Trigger Warning: This article mentions instances of child and sexual abuse. This may be difficult for some readers.
Senator Risa Hontiveros made a disturbing revelation during her privilege speech last Monday, September 18. She stated, “What we have learned is dire and despicable… a community of children in Socorro, Surigao del Norte is crying for help.”
Senator Hontiveros is referring to a secluded community located within the Socorro mountains in Surigao del Norte, where distressing reports of rape, sexual violence, child exploitation, and coerced unions have surfaced.
"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.
As the chair of the Senate Committee on Women and Children, Hontiveros revealed that this alleged cult operates under the moniker "Socorro Bayanihan Services" and was established in 2017 when a 17-year-old named "Jay Rence" was groomed to assume the role of the next "Messiah."
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Proclaimed as the reincarnation of the Santo Niño, Rence was subsequently anointed "Senior Agila" by the three-term Mayor of Socorro and former Board Member, Mamerto Galanida, said Hontiveros.
The senator said that Rence exploited a massive earthquake that struck the province in 2019 as an opportunity to entice followers to relocate to the mountains for their "salvation."
Hontiveros disclosed, "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."
This mass migration resulted in a significant exodus of teachers from the Department of Education and government employees, including over a hundred educators from Socorro East and West Districts. Enrollments in these districts also plummeted by 847 students.
Hontiveros emphasized, "The mountain allowed the cult to continue its activities without scrutiny, and this is where the harrowing tales of child abuse come in."
The Cult's Funding
Senator Hontiveros asserted that the cult primarily finances itself through government programs, such as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation program (AICS).
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Furthermore, she alleged that the cult leaders are embroiled in the illegal drug trade.
As of July this year, Hontiveros reported that eight children have managed to escape the cult. Nevertheless, its leaders are employing their influence to coerce these children back into the mountains, highlighting the gravity of the situation.