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TURNING POINT: Beware, the End is Near

Column Titles 2023 20230815 170141 0000

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 4 October) – The nation is horrified and is put on edge by the unsettling tale of deception, rape, forced marriage of minors, forced child labor and military training that surfaced during the Senate investigation of a doomsday cult, the Socorro Bayanihan Services Inc. (SBSI). The cult is under the command of a 22-year-old high school dropout, Jey Rence Quilario, aka Senior Agila, the official SBSI president and the commander-in-chief of the Soldiers of God.

The cult is camped in the hills of Sitio Kapihan, Barangay Sering in the town of Socorro, Dinagat Islands province.

The young cult leader has a formidable adviser in the person of Mamerto Galanida, a holder of a doctorate degree in education, former superintendent of the Department of Education, and a former three-termer board member of Surigao del Norte and mayor of Socorro. Galanida also serves as the current vice president of SBSI.

Aside from Galanida, Quilario’s other advisers include businessman Karren Sanico, and Sanico’s secretary Janeth Ajoc, who also acts as Senior Aguila’s aide.

It would appear, from the Senate hearing, that the young Quilario is only a figurehead of the cult.

Galanida, Sanico and Ajoc are actually calling the shot as far as the policies, myth-making and other cult sustainability practices, and directions of SBSI.  

To compel obedience and unity, myths are built around Quilario, that he’s the reincarnation of the Senior Santo Nino and is God himself, who has power over nature and creation. Such that his every wish is a command to be obeyed and be assured of salvation. The disobedient, on the other hand, are assured of damnation in hell. Children are prohibited from schooling, apparently to avoid questioning minds and reinforce blind obedience. Anyway, why should they go to school when God, himself, is just a high school dropout?

The island of Socorro is known for its tantalizing tourist destination – the Sohoton Cove. It is reportedly rich in mineral deposits such as ore covering 50 hectares, nickel 60 hectares, iron and gold covering 70 hectares, all of which are underdeveloped. It is likely that Kapihan is sitting on said deposit.

 In 2004, SBSI, then recognized as a civic organization, obtained a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) known as the Protected Area Community-Based Resource Management Agreement (Pacbrma) for Sitio Kapihan in Barangay Sering, covering a land area of 353 hectares. The agreement is good for 25 years, the intent of which is to protect the ecological processes, life support systems and biodiversity of the area.

After the earthquake of 2019, the members of the SBSI migrated to the hills of the Pacbrma area fearing a tsunami that would wipe out everything in the lowlands. Structures thereupon were built to settle its more than 3,000 members, contrary to the purpose and spirit of the MOA.

Once the members were concentrated in Kapihan and in relative isolation, SBSI, changed color. From a legitimate democratic people organization, it became a command organization whose goals, beliefs, practices and ways of life are formed and directed by a “charismatic” leader groomed by a clique of influential personalities. SBSI became a cult.

Accordingly, the DENR began its investigation, as early as 2019, of alleged SBSI activities in violations of the Pacbrma, which includes the restriction of entry in the area; the establishment of checkpoints and military-like training conducted in the protected are; the resignation of teachers, uniformed personnel and barangay officials in joining the cult; and the establishment of structures within the Pacbrma area.

Despite the findings, the DENR had only the guts to suspend the Pacbrma with SBSI on September 29, 2023, or just last week, in the light of the Senate hearing on the ignominious existence of SBSI.

The SBSI has no legal right to establish a human settlement in the protected area. In the light of the suspension of the Pacrbrma, it has no more right to tinker on anything in the place.

Considering the disturbing development, will the DENR drive the cult community out of Kapihan and demolish their structures to preserve the integrity of the protected area?

Cults are an anathema to human progress and are a menace to society.

Any move, however, to disband them should be done with careful and cautious planning, because anything that threatens their existence, per experience, would be met with strong resistance by the cult members. When cult members are agitated for one reason or another, they are prone to violence, especially those with arms and combat training, as now obtaining in SBSI.

For instance, when Ruben Ecleo, the leader of another cult in Dinagat Island – the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA), was arrested for the murder of his wife, his avid followers furiously defended him. A gun battle with the apprehending authorities ensued that lasted overnight, killing 22 cult members and one military officer.

There is also violence among cults. The PBMA and the Pulahan, both of Dinagat Island, once clashed, when each considered the other a threat to its existence and growth. In 2000, some 100 members of the Pulahan sect launched an assault on a PBMA shrine in San Jose; 200 PBMA members counterattacked and hacked to death 10 Pulahan followers and their leader.

Also, in 1967, 32 members of Lapiang Malaya under the command of its visionary leader Valentin de los Santos, met their end in the hands of the Philippine Constabulary, as the group, armed with bolos and wearing amulets, marched to Malacanang to overthrow President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. One soldier was killed in the bloodbath. The deadly march came to fore when de los Santos realized the futility of his long peaceful struggle to reform the governance of the country.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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