Senate of the Philippines

Hontiveros rejects calls for senators to go to Surigao del Norte ‘cult’ territory

Herbie Gomez

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Hontiveros rejects calls for senators to go to Surigao del Norte ‘cult’ territory

Rappler Talk with Senator Risa Hontiveros on August 8, 2023.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

The senator issues a statement after hundreds of members of the alleged cult, Socorro Bayanihan Services, staged a demonstration to demand ‘justice’ and ‘fairness’ 

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros rejected calls by members of an alleged Surigao del Norte-based cult for legislators to conduct an investigation in their island community rather than in the Senate.

Hontiveros released the statement on Monday, September 25, following reports that hundreds of members of the group Socorro Bayanihan Services Incorporated (SBSI) staged a demonstration in Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering in Socorro town to demand “justice” and “fairness.”

SBSI has been accused of child abuse and exploitation, child marriage, manipulation of members, and other cult practices, allegations the group strongly denied.

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The group’s leader, Jey Rence Quilario, also known as Señor Agila, is one of 13 respondents in a complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the town government of Socorro before provincial prosecutors in June.

Hontiveros said Quilario needs to appear during a committee investigation scheduled in the Senate on Thursday, September 28.

“Ang puno’t dulo ng issue ay child sexual abuse, pagwalang-bahala sa karapatan ng mga kababaihan at ng kanilang pamilya. Ang mga boses na mahalaga sa mga isyung ito ay ang mga biktima-survivors. Si Jey Rence ay pinatawag sa Senado kaya siya ang dapat pumunta sa Senado, gaya ng iba na aming pinatawag sa Senado para harapin ang mga lehitimong mga isyu,” Hontiveros said.

(The issue is child sexual abuse, and disregard for the rights of women and their families. The important voices on these issues are the victim-survivors. Jey Rence was summoned to the Senate, so he should be the one to go to the Senate, just like others we have summoned to the Senate to address legitimate issues.)

Videos on social media showed hundreds of SBSI members in blue t-shirts gathering and chanting slogans such as “Justice for the Kapihanons” over the weekend.

They appealed to senators to conduct a fair investigation and to stop labeling them as a cult.

Hontiveros and Task Force Kapihan spokesman Edelito Sangco earlier said SBSI transformed from a grassroots organization into a cult, with followers believing that Quilario is the new messiah or Santo Niño (Child Jesus).

They also alleged that the group forced its members into practicing child marriage.

Former Socorro mayor Mamerto Galanida, SBSI vice president, denied that the group had been forcing children to marry but acknowledged that child marriages were taking place across the country.

Hontiveros rejects calls for senators to go to Surigao del Norte ‘cult’ territory
More survivors’ tales

On Monday, Hontiveros said the alleged cult also denied children access to proper healthcare and collected government cash aid from its members.

An alleged victim, whom Hontiveros identified as “Vivian,” said she was prevented by the SBSI from accessing prenatal services, vitamins, and other medical needs when she was pregnant.

According to Hontiveros, the 33-year-old woman allegedly gave birth at an SBSI facility called the “Function Hall” at Sitio Kapihan.

She said Vivian was assisted by a former barangay health worker without proper credentials.

Vivian also alleged that she was given food by other “patients” in the same facility. 

She further claimed that her baby nearly died when he was just two months old, had incomplete immunization, and was circumcised by Quilario himself. The circumcision, Vivian alleged, resulted in a urinary tract infection.

Another alleged victim also corroborated claims that beneficiaries of the government’s Social Assistance Program (SAP) were compelled to surrender 40-60% of their cash aid to Quilario’s group in the aftermath of Typhoon Odette’s impact on Socorro.

“May P5,000 na SAP galing sa gobyerno. Ang ginawa nila, may mga Agila na magbabantay sa gate kung saan ka lalabas at papasok. Doon nila kami hinuhuthutan ng pera para hindi marinig ng mga bisita mula sa ibang rehiyon,” said Elena, a former teacher.

(We received P5,000 from the government’s SAP. What they did was station Agila members at the gate, where they extorted money from us to avoid being heard by visitors from other regions.)

Elena added, “Napatanong tuloy ako, ‘Bakit sila ganon?’ Dahil kung siya talaga ay tunay na Diyos, dapat hinintay nila ang mga tao na buong pusong magbigay. Hindi ‘yung sapilitan. Hirap na hirap ang mga tao noon dahil sa pinagdaanan nilang bagyo.”

(I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘Why are they doing this?’ If he truly is a God, they should have waited for people to give willingly from their hearts, not through force. People were already struggling because of the hardships they endured during the typhoon.)

Hontiveros said more accounts from alleged cult victims would be heard during the Senate committee hearings scheduled for this week.

“They abused their children, tore apart their families, and denied them the rights and benefits that should have been theirs. This cult has a lot to answer for,” she said. –

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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.