'This sorcery should stop': Senate probe sought to vs 'cult' in Surigao town

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 19 2023 10:18 AM | Updated as of Sep 19 2023 08:50 PM

Sen. Risa Hontiveros. Bibo Nueva Espana/Senate PRIB
Sen. Risa Hontiveros. Bibo Nueva Espana/Senate PRIB

MANILA (2ND UPDATE) — Following her revelation that a supposed "cult" was operating in a Surigao del Norte town, Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday called on the Senate to investigate the alleged "cases of rape, sexual abuse, forced labor, and child marriage" perpetrated by the group.

On Monday, Hontiveros in a privilege speech uncovered the existence of a "cult" she identified as "Omega de Saloner."

"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," Hontiveros said in a statement.

"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," she added. 

The senator said the cult used to be called Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. and was initially thought as a legitimate group until its supposed leader claimed to be the "new Jesus" around 2017.

Since then, the cult leader known as "Senior Agila" was able to convince around 3,650 people, including 1,587 children, to live in an enclosed and heavily guarded area on a mountain known as Sitio Kapihan in Socorro town.

“This sorcery should be stopped... 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.

Surigao Del Norte Governor Lyndon Barbers said he ordered an investigation into the group as early as April 2023 after one of its female members claimed that the alleged cult ordered her husband to marry another woman. 

He said he later received reports that children as young as 12 were "being subjected to child marriage, forced labor and military training." 

The provincial government "took custody" of underage and some adult members of the cult. But the parents of the children secured a court order for the return of the minors, the governor told TeleRadyo Serbisyo. 

The Socorro local government has filed a petition for the involuntary commitment of the children, Barbers said. 

Local authorities are also investigating reports that Senior Agila may only be a "figurehead" propped up by other individuals working "behind the scene", he said. 

"Iyon yung mga pinapaimbestigahan natin nang husto, kung totoo ba yung names na submitted to us kasi nga this would entail really a big problem not only for Socorro, but sa amin sa probinsya. Kung lumalawak sila at nagpapadami sila, this has to be stopped immediately," Barbers said. 

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it was in touch with its local unit in Socorro to investigate the alleged cult with the National Bureau of Investigation.

"Kausap namin ang ating local police in the area, and they informed us na nagtutulungan naman sila, they are helping in gathering evidence... We are very much willing to give our hands at mapalakas yung kaso," PNP chief Gen. Benjamin Acorda, Jr. said.

—With a report from Raya Capulong, ABS-CBN News


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