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By Dang Samson Garcia

SENATORS Risa Hontiveros and Ronald Dela Rosa filed separate resolutions seeking to investigate alleged cases of rape, sexual abuse, forced labor and child marriage perpetrated by an alleged cult, as well as the alleged shabu laboratory in Socorro, Surigao del Norte.

In Senate Resolution 797, Hontiveros said the cult, identified as the Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc., now known as Omega de Salonera, has been made to believe that one Jey Rence Quilario is the Messiah.

The organization has 3,650 members, including 1,587 children.

“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. 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 said.

“Last July, eight children ran away from the cult after repeated instances of abuse and exploitation. These children are in grave and present danger. Makapangyarihan at may impluwensya ang kulto. Ginagawa nila ngayon ang lahat para makuha mula sa LGU at DSWD ang mga bata. The children’s parents, who are still part of the cult, are asked to file petitions for habeas corpus, in order to recover the minors from the local government,” she added.

“Ang malala, nagtagumpay na sila sa isang bata at plano nilang isa-isahin ang mga nakatakas na bata hangga’t sa bumalik sa kulto. Ang mga bata na po mismo ang nagmamakaawa na huwag na silang ibalik doon. Bakit nga naman nilang gugustuhing bumalik sa isang komunidad, sa isang lider na nanloloko, nanggagahasa, at nananakit sa kanila?” the senator added.

Hontiveros also revealed that members of the cult were made to perform acts of forced labor under pain of physical punishment, and were also forced to surrender 40-60% of their social welfare benefits, such as 4Ps, senior citizen pensions, TUPAD, and AICS, to Quilario.

Meanwhile, Dela Rosa filed Senate Resolution 796 seeking to investigate the alleged shabu laboratory being maintained by the alleged cult.

By: Junex Doronio

REMINISCENT OF THE bitter experience of former Vice President Jejomar “Jojo” Binary who had been leading the surveys as the preferred presidential bet in 2016 but lost due to corruption charges against him, the controversy of P125-million confidential funds for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) may gravely affect Vice President Sara Duterte’s chances in a three-way presidential race with Speaker Martin Romualdez and Senator Risa Hontiveros.

Political analyst and University of the Philippines professor Ela Atienza noted that Duterte attacked Hontivero because she perceived the senator as a “threat”.

“The highest ranking opposition now is Risa. But the point is, [Duterte] has to show that she knows something, at lumalabas napakapikon niya, ‘di ba?” Atienza said.

The UP professor also recalled the case of Binay who had to face controversies mid-term and now VP Sara already had to grapple with them in her first year of office.

Failing to give satisfactory answers on how confidential funds of the OVP were used in 2022 when no line item for them existed in the previous budget, Duterte resorted to personal attacks against her critics, singling out Hontiveros and ACT Teachers Representative France Castro.

Atienza said that Duterte engaging in a word war with Hontiveros and trying to dodge explaining her CF only showed that she wasn’t ready to be criticized nor questioned.

“In Davao, she’s spoiled. In Davao, there’s a group of people protecting her, they answer for her. They run the city hall for her. She is very defensive because she’s not used to being criticized. She usually has other people answering for her but this is the national stage,” she said.

On the other hand, sociologist Jayeel Cornelio said that while Sara enjoys tremendous popularity while reaping the benefits of the Duterte brand (thanks to her father, former President Rodrigo Roa Duterte), she cannot escape public scrutiny when it comes to issues of corruption. (AI/MNM)

By Dang Samson Garcia

SENATOR Risa Hontiveros on Monday bared a harrowing story of rape, sexual violence, child abuse and forced marriage perpetrated on minors by a cult in the Municipality of Socorro, Surigao del Norte.

In her privilege speech, Hontiveros said around 1,000 children who are under the care of people’s organization named Socorro Bayanihan Services are exposed to such abuses.

“I am of the belief that all children are our children. Mayroon tayong responsibilidad na protektahan ang lahat ng bata, at kung may kahit isang bata na nasa panganib o inaabuso, tungkulin natin na sila ay saklolohan,” Hontiveros said.

“Dear colleagues, a community of children in Socorro, Surigao del Norte is crying for help. These children are our children. Ang pinag-uusapan nating mga bata ay higit sa isang libong kabataan na nasa kamay ng isang mapanlinlang, malupit, at mapang-abusong kulto,” she added.

