Warning: This article contains mentions of rape and sexual abuse.
Socorro Bayanihan Services (SBS), a non-governmental organization in Surigao del Norte, has been accused of being a religious cult—recruiting thousands of female minors, forcing them into marriage, and subjecting them to forced labor and sexual abuse.
According to Chino Gaston's report for GMA News' 24 Oras, SBS members came forward with harrowing stories involving the organization, which also allegedly operates as a private army.
Jason, not his real name, said SBS was a standard people's organization and religious group until its present leader Jey Rence Quilario, a.k.a. Senior Aguila, arrived in 2017.
Quilario claimed to be the Santo Niño and Messiah, according to Jason.
In 2019, Jason said Quilario persuaded SBS members and families to go to a mountain community called Kapihan on Bucas Grande island after an earthquake.
He was then supposedly taken into Quilario's private army, recalling how he was one of the "goons" guarding candidates during the election.
Later on, Quilario allegedly forced women, including minors, into marriage with him or another man.
"Bakit ayaw niyong pumayag? Panginoon na ang nag-utos sa inyo," Jason said in a Filipino translation, remembering Quilario allegedly telling the women.
The women, including 12-year-olds, would be ordered to line up according to age, and men would handpick their chosen bride.
If a man fails to get the would-be bride after three days, he'd then be "authorized" to rape her, according to Jason.
Jane, not her real name, said she was 14 when she was forced into marriage with an 18-year-old.
She said they were warned that they'd go to hell if they won't follow orders.
Jane also recalled Quilario introducing himself to her as "God," who transformed into a man to have sex with her. She refused.
The women also weren't allowed to study in school. If Quilario who's already "God" weren't able to study, Jane recalled him telling them why should they, as his people.
Jane said she managed to escape during a vaccination event in Kapihan.
"Dumaan kami sa damuhan," she said in a Filipino translation. "Tapos sumunod lang kami sa mga damuhan."
Mark, not his real name, who acted as one of Quilario's guards, recalled seeing women being brought into the leader's house past curfew hours.
The women will be asked to drink a glass of juice or milk before heading inside a room.
Mark said the women would leave the next day, and never said no as they were supposedly promised that there's a "reward" waiting for them in heaven.
Quilario also allegedly has illegal firearms like M4 in his basement, according to Mark.
Quilario denied the allegations when GMA asked for his side.
“Wala namang ganyan,” Quilario is quoted as saying.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, called on the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality to conduct a probe in aid of legislation.
“A Senate investigation is needed," Hontiveros said, "to immediately address these urgent and alarming issues, rescue the children, effect the reintegration into society of the victims, and identify policy gaps in legislation that allow these cults to operate in plain view of the local government unit and other institutions."
Hontiveros said SBS also allegedly receives funding from pensions and its adult members' money obtained from the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program and Assistance to Individuals in Crisis.
The group is also allegedly into the illegal drug trade, according to the senator, which SBS leaders denied.
SBS leaders said they're prepared for any investigation.
According to GMA's 24 Oras, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said criminal cases have been filed against 13 SBS members before the Surigao Del Norte Office of the Provincial Prosecutor as early as June.
Cases include qualified trafficking, kidnapping, serious illegal detention, child marriage violation, and child abuse.
DOJ secretary Crispin Remulla said he wants to move the hearing of cases in Metro Manila, though noted there's already a resolution on the case.
The DOJ, along with the Department of Social Welfare and Development, is also looking to form a task group for the victims of the supposed cult.