SURIGAO DEL NORTE - The Department of Justice (DOJ) brings attention to a distressing matter that has been unearthed in Sitio Kapihan, Brgy. N. Sering, Socorro, Surigao del Norte. The offences, ranging from violations of the "Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003" to the "Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act", have been occurring since February 2019.
The investigation was set into motion in April 2023 after the Municipal Mayor of Socorro raised an alarm to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) about the suspected activities of Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc. (BAYANIHAN). In the subsequent month, the NBI uncovered a series of allegations involving child abuse and mistreatment of former BAYANIHAN members.
One of the key revelations was BAYANIHAN's migration to the mountains of Sitio Kapihan following an earthquake. Here, their leader, SENIOR AGILA, not only declared himself a divine entity but also forecasted a catastrophic event. This move was soon followed by a regimented restructuring where members were categorized based on age and abilities. They were also involved in constructing infrastructures and underwent stringent training regimes. Worryingly, even minors were not exempted from these duties.
Reported misconducts in the region comprised of mandatory labor, restrained freedom of movement, involuntary child marriages, and stringent penalties for those who defied, which included physical harm.
Several minors have come forward with their traumatic experiences. Their narratives include being subjected to forced military exercises, labor-intensive tasks, witnessing involuntary child marriages, and facing significant challenges when attempting to leave Sitio Kapihan. Officials from the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office of Socorro, validated the transition of six such minors into protective custody. Meanwhile, two others are currently under maternal supervision.
Furthermore, NBI-CARAGA accumulated additional testimonies that shed light on life in Sitio Kapihan, their obligatory military drills, oppressive living conditions, and stringent consequences for any dissenting views. Disturbingly, some trainers, previously affiliated with the PNP, were identified as dismissed officers. The Securities and Exchange Commission has verified Socorro Bayanihan Services, Inc.'s authenticity and provided data about its operations and leadership. Despite multiple summons, SENIOR AGILA and three associates abstained from making any appearance before NBI - CARAGA.
Given the severity of these findings, the DOJ, through NBI-CARAGA, initiated legal proceedings against the identified perpetrators. Hence, on 01 June 2023, cases for Qualified Trafficking, Kidnapping and Serious Illegal Detention, Violation of the Child Marriage Law and Violation of the Child Abuse Law were filed before the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor of Surigao del Norte.
As of this date, the case is still pending, with no resolution yet, at the Prosecutor's Level. Respondents filed a Motion for Inhibition against the Investigating and Provincial Prosecutor of Surigao del Norte to delay the issuance of the resolution as they have also filed several Writ of Habeas Corpus cases.
The Department remains committed to ensuring justice for the affected and will ensure that all responsible parties are held accountable.