Philippine ‘cult’ faces probe over sex abuse allegations

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

September 22, 2023

By UCA News reporter

The quasi-religious group with over 3,500 members is nestled in an enclosed, heavily guarded mountainous area in Mindanao region

The Philippine parliament has issued a summons to a quasi-religious group following allegations that some of its members, including leaders, committed crimes including rape and forced marriage of children.

The Senate, the upper house, issued the summons on Sept. 21 to the Soccorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI), based in Surigao province in Mindanao region, GMA News reported.

The community registered as a civic-religious group, has reportedly agreed to face the hearing scheduled on Sept. 28 and an investigation into the allegations. 

The group’s leader, Jey Rence Quilario, was also accused of being involved in illegal drugs, and firearms and building a private army, the report said.

Quilario, together with 12 others, were accused of sexual abuse of minors after their alleged victims claimed they were forced to “give up” their virginity as “offering to God.”

The alleged crimes came to light after Senator Risa Hontiveros revealed in a speech in the parliament on Sept. 18 about the existence of the supposed religious “cult” in an enclosed and heavily guarded area in Sitio Kapihan, a mountainous portion of Socorro town, GMA News reported. 

She said they had been alerted by reports from former members about the allegations, terming the group “armed and dangerous.”

“Let us save our children now. This group is a cult that victimizes children. Rape, sexual abuse, and forced marriages. Children had experienced all of these,” Hontiveros said in her speech.

The organization has at least 3,500 members, including 1,580 children, media reports say.

Quilario, also known as “Senyor Aguila” (Mr. Eagle) allegedly claimed to be the “messiah” and had been forcing minors to have sex with mature or married men. 

A former woman member said she refused Quilario’s invitation to have sex while other women tasked to serve his household did so.

The anonymous member claimed she had escaped during a vaccination program in the city, where members were forced to go down the mountain for their vaccines.

She said she was lucky because the group had “armed guards” and even police authorities knew about it.

Another former member claimed that male members were forced to join the group’s private army.

They were trained to fire high-powered rifles and they could choose to marry females, even if they were minors.

Gerard Disdaw, a former member, told UCA News that he and his girlfriend joined the group in 2015 after it promised “a more comfortable life.”

“They said we would never go hungry because the members of the community help each other,” Disdaw said.  

He said that after a few months, he received training in firearms and was recruited in the private army, while his girlfriend was trained to make soaps.

He alleged one of Quilario’s men proposed to have sex with his girlfriend one night.

“She had told me that the man told her that Senyor Agiula gave his consent to have sex with her. So, the man said it was ‘a gift’ by their leader,” Disdaw said, adding that they left the group in 2016.

His girlfriend is one of the complainants in the case against Quilario and his associates.

Senator Hontiveros had called on the Justice Department to investigate the alleged crimes and punish the perpetrators.

Quilario and others were yet to be indicted despite the criminal charges because several state prosecutors have been unwilling to take up the case, the Justice Department said on Sept. 20.

“Perhaps they [government lawyers] are afraid. These people are well-connected. They are a rich organization… But we will continue our investigation,” human rights lawyer Jovert Laceda told UCA News.

Quilario, however, said the allegations were groundless, and that he never claimed to be the messiah.

“I never claimed I am the messiah… I have fear for God, why will I claim that I am the messiah?” Quilario said according to the GMA News report.

He reportedly opened his house for the media to inspect whether there were high-powered rifles and illegal drugs in their community.