Manila, Sep 26 (EFE).- Philippine authorities are initiating an investigation of a religious cult in the country’s southern island of Socorro for alleged child sexual abuse, forced marriages and drug trafficking.
The cult, Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. (SBSI), is known to have at least 3,500 followers, including over 1,500 minors.
Socorro Mayor Riza Rafonselle called for police reinforcements amid violent protests by SBSI members against the investigation, expected to kick off in the Senate on Thursday.
“There is a real threat and imminent danger of violence escalation from the agitated members of the SBSI,” Rafonselle said, according to state-owned Philippine News Agency.
On Monday, hundreds of followers of the sect – which has its own armed personnel – demonstrated against recent media reports of alleged criminal activity by the group.
“This is a harrowing story of rape, sexual violence, child abuse, forced marriage perpetrated on minors,” Senator Risa Hontiveros said during her address to the upper house on Sep.18, in which she accused the organization of kidnapping minors in a mountainous area of the island.
Hontiveros added that at least eight minors escaped from the cult in recent weeks, which brought to light the activities of the sect.
According to the testimony of a 15-year-old girl, the cult leader Jey Rence Quilario forced her to marry a 21-year-old man when she was 13 years old and forced her into sexual relations with her husband.
Hontiveros accused Quilario of “raping and harming” minors and referred to the testimony of another child who said he had seen part of the group’s arsenal that included assault weapons.
The SBSI was formed to provide help to the community, but all changed in 2017 when Quilario, supported by former mayor Mamerto Galanida, took over the reins of the group.
The community’s support to the cult skyrocketed in 2019 when a strong earthquake hit the region and Quilario urged the population to follow him to the mountain under the threat of going to hell if they did not do so.
According to Hontiveros, the cult leaders force members to contribute a significant part of their income, including 50 per cent of government subsidies and pensions received, as well as the aid they got during the pandemic and after a typhoon.
The senator alleged the cult’s main source of finance was drug trafficking and the group was created to hide its leader’s illegal activities.EFE