Socorro Bayanihan Services is a civic organization founded to help each member but in 2017, the organization has changed.

“Ayon sa mga taga-Socorro, kasama ang mismong Mayor ng munisipalidad, nagsimula ang kulto noong may isang dise-syete na taong gulang na bata na grinoom para maging susunod na di umanong tagapagligtas. Kinumbinse ng lider ng organisasyon na itong si Jey Rence Quilario na ang gawing lider ng Socorro Bayanihan Services dahil nga siya ang susunod na Messias. Siya raw ang bagong Hesus. Siya raw ang magliligtas sa kanila,” Hontiveros said.

“Siya ay binigyan ng script, tinuruan paano tumindig at magsalita nang may tikas ng isang Mamerto Galanida na three-term mayor ng Socorro at 3 term na BOCAL. Pagkatapos ay idineklara ni Jey Rence sa komunidad na siya raw ang reincarnation ni Senior Santo Nino,” she added.

The senator said that last Februady 2019, the group saw an opportunity after an earthquake struck their area.

“Sinabihan niya (Senyor) ang mga tao na sumama sa kanya sa bundok na ang tawag ay Kapihan dahil iyon daw ang langit. At ang hindi sumama sa kanya ay masusunog sa impyerno,” she said.

“As a result, there was a mass exodus to the mountain by the thousands of members of the organization, now having all the indicators of a religious cult. At hindi lang po ito mga ordinaryong tao na di nakapag-aral,” she said.

The LGU recorded mass resignations of teachers and government employees.

Enrollment at the Socorro East and West Districts plunged.

 “The mountain allowed the cult to continue its activities without scrutiny. And this is where the harrowing tales of child abuse come in,” Hontiveros said.

“This cult is armed and dangerous. Ayon sa isa pang menor de edad na itatago natin sa pangalang Renz, nakita niya mismo ang mga armas ng kultong ito. At nakita din niya ang sinasakong armas noong eleksyon,” she added. 

 “We need to save those children. It is our duty not just as senators, but also as parents, as human beings, to save children in most need of our help. We managed to raise the age of sexual consent, we passed the law penalizing child marriage, we strengthened protections against child trafficking,” she said.

(by Dang Samson Garcia)

SENATOR Risa Hontiveros urged the Department of Education to prioritize the School-Based Mental Health Program to boost the safety of the country’s learning environment.

In her manifestation after the chamber approved on third and final reading Senate Bill 2200 or the Basic Education Mental Health and Well-being Promotion Act, Hontiveros said that a school-based mental health program should be given funding priority.

“I do hope that our education authorities will be up to the challenge of institutionalizing and sustaining mental health programs in our schools,” she said.

“Buo po ang paniniwala ko na itong panukalang batas na pinasa natin for third reading ngayon would complement and further strengthen our existing Mental Health Act o RA 11036 na atin ding isinabatas five years ago,” Hontiveros said.

She said that students and their families will greatly benefit from accessible school-based mental health services.

These services can address academic stress self-injurious and harmful behaviors such as suicide.

By Dang Samson Garcia

SENATOR Risa Hontiveros warned against possible abuses from the surveillance conducted in schools, saying that the government’s primordial duty is to foster an environment of freedom and dignity for students.

“Children are never legitimate targets for spying. Hindi dapat madamay ang mga estudyante sa surveillance laban sa mga abusado at kriminal,” Hontiveros said.

The lawmaker issued the statement in response to the Department of Education’s admission that they are conducting surveillance operations in educational institutions.

“Ayon mismo kay VP Duterte noong hearing, ang target ng surveillance operation ay ‘learners, and our teaching and non-teaching DepEd personnel.’ This raises a lot of alarming questions. Sino ang mismong nangongolekta at nagko-conduct ng surveillance sa mga paaralan? May mga guro ba o principal na isasali sa surveillance activities?” Hontiveros said.

“Keeping our children safe includes keeping them away from the potential abuse associated with state surveillance. Hayaan nating matuto ang kabataan nang walang pag-aalinlangan kung sila ba ay tinitiktikan,” the chairman of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality added.

The senator called for greater transparency on the scope and extent of these surveillance operations, especially if these infringe on the special protection and rights of children.

She reiterated her call to reallocate the DepEd’s proposed confidential budget of P150 million and for the agency to focus on fulfilling its basic mandate of providing accessible, equitable and quality basic education.