Hidden in the Philippine mountains, there’s a cult that preys on children’s fear of hell

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Updated Oct 3, 2023 at 05:47 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

In the Mindanao region of the Philippines, an obscure religious movement is facing serious allegations regarding engaging in sexual violence and forced marriages involving its members, including minors. Originally known as the Socorro Bayanihan Services, this group, which initially started as a civic organisation, has since evolved into a quasi-religious organisation and is believed to be advocating an impending doomsday ideology. It’s alleged to be involved in activities such as extorting money from its members and actively participating in the drug trade within the town of Socorro, located on an island in Mindanao.

Renamed Omega de Salonera since, the organisation reportedly has approximately 3,500 members, including 1,580 children, who are secluded in a heavily guarded mountain enclave, as highlighted by Senator Risa Hontiveros in a recent speech in the Senate:

Senator Hontiveros described the situation as “a harrowing story of rape, sexual violence, child abuse, and forced marriage perpetrated on minors by a cult.” The politician went on to state: “This cult is armed and dangerous.”

Several children who managed to escape from the mountain community in recent weeks have provided firsthand accounts of their experiences to authorities on Socorro Island.

One 15-year-old girl, identified as Chloe, testified via video that the group’s leader, Jey Rence B Quilario, forced her into a marriage with a 21-year-old man when she was just 13. Quilario, who is revered by group members and claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus and the world’s new saviour, is also known as “The Messiah.”

Chloe alleged that she was locked up in a room with her new spouse and forced into sexual activity on multiple occasions. The young girl tearfully recalled Quilario telling her husband that he had the right to rape her because they were married.

Unfortunately, even after Chloe attempted to convince her parents to end her marriage, they refused, citing the will of The Messiah.

A 28-year-old former member of the Agila Squad, which is alleged to serve as the armed faction of Socorro Bayanihan Services, also came forward with shocking revelations. According to his account, the squad comprised over 100 members, some as young as 12 years old. They underwent combat training, believing themselves to be “soldiers of God” entrusted with a divine mission.

Save the Children has called upon the Filipino government to take immediate action and to liberate approximately 1,500 children who are reportedly living on one of the southern islands of the archipelago, located near a world-famous surfing destination.

How did the Omega de Salonera cult start?

Originally established as a civic organisation, it’s alleged by politicians that this group underwent a transformation, morphing into the exploitative quasi-religious cult known as Omega de Salonera in 2017. The group’s leader used a series of earthquakes in the Surigao del Norte province in early 2019 as a pretext to entice followers to join them in the mountains of Socorro.

Group leaders claimed that it was the only way to be ‘saved’ from the world’s impending end. Members were warned that if they did not leave their homes, they would end up “burning in hell.”

Quilario, their leader, notably sports flashy, colourful suits, complete with a gold watch and aviator sunglasses, presenting a rather unconventional image for someone claiming to be a Messiah.

As previously mentioned, a number of people including Hontiveros have alleged that the group’s primary source of funding is derived from drug-related activities, with the real motivation of the leaders being to create a “human shield” to evade prosecution.

“We are talking about over a thousand young people in the hands of a deceitful, cruel, and abusive cult… real children are in danger, and time is of the essence. We cannot, we must not look away,” the Senator emplored. As of now, the Philippines is dealing with a multitude of religious groups who are classified as cults. And despite profound efforts, it seems as though little can be done to truly address this mounting humanitarian crisis.

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