapatid ko. Dalawang beses po nabuntis, tapos nag-miscarriage po siya. Noong pangalawang miscarriage po niya, muntik na siyang mamatay,” said Savandal. 

(So my sister got pregnant. She got pregnant twice, and then she miscarried. The second time she miscarried, she almost died.)

Other children, like 12-year-old “Renz” detailed how he watched his father get forced to marry another woman. He was also denied his education and cried at the session hall upon admitting that he did not know how to write. Another minor “Coco” said he underwent military training.

Rules were sacred in Sitio Kapihan. According to reports collated by Hontiveros’ office, those who did not comply were locked in a small house called the “fox hole,” beaten with wooden rifles and made to swim in the “aroma beach” which was reportedly where human waste was dumped.

Quilario denied all the reports. He and 13 others currently face complaints alleging trafficking, kidnapping, serious illegal detention, child marriage, child abuse, and exploitation since 2019.

Dela Rosa, speaking to reporters after the eight-hour hearing, said that further investigations may be done at Socorro since it would be difficult to fly all the witnesses to Manila. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.